The American Commonwealth Vol. 1: The National Government – James Bryce
Professor Bryce’s work rises at once to an eminent place among studies of great nations and their institutions. It is, so far as America goes, a work unique in scope, spirit, and knowledge. There is nothing like it anywhere extant, nothing that approaches it. Without exaggeration, it may be called the most considerable and gratifying tribute that has yet been bestowed upon America by an Englishman, and, perhaps, by even England herself. . . . One despairs in an attempt to give an adequate account of a work so infused with knowledge and sparkling with Suggestion. Every thoughtful American will read it, and will long hold in grateful remembrance its author’s name. It is a work that takes instant rank as the keenest critique and most trustworthy description of America’s social and political life and is recognized as the most remarkable among English books for the accuracy of its statements, its fairness of judgment, and its clearness of comprehension. Written with full knowledge by a distinguished Englishman to dispel vulgar prejudices and to help kindred people to understand each other better, Prof. Bryce’s work is in a sense an embassy of peace, a message of good-will from one nation to another.
This is volume one out of four, “The National Government”.
The American Commonwealth Vol. 1: The National Government.
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Bryce as Ambassador to the United States (from Wikipedia):
However, even this time, Bryce’s cabinet post was held only for a brief period because as soon as February 1907, he was appointed British Ambassador to the United States of America. He kept this diplomatic office until 1913 and was very efficient in strengthening the Anglo-American friendship. Bryce made many personal friends in American politics such as US President Theodore Roosevelt. The German ambassador in Washington, Graf Heinrich von Bernstorff, later admitted how relieved he felt that Bryce was not his competitor for American sympathies during the World War period even though Bernstorff managed to keep the US from declaring war until 1917.
As an author, Bryce quickly became well known in America for his 1888 work, The American Commonwealth. The book thoroughly examined the institutions of the United States from the point of view of a historian and constitutional lawyer and at once became a classic. In developing material for his book, Bryce painstakingly reproduced the travels of Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote Democracy in America (1835–40). Although Tocqueville emphasized the egalitarian nature of early-19th-century America, Bryce was dismayed to find vast inequality: “Sixty years ago, there were no great fortunes in America, few large fortunes, no poverty. Now there is some poverty… and a greater number of gigantic fortunes than in any other country of the world” and “As respects education… the profusion of…elementary schools tends to raise the mass to a higher point than in Europe… [but] there is an increasing class that has studied at the best universities. It appears that equality has diminished [in this regard] and will diminish further.” The work was heavily used in academia as a result of Bryce’s close friendships with men such as President James B. Angell of the University of Michigan and successively Charles W. Eliot and Abbott Lawrence Lowell at Harvard. Against the backdrop of the New Immigration of the late nineteenth century, the work also became a key medium for popularising the view of American history as distinctly Anglo-Saxon, comparable with similarly exceptionalist “Whig” histories written in late Victorian Britain.
(The text of the last section was taken from a Wikipedia entry and is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)
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