« PrejšnjaNaprej »
career and plotting to intercept it, so nations, possessed of adventitious advantages, moral or physical, or both combined, will rise and become prominent; and being prominent, are likely in that proportion to be influential. Russia, as we need not say, has become prominent for her physical advantages and power; and for the displays recently made of her importance in that concentrated morale, which organises, directs, and controls the whole. But Russia is influential only as being formidable. There is little in her civilisation, that is likely to be copied by nations which have far outstripped her in this career ; and still less in her political and civil fabric, that will be imitated.
Russia occupies the extreme of a high and rigorous despotism; America, the extreme of popular liberty—of democracy. There are numerous considerations in the history and aspects of American society, which must necessarily command attention and exert influence, especially with the present most prevalent temper of mankind. America is already great and powerful; her destiny in the career of importance presents no visible term; and she has opened on the gaze of the world the scene of a momentous experiment. We say experiment. It is not, indeed, anomalous in the records of history; but it is so in fact, and in comparison with anything
that exists. There has been nothing like it'; there is nothing like it.
The first start of the United States as an independent nation, attracted great attention, and produced a wide-spread sensation. It created a strong and prolific impulse in general society. It precipitated the
French revolution of the last century, and gave it shape and potency; and of course must be regarded as having been influential in the protracted agitations of Europe, which commenced with that date, and which gave such a turn to human affairs. We suppose it equally true to say, that the example of America has had no inconsiderable influence in Great Britain, by exciting discontent, and stimulating radicalism. The democracy of America has roused, and marshalled, and animated the democracy of the British Empire.
And since it must be, that the spectacle of America, as a democratic State, will have influence, it is desirable that it should be graduated by a knowledge of the experiment, such as it is. If, indeed, the results of this probation are yet problematical, and the final issue dubious; if there are elements at work in American society, which give to its aspects a portentous character, there may be some good reasons for the world to pause and consider, before it makes haste to tread in the same track. The author
of these pages may have his opinion on this point; but that is of little consequence. His object has been to exhibit a true and faithful picture of American society, mainly as political and religious, as these two characteristics have a strong affinity, and are supremely influential. The reader will be left to form his own opinion of the facts exhibited and suggested, and to him also is resigned the department of prophecy over the future. The author is well convinced, that the world does not yet comprehend America; and it may be doubtful whether America comprehends itself. The spectacle of its history, and the study of its character, are yet a problem. Whether the author has contributed anything towards its solution, he cannot pretend to say; but the reader will probably discover sundry and strong features of American society in these pages, which never before came under his eye. And if there be any good reason in the facts of history for the author's views, as presented here and there, the reader will also see, that they exhibit many things of practical importance, and likely to be fruitful in result, which have not been generally recognised, and never before exhibited so distinctly to public view. For the most part, and in its leading drift, as will probably be admitted, this volume occupies untrodden ground. And it is believed, that those
who know best, will acknowledge the truth of the picture, except as in some instances, it may fulfil the office a mirror not altogether agreeable. In the execution of the plan of this work, it was impossible to gratify all, and unavoidable to displease some; and although censure, or ungracious criticism, is never covetable, truth is of more importance, and the good of society a paramount consideration, and at least a partial indemnification.
American society has manifested two leading and opposite tendencies: one towards the lowest level of democracy, and the other towards a spiritual supremacy. The former is pretty well understood; the latter will find its portrait in these pages. Both, indeed, are made subjects of consideration. They are two extremes, that beget each other.
As if nothing good could come to man without its evil, and no sweet without a bitter; as if
every dawn of a brighter day must have its malignant star; and as the fairest sun must have its spots, so the rapid advancement of society in general improvement, must be visited by the Demon of Radicalism, to mar the picture, and charge the onward movement with a portentous and dangerous power. This spirit of evil broods alike over America and over Europe, over all empires and republics, saps the thrones of the former and the Constitutions of the
latter, and threatens the world with infinite mischief.
And as if the history of Christianity were not sufficiently fraught with the abuses of religious power, the great pains that have been taken in America to separate religion from the State, seem only to have opened a new field, and presented temptation, for the setting up of a new spiritual dynasty, as much more influential, as it is more independent, than a Church allied to the State.
New York, November, 1838.