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New York

by James Fenimore Cooper


{Text transcribed and annotated by Hugh MacDougall, Founder and
Secretary/Treasurer of the James Fenimore Cooper Society, who
will appreciate corrections and comments at [email protected] All
material not from Cooper's text is enclosed in {curly} brackets.

{Introductory Note: In 1851, just before his death on the eve of
his 62nd birthday, James Fenimore Cooper was working a history of
New York City, for which he planned the title of "The Towns of
Manhattan." Cooper never completed it, and most of the parts of
the manuscript that he did complete were destroyed in a fire at
the printers after his death. The Introduction to the work,
however, survived, and was published during the Civil War in "The
Spirit of the Age" (New York: April 5-15, 1864), a fund-raising
publication of the American Sanitary Commission (predecessor of
the American Red Cross). Substantial excerpts were reprinted, as
"James Fenimore Cooper on Secession and States Rights" in the
"Continental Monthly: Devoted to Literature and National Policy,"
Vol. 6, No. 1 (July 1864), pp. 79-83.

The "Spirit of the Age"text was much later reprinted in book form
under the title of "New York" (New York: William Farquhar Payson,
1930) in a limited edition of 750 copies, with an introduction by
Dixon Ryan Fox, and was later re-issued in facsimile form
(Folcroft: PA., Folcroft Library Editions, 1973) in a limited
edition of 100 copies - from which this text is taken.

{A few other surviving fragments from "The Towns of Manhattan"
were compiled in James F. Beard, Jr., "The First of Greater New
York: Unknown Portions of Fenimore Cooper's Last Work" (New York
Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. XXXVII, No. 2, pp. 109-45,
April 1953).

{The text has been transcribed as written, except that because of
the limitations of the Gutenberg format, occasional words in
italics have been transcribed in ALL CAPITALS. Annotations
(identified by {curly} brackets, have been occasionally
added - identifying allusions, translating foreign terms, and
correcting a few obvious typographical errors.

{Introduction from "The Spirit of the Fair" (April 5, 1864):

{Unpublished MS. of James Fenimore Cooper.

{Our national novelist died in the autumn of 1850 [sic]; previous
to his fatal illness he was engaged upon a historical work, to be
entitled "The Men [sic] of Manhattan," only the Introduction to
which had been sent to the press: the printing office was
destroyed by fire, and with it the opening chapters of this work;
fortunately a few pages had been set up, and the impression sent
to a literary gentleman, then editor of a popular critical
journal, and were thus saved from destruction: to him we are
indebted for the posthumous articles of Cooper, wherewith, by a
coincidence as remarkable as it is auspicious, we now enrich our
columns with a contribution from the American pioneer in letters.
In discussing the growth of New York and speculating on her
future destiny, the patriotic and sagacious author seems to have
anticipated the terrible crisis through which the nation is now
passing; there is a prescience in the views he expresses, which
is all the more impressive inasmuch as they are uttered by a
voice now silenced for ever. They have a solemn interest, and
were inspired by a genuine sympathy in the progress and
prosperity of the nation. It should be remembered that, when
these observations were written, the public mind had been and was
still highly excited by the "Compromise Measures" - the last vain
expedient to propitiate the traitors who have since filled the
land with the horrors of civil war.}


NEW YORK

THE increase of the towns of Manhattan, as, for the sake of
convenience, we shall term New York and her adjuncts, in all that
contributes to the importance of a great commercial mart, renders
them one of the most remarkable places of the present age. Within
the distinct recollections of living men, they have grown from a
city of the fifth or sixth class to be near the head of all the
purely trading places of the known world. That there are
sufficient causes for this unparalleled prosperity, will appear
in the analysis of the natural advantages of the port, in its
position, security, accessories, and scale.

