The American Spirit in Literature
By Bliss Perry

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Chapter IX. Union and Liberty

“There is what I call the American idea,” declared Theodore Parker in the Anti-Slavery Convention of 1850. “This idea demands, as the proximate organization thereof, a democracy–that is, a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people; of course, a government on the principle of eternal justice, the unchanging law of God; for shortness’ sake, I will call it the idea of Freedom.”

These are noble words, and they are thought to have suggested a familiar phrase of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, thirteen years later. Yet students of literature, no less than students of politics, recognize the difficulty of summarizing in words a national “idea.” Precisely what was the Greek “idea”? What is today the French “idea”? No single formula is adequate to express such a complex of fact, theories, moods–not even the famous “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality.” The existence of a truly national life and literature presupposes a certain degree of unity, an integration of race, language, political institutions, and social ideals. It is obvious that this problem of national integration meets peculiar obstacles in the United States. Divergencies of race, tradition, and social theory, and clashing interests of different sections have been felt from the beginning of the nation’s life. There was well-nigh complete solidarity in the single province of New England during a portion of the seventeenth century, and under the leadership of the great Virginians there was sufficient national fusion to make the Revolution successful. But early in the nineteenth century, the opening of the new West, and the increasing economic importance of Slavery as a peculiar institution of the South, provoked again the ominous question of the possibility of an enduring Union. >From 1820 until the end of the Civil War, it was the chief political issue of the United States. The aim of the present chapter is to show how the theme of Union and Liberty affected our literature.

To appreciate the significance of this theme we must remind ourselves again of what many persons have called the civic note in our national writing. Franklin exemplified it in his day. It is far removed from the pure literary art of a Poe, a Hawthorne, a Henry James. It aims at action rather than beauty. It seeks to persuade, to convince, to bring things to pass. We shall observe it in the oratory of Clay and Webster, as they pleaded for compromise; in the editorials of Garrison, a foe to compromise and like Calhoun an advocate, if necessary, of disunion; in the epochmaking novel of Harriet Beecher Stowe; in the speeches of Wendell Phillips, in verse white-hot with political passion, and sermons blazing with the fury of attack and defense of principles dear to the human heart. We must glance, at least, at the lyrics produced by the war itself, and finally, we shall observe how Abraham Lincoln, the inheritor of the ideas of Jefferson, Clay, and Webster, perceives and maintains, in the noblest tones of our civic speech, the sole conditions of our continuance as a nation.

Let us begin with oratory, an American habit, and, as many besides Dickens have thought, an American defect. We cannot argue that question adequately here. It is sufficient to say that in the pioneer stages of our existence oratory was necessary as a stimulus to communal thought and feeling. The speeches of Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams were as essential to our winning independence as the sessions of statesmen and the armed conflicts in the field. And in that new West which came so swiftly and dramatically into existence at the close of the Revolution, the orator came to be regarded as the normal type of intellectual leadership. The stump grew more potent than schoolhouse and church and bench.

The very pattern, and, if one likes, the tragic victim of this glorification of oratory was Henry Clay, “Harry of the West,” the glamour of whose name and the wonderful tones of whose voice became for a while a part of the political system of the United States. Union and Liberty were the master-passions of Clay’s life, but the greater of these was Union. The half-educated young immigrant from Virginia hazarded his career at the outset by championing Anti-Slavery in the Kentucky Constitutional Convention; the last notable act of his life was his successful management, at the age of seventy-three, of the futile Compromise of 1850. All his life long he fought for national issues; for the War of 1812, for a protective tariff and an “American system," for the Missouri Compromise of 1820 as a measure for national safety; and he had plead generously for the young South American republics and for struggling Greece. He had become the perpetual candidate of his party for the Presidency, and had gone down again and again in unforeseen and heart-rending defeat. Yet he could say honorably: “If any one desires to know the leading and paramount object of my public life, the preservation of this union will furnish him the key.” One could wish that the speeches of this fascinating American were more readable today. They seem thin, facile, full of phrases–such adroit phrases as would catch the ear of a listening, applauding audience. Straight, hard thinking was not the road to political preferment in Clay’s day. Calhoun had that power, as Lincoln had it. Webster had the capacity for it, although he was too indolent to employ his great gifts steadily. Yet it was Webster who analyzed kindly and a little sadly, for he was talking during Clay’s last illness and just before his own, his old rival’s defect in literary quality: “He was never a man of books . . . . I could never imagine him sitting comfortably in his library and reading quietly out of the great books of the past. He has been too fond of excitement–he has lived upon it; he has been too fond of company, not enough alone; and has had few resources within himself.” Were the limitations of a typical oratorical temperament ever touched more unerringly than in these words?

