The Negro and the Nation: A History of American Slavery and Enfranchisement

By George S. Merriam | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
THE UNDERLYING FORCES

Two master passions strove for leadership in the mind and heart of America. One was love of the united nation and ardor to maintain its union. The other was the aspiration to purify the nation, by removing the wrong of slavery. Unionist and Abolitionist stood face to face. After many years they were to stand shoulder to shoulder, in a common cause. In a larger sense than he gave the words, Webster's utterance became the final watchword: "Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable."

In the retrospect of history, our attention naturally fastens on the conspicuous and heroic figures. But we must not forget the underlying and often determining forces,-- the interests, beliefs, and passions, of the mass of the community. And, while listening intently to the articulate voices, the impressive utterances, we are to remember that the life of the community as of the individual is shaped oftenest by the inarticulate, unavowed, half-unconscious sentiments:

Below the surface stream, shallow and light,
Of what we say we feel,--below the stream,
As light, of what we think we feel, there flows
With noiseless current, strong, obscure and deep,
The central stream of what we feel indeed.

The underlying human force in the slavery question was the primitive instinct in man to keep all he has got; the instinct of the man who lives at another's expense to keep

-67-

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