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It is the purpose of this volume to provide certain important documents of abiding value which will help students in secondary schools and colleges to understand the situation in which the country finds itself today, and which will serve also to clarify their ideas on the purposes and significance of America.
The consciousness of any fixed, national purpose has never been strong in the minds and hearts of Americans. Our first impulse is angrily and emphatically to deny this, for we have never admitted that we were lacking in anything, even in ideals. What other nations possessed which was good, we too wished to have,-and on a “bigger” scale. Yet this deficiency in our national psychology has forcibly impressed foreigners. To them we are only too often a people of adventurers with no set goal, at best active and intrepid, making and breaking our own ideals. We impressed the stranger as Hannibal impressed the Roman historian. To us there is nihil sancti, nothing sacred: So Kipling found us :
We shake the iron hand of fate
And match with destiny for beers. Such an attitude as is attributed to us would pretty surely tend to make us overlook or minimize one main question that we, like all nations, must face. Of this question H. G. Wells in The Future of America writes: “The problem in America, save in its scale and freedom, is no different from the problem of Great Britain, of Europe, of all humanity; it is one chiefly moral and intellectual; it is to resolve a confusion of purposes, traditions, habits, into a common, ordered intention."
That this problem should have received so little attention in America at large is due not to any absence of great leaders, or to any failure on the part of our leaders beginning with Washington to set before us such an “ordered intention.” It has been due to the fact that we have been feverishly engaged in other problems; the exploitation of our natural resources, the development of industry, and the attempt to assimilate a vast immigrant population. It was due also to the further fact that living in a continent with no powerful or aggressive neighbors, we felt wrongly that we could, for the present at least, pursue a policy of isolation unmolested. We have lived in a provincialism of soul of which we were not conscious and which it has taken a worldcatastrophe to shatter.
Yet around one fundamental ideal we have all and always rallied. No matter from what part of the earth we or our forefathers came, America is a democracy. Democracy and republicanism often used interchangeably, though the latter refers rather to the form of government and the former to its spirit. That we are a republic is one of the fortunate accidents of history, for the men of '76 did not go to war for the purpose of electing a president of their own, but because they refused to
be governed by a body in which they were not represented. If then, the War of Independence was not waged primarily for the purpose of founding a republic, it was waged in the interest of democracy, in the interest of founding a government which on the one hand should be responsible to the people and for which on the other, the people should be responsible.
Any particular state is merely the expression of an ideal of society and when the Revolution had ended and the time had come to shape a constitution, it was natural that our forefathers should have chosen a republican form of government, in which not only are the policies to be pursued formulated by the citizens through their representatives, but the executives of these policies are also named by them.
In modern times and on so large a scale, the experiment was new and we have the distinction of having been the first of the great modern republics. The experiment, and such it was, was viewed abroad with interest and suspicion. During our early trials, and they were many and serious, few on the other side of the Atlantic believed that the new and struggling government could endure. For not only was our state a new departure, but the way of life of the colonists also; and the structure of their society differed in many respects from that of the great European powers. We had, to be sure, inherited the liberal traditions of the English law and the English constitution, but the great European states still maintained the social order known as feudal, developed in the Middle Ages and based upon the existence and official recognition of privileged classes. Of such a class and such a feudal tradition we knew nothing, and the ignorance was a fortunate one.
If the little republic embarked upon an uncharted sea, it did so under the most favorable conditions ever vouchsafed to man. A people of pioneers, unhampered by constraining traditions, we were threatened by no fear of invasion by powerful and aggressive neighbors and we had been given as our inheritance what was to become the richest section of the habitable globe. Our past could not hamper us, and the future with untold wealth and an almost unlimited domain, lay before us “like a land of dreams."
We were free as no European nation could possibly be free to carry out in relative peace and security the great democratic experiment. Before the world our rich endowment brought with it a corresponding responsibility never adequately recognized by the mass of our citizens. We have been justly regarded by others and should more frequently and seriously regard ourselves as the initiators of and the sponsors for the democratic idea; government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as Lincoln put it in memorable words. It was such a state based on ideas of freedom and social and political equality that Washington sought to found, that Lincoln maintained against internal division, and that President Wilson is now defending against unwarranted foreign interference and the unprovoked aggression of an autocratic power.
er. Our democracy today is for the first time in history called upon to