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De Soto, ho!

The United States is crossing another divide in its apparently endless westward movement, and it's not a bad reminder for Americans to hang onto the best qualities linked with going to new territory. For the first time, by census estimates, the center of population has moved across the Mississippi. Aptly enough, it is near a city named for a conqueror of frontiers, Hernando de Soto.

De Soto's darker side might now be recalled as a warning against the negative qualities also displayed as some Americans traveled west, exploiting the land and its native people. These flaws must be kept in check at every point of the compass, just as the positive attributes of the westering pioneers can be drawn on anywhere.

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Energy, fortitude, stamina, a sense of freedom, a capacity to improvise and innovate, to deal with the unexpected, to risk disappointment for the sake of achievement, to establish institutions. Here are excellences that must stay with America as it continues on the path of progress symbolized by -- but not limited to -- the way west.

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