George Bancroft (October 3 1800 – January 17 1891) was an American historian and statesman who was prominent in promoting secondary education both in his home state and at the national and international levels. During his tenure as U.S. Secretary of the Navy, he established the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1845. He was a senior American diplomat in Europe. Among his best-known writings is the magisterial series, History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent.
A History of the United States (1834-74)
- Quotations are cited from the 1876 Little, Brown edition.
- The fears of one class of men are not the measure of the rights of another.
- Vol. 1, ch. 10, p. 365
- Avarice is the vice of declining years.
- Vol. 1, ch. 13, p. 484
- Institutions may crumble and governments fall, but it is only that they may renew a better youth, and mount upwards like the eagle.
- Vol. 3, ch. 1, p. 8
Literary and Historical Miscellanies (1855)
- Quotations are cited from the 1st edition (New York: Harper, 1855).
- Ennui is the desire of activity without the fit means of gratifying the desire.
- "Ennui" (1830), p. 48
- Truth is not exciting enough to those who depend on the characters and lives of their neighbors for all their amusement; and if a story is told of more than common interest, ennui is sure to have its joy in adding embellishments. If hours did not hang heavy, what would become of scandal?
- "Ennui", p. 64
- By common consent grey hairs are a crown of glory; the only object of respect that can never excite envy.
- "The Ruling Passion in Death" (1833), p. 75
- The best government rests on the people and not on the few, on persons and not on property, on the free development of public opinion and not on authority.
- "The Office of the People in Art, Government and Religion" (1835), p. 421
- Sedition is bred in the lap of luxury and its chosen emissaries are the beggared spendthrift and the impoverished libertine.
- "The Office of the People in Art, Government and Religion", p. 424
- The exact measure of the progress of civilization is the degree in which the intelligence of the common mind has prevailed over wealth and brute force.
- "The Office of the People in Art, Government and Religion", pp. 426-7
- The prejudices of ignorance are more easily removed than the prejudices of interest; the first are blindly adopted; the second wilfully preferred.
- "The Office of the People in Art, Government and Religion", p. 430
The Necessity, the Reality, and the Promise of the Progress of the Human Race (1854)
- Address to the New York Historical Society (20 November 1854), later published in Literary and Historical Miscellanies (1855)
- No science has been reached, no thought generated, no truth discovered, which has not from all time existed potentially in every human mind. The belief in the progress of the race does not, therefore, spring from the supposed possibility of his acquiring new faculties, or coming into the possession of a new nature.
Still less does truth vary. They speak falsely who say that truth is the daughter of time; it is the child of eternity, and as old as the Divine mind. The perception of it takes place in the order of time; truth itself knows nothing of the succession of ages. Neither does morality need to perfect itself; it is what it always has been, and always will be. Its distinctions are older than the sea or the dry land, than the earth or the sun. The relation of good to evil is from the beginning, and is unalterable.
- The progress of man consists in this, that he himself arrives at the perception of truth. The Divine mind, which is its source, left it to be discovered, appropriated and developed by finite creatures.
The life of an individual is but a breath; it comes forth like a flower, and flees like a shadow. Were no other progress, therefore, possible than that of the individual, one period would have little advantage over another. But as every man partakes of the same faculties and is consubstantial with all, it follows that the race also has an existence of its own; and this existence becomes richer, more varied, free and complete, as time advances. Common Sense implies by its very name, that each individual is to contribute some share toward the general intelligence. The many are wiser than the few; the multitude than the philosopher; the race than the individual; and each successive generation than its predecessor.
- The unchanging character of law is the only basis on which continuous action can rest. Without it man would be but as the traveller over endless morasses; the builder on quicksands; the mariner without compass or rudder, driven successively whithersoever changing winds may blow. The universe is the reflex and image of its Creator. "The true work of art," says Michael Angelo, "is but a shadow of the Divine perfections." We may say in a more general manner, that Beauty Itself Is But The Sensible Image Of The Infinite; that all creation is a manifestation of the Almighty; not the result of caprice, but the glorious display of his perfection; and as the universe thus produced, is always in the course of change, so its regulating mind is a living Providence, perpetually exerting itself anew. If his designs could be thwarted, we should lose the great evidence of his unity, as well as the anchor of our own hope.
Harmony is the characteristic of the intellectual system of the universe; and immutable laws of moral existence must pervade all time and all space, all ages and all worlds.
- The glory of God is not contingent on man's good will, but all existence subserves his purposes. The system of the universe is as a celestial poem, whose beauty is from all eternity, and must not be marred by human interpolations. Things proceed as they were ordered, in their nice, and well-adjusted, and perfect harmony; so that as the hand of the skilful artist gathers music from the harp-strings, history calls it forth from the well-tuned chords of time. Not that this harmony can be heard during the tumult of action. Philosophy comes after events, and gives the reason of them, and describes the nature of their results. The great mind of collective man may, one day, so improve in self-consciousness as to interpret the present and foretell the future; but as yet, the end of what is now happening, though we ourselves partake in it, seems to fall out by chance. All is nevertheless one whole; individuals, families, peoples, the race, march in accord with the Divine will; and when any part of the destiny of humanity is fulfilled, we see the ways of Providence vindicated. The antagonisms of imperfect matter and the perfect idea, of liberty and necessary law, become reconciled. What seemed irrational confusion, appears as the web woven by light, liberty and love. But this is not perceived till a great act in the drama of life is finished. The prayer of the patriarch, when he desired to behold the Divinity face to face, was denied; but he was able to catch a glimpse of Jehovah, after He had passed by; and so it fares with our search for Him in the wrestlings of the world. It is when the hour of conflict is over, that history comes to a right understanding of the strife, and is ready to exclaim: "Lo! God is here, and we knew it not."