When Webster himself thundered, at the close of his reply to Hayne in 1830, “Union AND Liberty, now and forever, one and inseparable,” the words sank deeper into the consciousness of the American people than any similar sentiment uttered by Henry Clay. For Webster’s was the richer, fuller nature, nurtured by “the great books of the past,” brooding, as Lincoln was to brood later, over the seemingly insoluble problem of preserving a union of States half slave, half free. On the fateful seventh of March, 1850, Webster, like Clay, cast the immense weight of his personality and prestige upon the side of compromise. It was the ruin of his political fortune, for the mood of the North was changing, and the South preferred other candidates for the Presidency. Yet the worst that can fairly be said against that speech today is that it lacked moral imagination to visualize, as Mrs. Stowe was soon to visualize, the human results of slavery. As a plea for the transcendent necessity of maintaining the old Union it was consistent with Webster’s whole development of political thought.

What were the secrets of that power that held Webster’s hearers literally spellbound, and made the North think of him, after that alienation of 1850, as a fallen angel? No one can say fully, for we touch here the mysteries of personality and of the spoken word. But enough survives from the Webster legend, from his correspondence and political and legal oratory, to bring us into the presence of a superman. The dark Titan face, painted by such masters as Carlyle, Hawthorne, and Emerson; the magical voice, remembered now but by a few old men; the bodily presence, with its leonine suggestion of sleepy power only half put forth–these aided Webster to awe men or allure them into personal idolatry. Yet outside of New England he was admired rather than loved. There is still universal recognition of the mental capacity of this foremost lawyer and foremost statesman of his time. He was unsurpassed in his skill for direct, simple, limpid statement; but he could rise at will to a high Roman stateliness of diction, a splendid sonorousness of cadence. His greatest public appearances were in the Dartmouth College Case before the Supreme Court, the Plymouth, Bunker Hill, and Adams-Jefferson commemorative orations, the Reply to Hayne, and the Seventh of March speeches in the Senate. Though he exhibited in his private life something of the prodigal recklessness of the pioneer, his mental operations were conservative, constructive. His lifelong antagonist Calhoun declared that “The United States are not a nation.” Webster, in opposition to this theory of a confederation of states, devoted his superb talents to the demonstration of the thesis that the United States “IS,” not “are.” Thus he came to be known as the typical expounder of the Constitution. When he reached, in 1850, the turning point of his career, his countrymen knew by heart his personal and political history, the New Hampshire boyhood and education, the rise to mastery at the New England bar, the service in the House of Representatives and the Senate and as Secretary of State. His speeches were already in the schoolbooks, and for twenty years boys had been declaiming his arguments against nullification. He had helped to teach America to think and to feel. Indeed it was through his oratory that many of his fellow-citizens had gained their highest conception of the beauty, the potency, and the dignity of human speech. And in truth he never exhibited his logical power and demonstrative skill more superbly than in the plea of the seventh of March for the preservation of the status quo, for the avoidance of mutual recrimination between North and South, for obedience to the law of the land. It was his supreme effort to reconcile an irreconcilable situation.

It failed, as we know. Whittier, Emerson, Theodore Parker, and indeed most of the voters of New England, believed that Webster had bartered his private convictions in the hope of securing the Presidential nomination in 1852. They assailed him savagely, and Webster died, a broken man, in the autumn of the Presidential year. “I have given my life to law and politics,” he wrote to Professor Silliman. “Law is uncertain and politics are utterly vain.” The dispassionate judgment of the present hour frees him from the charge of conscious treachery to principle. He was rather a martyr to his own conception of the obligations imposed by nationality. When these obligations run counter to human realities, the theories of statesmen must give way. Emerson could not refute that logic of Webster’s argument for the Fugitive Slave Law, but he could at least record in his private Journal: “I WILL NOT OBEY IT, BY GOD!” So said hundreds of thousands of obscure men in the North, but Webster did not or could not hear them.

