American history involves a mixture of histories, cultures, and national backgrounds brought together in what was truly the New World when it was discovered by European settlers. At the time, there were several Indian tribes in North America and the larger civilization of the Aztecs in South America. The settlers from Europe brought their culture with them, and they only broke away from that culture slowly over a period of time as they created something new. With the advent of slavery in the plantation economy of the South, blacks from Africa were brought to the Americas and introduced elements of their culture. These different forces mixed and interacted over time to become the underpinnings of American history and what would become a distinctive American culture.
The frontier played an important part in American history, both as a reality and as an idea, and the idea continues to do so today long after the physical frontier has disappeared. That disappearance was announced by Frederick Jackson Turner in his book The Frontier in American History, a book in which the author also discussed the significance of the frontier in American history. The fact that the frontier continues to play an important role in American life is evident in the way Americans seem to keep searching for a new frontier to replace the old. Every challenge is designated some form of "new frontier," from the exploration of space to the plumbing of the depths of the sea, from the challenge we face in fighting disease to that of fighting poverty. Politicians find it easy to label such efforts assaults on a new frontier because the word "frontier" has such strong connotations in American life.
Turner notes how the wilderness faced by the colonists changed them, and he calls the frontier "the line of most rapid and effective Americanization":
It takes him from the railroad car and puts him in the birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civiliza...