The New Nation: A History of the United States during the Confederation, 1781-1789

By Merrill Jensen | Go to book overview

PART TWO
The Fruits of Independence

IF WE look at the new nation only through the eyes of angry politicians and soldiers at the end of the war, we get a distorted concept of the spirit of the times. Yet the history of the period is too often written in terms of the shrill cries of politicians who were seldom easy when in office and who prophesied doom when their opponents won elections. But if we turn from such sources we see a spirit of exuberant optimism everywhere, a belief in the great destiny of the new nation, a conviction that Americans could do anything they wanted to, untrammeled by the traditions of the old world. The fact that dominated their thinking was that they were no longer colonists, that they could do as they pleased without outside interference. For nearly three centuries the western world had been in bondage to Europe. Now one portion was free, and within a few decades the vast dominions of Spain and Portugal would also be free. Although many Americans had doubted that the Revolution would succeed, and many others had hoped that it would not, most Americans were delighted and proud at the end of the war. Many Englishmen were embittered and sure that the new nation could not last, or that if it did, it would be a menace to the political institutions of Europe. But many Europeans, including Englishmen, looked upon the new nation and its political principles as the hope of the world.

The conflict of opinion as to the nature of this experiment, and its promise of good and bad, produced many books and pamphlets in Europe. These were read and praised, or condemned, according to their character or according to the preconceptions of the readers. From time to time such writings were used in American political debates to prove one argument or another. However, the

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