Twenty years ago, Martin Ridge, a noted historian who died in 2003, began an article in "Montana: The Magazine of Western History" with this question: "One of the favorite discussion topics among American historians is the question: what piece of American historical writing has been most influential in American life?" His answer followed:
" Frederick Jackson Turner's brief essay, 'The Significance of the Frontier in American History,' is the most logical choice for the most influential piece of historical writing. Turner's occupies a unique place in American history as well as in American historiography. There is a valid reason for this. It, more than any other piece of historical scholarship, most affected the American's self and institutional perceptions. 'The Significance of the Frontier in American History' is, in fact, a masterpiece.
" A masterpiece is not merely an outstanding work or something that identifies its creator as a master craftsman in the field. A masterpiece should change the way a public sees, feels, or thinks about reality. It should explicitly or implicitly tell much about its own times, but it should also cast a long shadow. It should have a significant impact on the way people at the time and afterward both perceive their world and act in it. . . . .
" From the time Turner's essay was published in the 1890s until today it has been the one piece of American historical writing that historians have praised, denounced, and tried to ignore. It has been called both a North Star and an albatross in American history."
In the century after Turner propounded his "frontier thesis" at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in 1893, it was rejected, defended, discarded, and refined by other historians. Inevitably those interested in Minnesota's legal history will encounter in their research or casual reading articles and books written by historians who were influenced by Turner. For an unsuccessful and pretentious use of Turner's frontier thesis as a metaphor to criticize a recent book on originalism and a living constitution, see Justin Driver, "The Significance of the Frontier in American Constitutional Law," 2011 Supreme Court Review 345-398.
Turner's "masterpiece" is posted here.