Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
Our Nationality, as the Outgrowth of the Colonial System
By Theodore Dwight Woolsey (1801–1889)
[Born in New York, N. Y., 1801. Died in New Haven, Conn., 1889. The First Century of the Republic. 1876.]

THAT which more than all things else determined the future of this country was the number of colonies, together with their general similarity and their important differences. If there could have been one vast colony, under one government, extending along the whole line of coast from the French possessions to the Spanish settlements in Florida, it might have been strong and prosperous possibly, but the present United States would not have grown up on such a foundation. There was a necessity of just such a series of colonies as were actually planted, all animated by a common English feeling, and speaking the common English tongue, yet settled for different reasons, and, in a course of many years of self-government, developed into different entities, as well as having distinctive characteristics. The Northern and Southern groups of these colonies, alike among themselves, yet differing each from the other in their climates, industries, institutions, and religious peculiarities, might have formed the nucleus of two nations if English feeling, influence from the mother country, trade, and many common interests had not brought them together more than the causes of an opposite nature tended to keep them apart. The colonies lying between these extremes had no common likeness; indeed, before the cession of New Netherlands to the English they had no common bond of union, and afterward, although best situated for purposes of commerce, were more fitted for some time to follow than to lead. We will make the supposition that when the Southern colonies admitted slavery, New England had thought it a sin and a shame; even such an opinion could easily have prevented the two extremes from meeting. As it was, slavery existed everywhere, and not being regarded as a wrong or an evil until the Quakers began to teach a higher morality, no such cause of separation existed. We will make another supposition, that the colony of New Netherlands, lying like a wedge on the coast, with the best seaport within its borders, settled originally by colonists not understanding the English tongue and not educated under English political institutions, could have retained its nationality until no power could have conquered it. In this case a most serious problem would have offered itself in the course of time—either the Eastern and Southern English colonies would have pursued their destinies apart, or, if they could have acted in conjunction with the Dutch colony, difficulties from language and institutions might have prevented a perfect union. Thus we see that the colonies were pointed toward confederation by their history, and were almost prevented from establishing any other kind of government throughout the course of centuries. One cluster of confederates, or more than one, seems to have been the only possible political alternative if they were ever to separate from the mother country. Two or more clusters, so far as we can interpret the probabilities of things, would have been most disastrous, as containing the seeds of strife, and sowing them for all the future.

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