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Henry Steele Commager discusses the history of American ideal

BROADCAST: Jul. 4, 1974 | DURATION: 00:42:48


Discussing American democracy and interviewing Henry Steele Commager. Commager is an eminent historian who published an annotated version of Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America".


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Studs Terkel On this July 4th the program consists mostly of reflections of. Professor Henry Steele Commager, American historian. The conversation you hear for the first half of the program took place in South Hampton, Long Island a couple of weeks ago. In the second half of the program music, songs of the American Revolution , and perhaps we'll say peripheral events. In a moment the program. As we're seeing here in the summer of 1974. It's a seminar at Southampton. I'm seated beside distinguished American historian Henry Steele Commager. It's about the third time we've met and each time it's been a stimulating encounter for me, and I was thinking. Dr. commoner your thoughts, there are many of course at this very moment and there are many general things to say but specifically the idea of being the king of the hill, being number one. We see this in sports: the hand, the finger held high. We're number one. Our country seems to have this [ticket ops?]. Is it, is this so with every large industrial country?

Henry Steele Commager No actually , the notion that we are unique is a very old one, and in the beginning it was rather in an elevated one, rather a noble one. We were to be number one in the eyes of the Puritans on moral grounds. They didn't use vulgar phrases like "number one." Ours was a city set upon a hill. We were the chosen people. We were the sifted grain, all of these things. There was a moral arrogance there to be sure which we have never wholly shuffled off but it turned out to , it turned out to have not bad consequences. And in Jefferson and Jefferson's followers and the whole Republican era of our history we were to be again the unique people. We were the first people in all history as Tom Paine said who would show what was possible to man. Here man was to achieve perfection. Here man was to slough off all of the handicaps and the tragedies of his life in the old world. We were going to have the ideal state. Man would prove that he was not really corrupt by nature. The whole idea of corruption was it was an old world philosophical or an old world theological notion, but man was natively good. He was capable of infinite advancement, even of perfection. Though Jefferson rarely used words like perfection. Here for the first time in history man could be himself without a tyrannous government, without a great military, without a superstitious church, without poverty and ignorance harassing him at all times, and with a beneficent nature and a benevolent God watching over him. All of these things had their virtuous aspect and Jefferson hoped that we would be the model for the rest of the world. That sooner or later all peoples would look to us and see how they should conduct their affairs, how they should give to man an opportunity to vindicate his potentialities. And there was some truth in that too. Much of Europe did, much of South America did look to the American example. Gradually this potentially noble idea became corrupted as noble ideas generally do, especially when they have so much vanity in them, and it became necessary to be number one and to be the best, the greatest, the biggest in all the ordinary things. We took enormous pride in the fact that Niagara Falls had more water going over than any other place, or that the Mississippi-Missouri River was so big, or the Great Lakes were so big, and the cities were so big, and we grew so fast, and all of the other obvious things. And we became highly competitive. And the real secret of being the first in everything today in football or basketball or population or anything else has to do with this deeply ingrained competitiveness. We are I suppose--I don't know about the Russians--but I think we are the most highly competitive people in the world. Certainly our athletics are competitive. The only important thing is to win. Who cares about anything else? And competitiveness too is rooted in something that had its admirable features in the very beginning and the fact that for the first time in history that it was possible for anyone to compete. After all in feudal Europe no one could compete in the class system of Europe. There was no point in competing; you were you were. No servant girl was going to marry the prince except in fairy stories. You married your neighbor's daughter, you followed your father's job in the furrows or in the shop , the forge, you worked in the big house. If you were upper class you didn't compete either you didn't need to. On the whole Europe was a non-competitive society. In America for the first time everything was open. No one knew where he belonged, he belonged, he could carve out his own place. He could marry anyone, he could have any job, he could live in any place, he could worship in any church. And once that possibility dawned on man it had its inevitable consequence that it stimulated, and stimulated in a very useful and good way, stimulated competitiveness. You were doomed forever to be in one rut or one furrow, you could make what you would of yourself. There was, we laugh now at the rags to riches syndrome, the log cabin to the White House. But is a very real and important thing in the 18th and 19th centuries where in England or France or Germany could you go from a log cabin to the royal palace, or from log cabin to anything, or from any rags to any kind of riches? To this day it's very difficult in the old world and it's certainly difficult in Asia. So that competitiveness was what went into the making of America as it were, this extraordinary phenomenon of reaching the Pacific coast within the lifetime of people who were there at the Declaration of Independence. N othing like it in the world had ever been seen before. And it's a very heady wine to realize you belong to a people who were growing twice as fast as any other people in every way, not only in numbers but in resources and in achievements of all kinds. And very soon we started saying, Look , not only are we bigger and better but everything about us is bigger and better. If you make a list of the 10 greatest books five of them are American. If you list the 10 greatest painters five of them are American. Isn't this marvelous. We produce all the great things in culture and art as well as in economy and society and so forth. Now in our own day I think this has come to the point where it is nothing but corrupting where the necessity of winning, the necessity of being first has brought us to disaster as it inevitably brings any individuals to disaster if it takes possession of his mind and his soul. And has taken possession of our mind and so we have to win war as a [unintelligible]. This is a real, the basic reason why we kept fighting in Vietnam for 10 years. It was never anything to fight about in the first place. But what kept Johnson at it was , I'm not going to preside over the first defeat in American history. America cannot be defeated. It's against the laws of nature and God. This is what kept Nixon at it for years after he got in office. He ended up with what they called peace with honor which was of course absurd. There was no peace and there was nothing but dishonor connected with it. But the notion we have to win, and it just part of the cosmic system that we must always be first. We have to have more atomic weapons than the Russians. The notion that anybody could be even with us is an outrage. We have to win at the international Olympics. We have to have the finest, the best, the everything because we're Americans because God wants it that way. Because we still are the chosen people and God now is the head of an advertising agency. And his idea of the chosen people is that they should be first in everything.

