Historical Facts: Nation Making of American Literature

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      The French and Indian War accomplished two great results. In the first place, it made the Anglo-Saxon race dominant in North America. Had the French won, this book would have been chiefly a history of French literature. In the second place, the isolated colonies learned to know one another and their combined strength.

Historical facts of American Literature
Historical Facts of American Literature

      Soon after the conclusion of this war, the English began active interference with colonial imports and exports, laid taxes on certain commodities, passed the Stamp Act, and endeavored to make the colonists feel that they were henceforth to be governed in fact as well as in name by England. The most independent men that the world has ever produced came to America to escape tyranny at home. The descendants of these men started the American Revolution, signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and, led by George Washington (1732-1799), one of the greatest heroes of the ages, won their independence. They had the assistance of the French, and it was natural that the treaty of peace with England should be signed at Paris in 1783.

      Then followed a period nearly as trying as that of the Revolution, an era called by John Fiske "The Critical Period of American History, 1783-1789." Because of the jealousy of the separate states and the fear that tyranny at home might threaten liberty, there was no central government vested with adequate power. Sometimes there was a condition closely bordering on anarchy. The wisest men feared that the independence so dearly bought would be lost. Finally, the separate states adopted a Constitution which united them, and in 1789 they chose Washington as the president of this Union. His Farewell Address, issued to the American people toward the end of his administration, breathes the prayer "that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every part may be stamped with wisdom and virtue." A leading thought from this great Address shows that the Virginian agreed with the New Englander in regard to the chief cornerstone of this Republic:—

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity,   Religion and Morality are indispensable supports."

      The student of political rather than of literary history is interested in the administrations of John Adams (1797-1801), Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), and James Madison (1809-1817). The acquisition in 1803 of the vast central territory, known as the Louisiana Purchase, affected the entire subsequent development of the country and its literature. Thomas Jefferson still exerts an influence on our literature and institutions; for he championed the democratic, as opposed to the aristocratic, principle of government. His belief in the capacity of the common people for progress and self-government still helps to mold public opinion.

      Next in importance to the victorious struggle of the Revolution and the adoption of the Constitution, is the wonderful pioneer movement toward the West. Francis A. Walker, in his Making of the Nation, 1783-1817, says:—

      "During the period of thirty-four years covered by this narrative, a movement had been in continuous progress for the westward extension of population, which far transcended the limits of any of the great migrations of mankind upon the older continents…. From 1790 to 1800, the mean population of the period being about four and a half millions, sixty-five thousand square miles were brought within the limits of settlement; crossed with rude roads and bridges; built up with rude houses and barns; much of it, also, cleared of primeval forests. "In the next ten years, the mean population of the decade being about six and a half millions, the people of the United States extended settlement over one hundred and two thousand square miles of absolutely new territory…. No other people could have done this. No: nor the half of it. Any other of the great migratory races—Tartar, Slav, or German—would have broken hopelessly down in an effort to compass such a field in such a term of years."

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