Space, Time, and Freedom: The Quest for Nationality and the Irrepressible Conflict, 1815-1861

Space, Time, and Freedom: The Quest for Nationality and the Irrepressible Conflict, 1815-1861

Space, Time, and Freedom: The Quest for Nationality and the Irrepressible Conflict, 1815-1861

Space, Time, and Freedom: The Quest for Nationality and the Irrepressible Conflict, 1815-1861

Synopsis

"Well written and tightly woven, it requires close attention of the reader. Should go far in stimulating upper-level undergraduates and graduate students in their thinking about those questions that eventuated in the American Civil War." - Choice

Excerpt

As a venture in intellectual history, the present study will hopefully find its place among a growing number of works dealing with the subject of American nationalism. It reflects the effort to analyze in a systematic fashion the rhetoric of political debate in the national arena and, with special focus upon the moments of greatest crisis and controversy, to formulate more clearly and fully what held Americans together in the years after 1815 and what drove them at last to civil conflict by 1861. For this purpose the work of Hans Kohn , American Nationalism: An Interpretative Essay (New York: Macmillan, 1957), provided a good starting point. The essence of American nationalism, according to Kohn, lay in an idea--the idea of freedom. As a complex rather than a simple idea, it blended the English heritage of liberty with the tendency in French Enlightenment thought to conceive of freedom as a natural or universal right. The birthright of Englishmen thus fused with the birthright of all mankind to produce a peculiarly American concept of freedom. The nation of freemen was at once the product of history and of nature, that is, a nation shaped by past experience yet also defined by its conformity to an idea, which was presumed to be universally valid and therefore timeless. The historical element spared Americans the dangers of radical utopianism to be seen in the French Revolution; while the universal element tended to generate the belief that the nation had already achieved essential perfection.

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