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Certain Diversities Of American Life
by [?]

There is no place where I would choose to speak more plainly of our national situation today than in the South, and at the University of the South; in the South, because it is more plainly in a transition state, and at the University of the South, because it is here and in similar institutions that the question of the higher or lower plane of life in the South is to be determined.

To a philosophical observer of the Republic, at the end of the hundred years, I should say that the important facts are not its industrial energy, its wealth, or its population, but the stability of the federal power, and the integrity of the individual States. That is to say, that stress and trial have welded us into an indestructible nation; and not of less consequence is the fact that the life of the Union is in the life of the States. The next most encouraging augury for a great future is the marvelous diversity among the members of this republican body. If nothing would be more speedily fatal to our plan of government than increasing centralization, nothing would be more hopeless in our development than increasing monotony, the certain end of which is mediocrity.

Speaking as one whose highest pride it is to be a citizen of a great and invincible Republic to those whose minds kindle with a like patriotism, I can say that I am glad there are East and North and South, and West, Middle, Northwest, and Southwest, with as many diversities of climate, temperament, habits, idiosyncrasies, genius, as these names imply. Thank Heaven we are not all alike; and so long as we have a common purpose in the Union, and mutual toleration, respect, and sympathy, the greater will be our achievement and the nobler our total development, if every section is true to the evolution of its local traits. The superficial foreign observer finds sameness in our different States, tiresome family likeness in our cities, hideous monotony in our villages, and a certain common atmosphere of life, which increasing facility of communication tends to increase. This is a view from a railway train. But as soon as you observe closely, you find in each city a peculiar physiognomy, and a peculiar spirit remarkable considering the freedom of movement and intercourse, and you find the organized action of each State sui generis to a degree surprising considering the general similarity of our laws and institutions. In each section differences of speech, of habits of thought, of temperament prevail. Massachusetts is unlike Louisiana, Florida unlike Tennessee, Georgia is unlike California, Pennsylvania is unlike Minnesota, and so on, and the unlikeness is not alone or chiefly in physical features. By the different style of living I can tell when I cross the line between Connecticut and New York as certainly as when I cross the line between Vermont and Canada. The Virginian expanded in Kentucky is not the same man he was at home, and the New England Yankee let loose in the West takes on proportions that would astonish his grandfather. Everywhere there is a variety in local sentiment, action, and development. Sit down in the seats of the State governments and study the methods of treatment of essentially the common institutions of government, of charity and discipline, and you will be impressed with the variety of local spirit and performance in the Union. And this, diversity is so important, this contribution of diverse elements is so necessary to the complex strength and prosperity of the whole, that one must view with alarm all federal interference and tendency to greater centralization.

And not less to be dreaded than monotony from the governmental point of view, is the obliteration of variety in social life and in literary development. It is not enough for a nation to be great and strong, it must be interesting, and interesting it cannot be without cultivation of local variety. Better obtrusive peculiarities than universal sameness. It is out of variety as well as complexity in American life, and not in homogeneity and imitation, that we are to expect a civilization noteworthy in the progress of the human race.