Much throughout our lives, we are taught over and over and over again about the facts that have consolidated over time in order to form the story that we all recognize now as our American past. The brief overview? Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, Jamestown was the start of it all in the early 17th century, Britain became an imperial power over other European countries for quite a good amount of time and then woah, in the astonishing turn of events, lost the majority of that power to the rebellious fire of the colonists. We gather dates and events and facts to aid us in understanding how one thing led to another, and then we conclude how these effects happened because of such particular preceding actions. Because after all, if you were to tax “us” colonists on a simple pleasure that we adore to a great extent like tea, we are sure to (ironically) throw a good amount of it into the Boston Harbor to express hatred on such an imposition.
It’s rather interesting how history works.
Though as we read upon these great, extensive documents and page after page of the American timeline, do we ever think about the mental process that coincides behind every word, every meaningful speech, or every action spoken and taken behind every event? One haunting observation that remained with me as I studied American history in middle school was the tremendous level of motivation and drive for an associated group of people to take over another land and create a bigger and maybe even better nation anew. And of course, in America’s case, all fingers point to sweet ole Mother England. Just from what comes to mind, yes, greed and hunger for land are perhaps two of the most significant factors for why colonization took place. But as we retrace our steps back, further down into history, we familiarize ourselves with patterns of the same thing happening with other previous great nations; to note one, the Chinese dynasties and their cultural sphere of influence and inevitable power of cultural assimilation within their surrounding countries, prominently Japan. Like England, China had forcibly gained occupied territory and took over it, created an empire, and asserted control over the region. To colonize, to create, to control.
In relation to England and America and all of these historical incidents in which the three steps (3 C’s) recur, I kept wondering if there was more to it. What if there was more to the greed and the hunger? What made these particular nations successful in expanding their land and power, and maintain it above all? What, exactly, goes on within the human brain that has made different peoples of the past acquire the need to colonize, to create, and to control?
After much thought (trust me), my fortunate exposure to a singular theory in my American Literature class, and simple mere observation, I found that the answer is within the human need to engage into a new frontier, being a means of progress in mankind and a necessity in civilization. Mark Twain’s The Damned Human Race breaks down the quintessential fact that it is in human nature for us to want more, to crave for more, and to obtain for more, even if we had already attained our goals. Even when compared to animals are we more submissive to this need, ultimately being our main motivation to settle into a frontier with confident hearts. A part of our brain, primarily in the cerebellum, is where everything occurs. As we are presented with the opportunity to engage in a new frontier, we embrace the opportunity with open arms. Albeit after that some success has occurred, we relish solely in our major gain and obtain the mindset that the possibilities are endless, thus making us want more. Then, that makes us branch out a tad bit to colonize, create something more grand than what was experienced, and then control it to prove to us and others of our power. This is why we, as groups of people alike and unalike, colonize, create, and control.
So how does the frontier mindset tie in particularly with Europe and its colonization out into the New World, and moreover America? Well firstly, the three C’s should be reiterated for this case. We start off with the competition against European countries involving commerce and trade of goods. No country was really economically unstable, but the need to venture out and carry on expeditions, or “colonize” new frontiers would’ve showed the top imperialist powers of the world. By settling down into new, unfamiliar and unclaimed places, in a sense, it’s like finders-keepers. The satisfaction of getting something no one else has makes the crave grow even more. Thereafter, we see a creation of some big “empire” taking place- the colonies that were established in America. England founded the colonies and sort of created them into something more by evolving them into a profitable trade asset. At least, that’s what it was for the mother country. To the colonists themselves, the “creation” aspect was their fabrication of a new land that will cater to their interests in religious freedom and vast opportunity to start new lives, and many more. The “control” component of the frontier mindset is where it gets tricky though, especially regarding to the English and the colonists. Typically, the group of people that have colonized and created (the English) will assert control with ease towards the new frontier but in the case of the colonists and the English, control was being fought for by both sides even though control was first implemented by the English. Through change and through rebellion, control was slowly but surely gained by the colonists. The only way this “control” by the colonists was possible was if they had the ulterior motive of the previous C, which was creation, in which case they did. Little did England know that the colonies were creating an empire of their own as the inhabitants, not the creators, of the new frontier settled down and independently established relations with other countries and built their own form of government and economy. After the colonists knew they were thriving but England wanted to assert more control over them, think about how difficult it would have been to lose control of the creation of a new independent empire. Thus, the accumulation of these steps became the mental process of American colonization and establishment in a new frontier.
Honestly, the frontier mindset is both a pretty understandable but complex theory to endure, due to it being a theory that is missed or overlooked in general, and in this case, when it comes to colonization. For all we know, it may not apply to England and the colonies. But there’s no complete scientific or historical research to prove or to disprove it. The theory of the frontier, we do know, has been used to describe other historical events and happenings such as exploring space. It’s been a recurring pattern throughout history too. That’s why it’s our job as historians to find these things and connect it to what we have learned and form ideas to help our understanding of the past.
It’s in my belief, though, that the minds of those who had settled out into the New World acquired a mental process that went a little like the aforementioned.
Bailey’s The American Pageant textbook