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To achieve our "manifest destiny," Americans had to create a pastoral middle landscape of rolling hills and prosperous farms, much like the terrain of Cole's painting.By the middle of the Nineteenth century, cities and towns were blooming across the east and the midwest, and people were looking for ways to ease the toil of cultivating and harvesting the American garden.
The wilderness exploration of Jefferson's time suggested that America's success as a nation was tied to the cultivation of the wilderness.
America could have a rural character, but not a wild one.
When Frederick Jackson Turner announced in 1893 that "the American character did not spring full-blown from the Mayflower," but that "it came out of the forests and gained new strength each time it touched a frontier," his speech punctuated nearly three centuries of examinations into the American wilderness.
From Jamestown and Plymouth Plantation to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the subsequent expedition of Lewis and Clark, to Turner's "Frontier Thesis" at the Columbian Exposition of 1893, the geography and ecology of the American continent was the center of debate among Americans.
Authors such as Washington Irving and James Fennimore Cooper turned to the still-wild woods of upstate New York as settings for their stories and inspiration for their frontier-minded characters.
Neither group was particularly critical of their changing relationship to nature, but the advent of technology now meant that civilization had gained considerable advantage in the continuing struggle between the garden and the wilderness.
In this outlook, however, the land supplied the raw materials for building a society, and nature was to be used, not feared.
Despite the different outlooks, the goal was the same: to destroy the savage wilderness and make it bloom with European civilization.
Two primary views of the wilderness were contested: the wilderness either contained savagery and temptation which threatened the authority of the community or it represented a new Garden which could flourish with the proper cultivation by the European settlers.
Although these contrasting views of the wilderness shared the goal of establishing a civilization by removing the obstacles presented by the natural environment, the state of wilderness that originally characterized the young nation eventually became the source of national pride and identity for America.