The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 44, July 1940 - April, 1941

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

The Course of American Democratic Thought. An Intellectual
History Since 1815. By Ralph Henry Gabriel.
New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1940. Pp. xi, 452. $4.00.
When Professor Gabriel's book appeared on this reviewer's
desk it presented a challenge for careful reading because it
appeared that the book might be a worthy complement to
courses in sociology, philosophy, economics, and American his-
tory. Since accepting the challenge I have not changed my
opinion of it except to strengthen my conviction of its place
in American historical writing. The lecturer in a survey course
can use it to great advantage to explain certain movements
in American history, but for most of his students the book is
too deep. The more mature student in advanced and graduate
courses should certainly be able to profit from reading the book.
It represents sound thinking and analysis and gives evidence
of a prodigious amount of research.
In one of his early chapters, "Pre-Sumter Symbolism," Pro-
fessor Gabriel, in examining the doctrines of American demo-
cratic faith "against the social and intellectual background of
the Middle Period," shows his way of approach. He says:
"The concept of nation is necessarily abstract. The nationals
and the officers of government are concrete, but the ideas of
nationality or of the State are abstractions. They require sym-
bolic expression." (Page 88.) Since Protestants other than
Anglicans lived in the colonies in large numbers, there was not
much ritual in religion. America's refusal to have a king left
the nation without "monarchial ritual." Thus in the beginning
of the national period there was "an unusual poverty in sym-
bolism." (Page 90.)
But the American people brought two symbols from the
colonial period into the national-the church building and the
courthouse. They needed others. Because "the American Presi-
dent who replaced the king was so important a political offi-
cer . . . his value as a symbol was negligible." (Page 93.)
The people did not want a standing army because "such an
establishment suggested tyranny, a government not of laws but
of man." (Page 91.) "The flag," asserts Professor Gabriel,
"became the chief representation of the nation." (Page 92.)
In the development of democratic thought the "Declaration of
Independence was for ceremonial purposes vastly more impor-
tant than the Constitution," because "it created no problems
and roused no controversies." (Page 95.)

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 44, July 1940 - April, 1941. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth146052/. Accessed December 19, 2014.