From The International Library of Masterpieces, Literature, Art, and Rare Manuscripts, Volume XXX, Editor-in-Chief: Harry Thurston Peck; The International Bibliophile Society, New York; 1901; pp. 11140-11145.
WILSON, THOMAS WOODROW, an American historian; born at Staunton, Va., December 28, 1856. He was graduated from Princeton College in 1879; he studied law, and practised as an attorney at Atlanta, Ga., for two years. From 1883 to 1885 he studied history and politics at Johns Hopkins University, and taught history at Bryn Mawr College, 1885-86, serving there as professor of history and political science, 1886-88. After a year as professor of the same studies at Wesleyan University he accepted the chair of jurisprudence at Princeton College (1890). Among his works are “Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics” (1885); “The State” (1889); “Division and Reunion, 1829-89” (one of the Epochs of American History series, ” 1893); “An Old Master, and Other Political Essays” (1893); “George Washington” (1896); “Mere Literature, and Other Essays” (1886).
THE existence of slavery in the South fixed classes there in a hard crystallization, and rendered it impossible that the industrial revolution, elsewhere working changes so profound, should materially affect the structure of her own society. Wherever slaves perform all the labor of a community, and all free men refrain, as of course, from the meaner sorts of work, a stubborn pride of class privilege will exist, and a watchful jealousy of interference from any quarter, either with that privilege itself or with any part of the life which environs and supports it. Wherever there is a vast multitude of slaves, said Burke, with his habitual profound insight into political forces, “those who are free are by far the most proud and jealous of their freedom. Freedom is to them not only an enjoyment, but a kind of rank and privilege. Not seeing there that freedom, as in countries where it is a common blessing, and as 1141 broad and general as the air, may be united with much abject toil, with great misery, with all the exterior of servitude, liberty looks, amongst them, like something that is more liberal and noble. I do not mean to commend the superior morality of this sentiment, which has at least as much pride as virtue in it; but. . . the fact is so. . . . In such a people the haughtiness of domination combines with the spirit of freedom, fortifies it, and renders it invincible.” Southern society had from the first resolutely, almost passionately, resisted change. It steadily retained the same organization, the same opinions, and the same political principles throughout all the period of seventy-two years that stretched from the establishment of the federal government to the opening of the war for its preservation.
The structure of Southern society unquestionably created an aristocracy, but not such an aristocracy as the world had seen before. It was, so to say, a democratic aristocracy. It did not create a system which jeoparded liberty among those who were free, or which excluded democratic principles from the conduct of affairs. It was an aristocracy, not of blood, but of influence, and of influence exercised among equals. It was based upon wealth, but not upon the use of wealth. Wealth gave a man broad acres, numerous slaves, an easy, expansive life of neighborly hospitality, position, and influence in his county, and, if he chose to extend it, in his State; but power consisted of opportunity, and not of the pressure of the wealthy upon the poor, the coercive and corrupting efficacy of money. It was, in fact, not a money wealth: it was not founded upon a money economy. It was a wealth of resource and of leisured living.
The life of a Southern planter was in no sense a life of magnificence or luxury. It was a life of simple and plain abundance: a life companioned with books not infrequently, oftentimes ornamented with household plate and handsome family portraits; but there was none of the detail of luxury. A generous plenty of the larger necessaries and comforts and a leisure simply employed, these were its dominant features. There was little attention to the small comforts which we call conveniences. There were abounding hospitality and generous intercourse; but the intercourse was free, unstudied in its manners, straightforward, hearty, unconstrained, and full of a truly democratic instinct and sentiment of equality. Many of 1142 the most distinguished Southern families were without ancient lineage; had gained position and influence by their own honorable successes in the New World; and the small farmer, as well as the great planter, enjoyed full and unquestioned membership in the free citizenship of the State.
As Burke said, all who were free enjoyed rank, and title to be respected. There was a body of privileged persons, but it could scarcely be called a class, for it embraced all free men of any substance or thrift. There was the population of the towns, the lawyers and doctors and tradesmen and master mechanics, among whom the professional men and the men of culture led and in a sense controlled, but where the mechanic and the tradesmen also had full political privilege. The sentiments that characterized the rural population, however, also penetrated and dominated the towns. There was throughout Southern society something like a reproduction of that solidarity of feeling and of interest which existed in the ancient classical republics, set above whose slaves there was a proud but various democracy of citizenship and privilege. Such was the society which, by the compulsion of its own nature, had always resisted change, and was to resist it until change and even its destruction were forced upon it by war.
