The Approach to Civil War

  • W. R. Brock


In 1844 the philosopher Emerson declared that, ‘The development of our American resources, the extension to the utmost of our commercial system, and the appearance of new moral causes which are to modify the state, are giving an aspect of greatness to the Future, which the imagination fears to open. One thing is plain for all men of common sense and common conscience, that here, here in America, is the home of man. After all the deductions which are to be made for our pitiful politics, which stake every grave national question on the silly die, whether James or Jonathan shall sit in the chair; after all deduction is made for our frivolities and insanities, there still remains an organic simplicity and liberty, which, when it loses its balance, redresses itself presently, which offers opportunity to the human mind not known in any other region.’ Countless ordinary Americans would have echoed these sentiments with less eloquence but with equal sincerity. By the mid-century America seemed an outstanding success, and if visitors such as Dickens found it difficult to understand and even harder to excuse the presumption of the common man, the American saw in it his hope for the future. It is in these aspirations that the real tragedy of the Civil War lies; whatever else was lost or gained they were its principal casualty.


Democratic Party American History Republican Party Free Soil Popular Sovereignty 
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  1. 1.
    ‘I am not a little surprised at the easy effrontery with which political gentlemen, in and out of Congress, take it upon them to say that there are not a thousand men in the North who sympathize with John Brown. It would be far safer and nearer the truth to say that all people, in proportion to their sensibility and self-respect, sympathize with him. For it is impossible to see courage, and disinterestedness, and the love that casts out fear without sympathy’ (R. W. Emerson, Speech at Salem, Massachusetts, Jan. 6, 1860).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© W. R. Brock 1960

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. R. Brock
    • 1
  1. 1.Selwyn CollegeCambridgeUK

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