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A Magazine of Literature, Science, Art, and Politics.
VOL. LXXX.-JULY, 1897.- No. CCCCLXXVII.
THE MAKING OF THE NATION.
THE making of our own nation seems to have taken place under our very eyes, so recent and so familiar is the story. The great process was worked out in the plain and open day of the modern world, statesmen and historians standing by to superintend, criticise, make record of what was done. The stirring narrative runs quickly into the day in which we live; we can say that our grandfathers builded the government which now holds so large a place in the world; the story seems of yesterday, and yet seems entire, as if the making of the republic had hastened to complete itself within a single hundred years. We are elated to see so great a thing done upon so great a scale, and to feel ourselves in so intimate a way actors in the moving scene.
Yet we should deceive ourselves were we to suppose the work done, the nation made. We have been told by a certain group of our historians that a nation was made when the federal Constitution was adopted; that the strong sentences of the law sufficed to transform us from a league of States into a people single and inseparable. Some tell us, however, that it was not till the war of 1812 that we grew fully conscious of a single purpose and destiny, and began to form policies as if for a nation. Others see the process complete only when the civil war struck slavery away, and gave North and South North and South a common way of life that should make common ideals and common endeavors at last possible. Then, when all have had their say, there comes a great move
ment like the one which we call Populism, to remind us how the country still lies apart in sections: some at one stage of development, some at another; some with one hope and purpose for America, some with another. And we ask ourselves, Is the history of our making as a nation indeed over, or do we still wait upon the forces that shall at last unite us? Are we even now, in fact, a nation?
Clearly, it is not a question of sentiment, but a question of fact. If it be true that the country, taken as a whole, is at one and the same time in several stages of development, not a great commercial and manufacturing nation, with here and there its broad pastures and the quiet farms from which it draws its food; not a vast agricultural community, with here and there its ports of shipment and its necessary marts of exchange; nor yet a country of mines, merely, pouring their products forth into the markets of the world, to take thence whatever it may need for its comfort and convenience in living, we still wait for its economic and spiritual union. It is many things at once. Sections big enough for kingdoms live by agriculture, and farm the wide stretches of a new land by the aid of money borrowed from other sections which seem almost like another nation, with their teeming cities, dark with the smoke of factories, quick with the movements of trade, as sensitive to the variations of exchange on London as to the variations in the crops raised by their distant fellow countrymen on
the plains within the continent. Upon other great spaces of the vast continent, communities, millions strong, live the distinctive life of the miner, have all their fortune bound up and centred in a single group of industries, feel in their utmost concentration the power of economic forces elsewhere dispersed, and chafe under the unequal yoke that unites them with communities so unlike themselves as those which lend and trade and manufacture, and those which follow the plow and reap the grain that is to feed the world.
Such contrasts are nothing new in our history, and our system of government is admirably adapted to relieve the strain and soften the antagonism they might entail. All our national history through our country has lain apart in sections, each marking a stage of settlement, a stage of wealth, a stage of development, as population has advanced, as if by successive journeyings and encampments, from east to west; and always new regions have been suffered to become new States, form their own life under their own law, plan their own economy, adjust their own domestic relations, and legalize their own methods of business. States have, indeed, often been whimsically enough formed. We have left the matter of boundaries to surveyors rather than to statesmen, and have by no means managed to construct economic units in the making of States. We have joined mining communities with agricultural, the mountain with the plain, the ranch with the farm, and have left the making of uniform rules to the sagacity and practical habit of neighbors ill at ease with one another. But on the whole, the scheme, though a bit haphazard, has worked itself out with singularly little friction and no disaster, and the strains of the great structure we have erected have been greatly eased and dissipated.
Elastic as the system is, however, it stiffens at every point of national policy. The federal government can make but
one rule, and that a rule for the whole country, in each act of its legislation. Its very constitution withholds it from discrimination as between State and State, section and section; and yet its chief powers touch just those subjects of economic interest in which the several sections of the country feel themselves most unlike. Currency questions do not affect them equally or in the same way. Some need an elastic currency to serve their uses; others can fill their coffers more readily with a currency that is inelastic. Some can build up manufactures under a tariff law; others cannot, and must submit to pay more without earning more. Some have one interest in a principle of interstate commerce; others, another. It would be difficult to find even a question of foreign policy which would touch all parts of the country alike. A foreign fleet would mean much more to the merchants of Boston and New York than to the merchants of Illinois and the farmers of the Dakotas. The conviction is becoming painfully distinct among us, moreover, that these contrasts of condition and differences of interest between the several sections of the country are now more marked and emphasized than they ever were before. The country has been transformed within a generation, not by any creations in a new kind, but by stupendous changes in degree. Every interest has increased its scale and its individual significance. The "East" is transformed by the vast accumulations of wealth made since the civil war, transformed from a simple to a complex civilization, more like the Old World than like the New. The "West" has so magnified its characteristics by sheer growth, every economic interest which its life represents has become so gigantic in its proportions, that it seems to Eastern men, and to its own people also, more than ever a region apart. It is true that the "West" is not, as a matter of fact, a region at all, but, in Professor Turner's admirable
phrase, a stage of development, nowhere national life. The country is of one mind
set apart and isolated, but spread abroad through all the far interior of the continent. But it is now a stage of development with a difference, as Professor Turner has shown,1 which makes it practically a new thing in our history. The "West" was once a series of States and settlements beyond which lay free lands not yet occupied, into which the restless and all who could not thrive by mere steady industry, all who had come too late and all who had stayed too long, could pass on, and, it might be, better their fortunes. Now it lies without out
let. The free lands are gone. New communities must make their life sufficient without this easy escape, must study economy, find their fortunes in what lies at hand, intensify effort, increase capital, build up a future out of details. It is as if they were caught in a fixed order of life and forced into a new competition, and both their self-consciousness and their keenness to observe every point of self-interest are enlarged beyond former example.
