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The History of the United States from 1492 to 1910, Volume 1
Introduction
by Hawthorne, Julian


When we speak of History, we may mean either one of several things. A savage will make picture-marks on a stone or a bone or a bit of wood; they serve to recall to him and his companions certain events which appeared remarkable or important for one or another reason; there was an earthquake, or a battle, or a famine, or an invasion: the chronicler himself, or some fellow-tribesman of his, may have performed some notable exploit. The impulse to make a record of it was natural: posterity might thereby be informed, after the chronicler himself had passed away, concerning the perils, the valor, the strange experiences of their ancestors. Such records were uniformly brief, and no attempt was made to connect one with another, or to interpret them. We find such fragmentary histories among the remains of our own aborigines; and the inscriptions of Egypt and Mesopotamia are the same in character and intention, though more elaborate. Warlike kings thus endeavored, from motives of pride, to perpetuate the memory of their achievements. At the time when they were inscribed upon the rock, or the walls of the tombs, or the pedestals of the statues, they had no further value than this. But after the lapse of many ages, they acquire a new value, far greater than the original one, and not contemplated by the scribes. They assume their proper place in the long story of mankind, and indicate, each in its degree, the manner and direction of the processes by which man has become what he is, from what he was. Thereby there is breathed into the dead fact the breath of life; it rises from its tomb of centuries, and does its appointed work in the mighty organism of humanity.

In a more complex state of society, a class of persons comes into being who are neither protagonists, nor slaves, but observers; and they meditate on events, and seek to fathom their meaning. If the observer be imaginative, the picturesque side of things appeals to him; he dissolves the facts, and recreates them to suit his conceptions of beauty and harmony; and we have poetry and legend. Another type of mind will give us real histories, like those of Herodotus, Thucydides, Tacitus and Livy, which are still a model in their kind. These great writers took a broad point of view; they saw the end from the beginning of their narrative; they assigned to their facts their relative place and importance, and merged them in a pervading atmosphere of opinion, based upon the organic relation of cause and effect. Studying their works, we are enabled to discern the tendencies and developments of a race, and to note the effects of civilization, character, vice, virtue, and of that sum of them all which we term fate.

During what are called the Dark Ages of Europe, history fell into the hands of that part of the population which alone was conversant with letters--the priestly class; and the annals they have left to us have none of the value which belongs to the productions of classical antiquity. They were again mere records; or they were mystical or fanciful tales of saints and heroes, composed or distorted for the glorification of the church, and the strengthening of the influence of the priests over the people. But these also, in after times, took on a value which they had not originally possessed, and become to the later student a precious chapter of the history of mankind.

Meanwhile, emerging august from the shadows of antiquity, we have that great body of literature of which our own Bible is the highest type, which purports to present the story of the dealings of the Creator with His creatures. These wonderful books appear to have been composed in a style, and on a principle, the secret of which has been lost. The facts which they relate, often seemingly trivial and disconnected, are really but a material veil, or symbol, concealing a spiritual body of truth, which is neither trivial nor disconnected, but an organized, orderly and catholic revelation of the nature of man, of the processes of his spiritual regeneration, of his final reconciliation with the Divine. The time will perhaps come when some inspired man or men will be enabled to handle our modern history with the same esoteric insight which informed the Hebrew scribes, when they used the annals of the obscure tribe to which they belonged as a cover under which to present the relations of God with all the human race, past and to come.

* * * * *

Modern history tends more and more to become philosophic: to be an argument and an interpretation, rather than a bald statement of facts. The facts contained in our best histories bear much the same relation to the history itself, that the flesh and bones of the body bear to the person who lives in and by them. The flesh and bones, or the facts, have to exist; but the only excuse for their existence is, that the person may have being, or that the history may trace a spiritual growth or decadence. There was perhaps a time when the historian found a difficulty in collecting facts enough to serve as a firm foundation for his edifice of comment and deduction; but nowadays, his embarrassment is rather in the line of making a judicious selection from the enormous mass of facts which research and the facilities of civilization have placed at his disposal. Not only is every contemporary event recorded instantly in the newspapers and elsewhere; but new light is being constantly thrown upon the past, even upon the remotest confines thereof. Some of the facts thus brought before us are original and vital; others are mere echoes, repetitions, and unimportant variations.

