John Fiske, Manifest Destiny

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Chronologically the discovery of America coincides precisely with the close of the Middle Ages, and with the opening of the drama of what is called _modern_ history. The coincidence is in many ways significant. The close of the Middle Ages--as we have seen--was characterized by the increasing power of the crown in all the great countries of Europe, and by strong symptoms of popular restlessness in view of this increasing power. It was characterized also by the great Protestant outbreak against the despotic pretensions of the Church, which once, in its antagonism to the rival temporal power, had befriended the liberties of the people, but now (especially since the death of Boniface VIII.) sought to enthrall them with a tyranny far worse than that of irresponsible king or emperor. As we have seen Aryan civilization in Europe struggling for many centuries to prove itself superior to the assaults of outer barbarism, so here we find a decisive struggle beginning between the antagonist tendencies which had grown up in the midst of this civilization. Having at length won the privilege of living without risk of slaughter and pillage at the hands of Saracens or Mongols, the question now arose whether the people of Europe should go on and apply their intelligence freely to the problem of making life as rich and fruitful as possible in varied material and spiritual achievement, or should fall forever into the barren and monotonous way of living and thinking which has always distinguished the half-civilized populations of Asia. This--and nothing less than this, I think--was the practical political question really at stake in the sixteenth century between Protestantism and Catholicism. Holland and England entered the lists in behalf of the one solution of this question, while Spain and the Pope defended the other, and the issue was fought out on European soil, as we have seen, with varying success. But the discovery of America now came to open up an enormous region in which whatever seed of civilization should be planted was sure to grow to such enormous dimensions as by and by to exert a controlling influence upon all such controversies. It was for Spain, France, and England to contend for the possession of this vast region, and to prove by the result of the struggle which kind of civilization was endowed with the higher and sturdier political life. The race which here should gain the victory was clearly destined hereafter to take the lead in the world, though the rival powers could not in those days fully appreciate this fact. They who founded colonies in America as trading-stations or military outposts probably did not foresee that these colonies must by and by become imperial states far greater in physical mass than the states which planted them. It is not likely that they were philosophers enough to foresee that this prodigious physical development would mean that the political ideas of the parent state should acquire a hundred-fold power and seminal influence in the future work of the world. It was not until the American Resolution that this began to be dimly realized by a few prescient thinkers. It is by no means so fully realized even now that a clear and thorough-going statement of it has not somewhat an air of novelty. When the highly-civilized community, representing the ripest political ideas of England, was planted in America, removed from the manifold and complicated checks we have just been studying in the history of the Old World, the growth was portentously rapid and steady. There were no Attilas now to stand in the way,--only a Philip or a Pontiac. The assaults of barbarism constituted only a petty annoyance as compared with the conflict of ages which had gone on in Europe. There was no occasion for society to assume a military aspect. Principles of self-government were at once put into operation, and no one thought of calling them in question. When the neighbouring civilization of inferior type--I allude to the French in Canada--began to become seriously troublesome, it was struck down at a blow. When the mother-country, under the guidance of an ignorant king and short-sighted ministers, undertook to act upon the antiquated theory that the new communities were merely groups of trading-stations, the political bond of connection was severed; yet the war which ensued was not like the war which had but just now been so gloriously ended by the victory of Wolfe. It was not a struggle between two different peoples, like the French of the Old Regime and the English, each representing antagonistic theories of how political life ought to be conducted. But, like the Barons' War of the thirteenth century and the Parliament's War of the seventeenth, it was a struggle sustained by a part of the English people in behalf of principles that time has shown to be equally dear to all. And so the issue only made it apparent to an astonished world that instead of _one_ there were now _two Englands_, alike prepared to work with might and main toward the political regeneration of mankind.
