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American Political Ideas Viewed from the Standpoint of Universal History   By: (1842-1901)

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AMERICAN POLITICAL IDEAS

VIEWED FROM THE STANDPOINT OF UNIVERSAL HISTORY

Three Lectures

DELIVERED AT THE ROYAL INSTITUTION OF GREAT BRITAIN IN MAY 1880

BY JOHN FISKE

Voici un fait entièrement nouveau dans le monde, et dont l'imagination elle même ne saurait saisir la portée.

TOCQUEVILLE

TO

EDWARD LIVINGSTON YOUMANS

NOBLEST OF MEN AND DEAREST OF FRIENDS

WHOSE UNSELFISH AND UNTIRING WORK IN EDUCATING THE AMERICAN PEOPLE IN THE PRINCIPLES OF SOUND PHILOSOPHY DESERVES THE GRATITUDE OF ALL MEN

I dedicate this Book

PREFACE.

In the spring of 1879 I gave at the Old South Meeting house in Boston a course of lectures on the discovery and colonization of America, and presently, through the kindness of my friend Professor Huxley, the course was repeated at University College in London. The lectures there were attended by very large audiences, and awakened such an interest in American history that I was invited to return to England in the following year and treat of some of the philosophical aspects of my subject in a course of lectures at the Royal Institution.

In the three lectures which were written in response to this invitation, and which are now published in this little volume, I have endeavoured to illustrate some of the fundamental ideas of American politics by setting forth their relations to the general history of mankind. It is impossible thoroughly to grasp the meaning of any group of facts, in any department of study, until we have duly compared them with allied groups of facts; and the political history of the American people can be rightly understood only when it is studied in connection with that general process of political evolution which has been going on from the earliest times, and of which it is itself one of the most important and remarkable phases. The government of the United States is not the result of special creation, but of evolution. As the town meetings of New England are lineally descended from the village assemblies of the early Aryans; as our huge federal union was long ago foreshadowed in the little leagues of Greek cities and Swiss cantons; so the great political problem which we are (thus far successfully) solving is the very same problem upon which all civilized peoples have been working ever since civilization began. How to insure peaceful concerted action throughout the Whole, without infringing upon local and individual freedom in the Parts, this has ever been the chief aim of civilization, viewed on its political side; and we rate the failure or success of nations politically according to their failure or success in attaining this supreme end. When thus considered in the light of the comparative method, our American history acquires added dignity and interest, and a broad and rational basis is secured for the detailed treatment of political questions.

When viewed in this light, moreover, not only does American history become especially interesting to Englishmen, but English history is clothed with fresh interest for Americans. Mr. Freeman has done well in insisting upon the fact that the history of the English people does not begin with the Norman Conquest. In the deepest and widest sense, our American history does not begin with the Declaration of Independence, or even with the settlements of Jamestown and Plymouth; but it descends in unbroken continuity from the days when stout Arminius in the forests of northern Germany successfully defied the might of imperial Rome. In a more restricted sense, the statesmanship of Washington and Lincoln appears in the noblest light when regarded as the fruition of the various work of De Montfort and Cromwell and Chatham. The good fight begun at Lewes and continued at Naseby and Quebec was fitly crowned at Yorktown and at Appomattox. When we duly realize this, and further come to see how the two great branches of the English race have the common mission of establishing throughout the larger part of the earth a higher civilization and more permanent political order than any that has gone before, we shall the better understand the true significance of the history which English speaking men have so magnificently wrought out upon American soil... Continue reading book >>




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