Gloom, Gloom, Gloom, And Scarce One Ray Of Light

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He grew old in an age he condemned,
Felt the dissolving throes
Of a Social order he loved,
And, like Theban seer,
Died in his enemies’ day.

Charles Eliot Norton, like Godkin, interpreted the Spanish-American War and its aftermath as final proof that his early hopes for a special American destiny had been in vain. Amid the popular enthusiasm aroused by early American victories in Cuba and at Manila Bay, he advised students not to enlist (familiar note!) and declared before an audience in Cambridge that the United States had rashly:

hurried into war, and … she who more than any other land was pledged to peace and goodwill on earth, unsheathes her sword, compels a weak and unwilling nation to a fight, rejecting without due consideration her earnest and repeated offers to meet every legitimate demand of the United States. It is a bitter disappointment to the lover of his country; it is a turning-back from the path of civilization to that of barbarism.

Godkin and Norton were among those nineteenth-century idealists who had hoped, like the Puritans of the seventeenth century, that America would be a city set on a hill—a state and civilization that would attract the admiration of and serve as an example to the world. Despite disappointments, these two remarkable men, schooled in the genteel tradition, were never able to resist the lingering hope that America might yet be saved, and they flattered themselves that men such as they might yet create in the distant future a superior civilization in America. In 1902—with Americans in control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines—Norton counselled his friends not to give up:

While all the congregation of the children of Israel are wandering in the wilderness of Sin … we, the little remnant of the house of Judah that has escaped, must comfort one another as best we may…we are defeated for the time; but the war is not ended, and we are enlisted for the war.