America! America!

God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

-Katherine Lee Bates.

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

Perhaps you have sometimes felt the thrill that goes through one in the presence of a noble action or of a deep emotion. Someone may have shown strength of character in a crisis, or may have done a big and generous thing, and you have said, "He is a man.Or the sight of the flag or of our soldiers returning from war has thrilled you with love of our country. Or someone has said something that has set you on fire with ambition to do things—to be a great lawyer or doctor or manufacturer, or to build a great business. These impulses to render patriotic service, this ambition to make your life count—all take you out of your usual self and awaken the best traits of your character. You could sing for joy. If you could express your feelings in words, you would be a poet, for out of sincere and deep emotion poetry is born.

Among all the emotions that men feel in their best moments, none are deeper and more filled with good than those connected with love of home and country and with those ideals of service and coöperation without which no country can long endure. The growth, through many centuries, of this love of country and freedom that has made self-government possible is the most important fact in modern history. The growth has been slowdiscouragingly slow. But there have been great moments in the history of the nations when vast multitudes of men have been swept by powerful emotions drawing them out of themselves and on to some new advance toward freedom. Out of these emotions, at these dramatic moments in history, have come poems and prose that have inspired men to deeds of patriotism and service for others.

It is, then, with literature as a means of expressing the loftiest ideals of liberty and service that the selections in this part of our book have to do. There are three groups. In the first are some records of the growth of the “Eternal Spirit of Freedom.” This spirit of freedom is born of the feeling that men have the right, as our Declaration of Independence states it, to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." There have always been ambitious men who have wished to insure their own power by keeping the masses of their fellows in subjection. Often they have succeeded. But through all the centuries there have come moments, now in one part of the world and now in another, that have shown how firmly imbedded in the human heart is the conviction that men ought to be free, free to shape their lives according to their desires and their abilities and not according to the commands of emperor or king. The literature in this first section refers to different times and peoples, but it all bears witness to this fire of liberty that sometimes smolders under oppression but is never destroyed. As you read these selections, remember that they are only a few out of many such stories and poems that express this eternal spirit of freedom; you can easily find many others, and thus you will come to realize how much of what we are and have today has grown out of the passionate desire for liberty that never dies.

The next unit in this part of your book, called “America's Experiment in Free Government,” shows you something of America's service to the spirit of freedom. Many times in the past the spirit of liberty, awakened in men because of the oppression of some tyrant, has led only to temporary relief, by the overthrow of the particular tyrant, without providing permanent freedom through the overthrow of the oppressive system of government. Indeed, many Americans during the Revolution had no idea of setting up a new and independent form of government; they intended only to put an end to the oppression of George III. But others, more far-sighted, saw that

at last there had come the opportunity to set up a government in which the people themselves should be the rulers.

The foundations for such a form of government had already been laid. In England, for a thousand years, men had been developing the idea of a limited representation of the citizens through a Parliament. In 1688, the English people rebelled against their king and established the supremacy of this Parliament over the monarch. Thus the people, in theory at least, gained control of their government. English freedom was not complete, however, because the Parliament was not yet fully representative of all the people. In fact a century later it became as tyrannical as the king. Meantime, in the colonial assemblies of America, the principle of representative government was pushed farther. The colonists were mainly descendants of liberty-loving Englishmen, and the ideals of free government were born in them. Remote from England, they governed themselves as they thought best. When at last the ties binding them to the mother country were cut loose, the “Great American Experiment,” far more important to the future of all men everywhere than any mere question of gaining temporary relief from a tyrannical British king, came into being. It was an "experiment,” because it was based on the idea that a nation made up of men from all parts of the world, living in a territory of vast extent, and under very different conditions of climate, occupation, and degree of wealth, might, through representatives chosen by all its citizens, determine its own plan of government. Nowhere else had the idea that men should govern themselves been tried out on such a vast scale. The older governments of Europe thought such an experiment would surely fail. They wanted it to fail, for with its success no throne would be secure.

Read, then, in this light the selections which show something of the nature of this experiment in self-government and of the principles on which it was founded. It is an experiment that has met every test, thus far. It has brought about more liberal government even in the older European countries. It

« ForrigeFortsett »