Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

its part in making the struggle of the Southern population, including the “mean whites,” in the Civil War one of the most heroic, if one of the most mistaken, in which a whole population has ever been engaged; it went along with integrity and a high average of governing capacity among public men; and it fitted the gentry of the South to contribute, when they should choose, an element of great value to the common life of America. As it was, the South suffered to the full the political degeneration which threatens every powerful class which, with a distinct class interest of its own, is secluded from real contact with competing classes with other interests and other ideas. It is not to be assumed that all individual Southerners liked the policy which they learnt to support in docile masses. But their very qualities of loyalty made them the more ready, under accepted and respected leaders, to adopt political aims and methods which no man now recalls without regret.

The connection between slavery and politics was this: as population slowly grew in the South, and as the land in the older States became to some extent exhausted, the desire for fresh territory in which cultivation by slaves could flourish became stronger and stronger. This was the reason for which the South became increasingly aware of a sectional interest in politics. In all other respects the community of public interests, of business dealings, and of general intercourse was as great between North and South as between East and West. It is certain that throughout the South, with the doubtful exception of South Carolina, political instinct and patriotic pride would have made the idea of separation intolerable upon any ground except that of slavery. In regard to this matter of dispute a peculiar phenomenon is to be observed. The quarrel grew not out of any steady opposition between North and South, but out of the habitual domination of the country by the South and the long-continued submission of the North to that domination.

For the North had its full share of blame for the long course of proceedings which prepared the coming tragedy,

+

[ocr errors]

and the most impassioned writers on the side of the Union during the Civil War have put that blame highest. The South became arrogant and wrong-headed, and no defence is possible for the chief acts of Southern policy which will be recorded later; but the North was abject. To its own best sons it seemed to have lost both its conscience and its manhood, and to be stilled in the coils of its own miserable political apparatus. Certainly the prevailing attitude of the Northern to the Southern politicians was that of truckling. And Southerners who went to Washington had a further reason for acquiring a fatal sense of superiority to the North. The tradition of popular government which maintained itself in the South caused men who were respected, in private life, and were up to a point capable leaders, who were, in short, representative, to be sent to Congress and to be kept there. The childish perversion of popular government which took hold of the newer and more unsettled population in the North led them to send to Congress an ever-changing succession of unmeritable and sometimes shady people. The eventual stirring of the mind of the North which so closely concerns this biography was a thing hard to bring about, and to the South it brought a great shock of surprise.

7. Intellectual Development. No survey of the political movements of this period should conclude without directing attention to something more important, which cannot be examined here. In the years from 1830 till some time after the death of Lincoln, America made those contributions to the literature of our common language which, though neither her first nor her last, seemed likely to be most permanently valued. The learning and literature of America at that time centred round Boston and Harvard University in the adjacent city of Cambridge, and no invidious comparison is intended or will be felt if they, with their poets and historians and men of letters at that time, with their peculiar atmosphere, instinct then and now with a life

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

athletic, learned, business-like and religious, are taken to show the dawning capacities of the new nation. No places in the United States exhibit more visibly the kinship of America with England, yet in none certainly can a stranger see more readily that America is independent of the Old World in something more than politics. Many of their streets and buildings would in England seem redolent of the past, yet no cities of the Eastern States played so large a part in the development, material and mental, of the raw and vigorous West. The limitations of their greatest writers are in a manner the sign of their achievement. It would have been contrary to all human analogy if a country, in such an early stage of creation out of such a chaos, had put forth books marked strongly as its own and yet as the products of a mature national mind. It would also have been surprising if since the Civil War the rush of still more appalling and more complex practical problems had not obstructed for a while the flow of imaginative or scientific production. But the growth of those relatively early years was great. Boston had been the home of a loveless Christianity; its insurrection in the War of Independence had been soiled by shifty dealing and mere acidity; but Boston from the days of Emerson to those of Phillips Brooks radiated a temper and a mental force that was manly, tender, and clean. The man among these writers about whose exact rank, neither low nor very high among poets, there can be least dispute was Longfellow. He might seem from his favourite subjects to be hardly American; it was his deliberately chosen task to bring to the new country some savour of things gentle and mellow caught from the literature of Europe. But, in the first place, no writer could in the detail of his work have been more racy of that New England countryside which lay round his home; and, in the second place, no writer could have spoken more unerringly to the ear of the whole wide America of which his home was a little part. It seems strange to couple the name of this mild and scholarly man with the thought of that crude Western world to which we must

[ocr errors]

in a moment pass. But the connection is real and vital. It is well shown in the appreciation written of him and his fellows by the American writer who most violently contrasts with him, Walt Whitman.

A student of American history may feel something like the experience which is common among travellers in America. When they come home they cannot tell their friends what really interested them. Ugly things and very dull things are prominent in their story, as in the tales of American humorists. The general impression they convey is of something tiresomely extensive, distractingly miscellaneous, and yet insufferably monotonous. But that is not what they mean. They had better not seek to express themselves by too definite instances. They will be understood and believed when they say that to them America, with its vast spaces from ocean to ocean, does present itself as one country, not less worthy than any other of the love which it has actually inspired; a country which is the home of distinctive types of manhood and womanhood, bringing their own addition to the varying forms in which kindness and courage and truth make themselves admirable to mankind.The soul of a single people seems to be somewhere present in that great mass, no less than in some tiny city State of antiquity. Only it has to struggle, submerged evermore by a flood of newcomers, and defeated evermore by difficulties quite unlike those of other lands; and it struggles seemingly with undaunted and with rational hope.

Americans are fond of discussing Americanism. Very often they select as a pattern of it Abraham Lincoln, the man who kept the North together but has been pronounced to have been a Southerner in his inherited character. Whether he was so typical or not, it is the central fact of this biography that no man ever pondered more deeply in his own way, or answered more firmly the question whether there was indeed an American nationality worth preserving

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors]

1. Life at New Salem. From this talk of large political movements we have to recall ourselves to a young labouring man with hardly any schooling, naturally and incurably uncouth, but with a curious, quite modest, impulse to assert a kindly ascendency over the companions whom chance threw in his way, and with something of the gift, which odd, shy people often possess, for using their very oddity as a weapon in their struggles. In the conditions of real equality which still prevailed in a newly settled country it is not wonderful that he made his way into political life when he was twenty-five, but it was not till twenty years later that he played an important part in events of enduring significance.

Thus the many years of public activity with which we are concerned in this and the following chapter belong rather to his apprenticeship than to his life's work; and this apprenticeship at first sight contrasts more strongly with his fame afterwards than does his boyhood of poverty and comparatively romantic hardship. For many poor boys have lived to make a great mark on history, but as a rule they have entered early on a life either of learning or of adventure or of large business. But the affairs in which Lincoln early became immersed have an air of pettiness, and from the point of view of most educated men and women in the Eastern States or in Europe, many of the associates and competitors of his early manhood, to whom he had to look up as his superiors in knowledge, would certainly have seemed crude people with a narrow horizon. Indeed, till he was called upon to take supreme control of very great mat

« AnteriorContinuar »