Studs Terkel As I was thinking how you eloquently drew it, a cycle, to a close. It began, Payne's dream, Jefferson's dream of perhaps man is not corruptible and indeed the man of the old world seemed to have been. And with a new land surrounded by two oceans and wide expanse the idea of man and soil, man and the Puritan ethic, working very hard and making it. But as the frontiers were no longer there, the physical frontiers, that Puritan ethic which means if you work hard you will make it, you won't get to the top, also lead to getting to the top no matter how. So something is a paradox here too isn't there?

Henry Steele Commager There's a not so much a paradox as see, and almost any theologian or philosopher might have seen is the inevitable corrupting influence of the notion that we are the chosen people of God. No one should think of himself as chosen. This is in itself a kind of vanity and arrogance that is bound to have its comeuppance sooner or later. Puritan ethics ceaseed to be Puritan, but it also ceased to be ethical. You get the, you get the perfect example of it in Richard Nixon himself who had this drive that we associate with the Puritan ethic. He too wanted to be number one. He too knew that he was a favorite of God and therefore had a right to do anything he wanted. He had a right to lie about Helen Gahagan Douglas, he had a right to smear Voorhis, he had a right to preach 20 years [of?] treason because it was all done in a good cause just as Watergate was done in a good cause, mainly to re-elect Mr. Nixon which was the will of the cosmic system and of God. And that kind of corruption ceases--That kind of conduct ceases to be Puritan after awhile. Jonathan Edwards would be horrified at it or Cotton Mather or Brad f ord or anyone. It also ceases to have any ethical content whatever. It becomes wholly the passion for pure personal advancement--

Female voice 1 [Unintelligible] coffee?

Studs Terkel And doesn't it--I'll have more coffee. Thank you. Dr. Commager, doesn't that lead to a question if it's no longer Puritan and no longer ethic. But wasn't there something missing? Wasn't there something, something called the social ethic? Just curious to know whether-- Was always fused to the Puritan ethic? That something involving others outside yourself?

