« PreviousContinue »
A POPULAR HISTORY
THE UNITED STATES,
FIRST DISCOVERY OF THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
PRECEDED BY A SKETCH OF THE PRE-HISTORIC PERIOD AND THE
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT
SYDNEY HOWARD GAY
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS,
743 & 745 BROADWAY.
THERE are several excellent histories of the United States of North America in print, and it will naturally be asked what occasion there is for another.
The title of this work is in part an answer to the question. It is intended to be a popular history - a work for that large class who have not leisure for reading those narratives which aim at setting forth, with the greatest breadth and variety of circumstance, the annals of our nation's life. At the same time it is the design of the present work to treat the subject more at large than is done in those compends, some of them able in their way, which are used as text-books in the schools. Unlike these latter, it is not a compilation from histories already written, but in its narrative of events and its representation of the state of our country at different epochs, has derived its materials through independent research from original sources. It is also within the plan of this work to rely in part for its attraction, on the designs with which it is illustrated-likenesses of men conspicuous in our annals, views of places and buildings memorable in our history, and representations of usages and manners which have had their day and have passed away.
But in saying this, we state but a small part of our plan. It is our purpose to present within a moderate compass a view of changes, political and social, occurring within our Republic, which have an interest for every nation in the civilized world, and the history of which could not be fully written until now. In the two centuries and a half of our existence as an off-shoot of the great European stock, a mighty drama has been put upon the stage of our continent, which, after a
series of fierce contentions and subtle intrigues, closed in a bloody catastrophe with a result favorable to liberty and human rights and to the fair fame of the Republic. Within that time the institution of slavery, springing up from small and almost unnoticed beginnings, grew to be a gigantic power claiming and exercising dominion over the confederacy, and at last, when it failed in causing itself to be recognized as a national institution and saw the signs of a decline in its political supremacy, declaring the Union of the States dissolved, encountering the free States in a sanguinary five years' war, and bringing upon itself overthrow and utter destruction.
We stand therefore at a point in our annals where the whole duration of slavery in our country from the beginning to the end, lies before us as on a chart; and certainly no history of our Republic can now be regarded as complete which should fail to carry the reader through the various stages of its existence, from its silent and stealthy origin to the stormy period in which the world saw its death-struggle, and recognized in its fall the sentence of eternal justice. It is instructive to observe how in its earlier years slavery was admitted, by the most eminent men of those parts of the country where it had taken the deepest root, to be a great wrong; and how afterward, when the power and influence of the slave-holding class were at their height, it was boldly defended as a beneficent and just institution, the basis of the most perfect social state known to the world, so powerfully and surely do personal interests pervert the moral judgments of mankind. The controversy assumed a deeper interest as the years went on. On the side of slavery stood forth men singularly fitted to be its champions; able, plausible, trained to public life, men of large personal influence and a fierce determination of will nourished by the despotism exercised on their plantations over their bondmen. On the other side was a class equally able and no less determined, enthusiasts. for liberty as courageous as their adversaries were imperious, restlessly aggressive, ready to become martyrs, and from time to time attesting their sincerity by yielding up their lives. So fierce was the quarrel, and so general was the inclination
even in the free States to take part with the slave-owners, that the name of Abolitionist was used as a term of reproach and scorn; and to point out a man as worthy of wearing it, was in some places the same thing as to recommend him to the attentions of the mob. Yet even while this was a name of opprobrium, the hostility to slavery was gathering strength under a new form. The friends of slavery demanded that the authority of the master over his bondman should be recognized in all the territory belonging to the Union not yet formed into States, in short, that the jurisdiction of the Republic, wherever established, should carry with it the law of slavery. A party was immediately formed to resist the application of this doctrine, and after a long and vehement contest elected its candidate President of the United States. Meantime the rapid settlement of our Pacific coast by a purely free population, in consequence of the opening of the gold mines, showed the friends of slavery that they were to be hereafter in a minority, the power of which would diminish with every successive year. They instantly took the resolution to revolt against the Union, declared it thenceforth dissolved, and rushed into a war, in which their defeat carried with it the fall of slavery. It fell, dragging down with it thousands of private fortunes, and leaving some of the fairest portions of the region whence it issued its decrees ravaged and desolate, and others, for a time, given over to a confusion little short of anarchy.
Writers who record the fortunes of nations have most generally and wisely stopped at a modest distance from the time in which they wrote, for this reason among others, that the narrative could not be given with the necessary degree of impartiality, on account of controversies not yet ended, and prejudices which have not had time to subside. But in the case of American slavery the difficulty of speaking impartially both of the events which form its history, and of the characters of its champions and adversaries, is far less now than it ever was before. Slavery has become a thing of the past; the dispute as to its rights under our Constitution is closed forever. The class of active and vigilant politicians