Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story - Encounter Books

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Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story

Young Reader’s Edition: Volume Two

Available 7/12/2022

Publication Details

Paperback / 284 pages
ISBN: 9781641772709
AVAILABLE: 07/12/2022

Coming Soon
Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story
Young Reader’s Edition: Volume Two

The Founders of the American nation would have had trouble recognizing the America that emerged after the Civil War. By century’s end we had rapidly evolved into the world’s greatest industrial power. It was a nation of large new cities populated by immigrants from all over the world. And it was a nation that was taking an increasingly active role on the world stage, even to the point of acquiring an empire of its own. Many Americans began to wonder whether this modern nation had outgrown its original Constitution. That document had been written back in the eighteenth century, after all, and one of its main goals was limiting the size and scope of government. But did that goal make sense in the dynamic new America of the twentieth century?

That became a central question. The Progressive movement and its successors believed it was time to replace the Constitution with laws permitting a larger and more powerful government. Others firmly rejected such changes and insisted on the permanent validity of the Constitution’s ideal of limited government. In addition, with the two great world wars of the twentieth century, and the Cold War that came after them, America found itself thrust into a position of overwhelming world leadership—something else that the Founders never imagined or wanted. Such leadership required the development of a large and permanent military establishment whose very existence ran up against the nation’s founding traditions. With the end of the Cold War, America faced a decision. Should it shed the world responsibilities it had taken on during the twentieth century? Or should it treat those responsibilities as a permanent obligation? That debate, which has deep roots in American history, continues to this day.

About the Author

Wilfred M. McClay holds the Victor Davis Hanson Chair in Classical History and Western Civilization at Hillsdale College.

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We have concentrated on the drama of Reconstruction and have not yet done justice to the more general effects of the Civil War. But those effects were profound. It is no exaggeration to say that the Civil War marks the boundary between early America and modern America. The lightly settled farming republic of the nation’s earlier history was being left behind in favor of a new, larger, more drawn together, and more powerful industrial nation. The country found itself in the grip of compelling new forces. It was exhilarating and frightening at the same time.

Such moments of great historical change can be hard to bring to life. Too often, we lapse into big and abstract terms like industrialization, urbanization, nationalization, centralization, and professionalization to describe them. There are reasons to use such terms. But often it is hard to connect them with our experience, with the things we see or feel. Sometimes the example of a particular thing or event is needed to make it more real to us.

There was just such a significant moment at the very conclusion of the Civil War, a ceremonial occasion that we passed by in silence two chapters ago but to which we shall now return.

That moment was the Grand Review of the Union armies, a solemn but celebratory procession ordered by the War Department for May 18, 1865, thirty-nine days after Appomattox. The participants in the review were the men of the Army of the Potomac, under

General George Meade, and of the combined western armies that had fought through Georgia and the Carolinas under General William Tecumseh Sherman. The resulting parade was an astounding spectacle, on a scale never seen before: two hundred thousand men marching for two days through the streets of Washington, D.C., in a line stretching as long as twenty-five miles.

A steady flow of blue uniforms snaked its way through the city and past the shadow of the Capitol dome “like a tremendous python,” as one observer said. Walt Whitman was there, enchanted by the panorama. “For two days now,” wrote the poet, “the broad space of [Pennsylvania Avenue] along to Treasury hill, and so up to Georgetown, and across the aqueduct bridge, have been alive with a magnificent sight, the returning armies,” marching in “wide ranks stretching clear across the Avenue.” Spectators jammed the streets, sidewalks, doorsteps, windows, and balconies, craning their heads to watch, many having come from hundreds of miles away.

Other celebrations were going on across the country, but none even remotely like this one. And remember this. There had been no such Grand Review at the end of the Revolution, or of the War of 1812, or of the Mexican War. This was something new. It was a national pageant affirming the new primacy in American life of the American nation – of national power and national unity.

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