Henry Steele Commager Oh that was very much part of the original Puritan ethic. It was a very--Indeed individualism was suppressed at the, for the interests of society as a whole. The creation here of the--perhaps I shouldn't say as a whole but those who were saved at least, the majority of society. And this was what created that marvelous institution the New England town. We romanticize it a bit, but anyone who now drives through some of the old New England town can be forgiven for romanticizing. The only thing of beauty of its kind that we've created in this country. I mean it's a harmonious unit, architectural, social, and religious and so forth. And this was because everyone was supposed to fit into the needs of the community as a whole. But we cannot we cannot disparage the passing of that. We cannot , we cannot argue that this was just a matter of corruption. It was part of the inescapable part of the fact that we are an enormous country, that no one stayed put, that we moved from frontier to frontier. As Mumford says, the settlement of America was the unsettlement of Europe, but the settlement of America was the unsettlement of America too. Every generation pulled up and moved somewhere else. And now I gather every American family moves once in five years and if you're going to move once in five years you don't plant trees, you don't you don't set up a garden, you don't do all of these things that the English do , or the French or the Danes or the Swedes to create a settled community and it's only when you believe you will be somewhere that you begin developing that social consciousness that is so important. One of the basic reasons for that breakdown of our social fabric that the sociologists so lament today is a very elementary fact that people who don't expect to stay anywhere don't build up the network of community responsibilities. What's the use? You may not be here even next year you never know when your company will [chafe?] [chase?] move to Dallas or Birmingham or you never know when you yourself will move or the children will leave home or anything else.

Studs Terkel The nomadic nature, then the nomadic nature of the society. More and more mobile. Less and less staying put. Also knocks out the whole idea of involvement with community, coming back social ethic. The individual in the communities, the individual on his own.

Henry Steele Commager Yes, that's what I was saying.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Henry Steele Commager Yes.

Studs Terkel That's the basic isn't it? So then, there was, I was curious because we're told, say Nixon's mother or somebody's mother way back said you worked very hard and you will to get to the top. But wasn't there something else needed in which somebody's mother or father might say, Work very hard, but it's not a question of getting to the top so much as being a member of a community who enriched that community by being a more fruitful, a fruit giving person.

Studs Terkel Yes. There is a third thing that I think was more commonly said than that: work hard because this is what God wants, this is what morals require, this will develop your character, this will make you a good and virtuous and useful person. I suppose one of the by no means unique failings of our society, it is widespread, but it just probably more acute in America than elsewhere is that we seem to do things for private and personal benefit of a material and ascertainable character rather than doing them because they seem the right thing to do. This is part of the whole advertising psychology which in turn is part of the larger American psychology. And I think we can see the explanation of it more clearly in advertising and we can also see the consequences of it. Advertising is to my mind the most vulgar manifestation of modern social life precisely because nothing is ever done for the right reasons. Everything is done for extraneous and selfish and vulgar reasons. You don't give your wife a fur coat because you love her but because she will then appreciate you more and love you more. You don't do a good job because you like your job, it's so the boss will say come around for dinner you don't serve one kind of whiskey rather than another because you like it but because it'll make an impression on someone. Almost everything that happens and everything you do is for extraneous and I say vulgar reasons. And I think [there?] that is maybe more widespread in our highly competitive society where everything is indeed possible and where it does make a difference if you belong to the right club instead of the wrong club. It does make a difference if you live on one side of the tracks rather than another. It does as we know, contrary to the great American myth, it does make a difference if you go to Exeter or St. Paul's rather than the P S 121 in Brooklyn and we pretend it doesn't but we know it does and therefore you do these things not because you necessarily get a better education at one schools or another, but it's socially the thing to do. Your kids will meet the right kind of people. There's some of that even abroad you may remember what so badly damaged Lord Snow's, C.P. Snow became Lord Snow's political career when he was in the Lords at one time defending a new educational bill and one of his critics asked him, How does it happen, my lord, that you send your sons to Eton? And he said in a moment of thoughtlessness, Ah yes I want them to associate when they're young with the kind of people they will associate with later in life. And that was ruinous to Lord Snow's, if he had any political hopes. But in any event this is widespread in America , more widespread perhaps than elsewhere. And it is the corruption again of something that was originally admirable enough: that you wanted the best for yourself and your children.

Studs Terkel Here, here then Dr. Commager, here is that marvelous historical and social twist. At the beginning you were saying first time it would be an open society, there was the caste system in the old world. The duke was the duke; the man who tilled the soil tilled the soil. Here one could rise. The Horatio Alger myth being to some extent true. And suddenly a caste system thanks to advertising comes into play. A new kind of caste system.

