Monday, July 16, 2007

First Whiggery

Thinking about Henry James and Oliver Wendell Holmes, and what I might have learned from them while I was writing their biographies, led me to Whiggery. James passionately embraced America's European history, while Holmes had a part in shaping the future of America's evolving constitution. I would like to say that James, at least in his mature years, was a Whig (his father was one of the founders of the party, and James himself wrote for a Whig newspaper The New York Tribune), although the Whig party had vanished by the time he reached voting age. Holmes was a Progressive Republican, appointed by Theodore Roosevelt to the Supreme Court; some of his friends in England were Liberal Imperialists, a name that gives some of the flavor of their politics and his. Holmes and James were on opposite sides of many political issues, which makes it more interesting that they came out of the same moral world and had many of the same aims. The biggest thing they shared was a fondness for European civilization, and a wish that it might somehow be harmonized with American democracy. Can there be harmony between age and youth, peace and war, unity and diversity? Not a bad ideal, even today, even if it seems as distant as ever.