But the historian, if he wishes his work to last, must build as does the Muse in Emerson's verse, with
         .... "Rafters of immortal pine,
  Cedar incorruptible, worthy her design."
Or he may be sure that the historian who comes after him will sift the wheat from his chaff, and leave him no better reputation than that of the quarry from which the marble of the statue comes. He must tell a consecutive story, but must eschew all redundancy, furnish no more supports for his bridge than its stability requires, prune his tree so severely that it shall bear none but good fruit, forbear to freight the memory of his reader with a cargo so unwieldy as to sink it. On the other hand, of course, he must beware of being too terse; man cannot live by bread alone, and the reader of histories needs to be told the Why as well as the What. But the historical field is so wide that one man, in his one lifetime, can hardly hope by independent and original investigation both to collect all the data from which to build his structure, and so to select his timbers that only the indispensable ones shall be employed. In reality, we find one historian of a given subject or period succeeding another, and refining upon his methods and treatment. With each successive attempt the outlook becomes clearer and more comprehensive, and the meaning of the whole more pronounced. The spirit, for the sake of which the body exists, more and more dominates its material basis, until at last the latter practically vanishes "in the light of its meaning sublime." This is the apotheosis of history, which of course has not yet been attained, and probably can never be more than approximated.

* * * * *

The present work is a very modest contribution toward the desired result. It makes few or no pretensions to original research. There are many histories of the United States and the fundamental facts thereof are known. But it remains for the student to endeavor to solve and declare the meaning of the familiar events; to state his view of their source and their ultimate issue. In these volumes, I have taken the view that the American nation is the embodiment and vehicle of a Divine purpose to emancipate and enlighten the human race. Man is entering upon a new career of spiritual freedom: he is to enjoy a hitherto unprecedented condition of political, social and moral liberty--as distinguished from license, which in truth is slavery. The stage for this grand evolution was fixed in the Western Continent, and the pioneers who went thither were inspired with the desire to escape from the thralldom of the past, and to nourish their souls with that pure and exquisite freedom which can afford to ignore the ease of the body, and all temporal luxuries, for the sake of that elixir of immortality. This, according to my thinking, is the innermost core of the American Idea; if you go deep enough into surface manifestations, you will find it. It is what differentiates Americans from all other peoples; it is what makes Americans out of emigrants; it is what draws the masses of Europe hither, and makes their rulers fear and hate us. It may often, and uniformly, happen that any given individual is unconscious of the Spirit that moves within him; for it is the way of that Spirit to subordinate its manifestations to its ends, knowing the frailty of humanity. But it is there, and its gradual and cumulative results are seen in the retrospect, and it may perhaps be divined as to the outline of some of its future developments.

Some sort of recognition of the American Idea, and of the American destiny, affords the only proper ground for American patriotism. We talk of the size of our country, of its wealth and prosperity, of its physical power, of its enlightenment; but if these things be all that we have to be proud of, we have little. They are in truth but outward signs of a far more precious possession within. We are the pioneers of the new Day, or we are nothing worth talking about. We are at the threshold of our career. Our record thus far is full of faults, and presents not a few deformities, due to our human frailties and limitations; but our general direction has been onward and upward. At the moment when this book is finished, we seem to be entering upon a fresh phase of our journey, and a vast horizon opens around us. It was inevitable that America should not be confined to any special area on the map of the world; it is of little importance that we fill our own continent with men and riches. We are to teach men in all parts of the world what freedom is, and thereby institute other Americas in the very strongholds of oppression. In order to accomplish this, Americans will be drawn forth and will obtain foothold in remote regions, there to disseminate their genius and inculcate their aims. In Europe and Asia are wars and rumors of wars; but there seems no reason why the true revolution, which Americanism involves, should not be a peaceful and quiet one. Our real enemies may be set in high places, but they are very few, and their power depends wholly on those myriads who are at heart our allies. If we can assure the latter of our good faith and disinterestedness, the battle is won without fighting. Indeed, the day for Mohammedan conquests is gone by, and any such conquest would be far worse than futile.

These are theories and speculations, and so far as they enter into my book, they do so as atmosphere and aim only; they are not permitted to mold the character of the narrative, so that it may illustrate a foregone conclusion. I have related the historical story as simply and directly as I could, making use of the best established authorities. Here and there I have called attention to what seemed to me the significance of events; but any one is at liberty to interpret them otherwise if he will. After all the best use of a history is probably to stimulate readers to think for themselves about the events portrayed; and if I have succeeded in doing that, I shall be satisfied. The history of the United States does mean something: what is it? Are we a decadent fruit that is rotten before it is ripe? or are we the bud of the mightiest tree of time? The materials for forming your judgment are here; form it according as your faith and hope may dictate.

JULIAN HAWTHORNE.

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