To Try Men's Souls: Loyalty Tests in American History

To Try Men's Souls: Loyalty Tests in American History

To Try Men's Souls: Loyalty Tests in American History

To Try Men's Souls: Loyalty Tests in American History

Excerpt

"There seems no reason," Herman Melville noted soon after Lee surrendered, "why patriotism and narrowness should go together, or why intellectual impartiality should be confused with political trimming, or why serviceable truth should be kept cloistered because not partisan." Melville felt that post-Civil War problems required for solution little "but common sense, and Christian charity." Then he added: "Little but these? They are much."SUPSUP SUPSUP

Common sense and Christian charity have been largely absent from the history of loyalty tests in the United States. Few persons know that there is such a history and that it offers, in the Beardian phrase, insight from hindsight. But this may be too optimistic. In times of crisis, it is a rare event to find individuals seeking solutions for the problems of their time from the lessons of the past. Even Woodrow Wilson, trained in the art of history, remarked in 1918 that "nobody ever before fought a war like this," and concluded that the stories of earlier conflicts offered few guides to America's World War I needs.SUPSUP SUPSUP

Optimistic or no, I have tried in this book to draw together the history of loyalty tests throughout the long span of American development for what purposes it may serve. It seemed to me that the best way to do this was to re-create as much of the story as possible as it occurred on the stage of history, concentrating on the loyalty-testing aspect of each incident, rather than from the vantage point of the backward look. To be sure this approach involved certain limitations. It imposed, for example, an episodic scheme, for the history of loyalty tests is spasmodic rather than continuous. Loyalty tests are crisis products. They emerge from the felt needs of authorities during wars, rebellions, and periods of fear of subversion.

Another limitation derives from the nature of the greatly varied sources used for this book. They offered no simple picture to draw, no convenient hero to extol or villain to condemn. There is, surely, no easy conservative-against-liberal line. Champions of loyalty tests in America's colonial and national history included James I, Sam Adams, George Mason, George III, Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Wilson, Martin Dies, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman . . .

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