Preface to the first editionI have formed the design of writing a History of the United States from the Discovery of the American Continent to the present time. As the moment arrives for publishing a portion of the work, I am impressed more strongly than ever with a sense of the grandeur and vastness of the subject; and am ready to charge myself with presumption for venturing on so bold an enterprise. I can find for myself no excuse but in the sincerity with which I have sought to collect truth from trust-worthy documents and testimony. I have desired to give to the work the interest of authenticity. I have applied, as I have proceeded, the principles of historical skepticism, and, not allowing myself to grow weary in comparing witnesses, or consulting codes of laws, I Have endeavored to impart originality to my narrative, by deriving it from writings and sources which were the contemporaries of the events that are described. Where different nations or different parties have been engaged in the same scenes I have not failed to examine their respective reports. Such an investigation on any country would be laborious; I need not say how much the labor is increased by the extent of our republic, the differences in the origin and early government of its component parts, and the multiplicity of topics, which require to be discussed and arranged. Much error had become incorporated with American history. Many of the early writers in Europe were only careful to explain the physical qualities of the country; and the political institutions of dependent colonies were not thought worthy of exact inquiry. The early history was often written with a carelessness which seized on rumors and vague recollections as sufficient authority for an assertion which satisfied prejudice by wanton perversions, and which, where materials were not at hand, substituted the inferences of the writer for authenticated facts. These early books have ever since been cited as authorities, and the errors, sometimes repeated even by considerate writers, whose distrust was not excited, have almost acquired a prescriptive right to a place in the annals of America. This state of things has increased the difficulty of my undertaking, and, I believe, also, its utility; and I cannot regret the labor which has enabled me to present, under a somewhat new aspect, the early love of liberty in Virginia; the causes and nature of its loyalty; its commercial freedom; the colonial policy of Cromwell; the independent spirit of Maryland; the early institutions of Rhode Island; and the stern independence of the New England Puritans. On these and other points, on which I have differed from received accounts, I appeal with confidence to the judgment of those who are critically acquainted with the sources of our early history. I have dwelt at considerable length on this first period, because it contains the germ of our institutions. The maturity of the nation is but a continuation of its youth. The spirit of the colonies demanded freedom from the beginning. It was in this period, that Virginia first asserted the doctrine of popular sovereignty; that the people of Maryland constituted their own government; that New Plymouth, Connecticut, New Haven, New Hampshire, Maine, rested their legislation on the popular will; that Massachusetts declared itself a perfect commonwealth. In the progress of the work, I have been most liberally aided by the directors of our chief public libraries; especially the library at Cambridge, on American history the richest in the world, has been opened to me as freely as if it had been my own. The arrangement of the materials has been not the least difficult part of my labor. A few topics have been anticipated; a few, reserved for an opportunity where they can be more successfully grouped with other incidents. To give unity to the account of New Belgium, I reserve the subject for the next volume. For the work which I have undertaken will necessarily extend to several volumes. I aim at being concise; but also at giving a full picture or the progress of American institutions. The first volume is now published separately; and for a double motive. The work has already occasioned long preparation, and its completion will require further years of exertion; I have been unwilling to travel so long a journey alone; and desire, as I proceed, to correct my own judgment by the criticisms of candor. I have thought that the public would recognize the sincerity of my inquiries, and that, in those states where the materials of history have as yet been less carefully collected, and less critically compared, I should make for myself friends disposed to assist in placing within my reach the sources of information which are essential to success.
June 16, 1834.