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\HE extracts which follow represent our literature from 1765 to 1789—from the outbreak of the Revolutionary
agitation with the passing of the Stamp Act to the adoption of the Constitution and the establishing of a secure national government. The dates are thus not arbitrary, but both mark epochs in our political and likewise in our literary history. In the selection of the extracts, however, they have served as guides rather than as rigid limits. This volume slightly overlaps Vol. III of Colonial Prose and Poetry, edited by William P. Trent and B. W. Wells. Some writers there represented—like Franklin, who lived to see Washington inaugurated-might equally well have been treated as Revolutionary writers. For the sake of continuity this volume likewise includes a few extracts by date belonging to the national period. Some writers, like Freneau, passing through the Revolution as young men, fortunately lived to see its triumph, and continued to write. Their later writings, however, are usually influenced by their Revolutionary experience. Taken as a whole the literature here represented shows unusual unity of subject and spirit.
This is because nearly all the writings of the time take theme or color from the great events amid which they were produced. The Revolution, like war in general, was doubtless partly favorable, partly unfavorable, to our purely literary development. The lethargy into which the colonies had fallen in the first half of the eighteenth century now gave place to vigorous thought and high feeling. The result was a rapid-a surprisingly rapid-development to maturity in the kind of literature most directly affected—that is, in the political writing. On the other hand, men of the time were too much occupied with the political struggle with the war of words or of arms—to pay much attention to “polite” literature. Indeed it is easy to see, in the “Yale poets” or in Freneau, how, at the Revolutionary outbreak, purely literary aims were checked or regretfully abandoned. In general the few writings ignoring the conflict are negligible; those most fully inspired by it are most permanent and valuable.
The Revolution had three large effects, primarily political in their nature and most important when viewed politically, but clearly traceable in our literature also, not only at the time, but even down to the present day.
The first is the most obvious. The Revolution secured our political independence, and this in turn favored independence in thought and literature. Though prepared by earlier events, our political independence was suddenly asserted and successfully maintained; our literary independence, on the other hand, has been the result of a very gradual growth, beginning at the first settlement and still unfinished at the present day. But during the period we are now considering the advance was, at least in appearance, rapid. Before the war the ruling and cultured classes were colonial; they fashioned not only their clothes and their houses, but their manners, their minds, and their writings after English models. After the peace, when the loyalists had been exiled, Americans, exulting in their triumph and resenting English influence, were too ready to claim and assert their literary independence. Accordingly our earliest national literature often has a chauvinistic tone.
The Revolution was no less important in securing our union. In 1760 Franklin saw little probability of a union of the colonies against England, “which 'tis well known they all love much more than they love one another.” Boston and New York, the Quakers of Philadelphia and the planters of Charleston, were widely separated and distrustful, having in common little more than their British allegiance. Even after the war each colony regarded itself as an independent sovereign state; and “states' rights” and sectionalism long played their part in literature as well as in politics. But common action, in the French and Indian War and in the Revolution, in Congress and in the campaigns, brought the scattered Americans together, and showed them their common interest and destiny. After extreme local sovereignty had been tried and found wanting, the states at last truly united in 1789. A firm national government and gradual intellectual amalgamation for the first time made possible an American literature in the national sense.
The third effect of the Revolution is less obvious, but equally important to our literary development. The struggle for independence and union was also a movement toward democracy. Before the War the social organization, especially in the South, but also in New York and New England, was aristocratic. Even before the War, however,-as the reader of our colonial prose has seen–New Englanders like John Wise challenged the official and clerical leaders and asserted democratic principles. The contest between the "first families” and the people grew more pronounced as the Revolution approached. In the War, conservatives—holders of property, office, or social position-largely remained loyal; and, for better or worse, were lost to the country at their exile. Some American leaders, like Washington, were aristocratic; most, however, were young men, like John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, who had their way to make, -or, like Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, who came down from the frontier counties to dispute the control with the planters of tide-water Virginia. It is not wrong to think of the Revolution as a radical movement, and of its soldiers as "embattled farmers." The most memorable, and only well remembered, phrases of the Declaration are those expressing democratic sentiments: "all men are created equal,” and "governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." Thus Samuel Seabury, a Church of England clergyman, remained loyal; even moderate Americans like John Dickinson were soon left behind; and the writers perhaps most typical of the principles that survived were the democrats, Thomas Paine and Philip Freneau. After the War a new strife of partisans led finally to a new influx of democracy with the election of Jefferson over Adams in 1797. Thus began democratic tendencies which have been operative in our politics and our literature to the present day, traceable through Jackson and Lincoln, through Emerson and Whitman. To read our later literature intelligently, therefore, one must first read the writers in this volume; one must know their thought and share their feeling.
As is evident, the literature of the period lies especially close to its history, the two indeed becoming practically one. Most of the writers had a reputation as statesman or otherwise apart from literature, and there was still no profession of letters. The writings, however, may be divided into two classes: those primarily political or Revolutionary, and those non-political-poetry and general literature. The first class has the greater bulk and also the greater merit. As in the early periods we gave more thought to politics than to anything else except religion, and much more thought to politics than to literature, it is not strange that we should have come to maturity and independence first in the political field; and that we should have shown merit comparable to that of older countries first in our political writing. The second classof pure literature-gives some idea of what might have been produced had there been no Revolution. Many books assignable to this class, however, refer to the War or are colored by it; even Dwight's biblical epic of Canaan contrives to include passages on the Revolution. Books of this class are less original; and indeed show with special clearness the difference between political and literary independence, and the difference between claiming the latter and genuinely possessing it. This of course introduces a subject, illustrated by our whole literary history, too large to be discussed here. Americans have had in the main to express fresh ideas in imported styles and forms. In the present period they were often torn between high notions of independence and loyalty to sound traditions. They often patriotically asserted their American