By 1900 the United States had more than fulfilled Herman Melville’s visions of half a century earlier. The nation was now a continental empire, its cities and industries were already as large as those of the greatest European powers, and its political might was being projected overseas in the form of a new colonial empire. In a sense ‘the rest of the nations’ were already ‘in our rear’. In contrast to Melville’s day, the issue of national unity was quite settled, with no need to consider endless delicate adjustments in the relationship between rival sections. There was much for the boosters and would-be laureates to celebrate, ample to justify projections of a new American century. Far more so than in 1851, there were also voices of doubt and pessimism, grave questions about the changing meaning of Americanism. The urban and industrial nature of the country was a long-established fact, but by 1900 the cities and industries had come to dominate American life, and both produced social worlds that were almost impossible to reconcile with republican ideals.
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