Seeds of Liberty: The Genesis of the American Mind

Seeds of Liberty: The Genesis of the American Mind

Seeds of Liberty: The Genesis of the American Mind

Seeds of Liberty: The Genesis of the American Mind

Excerpt

"What, then, is the American, this new man?"

M. G. ST. J. DE CRÈVECŒUR.

THERE probably does not exist in all human history another case of the rise of a new culture whose record is so nearly complete and well documented as is that of American civilization right from the beginning. For the Europeans who founded this new civilization brought their own with them and planted it, as it were, in a blank space where there was no pre-existing culture to absorb it or even seriously to influence it. If any culture should have reproduced exactly that of its parent country, this one should; yet after the passage of a century and a half the culture those first Europeans had planted here was sharply differentiated, in many respects, from that of the mother country, and the people who had produced that culture were a new people.

The process of adaptation and growth along new lines, in the course of which a distinctly American way began to appear, began with the strokes of the first English ax that bit its way into the trunk of an American tree standing on American soil. Its first clearly defined results, however, were not surely to be observed until toward the end of the seventeenth century, in the lifetime of the second and third generations of men and women actually born on American soil. And the new society and its new ways did not achieve full maturity until toward the end of the first half of the eighteenth century.

The thirteen British colonies on the continent of North America that eventually seceded from the British Empire to become the United States of America were only a fragment of the broad, world-wide frontier of Europe overseas, and just a segment of the British frontier in America; but their patterns of culture were differentiated, by 1750, both from that of the mother country and from each other. It is easily conceivable, indeed, that the three or four differentiated culture-patterns formed in the original thirteen colonies might have crystallized, eventually, into as many independent, sovereign nations, had the formative conditions that tended to draw them all together operated less strongly. For the sectional differences and antagonisms were sharp; it was the force of common antagonisms and conflicts against French and . . .

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