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.

XVII. Writers on American History, 1783–1850

§ 5. Status of Historical Studies

These men worked under the disadvantage that they were writing at a time when the minds of the people were absorbed with the struggle for national existence. Ebenezer Hazard, in 1779, described the situation as follows:

  • The war and the numerous avocations consequent upon it, have thrown every man’s mind into such an unsettled and confused state that but few can think steadily upon any subject. They hear of useful designs, they give you all the encouragement which can be derived from the warmest approbation of your plan, they will even promise you assistance. Politics intrude,—kick you and your designs out of their heads; and when you appear again, why they really forgot that the matter had been mentioned to them. I have been repeatedly served so with reference to my collection.
  • After the war came the years of constitution-making, and then a long period during which foreign affairs occupied most minds exclusively. It was a time, also, when unusual business opportunities enthralled the best intellects in the country. Thus there were few competent persons to whom the quiet task of writing history made appeal. It is not strange that Hazard had few people to encourage him.

    Our post-Revolutionary period has been compared with the years following the French Revolution, in which there was a notable outburst of literary activity. The contrast is unfair. The French Revolution came upon an old and well-developed society, kept down by outworn social ideals, and when it had passed the shackles were broken. In the United States an immature society was relieved of the power that had hitherto done no more than impose irritating checks on its development. This wilful young people were given an opportunity to do as they pleased. They had no rich culture waiting to fill a new era with its splendour. They were fighting their way up from the bottom, and the process was necessarily slow.