Henry Pearson Gratton.

As a Chinaman saw us; passages from his letters to a friend at home online

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over the French roof, or mansard. Nowhere have I seen purely American
architecture. The race is not possessed of sufficient unity. So all
their art is from abroad, and notably is French and English. They make
broad effects, and give them an American name; but they are copied from
the Dutch or Germans. All the furniture designers in America are
Europeans. You will find a splendid house with a Chinese room, having
teak inlaid with ivory, etc.; a Japanese room, a Moorish room, and an
Italian room, all splendidly decorated; but the family lives in an
"American room," that is commonplace and subversive of all art digestion
and assimilation. The average middle-class American knows absolutely
nothing about art; the lower classes so little that their homes are
hopeless. Knowing this, they are preyed upon by thousands of foreign
swindlers. There are hundreds of articles manufactured in Europe to sell
to the American tourist. I have seen Napoleonic furniture enough to load
a fleet. I can only compare it to the pieces of the true cross and the
holy relics of the Catholics, of which there are enough to fill the
original ark which the Bible tells the Americans landed on Mount Ararat
in a great flood.

The houses of the best people I have told you about are as far removed
from the commonplace as the equator from the poles. They are rich in
conception, sumptuous in detail, artistic in every way, and filled with
the art gems of the world. But these people have descended from refined
people for several generations. They are the true Americans, but make up
a small number compared to the inartistic whole. I believe America
recognizes this, and with her stupendous energy is doing everything to
educate the masses in art. They are building splendid museums; rich men
give away millions. There are hundreds of art schools, free to all, and
art is taught in all the schools. Fine monuments are placed in public
squares and parks, and beautiful fountains and memorials in these and
other public places. Their buildings, though foreign in design, are
beautiful. In Boston one may see marvelous work in frescoes, etc., and
in the Government buildings at Washington. The Capitol, while not
American in design, is a pile worthy of the great people who erected it.



The questions I know you will wish answered are, Whether this stupendous
aggregation of States is a success? Does it possess advantages beyond
those of the Chinese Empire? Does it fulfil the expectations of its own
people? Frankly, I do not consider myself competent to answer. I have
studied America and the Americans for many years during my visits to
this country and Europe, and while I have seen many accounts of the
country, written after several months of observation, I believe that no
just estimate of the republican form of government can be formed after
such experience. My private impression, however, is that the republic
falls far short of what the men in Washington's time expected, and it
is also my private opinion that it has not so many advantages as a
government like that of England.

It is too splendid an organization to be lightly denounced. The idea of
the equality of men is noble, and I would not wish to be arraigned among
its critics. There is too much good to offset the bad. I have been
attempting to amuse you by analyzing the Americans, pointing out their
frailties as well as their good qualities. I tell you what I see as I
run, always, I hope, remembering what is good in this spontaneous and
open-hearted people. The characteristic claim of the people is that the
Government offers freedom to its citizens; yet every man is quite as
free in China if he behaves himself, and he can rise if he possesses

Any native-born citizen in the United States may become the head of the
nation has he the courage of his convictions, the many accomplishments
which equip the great leader, and should the hour and the man meet
opportunity. This is the one prize which distinguishes America from
England. The latter in other respects offers exactly as much freedom
with half the wear and tear; in fact, to me the freedom of America is
one of her disadvantages. Every one knows, and the American best of all,
that all men are _not equal_, never were and never can be. Yet this
false doctrine is their standard, and they swear by it, though some will
explain that what is meant is political freedom. Freedom accounts for
the gross impertinence of the ignorant and lower classes, the laughable
assumptions of servants, and the illogical pretenses of the _nouveau
riche_, which make America impossible to some people. Cultivated
Americans are as thoroughly aristocratic as the nobility of England.
There are the same classes here as there. A grocer becomes rich and
retires or dies; his children refuse to associate with the families of
other grocers; in a word, the Americans have the aristocratic feeling,
but they have no peasant class; the latter would be, in their own
estimation, as good as any one. One class, the lower and poorer, is
arraigned against the upper and richer, and the gap is growing daily.

