The American Spirit edited by Thomas Bailey

The American Spirit: United States History as Seen by Contemporaries, Vol. One

Selected & edited by Thomas A. Bailey

Published 1963

American non-fiction

Challenge: Unread Books Project


Of the three more decent covers above, I ended up with this edition. It is an old, used copy from the library. 

Whereas The Patriot's Handbook, by George Grant, provided inspirational supporting evidence for American independence, liberty, and self-government through song, poetry, documentation, story, and biographies of great Americans, The American Spirit, compiled by Thomas Bailey, offered an expansive scope of opposing and controversial opinions on a substantial range of chronological matters, ideas, and events that made up American history, from early 1600s through 1901. 

I believe it was and may still be used as a college text; but while history textbooks usually teach someone's interpretation, this one is strictly a collection of primary sources, including lectures, public debates, speeches, interviews, letters, articles, book excerpts, legal documents, editorials, journal entries, and more. Bailey does offer "pre-questions" and "thought provokers" to prompt discussion.

The object of The American Spirit  is to "recapture the spirit and reveal the meaning of American history by focusing the spotlight on personalities" of the "great" and "obscure" voices of history. Most of the entries are the "documents behind the (historical) documents." In many cases, you may catch the thought processes, the debates, and the communications before the final decisions were made that effected the courses of history.

Bailey sought to "implant meaningful ideas, attitudes, and viewpoints; to cultivate an open mind, a balanced judgment, and an appreciation of the problems and prejudices of others." He admitted that he "devote[d] much attention to the unpopular or unsuccessful side of controversial issues, to the grievances of minorities, and to the criticisms of foreigners." 

Some of the entries are only excerpts, but others are in full, like the Declaration of Independence. Also, my edition includes a copy of the Constitution of the United States of America, with Amendments, short enough to tuck into the back end of a book. 

Here are excerpts of my favorites: 

Crèvecoeur Discovers a New Man (c. 1770)

The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labor, he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence. This is an American. 

Crèvecoeur Finds a Perfect Society (c. 1770)

We have no princes, for whom we toil, starve, and bleed: we are the most perfect society now existing in the world. Here man is free as he ought to be; nor is this pleasing equality so transitory as many others are. 

Connecticut Decries the Boston Port Act (1774)

5th. That we scorn the chains of slavery; we despise every attempt to rivet them upon us; we are the sons of freedom, and resolved that, till time shall be no more, that godlike virtue shall blazon our hemisphere.

Patrick Henry Demands Boldness (1775)

There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. 

Paine Talks Common Sense (1776)

O! You that love mankind! You that dare oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hah given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.

Why an Old Soldier Fought

...what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to . They didn't mean we should. 

Cooper Castigates Parties (1838)

Party is known to encourage prejudice, and to lead men astray in the judgment of character. 

No freeman who really loves liberty and who has a just perception of its dignity, character, action, and objects will ever become a mere party man. He may have his preferences as to measures and men, may act in concert with those who think with himself, on occasions that require concert. But it will be his earnest endeavor to hold himself a free agent, and most of all to keep his mind untrammeled by the prejudices, frauds, and tyranny of factions.  

Emersonisms and Thoreauisms

Lincoln Denies Negro Equality (1858)

...there is no reason in the world why the Negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness...I agree with Judge Douglas [the Negro] is not my equal in many respects -- certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the righ tto eat the bread....which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man. 

Horace Greeley Hails a Martyr (1859)

Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.

Stevens Demands Negro Suffrage (1867)

Have not loyal blacks quite as good a right to choose rulers and make laws as rebel whites?

DuBois Justifies Negro Legislators (1910)

There is no doubt but that the thirst of the black man for knowledge - a thirst which has been too persistent and durable to be mere curiosity or whim - gave birth to the public free-school system of the south.

Frederick Douglass Complains (1882)

The MOST shocking entry I did read in The American Spirit was by a German pastor who crossed the Atlantic, in 1750, to observe the conditions of indentured servitude that the German people were being lured into, particularly to the colony of Pennsylvania. He wrote about the miseries of the stench, sea sickness, dysentery, heat, constipation, scurvy, mouth-rot, foul water, thirst, frost, heat, hunger, lice, and more. 

When people died -- and hundreds did -- during the voyage, they were thrown into the sea. Imagine the horror and despair of loved ones who remained and continued on without them. Mothers who perished were thrown into the sea with their children. Children usually did not make it. Once a woman giving birth (who I assume died) was pushed through a porthole because she could not be brought up to the front of the ship. 

The pastor described how those who did make it to America endured more suffering, sometimes selling their own children for their debt. If relatives died via the voyage, the living were held responsible for those debts, and remained in servitude even longer than the usual seven years. 

And all of this suffering was endured for passage to America for a start on a better future. 

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