The New Nation: A History of the United States during the Confederation, 1781-1789

By Merrill Jensen | Go to book overview

4
The Spirit of the New Nation

THE SPIRIT and faith of the new nation were expressed variously, but no expression was more obvious and popular than that to be found in Fourth of July celebrations. In 1783 a Charleston paper reported: "Yesterday, the 4th of July, afforded a spectacle equally awful and grand. The inhabitants of the whole continent of America, eagerly devoted in commemorating the anniversary of the greatest revolution that ever took place-the expulsion of tyranny and slavery, and the introduction of freedom, happiness, and independency, throughout the greatest continent in the world."1 Four years later, after a celebration of the eleventh anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, a Boston paper declared that the Revolution "has not only given the blessing of freedom to this western world; but has enlightened nearly all Europe, with respect to the natural rights of mankind."2

The news of Yorktown in 1781 had barely reached New England before doughty Timothy Dwight preached a sermon in which he summed up the experience of the past, the problems of the present, and the hopes for the future. His text was from Isaiah: "to the islands he will repay recompense. . . ." The Lord had humbled Britain for her cruelties in India and America, and Yorktown was the crowning victory. But the Americans had sins too: dissipation of thought, prostitution of reason, contempt for religion, disdain of virtue, deliberation in vice, and universal levity and corruption of soul. Skepticism was growing every- where. But there is progress in knowledge. The present century is the most enlightened of any. The growth of knowledge

____________________
1
South Carolina Gazette, and General Advertiser, 5 July 1783.
2
Massachusetts Centinel, 14 July 1787.

-88-

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