Frontier demanded self-reliance

As he penetrated the wilderness, the settler became a farmer as well as a hunter. Instead of a cabin, he built a comfortable log house which had glass windows, a good chimney, and partitioned rooms. Instead of using a spring, he dug a well. An industrious man would rapidly clear his land of timber, burning the wood for potash and letting the stumps decay. He grew his own grain, vegetables, and fruit; ranged the woods for venison, wild turkeys, and honey; fished the nearest streams; looked after his cattle and hogs. The more restless bought large tracts of the cheap land and, as land values rose, sold their acres and moved westward, making way for others.

Soon there came-in addition to the farmers-doctors, lawyers, storekeepers, editors, preachers, mechanics, and politicians-all those who form the fabric of a vigorous society. The farmers were the most important. They intended to stay all their lives where they settled and hoped their children would stay after them. They built larger barns than their predecessors and sound brick or frame houses. They brought in improved livestock, plowed the land more skillfully, and sowed more productive seed. Some of them erected flour mills, sawmills, distilleries. They laid out good highways, built churches and schools. So rapidly did the west grow that almost incredible transformations were accomplished in but a few years. In 1830, for instance, Chicago was merely an unpromising trading village with a fort. Long before some of its original settlers died, it was one of the largest and richest cities in the nation.

Many different peoples mingled their blood in the new west. Farmers of the upland south were prominent, and from this stock sprang Abraham Lincoln, born in a Kentucky log cabin. Scotch-Irish, Pennsylvania Germans, New Englanders, and men of other origins played their part. By 1830, more than half the people living in America had been brought up in an environment in which the old world traditions and conventions were absent or very weak. And men in the west were valued not for their family background, for inherited money, or for their years of schooling, but for what they were and could do. Farms could be had for a price well within the reach of any thrifty person; government land after 1820 could be obtained for $1.25 an acre and, after 1862, for merely settling on it. And tools for working the land were easily available too. It was a time when, as the journalist, Horace Greeley said, young men could "go west and grow up with the country." The equality of economic opportunity bred a sense of social and political equality and gave natural leaders a chance to come quickly to the fore. Initiative, courage, individual vigor, and hard sense were indispensable to the good pioneer.

As they went west, the New England settlers carried with them many of the ideals and institutions of the region from which they came. The same was true of the southerners and, in a sense, the whole process of colonizing the west was a race between the two influences. The problem of slavery, which had thus far received little public attention, suddenly assumed enormous importance "like a fire bell in the night," wrote Jefferson. In the early years of the republic, when the northern states were providing for immediate or gradual emancipation of the slaves, many leaders had supposed that slavery would presently die out everywhere. In 1786, Washington wrote that he devoutly wished some plan might be adopted "by which slavery may be abolished by slow, sure, and imperceptible degrees." And Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and other leading southern statesmen made similar statements. As late as 1808, when the slave trade was abolished, numerous southerners thought that slavery would prove but a temporary evil.