Page:Henry Adams' History of the United States Vol. 1.djvu/171

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160
Ch. 6.
HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES.

temptation to acquire power; and the elements of power were to be had in America almost for the asking. Reversing the old-world system, the American stimulant increased in energy as it reached the lowest and most ignorant class, dragging and whirling them upward as in the blast of a furnace. The penniless and homeless Scotch or Irish immigrant was caught and consumed by it; for every stroke of the axe and the hoe made him a capitalist, and made gentlemen of his children. Wealth was the strongest agent for moving the mass of mankind; but political power was hardly less tempting to the more intelligent and better-educated swarms of American-born citizens, and the instinct of activity, once created, seemed heritable and permanent in the race.

Compared with this lithe young figure, Europe was actually in decrepitude. Mere class distinctions, the patois or dialect of the peasantry, the fixity of residence, the local costumes and habits marking a history that lost itself in the renewal of identical gen­erations, raised from birth barriers which paralyzed half the population. Upon this mass of inert matter rested the Church and the State, holding down activ­ity of thought. Endless wars withdrew many hun­dred thousand men from production, and changed them into agents of waste; huge debts, the evidence of past wars and bad government, created interests to support the system and fix its burdens on the labor­ing class; courts, with habits of extravagance that shamed common-sense, helped to consume private