Henry Steele Commager Certainly wasn't sudden. After all there was very much of a caste system in the south between whites and Negroes even between planters and the crackers and the other, what used to be called the the poor class , the poor whites. There was a deferential system in the North rather than a class system to my mind. We are not getting a class system. What has happened now is that all classes are equally corrupted by what we for convenience call the middle class ethic, the kind of ethic illustrated by Nixon and Haldeman and Erlichman and all the rest of [bozos?] and [Kalembachs?] and others who want to make us make it the quick way, make the easy way, make it big, regardless of how they do it or what the moral cost, or this cost to society is, and what we must never get away from when we look with misgivings on Nixon and his piratical crew is after all the American people elected him by 17 million votes. They like that kind of man. This indeed is what they would be if they could. And so this corruption has gone very deep into American society and into the American mind I fear. And advertising is not so much--Well it's cause and effect, is it is a manifestation of something there. After all English advertising isn't like that. The English--The Americans advertise cigarette by showing the dashing girl in the seat of a Cadill--wheel of a Cadillac. The English by showing a parson saying, I think you will like Three Nuns or whatever it is that kind. They tend to do everything low key and not to beat you over the head with their ads and as you know English BBC gets along without any advertising, and the other, the private television has very low key advertising in England unlike our strident advertising on television, on television and radio. But these are manifestations of something in the public the public mind that are already there though advertising accentuates them so that and again and again you get this circle that you , you create something and then you become like what you've created.

Studs Terkel Isn't this another way of you're saying, Professor Commager, that there was more than one road to Watergate? That in a sense it isn't simply Nixon [alone?] but a whole, whole psyche here created that it's, Watergate is almost inevitable in view of what you've been saying. Something such as pragmatism works, advertising

Henry Steele Commager Watergate, we've had many Watergates in the past and they are an inevitable phenomenon of our society. We've not had any at the highest level in this way. After all we had ITT before we had Watergate and no one so far has gone to jail and we've had scandals of that kind, the business ethic, which thinks everything is anything goes and if it benefits the corporation and benefits the stockholders certainly in the long run conduct such as that of the great-- w hat is it?--copper company in Lake Superior?

Studs Terkel [Unintelligible].

Henry Steele Commager No, Lake Superior. That dumped 60000 tons of poison into Lake Superior every day is more , seems to me more outrageous and also more corrupting more dangerous than Watergate itself; and has the added disadvantage or added quality of destroying what belongs to Canada as well was the United States so we never seem to think of that. But it is part of the general abandonment of the fiduciary responsibility which is one of the most marked characteristics of our day. One of the qualities that the 18th century had in a very high degree was a sense of responsibility to posterity. They were talking, talked about posterity all the time. Washington did, Tom Paine did, Jefferson. All of them are constantly saying as John Adams did, We may rue this day but posterity will rejoice in it. Things of that kind, and no one talks about posterity anymore. You have to make, you have to show a profit this year and not show wealth the well-being of the next generation. We cut down the forest. We do, this has been true for a very long time. Remember that once popular verse in the McGuffey Reader is "Woodman spare that tree," and so forth and so forth and [use?] it protected me and I'll protect it now. But, and then they cut them down and burned the forests. We've always been reckless of posterity because we lived under the notion of limitless environment, limitless potentialities. We could never, there were so many forests we could never destroy them. There were so many bison and buffalo we could never wipe them out. There were so many of everything and of course we wiped them out. But the psychology is still there. You've got the soil, you destroy everything. And posterity can even jolly well watch out for itself. The American humor: What's posterity ever done for me? It has some deep truth in it for the average American: What do I care about posterity? I look after myself let them look after their self. And this too is a phenomenon of a people who don't have strong family ties. People in the old world and in early America who grew up generation after generation in one community were very conscious of their forebears and very conscious of their children and their grandchildren and their whole community. But a few are going to pull up stakes and you have the nuclear family one or two children and no parents, no visible parents or grandparents or uncles or aunts. And you don't need to, you don't somehow think of posterity in the same sense that let us say the French do. Or perhaps the Danes or the Swedes where they're conscious that they've got to preserve this land because it's always been here, it belonged to the Danes or the Swedes for a thousand years and it will belong to them for another thousand and so you take care of the soil and the woods. You don't cut down a tree without permission. You don't change your house without permission. You don't do anything without being reminded that has to stay there until society says it's all right.

