America: Evidence of Progress


Do we not, amid a general malaria of fogs and vapors, our day, unmistakably see pillars of promise, with grandest, indestructible indications?
Only here in America has at last arisen, and now stands, what never before took positive form and sway, the people—and that view’d en masse, and while fully acknowledging deficiencies, dangers, faults, this people, inchoate, latent, not yet come to majority, nor to its own religious, literary, or æsthetic expression, yet affords, today, an exultant justification of all the faith, all the hopes and prayers and prophecies, of good men.

While all is drowned and desperate that the government has had to do with, all outside the influence of government, (forever the largest part,) thrives and smiles, and all the needed work goes on.
The sun shines, corn grows, men go merrily about their affairs, houses are built, ships arrive and depart.
On a great democratic scale the present and here are probably ahead and better than all time past, and that’s what America is for,
That satisfies me—that general unmistakable certain
trend does—
I don’t mind little bothers and exceptions and some hoggishness.

The average man in these states remains immortal owner and boss, deriving good uses, somehow, out of any sort of servant in office, even the basest. A nation like ours is not served by the best men only, but sometimes more by those that provoke it, by the combats they arouse.
It is not only to great heroes and representative men that the world is indebted, but it is indebted to weak and shameful persons in high places.

I observe shallow men are put in the greatest offices, even in the presidency,
I say this nation makes as great use of shallow presidents as of its brave and just Washington, or its wise Jefferson—

Out of dastards and disgraces, fortunate are the wrongs that call forth stout and angry men; then is shown what stuff there is in a nation.

What is more dramatic than the popular judgment taking the successful candidates on trial in the offices—observing them and their doings for a while, and always giving, finally, the fit, exactly due reward?
Thus national rage, fury, discussion—
America’s busy, teeming, intricate whirl,
Of aggregate and segregate—
Better than content;
Thus, also, the warning signals, invaluable for after times.

Hardness, crudeness, worldliness—absence of the spiritual, the purely moral, esthetic, etc.—are in democracy here,
Though there are signs and awakenings here very plain to me;
The hard, pungent, gritty, worldly experiences and qualities in American practical life also serve—they prevent extravagant sentimentalism—
And are much counterbalanced and made up by an immense and general basis of the eligibility to manly and loving comradeship, very marked in American young men.

The best specimens among us, the young population growing up, copiously appear with resolute tread, in good time, for they were needed,
Forming a hardy, democratic, intelligent, radically sound, good-natured, and individualistic race
.
Look to the young men—
It is from the young men of our land, the ardent, and generous hearts, that these things are to come,

Soon to confront presidents, Congresses, and parties, to look them sternly in the face, to stand no nonsense;
Though it may not be the majority, it promises to be the leaven which must eventually leaven the whole lump.
Nor is that hope unwarranted—
To-day, ahead, though dimly yet, we see, in vistas, a copious, sane, gigantic offspring,
Myriads of youths, specimens of the rising generation, beautiful, gigantic, sweet-blooded.

The army and the navy exists in America apart from the throbbing life of America. The whole present system of the officering and personnel of the army and navy, and the spirit and letter of their trebly-aristocratic rules and regulations, is a monstrous exotic, a nuisance and revolt, foreign to the instincts and tastes of the people—and, of course, soon in due time to give place to something native, something warmed with throbs of our own life. What it will be I know not.
I say that all the military and naval personnel of the states must conform to the sternest principles of democracy;
No punishment shall be provided for the sailors or soldiers without its being strictly eligible to be inflicted on the officers, even to the commander in chief.

If anyone suppose I am at all alarmed about the prospects of business on this continent he misunderstands me, for I am not.
The main basis of civilization is the certainty of boundless products for feeding, clothing, and sheltering everybody, infinite comfort, personal plenty, and intercommunication, with mental and ecclesiastical freedom.

The advent of America has been the first general aperture and opening-up to the average human commonalty, on the broadest scale, of the eligibilities to wealth and worldly success and eminence, and has been fully taken advantage of; and the example has spread hence, in ripples, to all nations. To these eligibilities, to this limitless aperture, the human race has tended, en-masse, roaring and rushing and crude, and fiercely, turbidly hastening—and we have seen the first stages, and are now in the midst of the result of it all, so far.

