The Civil War In America; Its Place In History.

7009 words - 28 pages

FOR many years before the outbreak of the Civil War the United States had become an object of anxiety or of envy to many, of wonder and curiosity to all mankind. Their prosperity, attached by a thousand beneficent links to the prosperity of England, seemed even more splendid and more secure. The rapid growth of their population united the marvels of Lancashire with the marvels of Australia; it created vast cities, and peopled an enormous territory with their overflow. The accumulation of riches was as great as in Europe, whilst they were diffused so much more generally that poverty as well as idleness was all but unknown. All the sources of agricultural and of mineral wealth enjoyed by the old world were tenfold multiplied in the new, and were exempt from the drain of those political causes which restrain commercial enterprise, and expend on objects that yield no adequate return the resources of the people. The money thus rescued from unproductive waste was reserved to extend and equalise education.In a society organised like our own it is desirable that education should be fitted, in nature and degree, to the special character and occupation of the several ranks in life to which each man belongs, but in a country where there is no distinction of class, a child is not born to the station of its parents, but with an indefinite claim to all the prizes that can be won by thought and labour. It is in conformity with the theory of equality to check the causes which disturb it, and to give as near as possible to every youth an equal start in life. Every American is a self-made man, and they are unwilling that any should be deprived in childhood of the means of competition. Therefore in several States a system of instruction was introduced which enabled a pupil to advance from the first rudiments of knowledge to the end of a university course, and to prepare himself for the learned professions, without payment of a single shilling. Taxation was scarcely felt;there was no standing army; a navy that weighed lightly in the Budget, an inconsiderable public debt. No neighbouring Power threatened the safety of the country. No internal disaffection disturbed the peaceful reign of law. And this material progress, though checked by serious drawbacks, was not obtained at the expense of the higher elements of civilisation.In literature at least I entirely dissent from the opinion which denies to Americans an honourable place beside European nations. It may be said that they have had no first-rate poet or painter, and that they have done little for scholarship and antiquities. But it appears to me impossible with justice to deny thatthey are our equals in political eloquence and philosophy, or that they surpass us as writers on the history of the continent and on the art of government. In practical politics they had solved with astonishing and unexampled success two problems which had hitherto baffled the capacity of the most enlightened nations: they had contrived...

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