But this would not prove that the republic is a failure. What then? It
is, in the opinion of many of its clergymen, a great moral failure. No
nation in history has lasted many centuries after having developed the
"symptoms" now shown in the United States. I quote their own press, "the
States are morally rotten," and you have but to turn to these organs and
the magazines of the past decade, which make a feature of holding up
the shortcomings of cities and millionaires, to read the details of the
tragedy. Thieves - grafters - have seized upon the vitals of the country.
St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, great representative
cities - what is their history? The story of dishonesty among officials,
of bribery, stealing, and every possible crime that a man can devise to
wring money from the people. This is no secret. It has all been exposed
by the friends of morality. City governments are overthrown, the rascals
are turned out, but in a few months the new officers are caught devising
some new "grafting" operation.

I have it from a prominent official that there is not an honest State or
city administration in America. What can a nation say when for years it
has known that a large and influential lobby has been maintained to
influence statesmen, a lobby comprising a corps of "persuaders" in the
pay of business men? How do they influence them? The great fights waged
to defeat certain measures are well known, and it is known that money
was used. Certain congressmen have been notoriously receptive. I have
seen the following story in print in many forms. I took the trouble to
ask a well-known man if it was possible that it could be founded on
fact; his reply was, "Certainly it is a fact." A briber entered the
private room of a congressman. "Mr. - - , to come right to the point, I
want the - - bill to pass, and I will give you five hundred dollars for
the vote and your interest." The congressman rose to his feet, purple
with rage. "You dare to offer me this insulting bribe? You infernal
scoundrel, I will throw you out." "Well, suppose we make it one
thousand," said the imperturbable visitor. "Well," replied the
congressman, cooling down, "that is a little better put. We will talk it

The American Government had been attempting, since 1859, to build a
canal across the Isthmus. I believe surveys were made earlier than that,
but bribery and corruption and "graft" enabled the friends of
transcontinental railroads to stop the canals. It would be a
disadvantage to the railroads to have a canal across the Isthmus. So in
some mysterious way the canal, which the people wished, has not been
built, and will not be until the people rise and demand it. Corruption
has stood on the Isthmus with a flaming sword and struck down every
attempt to build the canal. The morality of the people is low. Divorce
is rampant, the daily journals are filled with accounts of divorces, and
daily lists of crimes are printed that would seem impossible to a
nation that can raise millions to send to China to convert the
"heathen." If they would only divert these Chinese missionaries from
China to their own heathen and grafters, but they will not. The peculiar
freedom of the country, which is nothing less than the most atrocious
license, tends to drag it down.

The papers have absolutely no check on their freedom. Men and women are
attacked by them, ruined, held up to scorn and ridicule, and the victim
has no recourse but to shoot the editor and thus embroil himself. That
it is a crime to ridicule a man and make him the butt of a nation or the
world seems never to occur to these men. Certain statesmen have been so
lampooned by the "hired" libelers that they have been ruined. The press
hires a class of men, called cartoonists, usually ill-bred fellows of
no standing, yet clever, in their business, whose duty it is to hold up
public men to ridicule in every possible way and make them infamous
before the people. This is called the freedom of the press, and its
attitude, or the sensational part of it, in presenting crime in an
alluring manner, is having its effect upon the youth of the country.
Young girls and boys become familiar with every feature of bestial crime
through the "yellow journals," so called, and that the republic will
reap sorely from this sowing I venture to prophesy.

