The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XV. Publicists and Orators, 1800–1850

§ 28. Total Accomplishment of the Period

Though only the most noteworthy persons have been spoken of in this chapter, enough has been said to indicate that in the first fifty years of the nineteenth century there was much good oratory and a large amount of able writing on subjects of political interest. As we look back on those decades, the years seem to be hurrying past with great rapidity, changing the primitive United States in the span of a single lifetime from a row of scattered republics scarcely realizing national existence into a great empire stretching across the continent. And in those hurrying years, all sorts of questions arose to be vehemently and earnestly discussed before an increasing number of eager hearers who felt that their destiny was in their own hands. These crowding problems full of intense human meaning; this developing democracy with all its trials, hopes, and determinations; this people, beset with slavery and boasting its freedom, bent upon the big job of taking possession of a continent and turning wilderness into farms and villages—these form the background of the oratory and the public tasks of the day. If no single piece of the very highest value in literature came out of the mêlée, we cannot wonder. And yet in the restless years there were men to be classed well up among the world’s orators—for their themes were inspiring and a multitude was ready to hang upon their words. And in addition to all this product of earnest political strife and fervid declamation, is the fact, surprising, almost disconcerting, that the years produced jurists and publicists of erudition who quietly and methodically, amid all the hurry and change, framed the basic laws for a new nation, or, grasping essentials of older systems, gave them new life and form.