The same period witnessed a very notable development in the intellectual life and literary activity of the country. It was a time when the world at large was quivering under the impact of new forces, both moral and intellectual. The year 1830 marks not only a period of sharp political revolution in Europe, but also a season of awakened social conscience everywhere. Nowhere were the new forces more profoundly felt than in England, where political progress has always managed to be beforehand with revolution. In 1828 the Corporation and Test Acts were repealed; in 1829 Catholic emancipation was effected; in 1832 the first reform bill was passed; in 1833 slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire; in 1834 the system of poor relief was reformed; in 1835 the long needed re-constitution of the government of municipal corporations was accomplished; and in 1836 the Act for the commutation of tithes was adopted. Everywhere philanthropic movements showed the spirit of the age; and in these movements the United States were particularly forward; for their liberal constitutions had already secured the political changes 1143 with which foreign nations were busy. Americans were among the first to undertake a serious and thorough-going reform of the system of prison discipline. It was the fame of the new penitentiary system of the United States that brought De Tocqueville and Beaumont to this country in 1831, on that tour which gave us the inimitable “Democracy in America.” In the same year William Lloyd Garrison established his celebrated paper, “The Liberator,” and the anti-slaver movement assumed a new shape, to which additional importance was given in 1833 by the formation of the Anti-Slavery Society. Everywhere a new thoughtfulness and humanity entered into legislation, purging institutions of old wrongs, enlarging the views of statesmen and the liberties of the people. The general spiritual ferment manifested itself in such religious movements as that which came to be known as Transcendentalism; in such social schemes as those of Robert Owen and the distinguished group of enthusiasts who established Brook Farm; in a child-like readiness on the part of all generous or imaginative minds to accept any new fad of doctrine that promised plausibly the regeneration of a society.
It was to be expected that an age in which both the minds and the hearts of men were being subjected to new excitements and stirred to new energies should see new life enter also into literature. A whole generation of new writers of originality and power, accordingly, came suddenly into prominence in this decade. Hawthorne began to publish in 1828, Poe in 1829, Whittier in 1831, Longfellow in 1833, Bancroft in 1834, Emerson and Holmes in 1836. Prescott was already giving promise of what he was to do in his essays in the “North American Review.” It was just without this decade, in 1841, that Lowell’s first volume of youthful poems was given to the public. Law writings, too, were being published which were to become classical. Kent’s “Commentaries on American Law” appeared between 1826 and 1830; Mr. Justice Story began to publish in 1833, and by 1838 had practically completed his great contributions to legal literature; Wheaton’s “Elements of International Law” was published in 1836. Professor Lieber put forth his first works upon the theory of law and politics in 1838. Henry C. Carey’s “Rate of Wages” appeared in 1835, and his “Principles of Political Economy” between 1837 and 1840. These were the years also of Audubon’s contributions to natural history, and of Asa Gray’s first 114 essays in botany. In 1838 James Smithson provided the endowment of the Smithsonian Institution.
All this meant something besides a general quickening of thought. America was beginning to have a little more leisure. As the material resources of the Eastern States multiplied, and wealth and fortune became more diffused and common, classes slowly came into existence who were not wholly absorbed by the struggle for a livelihood. There began to be time for the cultivation of taste. A higher standard of comfort and elegance soon prevailed, of which books were a natural accompaniment. Miss Martineau did not find European culture in the United States when she visited them in 1834, but she found almost universal intelligence and an insatiable intellectual curiosity. Native writers embodied the new ideals of the nation, and spoke a new and whimsical wit. The country brought forth its own historians and story-tellers, as well as its own mystics, like Emerson, and its own singers to a cause, like Whittier. “You are a new era, my man, in your huge country,” wrote Carlyle to Emerson.
Newspapers, too, began to taken on a new form. The life of the nation had grown too hasty, too various and complex, too impatient to know the news and to canvass all new opinions, to put up any longer with the old and cumbersome sheets of the style inherited from colonial times. Papers like the “Sun” and the “Herald” were established in New York, which showed an energy and shrewdness in the collection of news, and an aggressiveness in assuming the leadership in opinion, that marked a revolution in journalism. They created the omnipresent reporter and the omniscient editor who now help and hinder, stimulate and exasperate, us so much. It was a new era, and all progress had struck into a new pace.
1 By permission of Longman, Green, & Co.