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NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
NEW SERIES, NO. XLI.
ART. I.-A Political and Civil History of the United States of America, from the Year 1763 to the Close of the Administration of President Washington, in March, 1797; including a summary View of the Political and Civil State of the North American Colonies prior to that Period. By TIMOTHY PITKIN. 2 vols. 8vo. New Haven. 1828. H. Howe.
THIS is the first attempt, we believe, to write a political and civil history of the United States, disconnected from military operations and the general thread of events. The plan has its advantages, but it may perhaps be doubted whether these are predominant. For a class of readers, already well versed in the narrative part of our history, this mode of grouping together and bringing into their proper relations the political incidents has much to recommend it; but this class is small. The mass of people read history mainly to be amused, and they are carried along with the narrative, even when the movements of the machinery of state, and the political acts and designs of rulers, have little in them to quicken interest, or gratify curiosity. There is another objection to this method. History is a series of causes and effects; it is a chain, in which each successive link depends on the preceding; you may call one political, and another military, and another social, yet there is a mutual relation and dependence between them, which cannot be broken without force, or without detriment. You may discuss the policy of a nation, of a particular administration, or of an indiVOL. XXX.-No. 66.
vidual ruler; you may examine political principles, the features of a constitution, the elements of social union, and penetrate as deeply as you will into the mysteries of government and the organization of society; all these topics may be treated to any extent as of separate importance, but when you weave them together into a history, without regarding the great public events of which they are the causes or consequences, you manifestly work at a disadvantage, and are able at last to sketch but an imperfect outline of the picture, which you aim to exhibit in its full proportions and distinctive colors.
It will be seen at once, therefore, that Mr Pitkin has undertaken a difficult task. It must not be understood, however, that he goes to the extreme, which some might infer from his title-page, of separating the political and civil from the other branches of history. He never loses sight of his chief purpose, yet he does not wholly discard narrative where it is essential to the developement of political principles and acts. Philosophical history makes no part of his plan, nor does he often venture into the region of conjecture or speculation; but his primary object is to embody, in as methodical a manner as the subject will admit, the political characteristics of the different forms of government and society, which have existed in this country, froin the time of the first settlement of the colonies, till the retirement of Washington from the presidency. In prosecuting this design he brings under review the early charters, and traces their operation in the several colonies. The proprietary and royal governments are examined in the same manner. At length come the difficulties between the assemblies and governors, or rather between the people and the agents of royalty, which grew up into the causes of the revolution. These are pursued to their results. From that period to the end of his work he manages the abundance of his materials with good judgment, and with a strict adherence to his plan.
Mr Pitkin well observes in his Preface, that no complete history of the British Colonies in America can be written, without consulting the manuscript papers in the offices of the English government. In fact, it would be an absolute waste of time in any person to engage in such an undertaking, till he can have free and full access to this mass of materials. Chalmers had this privilege, and he seems to have used it effectually; but his work embraces a comparatively small part
only of our colonial history, and that by no means the most attractive part. It was hoped, that Congress would take measures to procure copies of these papers, as both the states of Georgia and North Carolina had made application to the general government for this object, in reference to those states. The committee of ways and means, nearly two years ago, reported a bill recommending such a measure, and making provision for procuring copies of all the papers in the English offices, relating to the colonial history of this country. The bill, however, was never heard of more, and lay undisturbed upon the table, till it was swept away amidst the rubbish of forgotten things. Congress have so much to do with the present, that they find no leisure to think of the past. We all love to boast, and even our members of Congress are not loath to proclaim in the halls of legislation, that we are an enlightened, liberal, and improving people; yet the British Parliament make an annual appropriation for printing ancient manuscript records and documents, to more than double the amount it would cost to procure a copy of all the American colonial papers. They have commissioners of their own body appointed on purpose to superintend the selection and publication of these papers. Sir James Mackintosh is an active and zealous member of this board of commissioners. An editor is also appointed, whose business it is to examine the manuscripts, compare the printed sheets with the originals, and execute all the duties, which naturally devolve upon an editor. This is a work in perpetual progress, and will at length become a treasure of great inportance for the future historians of England.
There is probably no nation in civilized Europe so indifferent to its history as the people of the United States; that is, if we may judge of the feelings of the people from the acts of their representatives. Our writers are fond of vague, abstract declamation about our ancestors; but who they were, or what they did, how they thought and how they lived, what influence they had upon their age, or in guiding the destiny that awaited their posterity; these are questions that very few ever dream to be worth investigating. They are, nevertheless, the essence of genuine history, and from them we are to learn, not only to reverence what is good in the characters and deeds of our forefathers, but to enjoy the inheritance they have transmitted to us, and profit by their example. Mere empty declamation about these things comes to nothing, except to puff up our van
ity, and add to our ignorance the ridiculousness of talking pompously about ourselves. It is time for our writers and declaimers to dismiss such puerilities, and betake themselves to the study of history in its stern attribute of truth, and in is dignified office of weighing in the scales of justice the acts of men and the records of ages.
Notwithstanding the difficulty of overcoming the vis inertia of Congress in such a matter as this, which has no bearing on the election of president or amendments of the constitution, yet there is a fair prospect that individuals will accomplish something. Biographies of eminent men, and local histories, are multiplying. These will bring out many facts, which the general historian may one day turn to a good account. It must be confessed, however, that these biographies are for the most part eulogies; and should the future historian rely on these alone for his authority, our descendants of the tenth generation will have the pride of looking back upon the most immaculate cluster of statesmen and heroes, that have adorned the annals of any nation. This is surely better than the contrary, but the best of all is truth. The eulogist is a partial judge of the acts and character of him, whom he sets up as a pattern, and tasks himself to praise. The histories of the different states, which are coming out from time to time, will contribute much to the general stock of materials.*
*We take this opportunity to notice one of the histories of this description, which has recently appeared. We refer to the 'History of Massachusetts, by ALDEN BRADFORD.' This work is a continuation of Hutchinson and Minot, and embraces a very interesting period of the history of the state. It is contained in three volumes, the last of which has just been published. The first volume treats of the time between the years 1764 and 1775, when Washington took the command of the American army; the second pursues the narrative to the beginning of the federal government under the constitution in 1789; and the third comes down to 1820. The author's long employment, as secretary of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, has given him peculiar advantages for examining authentic records and documents; and this, together with his well known love of historical research, ensures a value to these volumes for completeness, accuracy, and fidelity, which few authors have the means of imparting.
Among the periodical works of a historical character, HAZARD'S REGISTER OF PENNSYLVANIA deserves great 'praise. The volumes, that have already appeared, contain a rich fund of useful and important materials. Its purpose is to exhibit the statistics, political and civil transactions, progress of internal improvements, and every kind of useful information relating to Pennsylvania. It is made a