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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Founders
By Horace Bushnell (1802–1876)
 
From ‘Work and Play’

THERE is a class of writers and critics in our country, who imagine it is quite clear that our fathers cannot have been the proper founders of our American liberties, because it is in proof that they were so intolerant and so clearly unrepublican often in their avowed sentiments. They suppose the world to be a kind of professor’s chair, and expect events to transpire logically in it. They see not that casual opinions, or conventional and traditional prejudices, are one thing, and that principles and morally dynamic forces are often quite another; that the former are the connectives only of history, the latter its springs of life; and that if the former serve well enough as providential guards and moderating weights overlying the deep geologic fires and subterranean heavings of the new moral instincts below, these latter will assuredly burst up at last in strong mountains of rock, to crest the world. Unable to conceive such a truth, they cast about them accordingly to find the paternity of our American institutions in purely accidental causes. We are clear of aristocratic orders, they say, because there was no blood of which to make an aristocracy; independent of king and parliament, because we grew into independence under the natural effects of distance and the exercise of a legislative power; republican, because our constitutions were cast in the molds of British law; a wonder of growth in riches, enterprise, and population, because of the hard necessities laid upon us, and our simple modes of life.  1
  There is yet another view of this question, that has a far higher significance. We do not understand, as it seems to me, the real greatness of our institutions when we look simply at the forms under which we hold our liberties. It consists not in these, but in the magnificent possibilities that underlie these forms as their fundamental supports and conditions. In these we have the true paternity and spring of our institutions; and these, beyond a question, are the gift of our founders.  2
  We see this, first of all, in the fixed relation between freedom and intelligence, and the remarkable care they had of popular education. It was not their plan to raise up a body of republicans. But they believed in mind as in God. Their religion was the choice of mind. The gospel they preached must have minds to hear it; and hence the solemn care they had, even from the first day of their settlement, of the education of every child. And, as God would have it, the children whom they trained up for pillars in the church turned out also to be more than tools of power. They grew up into magistrates, leaders of the people, debaters of right and of law, statesmen, generals, and signers of declarations for liberty. Such a mass of capacity had never been seen before in so small a body of men. And this is the first condition of liberty—the Condensation of Power. For liberty is not the license of an hour; it is not the butchery of a royal house, or the passion that rages behind a barricade, or the caps that are swung or the vivas shouted at the installing of a liberator. But it is the compact, impenetrable matter of much manhood, the compressed energy of good sense and public reason, having power to see before and after and measure action by counsel—this it is that walls about the strength and liberty of a people. To be free is not to fly abroad as the owls of the night when they take the freedom of the air, but it is to settle and build and be strong—a commonwealth as much better compacted in the terms of reason, as it casts off more of the restraints of force.  3
  Their word was “Reformation”—“the completion of the Reformation”; not Luther’s nor Calvin’s, they expressly say; they cannot themselves imagine it. Hitherto it is unconceived by men. God must reveal it in the light that breaks forth from him. And this he will do in his own good time. It is already clear to us that, in order to any further progress in this direction, it was necessary for a new movement to begin that should loosen the joints of despotism and emancipate the mind of the world. And in order to this a new republic must be planted and have time to grow. It must be seen rising up in the strong majesty of freedom and youth, outstripping the old prescriptive world in enterprise and the race of power, covering the ocean with its commerce, spreading out in populous swarms of industry,—planting, building, educating, framing constitutions, rushing to and fro in the smoke and thunder of travel along its mighty rivers, across its inland seas, over its mountain-tops from one shore to the other, strong in order as in liberty,—a savage continent become the field of a colossal republican empire, whose name is a name of respect and a mark of desire to the longing eyes of mankind. And then, as the fire of new ideas and hopes darts electrically along the nerves of feeling in the millions of the race, it will be seen that a new Christian movement also begins with it. Call it reformation, or formation, or by whatever name, it is irresistible because it is intangible. In one view it is only destruction. The State is loosened from the Church. The Church crumbles down into fragments. Superstition is eaten away by the strong acid of liberty, and spiritual despotism flies affrighted from the broken loyalty of its metropolis. Protestantism also, divided and subdivided by its dialectic quarrels, falls into the finest, driest powder of disintegration. Be not afraid. The new order crystallizes only as the old is dissolved; and no sooner is the old unity of orders and authorities effectually dissolved than the reconstructive affinities of a new and better unity begin to appear in the solution. Repugnances melt away. Thought grows catholic. Men look for good in each other as well as evil. The crossings of opinion by travel and books, and the intermixture of races and religions, issue in freer, broader views of the Christian truth; and so the “Church of the Future,” as it has been called, gravitates inwardly towards those terms of brotherhood in which it may coalesce and rest. I say not or believe that Christendom will be Puritanized or Protestantized; but what is better than either, it will be Christianized. It will settle thus into a unity, probably not of form, but of practical assent and love—a Commonwealth of the Spirit, as much stronger in its unity than the old satrapy of priestly despotism, as our republic is stronger than any other government of the world.  4
 
 
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