The State of New York had been steadily advancing in population,
resources, and power, ever since the peace of 1785. At that time
it bore but a secondary rank among what were then considered the
great States of the Confederacy. Massachusetts, proper and
singly, then outnumbered us, while New England, collectively,
must have had some six or seven times our people. A very few
years of peace, however, brought material changes. In 1790, the
year in which the first census under the law of Congress was
taken, the State already contained 340,120 souls, while New
England had a few more than a million. It is worthy of remark
that, sixty years since, the entire State had but little more
than half of the population of the Manhattanese towns at the
present moment! Each succeeding census diminished these
proportions, until that of l830, when the return for the State of
New York gave 1,372,812, and for New England 1,954,709. At this
time, and for a considerable period preceding and succeeding it,
it was found that the proportion between the people of the State
of New York and the people of the city, was about as ten to one.
Between 1830 and 1840, the former had so far increased in numbers
as to possess as many people as ALL New England. In the next
decade, this proportion was exceeded; and the late returns show
that New York, singly, has passed ahead of all her enterprising
neighbors in that section of the Union. At the same time, the old
proportion between the State and the town - or, to be more
accurate, the TOWNS on the Bay of New York and its waters - has
been entirely lost, five to one being near the truth at the
present moment. It is easy to foresee that the time is not very
distant when two to one will be maintained with difficulty, as
between the State and its commercial capital.

Bold as the foregoing prediction may seem, the facts of the last
half century will, we think, justify it. If the Manhattan towns,
or Manhattan, as we shall not scruple to term the several places
that compose the prosperous sisterhood at the mouth of the
Hudson - a name that is more ancient and better adapted to the
history, associations, and convenience of the place than any
other - continue to prosper as they have done, ere the close of
the present century they will take their station among the
capitals of the first rank. It may require a longer period to
collect the accessories of a first-class place, for these are the
products of time and cultivation; though the facilities of
intercourse, the spirit of the age, and the equalizing sentiment
that marks the civilization of the epoch, will greatly hasten
everything in the shape of improvement.

New York will probably never possess any churches of an
architecture to attract attention for their magnitude and
magnificence. The policy of the country, which separates religion
from the state, precludes this, by confining all the expenditures
of this nature to the several parishes, few of which are rich
enough to do more than erect edifices of moderate dimensions and
cost. The Romish Church, so much addicted to addressing the
senses, manifests some desire to construct its cathedrals, but
they are necessarily confined to the limits and ornaments suited
to the resources of a branch of the church that, in this country,
is by no means affluent. The manner in which the Americans are
subdivided into sects also conflicts with any commendable desire
that may exist to build glorious temples in honor of the Deity:
and convenience is more consulted than taste, perhaps, in all
that relates to ecclesiastical architecture. Nevertheless, a
sensible improvement in this respect has occurred within the last
few years, to which we shall elsewhere advert.

It will be in their trade, their resources, their activity, and
their influence on the rest of the world, as well as in their
population, that the towns of Manhattan will be first entitled to
rank with the larger capitals of Europe. So obvious, rapid, and
natural has been the advance of all the places, that it is not
easy for the mind to regard anything belonging to them as
extraordinary, or out of rule. There is not a port in the whole
country that is less indebted to art and the fostering hand of
Government than this. It is true, certain forts, most of them of
very doubtful necessity, have been constructed for defence; but
no attack having ever been contemplated, or, if contemplated,
attempted, they have been dead letters in the history of its
progress. We are not aware that Government has ever expended one
cent in the waters of Manhattan, except for the surveys,
construction of the aforesaid military works, and the erection of
the lighthouses, that form a part of the general provision for
the safe navigation of the entire coast. Some money has been
expended for the improvement of the shallow waters of the Hudson;
but it has been as much, or more, for the advantage of the upper
towns, and the trade coastwise, generally, than for the special
benefit of New York.

The immense natural advantages of the bays and islands at the
mouth of the Hudson have, in a great degree, superseded the
necessity of such assistance. Nature has made every material
provision for a mart of the first importance: and perhaps it has
been fortunate that the towns have been left, like healthful and
vigorous children, managed by prudent parents, to take the
inclination and growth pointed out to them by this safest and
best of guides.

