Margaret Fuller: America, with no prouder emblem than the Dove
From Fourth of July (1845)
The bells ring; the cannon rouse the echoes along the river shore; the boys sally forth with shouts and little flags, and crackers enough to frighten all the people they meet from sunrise to sunset. The orator is conning for the last time the speech in which he has vainly attempted to season with some new spice the yearly panegyric upon our country; its happiness and glory; the audience is putting on its best bib and tucker, and its blandest expression to listen.
And yet, no heart, we think, can beat to-day with one pulse of genuine, noble joy. Those who have obtained their selfish objects will not take especial pleasure in thinking of them to-day, while to unbiassed minds must come sad thoughts of national honor soiled in the eyes of other nations, of a great inheritance risked, if not forfeited.
Much has been achieved in this country since the Declaration of Independence. America is rich and strong; she has shown great talent and energy; vast prospects of aggrandizement open before her. But the noble sentiment which she expressed in her early youth is tarnished; she has shown that righteousness is not her chief desire, and her name is no longer a watchword for the highest hopes to the rest of the world. She knows this, but takes it very easily; she feels that she is growing richer and more powerful, and that seems to suffice her.
These facts are deeply saddening to those who can pronounce the words “my country” with pride and peace only so far as steadfast virtues, generous impulses, find their home in that country. They cannot be satisfied with superficial benefits, with luxuries and the means of obtaining knowledge which are multiplied for them. They could rejoice in full hands and a busy brain, if the soul were expanding and the heart pure; but, the higher conditions being violated, what is done cannot be done for good.
Such thoughts fill patriot minds as the cannon-peal bursts upon the ear. This year, which declares that the people at large consent to cherish and extend slavery as one of our “domestic institutions,” takes from the patriot his home. This year, which attests their insatiate love of wealth and power, quenches the flame upon the altar.
We know not where to look for an example of all or many of the virtues we would seek from the man who is to begin the new dynasty that is needed of fathers of the country. The country needs to be born again; she is polluted with the lust of power, the lust of gain. She needs fathers good enough to be godfathers — men who will stand sponsors at the baptism with all they possess, with all the goodness they can cherish, and all the wisdom they can win, to lead this child the way she should go, and never one step in another. Are there not in schools and colleges the boys who will become such men? Are there not those on the threshold of manhood who have not yet chosen the broad way into which the multitude rushes, led by the banner on which, strange to say, the royal Eagle is blazoned, together with the word Expediency? Let them decline that road, and take the narrow, thorny path where Integrity leads, though with no prouder emblem than the Dove. They may there find the needed remedy, which, like the white root, detected by the patient and resolved Odysseus, shall have power to restore the herd of men, disguised by the enchantress to whom they had willingly yielded in the forms of brutes, to the stature and beauty of men.