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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Self-Righteous American

On arousing Americans:

"There is a rowdy strain in American life, living close to the surface but running very deep. Like an ape behind a mask, it can display itself suddenly with terrifying effect.
It is slack-jawed, with leering eyes and loose wet lips, with heavy feet and ponderous cunning hands; now and then, when something tickles it, it guffaws, and when it is made angry, it snarls;
and it can be aroused much more easily than it can be quieted…
and when it comes lumbering forth it can make the whole country step in time to its own frantic irregular pulse-beat."


The quote is Bruce Catton describing in This Hallowed Ground the speech of Senator Charles Sumner in 1856, "trying to inflame, to arouse, to confirm the hatreds and angers that already existed". 
It famously and disastrously worked to inflame congressman Preston Brooks, who beat Sumner half-insensible on the floor of the Senate.

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