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Synopsis

This book contains the substance of the course of lectures given in the Old South Meeting-House in Boston in December, 1884, at the Washington University in St. Louis in May, 1885, and in the theatre of the University Club in New York in March, 1886. In its present shape it may serve as a sketch of the political history of the United States from the end of the Revolutionary War to the adoption of the Federal Constitution. It makes no pretensions to completeness, either as a summary of the events of that period or as a discussion of the political questions involved in them. I have aimed especially at grouping facts in such a way as to bring out and emphasize their causal sequence, and it is accordingly hoped that the book may prove useful to the student of American history. My title was suggested by the fact of Thomas Paine's stopping the publication of the "Crisis," on hearing the news of the treaty of 1783, with the remark, "The times that tried men's souls are over." Commenting upon this, on page 55 of the present work, I observed that so far from the crisis being over in 1783, the next five years were to be the most critical time of all. I had not then seen Mr. Trescot's "Diplomatic History of the Administrations of Washington and Adams," on page 9 of which he uses almost the same words: "It must not be supposed that the treaty of peace secured the national life. Indeed, it would be more correct to say that the most critical period of the country's history embraced the time between 1783 and the adoption of the Constitution in 1788." That period was preeminently the turning-point in the development of political society in the western hemisphere. Though small in their mere dimensions, the events here summarized were in a remarkable degree germinal events, fraught with more tremendous alternatives of future welfare or misery for mankind than it is easy for the imagination to grasp. As we now stand upon the threshold of that mighty future, in the light of which all events of the past are clearly destined to seem dwindled in dimensions and significant only in the ratio of their potency as causes; as we discern how large a part of that future must be the outcome of the creative work, for good or ill, of men of English speech; we are put into the proper mood for estimating the significance of the causes which determined a century ago that the continent of North America should be dominated by a single powerful and pacific federal nation instead of being parcelled out among forty or fifty small communities, wasting their strength and lowering their moral tone by perpetual warfare, like the states of ancient Greece, or by perpetual preparation for warfare, like the nations of modern Europe. In my book entitled "American Political Ideas, viewed from the Standpoint of Universal History," I have tried to indicate the pacific influence likely to be exerted upon the world by the creation and maintenance of such a political structure as our Federal Union. The present narrative may serve as a commentary upon what I had in mind on page 133 of that book, in speaking of the work of our Federal Convention as "the finest specimen of constructive statesmanship that the world has ever seen." On such a point it is pleasant to find one's self in accord with a statesman so wise and noble as Mr. Gladstone, whose opinion is here quoted on page 223. To some persons it may seem as if the years 1861-65 were of more cardinal importance than the years 1783-89. Our civil war was indeed an event of prodigious magnitude, as measured by any standard that history affords; and there can be little doubt as to its decisiveness. The measure of that decisiveness is to be found in the completeness of the reconciliation that has already, despite the feeble wails of unscrupulous place-hunters and unteachable bigots, cemented the Federal Union so powerfully that all likelihood of its disruption may be said to have disappeared forever. When we consider this wonderful harmony which so soon has followed the deadly struggle, we may well believe it to be the index of such a stride toward the ultimate pacification of mankind as was never made before. But it was the work done in the years 1783-89 that created a federal nation capable of enduring the storm and stress of the years 1861-65. It was in the earlier crisis that the pliant twig was bent; and as it was bent, so has it grown; until it has become indeed a goodly and a sturdy tree

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