I asked one of the great insurance men why it was that great financial
institutions took so strong an interest in politics. He laughed, and
said, "If I am not mistaken, not long since your country repudiated its
Government bonds, and they are not negotiable to any great extent among
your people." Hearing this I assumed the American attitude and "sawed
wood." "We take an interest in politics," he continued, "to offset the
professional blackmailer and thief. Now in the case of your repudiation
I understand all about it. The Chinese Government was in straits, and
suddenly some seemingly patriotic citizen started a petition, stating to
the Government that the subscribers offered their Government securities
to the Government as a gift. By no means all the bondholders signed, but
enough, I understand, to have justified your Government in repudiating
the bonds - 'at the request of the people' - thus destroying the national
credit at home and abroad. Now in America that would be called 'graft.'
The act would be done by a few grafters in the hope of reward, or by
some unscrupulous statesmen to save the Government from bankruptcy
during their term of office. I conceive this to be what was done in
China. If we do not keep eternal watch we shall be bled every day. It is
done in this way: a grafter becomes an assemblyman, and with others lays
a plan of graft. It is to get up a bill, so offensive to our corporation
that it would mean ruin if passed. The grafter has no idea that it will
pass, but it is made much of, and of course reaches our ears, and the
question is how to stop it. We are finally told that we had better see
Mr. - - , in our own city. He is accordingly looked up and found to be a
cheap and ignorant politician, who, if there are no witnesses, tells our
agent plainly that it can be stopped for ten thousand dollars. Perhaps
we beat him down to eight thousand, but we pay it. Hundreds of firms
have been blackmailed in this way. Now we keep an agent in the State
Capitol to attend to our interests, and we take an interest in politics
to head off the election of professional grafters."

One of the most serious things in this phase of national immorality is
showing itself in what are termed "lynchings"; that is, a negro commits
a crime against a white woman, and instead of permitting the law to run
its course, the people rise, seized with a savage craze for revenge,
batter in the jails, take the criminal, and burn him at the stake. This
burning is sometimes attended by thousands, who display the most
remarkable _abandon_ and savagery. Some African chiefs have sacrificed
more people at one time, but no savage has ever displayed greater
bestiality, gloated over his victim with more real satisfaction, than
these free Americans in numerous instances when shouting and yelling
about the burning body of some unfortunate whose crime has aroused
their ferocity to the point of madness.

Not one but many clergymen have denounced this. They compare it to the
most brutal acts of savagery, and we have the picture of a country
posing as civilized, with the temerity to point out the sins of others,
giving themselves over to orgies that would disgrace the lowest of
races. I have it from the lips of a clergyman that during the past
twelve years over twenty-five hundred men have been lynched in the
United States. In a single year two hundred and forty men were killed by
mobs in this way, many being burned at the stake. If any excuse is
offered, it is said that most of these were negroes, and the crime was
rape, and the victims white women; but of the number mentioned only
forty-six were charged with this crime and but two-thirds were black.
Many confessed as the torch was applied, many died protesting their
innocence, and in no case was the offense legally proved. This lynching
seems to be a mania with the people. It began with the attack of negroes
on white women. The repetition of similar cases so enraged the whites
that they have become mad upon the subject. The feeling is well
illustrated by the remark of a Southerner to me. "If a woman of my
family was attacked by a negro I must be his executioner. I could not
wait for the law." This man told me that no lynching would ever have
taken place had it not been for the uncertainty of the law. Men who were
known to be guilty of the grossest of crimes had been virtually
protected by the law, and their cases dragged along at great expense to
the State, this occurring so many times that the patience of the people
became exhausted. This man forgot that the law was instigated for the
purpose of justice.

The negro is an issue in America and a cause of much crime, a vengeance
on the people who held them as slaves. The negro has increased so
rapidly that in forty years he has doubled in number, there now being
over nine millions in the country. At the present rate there will be
twenty-five millions in 1930 - a black menace to the white American.

The negro is a factor in the national unrest. They outnumber the whites
in some localities, and hence vote themselves many offices, while the
few whites pay eighty or eighty-five per cent of the taxes and the
negroes supply from eighty to ninety per cent of the criminals. While
this is going on in the South and the whites are rising and preparing to
disfranchise the blacks in many States, the people of Boston and
Cambridge are discussing the propriety of the whites and blacks
marrying to settle the question of social equality. Such proposals I
have read. Reprinted in the South, they added fuel to the flame.

