Concerning an earlier epoch and another section, the South immediately after the War Between the States, Reuter writes: 23

The conditions of life were absurdly easy. Any industrious and sober man could, as a result of a few years' labor, become possessed of sufficient land and other property to make him independent of the wage system . . . In spite of this, however, the growth of the middle class was abnormally slow . . . .

But were the blacks, about whom the foregoing was said, or the poor whites, of whom much will be said later, "economic men?" Or were they lacking in the habits, traditions, and experiences of the middle class, and can these things be spun out of clear air? It will be seen that rich resources may lie close at hand and not be used to advantage by thousands upon thousands of American citizens: the abundance which was America was available to the different classes almost in proportion to the advantages of the classes themselves, as will be seen.

Turner states a point of view about the frontier quite similar to that of Reuter about the South. According to his theory, on the frontier 24

were mill sites, town sites, transportation lines, banking centers, openings in the law, in politics -- all the varied chances for advancement afforded in a rapidly developing society where every thing was open to him who knew how to seize the opportunity.

All that needs to be said is that the middle and upper classes knew. This will be shown later from the writings of Theodore Roosevelt, so far as Kentucky was concerned. (The theory that the West was the land of opportunity for all is frequently based upon such a narrow interpretation that "all the good people" would be more definite and exact a term. These matters will be dealt with in detail in Chapters XI and XII.) The great plains of Illinois, Iowa, and so forth were largely settled by "extra" sons of middle class farmers further east who could afford to outfit themselves and purchase the land. They knew how to seize the opportunity.

Schlesinger lines up with those, like Cooley and Ross, who deny the common maxim that differences in wealth made for differences in social standing among the people in the early West. He is quoted as saying that "the absence of distinctions among men as property owners tended to make the people disregard wealth as a criterion of fitness and to look upon all men as essentially equal." 25 This strongly infers, as does the statement by Commager, that there was an equality of means among the people who settled the West, an idea which possibly qualifies for the tag "schoolbook fiction." The Winning of the West documents a completely different story. The West was settled by classes, rich and poor, high and low.

The Turner theory has found many recent adherents. For instance, Corey portrays the West as a land of great opportunity and of almost equal chances for those who moved there. He writes: 26

It was comparatively easy for dissatisfied farmers and workers in the older settlements to pull up stakes and go West, where land was cheap, taxes were low, and needed agricultural equipment a minor item of capital investment . . . . Almost anyone might acquire his own means of livelihood, become and independent farmer or an independent small entrepreneur in industry and trade. These conditions invigorated the sense of democracy and equality.

Day of opportunity passed?
The American Dream, of which the foregoing statements are typical, is beginning to lose its hold upon the youth of the land. It has been relegated, as Conant fears, to the discard. Thompson, the columnist, is stirred by the facts revealed in a recent survey: 27

I have been haunted by a little item that appeared several days ago regarding a poll taken by the Y.M.C.A. among young people in the City of New York. The Y.M.C.A. polled representative cross sections of employed and unemployed youth regarding their belief in opportunity, and found that 80 per cent believe that ability no longer offers assurance of success in America.

Next Page


23. Edward Byron Reuter, The Mulatto in the United States (Boston, 1918) pp. 352 - 353.
24. Turner, op. cit. (7), p. 272.
25. Quoted in Corey, op. cit., p. 114.
26. Loc. cit.
27. Dorothy Thompson, "On the Record," in the New York Herald Tribune, November 27, 1939.