To the Home Page of the National Humanities Center Web Site National Humanities Center Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature  contact us | site guide | search 
Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing, 1815-1850
The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing
Topic: Culture of the Common ManTopic: Cult of DomesticityTopic: ReligionTopic: ExpansionTopic: America in 1850
Topic: Religion
Overview of Triumph of Nationalism
Resource Menu: Religion
Text 1. Bryant/Freneau
» Reading Guide
•  Link

Text 2. John Mayfield
Text 3. Alexis de Tocqueville
Text 4. Frederick Douglass
Text 5. George Fitzhugh
Text 6. Charles Colcock Jones
Text 7. Henry David Thoreau
Text 8. Mormons


RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
1.  William Cullen Bryant, "To a Waterfowl," 1817, and Philip Freneau, "On the Universality and Other Attributes of the God of Nature," 1815

Because the study of religion in the early republic is so multi-faceted, it may help to begin by contrasting two short poems. Published two years apart, they address the manifestation of God in nature—one as a romantic ode, the other as a rationalist treatise. Both express awe, gratitude, and the conviction that God is benevolent, but their descriptions of divine guidance differ:
   Bryant: "There is a Power whose care / Teaches thy way along the pathless coast—".
   Freneau: "This power doth all powers transcend, / To all intelligence a friend."
One could paint Bryant's God, and diagram Freneau's god.

The men also reflect different chapters of the American experience. Philip Freneau, a voice of 18th-century rationalism and widely known as the "poet of the Revolution," was an aging 63 when he wrote "On the Universality." William Cullen Bryant, in contrast, was a young poet of 23 when he wrote "To a Waterfowl," one of the earliest American Romantic poems. Although these poems do not reflect the wide variety of American religious thought at the time, discussing them can evoke the mindset of the times. Could be used with students. 2 pages.


Discussion questions
  ·  What is the truth or "lesson" revealed to man through the observation of nature? For Bryant and Freneau, does nature provide a personal experience of God?
  ·  How do the two poems contrast in tone, and how does this contrast illuminate their thematic differences?
  ·  How do the poems fit in the continuum from Puritan Calvinism to the emerging Transcendentalism? To what extent does each poem express a Christian perspective? A rationalist or Deist perspective?
  ·  How might each poet have viewed the cultural role of religion in the young American republic after 1815?
  ·  Compare these poems with Thoreau's view of man and nature.


Reading highlights
  ·  Read the poems aloud to highlight the use of language and meter in the poems. How does the language in each poem underscore its tone and theme?


» Link


Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did American Christianity reflect the nation's ideals of democracy, individualism, and progress?
  •  As the nation became more sectionalized, what role did religion play in defining individual and group identity?
  •  How did religion inform the debate over slavery?
  •  How did religious groups outside the mainstream of American Protestantism reflect American culture, even in the act of rejecting it?




Toolbox: The Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing
Common Man | Cult of Domesticity | Religion | Expansion | America in 1850

Contact Us | Site Guide | Search


Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
National Humanities Center
Web site comments and questions, contact: lmorgan@nationalhumanitiescenter.org
Copyright © 2002 National Humanities Center. All rights reserved.
Revised: January 2002
nationalhumanitiescenter.org