London is indebted to artificial causes, in a great degree, for
its growth and power. That great law of trade, which renders
settling places indispensable, has contributed to her prosperity
and continued ascendency, long after the day when rival ports are
carrying away her fleets and commerce. She is a proof of the
difficulty of shaking a commercial superiority long established.
Scarce a cargo that enters the ports of the kingdom that does not
pay tribute to her bankers or merchants. But London is a
political capital, and that in a country where the representation
of the Government is more imposing, possessing greater influence,
than in any other Christian nation. The English aristocracy,
which wields the real authority of the state, here makes its
annual exhibition of luxury and wealth, such as the world has
never beheld anywhere else, ancient Rome possibly excepted, and
has had a large share in rendering London what it is.

New York has none of this adventitious aid. Both of the
Governments, that of the United States and that of the State,
have long been taken from her, leaving her nothing of this sort
but her own local authorities. But representation forms no part
of the machinery of American policy. It is supposed that man is
too intellectual and philosophical to need it, in this
intellectual and philosophical country, PAR EXCELLENCE. Although
such is the theory, the whole struggle in private life is limited
to the impression made by representation in the hands of
individuals. That which the Government has improvidently cast
aside, society has seized upon: and hundreds who have no claim to
distinction beyond the possession of money, profit by the mistake
to place themselves in positions perhaps that they are not always
exactly qualified to fill. Of all social usurpations, that of
mere money is the least tolerable - as one may have a very full
purse with empty brains and vulgar tastes and habits. The wisdom
of thus throwing the control of a feature of society, that is of
much more moment than is commonly supposed, into the chapter of
commercial accidents may well he questioned

Some crude attempts have been made to bring the circles of New
York within the control of a code prepared and promulgated
through the public press. They who have made these abortive
attempts have been little aware of the power with which they have
to contend. Napoleon himself, who could cause the conscription to
enter every man's dwelling, could not bring the coteries of the
Faubourg under his influence. In this respect, society will make
its own laws, appeal to its own opinions, and submit only to its
own edicts. Association is beyond the control of any regular and
peaceful government, resting on influences that seem, in a great
measure, to be founded in nature - the most inflexible of all
rulers. Tastes, conditions, connections, habits, and even
prejudices, unite to form a dynasty that never has yet been
dethroned. New York is nearer to a state of nature, probably, as
regards all its customs and associations, than any other
well-established place that could be named. With six hundred
thousand souls, collected from all parts of Christendom - with no
upper class recognized by, or in any manner connected with, the
institutions, it would seem that the circles might enact their
own laws, and the popular principle be brought to bear socially
on the usages of the town - referring fashion and opinion
altogether to a sort of popular will. The result is not exactly
what might be expected under the circumstances, the past being
intermingled with the present time, in spite of theories and
various opposing interests; and, in many instances, caprice is
found to be stronger than reason.

{conscription = the military draft; the Faubourg = the
fashionable neighborhoods of Paris; the popular principle =
democracy}

We have no desire to exaggerate, or to color beyond their claims,
the importance of the towns of Manhattan. No one can better
understand the vast chasm which still exists between London and
New York, and how much the latter has to achieve before she can
lay claim to be the counterpart of that metropolis of
Christendom. It is not so much our intention to dilate on
existing facts, as to offer a general picture, including the
past, the present, and the future, that may aid the mind in
forming something like a just estimate of the real importance and
probable destinies of this emporium of the New World.

