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The American West: A clash of social, cultural, and environmental forces

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  1. Introduction
  2. The American concept of manifest destiny
  3. Principles of manifest destiny
  4. The relocation of Native Americans
  5. The treatment of the Native Americans
  6. The clash between tradition legal system and basic individualistic laws
  7. The most famous vigilante bandleaders
  8. Opportunities for the American women to expand their gender roles
  9. The new roles for women
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

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.?[8] Settlers encountered many hardships due to the terrain in the West. [...]

[...] Although the previously existing American ideals of freedom and equality were important factors in the settlement of the West, the American experience in the West forged new concepts of national self-confidence, rugged individualism, and a more diverse role for women. American expansion toward the Pacific shaped our American character, a character that is as strong today as in the days of the Wild West. John O'Sullivan, ?Annexation of Texas? Clyde Milner, Ed. ?Thomas R. Hietala: The Myths of Manifest Destiny? in Major Problems in the History of the American West (Boston: Houghton Mifflin company, 1997) 169 Colin G. [...]

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