H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
establishing the state university at Bloomington,13 provided that it should instruct the youth of the new commonwealth (it had been admitted to the Union in 1816) in the American, learned and foreign languages and literature. Such grandiose pronunciamentos well indicate and explain the temper of the era.14 It was a time of expansion and braggadocio. The new republic would not only produce a civilization and a literature of its own; it would show the way for all other civilizations and literatures. Rufus Wilmot Griswold, the enemy of Poe, rose from his decorous Baptist pew to protest that so much patriotism amounted to insularity and absurdity, but there seems to have been no one to second the motion. The debate upon the Oregon question gave a gaudy chance to the new breed of super-patriots, and they raged unchecked until the time of the Civil War. Thornton, in his Glossary, quotes a typical speech in Congress, the subject being the American eagle and the orator being the Hon. Samuel C. Pomeroy, of Kansas. I give a few strophes:
The proudest bird upon the mountain is upon the American ensign, and not one feather shall fall from her plumage there. She is American in design, and an emblem of wildness and freedom. I say again, she has not perched herself upon American standards to die there. Our great western valleys were never scooped out for her burial place. Nor were the everlasting, untrodden mountains piled for her monument. Niagara shall not pour her endless waters for her requiem; nor shall our ten thousand rivers weep to the ocean in eternal tears. No, sir, no! Unnumbered voices shall come up from river, plain, and mountain, echoing the songs of our triumphant deliverance, wild lights from a thousand hill-tops will betoken the rising of the sun of freedom.
The vast shock of the Civil War, with its harsh disillusions, unhorsed the optimists for a space, and little was heard from them for some time thereafter. But while the Jackson influence survived and the West was being conquered, it was the unanimous conviction of all good Americans that he who dallies is a dastard, and he who doubts is damned.
Note 13. It is curious to note that the center of population of the United States, according to the census of 1910, was in southern Indiana, in the western part of Bloomington city, Monroe county. Cf. The Language We Use, by Alfred Z. Reed, New York Sun, March 13, 1918. [back]
Note 14. Support also came from abroad. Czar Nicholas I, of Russia, smarting under his defeat in the Crimea, issued an order that his own state papers should be prepared in Russian and Americannot English. [back]