The Growth of American Thought

By Merle Curti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI The Rising Tide of Patriotism and Nationalism

While the republics of North America are new, the ideas of the people are old. While these republics were colonies, they contained an old people, living under old institutions, in a new country. Now they are a mixed people, infant as a nation, with a constant accession of minds from old countries, living in a new country, under institutions newly combined out of old elements. It is a case so singular, that the old world may well have patience for some time, to see what will arise. . . . The Americans have no national character as yet.

-- HARRIET MARTINEAU, 1834-1836

By some, patriotism or love of country is regarded as an airy bubble, raised by cunning statesmen to dazzle and bewilder the multitude. . . . Our country, if we truly love it, evokes our feelings, our judgment, our imagination, and solicits these, by an unforeseen persuasion, to employ themselves in adorning and exalting the object of their regard.

-- CORNELIUS MATTHEWS, 1839, 1845

The goodly company of foreign visitors who came to the United States during the mid-century era differed with each other on the basic point of what constituted the unique features in American culture. Many agreed with Charles Latrobe, who, after surveying the differences in the origin, blood, style of life, and diversity of habits of the American people, declared that they could hardly be said to possess any nationality at all. Their only distinctive marks, he concluded, were a hearty detestation of the monarchical form of government, a boundless admiration for republicanism, and an abnormal sensitiveness to foreign criticism.

Francis Grund, a many-sided Austrian who was to throw in his lot with the Americans, represented the views of a different group of

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