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The Critical Period of American History   By: (1842-1901)

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Transcriber's Note

The punctuation and spelling from the original text have been faithfully preserved. Only obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

THE CRITICAL PERIOD OF

AMERICAN HISTORY

1783 1789

BY

JOHN FISKE

"I am uneasy and apprehensive, more so than during the war." JAY TO WASHINGTON, June 27, 1786.

[Illustration]

BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY The Riverside Press, Cambridge

Copyright, 1888,

BY JOHN FISKE.

All rights reserved.

The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A. Electrotyped and Printed by H.O. Houghton & Co.

To

MY DEAR CLASSMATES,

FRANCIS LEE HIGGINSON

AND

CHARLES CABOT JACKSON,

I DEDICATE THIS BOOK.

PREFACE.

This book contains the substance of the course of lectures given in the Old South Meeting House in Boston in December, 1884, at the Washington University in St. Louis in May, 1885, and in the theatre of the University Club in New York in March, 1886. In its present shape it may serve as a sketch of the political history of the United States from the end of the Revolutionary War to the adoption of the Federal Constitution. It makes no pretensions to completeness, either as a summary of the events of that period or as a discussion of the political questions involved in them. I have aimed especially at grouping facts in such a way as to bring out and emphasize their causal sequence, and it is accordingly hoped that the book may prove useful to the student of American history.

My title was suggested by the fact of Thomas Paine's stopping the publication of the "Crisis," on hearing the news of the treaty of 1783, with the remark, "The times that tried men's souls are over." Commenting upon this, on page 55 of the present work, I observed that so far from the crisis being over in 1783, the next five years were to be the most critical time of all. I had not then seen Mr. Trescot's "Diplomatic History of the Administrations of Washington and Adams," on page 9 of which he uses almost the same words: "It must not be supposed that the treaty of peace secured the national life. Indeed, it would be more correct to say that the most critical period of the country's history embraced the time between 1783 and the adoption of the Constitution in 1788."

That period was preƫminently the turning point in the development of political society in the western hemisphere. Though small in their mere dimensions, the events here summarized were in a remarkable degree germinal events, fraught with more tremendous alternatives of future welfare or misery for mankind than it is easy for the imagination to grasp. As we now stand upon the threshold of that mighty future, in the light of which all events of the past are clearly destined to seem dwindled in dimensions and significant only in the ratio of their potency as causes; as we discern how large a part of that future must be the outcome of the creative work, for good or ill, of men of English speech; we are put into the proper mood for estimating the significance of the causes which determined a century ago that the continent of North America should be dominated by a single powerful and pacific federal nation instead of being parcelled out among forty or fifty small communities, wasting their strength and lowering their moral tone by perpetual warfare, like the states of ancient Greece, or by perpetual preparation for warfare, like the nations of modern Europe. In my book entitled "American Political Ideas, viewed from the Standpoint of Universal History," I have tried to indicate the pacific influence likely to be exerted upon the world by the creation and maintenance of such a political structure as our Federal Union. The present narrative may serve as a commentary upon what I had in mind on page 133 of that book, in speaking of the work of our Federal Convention as "the finest specimen of constructive statesmanship that the world has ever seen... Continue reading book >>




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