A Frontier Spirit is the American Spirit

Hello! Amanuensis emeritus Chris DiMisa here with the results of the resolution Resolved: The Frontier defines the American Spirit. Getting the debate started, Mr. Graff began his induction keynote by describing a land of untamed beauty, and you, a pioneer, completely free and independent. With the scene set, he shifted to discuss how the physical frontier shaped every generation of Americans and made reference to the small townships on the frontier that helped grow democracy. Furthermore, the freedom of the country led and molded the freedom of individuals. Finally, he defined the uniqueness of the frontier by the uniqueness of the frontier. Mr. Giles, also making his induction, reiterated the American Spirit as that of rugged individuals. However, he clarified modern views of the frontier as being highly romanticized; reality, conversely, was a state of agricultural imperialism. The frontier was driven by the almighty dollar with cash crops being shipped along the Mississippi being the real frontier. Moreover, he traced the ideas of rugged individualism back through German philosophers to English Romantics and finally to US transcendentalists and not from the frontier. Lastly, he questioned whether the values of the frontier are reflected in the US today which is very cosmopolitan and federal.

Mr. Young laid out the idea of the frontier as a conflict of new world and old world and used an example of sandpaper becoming finer over time to represent the progression of the frontier. He described our democracy as that of leave me alone and strong individualist tones derived from the frontier pragmatism. He finished by explaining how the idea of the frontier lives on in today’s world. Ms. Christensen looked at the special idea of moving West while also explaining the necessity of analyzing how our mythology comes about. We cannot limit our scope to just today. From here, she framed the negation argument as objecting either to the idea that the frontier defined the American spirit at all or that it was not the dominant influence over time. She concluded by showing how many of the ideas that are attributed to the frontier actually came before the Revolution.

Will Hallisey (COL ’16) began the floor portion by explaining how the frontier is the breaking of boundaries and how the American Spirit pushing through frontiers. Mr. Jatovsky charged the affirmation with being able to pinpoint the frontier as the defining aspect rather than just being one of many. Ms. Cleary critiqued the idea of early communities existing before the frontier and pointed out that the resolution is not singularly defines. Mr. Bade reminded the Society of the horrible human rights abuses which occurred because of the frontier. Vice President Spagnuolo brought up the argument of the safety valve as being essential for the country to growing stronger. Ms. Wynter brought the Philodemic back to the signing of the Constitution to point out the we, not I mentality which the frontier circumvented.

Sam Kim (SFS ’17) began the non-member speaking time with the story of his parents’ immigration from Korea and the discrimination yet limitless possibilities they would face. Alex Perez-Reyes (COL ’17) traced the intellectual ideas of the frontier back to the British and the Magna Carta and subsequent thinkers. Luke Schafer (COL ’16) looked at the Heartland to define the American Spirit and how the frontier was the opening of the Heartland. Drew Cunningham (COL ’14) pointed out the romanticized view that the affirmation had been taking throughout the debate.

Mr. Arber explained the transformation that the frontier made from European to American and how the result was new institutions and way of thought which shaped the American Spirit. Mr. Miller argued that what defined America was actually what was left behind and once the frontier was tamed it helped define the American Spirit. Ms. Coccia argued that the frontier shaped the idea of doing it yourself and how this led to the true American institution of capitalism. Mr. Wilson rejected this idea by returning to Mr. Giles and showing how the frontier was actually not special; rather, it was simply escapism. Mr. Wang returned to the idea of looking throughout the past to the present and how we fend for ourselves. I argued that the frontier was simply a step in the process of defining the American Spirit. Mr. Mouch closed the floor by saying we needed something by moving West as there was the desire for more.

Ms. Christensen began the closing keynotes by arguing that the frontier actually has very limited explanatory power when defining the American Spirit. Furthermore, since the New Deal, the rugged individualistic democracy has collapsed into a vastly expanded federal government which is the opposite of the frontier spirit. Mr. Young looked at the grittiness of the frontier as a process of Americanization for the country. The frontier was the perfect example of Americans doing things that had never been done before which is what defines the American Spirit. Mr. Giles questioned how the frontier defines the American Spirit because it does not have causality as our ideas pre-dated the frontier. He closed the negation by stating how the frontier was simply a running away which is not at all American. Mr. Graff countered by pointing out how America was founded by those who were fleeing. He closed the debate by arguing how a romantic view does not diminish its worth because it is making who we are.

The Society voted 24-2-20 to affirm. After the debate, the Philodemic inducted Mr. Giles and Mr. Graff! Huzzah!


Christopher Michael DiMisa


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