The Growth of American Thought

By Merle Curti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX The Nature of the New Nationalism

If we have not hitherto had that conscious feeling of nationality, the ideal abstract of history and tradition, which belongs to older countries, compacted by frequent war and united by memories of common danger and common triumph, it has been simply because our national existence has never been in such peril as to force upon us the conviction that it was both the title-deed of our greatness and its only safeguard. But what splendid possibilities has not our trial revealed even to ourselves! What costly stuff whereof to make a nation! Here at last is a state whose life is not narrowly concentered in a despot or a class, but feels itself in every limb; a government which is not a mere application of force from without, but dwells as a vital principle in the will of every citizen.

-- JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL, 1865

It is the free American who needs to be instructed by the benighted races in the uplifting word that America speaks to all the world. Only from the humble immigrant, it appears to me, can he learn just what America stands for in the family of nations.

-- M. E. RAVAGE, 1917

The first five decades of the nineteenth century had witnessed heated debates on the nature of the union established by the Constitution; that authority had been appealed to again and again by competing interests in search of legal justifications for desired courses of action. The appeal to arms and the victory of the North did not end the discussions concerning the nature of the American nation. It is true that even the most ardent apologists for the Lost Cause did not deny that, regardless of the past, the nation was henceforth superior to the states. But the persistent question of the boundary between federal and state powers continued to occasion much debate. So did the relation of the sections and of minority peoples to the nation.

The highest authority on such matters spoke in the case Texas v.

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