Studs Terkel I was thinking, this is, this is most poetic , Professor Commager. You [hear?] historians saying the idea of posterity be damned. And now we come to something new don't we, with a generation--how long has it been? They also say history be damned too. There seems be an anti-historical aspect. It just occurred to me Professor Commager, on this Independence Day, we're about, this conversation is a few days before July 4th. I thought what a marvelous fourth of July program this would be, your reflections in the year 1974, Independence Day. How far we've gone and where we've gone off, and the lack of sense of history. Did the--Payne, even though Payne [unintelligible] turned a new page and Jefferson said [there'll be?] a new page. Nonetheless they did know about the lives of the Romans

Henry Steele Commager They did indeed. They were deeply immersed in a highly selective history and I think we can still profit from that degree of selectivity. What the Founding Fathers studied was Greek and Roman history and to some extent English history. They knew them thoroughly. We no longer study ancient history or the ancient languages. We no longer study even English history has practically been dropped in the schools and even in many of the colleges. We study our own history and then make little gestures toward the history of all other countries. China and Japan and India and Africa and Brazil and heaven knows what else without knowing any of them thoroughly. I suppose it is futile to say that had those in power in the last decade studied Greek history they might have avoided some of the arrows and catastrophes that have and that have characterized our policy. But perhaps if they had really taken to heart Thucydides' account of the Sicilian expedition, which has so many parallels to the Vietnam expedition, they might just possibly have avoided some of the worst features of our involvement in Vietnam. On the other hand had they been the kind of people who were deeply immersed in Thucydides, they wouldn't have been LBJ and Nixon so it's no use no use thinking in those terms. I should like to see a revival of the study of Greek and Roman history and of English history which I think are very profitable histories to study.

Studs Terkel I was thinking that's a new twist. Perhaps one or two more questions and I know there's a "New York Times" Sunday waiting for you too here, and I got to get off to that seminar very shortly. The idea of Sam Adams, the idea of certain civil disobedience by the early American colonials is also a fact. We seem to forgotten that, some of the people in authority haven't they? The Boston Tea Party certainly was an act of civil disobedience wasn't it?

Henry Steele Commager What Linc--What Jefferson wrote on his maxim as it were, "disobedience to tyrants is obedience to God." And that was the animating concept. It was a higher law concept. It was not that they were disobedient to the higher standards, it was that when government failed to observe either the law or morality then it was the duty of man to disobey because his first loyalty was owed to God, or if you will to morality, or if you will to the Constitution. And I'm not nearly so troubled about the ostentatious civil disobedience of the young who refuse to fight in Vietnam. I think that was an admirable thing to do. After all we admire those southerners who refused to fight against the union, who were Unionist in the south. We rather admire those who refused to go along with Hitler more than those who went along with Hitler unquestionably because he represented government. I'm not worried about them. I'm worried about the massive disobedience to the Constitution. Presidents and state attorney generals and people in high office. The great civil disobedience of our time has been official disobedience. The whole war in Vietnam seems to me a violation both of the constitutional arrangements of war making and also of international law and obligations under the United Nations. The conduct of that war is massive disobedience. After all we,on the principles of the Nuremberg trial and the Tokyo trial and everyone should have been tried. Mr. Westmoreland should be tried General Abrams should be tried as Yamashita was tried. Yamashita was not only tried he was hanged for less then the My Lai massacre. And we are now in the position of applying one law to those we defeat and another different set of principles to ourselves which is human nature. At the time of the Nuremberg trials--this is a good stopping point-- at the time in the Nuremberg trials Churchill who was a very wise man once and saw the dangers, he said By God we better win the next war.

Studs Terkel [That was it?]. Dr. Commanger, my guest, Dr. Henry Steele Commager. Let this be the first half you might say of a second July fourth program. Thank you very much I hope one day in the not too distant future we'll read once more for more reflections. And perhaps [at the?] the time [we'll? will?] be a bit more salubrious. And then we went for breakfast. That was Dr. Henry Steele Commager, American historian during a very informal early Sunday morning conversation in Southhampton, Long Island. The subject? Us. U.S. The United States. Peripheral subject, yet not too peripheral, ideas reflections on Independence Day. The program we'll continue with music and perhaps reading, something of Walt Whitman. More songs of the time and in a moment after this message. Henry Steele Commager made reference to the Boston Tea Party and the civil disobedient nature of it, or uncivil disobedient nature of it, and I was thinking of one of the men behind it was Sam Adams, the merchant, the Boston merchant and troublemaker, and there's an Adams quote one of his talks on the humiliation of Americans, which he wrote in 1771 and he said, "Whenever the relentless enemies of America shall have completed their system, which they still are though more silently pursuing by subtle arcs, deep dissimulation, and manners calculated to deceive, our condition will then be more humiliating and miserable and perhaps inextricable too than that of the people of England and infamous reigns of the Stuarts which blacken on the pages of history; when," and then he offers the poem "Oppression stalk'd at large and pour'd abroad//Her unrelenting train; Informers--Spies--//Hateful Projectors of aggrieving Schemes//To sell the starling [sic] many to the few,//And drain a thousand Ways th'exhausted Land.//. . . And on the venal Bench//Instead of Justice, Party held the State [sic]//And Violence the Sword" And so they decided to dress up as Indians and have a party and there was a song that went along with

