A Golden Age
We are laying the foundation of happiness for countless millions. Generations yet unborn will bless us for the blood-bought inheritance we are about to bequeath to them. Oh happy times! Oh glorious days!
David Ramsay, Oration on the Advantages
of American Independence, 17781
The drawings at right from a Philadelphia monthly of the 1780s, The Columbian Magazine, typify the symbolic representation of United States as a goddess-like "Columbia" (the land of Columbus) heralding a new dawn of human progress and happiness.2 In both drawings, angel-like figures with outstretched arms appear to offer wisdom and assurance to America. Welcome offerings in the anxious 1780s, when the prospects of "happy times" and "glorious days" seemed to fade.
In the allegory excerpted here, The Golden Age, an angel reassures a young patriot that not only will America flourish, it will fulfill God's plan for mankind. The young man falls asleep on the bank of a stream and is awakened by an angel sent "to resolve certain doubts" he has about America's future. Yes, the colonies had "an indispensable duty" to become independent from Britain. Yes, they will resist tyranny and dissolution from within. From a mountaintop in the continent's center, the angel shows him the cities and farms that will spread across the land and assures him that homelands will be created in the west for Indians and "Negroes." He learns that the dispersed Jewish people will come to America and convert to Christianity, fulfilling part of God's plan for the biblical end time. Representative of a prevalent millennial interpretation of American history, and likely written by a southern Protestant clergyman, this allegory champions America's destiny as "the glorious cause of truth"—the truth of Christianity and God's kingdom on earth. It also reflects the insistent hope nurtured by Americans during the precarious decade of the 1780s. (6 pp.)
- Describe the "future glory of North America" predicted in this allegory. What were its social, political, and theological aspects?
- How was this "golden age" the fulfillment of divine will? What was God's purpose for the new nation, as explained by the angel?
- What is the truth that America would lead the world to embrace?
- How would American churches promote the future golden age?
- How did the anonymous author of The Golden Age justify the American Revolution? How did he criticize the British?
- How did he agree with other commentators in this section that virtue was critical to America's continued independence and stability?
- How did he complete this phrase: "Nothing can ruin America but the _______?" What did he mean?
- What were the unique characteristics
- – of Americans that would sustain their initiative and commitment?
- – of the United States that would protect it from decline and failure?
- How would Native Americans and African Americans live in the "golden age" of North America?
- How would the U.S. fend off foreign threats?
- What would protect the U.S. from internal subversion?
- According to the author, what advantages for American stability lay in the separateness of the thirteen states? Did he disagree that union was essential?
- What concerns did he share with Mercy Otis Warren (Section 2) that would identify him as an anti-Federalist in the debate over the Constitution?
- What suggests that he was a clergyman? perhaps a southerner?
- In your judgment, what was he trying to accomplish?
- In what ways did The Golden Age exhibit Enlightenment ideals within America's evangelical tradition?
- How did it foreshadow the concept of America's "manifest destiny" in the 1800s?
- How did it reflect the image of America as "Columbia" in the drawings from The Columbian Magazine? (slideshow, this page; and see Supplemental Sites). How will America "illuminate the darkest regions of the earth"?
- How does the image of America put forth in 1785 compare with current images of the United States?
- Continue this chart for an overview of the "advantages and disadvantages" of the Revolution as seen by the American and European commentators in this Theme, and to compile their recommendations for the new nation's survival and triumph. What patterns do you find? What issues were stressed as the most urgent?
1 David Ramsay, An Oration on the Advantages of American Independence, 4 July 1778, Charleston, SC. "When I anticipate in imagination the future glory of my country, and the illustrious figure it will soon make on the theatre of the world, my heart distends with generous pride for being an American. . . . Our sun of political happiness is already risen, and hath lifted his head over the mountains, illuminating our hemisphere with liberty, light, and polished life. Our Independence will redeem one quarter of the globe from tyranny and oppression, and consecrate it the chosen seat of truth, justice, freedom, learning, and religion. We are laying the foundation of happiness for countless millions. Generations yet unborn will bless us for the blood-bought inheritance, we are about to bequeath to them. Oh happy times! Oh glorious days!"
2 In the first drawing that includes the first great seal of the United States, the accompanying lines declare that "Science invites; urg'd by the Voice divine, / exert thyself, 'till every Art be thine." In the second drawing, the new Constitution is depicted as a "sacred temple" with the rising sun aglow in the background that will unify the nation and guard its promise: "Where Justice, too, and Peace, by us ador'd / Shall heal each Wrong, / And keep ensheathed the sword." See Supplemental Sites.
Images: frontispiece illustrations (details), The Columbian Magazine, or Monthly Miscellany, Philadelphia, 1788-89. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collection Division, #LC-USZ62-45513, #LC-USZ62-45573.
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