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THE History of the United States has yet to be written. It could not have been written hitherto; or rather, to speak more strictly, it might have been prophesied, it could not have been narrated. It is Secession which has torn the veil that lay upon the facts of which it is composed, and has shown them in their true character, proportions, and bearings.*
* Since the above was written, and whilst the present work was passing through the press, I have obtained a copy of Quackenbos's “Illustrated School History of the United States” (New York, 1861), a work which appears to have been printed in 1857, but which did not appear in the booksellers' catalogues some months ago, when I vainly inquired for some such publication. I have been able to avail myself of it for a few corrections and additions, but the entire difference of scope between it and the present work is sufficiently shown by the following figures : of its 458 pages of history, 188 are taken up with the colonial history of the United States, which I have disposed of in 8 pages ; 120 with the War of Independence and the Confederation, which take up 14 of mine ; 44 with the war with England, making 9 of mine ; 17 with the Mexican war, which occupies with me about 5 ; whilst, on the other hand, the Missouri compromise is disposed of in half a paragraph, the period between the treaty with Mexico and Mr. Buchanan's election, to which I have devoted 51 pages, in 16, &c., &c. In short, everything that I have cut short is treated of at length, and almost everything that I have considered in detail is summarily dismissed. The work stops, moreover, at Mr. Buchanan's election.
The present work, so far as my share in it is concerned, is essentially what it professes to be, a sketch. It is put together, with additional developments, from the materials for two lectures delivered by me at the Working Men's College, on the 23rd and 30th August, and 9th November, 1861, which were followed, on the 23rd November, by a lecture from my friend Mr. Hughes, on Kansas, also included in the present volume, as being a branch of the same subject. My own work leaves on one side many important aspects of American history, such as that of the religious and literary development of the nation, and barely glances at various others.
In preparing it, I have not had leisure to consult either the proceedings, or even the Acts, of Congress. My principal authorities have been - besides Bancroft's “ History of the United States," Elliott's “ New England History," and Anderson's
History of the Colonial Church,” for the colonial period, and the War of Independence, -Holmes's “Annals of America," extending to the year 1826 ; the “President's Messages” (of which, however, I have had no complete collection at hand since the date of General Harrison's presidency, 1840); Benton's
Thirty Years' View, or a History of the Working of the American Government,” 1820-1850, supplemented by Mr. Palfrey's “ Chapter of American History,” published (without his name) in 1852 ; and for the last few years, the “ Annuaire des Deux Mondes." Story on the “Constitution of the United States," has afforded me many valuable details ; Tocqueville's
“Démocratie en Amérique" a few; I have borrowed others from the biographies of American Presidents in the “Penny Cyclopædia,” from Mr. T. R. Cobb (of Georgia)'s “Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America," and from two admirable articles on American slavery, published by M. Elisée Reclus, in the "Revue des Deux Mondes," 15th December, 1860, and 1st January, 1861. The details of naval events are taken from Chamier's edition of James's “Naval History," checked by Fenimore Cooper's “History of the American Navy.” For treaties, and most other diplomatic papers, I have consulted, I think invariably, Martens or his continuators, or Hertslet; some of the diplomatic correspondence is, however, quoted from Dr. Wheaton's History of the Modern Law of Nations.”
As a rule, I have endeavoured to consult no publications issued since the date of Secession, or if any, those only by sympathisers with the South ; which will account for my not referring to Mr. Motley's well-known pamphlet. The only exception has been Mr. Olmsted's “Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom,” which, as being in the main a condensation (or rather, unfortunately, a somewhat hasty reduction) of his three former works, and more likely than the originals to be accessible to my readers, I have freely referred to. No one who seeks to understand the subject can indeed overlook Mr. Olmsted's testimony but at his peril.
Where I have derived facts from other sources than
those above indicated, I believe I have always referred to them (as, indeed, I have often done in respect of the above-named works themselves),-except, perhaps in the case of some statistical data, to be found in almost any of the “Statesman's Manuals,” or “ Constitutional text books,” &c., &c., so copiously produced in America.
And if I be asked why I have put forth a work which I earnestly trust to see one day superseded, I answer that I have had to learn so much in drawing it up, -I find the ignorance of my countrymen on the subject of which it treats so general, and feel that ignorance to be so dangerous in the feelings which it allows to grow up, and the conclusions to which it allows them to be led by newspaper writers, too often quite as ignorant as their readers, but only more audacious, that I have ventured to think no time should be lost in supplying some elementary but, I trust, correct data on which a safer judgment may be formed by any who choose to think for themselves. As for my own opinions on the questions at issue, I have not affected to disguise them. I think but little of the man who should be able to go through the task I have done, without forming some opinion upon those questions; and I believe that it is not the free expression of opinion, but the concealment of it, which is the real hindrance to the discovery of the truth. You may easily make allowance for an avowed preference, but a secret bias may poison almost every statement of fact, almost beyond cure.