Let us consider now to what conclusions the rapidity and unabated steadiness of the increase of the English race in America must lead us as we go on to forecast the future. Carlyle somewhere speaks slightingly of the fact that the Americans double their numbers every twenty years, as if to have forty million dollar-hunters in the world were any better than to have twenty million dollar-hunters! The implication that Americans are nothing but dollar-hunters, and are thereby distinguishable from the rest of mankind, would not perhaps bear too elaborate scrutiny. But during the present lecture we have been considering the gradual transfer of the preponderance of physical strength from the hands of the war-loving portion of the human race into the hands of the peace-loving portion,--into the hands of the dollar-hunters, if you please, but out of the hands of the scalp-hunters. Obviously to double the numbers of a pre-eminently industrious, peaceful, orderly, and free-thinking community, is somewhat to increase the weight in the world of the tendencies that go towards making communities free and orderly and peaceful and industrious. So that, from this point of view, the fact we are speaking of is well worth considering, even for its physical dimensions. I do not know whether the United States could support a population everywhere as dense as that of Belgium; so I will suppose that, with ordinary improvement in cultivation and in the industrial arts, we might support a population half as dense as that of Belgium,--and this is no doubt an extremely moderate supposition. Now a very simple operation in arithmetic will show that this means a population of fifteen hundred millions, or more than the population of the whole world at the present date. Another very simple operation in arithmetic will show that if we were to go on doubling our numbers, even once in every twenty-five years, we should reach that stupendous figure at about the close of the twentieth century,--that is, in the days of our great-greatgrandchildren. I do not predict any such result, for there are discernible economic reasons for believing that there will be a diminution in the rate of increase. The rate must nevertheless continue to be very great, in the absence of such causes as formerly retarded the growth of population in Europe. Our modern wars are hideous enough, no doubt, but they are short. They are settled with a few heavy blows, and the loss of life and property occasioned by them is but trifling when compared with the awful ruin and desolation wrought by the perpetual and protracted contests of antiquity and of the Middle Ages. Chronic warfare, both private and public, periodic famines, and sweeping pestilences like the Black Death,--these were the things which formerly shortened human life and kept down population. In the absence of such causes, and with the abundant capacity of our country for feeding its people, I think it an extremely moderate statement if we say that by the end of the next century the English race in the United States will number at least six or seven hundred millions.
It used to be said that so huge a people as this could not be kept together as a single national aggregate,--or, if kept together at all, could only be so by means of a powerful centralized government, like that of ancient Rome under the emperors. I think we are now prepared to see that this is a great mistake. If the Roman Empire could have possessed that political vitality in all its parts which is secured to the United States by the principles of equal representation and of limited state sovereignty, it might well have defied all the shocks which tribally-organized barbarism could ever have directed against it. As it was, its strong centralized government did _not_ save it from political disintegration. One of its weakest political features was precisely this,--that its "strong centralized government" was a kind of close corporation, governing a score of provinces in its own interest rather than in the interest of the provincials. In contrast with such a system as that of the Roman Empire, the skilfully elaborated American system of federalism appears as one of the most important contributions that the English race has made to the general work of civilization. The working out of this feature in our national constitution, by Hamilton and Madison and their associates, was the finest specimen of constructive statesmanship that the world has ever seen. Not that these statesmen originated the principle, but they gave form and expression to the principle which was latent in the circumstances under which the group of American colonies had grown up, and which suggested itself so forcibly that the clear vision of these thinkers did not fail to seize upon it as the fundamental principle upon which alone could the affairs of a great people, spreading over a vast continent, be kept in a condition approaching to something like permanent peace. Stated broadly, so as to acquire somewhat the force of a universal proposition, the principle of federalism is just this:--that the people of a state shall have full and entire control of their own domestic affairs, which directly concern them only, and which they will naturally manage with more intelligence and with more zeal than any distant governing body could possibly exercise; but that, as regards matters of common concern between a group of states, a decision shall in every case be reached, not by brutal warfare or by weary diplomacy, but by the systematic legislation of a central government which represents both states and people, and whose decisions can always be enforced, if necessary, by the combined physical power of all the states. This principle, in various practical applications, is so familiar to Americans to-day that we seldom pause to admire it, any more than we stop to admire the air which we breathe or the sun which gives us light and life. Yet I believe that if no other political result than this could to-day be pointed out as coming from the colonization of America by Englishmen, we should still be justified in regarding that event as one of the most important in the history of mankind. For obviously the principle of federalism, as thus broadly stated, contains within itself the seeds of permanent peace between nations; and to this glorious end I believe it will come in the fulness of time.
And now we may begin to see distinctly what it was that the American government fought for in the late civil war,--a point which at the time was by no means clearly apprehended outside the United States. We used to hear it often said, while that war was going on, that we were fighting not so much for the emancipation of the negro as for the maintenance of our federal union; and I well remember that to many who were burning to see our country purged of the folly and iniquity of negro slavery this used to seem like taking a low and unrighteous view of the case. From the stand-point of universal history it was nevertheless the correct and proper view. The emancipation of the negro, as an incidental result of the struggle, was a priceless gain which was greeted warmly by all right-minded people. But deeper down than this question, far more subtly interwoven with the innermost fibres of our national well-being, far heavier laden too with weighty consequences for the future weal of all mankind, was the question whether this great pacific principle of union joined with independence should be overthrown by the first deep-seated social difficulty it had to encounter, or should stand as an example of priceless value to other ages and to other lands. The solution was well worth the effort it cost. There have been many useless wars, but this was not one of them, for more than most wars that have been, it was fought in the direct interest of peace, and the victory so dearly purchased and so humanely used was an earnest of future peace and happiness for the world.
