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Chapter 9: Union and Liberty

“There is what I call the American idea,” declared Theodore Parker in the Anti-Slavery Convention of 1850. “This idea demands, as the proximate organization thereof, a democracythat is, a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people; of course, a government on the principle of eternal justice, the unchanging law of God; for shortness' sake, I will call it the idea of Freedom.”

These are noble words, and they are thought to have suggested a familiar phrase of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, thirteen years later. Yet students of literature, no less than students of politics, recognize the difficulty of summarizing in words a national “idea.” Precisely what was the Greek “idea” ? What is today the French “idea” ? No single formula is adequate to express such a complex of fact, theories, moods — not even

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