America: Both Evil and Good


America illustrates birth, muscular youth, the promise, the sure fulfilment, the absolute success, despite of people—illustrates evil as well as good.
By the unprecedented opening-up of humanity en-masse in the United States, the last hundred years, under our institutions, not only the good qualities of the race, but just as much the bad ones, are prominently brought forward. Man is about the same, in the main, whether with despotism, or whether with freedom.

I am myself just as much evil as good—like all human specimens, a compound of both good and evil,
And my nation is—all mottled with evil and good;
I dare not shirk any part of myself,
Nor any part of America, nor any attribute of America, good or bad.

Long, too long America,
Traveling roads all even and peaceful you learn’d from joys and prosperity only,
Ah Mother, prolific and full in all besides, yet how long barren, barren?
Land tolerating all, accepting all, not for the good alone,
I feel thy ominous greatness evil as well as good,
I see thy light lighting, and thy shadow shadowing, as if the entire globe.

The problem of the future of America is in certain respects as dark as it is vast. Unwieldy and immense, who shall hold in behemoth? who bridle leviathan? Flaunt it as we choose, athwart and over the roads of our progress loom huge uncertainty, and dreadful, threatening gloom;
Those things most listened for, certainly those are the things least said.

Our America today I consider in many respects as but indeed a vast seething mass of materials, human and other, of the richest, best, worst, and plentiest kind— ampler, better, (worse also,) than previously known—eligible to be used to build for good, the nation of the body and the soul—that new moral American continent without which, I see, the physical continent remained incomplete, maybe a carcass, a bloat.

It is the fashion among dillettants and fops (perhaps I myself am not guiltless,) to decry the whole formulation of the active politics of America, as beyond redemption, and to be carefully kept away from. See you that you do not fall into this error. America, it may be, is doing very well upon the whole, notwithstanding these antics of the parties and their leaders, these half-brain’d nominees—the nominee that is chosen and the nominee that has fail’d, and many elected failures and blatherers. It is the dillettants, and all who shirk their duty, who are not doing well.

These savage, wolfish parties alarm me,
They habitually make common cause just as soon in advocacy of the worst deeds and men as the best, or probably a little sooner for the worst.
They who fabricate the creeds and commands of these parties are all infidels—they have no faith in man—
I tell you these men are all using you,
owning no law but their own will, more and more combative, less and less tolerant of the idea of ensemble and of equal brotherhood.
They have been useful, and to some extent remain so; but
it behooves you to receive nothing through parties.
Disengage yourself from parties, convey yourself implicitly to no party, nor submit blindly to their dictators, but steadily hold yourself judge and master over all of them.

Rank as those movements are, I know nothing in these states so grand as the movements of their politics;
I entirely accept the movements of American politics,
I do not view them in their details, but in the magnificent copiousness of their aggregate.

America has outgrown parties; henceforth it is too large, and they too small—

It is not this or that party who is going to save America,
It is countless breeds of great individuals, the eternal and only anchor of the states.

As for you, I advise you to enter more strongly yet into politics;
An indispensable part of the remedy must consist in the better men who should enter the field of practical politics.
They must begin by making themselves at home with the masses of the people, must habituate themselves to direct contact with them, and not be so much afraid,
Must if needs be mix with them in their haunts, even the lowest.
Are the people to be reached? Then go where they are.

It is a credit to men and no disgrace to them to take an eager interest in politics,
Always inform yourself; always do the best you can; always vote;
But go back to first principles.
Through evil and through good, the republic stands, and is for centuries yet to stand, immovable from its foundations,
It has been the dream of ages and ages, long-deferred, now first realized.
The really vital things remain safe and certain,
Growing on deep foundations, (indeed, already grown,) indestructible in America—
Amid lack of first class leaders, we have the average man, man in the mass, and nobler far than was ever before thought possible.

I go a great deal into the hospitals to see America, her masculine young manhood, brought to hospital in this great, whited sepulchre of Washington itself, this union capital without the first bit of cohesion—capital to which these deputies most strange arrive from every quarter, well-drest, rotten, meagre, nimble and impotent, full of gab, full always of their thrice-accursed party—arrive and skip into the seats of mightiest legislation, and take the seats of judges and high executive seats (collect of proofs how low and swift a good stock can deteriorate)—while by quaint providence come also hither this other freight of helpless worn and wounded youth, of darlings and true heirs to me, genuine of the soil, prophetic of the future, proofs undeniable to all men’s ken of perfect beauty, tenderness, and pluck.

Shams, etc., will always be the show, like ocean’s scum;
Enough, if waters deep and clear make up the rest.
Underneath all this putridity of presidents and congressmen that has risen to the top, lie pure waters a thousand fathoms deep,

The people ever remain, infinitely more important,
They make the real ocean, whatever the scum may be on its surface.

NEXT: America: An Unfinished Experiment