The Continental Monthly, Vol. 4, No. 6, December 1863 online

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VOL. IV. - DECEMBER, 1863. - No. VI.


We are of the race of the Empire Builders. Some races have been sent
into the world to destroy. Ours has been sent to create. It was needed
that the blunders of ten centuries and more, across the water, should be
given a chance for amendment. On virgin soil, the European races might
cure themselves of the fever pains of ages. So they were called here to
try. There was no rubbish to sweep away. The mere destructive had no
occupation. The builder and creator was the man wanted. In the full glow
of civilization, with the accumulated experience of the toiling
generations, with all the wealth of the fruitful past, we, 'the foremost
in the files of time,' have been called to this business of _nation

The men of our blood, they say, are given to boasting. America adds
flashing nerve fire to the dull muscle of Europe. That is the fact. But
the tendency to boasting is an honest inheritance. We can hardly boast
louder than our fathers across the sea have taught us. The boasting of
New York can scarcely drown the boasting of London. Jonathan thinks
highly of himself, but, certainly, John Bull is not behind him in

But, after all, what wonder? Ten centuries of victory over nature and
over men may give a race the right to boast - ten centuries of victory
with never a defeat! The English tongue is an arrogant tongue, we grant.
Command, mastery, lordliness, are bred into its tones. The old tongue of
the Romans was never deeper marked in those respects than our own. It is
a freeman's speech, this mother language. A slave can never speak it. He
garbles, clips, and mumbles it, makes 'quarter talk' of it. The hour he
learns to speak English he is spoiled for a slave. It is the tongue of
conquerors, the language of imperial will, of self-asserting
individuality, of courage, masterhood, and freedom. There is no need of
being thin-skinned under the charge of boasting. A man cannot very well
learn, in his cradle, 'the tongue that Shakspeare spake,' without
talking sometimes as if he and his owned creation.

For the tongue is the representative of the speaker. A people embodies
its soul in its language. And the people who inherit English have done
work enough in this little world to give them a right to do some
talking. They, at least, can speak their boast, and hear it seconded, in
the bold accents their mothers taught them, on every shore and on every
sea. They have been the world's day-laborers now for some centuries.
They have felled its forests, drained its marshes, dug in its mines,
ploughed its wastes, built its cities. They have done rough pioneer work
over all its surface. They have done it, too, as it never was done
before. They have made it _stay done_. They have never given up one inch
of conquered ground. They have never yielded back one square foot to
barbarism. Won once to civilization, under their leadership, and your
square mile of savage waste and jungle is won forever.

We are inclined to think the world might bear with us. We talk a great
deal about ourselves, perhaps; but, on the whole, are we not buying the
privilege? Did a race ever buckle to its business in this world in more
splendid style than our own? With both hands clenched, stripped to the
waist, blackened and begrimed and sweat bathed, this race takes its
place in the vanguard of the world and bends to its chosen toil. The
grand, patient, hopeful people, how they grasp blind brute nature, and
tame her, and use her at their word! How they challenge and defeat in
the death grapple the grim giants of the waste and the storm - fever,
famine, and the frost!

You will find them down, to-day, among the firedamps in the mines,
to-morrow among the splendid pinnacles of the mountains, to settle a
fact of science, or add a mite to human knowledge. Here is one,
painfully toiling through the tangled depths of a desert continent, to
find a highway for commerce or Christianity. Here is another, in the
lonely seas around the pole, where the ghostly ice-mountains go drifting
through the gray mists, patiently wrestling with the awful powers of
nature, to snatch its secret from the hoary deep, and bring it home in
triumph. Hard fisted, big boned, tough brained, and stout hearted,
scared at nothing, beaten back by no resistance, baffled, for long, by
no obstacle, this race works as though the world were only one vast
workshop, and they wanted all the tools and all the materials, and were
anxious to monopolize the work of the world.

