The Critical Period of American History, 1783-1789

By John Fiske | Go to book overview
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Creation of a national domain beyond the Alleghanies

WHILE the events we have heretofore contemplated seemed to prophesy the speedy dissolution and downfall of the half-formed American Union, a series of causes, obscure enough at first, but emerging gradually into distinctness and then into prominence, were preparing the way for the foundation of a national sovereignty. The growth of this sovereignty proceeded stealthily along such ancient lines of precedent as to take ready hold of people's minds, although few, if any, understood the full purport of what they were doing. Ever since the days when our English forefathers dwelt in village communities in the forests of northern Germany, the idea of a common land or folkland -- a territory belonging to the whole community, and upon which new communities might be organized by a process analogous to what physiologists call cell-multiplication -- had been perfectly familiar to everybody. Townships budded from village or parish folkland in Maryland and Massachusetts in the seventeenth century, just as they had done in England before the time of Alfred. The critical period of the Revolution witnessed the repetition of this process on a gigantic scale. It witnessed the creation of a national territory beyond the Alleghanies, -- an enormous folkland in which all the thirteen old states had a common interest, and upon which new and derivative communities were already beginning to organize themselves. Questions about public lands are often regarded as the driest of historical deadwood. Discussions about them in newspapers and magazines belong to the class of articles which the general reader usually skips. Yet there is a great deal


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