I am currently reading Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, by Robert L. O’Connell. I recommend it to all you Civil War buffs out there, as well as anyone who wants to read a well-written biography of a great American.
The author notes that the two decades between 1820 and 1840 seem to have been crucial in forming the American character. Alexis de Tocqueville toured the United States in 1830 and proclaimed the emergence of Homo democraticus, a new kind of creature “whose passion for equality and self-interest was tempered only by his ability to join fellow citizens in all manner of mutual associations for pragmatic benefit.”
William Tecumseh Sherman was born in 1820, and John Bidwell in 1819. Both of them, in their own ways, epitomized this new man: “exuberant, optimistic, egalitarian, and opinionated–ready to take any situation in hand and shape it to their own advantage.”
This certainly describes Bidwell, who prided himself on his self-possession and ability to handle any situation. We sometimes forget that he had a sense of humor and a love of his fellow-man. He was forward-looking and confident, with a belief in America as a place where any man with gumption and the will to work could succeed.
Two admirable men: Bidwell and Sherman, each a great American success. To read about their first meeting, check out this blog entry.