For many years I have contemplated writing a history of the United States in a single volume, that should fall between the elaborate works, which are beyond the reach of most busy people, and the condensed school histories, which are emasculated of all literary style through the necessity of crowding so many facts into small space.
In writing this history my aim has been to present an accurate narrative of the origin and growth of our country and its institutions in such a form as to interest the general reader. I have constantly borne in mind the great importance of combining the science of historical research with the art of historical composition. I have aimed also, especially when treating the national period, to balance the narrative and critical features in intelligent proportion. A mere recital of facts, without historic criticism, without reference to the undercurrents that move society, is no longer acceptable in this age of thinking readers.
I have endeavored to write, as stated, for the general reader, but not with a patronizing form of expression, as if addressed to the uneducated, or to children, nor with a burden of worthless incident and detail, nor yet with any effort to please those who delight only in the spectacular. At the same time, knowing that many intelligent people who wish to know something of their country are not fond of reading history, I have given careful attention to style, in the hope that the book might be easy and pleasurable to read, as well as instructive.
I have devoted much space to the life of the people, -- their habits, modes of life, occupations, general progress, and the like, especially in the earlier period when they differed most widely from ourselves. But in treating the national period I have, however, without neglecting the industrial and social features, given greater space to political and constitutional development, as in this the life of a people who govern themselves is epitomized.
In my treatment of wars and disputes with foreign powers, I am aware that, with all my effort to view a subject from a neutral, judicial standpoint, an unconscious bias may be discerned; but should the book find any foreign readers, I beg them to remember that I have written absolutely sine ira.
In treating the Civil War and the great events that led to it, I have taken the utmost care to be fair to both sides; though as a native and resident of the North I no doubt partake of the prejudice of my section, if such prejudice can still be said to exist. I have refrained from using the terms "rebel" and "traitor" to designate those who rose in rebellion against the government, because of my profound respect for their sincerity.
One subject -- American literature -- I had hoped to treat with greater fullness; but I found that an adequate treatment of this very important subject would require too great a space for the scope of this volume. It is therefore recommended that this phase of our history be studied in separate works devoted to the purpose.1
The notes at the ends of the chapters are intended to elucidate something that has preceded in the text, to give personal traits of leading characters, to mention matters of too meager importance for the main narrative, or, as in many cases, to relate some event of real importance which did not exactly fit in the body of the text.
In preparing this work I have had frequent recourse to the original sources, but make no pretense that the work is based wholly, or even chiefly, on original research. I have freely used the works of other writers. A large number of these have been cited in the footnotes for the purpose of aiding the reader who desires to pursue the subject further, or to acknowledge an obligation to an author whose thought or form of expression has been, in some measure, adopted. Much information, however, has been gathered from sources not herein mentioned.
That the work may be accepted as authoritative throughout, I have exercised the utmost care to secure historic accuracy; but absolute accuracy is not always attainable, especially where points are under dispute, and where such a great number of subjects are to be treated. The pointing out of any errors by the reader will be deemed a kindness.
My thanks are due to many kind friends for suggestions; to various librarians in Philadelphia and New York for special courtesies; to Mr. Stewart Culing, former curator and Indian specialist of the University of Pennsylvania, who kindly read and criticised the chapter dealing with the Indian character. Above all, I am indebted to Professor Herman V. Ames of the University of Pennsylvania, who read the greater portion of the manuscript and made many important suggestions. To his thorough scholarship and ripe judgment I have deferred in many instances.
H. W. B.