« PreviousContinue »
No. 442, Part II.JANUARY, 1915.
Art. 9.—THE NEW AMERICAN HISTORY.
1. A History of the People of the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War. By J. B. McMaster. Eight vols. New York and London : Appleton, 1883-1913. 2. Guide to the Study and Reading of American History. By E. Channing, A. B. Hart, and F. J. Turner. First Edition, 1896. Revised and augmented edition. Boston and New York: Ginn, 1912. 3. Economic Beginnings of the Far West: How We Won the Land beyond the Mississippi. By Katharine Coman. Two vols. New York : Macmillan, 1912. 4. The United States and Mexico, 1821-1848. By G. L.
Rives. Two vols. New York : Scribner, 1913. 5. The Development of American Nationality. By C. R.
Fish. New York: American Book Co., 1913. 6. From Jefferson to Lincoln. By W. MacDonald. New
York: Holt, 1912. WHEN John Bach McMaster brought out the first volume of the History of the People of the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War,' in 1883, the prevailing historical opinions of his countrymen were based upon books of which few are to-day accepted as reliable, and upon general assumptions that are now questioned or supplanted. He began his studies in a period when the men who had fought the Civil War were still dominating American thought.
He has outlived their generation and their epoch, for, as they died, younger historians, trained in Europe and unscarred by the abolition schism, began to rewrite their times. Yet these eight large volumes, to which Prof. McMaster has devoted his life, VOL. 222. -No. 442,
and which are now complete, stretch across this revolution in ideals and understanding, and are a coherent whole, modern in their views to-day. When the first of them appeared there began a new period in historical writing in America.
Thirty years ago, the period that lay between the close of the second war with England and the outbreak of the Civil War (1814-1861) was the dark age of American history. No impartial historian had traversed it. The explanations given by politicians on the stump were still accepted as history by their followers. Men of the North, who as schoolboys had declaimed the fervid peroration of Webster's speech for the Union, were in middle life convinced that slavery was closely related to original sin and that the war was only a wicked rebellion. The veterans who had fought with Lee and Jackson, and their children, were hardened in the belief that selfish sectionalism and criminal aggression by the North were the key to all their history. There was no acceptance of fundamental facts in 1883, and no unity in interpretation. School histories were written for the North or the South; none could circulate throughout the nation. And indeed men were only just beginning, in 1883, to speak or to think of the United States as a nation.
That he foresaw the drift of American thought, and wrote the first great history that travelled with it, is Prof. McMaster's greatest title to fame. Out of his volumes can be gathered the facts that illustrate the modern view. Other historians have added to his facts, and formulated theories based upon them, but none has greatly changed his drawing of the picture of the halfcentury preceding the Civil War. In that half-century, as we now see it, are to be found the bases for the nationality of the United States, whose existence men disbelieved in 1883.
The Peace of Ghent, in 1814, left the United States bankrupt and disunited. Its population, under ten millions, sprawled along the Atlantic seaboard, pushing slightly west of the ridge of the Alleghanies, but it was local in its life and in its views. It had been plunged unprepared into the English war by enthusiasts from the frontier. From the war itself it had gained nothing, but from the peace in Europe which came within a few months of the treaty of Ghent it derived permanent advantage. With Europe at rest it was no longer worth while to bully the United States; the vexed question of the carrying trade ceased to vex when Europe could resume her own carrying. Freed from the disturbing forces of European politics the United States could develop quietly at home. The unproductive war was followed by so active a period of home development that it has always been easy to argue post hoc propter hoc, and to attribute the growth to the second war of independence.' A truer explanation finds in the distress and suffering of the war the cause for active migration and pioneering, out of which came in the six years following the return of peace the six new States of Indiana (1816), Mississippi (1817), Illinois (1818), Alabama (1819), Maine (1820), and Missouri (1821). The boundaries of occupation were enlarged; the problems of wilderness-reclamation were forced upon government; a new economic democracy was born; and the transition from provinces to nation was begun.