They are workers primarily, makers, producers, builders. Labor is their
appointed business as a people. Sometimes they have to fight, when fools
stand in their way, or traitors oppose their endeavors. They have had to
do, indeed, their fair share of fighting. Things go so awry in this
world that a patient worker is often called to drop his tools, square
himself, and knock down some idiot who insists on bothering him. And
this race of ours has therefore often, patient as it is, flamed out into
occasional leonine wrath. It really does not like fighting. That
performance interferes with its proper business. It takes to the
ploughshare more kindly than to the sabre, and likes to manage a steam
engine better than a six-gun battery. But if imbeciles and scoundrels
will get in its way, and will mar its pet labors, then, heaven help
them! The patient blood blazes into lava, fire, the big muscles strain
over the black cannon, the brawny arm guides the fire-belching tower of
iron on the sea, and, when these people do fight, they fight, like the
Titans when they warred with Jove, with a roar that shakes the spheres.
They go at that as they do at everything. They fight to clear this
confusion up, to settle it once for all, so it will _stay_ settled, that
they may go to their work again in peace. Fond of a clean job, they
insist on making a clean job of their fighting, if they have to fight at

'But, after all, this race of ours is selfish,' you say. 'It works only
for itself, and you are making something grand and heroic out of that.
If it civilizes, it civilizes for itself. If it builds cities, drains
marshes, redeems jungles, explores rivers, builds railroads, and prints
newspapers, it is doing all for its own pocket.' Well, we say, why not?
Is the laborer not worthy of his hire? Do you expect a patient, toiling
people to conquer a waste continent here, for God and man, and get
nothing for it from either? A people never yet did a good stroke of work
in this world without getting a fair day's wages for the job. The old
two-fisted Romans, in their day, did a good deal of hard work in the way
of road and bridge building, and the like of that, across the sea, and
did it well, and they got paid for it by several centuries of mastery
over Europe. We rather think, high as the pay was, and little as the
late Romans seem to have deserved it, it was, on the whole, a profitable
bargain for Europe. The truth is, our race has, like all other great
creating races, been building wiser than it knew. It is not necessary
that such a race should be conscious of its mission. In its own
intention it may work for itself. By the guiding of the Great Master, it
does work for all humanity and all time. If a race comes on the earth
mere fighters, brigands, and thieves, living by force, fraud, and
oppression, even then it serves a purpose. It destroys something that
needs destroying. In its own turn, however, it must perish. But an
honest race, that undertakes to earn its honest living on the earth, and
in the main does earn it, honestly and industriously, by planting and
building, like our own, never works merely for itself. It plants and
builds to stand forever. The results of patient toil never perish. They
are so much clear gain to humanity.

To many, the _conscious_ end of the existence of the Yankee nation may
have been a small affair indeed. That end is only what they make it. Its
_unconscious_ end is, however, another matter. That end God has made. To
one man, the nation exists that he may make wooden clocks and sell them.
To another, the chief end of the nation's existence is that he may get a
good crop of wheat to market during rising quotations. To another, that
he may do a good stroke of business in the boot and shoe line. To
another, that he may make a good thing in stocks. To some in the past,
this nation existed solely that men might breed negroes in Virginia, and
work them in Alabama! This great nation was worth the blacks it owned,
and the cotton it raised! Actually that was all. The _conscious_ end to
thousands amounted to about this. Men looked at the nation from their
own small place. They dwarfed its purposes. They made them small and
mean and low. They did this three years ago more commonly, we think,
than they do now. The war has taught us many things. It has certainly
taught us higher ideas of the value of the Nation, and a loftier idea of
the meaning of its life. We have awaked to the fact that we are trustees
of this continent for the world. We have been fighting for two years and
more, not to save this nation for the value of its wheat, or cotton, or
manufactures, or exports, but for the value of the ideas, the hopes, the
aspirations, the tendencies this nation embodies. We have risen to see
that it were a good bargain to barter all the material wealth it holds
for the priceless spiritual ideas it represents. France babbles about
'going to war for an idea.' We don't babble. We buckle on our armor and
fight, we practical, money-making Yankees, who are said to value
everything by dollars, and, after two years of tremendous fighting, are
half amazed ourselves to find we have been fighting solely for a
half-dozen ideas the world can lose only at the cost of despair. Since
the days when men left house and home and friends, with red crosses on
their hearts, to redeem from the hands of the infidel the sepulchre
which the dead Christ once made holy, the world has never seen a war
carried on for a more purely ideal end than our own. We fight for the
integrity of _the Nation_. We fight for what that word means of hope
and confidence and freedom and advancement to the groaning and
bewildered world. We say, let all else perish, - wealth, commerce,
agriculture, cunning manufacture, humanizing art. We expend all to save
_the Nation_. That priceless possession we shall hold intact to the end,
for ourselves, our children, and the coming years!

