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The Pilgrim, And The American Of Today–1892
by [?]

It were not worth while for me to come a thousand miles to say this, or to draw over again for the hundredth time the character of the New England Pilgrim, nor to sketch his achievement on this continent. But it is pertinent to recall his spirit, his attitude toward life, and to inquire what he would probably do in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

It is another December night, before the dawn of a new year. And this night still symbolizes the future. You have subdued a continent, and it stands in the daylight radiant with a material splendor of which the Pilgrims never dreamed. Yet a continent as dark, as unknown, exists. It is yourselves, your future, your national life. The other continent was made, you had only to discover it, to uncover it. This you must make yourselves.

We have finished the outline sketch of a magnificent nation. The territory is ample; it includes every variety of climate, in the changing seasons, every variety of physical conformation, every kind of production suited to the wants, almost everything desired in the imagination, of man. It comes nearer than any empire in history to being self-sufficient, physically independent of the rest of the globe. That is to say, if it were shut off from the rest of the world, it has in itself the material for great comfort and civilization. And it has the elements of motion, of agitation, of life, because the vast territory is filling up with a rapidity unexampled in history. I am not saying that isolated it could attain the highest civilization, or that if it did touch a high one it could long hold it in a living growth, cut off from the rest of the world. I do not believe it. For no state, however large, is sufficient unto itself. No state is really alive in the highest sense whose receptivity is not equal to its power to contribute to the world with which its destiny is bound up. It is only at its best when it is a part of the vital current of movement, of sympathy, of hope, of enthusiasm of the world at large. There is no doctrine so belittling, so withering to our national life, as that which conceives our destiny to be a life of exclusion of the affairs and interests of the whole globe, hemmed in to the selfish development of our material wealth and strength, surrounded by a Chinese wall built of strata of prejudice on the outside and of ignorance on the inside. Fortunately it is a conception impossible to be realized.

There is something captivating to the imagination in being a citizen of a great nation, one powerful enough to command respect everywhere, and so just as not to excite fear anywhere. This proud feeling of citizenship is a substantial part of a man’s enjoyment of life; and there is a certain compensation for hardships, for privations, for self-sacrifice, in the glory of one’s own country. It is not a delusion that one can afford to die for it. But what in the last analysis is the object of a government? What is the essential thing, without which even the glory of a nation passes into shame, and the vastness of empire becomes a mockery? I will not say that it is the well-being of every individual, because the term well-being–the ‘bien etre’ of the philosophers of the eighteenth century–has mainly a materialistic interpretation, and may be attained by a compromise of the higher life to comfort, and even of patriotism to selfish enjoyment.

That is the best government in which the people, and all the people, get the most out of life; for the object of being in this world is not primarily to build up a government, a monarchy, an aristocracy, a democracy, or a republic, or to make a nation, but to live the best sort of life that can be lived.