AMERICAN LITERATURE - THE NEW NATION: Into the provincial quiet of colonial life with its sober colonial psychology came the discords of the Revolutionary disputes, fol lowed by six years of civil war and a harsh dismemberment of the dignified colonial society. With the expulsion of the Loyalists —often the wealthiest and most cultivated members of their communities—a new leadership appeared, vigorous and practical, drawn in large numbers from the younger merchants, who were impatient with the trade restrictions imposed by parliament and desired a larger measure of economic freedom. Then followed the shaping of the new fundamental law—the work of these same capable leaders—the setting up of the Federal Government, the irruption of Jacobin passions loosed by the French Revolu tion, and the emergence of political parties serving diverse inter ests. For a third of a century storm-clouds were in the sky, and during those tempestuous decades the colonial attitude of mind disintegrated and was superseded by a new Americanism. It was a period of political speculation worthy to be compared with the Commonwealth and Restoration periods 10o years before, marked by a sober and intelligent realism that was bent on exploring the reaches of a sound republicanism. Of necessity literature was largely in service to politics, and it is to the political writings of the times that the historian of letters turns most naturally.
Political Writings.—The ten acrimonious years of prelimi nary discussion produced a group of pamphleteers who, in explor ing refined legal and constitutional questions, eventually talked the country into war. Of these were Samuel Adams a Boston Radical Democrat, who laboured tirelessly to bring about disunion; John Dickinson (1732-1808) of Philadelphia, a lawyer much concerned with nice constitutional questions ; Joseph Gallo way (1727-1803), a moderate who later turned Loyalist; and Tom Paine (1737-1809), an English Quaker, who was the stormy petrel of two revolutions, raising a tremendous clamour wherever he passed and bringing fear to many honest bosoms. Paine may be reckoned the complete epitome of the times. One of the greatest pamphleteers the English race has produced, his influence in America was enormous. His Common Sense, published early in 1776 some 14 months after his arrival in America, presented vividly to the mass mind the advantages of independence and very likely hastened the formal action of the Congress a few months later. To the French period belong his celebrated Rights of Man, one of the greatest revolutionary forces of the time, and The Age of Reason, a deistic attack on the Bible that brought down on his head all the odium theologicum of the age.
It was during the Constitutional period (1787-180o) that the abundant political speculation of the times came to ripe fruitage. It was a richly creative period that can only be touched upon here. Amongst the leaders of American thought the most signif icant were John Adams (1H5-1826), an embodiment of the English school of realism from James Harrington through Locke to Montesquieu; Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), a disciple of Hobbes and Adam Smith; and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), a follower of Locke, modified by the French Physiocratic school. Adams was an ineffective party leader and never imposed his philosophy upon the rank and file; but Hamilton and Jefferson erected their views into party platforms and the great struggle between them runs through all later American history. Hamilton was a monarchist who desired a highly centralized and efficient Government, as like the English as possible, that should impose order at home and command prestige abroad. Accepting the new philosophy of laissez faire he was eager to turn America from agricultural to industrial channels. As secretary of the Treasury he united the business interests behind the administration by a skilful policy of tariffs, banks, funding and the like, with the result that he laid down the path over which America has since travelled. As a writer he is chiefly known by his contributions to The Fed eralist (1787-88), issued jointly by Hamilton, Madison and Jay, in defence of the new Constitution. The work has been much praised—perhaps over-praised—by historians of the Federalist school; it is a shrewd and skilful argument, and it has exerted a persistent influence on later judicial interpretations of the Con stitution.
The leader of the opposition to Hamilton was Thomas Jefferson, a Virginia planter and intellectual, widely read in many fields, who to a sound knowledge of English political theory joined a pro nounced sympathy for the social philosophy of the French En lightenment. Like Franklin he was a physiocrat, discovering in agriculture the only productive labour, and rejecting Hamilton's industrial-capitalistic programme. A confirmed democrat, he feared power and hated an aggrandizing political State. He would keep government simple and responsive to the popular will. The most stimulating of all American political leaders, and the one whose hold on the affections of the plain people has been most persistent, Jefferson is a figure whose greatness can be appre ciated only by students intimately acquainted with American history and American ideals. Although a voluminous writer, he left no single work of outstanding importance—with the excep tion of the Declaration of Independence—and like Franklin he is to be read chiefly in his letters. His Notes on Virginia and the Autobiography serve somewhat inadequately to reveal the humani tarian side of his thought, and make clear why he was the spokes man of the native agrarian America that was moving towards political democracy.
During these acrid times the drama was slowly getting under way in America, aided by British officers and preceding by a few years the rise of the novel. Dependent as it was upon the devel opment of cultural centres and the patronage of polite society, the theatre must wait upon the growth of cities. Early in the r8th century English players appeared in the colonies, and in Hallam's London company played in Virginia. In New England the presentation of stage plays was long prohibited by law, and it was not till 1793 that Massachusetts repealed the act, thereby eliciting from Robert Treat Paine the remark, "the Van dal spirit of puritanism is prostrate in New England." The first American play performed by professional actors was The Contrast, by Royall Tyler given in New York in 1787. The following year The Father of an Only Child, by William Dunlap (1766-1839), was put on the stage, and thereafter plays increased in number and in popularity, and the theatre entered on a period of modest prosperity.
Before leaving a century that was vigorously creative in many fields—however small the output of polite literature—attention must be drawn to two isolated figures whom to know is to love. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur (1735-1813) was a cultivated Nor man gentleman who after serving with the French army under Montcalm lived for a number of years in the colonies, travelled widely, took an American wife, established himself on a pleasant farm, and in 1782 published his Letters from an American Farmer filled with discursive comment on the relation of manners and environment in different colonies. Crevecoeur was deeply infused with the current French philosophy, and as a humanitarian and nature lover he observed with considerable acuteness the growth of a new type of society in the western wilderness. Unf or .tunately the Revolutionary war brought disaster to him. His sympathies were Loyalist and the partisanship of civil strife took heavy toll of his happiness. Returning to Normandy he wrote other letters that only recently have been published under the 'title Sketches of Eighteenth Century America (1925). A kindred spirit was William Bartram (1739-1823), son of the well-known botanist John Bartram (1699-1777), who was brought up in his father's botanical garden at Philadelphia. In April 1773 he set forth on extensive travels through the south-eastern frontier, a botanizing trip that extended to nearly five years. He roved widely through South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama, noting the soils, the flora and fauna, and in particular the manners of the Indian tribes. The result was The Travels of William Bar tram, published at Philadelphia in 1791, and a year later in Lon "written in the spirit of the old travellers." A gentle, kindly spirit, animated by the genial philosophy of the times, William Bartram was a man to have delighted Crevecoeur and to have shared the enthusiasms of Jefferson.