In The End of Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America, acclaimed historian Greg Grandin explores the meaning of the frontier over the long course of US history. America’s constant expansion, he argues, whether through land, trade or militarism, symbolized a future of boundless potential and served as the basis for its belief that it is an exceptional nation. 

No myth in American history has been more powerful, more invoked by more presidents, than that of pioneers advancing across an endless meridian. Onward, and then onward again. There were lulls, doubts, dissents, and counter-movements, notably in the 1930s and 1970s. But the expansionist imperative has remained constant, in one version or another, for centuries. As Woodrow Wilson said in the 1890s, “a frontier people always in our van, is, so far, the central and determining fact of our national history.” “There was no thought,” he said, “of drawing back.” 

And when the physical frontier was closed, its imagery could easily be applied to other arenas of expansion, to markets, war, culture, technology, science, the psyche, and politics. In the years after World War II, the “frontier” became a central metaphor to capture a vision of a new kind of world order. Borrowing frontier language used by Andrew Jackson and his followers in the 1830s and 1840s, postwar planners said the United States would extend the world’s “area of freedom” and enlarge its “circle of free institutions.” 

Past empires established their dominance in an environment where resources were thought to be finite, extending their supremacy to capture as much of the world’s wealth as possible, to the detriment of their rivals. Now, though, the United States made a credible claim to be a different sort of global power, presiding over a world economy premised on endless growth. Washington, its leaders said, didn’t so much rule as help organize and stabilize an international community understood as liberal, universal, and multilateral. The promise of a limitless frontier meant that wealth wasn’t a zero-sum proposition. It could be shared by all. 

Source: Foreign Policy Research 

Pax Americana is the term applied to the post–World War II international order in which the US employed its overwhelming power and influence to shape and direct global events. America took the leadership role in