Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

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that the normal American household is a type of the democracy
of which it forms a part. It is not likely that this change of view
has, in any measure, weakened the hold of parents on their
children; but to it is probably due, in some degree, the rapid
increase of the divorce rate, which, as is well known, is higher in
this than in any other country.

The ideal of the commonwealth came to us, with that of the
family, by inheritance; the name itself is an importation, but
there is an evident change in the contents of the conception.
Until our government was founded, there was no instance in
which men had developed patriotic instincts relating to such a
complex as the United States presents. In the Old World, except
in some measure in Switzerland, for all the experiments in gov-
erning that have there been essayed, men have not proved them-


selves able to maintain a divided allegiance, such as is required
of American citizens, and by them effectively rendered, in the
love and duty they give to the state and the Union in which
they are included. In all experiments previously made, it was
evident that the sense of obligation had to relate to one center;
with rare exceptions hi fact only in small oligarchies where the
motives due to personal association of all the leaders existed
the reference of allegiance had to be to a sovereign, whether king
or Cromwell, an evident leader beheld upon a throne. It is true
that the American complex was the result of an accident of
government which united several centers of growth, but it is
none the less a remarkable fact that the system of allegiance
within allegiance, with no reference to any devotion to indi-
viduals or dynasties and with no association with religious faiths,
should have been accepted by our people without debate except
as to the mere details, and with no sense of the novelty of the
conditions they were establishing. This course of action, appar-
ently so spontaneous and immediate, indicates that the political
sense of the American people had undergone an unrecognized
development in the century and a half of colonial life before the
Revolution. It is impossible here to essay an analysis of this
growth. It may, however, be noted that, more than any other
feature, it indicates the subtle effect of the conditions of the New
World on the spirit of men.

The essence of the political allegiance of the American people
is evidently not to a definite bit of the earth, nor to the memories
of the past, which are to a great extent the basis of that motive
in the Old World, but to ideals of government. The people of
France, for instance, and the same is true of most other coun-
tries, love their land and its traditions equally well, whatever
kind of government manages to set itself over them. Here,
however, as is well shown by the history of the Civil War, the
affection is for the system of the commonwealth as a system,
even more than for the results attained by it. Love of the land
of a romantic kind, such as has been the basis of so much that is
noble as well as unhappy in other realms, is evidently not a
leading motive with us. It is true that slavery, in an immediate


way, brought about the War of Secession, but the question
which was debated, which moved the people as men have rarely
if ever before been moved, concerned the relative weight of
the allegiance the citizen owed to his state and to the Nation.
It is conceivable that the American might be transplanted
to some other land, and that the deportation would bring
with it little if any sense of exile, provided his political order
went with him. But for this order he is prepared to do battle
to the end.

It appears like a contradiction to say that the love of our
people for their government does not include a devotion to the
instruments which set it forth. We are much given to patching
our constitutions and, at times, to juggling with them, but the
essence of the motive appears to be love of a definite political
order, an intense need of a distinctly stated body of negative
law which will permit the largest possible measure of liberty.
The clinging to the system of states in a nation apparently rests
on the conviction that under that system the maximum of free-
dom may be attained. . . .

The most indicative feature in American quality is that
which is expressed in the religious freedom which has been
attained in this country. In a rude, imperfect form this ideal
existed in the Elizabethan time. Evidently it was not brought
from the Old World, for the colonies began with the ancient
intolerance. This motive was variously expressed, sometimes in
a brutal manner, again with a milder accent, but it was essen-
tially universal. At the time the Federal union was formed,
religious freedom or at least the understanding that the law
had no right to dictate religious beliefs, was well established.
Since then, the development of this quality has been continued
until it has so far penetrated the minds of men that the barriers
of faith have little effect in limiting social relations. Even the
ancient dislike of Roman Catholics and Jews has nearly passed
away; what is left of it relates rather to race hatreds than to
religious prejudices. It may fairly be claimed that the efface-
ment of sectarian rancors is the greatest and most unique accom-
plishment of our people. It is evident that this gain has also


been due to the fundamental belief of our people as to the like-
ness of men to one another.

The ideal of public education, like the many other elements
of American quality, came to us from the mother country.
Except, however, hi the fancies of idealists the projects of instruc-
tion which were developed in the Old World were not intended
to apply to all sorts and conditions of men, but to a chosen few.
Although in the several colonies the motive which led to the
development of educational systems differed much in intensity,
it appears in some degree to have existed in all, and to have been
active in the minds of the hardest pressed of their frontiersmen.
Thus, with the first settlers of Kentucky, who were facing the
trials and perils of an unknown wilderness, we find among the
brief proceedings of then- first parliament, held in 1775 under a
tree, a provision for the establishment of a school. Another of
these memorable enactments provided for the suppression of
profane swearing; yet another for the improvement of the breed
of horses all of which goes to show how the ideal and the prac-
tical went together in the minds of our pioneers, whether they
were of Massachusetts Bay or of the Virginia plantations.

