Nor is our task done. The United States is now one of the world family of free peoples. We must take part in their councils till it is assured that all men are free and have an equal right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." We must help them moreover to repair the awful ruin of the war and to resume once more the peaceful ways of commerce and industry. The more
But to know the present we must understand the past. In this volume we shall study the story of the European nations in the days gone by, that we may learn what America has already received from them.
3. America Unknown to the People of Ancient Times; Early Ideas of Geography. To thousands of the poor people of Europe, America now seems a wonderful land of promise. But the men of ancient times did not even guess that beyond the Atlantic lay a great continent which would some day be known as America. When Greece and Rome were great, people had little knowledge of any lands except those near the Mediterranean Sea. Even some of these countries then bore names and were inhabited by peoples strange to us. The old Romans spoke, indeed, of Greece, Italy, and Germany, but France they called Gaul; while distant England was Britannia, and its barbarous inhabitants, Britons.
About more remote lands the ancients had only vague ideas. The early Greeks did not comprehend that the earth is a sphere, but thought it to be shaped sorAewhat like a plate. Europe and Africa were in the middle, and around the outside flowed the ocean, which they believed to be like a great river.
Some of the best thinkers of Greece, however, later guessed that the earth is a globe. But of what lay beyond the shores of the Mediterranean even the Romans were still largely in ignorance. The most remote northern island in the Atlantic of which they had heard they called "Ultima Thule." Since they said Thule was north of the British Isles, this name probably meant the Shetland Islands. Beyond Thule the Greeks and Romans thought there was nothing but mist and fog.
The people who lived on the lower side of the earth, that is, in the Southern Hemisphere, the old writers called the "Antipodes," or people who walked with their feet upward. But of these Antipodes they really knew nothing, and some said that they could never be found, since the equator was surrounded by a ring of fire which no human being could pass.
For many centuries after Roman days the world learned little or nothing more about geography. But
Yet men did not make the attempt. Ignorant people still thought that the earth was flat. Others dreaded the "burning tropics," the blazing zone which the Romans had said surrounded the equator, or spoke in terror of a "sea of darkness" of unknown extent. Men noticed also that when a ship was in the distance, its hull disappeared first from sight. So some thought that vessels on the ocean were sailing downhill, and were afraid that if they went too far they could never get back.
When Columbus by his wonderful voyage at length showed that the ocean could be safely crossed and that curious lands lay on the other side, men did not even yet understand that he had found a new continent. It was some part of Asia, they thought, which the brave sailor had discovered. With such maps as they had this was a very natural mistake.
4. Why the First European Colonists Came to America. The first Europeans who came to America sought gold, silver, spices, and other treasure which would make them suddenly rich. In South America and Mexico the precious metals were soon discovered and seized. But to the early sailors the part of North America which is now the United States did not seem very attractive. It was only a wilderness inhabited by red Indians. Why should people from Europe risk their lives in such a wild region?
It was a long while before many did so. But Americans may well be proud of the reasons which finally brought English settlers to these shores. Why many of them came, a famous incident will show.
In the year 1620 a stanch little ship, the Mayflower, sailed from England and, buffeting the great waves of the Atlantic, made her way to the coast of Massachusetts. In her cabin was a little band of about one hundred brave men and women. UnterriIied by the wild and stern character of the shore and the pounding surf, they resolutely landed and built rude cabins.
Soon came the terrible northern winter, bringing cruel suffering. About half the party died from the hardship. But when spring came the brave band would not return to the comforts of Europe. The little settlement which they planted at Plymouth, Massachusetts, remained to be one of the beginnings of our prosperous New England States.
Not for worldly gain did the Pilgrims, as the settlers of Plymouth are called, endure all these things. In those days people in Europe were not free, as they are now, to worship God in any way they thought right. England, like most other countries, had cruel laws which compelled all to go to one church or suffer heavy penalties. Rather than worship in a way they thought wrong, these sturdy men and women preferred to live in a bleak forest surrounded by savage men and beasts, and to endure any suffering which might be necessary. They loved America because it made them free.
Not all of the people who, three centuries ago, came to plant new homes upon our shores acted from such noble reasons. Yet very many of them faced the perils of the new land that they might worship more freely or escape the tyrannical rule of the kings and princes of Europe. We can never be too grateful to the memory of those fearless pioneers who by their sturdy labor cut down the great forests, laid out roads, bridged therivers, andovercame the savage Indians, so that today America rivals in civilization and fertility the lands of the Old World.
5.How America Receives European Immigrants To-day. When a great modern steamship with its huge funnels and high black hull glides into a busy American seaport like New York or Philadelphia, her decks are often crowded with hundreds of people from Europe who have come to seek their fortunes in our country. Perhaps there are still some among them from Russia or Turkey who, like the Pilgrims of old, have been harshly used because of their religion. But most of these immigrants now come that they may find more profitable work and a chance to live in greater comfort than is possible in the densely peopled lands they have left.
How different is the sight which meets their eyes from that which the brave colonists of three centuries ago had to face! Instead of a rough wilderness they see the tall buildings and handsome streets of a modern city, and feel the bustling life of a new and prosperous nation. In this life they, too, hope soon to share. But all has been won for them by the strong men and courageous women of past days:
If they are of the stuff of which good Americans are made, the newcomers are welcome. But our country has no rewards for the idle or criminal. Before they are allowed to land, the immigrants are taken before officers of the government, who examine them carefully to see that their characters are good, that they have no dangerous disease, and that they are not likely to become paupers. Often weak or vicious people are sent back to Europe. Harsh does our law sometimes seem to such unfortunates, but America is not for them.
For the rest the door is open. From the great seaport screaming railway trains soon bear them to the cities or towns where they can find work or where they have chosen to begin the new life. But if they are poor they must be brave and strong, for though there are no more Indians to fight or fierce animals to slay, their lot may be almost as hard as that of the Pilgrims themselves. Perhaps the immigrants have no friends and cannot speak our language. They must work hard at rough labor. But if they are industrious they will soon rise. In a few years thousands find themselves far happier than they could ever have been in Europe, and their children may start life on equal terms with the descendants of the first colonists.
In this book, however, it is not our task to tell further of the life which the United States now gives. Rather do we seek to know something of the thoughts and ideas which had their beginnings long ago in Europe, and which the newcomers bring with them across the sea to America.