I’m just now discovering this.
It figures though that Paul Gottfried would have already come across the importance of George Bancroft in the history of American liberalism. This excerpt comes from Paul Gottfried’s book After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State.
“While Tocqueville and Guizot underlined the link between American democracy and America’s decentralized republic, a new and fateful view of the American regime surfaced in the theorizing of George Bancroft (1800-1891). Jacksonian Democrat, career diplomat, and author of the ten-volume A History of the United States, Bancroft admired German idealist philosophy, which he popularized in the United States. As a young man he had studied in Göttingen, Berlin, and Heidelberg and, while in Germany, had become intimately familiar with the historical speculation of G.W.F. Hegel. His own work incorporated several umistakable Hegelian themes: that history showed the progressive unfolding of the divine personality; that this process was reflected in the advance of human liberty; and that liberty had developed most fully in the Protestant Germanic world. For Bancroft, unlike Hegel, however, this progress toward liberty reached its culmination on American soil. Bancroft presents the American people as the ultimate bearers of divinely ordained liberty and makes this point explicit at the end of his History of the Formation of the Constitution of the United States (1882): “a new people had arisen without kings or princes or nobles. They were more sincerely religious, better educated, and of nobler minds and of purer morals than the men of any former republic. By calm meditation and friendly councils they had prepared a constitution which, in the union of freedom with strength and order, excelled every one known before.”
The spirit of the people thus described was held to be democratic, and Bancroft subscribed to Americans a collective wisdom which found expression in their political architecture. The American federal union, as he saw it, was no mere convenient state but “the only hope for renovating the life of the civilized world.” The political institutions fashioned and inspired by America’s democratic people assumed in Bancroft’s writing a mystical quality, and his insistence that the voice of the people is the voice of God led Tocqueville to remark that “pantheism is the religion most characteristic of democracies.”
The American capacity for self-government that Bancroft exalted was not in the end the American propensity for local self-rule. Bancroft glorified a national democratic will, and his History of the United States ends appropriately with the topic “consolidating the union.” According to Bancroft, an American people and an American national government were both inchoately present even before the colonies became a nation-state: “For all the want of government, their solemn pledge to one another and mutual citizenship and perpetual union made them one people; and that people was superior to its institutions, possessing the vital form which goes before organization and gives it strength.”
George Bancroft was the most influential American historian of the 19th century and his History of the United States was a highly influential work of metapolitics. It was Bancroft who concocted the myth that American national identity was synonymous with progressive liberalism and that America had some kind of divine mission to evolve into a more perfect state and spread its gospel across the globe.
Bancroft was a second generation, Harvard educated Yankee who absorbed this stuff like a sponge while studying abroad in the late 1810s/early 1820s. When he returned to the United States, he came back as a Europeanized cosmopolitan liberal. He spent the rest of his life injecting this garbage into the American intelligentsia. This happened well after the American Founding.
The following excerpt comes from Colin Woodard’s book Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood:
“It was during that sojourn in the capital that Bancroft made the decision to write a history of the country that would help guide its people to their destiny …
For much of 1833 and early 1834 he did little else but write. He was at work twelve to fourteen hours a day, scrawling out words in his compact script, four lines to a page, then revising them in the ample spaces in between. Some of the pages became so clotted with ink from his alterations that it would be difficult for a printer to decode his intentions. But the pages stacked higher, and within them was a story of America and its purpose.
He had settled on a theme even before he started his research.
History, he was convinced, was the unfolding of God’s plan for the world, and that plan was the progressive development of liberty, equality, and freedom. This Providential view of humanity’s past, present, and future had been passed on to him by what he had learned from his father, his boarding school, his college, and his faith. His professors in Göttingen and Berlin had reinforced this paradigm, even if most of them expressed this discernable direction of history in secular terms.
Hegel, Heeren and Eichhorn had taught him to focus on nations – Volk, or peoples – as the primary actors in history’s progress. Each group had its own intrinsic characteristics and each grew like an organism from the instructions encoded in its seed, its spirit, its Volkgeist. World history was led, these professors had demonstrated, by a series of nations each taking its turn to carry the baton of freedom and liberty as far as it was capable before handing it off to another. Greece was succeeded by Rome, a corrupted Rome was conquered by the Teutons, the ancient Germanic peoples who the first-century Roman historian Tacitus said were morally upright and democratically organized; the Teutons in turn invaded the British Isles, passing the torch to the resulting Anglo-Saxons. It had then, Bancroft was already certain, been taken up by British-settled North America.
America had to be a chosen nation. Bancroft’s Puritan ancestors believed themselves to be such an elect people, tasked by God to erect a City upon a Hill, to conduct an errand in the wilderness to create a more perfect and godly society. Bancroft assumed his Greater New England region was exemplary of the country as a whole, that its deep cultural values and ideals were broadly shared. Those values, he believed, were unfolding from the Anglo-Saxon germ, spreading by means of roads, canals, and steamboats to fulfill the divine plan.
A golden age was coming for humanity, and America would lead the way, ever forward, ever noble, ever good. …”
Such was this religious / philosophical paradigm of nonsense that was served up by George Bancroft and was swallowed in the antebellum era by Eastern elites. It has guided us down to the present day.