kitchen table math, the sequel: What people used to be able to read

What people used to be able to read

Passages from McGuffey's Sixth Eclectic Reader (presumably high school level) and The Last of the Mohicans, which was a bestseller (see: What people used to be able to read).


One of the most prominent features which distinguished our forefathers, was their determined resistance to oppression. They seemed born and brought up for the high and special purpose of showing to the world that the civil and religious rights of man--the rights of self-government, of conscience, and independent thought--are not merely things to be talked of and woven into theories, but to be adopted with the whole strength and ardor of the mind, and felt in the profoundest recesses of the heart, and carried out into the general life, and made the foundation of practical usefulness, and visible beauty, and true nobility.

Liberty, with them, was an object of too serious desire and stern resolve to be personified, allegorized, and enshrined. They made no goddess of it, as the ancients did; they had no time nor inclination for such trifling; they felt that liberty was the simple birthright of every human creature; they called it so; they claimed it as such; they reverenced and held it fast as the unalienable gift of the Creator, which was not to be surrendered to power, nor sold for wages.

It was theirs, as men; without it they did not esteem themselves men; more than any other privilege or possession, it was essential to their happiness, for it was essential to their original nature; and therefore they preferred it above wealth, and ease, and country; and, that they might enjoy and exercise it fully, they forsook houses, and lands and kindred, their homes, their native soil, and their fathers’ graves.

They left all these; they left England, which whatever it might have been called, was not to them a land of freedom; they launched forth on the pathless ocean, the wide, fathomless ocean, soiled not by the earth beneath, and bounded, all round and above, only by heaven; and it seemed to them like that better and sublimer freedom, which their country knew not, but of which they had the conception and image in their hearts; and, after a toilsome and painful voyage, they came to a hard and wintry coast, unfruitful and desolate, but unguarded and boundless; its calm silence interrupted not the ascent of their prayers; it had no eyes to watch, no ears to hearken no tongues to report of them; here, again, there was an answer to their soul’s desire, and they were satisfied, and gave thanks; they saw that they were free, and the desert smiled.

I am telling an old tale; but it is one which must be told when we speak of those men. It is to be added, that they transmitted their principles to their children and that, peopled by such a race, our country was always free. So long as its inhabitants were unmolested by the mother country in the exercise of their important rights, they submitted to the form of English government; but when those rights were invaded, they spurned even the form away.

This act was the Revolution, which came of course and spontaneously, and had nothing in it of the wonderful or unforeseen. The wonder would have been if it had not occurred. It was, indeed, a happy and glorious event, but by no means unnatural; and I intend no slight to the revered actors in the Revolution when I assert that their fathers before them were as free as they—every whit as free.

The principles of the Revolution were not the suddenly acquired property of a few bosoms: they were abroad in the land in the ages before; they had always been taught, like the truths of the Bible; they had descended from father to son, down from those primitive days, when the Pilgrim, established in his simple dwelling, and seated at his blazing fire piled high from the forest which shaded his door, repeated to his listening children the story of his wrongs and his resistance, and bade them rejoice, though the wild winds and the wild beasts were howling without, that they had nothing to fear from great men’s oppressions.

Here are the beginnings of the Revolution. Every settler’s hearth was a school of independence; the scholars were apt, and the lessons sunk deeply; and thus it came that our country was always free; it could not be other than free.

As deeply seated as was the principle of liberty and resistance to arbitrary power in the breasts of the Puritans, it was not more so than their piety and sense of religious obligation. They were emphatically a people whose God was the Lord. Their form of government was as strictly theocratical, if direct communication be excepted as was that of the Jews; insomuch that it would be difficult to say where there was any civil authority among them entirely distinct from ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

Whenever a few of them settled a town, they immediately gathered themselves into a church; and their elders were magistrates, and their code of laws was the Pentateuch. These were forms, it is true, but forms which faithfully indicated principles and feelings; for no people could have adopted such forms, who were not thoroughly imbued with the spirit, and bent on the practice, of religion.

God was their King; and they regarded him as truly and literally so, as if he had dwelt in a visible palace in the midst of their state. They were his devoted, resolute, humble subjects; they undertook nothing which they did not beg of him to prosper; they accomplished nothing without rendering to him the praise; they suffered nothing without carrying their sorrows to his thrown; they ate nothing which they did not implore him to bless.

Their piety was not merely external; it was sincere; it had the proof of a good tree in bearing good fruit; it produced and sustained a strict morality. Their tenacious purity of manners and speech obtained for them, in the mother country, their name of Puritans, which, though given in derision, was as honorable an appellation as was ever bestowed by man on man.

That there were hypocrites among them, is not to be doubted; but they were rare. The men who voluntarily exiled themselves to an unknown coast, and endured there every toil and hardship for conscience’ sake, and that they might serve God in their own manner, were not likely to set conscience at defiance, and make the service of God a mockery; they were not likely to be, neither were they, hypocrites. I do not know that it would be arrogating too much for them to say, that, on the extended surface of the globe, there was not a single community of men to be compared with them, in the respects of deep religious impressions and an exact performance of moral duty.

F. W. P. Greenwood
McGuffey’s 6th Eclectic Reader, Revised Edition
pp. 223-226

From The Last of the Mohicans, Chapter 1:

It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet. A wide and apparently an impervious boundary of forests severed the possessions of the hostile provinces of France and England. The hardy colonist, and the trained European who fought at his side, frequently expended months in struggling against the rapids of the streams, or in effecting the rugged passes of the mountains, in quest of an opportunity to exhibit their courage in a more martial conflict. But, emulating the patience and self-denial of the practiced native warriors, they learned to overcome every difficulty; and it would seem that, in time, there was no recess of the woods so dark, nor any secret place so lovely, that it might claim exemption from the inroads of those who had pledged their blood to satiate their vengeance, or to uphold the cold and selfish policy of the distant monarchs of Europe.

Perhaps no district throughout the wide extent of the intermediate frontiers can furnish a livelier picture of the cruelty and fierceness of the savage warfare of those periods than the country which lies between the head waters of the Hudson and the adjacent lakes.

The facilities which nature had there offered to the march of the combatants were too obvious to be neglected. The lengthened sheet of the Champlain stretched from the frontiers of Canada, deep within the borders of the neighboring province of New York, forming a natural passage across half the distance that the French were compelled to master in order to strike their enemies. Near its southern termination, it received the contributions of another lake, whose waters were so limpid as to have been exclusively selected by the Jesuit missionaries to perform the typical purification of baptism, and to obtain for it the title of lake "du Saint Sacrement." The less zealous English thought they conferred a sufficient honor on its unsullied fountains, when they bestowed the name of their reigning prince, the second of the house of Hanover. The two united to rob the untutored possessors of its wooded scenery of their native right to perpetuate its original appellation of "Horican."*


Anonymous said...

This is ridiculous. Puritans were notorious for their some time violent oppression to social and religious freedom. What a lot of propaganda.

Anonymous said...


The Puritans and modern liberals have much in common, don't they?