Nearly every American problem of the next fifty years can be connected with the conquest of the frontier. The backwoods communities of 1815 were in the Ohio Valley, but they differed little from earlier backwoods in the mountains of Virginia or Carolina, or along the Susquehanna or the Hudson or the Connecticut. Direct contact with nature was the prime condition; and the trees, the swamps, the thick virgin sod, the food supply, and the diseases were similar whenever Americans broke into the wilderness. The first two decades were the same whatever the region. Until the first children had grown to manhood the pioneers lived a life of unrelieved fatigue. Economic and social equality were compulsory. There was rarely much money or much that money could buy. Food and shelter were easily obtained, and were nearly all that could be obtained. Not until the accumulations of years had provided means for permanent improvements and for paying off the debt of occupation could the frontier regions begin to differentiate according to local resources or social influences.
At the close of the War of 1812 most of the United States was agricultural and not far removed from pioneer
conditions. Along a few of the main rivers, near Boston, or New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore or Charleston, were communities that had developed settled habits ; but their proportion to the whole population was small, and the pioneer farmer was still the typical American. The rush of settlers to the West in the next few years enlarged the pioneer area and, through the admission of new States, impressed its influence upon the central government. That differentiation within America was approaching was rarely foreseen ; that differentiation from Europe had occurred was patent to all.
A new consciousness of American independence showed itself in the doctrine which James Monroe announced in 1823, after the revolution in the colonies of Spain. The threat that a European congress might be called to consider the restoration of these colonies by the same allied force that had put down liberal movements in France, Spain, and Naples alarmed both the American and the British governments, although for different reasons. George Canning wanted to save the South American trade, which a restoration of the Spanish colonial system would destroy. James Monroe voiced the nervousness of his countrymen lest the destruction of republican governments in South America should be the precursor of an attack upon republicanism in the United States. It was a not uncommon belief of Americans that monarchical Europe dreaded the success of democracy in America and longed to overturn it. From such a background came the doctrine that has remained the fundamental American policy since 1823. Unreasonable in many details, but founded upon the defensible premiss that whatever may injure a country is its proper concern, the Monroe doctrine warned the Powers not to molest the American republics, and asserted an isolation of American interests and a leadership of the United States in America that expressed the new consciousness of independence. If the doctrine had been questioned it could never have been maintained, because of the structural weakness of the United States and its sparse population. But America was more conscious of its independence than of its limitations.
The decade following the enunciation of the Monroe doctrine witnessed various events that confirmed its
premiss. One may scrutinise the earlier treaties of the United States in vain for evidence that American influence shaped their terms, but in a series of treaties made about 1830, in the Presidency of Andrew Jackson, the republic made good its claim to respectful treatment. The European wars had done much damage to Americans, who were maltreated by all the belligerents. Great Britain was the defendant in most of the cases, since her universal naval presence had given to her Orders in Council vast power for harm. But these claims had been forfeited when the United States chose to try the arbitrament of war. Against France, Spain, Holland, and Naples, however, were claims that had not been cancelled by war, and were pressed by the United States with increasing seriousness as the legitimate governments of Europe solidified themselves in the twenties. Jackson collected the claims a little later, and so managed their political effect upon his followers that they were generally regarded as a tribute to the strength and influence of the United States.
During Jackson's first year in office, in 1830, occurred other events that further stimulated a growing sentiment of nationalism. The political quarrel between southern men and eastern men, old as the government and embittered by the factions of the English war, crystallised in the great senatorial debate between Webster of Massachusetts and Hayne of South Carolina. The forces of nationality had been growing quietly. The Supreme Court bad voiced the supremacy of federal law over the States, but most of the States still thought of themselves as supreme.
Webster made popular the notion of national supremacy.
His followers in the North and West accepted his theory first for party's sake. Two years later, when Hayne's own State tried to 'nullify' a tariff law, its act strengthened the conviction elsewhere that Webster's view was right. In the next
* In 1832 South Carolina, vexed by a protective tariff, declared that the Tariff Act was unconstitutional and void, thereby attempting to 'nullify' it. Jackson prepared to use force against the State in order to execute the law, but Congress hurriedly modified the Act and removed the grievance. The proceeding adopted by South Carolina became known as nullification'; its importance lay in the fact that it involved the question of State rights as against the Federal authorities.