The history of our country from its discovery at near the close of the fifteenth century, until the time when European colonies planted here, were forming that political union for mutual defence which speedily crystallized into the grand form of an independent nation late in the eighteenth century.
In the course of these investigations, we see how the allurements of science, human enterprise, a lust for dominion and power, and the greed of individuals, impelled men to spend fortunes and risk their lives in making voyages of discovery along the coasts of the American continent, from the regions of the frozen ocean to those under the equator; also among the islands that lie in American waters within the tropic of Cancer. We see how the monarchs and navigators of Spain, Portugal, France and England struggled for the honors and emoluments to be derived from such discoveries; how the Spaniards extended their dominions by force over the islands and coasts of the western world in the space of a few years, by the help of the Roman Pontiff, and obtained the mastery over vast and fertile regions in the warm zone, while the French, English and Dutch discovered and took possession of extensive domains in the temperate zone and far toward the verge of the Arctic Circle.
These great movements were made in the "fullness of time," as if in preparation for that expansion of the human intellect and those wonderful human achievements which had then begun in Europe. Geographical science was then a favorite study, and the cosmographers were enthusiasts in the field of speculative philosophy founded upon that science. Stimulated by the few revelations of the learning of the East which commerce had brought into Europe, men were impelled to make those great discoveries on the surface of our planet, which were soon succeeded by the marvels revealed by the newly-found telescope, by which astronomy was released from the dull chrysalis of astrology and allowed to soar into the higher regions of celestial truths.
Then followed the era of settlements. To this end, desire for winning riches was the first powerful impulse given to men and women that led them to make the sacrifice. It was soon followed by the higher motives which were born of aspirations for personal, intellectual and spiritual liberty, at a time when the tocsin or alarm-bell of the Reformation had aroused the powers of church and state into the most active opposition to everything which seemed to endanger their absolute domination. These motives led to the plantation of devotees of freedom in isolated communities all along the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to Florida.
Then followed the gradual change of settlements into colonies. We have seen how many of these settlements seemed, at first, to be only temporary asylums from the grasp of oppression, or the abiding-place of men until they should get sufficient wealth to return to their native land and live in ease. But many of them, contrary to their early promise, became permanent colonies, whose members determined to make America their final earthly abode. We have traced the progress of these colonies, step by step, from their inception. We have seen how the spirit of liberty which pervaded these communities led them by cautious methods to assert their right to the exercise of self-government. New political ideas were then stirring the popular mind in Europe, and bold thinkers were expressing them audibly and through the new-born printing-press. These were the seeds of republicanism which, when wafted to America, found here a congenial soil. These ideas took vigorous root, as we have seen, in every community, and flourished even among the sour elements of theological controversy and the persecution of bigots. They were made vigorous by the peculiar circumstances of the colonists, among whom existed affinities of race, language, and Christian tenets of great strength, and they were accustomed to common political institutions and thought. These formed the groundwork in the structure of each colony for union, and composed the broad foundations of the nation that was finally developed.
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