Page images
PDF
EPUB

of such an endless variety of party names, often amusing and always puzzling, that it is no easy task to form a sound judgment upon public affairs. It is not only the diversity of opinions which embarrasses the stranger, but also the violence with which the Americans frequently put forward their political views. It is not merely the animosity of parties which strikes him, but equally the vehemence of the attacks often directed against the President and his Cabinet, against the highest authorities, civil and military.

Sometimes the elections, always warmly contested, appear as if they would end in a general overthrow; and be it borne in mind that they are of such constant occurrence as to seem both endless and perpetual.

Every man forms upon every subject his own judgment, to which he gives full and free utterance. In the railway may be seen the labourer or the artisan conning over his paper with evident relish. If spoken to, he will give his opinion upon political subjects without any hesitation. He will discuss freely the policy of the President, the last despatch of the Secretary of State, the proposition of one of the senators, the tactics of a general, or any other matter of public interest. He minces neither his praise nor his blame, as the case may be; for he considers himself as one of the sovereign people judging men of the people's choice. If a stranger from the Old World should hint that he would do better to attend more to his own work and less to politics, the American's wonder at such an idea would change quickly into something like pity for his foreign fellow-traveller, in whom he would see but a serf of feudal Europe, which he pictures to himself as in the last stage of decrepitude.

As to the contents of American papers, whose name is legion, the result of their perusal upon the newlyarrived stranger is that of confusion worse confounded. One journal paints the character and policy of the President and his Cabinet in colours so black that they might be supposed, without any great stretch of imagination, to be monsters of scarcely human origin sitting in the high places of Washington, itself little better than an earthly pandemonium. Another draws these same personages in characters of beatific perfection, worthy of angelic messengers directing a federal government in possession of a terrestrial paradise. Should the stranger reasonably conceive both of these pictures somewhat overdrawn, he will find numberless writers and speakers representing every shade of opinion which can possibly lie between these two extremes. He has only to choose; but there lies the difficulty.

Yet this very country, the surface of whose public life presents so much apparent confusion and disorder, has just traversed victoriously one of the most terrible crises to which a nation has ever been exposed. It has presented to the world the marvellous spectacle of its people going through the great political contest of a presidential election in the midst of a civil war which threatened the very existence of the State-a war which covered with vast armies an extent of territory the size of half Europe, which cost tens of thousands of lives and millions of money. The national laws and liberties have, notwithstanding, survived intact. Generals in all the prestige of victory, commanding numerous and disciplined armies, have respected the constitution and bowed to the authority of the civil power. During the war people continued to discuss public affairs. Elections, campaigns, expeditions, defeats, victories, followed in rapid and constant succession ; but the final result was the complete victory of the United States government, crowned by a moderation of which history offers but few examples. What was the cause of this result, so little anticipated by the enemies of the American Republic? Whence sprang that deep devotion to the Federal Union which led the majority of the nation to lavish upon its government the means for crushing the violent attack upon its authority ?

One of its chief sources is the love of his country's institutions which the American drinks in from his earliest childhood. That love is inculcated equally at home, at school, and at college. It plays a very important part in the educational system of the United States of America, constitutes in a great measure their strength, and produces results of vast importance to the country. In order thoroughly to appreciate the extent of its influence in the formation of the national character, it is necessary to touch upon the leading features of this system of public instruction.' Spreading itself over the length and breadth of the land, it embraces all classes, from the richest to the

poorest, throughout the whole of the Northern States. In the South it has not received the same full development, and has been far less generally encouraged. It is worthy of remark that the Federal Congress at Washington has absolutely nothing whatever to do with the system of education-a most singular and abnormal fact according to the ideas prevalent in European countries. It is, indeed, the exception when even the legislature of a particular State interferes in the matter of schools. In new States, however, where the population is still scanty, the legislature of the State sometimes aids by grants of land or money. To the township belongs the real management of its popular instruction. In each township a Committee of Education is elected by the inhabitants, which votes and levies the money destined to this object; to it belongs the regulation of all details, such as the erection and maintenance of the school-buildings, the appointment of masters and mistresses, their salaries, the selection of school-books, and the method of instruction to be followed. Another marked feature in the system is the absolute prohibition of all denominational religious teaching—that is, of all doctrinal or dogmatical instruction characteristic of any particular church. That general morality which is common to all religious denominations is alone permitted, but all dogmas are forbidden. In many, perhaps the majority of schools, the Lord's prayer or a psalm is read daily at the opening of the school, but it is not allowed to make this practice the occasion for giving religious instruction. The school committee of the township decide whether or not such a practice is to be followed in the schools under its authority. The object of this exclusion of all dogmatic teaching is, to avoid the innumerable difficulties arising from difference of religious views; the questions which spring from such difference creating almost insuperable obstacles to the establishment of a really effective system of national education. All such difficulties are thus got rid of. The religious instruction of the children is left exclusively to the parents and to the Sunday schools. These latter are completely in the hands of the various religious bodies, all of whom are wholly unconnected with the State, and entirely supported by the voluntary contributions of their respective members.

As to the quality of the instruction given under this system of public education, it may be said, without exaggeration, not to be surpassed in excellence oy that of any country. The greatest attention is paid in the teaching of those elementary matters which lie at the foundation of all instruction, and which form by far the most difficult part of education; the tender age of the children, and the great simplicity of the primary notions to be taught them, requiring all the tact, gentleness, and patience of which the teacher is capable. Nor does the care thus taken at all fall off in the instruction given to the elder pupils. So deeply have the native-born Americans become convinced of the excellence of a sound education, (especially throughout the Northern and Western States, where such a feeling is universal, and where

« PreviousContinue »