We at The Almanac try to keep entries pegged to events that happened within the 150 years that The Nation has been around—yesterday’s post on the 155th birthday of the writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman notwithstanding—but July 4 is too momentous a date to take up with some such a post-1865 event, non-triviality though it is, as the birth of the great Bill Withers (in 1938). July 4, 1776, of course, has the great distinction of having been the day that came after the day that came after the day on which the Declaration of Independence was signed, announcing to the world that these colonies were and of right ought to be free and independent states. Eighty-nine years later, a bloody Civil War had been fought to eradicate slavery and patch the Union back together. The Nation’s first issue, published 150 years ago on July 6, contained an editorial ruminating over the significance of the first Independence Day celebrated after the close of the Civil War. An excerpt is below, but it is really worth reading in full, as it gives a sense, as movingly as any document we’ve seen, of what that summer of 1865 must have felt like, a few months after freedom and the Union had been reborn.
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 the contest which preceded and led to it, that, as it was well called, “irrepressible conflict,” which for half a century 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, too, which, during the last twenty years, began to exercise a paralyzing influence on industry and to poison social intercourse…. We celebrate, in short, not simply the national independence, or the return of peace, but the close of the agitation about slavery, and the extinction of slavery itself. How tremendous an influence this fact is likely to have on our moral and intellectual progress, we can now only conjecture.
To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.