Let us see what this thing is that we prize so highly. Let us see if we
are paying any too high a price for our object - if it is worth a million
lives and a countless treasure. What is _the Nation_?

There used to be a theory of 'the Social Compact.' It was a prominent
theory in the French Revolution, It was vastly older, however, than that
event. It was originally a theory of the Epicureans. Ovid has something
to say about it. Horace advocates it. It has not perished. It exists in
a fragmentary way in some books taught in colleges. It has more or less
of a hold still on many minds. This theory teaches that the natural
state of man is a state of warfare, an isolated savagery, where each
man's hand is against his neighbor, each lord and master for himself,
with no rights except what force gives him, and no possessions except
what he can hold by force. This natural state, however, was found to be
a very uncomfortable state, and so men contrive to get out of it as soon
as possible. For this purpose they form a 'social compact.' They come
together, and agree to give up some of their natural rights to a settled
government, on condition that government protect them in the others.
That is to say, naturally they have the right to steal all they can lay
their hands on, to rob, plunder, murder, and commit adultery, if they
have the power, and, generally, to live like a pack of amiable tiger
cats; but that these pleasant and amusing natural rights they consent to
give up, on condition they are relieved from the trouble of guarding
others. Just such babblement as that you can read in very learned books,
and stuff like that has actually been taught in colleges, and nobody was
sent to the lunatic asylum! That is the theory of the 'Social Compact.'
That is the way, according to that theory, that nations are made.

It is enough to say of this old heathen dream, that there never was such
a state of savage brutalism known since man was man. All men are born
under some law, some government, some controlling authority. As long as
fathers and mothers are necessary, in the economy of nature, to a man's
getting into the world at all, it is very hard for him to escape law and
control when he comes. I was never asked whether I would be a citizen of
the United States, whether it was my high will to come into 'the Social
Compact' existing here. Neither were you. No man ever was. Just fancy
the United States solemnly asking all the infants born this year, 'if
they are willing to join the social compact and behave themselves in the
country as respectable babies should!

It is vastly better to take facts and try to comprehend and use them.
And, as a fact, man is not naturally a brute beast. He never had to make
a Social Compact. He has always found one made ready to his hand. Some
established order, some national life has always stood ready to receive
the new recruit to the ranks of humanity, put him in his place, and ask
him no questions. He is made for society. Society is made for him. He is
not isolated, but joined to his fellows by links stronger than iron, by
bands no steel can sever. The nation stands waiting for him. In some
shape, with some development of national life, but always essentially
the same, the nation takes him, plastic at his birth, into its great
hands, and moulds and fashions him, by felt and unfelt influences,
whether he will or no, into the national shape and figure.

And that is what nations are made for. They do not exist to produce
wheat, corn, cattle, cotton, or cutlery, but to produce _men_. The
wheat, corn, and the rest exist for the sake of the men. The real value
of the nation, to itself and to the world, is not the things it
produces, but the style of man it produces. That is the broad difference
between China and Massachusetts, between Japan and New York. Nations
exist to be training schools for men. That is their real business.
Accordingly as they do it better or worse they are prospering or the
reverse. What is France about? The newspaper people tell me she is
building ships, drilling zouaves, diplomatizing at Rome, brigandizing in
Mexico, huzzaing for glory and Napoleon the Third. That is about the
wisdom of the newspapers. She is moulding a million unsuspecting little
innocents into Frenchmen! That is what she is at, and nobody seems to
notice. What is England doing? Weaving cotton, when she can get it, I am
told, drilling rifle brigades, blustering in the _Times_, starving her
workmen in Lancashire, and feasting her Prince in London, talking
'strict neutrality' in Parliament, and building pirates on the Clyde.
She's doing worse than that. That is not half her wrong-doing. She is
taking thousands of plastic, impressible, innocent babes, into her big
hands, monthly, and kneading them and hardening them into regular John
Bulls! That's a pretty job to think of!

