Skip to main content

After Lincoln

ISSUE:  Autumn 1932

The United States Since 1865. By Louis M. Hacker and Benjamin B. Kendrick. New York: F. S. Crofts and Company. $5.00.

The interest of the country and the world in the history of the United States since the great struggle for nationalism, 1861-65, increases with every passing year. It is not unlike the growing curiosity of the wrangling Greek states in the rise of a semi-barbaric power on the banks of the Tiber in the third century before Christ. Nor ought native Americans of our late day to be less concerned with the marvelous story of their own country in recent times.

Shall we know the realities of those checkered years between the death of Lincoln and the fall of Woodrow Wilson? One may doubt. The intimate correspondence of Grant and Sherman, both the general and the politician; of Jay Cooke and J. P. Morgan, more important for a time; of the “wild idealists” from the plains and the hard-boiled realists of the East—all this remains yet in hiding, or has been destroyed. Nor do we know the real thoughts of Lowell, as he bent sadly toward his grave in the eighteen-eighties, or of the cynical Mark Twain, so buffeted by a world which he loved none too well. And as to the submerged old South, calling itself shamefacedly the new South, there is even less of real source material in print or even in available manuscript. And nothing at all is known of the inward reactions of the Negroes to all that happened in that barbaric era between the inauguration of Andrew Johnson and the emergence of William J. Bryan. It is a curious thing that after the first phase of Mr. Beard’s “gilded age,” say 1896, men have written freer autobiography; more private letters have seen the light; and there are official documents by the carload.

I have mentioned these circumstances because the whole country seems to have been ashamed of itself from 1869 to 1897, and because the authors of “The United States Since 1865” have endeavored in three hundred full pages to assess this period for the advanced college student and the layman in the realm of history, to lay bare as much as may be of the truth. They have revealed the spirit of the age with reasonable accuracy, without sectional bias, and with a certain gentle irony which does not injure their work. The meaning of the financial exploitations, of the industrial brutalities and the unconscionable egotisms of a raw age is touched upon; there are even personal touches of Roscoe Conkling and James G. Blaine which add spice to the composite.

As to the United States on the world stage from poor McKinley to the inept Hoover, the authors have enough to say for their space and none of it is out of focus. Their treatment of Roosevelt and Wilson, of Harding and his exploiting fellows, is just and interesting—and these are not unwelcome qualities. One of the best, if the most difficult, chapters is that in which the mechanization of American life is sadly portrayed. It offers a mass of facts and figures which a modern needs to know in spite of the weariness of the flesh which the knowledge entails. The inventions, the discoveries, the wires, and the noises are all tabulated; and the capital, the companies, the mergers, and the speculations take their proper place. One gets the feeling after reading this description that it won’t be long before the American world will be wholly unfit for a quiet contemplative soul.

Of equal importance, although a little out of tone, are the adequate and welcome estimates of literary, intellectual, and artistic performances of the era. “Main Street” and “Babbitt” match on a later page the contributions of Lowell and Howells on an earlier—and the reader feels that the contrast is sufficiently emphasized. Perhaps it would have been too sad for the authors to describe the sorrowful passing of Sidney Lanier and the sense of futility with which Emerson must have closed his career. Thomas Nelson Page does not even appear in the index. But it is a good book all the same.


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading