III: THE LOYALTY OF A NEW PEOPLE

I think there never was a period since the fall of man, nor a country to be found in the globe, where peace and plenty so generally abound as in the northern states of America.

FROM AN IMMIGRANT LETTER, 1828

IN AMERICA as in Europe the concept of a unique people has occupied a strategic place in the growth of national loyalty. The sense of unity and of likeness in relation to other peoples has, in fact, been one of the strongest forces in modern nationalism. In the colonial period the idea of a distinctive Anglo-American people began to emerge slowly and almost imperceptibly. It became somewhat better defined on the eve of the American Revolution, when James Wilson prophetically declared that the new American commonwealth was based, not on men's differences, but on their similarities. In the decades that followed the winning of independence the concept of a distinctive American people was more fully elaborated and more widely spread. At no point did all Americans agree on the unique characteristics of the American people. Yet these differences of opinion did not blot out the notion that there had come into existence a unique American people.

The vast, rich, and magnificent physical setting of the new land not unnaturally suggested that a people exposed to such bounty should develop superior characteristics. Especially at the end of the eighteenth century American sons of the Enlightenment -- and many others -- responded to the idea that natural environment molds the basic characteristics of a people.

Nothing did more to focus attention on the whole matter than a controversy over one of the most popular beliefs current among European naturalists. This was the theory that American physical environment, American climate particularly, bred specimens in the

-65-

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