While no other orator of that period was so richly endowed as Daniel Webster, the struggle for Union and Liberty enlisted on both sides many eloquent men. John C. Calhoun’s acute, ingenious, masterly political theorizing can still be studied in speeches that have lost little of their effectiveness through the lapse of time. The years have dealt roughly with Edward Everett, once thought to be the pattern of oratorical gifts and graces. In commemorative oratory, indeed, he ranked with Webster, but the dust is settling upon his learned and ornate pages. Rufus Choate, another conservative Whig in politics, and a leader, like Wirt and Pinkney, at the bar, had an exotic, almost Oriental fancy, a gorgeousness of diction, and an intensity of emotion unrivaled among his contemporaries. His Dartmouth College eulogy of Webster in 1853 shows him at his best. The Anti-Slavery orators, on the other hand, had the advantage of a specific moral issue in which they led the attack. Wendell Phillips was the most polished, the most consummate in his air of informality, and his example did much to puncture the American tradition of high-flown oratory. He was an expert in virulent denunciation, passionately unfair beneath his mask of conversational decorum, an aristocratic demagogue. He is still distrusted and hated by the Brahmin class of his own city, still adored by the children and grandchildren of slaves. Charles Sumner, like Edward Everett, seems sinking into popular oblivion, in spite of the statues and portraits and massive volumes of erudite and caustic and high-minded orations. He may be seen at his best in such books as Longfellow’s “Journal and Correspondence” and the “Life and Letters” of George Ticknor. There one has a pleasant picture of a booklover, traveler, and friend. But in his public speech he was arrogant, unsympathetic, domineering. “Sumner is my idea of a bishop,” said Lincoln tentatively. There are bishops and bishops, however, and if Henry Ward Beecher, whom Lincoln and hosts of other Americans admired, had only belonged to the Church of England, what an admirable Victorian bishop he might have made! Perhaps his best service to the cause of union was rendered by his speeches in England, where he fairly mobbed the mob and won them by his wit, courage, and by his appeal to the instinct of fair play. Beecher’s oratory, in and out of the pulpit, was temperamental, sentimental in the better sense, and admirably human in all its instincts. He had an immense following, not only in political and humanitarian fields, but as a lovable type of the everyday American who can say undisputed things not only solemnly, if need be, but by preference with an infectious smile. The people who loved Mr. Beecher are the people who understand Mr. Bryan.

Foremost among the journalists of the great debate were William Lloyd Garrison and Horace Greeley. Garrison was a perfect example of the successful journalist as described by Zola–the man who keeps on pounding at a single idea until he has driven it into the head of the public. Everyone knows at least the sentence from his salutatory editorial in “The Liberator” on January 1, 1831: “I am in earnest–I will not retreat a single inch–AND I WILL BE HEARD.” He kept this vow, and he also kept the accompanying and highly characteristic promise: “I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or write, or speak, with moderation.” But there would be little political literature in the world if its production were entrusted to the moderate type of man, and the files of “The Liberator,” though certainly harsh and full of all uncharitableness towards slave-owners, make excellent reading for the twentieth century American who perceives that in spite of the triumph of emancipation, in which Garrison had his fair share of glory, many aspects of our race-problem remain unsolved. Horace Greeley, the founder and editor of the “New York Tribune” was a farmer’s boy who learned early to speak and write the vocabulary of the plain people. Always interested in new ideas, even in Transcendentalism and Fourierism, his courage and energy and journalistic vigor gave him leadership in the later phases of the movement for enfranchisement. He did not hesitate to offer unasked advice to Lincoln on many occasions, and Lincoln enriched our literature by his replies. Greeley had his share of faults and fatuities, but in his best days he had an impressively loyal following among both rural and city-bred readers of his paper, and he remains one of the best examples of that obsolescent personal journalism which is destined to disappear under modern conditions of newspaper production. Readers really used to care for “what Greeley said” and “Dana said” and “Sam Bowles said," and all of these men, with scores of others, have left their stamp upon the phrases and the tone of our political writing.

In the concrete issue of Slavery, however, it must be admitted that the most remarkable literary victory was scored, not by any orator or journalist, but by an almost unknown little woman, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” No American novel has had so curious a history and so great or so immediate an influence in this country and in Europe. In spite of all that has been written about it, its author’s purpose is still widely misunderstood, particularly in the South, and the controversy over this one epoch-making novel has tended to obscure the literary reputation which Mrs. Stowe won by her other books.

