Law and the Conditions of Freedom in the Nineteenth- Century United States

By James Willard Hurst | Go to book overview

II
THE CONTROL OF ENVIRONMENT

WE were all Republicans, we were all Federalists, in possessing a common instrumental belief which shaped the nineteenth-century legal order. Jefferson and Hamilton, Jacksonian and Whig, were alike confident that men could materially control their environment through the legally mobilized power of the community. George Bancroft spoke in 1835 with the gusty exuberance and vague idealism of Jacksonian Democracy. But he expressed the general view of man's peculiar capacity to change things:

The material world does not change in its masses or in its powers. The stars shine with no more lustre than when they first sang together in the glory of their birth. . . . Nature is the same. For her no new forces are generated; no new capacities are discovered. The earth turns on its axis, and perfects its revolutions, and renews its seasons, without increase or advancement. But a like passive destiny does not attach to the inhabitants of the earth. For them the expectations of social improvement are no delusion; the hopes of philanthropy are more than a dream.1

Such faith in our capacity to affect the currents of events was implicit in Jefferson's program to use the public lands to center American society around the small farmer, and his plans for a public schools system (indeed, also, in the Louisiana Purchase); in Hamilton's proposal of a protective tariff to promote industry; in Clay's argument for a bold public scheme of internal improvements.

Thus, Jefferson saw public education as a force which might fundamentally mould the society. The public schools would both develop human resources and create the conditions of a proper internal balance of power:

By that part of our plan which prescribes the selection of the youths of genius from among the classes of the poor, we hope to avail the State of those talents which nature has sown as liberally among the poor as the rich, but which perish without use, if not sought for and cultivated. But of the views of this law none is more important, none more legitimate, than that

-33-

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Law and the Conditions of Freedom in the Nineteenth- Century United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword v
  • Contents ix
  • I - The Release of Energy 3
  • II - The Control of Environment 33
  • III - The Balance of Power 71
  • Notes 109
  • Index 131
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