Beginning doubtfully in the colonial period, the ideal of public
education has grown with the growth of the fundamental con-
cept of democracy, that of the essential likeness of men, and
with the sympathetic bond which this view of life creates, until
it is one of the most characteristic elements of the quality of our
people. It has commanded a share of devotion such as has been
given to no other feature of our public life. It has so far entered
into our hearts that the greediest of fortune seekers may be
said to dream of founding schools. It is to be noted that this
desire that the youth be adequately trained, has little relation
to the economic results of such training. So far from desiring
that the end to be attained shall be instruction in crafts or pro-
fessions, the intent of our people has ever been that their schools
shall lead toward culture; to enlargement rather than to more
immediate profit; to the quality of the citizen rather than to
that of the artisan. It has, indeed, been difficult to obtain from
public money or from private gifts the means imperatively


demanded for instruction in applied science. It is in the char-
acter of the educational system which has been developed in
this country that we find the most indisputable evidence as to
the essential quality of the American man. Seen in his money-
hunting form, he seems to the ordinary observer as devoid of all
ideals as was the Indian he has replaced. Considered in the light
of his lofty devotion to the interests of the unborn, we gain
another and better view of his complicated nature. It may be
granted that these schools are in many ways most imperfect,
but the concept on which they are founded and the devotion
with which they have been supported tell much of American

Looking at the social organization of this country in a broad
way, we may note another feature, exhibited in very legible
facts, which deserves our attention. This is the ease with which
this society has taken in, and, as we may say, assimilated a
vast body of very foreign people, very generally converting them
or their immediate descendants into characteristic Englishmen
of the American variety. To see the nature of this accomplish-
ment, we should first note that in the fifteen decades or so of
colonial life our people had a chance to shape their society with
relatively little disturbing invasions from other than English
countries. The Dutch colonists, then, were near kinsmen to the
Palatinate Germans of Pennsylvania, and those of North Caro-
lina, though more remote, were akin in race and religion and
bound to the English people by the memory of the help lent
them in their extremity; as were, also, the Huguenot French.
Perhaps nine-tenths of the folk at the beginning of the Revolu-
tionary War were of English stock, and the remainder no hind-
rance to the prevailing race. It is evident that these colonies
had attained to a social organization which was singularly
efficient in making a common serviceable product out of the
odds and ends of humanity that immigration began to bring to
the new nation in the early part of the nineteenth century. For
near a hundred years the tide of foreigners has poured into the
United States with increasing volume. To many good observers
it has appeared impossible that grave changes in the quality of


the country should not be brought about by this invasion. Yet
this material, so far as it is of European origin, has been effec-
tively, if not completely, Americanized.

It is true there has been no considerable adoption of the
aborigines into the commonwealth, but this failure is due to the
nature of the Indian. It is also true that the adjustment of the
African is yet to be brought about, but there is some reason to
believe that it may be accomplished. But, so far as the progress
of our own race is concerned, the entrance of foreigners into our
life, while here and there highly disadvantageous, has not been
disastrous. In one or two generations, even where they retain,
as hi the case of the Pennsylvania Germans, their native speech
and customs, they are, in all important regards, completely;
naturalized. This swift digestion of the millions from countries
of a spirit very alien to its own, indicates what we may term the
organic intensity of American society; in other words, the
eminently political quality of the association. Into this invisible,
intangible, yet most real, social whole the ardent quality of its
citizens so enters that it can quickly efface the imprint of the
ages upon those who come to it from foreign lands, and stamp
them as its own.

It has been the purpose of this writing to consider only those
elements of American quality of which we have evidence in
recorded or evident facts. Only by such limitation can we avoid
those highly romantic speculations as to the character of our folk
which so fill the pages of would-be observers from abroad. In
summing up the story, it seems not unreasonable to consider
what is to be the future of the evidently novel type of English-
man; we might, indeed, term him this spiritually new variety of
man. It is clear that his most eminent quality consists in his
detachment from the control of the past, his self-sufficiency in
the better sense of the term. He has learned to feel, beyond
others of his kind, the value of his individuality. It is, perhaps,
as a reflection of this sense that he places a like high rating on
his neighbor. He feels the bond of human brotherhood in a
curiously intense degree. As all the cooperative work of man
depends upon this sense of human kinship, his large measure of


it should carry the American far in just what direction it is
not easy to foretell.

