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ANNALS OF EDUCATION
JOURNAL OF LITERARY INSTITUTIONS.
ART. I.-THE STUDY OF AMERICAN HISTORY.
It was an admirable feature in the system of education adopted by the Ancient Romans, to instruct their youth thoroughly in the history of their own country; and in an age when the art of printing was unknown, and when the knowledge of past events was gleaned, entirely from oral tradition, and the imperfect chronicles of the Prætors, we have every reason to believe that it was extensive, accurate, and very commonly diffused. We are authorized to draw this conclusion from the facts, that, in all the productions of this wonderful people, which have floated to us across the ocean of two thousand years, constant reference is made on all occasions, and on all subjects, whether for illustration, argument, or embellishment, to the achievements of their ancestors. They used only Roman materials to point a moral or adorn a tale.' It is proved also from the fact, that we have better histories of those by-gone times, than we possess, in this age of print,' of our own American affairs. Livy and Tacitus have. long been models of historical composition. Rome and her glory was the inexhaustible theme of poets, orators, and historians, and her fame has been immortalized, not more by her deeds, than by the manner in which they were recorded. All this shows the high estimation in which the study was then held. It is a sad truth, that half the students in our literary institutions come forth from their learned halls, with a far better
THIRD SERIES.-VOL. II. NO. J.
knowledge of the history of the perished nations of antiquity, than that of their native country. They resemble merchants, going into the market with a curious collection of ancient coins, without any of the circulating currency of the country. Believing firmly that the study of American History has been hitherto grossly neglected, and that it ought to be an indispensable part of education, we propose, in this article, to set forth the reasons of our opinion, and to offer a few general remarks on historical composition.
Apart from the instinctive curiosity of man to learn something of the people who have lived before him, which is, perhaps, the prevailing motive to study with a majority of readers, history is not wanting in that magic quality, that now recommends everythingeminent utility. For, what is History in its broadest sense? Not surely a mere record of sanguinary wars, or a census of soldiers, or a map of conquered territories, but a correct delineation of the growth and character of nations, as a biography is the history of an individual. It gives to present and future generations all the experience of all their predecessors. We trace in it the progress of the world in arts, in the sciences, and in literature. We read the recorded services of illustrious men, and learn to admire and emulate their example. We learn much of national and municipal law-much indeed of everything useful. It has been remarked by an able writer, that the knowledge of geography which may be acquired from Gibbon's ' Decline and Fall,' is enough fully to repay an attentive perusal. We learn, too, the character, the resources, and the wants of nations. Let an individual study the history of Modern Europe, and, besides enlarging his views of men and things, it will give him a fund of practical information, that he could have drawn from no other source. Its uses may be summed up by saying, that it is the Register of Practical Philosophy. For these reasons, and others which we need not mention, we think our readers will agree with us in placing it among the most interesting and profitable pursuits in which either youth or manhood can be engaged.
We proposed, however, to show some reasons for an increased attention to American History. It is almost a self-evident truth, that the history which most nearly concerns us, must be the most important. It cannot fail to inspire the reader with sentiments of the strongest and purest patriotism. He will feel an honest pride, in contemplating the characters of the great men who have figured in his country's counsels. Having learned the price at which all his civil and religious rights and privileges were purchased, he will know how to estimate their value, and feel the more firmly resolved to preserve the rich inheritance. A traditional story of some high martial achievement, has often exerted a stronger influence in rousing a people from despondency, induced by misfortune or disap
pointment, than all their fortresses and treasures. Why is it that our orators allude, with such exciting effect, to the brilliant deeds of the olden time, unless they know that their sentiments will meet a response in every bosom? Why was it that the Christian world looked with such deep solicitude on the eventful struggle of the Greeks? They remembered that it had been the land of heroes. Mere naked attachment to the soil upon which a man happens to be born, is common to all mankind; it is the remembrance of the thousand things which it has witnessed, that gives to this attachment the hue of passionate enthusiasm, which induces one to thank God that he was born when he was born, and where he was born.' This alone will convert the wish into the resolve, to sustain the high character which our country has acquired. How often do we transfer a portion of our affections to a foreign people, whose ancestors have been distinguished for some seductive trait of character, and how liberal of our loves and counsel,' when threatened with national disaster. How much more important is it that we should feel this strong attachment to our country, and its noble institutions. What strengh does not 'the stirring memory of a thousand years' give to the arm of the patriot, and what wisdom to his counsels! Such we believe to be the potent influence of History, in awakening and cherishing feelings of patriotism.
Ignorance of our history, we regard as conclusive evidence of a neglected education, as bad spelling is of the want of early instruction, and the one will be as infallibly discovered as the other. Our history is a subject of frequent and animated conversation. We have often been mortified at the gross ignorance of young men, in everything that relates to their native country, who were apparently well informed upon other things, of far less moment. They had heard of Yorktown, Saratoga, and the Cowpens-of Green, Montgomery, and Marion; but they only knew that the latter were Generals, and the former were fields of battle. Men, who thus 'know nothing out of their country's history,' must often be mortified for themselves. They They are those who love to ponder upon the forgotten things of antiquity, and turn away from the warm and deep realities of life. We should lightly estimate that statesman's sagacity or ability, whose acquaintance with the history of his own government was limited and superficial. The numbers of the Federalist that standard treatise on governments-will show to what eminent and noble uses historical knowledge has been, and may again, be applied-and how much individuals and nations may profit by the errors of their predecessors.
