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In their most self-conscious moments, American intellectuals stared into “the mirror which reflects the true image of a nation” and began to compose their collective autobiography—the history of the American Republic. Their mission was exalted, the historians knew, for they offered their countrymen self-knowledge, moral instruction, and pleasure. Because “the actions and affairs of men are subject to as regular and uniform laws, as other events” in nature, the study of history is “the most important of all our philosophical speculations” and a “source of the sublimest moral improvement,” one New England minister/historian declared. According to another, history “teaches human nature, politics and morals, forms the head and heart for usefulness, and is an important part of the instruction and literature of states and nations.” Indeed, it was difficult to imagine a nation without a history of its own. As the editor of a leading Philadelphia literary magazine concluded, “every genuine patriot” must “earnestly long” for an authentic American history.1
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