The Promise of American Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 620 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.
which means so much more than a legal union, we shall be looking in the direction of a fruitful alliance between two supplementary principles.  It can, I believe, be stated without qualification that wherever the nationalist idea and tendency has been divided from democracy, its achievements have been limited and partially sterilized.  It can also be stated that the separation of the democratic idea from the national principle and organization has issued not merely in sterility, but in moral and political mischief.  All this must remain mere assertion for the present; but I shall hope gradually to justify these assertions by an examination of the subsequent course of American political development.




The first phase of American political history was characterized by the conflict between the Federalists and the Republicans, and it resulted in the complete triumph of the latter.  The second period was characterized by an almost equally bitter contest between the Democrats and the Whigs in which the Democrats represented a new version of the earlier Republican tradition and the Whigs a resurrected Federalism.  The Democracy of Jackson differed in many important respects from the Republicanism of Jefferson, and the Whig doctrine of Henry Clay was far removed from the Federalism of Alexander Hamilton.  Nevertheless, from 1825 to 1850, the most important fact in American political development continued to be a fight between an inadequate conception of democracy, represented by Jackson and his followers, and a feeble conception of American nationality, represented best by Henry Clay and Daniel Webster; and in this second fight the victory still rested, on the whole, with the Democrats.  The Whigs were not annihilated as the Federalists had been.  In the end they perished as a party, but not because of the assaults of their opponents, but because of their impotence in the face of a grave national crisis.  Nevertheless, they were on all essential issues beaten by the Democrats; and on the few occasions on which they were victorious, their victories were both meaningless and fruitless.

The years between 1800 and 1825 were distinguished, so far as our domestic development was concerned, by the growth of the Western pioneer Democracy in power and self-consciousness.  It was one of the gravest errors of Hamilton and the Federalists that they misunderstood and suspected the pioneer Democracy, just as it was one of the greatest merits of Jefferson that he early appreciated its importance and used his influence and power to advance its interests.  The consequence was that the pioneers became enthusiastic and radical supporters of the Republican party.  They repeated and celebrated the Jeffersonian catchwords with the utmost conviction.  They became imbued with the spirit of the true Jeffersonian faith. 

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The Promise of American Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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