The Growth of American Thought

By Merle Curti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X Nationalism Challenges Cosmopolitanism and Regionalism

Dependence, whether literary or political, is a state of degradation, fraught with disgrace; and to be dependent on a foreign mind, for what we can ourselves produce, is to add to the crime of indolence, the weakness of stupidity.

--The Port Folio, 1816

We are the Romans of the modern world,--the great assimilating People.

-- OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES. 1858

You are very energetic in America; and in all matters regarding Education you are likely to outstrip Europe. You have undoubtedly suggested many improvements, and we are very willing to have the benefit of your wisdom and experience. . . . America has long since taken the highest place in Jurisprudence, and all Europe must confess its obligations to the distinguished Jurists of that country. We have no such writers in Jurisprudence as Kent, Story & Greenleaf. . . . In Theology, too, America stands very high, and some of her writers in that department are esteemed throughout Europe.

-- J. S. MORE TO HENRY BARNARD, 1856

No simple formula epitomizes the complex pattern of ideas that characterizes the thought of the better-established classes in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. Broadly speaking, the desire for a distinctive American culture, which conservative intellectuals often shared with the radicals, conflicted with the continuing cosmopolitan and eclectic tone of intellectual life. To explain precisely what interests or motives led some patricians to favor one or another of the currents of thought, feeling, and taste obviously European, and others to uphold a programmatic cultural nationalism, would be impossible. Indeed, the same person frequently displayed both a fond

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