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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 523 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.

I

THE CONTEMPORARY SITUATION AND ITS PROBLEMS

It is important to recognize that the anti-slavery agitation, the secession of the South, and the Civil War were, after all, only an episode in the course of American national development.  The episode was desperately serious.  Like the acute illness of a strong man, it almost killed its victim; and the crisis exposed certain weaknesses in our political organism, in the absence of which the illness would never have become acute.  But the roots of our national vitality were apparently untouched by the disease.  When the crisis was over, the country resumed with astonishing celerity the interrupted process of economic expansion.  The germs of a severe disease, to which the Fathers of the Republic had given a place in the national Constitution, and which had been allowed to flourish, because of the lack of wholesome cohesion in the body politic—­this alien growth had been cut out by a drastic surgical operation, and the robust patient soon recovered something like his normal health.  Indeed, being in his own opinion even more robust than he was before the crisis, he was more eager than ever to convert his good health into the gold of satisfied desire.  The ghost of slavery had been banished from our national banquet:  and, relieved of this terror, the American people began to show, more aggressively than ever before, their ability to provide and to consume a bountiful feast.  They were no longer children, grasping at the first fruits of a half-cultivated wilderness.  They were adults, beginning to plan the satisfaction of on appetite which had been sharpened by self-denial, and made self-conscious by maturity.

The North, after the war was over, did not have much time for serious reflection upon its meaning and consequences.  The Republican leaders did just enough thinking to carry them through the crisis; but once the rebellion was suppressed and the South partly de-nationalized in the name of reconstruction, the need and desire was for action rather than for thought.  The anti-slavery agitation and the war had interrupted the process, which from the public point of view, was described as the economic development of the country, and which from an individual standpoint meant the making of money.  For many years Americans had been unable, because of the ghost of slavery, to take full advantage of their liberties and opportunities; and now that the specter was exorcised, they gladly put aside any anxious political preoccupations.  Politics could be left to the politicians.  It was about time to get down to business.  In this happiest of all countries, and under this best of all governments, which had been preserved at such an awful cost, the good American was entitled to give his undivided attention to the great work of molding and equipping the continent for human habitation, and incidentally to the minor task of securing his share of the rewards.  A

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