It is now just three-and-twenty years since, that, in another
work, we ventured to predict the great fortunes that were in
reserve for this American mart, giving some of the reasons that
then occurred to us that had a tendency to produce such a result.
These predictions drew down upon us sneers, not to say derision,
in certain quarters, where nothing that shadows forth the growing
power of this republic is ever received with favor. The
intervening period has more than fulfilled our expectations. In
this short interval, the population of the Manhattan towns has
more than trebled, while their wealth and importance have
probably increased in a greatly magnified proportion. Should the
next quarter of a century see this ratio in growth continued,
London would be very closely approached in its leading element of
superiority - numbers. We have little doubt that the present
century will bring about changes that will place the emporium of
the Old World and that of the New nearly on a level. This opinion
is given with a perfect knowledge of the vast increase of the
English capital itself, and with a due allowance for its
continuance. We propose, in the body of this work, to furnish the
reasons justifying these anticipations.

{another work = James Fenimore Cooper, "Notions of the Americans:
Picked up by a Travelling Bachelor" (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea and
Carey, 1828) - a detailed description, in the guise of letters
written by a fictitious Belgian traveler, of the geography,
history, economy, government, and culture of the United States}

Seventeen years since, the writer returned home from a long
residence in Europe, during which he had dwelt for years in many
of the largest towns of that quarter of the world. At a convivial
party in one of the most considerable dwellings in Broadway, the
conversation turned on the great improvements that had then been
made in the town, with sundry allusions that were intended to
draw out the opinions of a traveller on a subject that justly
ever has an interest with the Manhattanese. In that conversation
the writer - his memory impressed with the objects with which he
had been familiar in London and Paris, and Rome, Venice, Naples,
etc., and feeling how very provincial was the place where he was,
as well as its great need of change to raise it to the level of
European improvement - ventured to say that, in his opinion,
speaking of Broadway, "There was not a building in the whole
street, a few special cases excepted, that would probably be
standing thirty years hence." The writer has reason to know that
this opinion was deemed extravagant, and was regarded as a
consequence of European rather than of American reasoning. If the
same opinion were uttered to-day, it would meet with more
respect. Buildings now stand in Broadway that may go down to
another century, for they are on a level with the wants and
tastes of a capital; but none such, with a single exception,
existed at the time of which we are writing.

{seventeen years since = Cooper had returned to New York in
November 1833, after a seven year sojourn in Europe}

In these facts are to be found the explanation of the want of
ancient edifices in America. Two centuries and a half are no very
remote antiquity, but we should regard buildings of that, or even
of a much less age, with greater interest, did the country
possess them. But nothing was constructed a century since that
was worth preserving on account of its intrinsic merits; and,
before time can throw its interest around them, edifice after
edifice comes down, to make way for a successor better suited to
the wants and tastes of the age. In this respect New York is even
worse off than the other ancient places of the country - ancient
as things can be regarded in America - its great growth and
commercial spirit demanding sacrifices that Philadelphia and
Boston have as yet escaped. It is quite within the scope of
probable things, that, in a very few years, there should not be
standing in the old town a single structure of any sort, that was
there previously to the Revolution. As for the new towns,
Brooklyn, Williamsburgh, etc., they had no existence worth
alluding to anterior to the commencement of the present century.
If any dwelling is to be found within the limits of either, that
can claim a more remote origin, it is some farmhouse that has
been swallowed up by the modern improvements.

That which is true of the towns, in this respect, is equally true
of the whole country. A dwelling that has stood half a century is
regarded as a sort of specimen of antiquity, and one that has
seen twice that number of years, of which a few are to be found,
especially among the descendants of the Dutch, is looked upon
with some such reverence as is felt by the modern traveller in
gazing at the tomb of Cecilia Metella, or the amphitheatre of
Verona.

{tomb of Cecilia Metella = the most famous monument on the Appian
Way outside Rome, commemorating the wife of Crassus (d. 53 BC),
who as member of the First Triumvirate, joined with Caesar and
Pompey to end the Roman Republic; amphitheatre of Verona = built
by the Emperor Diocletian about 290 A.D. to stage gladiator
combats, it is one of the largest surviving Roman amphitheaters}

The world has had a striking example of the potency of commerce
as opposed to that of even the sword, in the abortive policy of
Napoleon to exclude England from the trade of the Continent. At
the very moment that this potentate of unequalled means and iron
rule was doing all he could to achieve his object, the goods of
Manchester found their way into half of his dependent provinces,
and the Thames was crowded with shipping which belonged to states
that the emperor supposed to be under his control.