So the nations are at work all over the world. And the nation that, as a
rule, takes 'mamma's darling' into its arms, and in twenty or thirty
years makes him the best specimen of a man, is the most perfect nation
and best fulfils a nation's purpose.

For the business of Education, which so many consider the schoolmaster's
speciality, is a larger business than they think. The Family exists to
do it, the Church exists to do it. It is the real business of the State.
The great Universe itself, with all its vastness, its powers and its
mysteries, was created for this. It is simply God's great schoolroom. He
has floored it with the emerald queen of the earth and of the gleaming
seas. He has roofed it with a sapphire dome, lit with flaming starfire
and sun blaze. He has set the great organ music of the spheres
reverberating forevermore through its high arches. He has put his
children here, to train them for their grand inheritance. He has ordered
nature and life and circumstance for this one great end.

Therefore the Nation is not a joint-stock company. It is not a
paper association. It is not a mutual assurance society for life
and property. That is the shallow, surface notion that makes
such miserable babble in political speeches. The Nation is Divine and
not Human. It is of GOD's making and not of man's. It is a moral
school, a spiritual training institute for educating and graduating men.
For that purpose it is _alive_. Men can make associations, companies,
compacts. God only makes _living bodies_, divine, perpetual
institutions, with life in themselves, which exist because man exists,
which can never end till man ends. The Family is one of these. The Church
is another, in any shape it comes. The Nation is another, holding Family
and Church both in its arms.

True, from the fact that the power, the administration and the
arrangements of details are in men's hands in the nation mistake is
common, and people are tempted to think the Nation purely human. All
thought below the surface will show the fallacy and stamp the Nation as
the handiwork of God.

We believe true thought on this matter is, at this day and in this land,
of first importance. The Lord of Hosts rules, and not the master of a
thousand regiments with smoking cannon. God builds the Nation for a
purpose. While it fulfils that purpose it shall stand. The banded folly
and scoundrelhood within and the gathered force of all enemies without
shall never overthrow one pillar in its strong foundations or topple
down one stone from its battlements while it works honestly toward its
true end. Not till it turn traitor to its place and purposes, not till
it madly plant itself in the way of the great wheels that roll the world
back to light and justice, will He who built it hurl it to the earth
again in crashing ruin, to build another order in its place. The man who
has let that great truth, written out in flame across the dusky forehead
of the Past, slip from his foolish atheist's heart and his shallow
atheist's brain, is blind, not only to our own land's short history, but
to the lessons of the long ages and the broad world.

We have been driven back to the loftiest ground on this question. We
have found that only on that could we stand. When the very foundations
of what we held most awful and reverential have been assailed by mad
traitorous hands, as though they were vulgar things, when frenzied
self-will has laid its profane grasp upon the Ark of the Covenant, we
have been forced back to those strong foundations on which nations
stand, for hope and confidence, to those tremendous sanctions that
girdle in, as with the fires of God, the sanctity of Law, the majesty of
Order, and established Right. We have declared these things Divine. We
have said men administer truly, but men did not create, and men have no
right to destroy. We arise in the defence of institutions of which
Jehovah has made us the guardians for men!

We have said the Nation exists to train men, that the best nation is the
one that trains the best men. Let us see how it does this.

