Sunday, June 26, 2016

Mercy Otis Warren and the Great American Wall

Mercy Otis Warren, the great polemicist historian of the American Revolution, warned in typical republican fashion that the young American state had grown far too large to maintain a civilized republic. As an antidote, she proposed the building of a great "Chinese Wall" along the Appalachian Mountains not so much to keep the Indian tribes out, but to forcibly restrain the American lust for conquest and expansion. As a friend of mine remarked, no word yet on whether the Indians were to pay for the building of the wall.

From her regrettably under-read History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution:
Those subsequent circumstances in American story which have been cursorily mentioned above, suggest the reflection, that it might have been happy for the United States, and happier for the individual “who weeps alone its lot of wo,” if, instead of extending their views over the boundless desert, a Chinese wall had been stretched along the Apalachian ridges, that might have kept the nations within the boundaries of nature. This would have prevented the incalculable loss of life and property, and have checked the lust of territory, wealth, and that ambition which has poured out streams of innocent blood on the forlorn mountains. The lives of our young heroes were too rich a price for the purchase of the acres of the savages, even could the nations be extinguished, who certainly have a prior right to the inheritance: this is a theme on which some future historians may more copiously descant.
The acquisition and possession of territory seems to be a passion inwove in the bosom of man: we see it from the peasant who owns but a single acre, to the prince who commands kingdoms, and wishes to extend his domains over half the globe. This is thought necessary at some times to distance troublesome neighbours, at others to preserve their own independence; but if the spring of action is traced, it may generally be found in the inordinate thirst for the possession of power and wealth.

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