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Even their most fervent admirers would have to admit that the founders of the American state did not succeed in their quest to create a strong, unified, national culture between 1775 and 1800. Their efforts to invent an American language came to naught; their epic poetry was unread and largely unreadable. Despite Washington’s bequest and Jefferson’s efforts, no national university was ever established. Nor were the intellectuals’ many plans for a national system of public education realized in this period. The histories that hoped to narrate nationhood and unify a divided society were read as politically or regionally partisan. Waging a losing battle against popular culture and encountering the Other undermined some intellectuals’ confidence and clarity of vision.
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