it. [content

Studs Terkel And thus the Tea Party. And there were occasions too when the colonials revolted against that government, that oppressive government of George the Third. There were guys who were imprisoned , there were dissenters and some who escaped and some who hid out and some who were underground back then. And John Webb was one of them. And these this is one of those broadsides made the rounds that was sung here and there in out-of-the-way places and no doubt in the inns where the plotters Sam Adams and company gathered. And John Webb was his name and he was commemorated in this manner.

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Studs Terkel And there's another song that came into being some years later, a couple of elections later, after independence. Washington. John Adams. Thomas Jefferson. Reference made very often the Thomas Jefferson by Henry Steele Commager. And one of the comments made too perhaps not during the morning that he and I had this very brief conversation, informal one, was Mr. Commager's thought that dissent in an open society is not merely a right but rather a duty. And it was reference of course that Jefferson made to the Tree of Liberty, the Tree of Liberty. But there's a song that came to pass in the election of 1800 when alien sedition laws were in effect and Jefferson was for the abolition of these laws, and so a campaign song of Thomas Jefferson in 1800 was "Jefferson and Liberty."


Studs Terkel Dr. Commager on another occasion referred to the Yankee know-how in a very umconventional sense too. Not just the ability to make things but the ability to invent ideas too and adapt ideas to new environments. And so artistically too musically there was a song with the two grenadiers, a British song, how that became an American song; how the colonists were able to use the very melody of that and transform it into something that was useful to independence.


Studs Terkel And Dr. Joseph Warren it was who listened to this, took this enemy tune adapted to fit another army just before the Battle of Bunker Hill where he was killed. And so it became "Free Americay."

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Studs Terkel From "The British Grenadiers" to "North Americay" seemed quite easy. "British Grenadiers" to the American song. The best example of stealing or using a melody became 'Yankee Doodle." It was a British take off on the raggle taggle troops and they were called [nankee?] doodle, using Dutch phrases too. Well the fools the clowns the clods the ill-mannered and the ill-kempt the ill-trained: the colonists. And so the ill-mannered, the ill-kempt, and the ill-trained decided to make that very funny song their own and it became this one


Studs Terkel Always it seems when a leap occurs when a new idea comes into being in the words of Victor Hugo, there's nothing as strong as an idea whose time has come. And so it was during the American Revolution when the new idea came along and new energies came into being too. And with new forms of art to some extent and new music, songs. And there's one called "An Ode on Science," Jezaniah Sumner. Composed in 1798. It was the only song he wrote apparently. The spirit of independence, though this is several years after the revolution now, the spirit of independence was so strong and bright and reflected in this very lively work. And science and her hand-maiden freedom are hailed as coming to all nations with the morning sun. Almost Blakian in lyricism. And the text calls United States "Colombia," and takes sideswipes at both the British and the French. This time the Napoleonic conflict was almost drawing the United States into the war, 1798. And the end, the shout is "Long live America." "The morning sun" that goes that go the lyrics, "The morning sun shines from the east//And spreads his glories to the west,//All nations with his beams are blest//Where ' er his radiant light appears;//So Science spreads her lighted [sic] ray//O'er lands which [sic] long in darkness lay://She visits fair Columbia//And sets her sons among the stars.//Fair freedom her attendant waits//To bless the portals of her gates,//To crown the young and rising states,//With laurels of immortal day.//The British yoke, the Gallic chain," it's a whack at both the British and the French here, "Was urged upon our necks [sic] in vain ;//All evil [sic] tyrants we disdain,//And shout--'Long live America.'"