Another element of distress in America is the attitude of labor, the
policy of the Government of letting in the lowest of the low from every
nation except the Chinese, against whom the only charge has been that
they are too industrious and thus a menace to the whites. The swarms of
people from the low and criminal classes of Europe have enabled the
anarchists to obtain such a foothold that in this free country the
President of the United States is almost as closely guarded as the
Emperor of Russia. The White House is surrounded and guarded by
detectives of various kinds. The secret-service department is equal in
its equipment to that of many European nations, and millions are spent
in watching criminals and putting down their strikes and riots. The
doctrine of freedom to all appeals so well to the ignorant laborer that
he has decided to control the entire situation, and to this end labor is
divided into "unions," and in many sections business has been ruined.

The demands of these ignorant men are so preposterous that they can
scarcely be credited. The merchant no longer owns his business or
directs it. The laborer tells him what to pay, how to pay it, when and
how long the hours shall be - in fact, undertakes to usurp entire
control. If the owner protests, the laborers all stop work, strike,
appoint guards, who attack, kill, or intimidate any one who attempts to
take their place. In this way it is said that one billion dollars have
been lost in the last few years. Contracts have been broken, men
ruined, localities and cities placed in the greatest jeopardy, and
hundreds of lives lost. Every branch of trade has its "union," and in so
many cases have the laborers been successful that a national panic comes
almost in sight. Never was there a more farcical illustration of
freedom. Irrational, ignorant Irishmen, who had not the mental capacity
to earn more than a dollar a day, dictated to merchant princes and
millionaire contractors. In New York it was proved that the leaders of
the strikers sold out to employers, and accepted bribes to call off

The question before the American people is, Has an American citizen the
right to conduct his own business to suit himself and employ whom he
wishes? Has the laborer the right to work for whom and what rate he
pleases? The imported socialists, anarchists, and their converts among
Americans say no, and it will require but little to precipitate a
bloody war, when labor, led by red-handed murderers, will enact in New
York and all over the United States the horrors of the French Commune.

The republic for a great and enlightened country has too many criminals.
I am told by a prohibition clergyman that the curse of drink and license
has its fangs in the heart of the land. He tells me that the Americans
pay yearly $1,172,000,000 for their alcoholic drink; for bread,
$600,000,000; for tobacco, $625,000,000; for education, $197,000,000;
for ministers' salaries, $14,000,000. It has been found that the
downfall of eighty-one per cent of criminals is traceable to drink. He
said: "Our republic is a failure morally, as we have 2,550,000 drunkards
and people addicted to drink. We have 600,000 prostitutes, and many more
doubtless that are not known, and in nine cases out of ten their
downfall can be traced to drink."

I listen to this side of the story, and then I see wonderful
philanthropy, institutions for the prevention of crime, good men at work
according to their light, millions employed to educate the young,
thousands of churches and societies to aid man in making man better.
When I listen to these men, and see tens of thousands of Christian men
and women living pure lives, building up vast cities, great monuments
for the future, I feel that I can not judge the Americans. They perhaps
expect too much from their freedom and their republican ideas. I shall
never be a republican. I believe that we all have all the freedom we
deserve. It is well to remember that man is an animal. After all his
polish and refinement, he has animal tastes and desires, and if he makes
laws that are in direct opposition to the indulgence which his animal
nature suggests, he certainly must have some method of enforcing the
laws. Like all animals, some men are easily influenced and others not,
and the human animal has not made progress so far but that he needs
watching in order to make him conform to what he has decided or elected
to call right.