History creates also a salutary thirst for other kinds of knowledge. As it treats of all subjects, philosophical, political, moralit must of necessity pass so lightly over many, that it only awakens a strong curiosity to examine them more deeply. In tracing the
progress of an army, we do it with the map before us, and a gazetteer by our side. An account of some splendid invention-the steamboat, for instance-is given on a single page, and the reader is driven by the strong impulse of awakened interest to learn something of its author, and his discouragements and disappointmentsto appreciate its amazing results-and to study the invention itself. It gives a new interest to the science. If the age have been marked by the appearance of any wonderful literary production, an appropriate notice of it, in even a miserable compendium, secures to it a multitude of readers.
The boasted constitution of Great Britain, which forms the ground work of our own, is contained in her history, and in nothing but her history. No man can understand it thoroughly, without going back even to the feudal times, when the foundations of that splendid superstructure were laid; and, for the same reason, no one can thoroughly comprehend our own, without some acquaintance both with the annals of England and the United States. He may, it is true, learn the theory of the government from the parchment upon which it is engrossed, and the voluminous commentaries which have been appended to it since its original adoption. But in history, he beholds the theory in practice, and learns more of its extent and meaning, than from volumes of labored dissertations. How often, for instance, have the powers and duties of the President, of both Houses of Congress, and of the Federal Judicial officers, been the subject of long aud learned debates in Congress and in Court. An abstract of these discussions, thrown, as they should be, into the body of a history, would throw more light upon the constitutional functions of these several bodies, than the solitary cogitations of one individual, however erudite or industrious. From the trial of Judge Chase, would be seen by what tenure judicial offices are held, and for what malversations Judges are liable to impeachment. The cases of Fries and Burr would show the law of treason, the rights of States, and of the Union.
It is among the highest privileges and most important duties of an American citizen, that he is periodically allowed and called upon to express his opinions, though the exercise of his right of suffrage, upon public measures, and on questions of public policy. And though there may be occasional appeals to private interests, and though our political contests may sometimes degenerate into acrimonious controversies respecting men, rather than measures, yet, higher considerations of a public nature, never fail to mingle, more or less, in all our periodical elections. The great body of our intelligent men, we trust, are usually swayed by motives of patriotism, alloyed, it is true, by the dross of self-interest; but they have referred to their country's history, and learned when measures were proposed, and by whom-they also have been advocated,
whether by statesmen of great sagacity, foresight, and experience, or by rash experimentalists and innovators, and what has been their tendency and influence, upon the character and interests of the Union. They have drawn their knowledge from a copious and clear fountain. He is certainly to be pitied, who has formed his opinion upon questions of great public moment, solely from the partial and delusive statements of party pamphlets. Much has been said of late years respecting the duties of American citizens; we believe that the best preparation for the conscientious discharge of them is, to keep steadily in their eye the beacon-fire of history, which, while it illumines the vast tract of departed time, throws its admonitory rays far into the future.
Such are some of the reasons which have induced us thus urgently to recommend the study of American History; and these are sufficient, we trust, to show its general utility. Indeed there are few who will oppose either our arguments or conclusions---but too many alas! who will yield them a cold and spiritless assent. We wish to make ardent converts to the doctrine-to raise the study in the estimation of scholars and instructors, that education may be useful rather than showy-to exalt it to its proper rank, to the exclusion of less solid pursuits, if necessary, in our academies and colleges. Let it hold a prominent place in the regular routine of academical studies. Let the teacher-not satisfied with the disconnected facts which may be gleaned from the imperfect compendia of the day-strive to imbue his pupils with the spirit of history. Let it be a subject of occasional conversation. The rule of Quinctilian, to propose historical themes for the first exercises of boys in composition,' is worthy of all acceptation.' If any of our readers, who have followed us thus far, are satisfied that no higher rank has been here assigned to this pursuit, than justly belongs to it, we trust they will use their influence to promote a more correct and extensive knowledge of American History.
We must acknowledge, however, with deep humiliation, that in carrying this system into practice, we are obliged to encounter an unlooked-for obstacle-the want of any standard work on American History. We have, indeed, abundant details of the stormy events of the Revolution, and many of a high grade of excellence. But from the death of Washington, to the present time, our history is almost a blank ! There is not to be found in our libraries, a single well written, copious and connected account of the great events that have happened since that period, if we except the innumerable sketches of the operations in the late war, of every style, and of every size. In a certain book we have read, which purports to be A History of the United States,' and is commonly used as a school book, the whole administration of the elder Adams is dispatched in a single page! There is not a fairer field for an