This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.
The Great Festival
Excerpted from the July 6, 1865 Issue
Before this meets the eyes of our readers, the Fourth of July will have been celebrated, and never before have we had such cause of rejoicing. It is not simply the birth of the nation which we now commemorate, but its regeneration. We celebrate not only the close of a long and bloody civil war, but the close of that “irrepressible conflict” which absorbed all the intellect of the country, perverted its understanding, corrupted its morals, and employed most of its moral and mental energy, either in the attack or defence, in the nineteenth century of the Christian era, of one of the worst forms of barbarism;—a conflict which began to exercise a paralyzing influence on industry and to poison social intercourse. We celebrate not simply the national independence, but the close of the agitation about slavery, and the extinction of slavery itself.
It is not simply the triumph of American democracy that we rejoice over, but the triumph of democratic principles everywhere. The vigor of popular government, the prodigious national vitality which it develops and fosters, received its most splendid illustration in our last campaign. There is no believer in the capacity of the human race for greater happiness and greater virtue than it has yet attained, who will not rejoice with us this week. If the conflict of ages, the great strife between the few and the many, between privilege and equality, between law and power, between opinion and the sword, was not closed on the day Lee threw down his arms, the issue was placed beyond doubt.
If we cared to play the slave behind the Consul in his chariot in the triumphal progress, we might say much of the risks we still run, of the stumbling-blocks which still bestrew our path, of the temptations to which we may succumb, or of the thousand sins that will assuredly beset us. We prefer to reserve this less agreeable task to some season when it will be listened to with more attention, and will not damp honorable and fairly won rejoicing. There are few who celebrate the Fourth of July this year, who do not find, in the recent history of their families or those of their friends, reminders that the brightest picture has its dark side. For how many thousands who went forth to hasten the great consummation over which the nation is singing paeans, do the bells ring, and the banners wave, and the music swell in vain!