Bancroft's History of the United States: Preface

Americanist History, George Bancroft

Editor’s Comment: Today The Moral Liberal begins a rather large undertaking, a chapter by chapter tour through what is in this editor’s opinion the most inspirational history on the United States of America ever written, a history which if studied in every American School could be part of a larger formula that could turn America around for the better. Filled with original quotation, a Providential view of history (consistent with America’s Founders), and unabashed patriotism, the reader will take joy in every page and ever wonder, ‘Why wasn’t I taught this when I attended school?’ Indeed.

At the start of each chapter the editor a brief summary will be provided by your editor, Steve Farrell. Enjoy! SF


The adoption of the federal government marks the chief division in the history of the United States. The period which leads to that epoch has within itself perfect unity and completeness. The narrative which has been carried forward to this broad line of demarkation is therefore now laid before the public in a compact form after a revision by its author, which must be his last.

Each one of the several parts into which the long period naturally arranges itself has its special universal interest. The formation in the New World of a people of European origin with a political life of its own was the most pregnant event of the seventeenth century. This subject is brought to its conclusion in the present volume.

The epoch which will trace the young American states from the British revolution of 1688 far into the eighteenth century asserts its claim to a world-wide character, though of a different nature. The wars of religion were ended, and material interests swelled the sails of the age. The striving for commerce, which in those days meant a monopoly of commerce, absorbed the great nations of the earth; and a monopoly of commerce meant the establishment or the acquisition of dependent colonies. After the death of William III, who would have watched over the rights of the Netherlands, the unity of the history of Britain will in vain be sought for among its ruling princes, of whom all were insignificant; or in its great families in an age when the aristocracy was absolutely supreme, and yet when little is to be told about its chiefs but their factious altercations for the lead. The unity resides in the struggle for lordship over the commerce of the world. Every question, dynastic or ministerial, was drawn into this mighty ocean stream, where, in the great naval race, the flag of England was ever foremost. In these struggles Africa and Asia were the scenes of wonderful deeds; but every effort, every contention, every war pointed to the rivalry of the powers of Europe in North America. The climax of this period for England is marked by the double victory of the elder Pitt, as minister, through Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham, and, though he had ceased to be minister, as still the animating soul of the English army and fleet which made the conquest of Havana.

In the epochs that next followed, no one disputes that the paramount interest in the history of the world rests on the colonies held by Britain in North America.

In this last revision, as in the first composition, it is the fixed purpose to secure perfect accuracy in the relation of facts, even to their details and their coloring, and to keep truth clear from the clouds, however brilliant, of conjecture and tradition. No well-founded criticism that has been seen, whether made here or abroad, with a good will or a bad one, has been neglected.

The next aim is lucidity in the ordering of the narrative, so that the reader may follow the changes of public affairs in their connection, and with every page be carried forward in the story.

There is no end to the difficulty in choosing language which will awaken in the reader the very same thought that was in the mind of the writer. In the form of expression, many revisions are hardly enough to assure strict correctness and propriety. Repetitions and redundancies have been removed; greater precision has been sought for; the fitter word that offered itself accepted; and, without the surrender of the right of history to pronounce its opinion, care has been taken never unduly to forestall the judgment of the reader, but to leave events as they sweep onward to speak their own condemnation or praise.


Source: George Bancroft. History of the United States: Volume I, Preface, Washington, D.C.,  1882.

This version of Bancroft’s “History of the United States,” with chapter summaries by Steve Farrell, Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.