Harriet Beecher, the daughter and the sister of famous clergymen, was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1811. For seventeen years, from 1832 to 1849, she lived in the border city of Cincinnati, within sight of slave territory, and in daily contact with victims of the slave system. While her sympathies, like those of her father Lyman Beecher, were anti-slavery, she was not an Abolitionist in the Garrisonian sense of that word. At twenty five she had married a widowed professor, Calvin Stowe, to whom she bore many children. She had written a few sketches of New England life, and her family thought her a woman of genius. Such was the situation in the winter of 1849-1850, when the Stowes migrated to Brunswick, Maine, where the husband had been appointed to a chair at Bowdoin. Pitiably poor, and distracted by household cares which she had to face single-handed–for the Professor was a “feckless body"–Mrs. Stowe nevertheless could not be indifferent to the national crisis over the Fugitive Slave Law. She had seen its working. When her sister-in-law wrote to her: “If I could use a pen as you can, I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is,” Mrs. Stowe exclaimed: “God helping me, I will write something; I will if I live.”

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” begun in the spring of 1850, was a woman’s answer to Webster’s seventh of March speech. Its object was plainly stated to be “to awaken sympathy and feeling for the African race; to show, their wrongs and sorrows, under a system so necessarily cruel and unjust as to defeat and do away the good effects of all that can be attempted for them, by their best friends under it.” The book was permeated with what we now call the 1848 anti-aristocratic sentiment, the direct heritage of the French Revolution. “There is a dies irae coming on, sooner or later,” admits St. Clare in the story. “The same thing is working, in Europe, in England, and in this country.” There was no sectional hostility in Mrs. Stowe’s heart. “The people of the free states have defended, encouraged, and participated [in slavery]; and are more guilty for it, before God, than the South, in that they have NOT the apology of education or custom. If the mothers of the free states had all felt as they should in times past, the sons of the free states would not have been the holders, and proverbially the hardest masters, of slaves; the sons of the free states would not have connived at the extension of slavery in our national body.” “Your book is going to be the great pacificator,” wrote a friend of Mrs. Stowe; “it will unite North and South.” But the distinctly Christian and fraternal intention of the book was swiftly forgotten in the storm of controversy that followed its appearance. It had been written hastily, fervidly, in the intervals of domestic toil at Brunswick, had been printed as a serial in “The National Era" without attracting much attention, and was issued in book form in March, 1852. Its sudden and amazing success was not confined to this country. The story ran in three Paris newspapers at once, was promptly dramatized, and has held the stage in France ever since. It was placed upon the “Index” in Italy, as being subversive of established authority. Millions of copies were sold in Europe, and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” more than any other cause, held the English working men in sympathy with the North in the English cotton crisis of our Civil War.

It is easy to see the faults of this masterpiece and impossible not to recognize its excellencies. “If our art has not scope enough to include a book of this kind,” said Madame George Sand, “we had better stretch the terms of our art a little.” For the book proved to be, as its author had hoped, a “living dramatic reality.” Topsy, Chloe, Sam and Andy, Miss Ophelia and Legree are alive. Mrs. St. Clare might have been one of Balzac’s indolent, sensuous women. Uncle Tom himself is a bit too good to be true, and readers no longer weep over the death of little Eva–nor, for that matter, over the death of Dickens’s little Nell. There is some melodrama, some religiosity, and there are some absurd recognition scenes at the close. Nevertheless with an instinctive genius which Zola would have envied, Mrs. Stowe embodies in men and women the vast and ominous system of slavery. All the tragic forces of necessity, blindness, sacrifice, and retribution are here: neither Shelby, nor Eliza, nor the tall Kentuckian who aids her, nor John Bird, nor Uncle Tom himself in the final act of his drama, can help himself. For good or evil they are the products and results of the system; and yet they have and they give the illusion of volition.

Mrs. Stowe lived to write many another novel and short story, among them “Dred,” “The Minister’s Wooing,” “Oldtown Folks," “Oldtown Fireside Stories.” In the local short story she deserves the honors due to one of the pioneers, and her keen affectionate observation, her humor, and her humanity, would have given her a literary reputation quite independent of her masterpiece. But she is likely to pay the penalty of that astounding success, and to go down to posterity as the author of a single book. She would not mind this fate.