How grand this oceanic plenitude and ceaselessness of domestic comfort,
It gives glow and enjoyment to me, being and moving amid the whirl and din, intensity, material success here,
These things I do not expect to see less of but more,
The extreme business energy, and this almost maniacal appetite for wealth prevalent in the United States, are parts of amelioration and progress, indispensably needed to prepare the very results I demand.
The United States have secured the requisite bases, and must now proceed to build upon them.

I see that the only foundation and sine qua non of popular improvement and democracy are worldly and material success established first, spreading and interweaving everywhere—then only, but surely for the masses, will come spiritual cultivation.
Soon it will be fully realized that ostensible wealth and money-making, show, luxury, etc., imperatively necessitate something beyond—namely, the sane, eternal, moral and spiritual-esthetic attributes, elements. We cannot have even that realization on any less terms than the price we are now paying for it. Soon, it will be understood clearly, that the state cannot flourish, (nay, cannot exist,) without those elements.They will finally make the blood and the brawn of the best American individualities of both sexes.

There are two sets of wills to nations and to persons—one set that acts and works from explainable motives—and then another set, perhaps deep, hidden, unsuspected, yet often more potent than the first, rising as it were out of abysses, refusing to be argued with, resistlessly urging on speakers, doers, communities, unwitting to themselves—the poet to his fieriest words—the race to pursue its loftiest ideal. Indeed, the paradox of a nation’s life and career, with all its wondrous contradictions, can probably only be explain’d from these two wills, sometimes conflicting, each operating in its sphere, combining in races or in persons, and producing strangest results.

Let us hope there is (indeed, can there be any doubt there is?) this great unconscious and abysmic second will also running through the average nationality and career of America. Let us hope that it alone is the permanent and sovereign force, destined to form and fashion men and women more noble, more athletic; to gradually, firmly blend, from all the states, with all varieties, a friendly, happy, free, religious nationality—not only the most productive and materialistic the world has yet known, but out of whose ample and solid bulk, and giving purpose and finish to it, conscience, morals, and all the spiritual attributes, shall surely rise, like spires above some group of edifices, firm-footed on the earth, yet scaling space and heaven.

As in all departments of the universe, regular laws (slow and sure in planting, slow and sure in ripening) have controll’d and govern’d, and will yet control and govern, the growth of our republic.
There are leading moral truths underlying politics, as invariable and reliable and as the leading truths in geology, chemistry, or mathematics;
These truths are the foundation of American politics.

You unseen moral essence of all the vast materials of America, 
You endless base of deep integrities within, timid but certain,
You that, sometimes known, oftener unknown, really shape and mould the New World,
Adjusting it to time and space,
You hidden national will lying in your abysms, conceal’d but ever alert,
You past and present purposes tenaciously pursued, maybe unconscious of yourselves,
Unswerv’d by all the passing errors, perturbations of the surface,
You vital, universal, deathless germs, beneath all creeds, arts, statutes, literatures,
Here build your homes for good
,
Showing the democratic conditions supplanting everything that insults them or impedes their aggregate way —and carrying our experiment of democratic freedom to the very verge of the limit,
With that vehemence of pride and audacity of freedom necessary to loosen the mind of still-to-be-form’d America from the accumulated folds, the superstitions, and all the long, tenacious, and stifling anti-democratic authorities of the Asiatic and European past.

Freedom, lag’d’st thou so long? shall the clouds close again upon thee?
Ah, but thou hast thyself appear’d to us—we know thee,
Thou hast given us a sure proof, the glimpse of thyself,
Thou waitest everywhere thy time.

I will sleep awhile yet, for I see that these states sleep, for reasons:
Today is what it must be, and America is,
And today and America could no-how be better than they are.

South, north, east, west, inland and seaboard, we will surely awake,
Belief I sing—and preparation.

NEXT: AMERICA’S FUTURE GREATNESS