The character of America was largely shaped by the American experience in the West from the early 1700s until the present day. Although the values of freedom and equality under the law had been established in the East during the colonial and revolutionary periods of American history, the clash of social, cultural, and environmental forces during the exploration and settlement of the West resulted in other important aspects of the American character. The clash between the American concept of Manifest Destiny and the existing natural and cultural forces of the West fostered a character of inalienable self-righteousness and national self-confidence. The clash between the traditional law enforcement and the basic individualistic laws that were produced from life in the West fostered a character of rugged individualism. Finally, the clash between traditional gender roles and the harsh necessities of survival in an inhospitable terrain fostered the emergence of new roles for women as part of the American character. These national character traits forged in the American West have influenced the subsequent history of America and the world.
[...] Values such as standing one's ground and confronting grievances became the basis for much of the vigilante and outlaw violence in the west at the turn of the century. It is this reckless, defiant, and courageous violence that was glorified in the west through the legend and myth of men such as Jesse James, Bill Doolin and Granville Stuart that have become a large part of the American image. These romanticized images of the individual against the oppressive or unhelpful government appeals to Americans. The influence of these images is still alive and well today, and can be seen through aspects of pop culture. [...]
[...] In his famous journal that details the first American crossing of the North American continent between 1803 and 1806, Meriwether Lewis wrote about the beauty and treachery of the terrain. He wrote, I reflected on the difficulties which this snowy barrier [the Rocky Mountains] would most probably throw in my way to the Pacific, and the sufferings and hardships of myself and party in them, it in some measure counterbalanced the joy I had felt in the first moments in which I gazed on them.” Settlers encountered many hardships due to the terrain in the West. [...]
[...] The first women of the West, the Native American women, set the bar for a woman and survival in the West's unforgiving terrain. Since the Spanish missionaries began working in the West in the last half of the 1600s, the native women in the West have played vital roles to the success of communities. The native women who became part of these Spanish missions worked as builders and livestock care takers. In addition to these jobs, they also performed a distinctly feminine task of being the sexual partners to the priests. As the French and British moved into North America, they utilized the native woman and her skills. [...]
[...] Under the theory of manifest destiny, it is not only America's right to extend from sea to shining sea, but it is America's duty to do so. These principles of manifest destiny created a clash between the Native people of the West and the western settlers. In America's dream to span from one end of the continent to the other, they found the presence of the Native Americans to be troublesome. Instead of trying to co-exist on the land with the native peoples, it became apparent to the American government that these people needed to be relocated Beginning in 1852 with the removal of the Penateka Comanches in Texas, the US government began to evict tribes from their homelands across the West and move them onto reservations. [...]
[...] Irrigation systems like the Hoover Dam are excellent examples of how man-over-nature developments have fueled a self-righteousness and national self-confidence that today is present in many aspects of American culture. These “feats of mankind,” as President Roosevelt called them have built the American self-esteem to the point where Americans feel “destined” to righteously exert power in many different venues. This attitude can be seen today in the recent bold maneuvers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The clash that occurred between the tradition legal system and the basic individualistic laws that the harsh lifestyle in the west created produced the mythic image of the individualistic American. [...]
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