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MASSACHUSETTS QUARTERLY REVIEW.
NO. V.- DECEMBER, 1848.
ART. I.-THE POLITICAL DESTINATION OF AMER
ICA, AND THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES.
EVERY nation has a peculiar character, in which it differs from all others that have been, that are, and possibly from all that are to come, for it does not yet appear that the Divine Father of the nations ever repeats himself and creates either two nations or two men exactly alike. However, as nations, like men, agree in more things than they differ, and in obvious things too, the special peculiarity of any one tribe does not always appear at first sight. But if we look through the history of some nation which has passed off from the stage of action, we find certain prevailing traits which continuallly reappear in the language and laws thereof; in its arts, literature, manners, modes of religion - in short, in the whole life of the people. The most prominent thing in the history of the Hebrews is their Continual Trust in God, and this marks them from their first appearance to the present day. They have accordingly done little for art, science, philosophy, little for commerce and the useful arts of life, but much for Religion -- and the psalms they sung two or three thousand years ago are at this day the Hymns and Prayers of the whole Christian world. Three great historical forms of religion - Judaism, Christianity, and Mahometanism--all have proceeded from them.
He that looks at the Ionian Greeks finds in their story always the same prominent characteristica Devotion to what is Beautiful. This appears often to the neglect of what is true, right, and therefore holy. Hence, while they have done little for religion, their literature, architecture, sculpture, furnish us
with imodels never surpassed, and perhaps not equalled. Yet they.lack the ideal aspiration after Religion that appears in .the literature and art, and even language of some other people, gaite inferior to the Greeks in elegance and refinement. Science, also, is most largely indebted to these beauty-loving Greeks, for Truth is one form of Loveliness.
If we take the Romans, from Romulus their first king, to Augustulus the last of the Cæsars, the same traits of national character appear, only the complexion and dress thereof changed by circumstances. There is always the same hardness and materialism, the same skill in organizing men, the same turn for affairs and genius for legislation. Rome borrowed her theology and liturgical forms; her art, science, literature, philosophy, and eloquence; even her art of war was an imitation. But Law sprung up indigenous in her soil; her laws are the best gift she offers to the Human Race, — the “monument more lasting than brass” which she has left behind her.
We may take another nation, which has by no means completed its history, the Saxon race, from Hengist and Ilorsa to Sir Robert Peel: there also is a permanent peculiarity in the tribe. They are yet the same bold, hardy, practical people as when their bark first touched the savage shores of Britain ; not over religious ; less pious than moral; not so much upright before God, as downright before men; servants of the Understanding more than children of Reason ; not following the guidance of an intuition, and the light of an Idea, but rather trusting to experiment, facts, precedents, and usages; not philosophical, but commercial; warlike through strength and courage, not from love of war or its glory; material, obstinate, and grasping, with the same admiration of horses, dogs, oxen, and strong drink; the same willingness to tread down any obstacle, material, human, or divine, which stands in their way; the same impatient lust of wealth and power; the same disposition to colonize and reannex other lands; the same love of Liberty and love of Law; the same readiness in forming political confederations.
In each of these four instances the IIebrews, the Ionians, the Romans, and the Anglo-Saxon race have had a nationality so strong, that while they have mingled with other nations in commerce and in war, as victors and vanquished, they have stoutly held their character through all; they have thus modified feebler nations joined with them. To take the last,
neither the Britons nor the Danes affected very much the character of the Anglo-Saxons; they never turned it out of its course. The Normans gave the Saxon manners, refinement, letters, elegance. The Anglo-Saxon bishop of the eleventh century, dressed in untanned sheep skins, “ the woolly side out and the fleshy side in;" he ate checse and flesh, drank milk and mcad. The Norman taught him to wear cloth, to eat also bread and roots, to drink wine. But in other respects the Norman left him as he found him. England has received her kings and her nobles from Normandy, Anjou, the Provence, Scotland, Holland, Hanover --- often seeing a foreigner ascend her throne ; yet the sturdy Angle-Saxon character held its own, spite of the new element infused into its blood : change the ministries, change the dynasties often as they will, John Bull is obstinate as ever, and himself changes not; no philosophy or religion makes him less material. No nation but the Eng. lish could have produced a Hobbes, a Hume, a Paley, or a Bentham, — they are all instancial and not exceptional men in
Now this idiosyncrasy of a nation is a sacred gift; like the genius of a Burns, a Thorwaldsen, a Franklin, or a Bowditch: it is given for some divine purpose, to be sacredly cherished and patiently unfolded. The cause of the peculiarities of a nation or an individual man we cannot fully determine as yet, and so we refer it to the chain of causes which we call Providence. But the national persistency in a common type is easily explained. The qualities of father and mother are commonly transmitted to their children, but not always, for peculiarities may lie latent in a family for generations, and reappear in the genius or the folly of a child — often in the complexion and features: and besides, father and mother are often no match. But such exceptions are rare, and the qualities of a race are always thus reproduced, the deficiency of one man getting counterbalanced by the redundancy of the next: the marriages of a whole tribe are not far from normal.
Some nations, it seems, perish through defect of this national character, as individuals fail of success through excess or deficiency in their character. Thus the Celts, – that great flood of a nation which once swept over Germany, France, England, and, casting its spray far over the Alps, at one time threatened destruction to Rome itself, --seem to have been so filled with Love of Individual Independence that they could never accept a minute organization of human Rights and Duties, and so their children would not group themselves into a City, as other races, and submit to a strong central power, which should curb individual will enough to ensure National Unity of Action. Perhaps this was once the excellence of the Celts, and thereby they broke the trammels and escaped from the theocratic or despotic traditions of earlier and more savage times, developing the Power of the Individual for a time, and the energy of a nation loosely bound; but when they came in contact with the Romans, Franks, and Saxons, they melted away as snow in April - only, like that, remnants thereof yet lingering in the mountains and islands of Europe. No external pressure of famine or political oppression can hold the Celts in Ireland together, or give them national unity of action enough to resist the Saxon foe. Doubtless in other days this very peculiarity of the Irish has done the world some service. Nations succeed each other as races of animals in the geologi. cal epochs, and like them, also, perish when their work is done.
The peculiar character of a nation does not appear nakedly, without relief and shadow. As the waters of the Rhone, in coming from the mountains, have caught a stain from the soils they have traversed which mars the cerulean tinge of the mountain snow that gave them birth, so the peculiarities of each nation become modified by the circumstances to which it is exposed, though the fundamental character of a nation, it seems, has never been changed. Only when the blood of the nation is changed by additions from another stock is the idio
Now, while each nation has its peculiar Genius or character which does not change, it has also and accordingly a particular Work to perform in the economy of the world, a certain Fundamental Idea to unfold and develop. This is its national task, for in God's world, as in a shop, there is a regular division of labor. Sometimes it is a limited work, and when it is done the nation may be dismissed, and go to its repose. Non omnia possumus omnes is as true of nations as of men; one has a genius for one thing, another for something different, and the Idea of each nation and its special Work will depend on the Genius of the nation. Men do not gather grapes of thorns.
In addition to this specific genius of the nation and its corresponding work, there are also various Accidental or Subordinate Qualities, which change with circumstances, and so vary the nation's aspect that its peculiar genius and peculiar