You will expect me to compare the American to the Chinaman, but it is
impossible. Some things which we look upon as right, the American
considers grievous sins. The point of view is entirely at variance, but
I have boundless faith in the brilliant and good men and women I have
met in America. I say this despite my other impressions, which also

The great political scheme of the people is poorly devised and crude. It
is so arranged that in some States governors are elected every year or
two and other officers every year, representatives of the people in
Congress every two years, senators every six, Presidents every four
years. Thus the country is constantly in a whirl, and as soon as the
rancor of one national election is over begins the scheming for another.
The people have really little to do with the selection of a President. A
small band of rich and influential schemers generally have the entire
plan or "slate" laid out. A plan, natural in appearance, is _arranged_
for the public, and at the right time the slated program is sprung.
Senators should be elected by the people, congressmen should be elected
for a longer period, and Presidents should have twice the terms they do.
But it is easy to suggest, and I confess that my suggestions are those
of many American people themselves which I hear reformers cry abroad.

The vital trouble with America to-day is that she can not assimilate
the 600,000 debased, ignorant, poverty-stricken foreigners who are
coming in every year. They keep out the one peaceful nation. They
exclude the Chinese and take to the national heart the Jew, the
Socialist, the Italian, the Roumanian and others who constitute a nation
of unrest. What America needs is the "rest cure" that you hear so much
about here. She should close her seaports to these aliens for ten years,
allow the people here to assimilate; but they can not do it. The foreign
transportation lines under foreign flags are in the business to load up
America with the dregs of Europe. I know of one family of Jews, four
brothers, who wished to come to America, but found that they would have
to show that they were not paupers. They mustered about one thousand
dollars. One came over, and sent back the money by draft. The second
brought it back as his fortune, then immediately sent it back for
another brother to bring over, and so on until they all arrived, each
proving that he was not a pauper. Yet these same brothers, each with
several children, became an expense to the Government before they were
earners. The children were sent to industrial homes, and later entered
the sweat-shops. In America there is not a Chinaman to-day in a
workhouse, or a pauper[13] at the expense of the Government; yet the
Chinese are not wanted here.


[13] This is doubtful. - EDITOR.



I had not been in Washington a month before I received invitations to a
"country club golf" tournament, to a "rowing club," to a "pink tea," to
a "polo game," to a private "boxing" bout between two light-weight
professionals, given in Senator - - 's stable, to a private "cock-fight"
by the brother of - - 's wife, to a gun club "shoot," not to speak of
invitations to several "poker games." From this you may infer that
Americans are fond of sport. The official sport - that is, the game I
heard of most among Government officials, senators, and others - was
"poker," and the sums played for at times I am assured are beyond
belief. There are rules and etiquette for poker, and one of the most
distinguished of American diplomatists of a past generation, General
Schenck, emulated the Marquis of Queensberry in boxing by writing a book
on the national game, that has all the charm claimed for it. It is
seductive, and doubtless has had its influence on the people who employ
the "bluff" in diplomacy, war, business, or poker, with equal tact and

Middle-class Americans are fond of sport in every way, but the
aristocrats lack sporting spontaneity; they like it, or pretend to like
it, because it is the fashion, and they take up one sport after another
as it becomes the fad. That this is true can be shown by comparing the
Englishman and the American of the fashionable class. The Englishman is
fond of sport because it is in his blood; he does not like golf to-day
and swimming to-morrow, but he likes them all, and always has done so.
He would never give up cricket, golf, or any of his games because they
go out of fashion; he does not allow them to go out of fashion; but with
the American it is different.

Hence I assume that the average American of the better class is not
imbued with the sporting spirit. He wears it like an ill-fitting coat. I
find a singular feature among the Americans in connection with their
sports. Thus if something is known and recognized as sport, people take
to it with avidity, but if the same thing is called labor or exercise,
it is considered hard work, shirked and avoided. This is very cleverly
illustrated by Mark Twain in one of his books, where a boy makes his
companions believe that white-washing a fence is sport, and so relieves

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Online LibraryHenry Pearson GrattonAs a Chinaman saw us; passages from his letters to a friend at home → online text (page 9 of 12)