That there are currents of national life, both strong and definite, running in full tide through all the continent from sea to sea, no observant person can fail to perceive, currents which have long been gathering force, and which cannot now be withstood. There need be no fear in any sane man's mind that we shall ever again see our national government threatened with overthrow by any power which our own growth has bred. The temporary danger is that, not being of a common mind, because not living under common conditions, the several sections of the country, which a various economic development has for the time being set apart and contrasted, may struggle for supremacy in the control of the government, and that we may learn by some sad experience that there is not even yet any common standard, either of opinion or of policy, underlying our
1 American Historical Review, vol. i. p. 71.
in its allegiance to the government and in its attachment to the national idea; but it is not yet of one mind in respect of that fundamental question, What policies will best serve us in giving strength and development to our life? Not the least noteworthy of the incidents that preceded and foretokened the civil war was, if I may so call it, the sectionalization of the national idea. Southern merchants bestirred themselves to get conventions together for the discussion, not of the issues of polities, but of the economic interests of the country. Their thought and hope were of the nation. They spoke no word of antagonism against any section or interest. Yet it was plain in every resolution they uttered that for them the nation was one thing and centred in the South, while for the rest of the country the nation was another thing and lay in the North and Northwest. They were arguing the needs of the nation from the needs of their own section. The same thing had happened in the days of the embargo and the war of 1812. The Hartford Convention thought of New England when it spoke of the country. So must it ever be when section differs from section in the very basis and method of its life. The nation is to-day one thing in Kansas, and quite another in Massachu
There is no longer any danger of a civil war. There was war between the South and the rest of the nation because their differences were removable in no other way. There was no prospect that slavery, the root of those differences, would ever disappear in the mere process of growth. It was to be apprehended, on the contrary, that the very processes of growth would inevitably lead to the extension of slavery and the perpetuation of radical social and economic contrasts and antagonisms between State and State, between region and region. An heroic remedy was the
only remedy. Slavery being removed, the South is now joined with the "West," joined with it in a stage of development, as a region chiefly agricultural, without diversified industries, without a multifarious trade, without those subtle extended nerves which come with all-round economic development, and which make men keenly sensible of the interests that link the world together, as it were into a single community. But these are lines of difference which will be effaced by mere growth, which time will calmly ignore. They make no boundaries for armies to cross. Tidewater Virginia was thus separated once from her own population within the Alleghany valleys, - held two jealous sections within her own limits. Massachusetts once knew the sharp divergences of interest and design which separated the coast settlements upon the Bay from the restless pioneers who had taken up the free lands of her own western counties. North Carolina was once a comfortable and indifferent" East to the uneasy "West" that was to become Tennessee. Virginia once seemed old and effete to Kentucky. The "great West" once lay upon the Ohio, but has since disappeared there, overlaid by the changes which have carried the conditions of the "East the Great Lakes and beyond. There has never yet been a time in our history when we were without an "East" and a West," but the novel day when we shall be without them is now in sight. As the country grows it will inevitably grow homogeneous. Population will not henceforth spread, but compact; for there is no new land between the seas where the "West can find another lodgment. The conditions which prevail in the ever widening "East" will sooner or later cover the continent, and we shall at last be one people. The process will not be a short one. It will doubtless run through many generations and involve many a critical question of statesmanship. But it cannot be stayed, and its
working out will bring the nation to its final character and rôle in the world.
In the meantime, shall we not constantly recall our reassuring past, reminding one another again and again, as our memories fail us, of the significant incidents of the long journey we have already come, in order that we may be cheered and guided upon the road we have yet to choose and follow? It is only by thus attempting, and attempting again and again, some sufficient analysis of our past experiences that we can form any adequate image of our life as a nation, or acquire any intelligent purpose to guide us amidst the rushing movement of affairs. It is no doubt in part by reviewing our lives that we shape and determine them. The future will not, indeed, be like the past; of that we may rest assured. It cannot be like it in detail; it cannot even resemble it in the large. It is one thing to fill a fertile continent with a vigorous people and take first possession of its treasures; it is quite another to complete the work of occupation and civilization in detail. Big plans, thought out only in the rough, will suffice for the one, but not for the other. A provident leadership, a patient tolerance of temporary but unavoidable evils, a just temper of compromise and accommodation, a hopeful industry in the face of small returns, mutual understandings, and a cordial spirit of coöperation are needed for the slow intensive task, which were not demanded amidst the free advances of an unhampered people from settlement to settlement. And yet the past has made the present, and will make the future. It has made us a nation, despite a variety of life that threatened to keep us at odds amongst ourselves. It has shown us the processes by which differences have been obliterated and antagonisms softened. It has taught us how to become strong, and will teach us, if we heed its moral, how to become wise, also, and single-minded.
The colonies which formed the Union