In many previous volumes of the series, the region beyond the Alleghenies has been recognized as an influence and a potentiality in American history. Thwaites, in his "France in America," shows how the French opened up the country and prepared the way; the Tennessee and Kentucky settlements are described in Howard's "Preliminaries of the Revolution"; Van Tyne's "American Revolution" goes into the earliest western governments; McLaughlin's "Confederation and Constitution" deals with the organization of the new communities by Congress; Bassett's "Federalist System" and Channing's "Jeffersonian System" show how the diplomacy and politics of the country were affected by the appearance of a new group of equal states; while Babcock's "Rise of American Nationality" carries the influence of those states into a broader national life. Professor Turner takes up the west as an integral part of the Union, with a self-consciousness as lively as that of the east or south, with its own aims and prejudices, but a partner in the councils and the benefits of the national government which, as a whole, it is the aim of this volume to describe.
In a way the west is simply a broader east, for up to the end of the period covered by this volume most of the grown men and women in the west came across the mountains to found new homes - the New-Englander in western New York; the Pennsylvanian diverging westward and southwestward; the Virginian in Kentucky; the North-Carolinian in Tennessee and Missouri and, along with the South-Carolinian and Georgian, in the new southwestern states; while north of the Ohio River the principal element up to 1830 was southern.
To describe such a movement and its effects, Professor Turner has the advantage to be a descendant of New-Yorkers, of New England stock, but native to the west, and living alongside the most complete collection of materials upon the west which has ever been brought together - the Library of the Wisconsin State Historical Society. His point of view is that the west and east were always interdependent, and that the rising power of the western states in national affairs was a wholesome and natural outcome of forces at work for half a century. The transformation of the west from a rude and boisterous frontier to a group of states, soon rivaling their parent communities in population and wealth, was not unlike the process through which Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and Virginia passed as colonies, except that the inland people accepted ideals and standards originally English, but worked out and put into shape by their colonist fathers.
As the volume treats of the nation, and not simply of any section, it contains three chapters (i., ii., iii.) on the social and political life in New England, the middle region, and the south. The next four chapters are a systematic account of the west as the settler and the traveler saw it. between 1820 and 1830. In chapter v., on Colonization, the settlers are traced from their old homes to their new ones by road and river. Chapter vi., off Social and Economic Development, is a picture of frontier life in the forest and on the farm; chapter vii. brings into relief the need of a market and the difficulty of reaching tide-water with western products - a subject taken up again in the two later chapters on internal improvements; chapter viii., on The Far West, goes with the trapper into the mountains and then across the continent to California and to Oregon, which were included in the ambitions of the buoyant westerner.
Chapters ix. to xi. are a narrative of a succession of national questions involving all sections - the commercial crisis of 1819; the Missouri Compromise, which was in good part a western question; and the slow recrystallization of political parties after 1820. Chapter xii. is on the Monroe Doctrine, which included eastern questions of commerce, southern questions of nearness to Cuba, and western questions of Latin-American neighbors. Chapters xiii. and xvii. describe the efforts by internal improvements to help all the states, and especially to bind the eastern and western groups together by the Cumberland Road and by canals. Chapters xiv. to xvi. take up the tariff of 1824, the presidential election of that year, and its political results. Chapter xviii. brings into clear light the causes for the reaction from the ardent nationalism described in Babcock's American Nationality. With chapter xix., on the tariff of 1828 and the South Carolina protest, the narrative part of the volume closes. The Critical Essay on Authorities and a wealth of foot-notes carry the reader back to materials little studied hitherto, and prepare the way for many detailed investigations.
The aim of the volume is not to show the Rise of the New West as though it were a separate story, but to show how the nation found itself in the midst of questions involving the west, and how all parts of the Union were enriched and stimulated by the appearance of a new section. It opens up new vistas of historical study.