Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859

By Elizabeth R. Varon | Go to book overview

2
We Claim Our Rights
THE ADVENT OF ABOLITIONISM

As America approached its fiftieth birthday, the “triumphal” 1824–25 tour of Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette served as the occasion for a public outpouring of pride and optimism—and of praise for the inestimable benefits of the glorious Union. Albert Gallatin, former secretary of the treasury and U.S. minister to France, welcomed Lafayette to Uniontown, New York, with a speech proclaiming that America could now boast “a distinguished rank amongst the nations of the earth.” The nation had “attained a height of prosperity unequalled, within so short a period, in the annals of mankind. Her villages are now populous cities; her ships cover the Ocean; new states have, as by magic, arisen out of the wilderness; her progress in manufactures, in arts, in internal improvements, latterly in science and literature, has kept apace with that of her wealth.” Gallatin concluded that “the present generation has proved worthy of their fathers.”1

Americans had much cause to wonder at their progress; “since the Revolution, the nation's population and territorial expanse had more than doubled,” Eric Foner notes. But as Gallatin, a battle-scarred veteran of the partisan warfare of the early republic, knew all too well, Americans also had much cause for anxiety. His notion that the present generation had “proved worthy” was as much a wish as an assessment, for that generation was

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