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The End of the Myth

From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America

By Greg Grandin
16-minute read
Audio available
The End of the Myth by Greg Grandin

The End of the Myth (2019) offers a revealing look at how America’s frontier mind-set has guided and protected the nation through its troubled history. You’ll see how the expansion of that frontier has served to keep fundamental problems of racism and inequality from being dealt with and find out if the myth of the American frontier has finally died.

  • History buffs interested in the legacy of the United States
  • Anyone outraged at the mistreatment of migrants at the Mexican border
  • Students of political science and sociology

Greg Grandin taught at New York University before joining Yale University’s history department. He’s also served on the United Nations Truth Commission and received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Public Library. His books include The Empire of Necessity and Fordlandia, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. 

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The End of the Myth

From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America

By Greg Grandin
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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The End of the Myth by Greg Grandin
Synopsis

The End of the Myth (2019) offers a revealing look at how America’s frontier mind-set has guided and protected the nation through its troubled history. You’ll see how the expansion of that frontier has served to keep fundamental problems of racism and inequality from being dealt with and find out if the myth of the American frontier has finally died.

Key idea 1 of 10

Prosperity has been linked to frontier expansion since America’s earliest days.

There has been a lot of speculation and theorizing on the subject of Trumpism. How did American politics arrive at Trump’s message of antimigrant wall-building and isolationism?

You might think Trump’s extreme nativist attitudes came from out of the blue, but, in fact, they can be traced back to America’s formative years. One of Trumpism’s most compelling arguments is that opportunities for prosperity are not limitless, not everyone can share in that prosperity, and government policy should reflect this reality.

The Trump administration didn’t invent this idea, but there’s a reason why it’s relevant now – perhaps more than ever. It all comes down to the myth of the American frontier.

The key message here is: Prosperity has been linked to frontier expansion since America’s earliest days.

When British settlers first arrived on the east coast of what would become the United States of America, there was a sense of unprecedented space. The question was, what would the settlers do with it all?

There were, of course, Native Americans – or Indians, as they were called – living on this land. So in 1763, a Royal Proclamation came down from Britain’s King George III. In it, he drew a line down the Alleghenies (now called the Ozark Mountains) and said that everything to the west of the mountain range belonged to the Indians. Of course, in 1776, Americans broke free from British rule, and there was little debate as to whether the Royal Proclamation still carried any authority. It didn’t.

Very early on, the nation’s success was directly linked to expansion. One of the Founding Fathers, James Madison, saw the vastness of the United States as a stabilizing force. Madison recognized that among the country’s citizens were people of different religions and values. So the first step to keeping America stable and prosperous would be to have its people see this diversity as one of the country’s great virtues. Then, in order to keep this potentially combustible diverseness from exploding, the second step would have to be expansion. Like-minded folks would naturally congregate and form their own communities, and with enough space between them, these communities would be able to live in harmony.

Madison’s plan seemed viable in theory. But in the early United States, there was also the founding principle of equality to consider. The issue of the lives and rights of Native Americans, Mexicans, and freed peoples would, throughout the years, test Madison’s vision that diversity and expansion were the keys to peaceful coexistence.

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