The object, therefore, for which the American government fought, was the perpetual maintenance of that peculiar state of things which the federal union had created,--a state of things in which, throughout the whole vast territory over which the Union holds sway, questions between states, like questions between individuals, must be settled by legal argument and judicial decisions and not by wager of battle. Far better to demonstrate this point once for all, at whatever cost, than to be burdened hereafter, like the states of Europe, with frontier fortresses and standing armies and all the barbaric apparatus of mutual suspicion! For so great an end did this most pacific people engage in an obstinate war, and never did any war so thoroughly illustrate how military power may be wielded, when necessary, by a people that has passed entirely from the military into the industrial stage of civilization. The events falsified all the predictions that were drawn from the contemplation of societies less advanced politically. It was thought that so peaceful a people could not raise a great army on demand; yet within a twelvemonth the government had raised five hundred thousand men by voluntary enlistment. It was thought that a territory involving military operations at points as far apart as Paris and Moscow could never be thoroughly conquered; yet in April 1865 the federal armies might have inarched from end to end of the Gulf States without meeting any force to oppose them. It was thought that the maintenance of a great army would beget a military temper in the Americans and lead to manifestations of Bonapartism,--domestic usurpation and foreign aggression; yet the moment the work was done the great army vanished, and a force of twenty-five thousand men was found sufficient for the military needs of the whole country. It was thought that eleven states which had struggled so hard to escape from the federal tie could not be re-admitted to voluntary co-operation in the general government, but must henceforth be held as conquered territory,--a most dangerous experiment for any free people to try. Yet within a dozen years we find the old federal relations resumed in all their completeness, and the disunion party powerless and discredited in the very states where once it had wrought such mischief. Nay more, we even see a curiously disputed presidential election, in which the votes of the southern states were given almost with unanimity to one of the candidates, decided quietly by a court of arbitration; and we see a universal acquiescence in the decision, even in spite of a general belief that an extraordinary combination of legal subtleties resulted in adjudging the presidency to the candidate who was not really elected.
Such has been the result of the first great attempt to break up the federal union in America. It is not probable that another attempt can ever be made with anything like an equal chance of success. Here were eleven states, geographically contiguous, governed by groups of men who for half a century had pursued a well-defined policy in common, united among themselves and marked off from most of the other states by a difference far more deeply rooted in the groundwork of society than any mere economic difference,--the difference between slave-labour and free-labour. These eleven states, moreover, held such an economic relationship with England that they counted upon compelling the naval power of England to be used in their behalf. And finally it had not yet been demonstrated that the maintenance of the federal union was something for which the great mass of the people would cheerfully fight. Never could the experiment of secession be tried, apparently, under fairer auspices; yet how tremendous the defeat! It was a defeat that wrought conviction,--the conviction that no matter how grave the political questions that may arise hereafter, they must be settled in accordance with the legal methods the Constitution has provided, and that no state can be allowed to break the peace. It is the thoroughness of this conviction that has so greatly facilitated the reinstatement of the revolted states in their old federal relations; and the good sense and good faith with which the southern people, in spite of the chagrin of defeat, have accepted the situation and acted upon it, is something unprecedented in history, and calls for the warmest sympathy and admiration on the part of their brethren of the north. The federal principle in America has passed through this fearful ordeal and come out stronger than ever; and we trust it will not again be put to so severe a test. But with this principle unimpaired, there is no reason why any further increase of territory or of population should overtask the resources of our government.