{abortive policy = in the early years of the 19th century the
French Emperor Napoleon had sought, largely unsuccessfully, to
blockade England from trade with Europe}

As to the notion of there arising any rival ports, south, to
compete with New York, it strikes us as a chimera. New Orleans
will always maintain a qualified competition with every place not
washed by the waters of the great valley; but New Orleans is
nothing but a local port, after all - of great wealth and
importance, beyond a doubt, but not the mart of America.

New York is essentially national in interests, position, and
pursuits. No one thinks of the place as belonging to a particular
State, but to the United States. The revenue paid into the
treasury, at this point, comes in reality, from the pockets of
the whole country, and belongs to the whole country. The same is
true of her sales and their proceeds. Indeed, there is very
little political sympathy between the places at the mouth of the
Hudson, and the interior - the vulgar prejudice of envy, and the
jealousy of the power of collected capital, causing the country
to distrust the town.

We are aware that the governing motive of commerce, all over the
world, is the love of gain. It differs from the love of gain in
its lower aspects, merely in its greater importance and its
greater activity. These cause it to be more engrossing among
merchants than among the tillers of the soil: still, facts prove
that this state of things has many relieving shades. The man who
is accustomed to deal in large sums is usually raised above the
more sordid vices of covetousness and avarice in detail. There
are rich misers, certainly, but they are exceptions. We do not
believe that the merchant is one tittle more mercenary than the
husbandman in his motives, while he is certainly much more
liberal of his gains. One deals in thousands, the other in tens
and twenties. It is seldom, however, that a failing market, or a
sterile season, drives the owner of the plough to desperation,
and his principles, if he have any, may be preserved; while the
losses or risks of an investment involving more than the merchant
really owns, suspend him for a time on the tenter-hooks of
commercial doubt. The man thus placed must have more than a
common share of integrity, to reason right when interest tempts
him to do wrong.

Notwithstanding the generally fallacious character of the
governing motive of all commercial communities, there is much to
mitigate its selfishness. The habit of regarding the entire
country and its interests with a friendly eye, and of associating
themselves with its fortunes, liberalizes its mind and wishes,
and confers a catholic spirit that the capital of a mere province
does not possess. Boston, for instance, is leagued with Lowell,
and Lawrence, and Cambridge, and seldom acts collectively without
betraying its provincial mood; while New York receives her goods
and her boasted learning by large tran{s}shipments, without any
special consciousness of the transactions. This habit of
generalizing in interests encourages the catholic spirit
mentioned, and will account for the nationality of the great mart
of a great and much extended country. The feeling would be apt to
endure through many changes, and keep alive the connection of
commerce even after that of the political relations may have
ceased. New York, at this moment, contributes her full share to
the prosperity of London, though she owes no allegiance to St.
James.

The American Union, however, has much more adhesiveness than is
commonly imagined. The diversity and complexity of its interests
form a network that will be found, like the web of the spider, to
possess a power of resistance far exceeding its gossamer
appearance - one strong enough to hold all that it was ever
intended to inclose. The slave interest is now making its final
effort for supremacy, and men are deceived by the throes of a
departing power. The institution of domestic slavery cannot last.
It is opposed to the spirit of the age; and the figments of Mr.
Calhoun, in affirming that the Territories belong to the States,
instead of the Government of the United States; and the
celebrated doctrine of the equilibrium, for which we look in vain
into the Constitution for a single sound argument to sustain it,
are merely the expiring efforts of a reasoning that cannot resist
the common sense of the nation. As it is healthful to exhaust all
such questions, let us turn aside a moment, to give a passing
glance at this very material subject.

{Calhoun = Senator John C. Calhoun (1782-1850} of South Carolina}

At the time when the Constitution was adopted, three classes of


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