It requires no analysis to see that the fundamental judgment
of democracy, that of the essential likeness of men, though a
truth of vast import, is but a half truth. True for the primary
qualities which should determine the rights of all, it is pro-
foundly untrue as regards those secondary features of the intel-
ligence which give to human minds a range and variety of capa-
city really greater than the differences in the frames of men.
An apparent consequence of this excessive idea of common
likeness in his kind, is the comparative absence of critical ability
in the American people. In a large sense of the term, criticism
rests upon a conception of the very great difference of one indi-
vidual from another. As applied to life, it leads to an under-
standing of its vast complication, of its far-reaching inter-
dependencies, of its splendors and its shames. In the field of
morals, it teaches that there are herds and leaders; that men
have won the heights because they knew their prophets, or
have gone to the deep because they knew them not.

It is evident that the path on which this America-shaping
and America-shaped man has journeyed separates him from the
critical state of mind. Yet he has so prospered in his journey on
it, has gained such a measure of will and discernment, that the
critic would not really know his cautious trade if he ventured to
forecast his limits. The most reasonable judgment concerning
this essentially new form of strong man is, that on this deep and
broad foundation of his sympathies and understandings he will,
in time, build all that his friendly critics could wish him of




[Brander Matthews (1852 ) was born in New Orleans, Louisiana,

but early in life went to New York to live. After a brief experience with
law, he turned to literature in which he distinguished himself as a writer
of fiction and criticism. Since 1892 he has been a professor in the English
department of Columbia University. The discussion of American character,
which is here given, supplements the selection from Shaler in approaching
the matter from a somewhat different angle. It was originally an address
delivered on several academic occasions.]

In a volume recording a series of talks with Tolstoi, published
by a French writer in the final months of 1904, we are told that
the Russian novelist thought the Dukhobors had attained to a
perfected life, hi that they were simple, free from envy, wrath,
and ambition, detesting violence, refraining from theft and
murder, and seeking ever to do good. Then the Parisian inter-
viewer asked which of the peoples of the world seemed most
remote from the perfection to which the Dukhobors had
elevated themselves; and when Tolstoi returned that he had
given no thought to this question, the French correspondent
suggested that we Americans deserved to be held up to scorn
as the least worthy of nations.

The tolerant Tolstoi asked his visitor why he thought so ill
of us; and the journalist of Paris then put forth the opinion that
we Americans are " a people terribly practical, avid of pleasure,
systematically hostile to all idealism. The ambition of the
American's heart, the passion of his life, is money; and it is
rather a delight in the conquest and possession of money than
in the use of it. The Americans ignore the arts; they despise
disinterested beauty. And, now, moreover, they are imperialists.
They could have remained peaceful without danger to their
national existence; but they had to have a fleet and an army.

iprom The American of Ike Future and Other Essays. (Copyright, 1909, Charles Scrib-
ner's Sons.) Reprinted by permission.


They set out after Spain and attacked her; and now they begin
to defy Europe. Is there not something scandalous in this
revelation of the conquering appetite in a new people with no
hereditary predisposition toward war?"

It is to the credit of the French correspondent that, after
setting down this fervid arraignment, he was honest enough to
record Tolstoi's dissent. But although he dissented, the great
Russian expressed little surprise at the virulence of this diatribe.
No doubt it voiced an opinion familiarized to him of late by many
a newspaper of France and of Germany. Fortunately for us,
the assertion that foreign nations are a contemporaneous
posterity is not quite true. Yet the opinion of foreigners, even
when most at fault, must have its value for us as a useful cor-
rective of conceit. We ought to be proud of our country; but we
need not be vain about it. Indeed, it would be difficult for the
most patriotic of us to find any satisfaction in the figure of the
typical American which apparently exists in the mind of most
Europeans, and which seems to be a composite photograph of
the backwoodsman of Cooper, the negro of Mrs. Stowe, and
the Mississippi river-folk of Mark Twain, modified, perhaps, by
more vivid memories of Buffalo Bill's Wild West. Surely this is
a strange monster; and we need not wonder that foreigners
feel toward it as Voltaire felt toward the prophet Habakkuk,
whom he declared to be "capable of anything."

It has seemed advisable to quote here what the Parisian
journalist said of us, not because he himself is a person of con-
sequence, indeed, he is so obscure that there is no need even to
mention his name, but because he has had the courage to
attempt what Burke declared to be impossible to draw an
indictment against a whole nation. It would be easy to retort
on him in kind, for, unfortunately, and to the grief of all her
friends, France has laid herself open to accusations as sweep-
ing and as violent. It would be easy to dismiss the man himself
as one whose outlook on the world is so narrow that it seems to
be little more than what he can get through a chance slit in the
wall of his own self-sufficiency. It would be easy to answer him
in either of these fashions, but what is easy is rarely worth while;


and it is wiser to weigh what he said and to see if we cannot find
our profit in it.