In the United States of America a century hence we shall therefore doubtless have a political aggregation immeasurably surpassing in power and in dimensions any empire that has as yet existed. But we must now consider for a moment the probable future career of the English race in other parts of the world. The colonization of North America by Englishmen had its direct effects upon the eastern as well as upon the western side of the Atlantic. The immense growth of the commercial and naval strength of England between the time of Cromwell and the time of the elder Pitt was intimately connected with the colonization of North America and the establishment of plantations in the West Indies. These circumstances reacted powerfully upon the material development of England, multiplying manifold the dimensions of her foreign trade, increasing proportionately her commercial marine, and giving her in the eighteenth century the dominion over the seas. Endowed with this maritime supremacy, she has with an unerring instinct proceeded to seize upon the keys of empire in all parts of the world,--Gibraltar, Malta, the isthmus of Suez, Aden, Ceylon, the coasts of Australia, island after island in the Pacific,--every station, in short, that commands the pathways of maritime commerce, or guards the approaches to the barbarous countries which she is beginning to regard as in some way her natural heritage. Any well-filled album of postage-stamps is an eloquent commentary on this maritime supremacy of England. It is enough to turn one's head to look over her colonial blue-books. The natural outcome of all this overflowing vitality it is not difficult to foresee. No one can carefully watch what is going on in Africa to-day without recognizing it as the same sort of thing which was going on in North America in the seventeenth century; and it cannot fail to bring forth similar results in course of time. Here is a vast country, rich in beautiful scenery and in resources of timber and minerals, with a salubrious climate and fertile soil, with great navigable rivers and inland lakes, which will not much longer be left in control of tawny lions and long-eared elephants and negro fetich-worshippers. Already five flourishing English states have been established in the south, besides the settlements on the Gold Coast and those at Aden commanding the Red Sea. English explorers work their way, with infinite hardship, through its untravelled wilds, and track the courses of the Congo and the Nile as their forefathers tracked the Potomac and the Hudson. The work of La Salle and Smith is finding its counterpart in the labours of Baker and Livingstone. Who can doubt that within two or three centuries the African continent will be occupied by a mighty nation of English descent, and covered with populous cities and flourishing farms, with railroads and telegraphs and other devices of civilization as yet undreamed of?
If we look next to Australia, we find a country of more than two-thirds the area of the United States, with a temperate climate and immense resources, agricultural and mineral,--a country sparsely peopled by a race of irredeemable savages hardly above the level of brutes. Here England within the present century has planted six greatly thriving states, concerning which I have not time to say much, but one fact will serve as a specimen. When in America we wish to illustrate in one word the wonderful growth of our so-called north-western states, we refer to Chicago,--a city of half-a-million inhabitants standing on a spot which fifty years ago was an uninhabited marsh. In Australia the city of Melbourne was founded in 1837, the year when the present queen of England began to reign, and the state of which it is the capital was hence called Victoria. This city, now[16] just forty-three years old, has a population half as great as that of Chicago, has a public library of 200,000 volumes, and has a university with at least one professor of world-wide renown. When we see, by the way, within a period of five years and at such remote points upon the earth's surface, such erudite and ponderous works in the English language issuing from the press as those of Professor Hearn of Melbourne, of Bishop Colenso of Natal, and of Mr. Hubert Bancroft of San Francisco,--even such a little commonplace fact as this is fraught with wonderful significance when we think of all that it implies. Then there is New Zealand, with its climate of perpetual spring, where the English race is now multiplying faster than anywhere else in the world unless it be in Texas and Minnesota. And there are in the Pacific Ocean many rich and fertile spots where we shall very soon see the same things going on.
It is not necessary to dwell upon such considerations as these. It is enough to point to the general conclusion, that the work which the English race began when it colonized North America is destined to go on until every land on the earth's surface that is not already the seat of an old civilization shall become English in its language, in its political habits and traditions, and to a predominant extent in the blood of its people. The day is at hand when, four-fifths of the human race will trace its pedigree to English forefathers, as four-fifths of the white people in the United States trace their pedigree to-day. The race thus spread over both hemispheres, and from the rising to the setting sun, will not fail to keep that sovereignty of the sea and that commercial supremacy which it began to acquire when England first stretched its arm across the Atlantic to the shores of Virginia and Massachusetts. The language spoken by these great communities will not be sundered into dialects like the language of the ancient Romans, but perpetual intercommunication and the universal habit of reading and writing will preserve its integrity; and the world's business will be transacted by English-speaking people to so great an extent, that whatever language any man may have learned in his infancy he will find it necessary sooner or later to learn to express his thoughts in English. And in this way it is by no means improbable that, as Grimm the German and Candolle the Frenchman long since foretold, the language of Shakespeare may ultimately become the language of mankind. In view of these considerations as to the stupendous future of the English race, does it not seem very probable that in due course of time Europe--which has learned some valuable lessons from America already--will find it worth while to adopt the lesson of federalism? Probably the European states, in order to preserve their relative weight in the general polity of the world, will find it necessary to do so. In that most critical period of American history between the winning of independence and the framing of the Constitution, one of the strongest of the motives which led the confederated states to sacrifice part of their sovereignty by entering into a federal union was their keen sense of their weakness when taken severally. In physical strength such a state as Massachusetts at that time amounted to little more than Hamburg or Bremen; but the thirteen states taken together made a nation of respectable power. Even the wonderful progress we have made in a century has not essentially changed this relation of things. Our greatest state, New York, taken singly, is about the equivalent of Belgium; our weakest state, Nevada, would scarcely be a match for tha county of Dorset; yet the United States, taken together, are probably at this moment the strongest nation in the world.

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