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Adolph Freiherr von Knigge, "The New State" (1792)

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As unworthy as it is of a philosopher to appreciate the worth of an enterprise not on the basis of the inner goodness of the purpose and the means, but on the basis of the fortune or misfortune of success, in some cases, when we speak of political upheavals, it does seem necessary to shape one’s judgment not merely with moral and scientific principles, but to leave it to time to argue the case for the practical utility brought about by the change, for the consistency in the means applied, and for the possibility of a lasting implementation. In that case, of course, the results are often quite different from our reasoning. When America sought to assert against what is improperly called the motherland the sacred, undeniable authority of man to cancel contracts that are vague or have been violated by one side, to decline foreign protection if one can protect oneself, and to enjoy in one’s own way the fruits of one’s hard work, it was not only moralists and legal scholars who railed against the ingratitude of the colonies; the state prophets also predicted that these people, misled by selfish evil-doers and instigators, not animated by a single spirit, divided among themselves by disagreement, without a disciplined army, without law, without allies, without money, without credit, would accomplish little and would soon be brought back to obedience. The journal and book writers at the time, especially the sentimental ensign Anburey, whose description of North America was translated by Geheimrath Forster, shuddered at the account of the abominations by which the misguided Americans rendered themselves unworthy of all pity and were transforming their poor land for centuries into a wasteland. He, and along with him not only many another ensign, but also many a general and man of importance, described the armies of these vagabonds as gangs of robbers who hardly deserved to be routed by regular troops.

And who would have believed that people without shoes and socks, who sometimes simply ran away when they should have retreated in good order, who did not know what deploying, drawing through and the like meant, and whose leaders were common fellows, without birth or standing, would defeat, capture, and chase from the land our colorful men adorned with gold and silver, who, under the leadership of lords, counts, and noblemen, knew how to do everything in time? The papers and private letters were full of the conflict and division prevailing among the members of the Congress, of the separation and subjection of individual provinces under Britain’s scepter, of general anarchy, murder, and robbery. And how do things now stand with these rebels, after barely the sixth part of a human lifetime has passed since then? No longer a trace of shortage, disorder, and ferment! The newly created state stands here in full dignity, respected and feared by all peoples of the world, after it bravely won its freedom and created an honorable peace for itself – A wondrous political phenomenon! People born in different parts of the world now forged into a nation. Provinces, each of which had made special laws for itself, united into a great body politic, without a single common head, without nobility, without a prevailing religion, growing day by day in the highest prosperity and flowering that only freedom, peace, good civil regulation, trade, the sciences, and the arts can guarantee, in brotherly alliance with their former guardians, a model that other peoples seek to emulate! How happily many a prince who back then spoke of the American rebels with the utmost disdain would now, with great condescension and gratitude, accept from the American nation a small governorship for one of his princelings, if only that nation would realize what a prince’s son is good for! How happily a writer who back then sharpened his quill against the Congress would now compose a hymn of praise for the united provinces, if it would earn him an annuity!

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