Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Europe and America at the Time of Washingtons Inauguration
By George Bancroft (18001891)
[From History of the United States of America, from the Discovery of the Continent. The Authors Last Revision. 188285.]
TO the presidents inaugural speech one branch of the legislature thus responded: The senate will at all times cheerfully co-operate in every measure which may strengthen the union and perpetuate the liberties of this great confederated republic.
The representatives of the American people likewise addressed him: With you we adore the invisible hand which has led the American people through so many difficulties; and we cherish a conscious responsibility for the destiny of republican liberty. We join in your fervent supplication for our country; and we add our own for the choicest blessings of heaven on the most beloved of her citizens.
In the same moments of the fifth day of May, 1789, when these words were reported, the ground was trembling beneath the arbitrary governments of Europe as Louis XVI. proceeded to open the states-general of France. The day of wrath, against which Leibnitz had warned the monarchs of Europe, was beginning to break, and its judgments were to be the more terrible for the long delay of its coming. The great Frederick, who alone of them all had lived and toiled for the good of his land, described the degeneracy and insignificance of his fellow-rulers with cynical scorn. Not one of them had a surmise that the only sufficient reason for the existence of a king lies in his usefulness to the people. Nor did they spare one another. The law of morality was never suffered to restrain the passion for conquest. Austria preyed upon Italy until Alfieri could only say, in his despair, that despotic power had left him no country to serve; nor did the invader permit the thought that an Italian could have a right to a country. The heir in the only line of protestant kings on the continent of Europe, too blind to see that he would one day be stripped of the chief part of his own share in the spoils, joined with two other robbers to divide the country of Kosciuszko. In Holland dynastic interests were betraying the welfare of the republic. All faith was dying out; and self, in its eagerness for pleasure or advantage, stifled the voice of justice. The atheism of the great, who lived without God in the world, concealed itself under superstitious observances which were enforced by an inquisition that sought to rend beliefs from the soul, and to suppress inquiry by torments which surpassed the worst cruelties that savages could invent. Even in Great Britain all the branches of government were controlled by the aristocracy, of which the more liberal party could in that generation have no hope of being summoned by the king to frame a cabinet. The land, of which every member of a clan had had some share of ownership, had been for the most part usurped by the nobility; and the people were starving in the midst of the liberality which their own hands extorted from nature. The monarchs, whose imbecility or excesses had brought the doom of death on arbitrary power, were not only unfit to rule, but, while their own unlimited sovereignty was stricken with death, they knew not how to raise up statesmen to take their places. Well-intentioned friends of mankind burned with indignation, and even the wise and prudent were incensed by the bitterest consciousness of wrong; while the lowly classes, clouded by despair, were driven sometimes to admit the terrible thought that religion, which is the poor mans consolation and defence, might be but an instrument of government in the hands of their oppressors. There was no relief for the nations but through revolution, and their masters had poisoned the weapons which revolution must use.
In America a new people had risen up without king, or princes, or nobles, knowing nothing of tithes and little of landlords, the plough being for the most part in the hands of free holders of the soil. They were more sincerely religious, better educated, of serener minds, and of purer morals than the men of any former republic. By calm meditation and friendly councils they had prepared a constitution which, in the union of freedom with strength and order, excelled every one known before; and which secured itself against violence and revolution by providing a peaceful method for every needed reform. In the happy morning of their existence as one of the powers of the world, they had chosen justice for their guide; and while they proceeded on their way with a well-founded confidence and joy, all the friends of mankind invoked success on their unexampled endeavor to govern states and territories of imperial extent as one federal republic.