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Studs Terkel It was a half century or so later, more than that, some 80, 90 years later, Walt Whitman wrote "Democratic Vistas." I thought it might be appropriate, fragments from it. He wrote it 1871. "Democracy, in silence, biding its time, ponders its own ideals, not of literature and art only--not of men only, but of women. The idea of the women of America, (extricated from this daze, this fossil and unhealthy air which hangs about the word lady,) develop'd, raised to become the robust equals, workers, and, it may be, even practical and political deciders with the man--greater than men [sic], we may have admit, through their divine maternity, always their towering, emblematic a l attribute--but great., at any rate, as man, in all departments; or rather, capable of being so, soon as they realize it, and can bring themselves to give up toys and fictions, and launch forth, as men do, amid real independent stormy life. Then, as towards our thoughts finale, (and, in that, overarching the true scholar's lesson,) we have to say there can be no complete or epical presentation of democracy in the aggregate or anything like it, at this day, because its doctrines will only be effectually incarnated in any one branch, when, in all, their spirit is at the root and centre. Far, far, indeed, stretch, in distance, our Vistas! How much is still to be disentangled, freed! How long it takes to make this American world see that it is, in itself, the final authority and reliance! Did you, too, O friend, suppose democracy was only for elections, for politics, and for a party name? I say democracy is only of use there that it may pass on and come to its flower and fruits in manners, in the highest forms of interaction between men, and their beliefs--in religion, literature, colleges, and schools--democracy in all public and private life, and in the army and navy. I have intimated that, as a paramount scheme, it has yet few or no full realizers and believers. I do not see, either, that it owes any serious thanks to noted propagandists or champions, or has been essentially help'd, though often harm'd, by them. It has been and is carried on by all the moral forces, and by trade, finance, machinery, intercommunications, and, in fact, by all the developments of history, and can no more be stopp'd than the tides, or the earth and its orbit. Doubtless, also, it resides, crude and latent, well down in the hearts of the fair average of the American-born people, mainly in the agricultural regions. But it is not yet, there or anywhere, the fully-receiv'd, the fervid, the absolute faith. I submit, therefore, that the fruition of democracy, on aught like a grand scale, resides altogether in the future. As, under any profound and comprehensive view of the gorgeous-composite feudal world, we see in it, through the long ages and cycles of ages, the results of a deep, integral, human and divine principle, or fountain, from which issued laws, ecclesia, manners, institutes, costumes, personalities, poems...faithfully partaking of their source, and indeed only arising either to betoken it, or to furnish parts of that varied-flowing display, whose centre was one absolute--so, long ages hence, shall the due historian or critic make at least an equal retrospect, an equal history for the democratic principle. It too must be adorn'd, credited with its results--then, when it, with imperial power, through amplest time, has dominated mankind--has been the source and test of all...moral, esthetic, social, political, and religious expressions and institutions [sic] of the civilized world--has begotten them in spirit and in form, and has carried them to its own unprecedented heights--has had, (it is possible,) monastics and ascetics, more numerous, more devout than the monks and priests of all previous creeds--has sway'd the ages with a breadth and rectitude tallying Nature's own--has fashion'd systematized, and triumphantly finish'd and carried out, in its own interest, and with unparallel'd success, a new earth and a new man. Thus we presume to write, as it were, upon things that exist not, and travel by maps yet unmade, and a blank. But the throes of birth are upon us; and we have something of this advantage in seasons of strong formations, doubts, suspense--for then the afflatus of such themes haply may fall upon us, more or less; and then, hot from surrounding war and revolution, our speech, though without polish'd coherence, and a failure by the standard called criticism, comes forth, real at least as the lightnings. And may-be we, these days, have, too, our own reward--(for there are as [sic] yet some in all lands worthy to be so encouraged.) Though not for us the joy of entering at...last the conquer'd city--not ours the chance will [sic] ever see with our own eyes the peerless power and splendid eclat of the democratic principle, arriv'd at meridian, filling the world with effulgence and majesty far beyond those of past history's kings, or all dynastic sway--there is yet, to whoever is eligible among us, the prophetic vision, of joy of being toss'd in the brave turmoil of these times--the promulgation and the path, obedient , lowly reverent to the voice, the gesture of the god, or holy ghost, which others see not, hear not--with the proud consciousness that amid whatever clouds, seductions, or heart-wearying postponements, we have never deserted, never despair'd, never abandon'd the faith." Walt Whitman's "Democratic Vistas." 1871. And a song.