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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

The Westerner was born a fighter


By

such an attitude the Federalists destroyed only themselves. Some of the wiser among them left the party on this issue, notably John Quincey Adams, son of the second President of the United States, and himself to be raised later, under somewhat disastrous circumstances, to the same position. The rump that remained true, not to their principles but rather to their vendetta, could make no headway against a virtually unanimous nation. They merely completed and endorsed the general judgment on their party by an act of suicide.

But the chief historical importance of the Louisiana purchase lies in the fact that it gave a new and for long years an unlimited scope to that irresistible movement of expansion westward which is the key to all that age in American history. In the new lands a new kind of American was growing up. Within a generation he was to come by his own; and a Westerner in the chair of Washington was to revolutionize the Commonwealth.

Of the governing conditions of the West, two stand out as of especial importance to history.

One was the presence of unsubdued and hostile Indian tribes. Ever since that extraordinary man, Daniel Boon (whose strange career would make an epic for which there is no room in this book), crossed the Alleghanies a decade before the beginning of the Revolution and made an opening for the white race into the rich valleys of Kentucky, the history

of the western frontier of European culture had been a cycle of Indian wars. The native race had not yet been either tamed or corrupted by civilization. Powerful chiefs still ruled great territories as independent potentates, and made peace and war with the white men on equal terms. From such a condition it followed that courage and skill in arms were in the West not merely virtues and accomplishments to be admired, but necessities which a man must acquire or perish. The Westerner was born a fighter, trained as a fighter, and the fighting instinct was ever dominant in him. So also was the instinct of loyalty to his fellow-citizens, a desperate, necessary loyalty as to comrades in a besieged city--as, indeed, they often were.

The other condition was the product partly of natural circumstances and partly of that wise stroke of statesmanship which had pledged the new lands in trust to the whole Confederacy. The Westerner was American--perhaps he was the first absolutely instinctive American. The older States looked with much pride to a long historical record which stretched back far beyond the Union into colonial times. The Massachusetts man would still boast of the Pilgrim Fathers. The Virginian still spoke lovingly of the "Old Plantation." But Kentucky and Tennessee, Ohio and Indiana were children of the Union. They had grown to statehood within it, and they had no memories outside it. They were peopled from all the old States, and the pioneers who peopled them were hammered into an intense and instinctive homogeneity by the constant need of fighting together against savage nature and savage man. Thus, while in the older settlements one man was conscious above all things that he was a New Englander, and another that he was a Carolinian, the Western pioneer was primarily conscious that he was a white man and not a Red Indian, nay, often that he was a man and not a grizzly bear. Hence grew up in the West that sense of national unity which was to be the inspiration of so many celebrated Westerners of widely different types and opinions, of Clay, of Jackson, of Stephen Douglas, and of Abraham Lincoln.


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