“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen, philosophers, and divines.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Civil War may have achieved unity of the nation, but it left our minds in ideological tatters. The great dichotomies that drove brothers to fight and die would no longer animate the American psyche. True, slavery was gone, but it did not follow that, in practice, all men were to be treated equal. True, the Union survived, but Webster's rhetoric of “Union now and forever” lost its currency as a meaningful slogan. Washington gained confidence and power in having fielded and managed the world's greatest army in its time, but in defeat the states of the Confederacy unceasingly pressed for their autonomy and their rights. A new constitutional order was born, but the ancien system of individual rights survived. The idea that the country would have to choose between these conflicting ideals rapidly became anathema.
A distinctively American school of philosophy called “pragmatism” generated a way of thinking that gave Americans hope that they would not have to choose between the ideological opposites that drove the Civil War. As developed by Charles Peirce and William James a generation after the war, the pragmatic way of thinking has many different meanings and applications, and many of them have nothing to do with working out a middle way between the demands of our two