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Seventeenth President of the United States.
Reconstruction of the Union,
Dawn of the New Era of National Progress.
JOHN ROBERT IRELAN, M. D.
HETHER this should be the final volume of
work or not, may be a matter of question. But in the discussion of this point the author is not disposed to take a prominent part. The period treated of, and in which is embraced most things now of interest in this Government and people, terminates with the subject of this volume; that is, the work of reconstruction after the War of the Rebellion. Another similar work, beginning where this ends, must be the history of a new era in the life of the Republic; of new men, new measures, new events, new spirit, of a regenerated nationality.
My task here ends. And the fact that the end has been reached does not vindicate the infallibility of those prophets who broadly intimated that the plan and undertaking were too vast for one man, and that the work should have been weakened, and its spirit, tone, and unity of purpose broken by the cooperation of several hands, of “many men of many minds.”
The General Preface in the initial volume fully sets forth the scope and character of the work, none
of the promises of whích, it is believed, have been departed from in the least. And although a few trifling verbal and matter-of-fact slips have been noted, it is earnestly hoped the work may commend and maintain itself for its easy, popular style, its comprehensiveness, its independence, its accuracy, its supply of an unbroken history which was at best fragmentary and full of gaps, and, not least, for the moral and patriotic tone in which it is cast.
The biographic side of the work has given a license which I have not been slow to use in lending latitude of expression, illustration, and criticism that could hardly be admissible in a field of pure history.
It may be held by some that the quoted matter, the substantial documentary part, is a mistake, and at least disfigures the whole work; but a more careful consideration of the case must exhibit this feature as invaluable, and show that the real source of loss, if any, in this direction, lies in the necessity which often compelled the omission of documentary evidence. It may
also be said that the work is not a revelation, that it follows too much in what might be termed the common channels of information, and reveals no great secrets in the lives of the men and the Government. The General Preface to the work relieves the author of any pretensions on this point, if a knowledge of the character of the Government
and people could not do so. The diplomatic history of the country alone has, to any noteworthy extent, an unrevealed page. In this fact lies one of the sources of pride to the true citizen of the Republic. Neither the man, nor the Administration, nor the Government has a secret side undiscoverable by Yankee ingenuity, or beyond the chances of public inspection. To the industrious and persevering explorer, the channels of information are all open and common, in a general sense, however dim and unsatisfactory they may often be. But with all this, how many men could be found in an age who would be willing and able (or have the temerity, as I was told in New Hampshire) to give a quarter of a life-time to seeking and traveling these channels, difficult and, at times, unpleasant enough?
In the General Preface and in the body of the work credit has been duly given to helpers by the way. And, on the whole, it is confidently felt that all men, all parties, all principles, all practices, all systems of policy, all events and subjects, have been handled with the single purpose of portraying the truths of history, without a shadow of inclination in favor of the gainer or the loser. And I shall be gratified, if this year, next year, the next decade, or within my own days, my countrymen, from border to border, shall be found estimating the work in