The poetry of the idea of Freedom and of the sectional struggle which was necessary before that idea could be realized in national policy is on the whole not commensurate with the significance of the issue itself. Any collection of American political verse produced during this period exhibits spirited and sincere writing, but the combination of mature literary art and impressive general ideas is comparatively rare. There are single poems of Whittier, Lowell, and Whitman which meet every test of effective political and social verse, but the main body of poetry, both sectional and national, written during the thirty years ending with 1865 lacks breadth, power, imaginative daring. The continental spaciousness and energy which foreign critics thought they discovered in Whitman is not characteristic of our poetry as a whole. Victor Hugo and Shelley and Swinburne have written far more magnificent republican poetry than ours. The passion for freedom has been very real upon this side of the Atlantic; it pulsed in the local loyalty of the men who sang “Dixie” as well as in their antagonists who chanted “John Brown’s Body” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic;” but this passion has not yet lifted and ennobled any notable mass of American verse. Even the sentiment of union was more adequately voiced in editorials and sermons and orations, even in a short story–Edward Everett Hale’s “Man Without a Country"–than by most of the poets who attempted to glorify that theme.

Nevertheless the verse of these thirty years is rich in provincial and sectional loyalties. It has earnestness and pathos. We have, indeed, no adequate national anthem, even yet, for neither the words nor the music of “The Star-Spangled Banner" fully express what we feel while we are trying to sing it, as the “Marseillaise,” for example, does express the very spirit of revolutionary republicanism. But in true pioneer fashion we get along with a makeshift until something better turns up. The lyric and narrative verse of the Civil War itself was great in quantity, and not more inferior in quality than the war verse of other nations has often proved to be when read after the immediate occasion for it has passed. Single lyrics by Timrod and Paul Hayne, Boker, H. H. Brownell, Read, Stedman, and other men are still full of fire. Yet Mrs. Howe’s “Battle Hymn,” scribbled hastily in the gray dawn, interpreted, as no other lyric of the war quite succeeded in interpreting, the mystical glory of sacrifice for Freedom. Soldiers sang it in camp; women read it with tears; children repeated it in school, vaguely but truly perceiving in it, as their fathers had perceived in Webster’s “Reply to Hayne” thirty years before, the idea of union made “simple, sensuous, passionate.” No American poem has had a more dramatic and intense life in the quick breathing imagination of men.

More and more, however, the instinct of our people is turning to the words of Abraham Lincoln as the truest embodiment in language, as his life was the truest embodiment in action, of our national ideal. It is a curious reversal of contemporary judgments that thus discovers in the homely phrases of a frontier lawyer the most perfect literary expression of the deeper spirit of his time. “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” asked the critical East. The answer is that he had learned in a better school than the East afforded. The story of Lincoln’s life is happily too familiar to need retelling here, but some of the elements in his growth in the mastery of speech may at least be summarized.

Lincoln had a slow, tireless mind, capable of intense concentration. It was characteristic of him that he rarely took notes when trying a law case, saying that the notes distracted his attention. When his partner Herndon was asked when Lincoln had found time to study out the constitutional history of the United States, Herndon expressed the opinion that it was when Lincoln was lying on his back on the office sofa, apparently watching the flies upon the ceiling. This combination of bodily repose with intense mental and spiritual activity is familiar to those who have studied the biography of some of the great mystics. Walter Pater pointed it out in the case of Wordsworth.

In recalling the poverty and restriction of Lincoln’s boyhood and his infrequent contact with schoolhouses, it is well to remember that he managed nevertheless to read every book within twenty miles of him. These were not many, it is true, but they included “The Bible,” “Aesop’s Fables,” “Pilgrim’s Progress,” “Robinson Crusoe,” and, a little later, Burns and Shakespeare. Better food than this for the mind of a boy has never been found. Then he came to the history of his own country since the Declaration of Independence and mastered it. “I am tolerably well acquainted with the history of the country,” he remarked in his Chicago speech of 1858; and in the Cooper Union speech of 1860 he exhibited a familiarity with the theory and history of the Constitution which amazed the young lawyers who prepared an annotated edition of the address. “He has wit, facts, dates," said Douglas, in extenuation of his own disinclination to enter upon the famous joint debates, and, when Douglas returned to Washington after the debates were over, he confessed to the young Henry Watterson that “he is the greatest debater I have ever met, either here or anywhere else.” Douglas had won the senatorship and could afford to be generous, but he knew well enough that his opponent’s facts and dates had been unanswerable. Lincoln’s mental grip, indeed, was the grip of a born wrestler. “I’ve got him,” he had exclaimed toward the end of the first debate, and the Protean Little Giant, as Douglas was called, had turned and twisted in vain, caught by “that long-armed creature from Illinois.” He would indeed win the election of 1858, but he had been forced into an interpretation of the Dred Scott decision which cost him the Presidency in 1860.

