Thursday, November 30, 2017
Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born.
Matthew Arnold's famous lines from "Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse" have long served as an epigram for nineteenth-century Europeans whose past seemed far more certain than their future. Arnold, the English poet adored by American liberals, looking out from a French monastery in 1850, evoked the tensions and confusion of emerging industrial modernity. What he said of Europe applied to the post-Civil War United States as well, if only as a borrowed garment,
In 1865 an older American nation had died, a casualty of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln's lesson taken from the Gospel of Mark, that "a house divided against itself cannot stand," had been rewritten in blood. The old Union had perished in a fratricidal war, but Northerners did not doubt that, again in Lincoln's words, "this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom." They would resurrect the best of the old society with the cancer of slavery cut out.
Americans did give birth to a new nation, but it was not the one they imagined. How the United States at the end of the nineteenth century turned out to be so different from the country Lincoln conjured and Republicans confidently set out to create is the subject of this book.
Richard White, from the introduction to The Republic For Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction And The Gilded Age, 1865-1896