In the first place, it educates by Written Law. To be sure, laws are
passed to define and protect human rights, in person, purse, family, or
good name. People sometimes think that is all they do. But consider.
These laws on the Statute Book are the Nation's deliberate convictions,
so far, on right and wrong, a real code of morals, the decisions of the
national conscience on moral subjects. An act is passed punishing theft.
It is intended to protect property indeed, but it does more. It stands
there, the Nation's conviction on a point of ethics. Theft is absolutely
wrong. It passes another act punishing perjury. The mere lawyer looks at
this solely as a facility for getting at the truth before a jury. It is
vastly more. It is a moral decision. The Nation binds the Ten
Commandments on the popular conscience, and declares, 'Thou shalt not
bear false witness.' It declares, 'There are everlasting distinctions,
things absolutely right, and things absolutely wrong. So far has the
conscience of the Nation made things clear. The good citizen knows all
this without the Statute Book, and much more. But there must be a limit
somewhere. Here it is. Up to this point you may come, but no farther.
Everlasting distinctions must be taught by bolts, chains, and scaffolds,
if there are those in the Nation who will learn them from no other

It has been very easy to tamper with Law among ourselves, very easy to
try experiments. And people get the notion that Law is a mere human
affair, the act of a legislature, the will of a majority. It is all a
mistake. A Nation's living laws are the slow growth of ages. They are
its solemn convictions on wrongs and rights, written in its heart. The
business of a wise legislator is to help all those convictions to
expression in formal enactment. Meddling fools try to choke them, pass
acts against them even, think they can annihilate such convictions. One
day the convictions insist on being heard, if not by formal law, then by
terrible informal protest against some legalized wrong. Think how
laboriously lawmakers have toiled to prevent the expression of the
Nation's determined convictions on the subject of Slavery! Think of the
end! Nay, all enactments which accord with these deep decisions of the
National Conscience, which help them to better expression and clearer
acknowledgment, are the real Laws of the Land. All that oppose these
decisions, though passed by triumphant majorities, with loud jubilation,
and fastened on the Nation as its sense of right, are mere rubbish, sure
to be swept away as the waves of the National life roll on.

We, by no means, hold that even the best nation, in its most living
laws, always declares perfect truth and perfect right. Human errors and
weaknesses enter into all things with which men deal. And the Nation is
ordered and guided by men. Nevertheless the Nation is an authorized
teacher of morals, and these errors are the accidents of the
institution. They are not of its essence. So far as they exist, they
block its working, they stand in its way. Pure, clear Justice is the
perfect ideal toward which a living, advancing Nation aims. That it
daily come nearer this ideal is the basis of its permanence. And,
meanwhile, though the result be far from attained, we none the less hold
that the Law of the Nation is, to every man within it, the Law of God.
His business, as a wise man, is to accept it, obey it, help it to
amendment where he believes there is error, with all patience and

For the first disorder in the makeup of man is wilfulness. The child
kicks and scratches in his cradle. It wants to have its own small will.
The first lesson it has to learn is the lesson of submission, that the
untried world, into which it is thrust, is not a place of self-pleasing
but of law. It takes parents and teachers years to get that fact through
the stubborn youngster's head. It will burn its fingers, it will tumble
down stairs, it will pitch head first over fences, because it will not
learn to forego its own small, ignorant will, and submit to wiser and
larger wills. In the good old days they used to think that matter ought
to be learned in childhood once for all, and they labored faithfully to
convince us urchins, by the unsparing logic of the rod, that the law of
life is not self-will. Some of us, possibly, remember those emphatic
lessons yet.

It is hard, however, to learn this thing perfectly. And so after the
Mother, Father, and Teacher get through, the Nation takes up the lesson.
A wise, wide, unselfish will takes command, and puts down the narrow,
conceited, selfish will of the individual. The individual will may think
itself very wise and very right. But the large will, the broad, strong,
wise will of the Nation, comes and says: 'Here is the _Law_, the
embodiment of the great, wide, wise will, to which the wisest and the
strongest must submit and bow.'

That is the law of human position. Not self-will but obedience, not

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Online LibraryVariousThe Continental Monthly, Vol. 4, No. 6, December 1863 → online text (page 1 of 20)