An American Life
As industrialization permeated daily life in the United States after the Civil War, the advantages of systems were everywhere apparent. Americans had too long listened to the courtly muses of Europe, Ralph Waldo Emerson had cautioned, and must now hasten to end their long apprenticeship to learning from other lands.1 Emerson claimed for his congregation a desire for public, civic-minded thoughts in 1837, and the national spirit he evoked was applauded.
Under the grind of the McCormick Reaper, the land fell into orderly rows. Nationalism and commerce seemed inseparable. By the time that Ulysses S. Grant finished his memoir in 1885, he acknowledged that slavery was, naturally, one cause of the War of Rebellion. He also made the point that it was not moral outrage alone that drove the republic toward suffering. Before railroads, telegraphs, and steamboats—when America was still in search of the national character defined by Emerson—each state was almost a separate nationality. “At that time,” he wrote, “the subject of slavery caused but little or no disturbance to the public mind.” “But,” he continued, “the country grew, rapid transit was established, and trade and commerce between the States got to be so much greater than before, that the power of the National government became more felt and recognized and, therefore, ← 1 | 2 → had to be enlisted in the cause of this institution.” Truth be told, he concluded, the Civil War was probably better fought sooner than later, and the nation was...
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