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.
of special ideals, standards, and occupations; and the country which discourages such pursuits must necessarily put up with an inferior quality and a less varied assortment of desirable individual types.  But whatever the loss our country has been and is suffering from this cause, our popular philosophers welcome rather than deplore it.  We adapt our ideals of individuality to its local examples.  When orators of the Jacksonian Democratic tradition begin to glorify the superlative individuals developed by the freedom of American life, what they mean by individuality is an unusual amount of individual energy successfully spent in popular and remunerative occupations.  Of the individuality which may reside in the gallant and exclusive devotion to some disinterested, and perhaps unpopular moral, intellectual, or technical purpose, they have not the remotest conception; and yet it is this kind of individuality which is indispensable to the fullness and intensity of American national life.



The Jacksonian Democrats were not, of course, absolutely dominant during the Middle Period of American history.  They were persistently, and on a few occasions successfully, opposed by the Whigs.  The latter naturally represented the political, social, and economic ideas which the Democrats under-valued or disparaged.  They were strong in those Northern and border states, which had reached a higher stage of economic and social development, and which contained the mansions of contemporary American culture, wealth, and intelligence.  It is a significant fact that the majority of Americans of intelligence during the Jacksonian epoch were opponents of Jackson, just as the majority of educated Americans of intelligence have always protested against the national political irresponsibility and the social equalitarianism characteristic of our democratic tradition; but unfortunately they have always failed to make their protests effective.  The spirit of the times was against them.  The Whigs represented the higher standards, the more definite organization, and the social inequalities of the older states, but when they attempted to make their ideas good, they were faced by a dilemma either horn of which was disastrous to their interests.  They were compelled either to sacrifice their standards to the conditions of popular efficiency or the chance of success to the integrity of their standards.  In point of fact they pursued precisely the worst course of all.  They abandoned their standards, and yet they failed to achieve success.  Down to the Civil War the fruits of victory and the prestige of popularity were appropriated by the Democrats.

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