Lincoln’s keen interest in words and definitions, his patience in searching the dictionary, is known to every student of his life. Part of his singular discrimination in the use of language is due to his legal training, but his style was never professionalized. Neither did it have anything of that frontier glibness and banality which was the curse of popular oratory in the West and South. Words were weapons in the hands of this self-taught fighter for ideas: he kept their edges sharp, and could if necessary use them with deadly accuracy. He framed the “Freeport dilemma” for the unwary feet of Douglas as cunningly as a fox-hunter lays his trap. “Gentlemen,” he had said of an earlier effort, “Judge Douglas informed you that this speech of mine was probably carefully prepared. I ADMIT THAT IT WAS.”

The story, too, was a weapon of attack and defense for this master fabulist. Sometimes it was a readier mode of argument than any syllogism; sometimes it gave him, like the traditional diplomatist’s pinch of snuff, an excuse for pausing while he studied his adversary or made up his own mind; sometimes, with the instinct of a poetic soul, he invented a parable and gravely gave it a historic setting “over in Sangamon County.” For although upon his intellectual side the man was a subtle and severe logician, on his emotional side he was a lover of the concrete and human. He was always, like John Bunyan, dreaming and seeing “a man” who symbolized something apposite to the occasion. Thus even his invented stories aided his marvelous capacity for statement, for specific illustration of a general law. Lincoln’s destiny was to be that of an explainer, at first to a local audience in store or tavern or courtroom, then to upturned serious faces of Illinois farmers who wished to hear national issues made clear to them, then to a listening nation in the agony of civil war, and ultimately to a world which looks to Lincoln as an exponent and interpreter of the essence of democracy.

As the audience increased, the style took on beauty and breadth, as if the man’s soul were looking through wider and wider windows at the world. But it always remained the simplest of styles. In an offhand reply to a serenade by an Indiana regiment, or in answering a visiting deputation of clergymen at the White House, Lincoln could summarize and clarify a complicated national situation with an ease and orderliness and fascination that are the despair of professional historians. He never wasted a word. “Go to work is the only cure for your case,” he wrote to John D. Johnston. There are ten words in that sentence and none of over four letters. The “Gettysburg Address” contains but two hundred and seventy words, in ten sentences. “It is a flat failure,” said Lincoln despondently; but Edward Everett, who had delivered “the" oration of that day, wrote to the President: “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.” Today the “Address” reads as if Lincoln knew that it would ultimately be stamped in bronze.

Yet the real test of Lincoln’s supremacy in our distinctly civic literature lies not so much in his skill in the manipulation of language, consummate as that was, but rather in those large elements of his nature which enabled him to perceive the true quality and ideal of American citizenship and its significance to the world. There was melancholy in that nature, else there had been a less rich humor; there was mysticism and a sense of religion which steadily deepened as his responsibilities increased. There was friendliness, magnanimity, pity for the sorrowful, patience for the slow of brain and heart, and an expectation for the future of humanity which may best be described in the old phrase “waiting for the Kingdom of God.” His recurrent dream of the ship coming into port under full sail, which preluded many important events in his own life–he had it the night before he was assassinated–is significant not only of that triumph of a free nation which he helped to make possible, but also of the victory of what he loved to call “the whole family of man.” “That is the real issue,” he had declared in closing the debates with Douglas; “that is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles–right and wrong–throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the divine right of kings.”

For this representative Anglo-Saxon man, developed under purely American conditions, maturing slowly, keeping close to facts, dying, like the old English saint, while he was “still learning," had none of the typical hardness and selfishness of the Anglo-Saxon. A brooder and idealist, he was one of those “prophetic souls of the wide world dreaming on things to come," with sympathies and imagination that reached out beyond the immediate urgencies of his race and nation to comprehend the universal task and discipline of the sons of men. In true fraternity and democracy this Westerner was not only far in advance of his own day, but he is also far in advance of ours which raises statues to his memory. Yet he was used to loneliness and to the long view, and even across the welter of the World War of the twentieth century Lincoln would be tall enough to see that ship coming into the harbor under full sail.


Chapter I. The Pioneers  •  Chapter II. The First Colonial Literature  •  Chapter III. The Third and Fourth Generation  •  Chapter IV. The Revolution  •  Chapter V. The Knickerbocker Group  •  Chapter VI. The Transcendentalists  •  Chapter VII. Romance, Poetry, and History  •  Chapter VIII. Poe and Whitman  •  Chapter IX. Union and Liberty  •  Chapter X. A New Nation  •  Bibliographical Note

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By Bliss Perry
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