Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America, Volume 2

Atheneum, 1992 - 850 pages
On July 16, 1960, John F. Kennedy came to the podium of the Los Angeles Coliseum to accept the Democratic Party's nomination as candidate for President. As is customary, Kennedy used his acceptance speech to provide a slogan that would characterize his administration's style of thought and action. "I stand tonight facing West on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch 3000 miles behind me, the pioneers of old gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build a new world here in the West. [But] the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won, and we stand today on the edge of a new frontier--the frontier of the 1960s, a frontier of unknown opportunities and paths, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats." By invoking the Frontier as a symbol, Kennedy also tapped into one of the most resonant and persistent American myths. As Richard Slotkin shows in this extraordinarily informed and wide-ranging new book, the myth of the Frontier has been perhaps the most pervasive influence behind American culture and politics in the 20th century. Beginning in 1893 with Frederick Jackson Turner's famous address on the closing of the American frontier, Slotkin examines the transformation from history to myth of events like Custer's last stand and explores the myriad and fundamental ways the myth influences American culture and politics. Although Turner's "Frontier Thesis" became the dominant interpretation of our national experience among academic historians, it was the racialist theory of history (the ascendancy and superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race), embodied in Theodore Roosevelt's The Winning of the West, that was most influential in popular culture and government policy-making over the course of the century. The explicit assumptions about race and civilization in the Frontier myth articulated by Roosevelt provided the justification for most of America's expansionist policies, from Roosevelt's own Rough riders to Kennedy's and Johnson's counterinsurgency policies in Southeast Asia. Thus America's defeat in Vietnam, Slotkin argues, ruptured the very foundation of our public mythology, and caused a crisis of confidence unprecedented in American history. Drawing on an impressive and diverse array of materials from dime novels, pulp fiction and Hollywood westerns to the writings and careers of figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, Owen Wister, Jesse James, Zane Grey, John Ford, Sam Peckinpah, John Wayne and John F. Kennedy, Richard Slotkin reveals the connections that link our mythology with real life, and offers an original, incisive and highly provocative interpretation of our national experience.--Adapted from dust jacket.

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The Significance of the Frontier Myth
Buffalo Bill and
Frontier and the Sanctification of Imperialism
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