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EDITORIAL ADDRESS IN MASSACHUSETTS QUARTERLY REVIEW, DECEMBER, 1847
The American people are fast opening their own destiny. Their material basis is of such extent that no folly of man can quite subvert it; for the territory is a considerable fraction of the planet, and the population neither loath nor inexpert to use their advantage. Add, that this energetic race derive an unsrecedented material power from the new arts, from the expansions effected by public schools, cheap postage, and a cheap press, from the telescope, the telegraph, the railroad, steamship, steamferry, steammill, from domestic architecture, chemical agriculture, from ventilation, from ice, ether, caoutchouc, and innumerable inventions and manufactures.
A scholar who has been reading of the fabulous magnificence of Assyria and Persia, of Rome and Constantinople, leaves his library, and takes his seat in a rail-car, where he is importuned by newsboys with journals still wet from Liverpool and Havre, with telegraphic despatches not yet fifty minutes old from Buffalo and Cincinnati. At the screams of the steamwhistle, the train quits city and suburbs, darts away into the interior, — drops every man at his estate as it whirls along, and shows our traveller what tens of thousands of powerful and weaponed men, sciencearmed and society-armed, sit at large in this ample region, obscure from their numbers and the extent of the domain. He reflects on the power which each of these plain republicans can employ; how far these
chains of intercourse and travel reach, interlock, and ramify; what levers, what pumps, what exhaustive analyses are applied to nature for the benefit of masses of men. Then he exclaims, What a negrofine royalty is that of Jamschid and Solomon! What a substantial sovereignty does my townsman possess! A man who has a hundred dollars to dispose of, — a hundred dollars over his bread, — is rich beyond the dreams of the Cæsars. Keep our eyes as long as we can on this picture, we cannot stave off the ulterior question, – the famous question of Cineas to Pyrrhus,
the WHERETO of all this power and population, these surveys and inventions, this taxing and tabulating, mill-privilege, roads, and mines. The aspect this country presents is a certain maniacal activity, an immense apparatus of cunning machinery which turns out at last some Nuremberg toys. Has it generated, as great interests do, any intellectual power? Where are the works of imagination the surest test of a national genius? At least as far as the purpose and genius of America is yet reported in any book, it is sterility, and no genius.
One would say there is nothing colossal in this country but its geography and its material activities; that the moral and intellectual effects are not on the same scale with the trade and production. There is no speech heard but that of auctioneers, newsboys, and the caucus. Where is the great breath of the New World, the voice of aboriginal nations opening new eras with hymns of lofty cheer? Our books and fine arts are imitations; there is a fatal incuriosity and disinclination in our educated men to new studies, and the interrogation of nature. We have taste, critical talent, good professors, good commentators, but a lack of male energy. What more serious calamity can befall a people than a constitutional dullness
and limitation? The moral influence of the intellect is wanting. We hearken in vain for any profound voice speaking to the American heart, cheering timid good men, animating the youth, consoling the defeated, and intelligently announcing duties which clothe life with joy, and endear the face of land and sea to men. It is a poor consideration that the country wit is precocious, and, as we say, practical; that political interests on so broad a scale as ours are administered by little men with some saucy village talent, by deft partisans, good cipherers, strict economists, quite empty of all superstition.
Conceding these unfavorable appearances, it would yet be a poor pedantry to read the fates of this country from these narrow data. On the contrary, we are persuaded that moral and material values are always commensurate. Every material organization exists to a moral end, which makes the reason of its existence. Here are no books, but who can see the continent with its inland and surrounding waters, its temperate climates, its west-wind breathing vigor through all the year, its confluence of races so favorable to the highest energy, and the infinite glut of their production, without putting new queries to Destiny, as to the purpose for which this muster of Nation and this sudden creation of enormous values is made. This is equally the view of science and of patriotism. We hesitate to employ a word so much abused as patriotism, whose true sense is almost the reverse of its popular sense.
We have no sympathy with that boyish egotism hoarse with cheering for our side, for our State, for our town; the right patriotism consists in the delight which springs from contributing our peculiar and legitimate advantages to the benefit of humanity. Every foot of soil has its proper quality; the grape
on two sides of the same fence has new flavors; and so every acre on the globe, every family of men, every point of climate, has its distinguishing virtues. Certainly, then, this country does not lie here in the sun causeless; and though it may not be easy to define its influences, men feel already its emancipating quality in the careless self-reliance of the manners, in the freedom of thought, in the direct road in which grievances are reached and redressed, and even in the reckless and sinister politics, not less than in purer expression.
Bad as it is, this freedom leads onward and upward - to a Columbia of thought and art, which is the last and endless end of Columbus's adventure. Lovers of country, but not always approvers of the public counsels, we should certainly be glad to give good advice in politics. We have not been able to escape our national and endemic habit, and to be liberated from interest in the election and public affairs. Nor have we cared to disfranchise ourselves. We are more solicitous than others to make our politics clear and healthful, as we believe politics to be nowise accidental or exceptional, but to the same laws with trees, earths, and acid. We see that reckless and distructive fury which characterizes the lower classes of American society, and which is pampered by hundreds of profligate presses. The young intriguers who drive in bar-rooms and town-meetings the trade of politics, sagacious only to seize the victorious side, have put the country into the position of an overgrown bully, and Massachusetts finds no heart or head to give weight or efficacy to her contrary judgment. In hours when it seemed only to need one just word from a man of honor to have vindicated the rights of millions, and to have given a true direction to the first steps of a nation, we have seen the best understand
ings of New England, the trusted leaders of her councils constituting a snivelling and despised opposition, clapped on the back by comfortable capitalists from all sections, and persuaded to say, We are too old to stand for what is called a New England sentiment any longer. Rely on us for commercial repre
sentatives, but for questions of ethics — who knows : what markets may be opened? We are not well, we
are not in our seats, when justice and humanity are E to be spoken for.
We have a bad war, many victories – each of which converts the country into an immense chanticleer; and a very insincere political opposition. The country needs to be extricated from its delirium at once. Public affairs are chained in the same law with private; the retributions of armed states are not less sure and signal than those which come to private felons. The facility of majorities is no protection from the natural sequence of their own acts. Men reason badly, but nature and destiny are logical. But whilst we should think our pains well bestowed if we could cure the infatuation of statesmen, and should be sincerely pleased if we could give a direction to the federal politics, we are far from believing politics the primal interest of men. On the contrary, we hold that laws and governors cannot possess a commanding interest for any but vacant or fanatical people: for the reason that this is simply a formal and superficial interest; and men of solid genius are only interested in substantial things.
The state, like the individual, should rest on an ideal basis. Not only man but nature is injured by the imputation that man exists only to be fattened with bread; but he lives in such connection with Thought and Fact, that his bread is surely involved as one element thereof, but is not its end and aim,