Sifting the essential charges from out the mass of his malev-
olent accusation, we find this Frenchman alleging, first, that
we Americans care chiefly for making money; second, that we
are hostile to art and to all forms of beauty; and thirdly, that
we are devoid of ideals. These three allegations may well be
considered, one by one, beginning with the assertion that we are
mere money-makers.


Now, in so far as this Frenchman's belief is but an exaggera-
tion of the saying of Napoleon's, that the English were a nation
of shopkeepers, we need not wince, for the Emperor of the French
found to his cost that those same English shopkeepers had a
stout stomach for fighting. Nor need we regret that we can keep
shop profitably, in these days when the doors of the bankers'
vaults are the real gates of the Temple of Janus, war being im-
possible until they open. There is no reason for alarm or for
apology so long as our shopkeeping does not cramp our muscle
or curb our spirit, for, as Bacon declared three centuries ago,
"walled towns, stored arsenals and armories, goodly races of
horse, chariots of war, elephants, ordnance, artillery and the
like, all this is but a sheep in a lion's skin, except the breed
and disposition of the people be stout and warlike."

Even the hostile French traveler did not accuse us of any
flabbiness of fiber; indeed, he declaimed especially against our
"conquering appetite," which seemed to him scandalous "in
a new people with no hereditary predisposition toward war."
But here he fell into a common blunder; the United States may
be a new nation although, as a fact, the stars-and-stripes is
now older than the tricolor of France, the union-jack of Great
Britain, and the standards of those newcomers among the nations,
Italy and Germany the United States may be a new nation,
but the people here have had as many ancestors as the popula-
tion of any other country. The people here, moreover, have
"a hereditary predisposition toward war," or at least toward


adventure, since they are, every man of them, descended from
some European more venturesome than his fellows, readier to
risk the perils of the western ocean and bolder to front the un-
known dangers of an unknown land. The warlike temper, the
aggressiveness, the imperialistic sentiment these are in us no
new development of unexpected ambition; and they ought not
to surprise anyone familiar with the way in which our forefathers
grasped this Atlantic coast first, then thrust themselves across
the Alleghanies, spread abroad to the Mississippi, and reached
out at last to the Rockies and to the Pacific. The lust of adven-
ture may be dangerous, but it is no new thing; it is in our blood,
and we must reckon with it.

Perhaps it is because "the breed and disposition of the
people" is "stout and warlike" that our shopkeeping has been
successful enough to awaken envious admiration among other
races whose energy may have been relaxed of late. After all,
the arts of war and the arts of peace are not so unlike; and in
either a triumph can be won only by an imagination strong
enough to foresee and to divine what is hidden from the weakling.
We are a trading community, after all and above all, even if we
come of fighting stock. We are a trading community, just as
Athens was, and Venice and Florence. And like the men of these
earlier commonwealths, the men of the United States are try-
ing to make money. They are striving to make money, not
solely to amass riches, but partly because having money is the
outward and visible sign of success because it is the most
obvious measure of accomplishment.

In his talk with Tolstoi, our French critic revealed an un-
expected insight when he asserted that the passion of American
life was not so much the use of money as a delight in the conquest
of it. Many an American man of affairs would admit without
hesitation that he would rather make half a million dollars than
inherit a million. It is the process he enjoys, rather than the
result; it is the tough tussle in the open market which gives him
the keenest pleasure, and not the idle contemplation of wealth
safely stored away. He girds himself for battle and fights for his
own hand; he is the son and the grandson of the stalwart adven-


turers who came from the Old World to face the chances of the
new. This is why he is unwilling to retire as men are wont to
do hi Europe when their fortunes are made. Merely to have
money does not greatly delight him although he would regret
not having it; but what does delight him unceasingly is the fun
of making it.

The money itself often he does not know what to do with;
and he can find no more selfish use for it than to give it away.
He seems to recognize that his making it was in some measure
due to the unconscious assistance of the community as a whole;
and he feels it his duty to do something for the people among
whom he lives. It must be noted that the people themselves also
expect this from him; they expect him sooner or later to pay his
footing. As a result of this pressure of public opinion and of his
own lack of interest in money itself, he gives freely. In time he
comes to find pleasure in this as well ; and he applies his business
sagacity to his benefactions. Nothing is more characteristic of
modern American life than this pouring out of private wealth
for public service. Nothing remotely resembling it is to be seen
now in any country of the Old World; and not even in Athens
in its noblest days was there a larger-handed lavishness of the
individual for the benefit of the community.

Again, in no country of the Old World is the prestige of wealth
less powerful than it is here. This, of course, the foreigner fails
to perceive; he does not discover that it is not the man who
happens to possess money that we regard with admiration but
the man who is making money, and thereby proving his efficiency
and indirectly benefiting the community. To many it may

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 2 of 39)