James Fenimore Cooper.

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extensive scale, I think you will agree with me that
the Americans are not in much danger of being the
victims of a conquest. They turn the idea themselves
into high ridicule. Some of them go so far as to
assert, that Europe, united, could not subdue a people
so remote, so free, and protected by so many natural
advantages. It is very certain, that whatever Europe
might do now, she could not overturn this repubhc,
if it shall remain united, fifty years hence.

The Americans seem quite determined that a future
war shall not find them so entirely without prepara-
tion as the last. In the great concerns of the day, few
of us, in Europe, had time or inclination to lend our
attention to the details of that war ; and with the ex-
ception of the actors, and perhaps a few of the leading
events, little is known of it, even by the English who
were parties to the struggle. As I intend to close
this chapter with a brief account of the present mili-
tary system of the United States, it may be well to

Vol. I. X


revert to the means they employed in their two for-
mer contests.

The insurrection of 1775, was commenced under
every mihtary disadvantage. It is a well-known fact
that Washington kept the British army beleaguered in
Boston, with an undisciplined force not always nu-
merically superior, and which v^as for a long period
so destitute of ammunition, that it could not have
maintained a sharp conflict of half an hour. Yet the
high resolution of this people supported them in the
field, not as an enthusiastic and momentarily excited
mob, but as grave and thoughtful men, intently bent
on their object, and who knew how to assume such
an aspect of order and method, in the midst of all
their wants, as should and did impose on their skilful
and brave enemies. Some minute calculations may
be useful in furnishing a correct opinion of that con-
test, and, of course, in enabling us to judge of the ef-
fects which intelligence (the disthictive property of
the American community) has on the military char-
acter of a nation.

In the year 1790, there were in the United States
814,000 white males over the age of sixteen (frac-
tions are excluded.) Jt is known that the population
of the country has doubled in about twenty-three
years. This calculation should give 407,000 of the
same description of males, in the year 1 767 ; or about
600,000 in the year 1779, which was the epoch when
the final issue of the revolution might be said to have
been decided by the capture of Burgoyne. If we
deduct for age, physical disabihties, religious scruples,
(as among the Quakers,) and disaffection to the cause,
100,000, a number probably greatly within the truth,
we shall have half a million of men capable of bear-
ing arms, to resist the power of Britain. I am sen-
sible that this enumeration rather exceeds than falls
short of the truth. England employed, at one time,


not less than fifty thousand soldiers to reduce the re-
volted colonies, and she was in possession of all the
strong holds of the country, at the commencement of
the contest. The half million, badly armed, without
supplies, discipline, money, or scarcely any other
requisite but resolution, were scattered over a wide
surface, a fact which, though, with their intelligence,
and determination,- it was favourable to their success,
zuilhoiU it would have assured their defeat in detail.
The formidable army of their enemies was sustained
by the presence of powerful fleets ; was led by expe-
rienced generals, and always fought bravely^ and with
perfect good will. Yet what was it able to perform?
From New-England, the only nortion of the whole
country where a tolerably dense population existed,
a great force was early expelled in disgrace. A few
cities on the sea-coast were held by strong garrisons,
which rarely ventured out with success. The only
great expedition attempted in the north, was signally
defeated. In the middle districts, ma'-ches of one or
two hundred miles were made, it is true, and several
battles were fought, commonly to the advantage of
discipline and numbers ; but in the only instance
where an extended chain of communication was at-
tempted, it was destroyed by the vigour of Washing-
ton. In the soutlL, a scattered population, and the
presence of slaves, allowed a temporary, but a treach-
erous success. Reverses soon followed ; the con-
quered territory was regained, and triumph ensued
This is a summary of the outline of that war. If to
the soldiers, be added the seamen of the fleet, a
species of force nearly, or quite, as useful in such a
war as the troops, there could scarcely be less than
80,000 men employed in endeavouring to reduce the
malcontents. When the magnitude of the stake, and
the power of Britain, be considered, this number will
scarcely appear sufficient. Here, then, admitting
these estimates to be just, you have a regular, com-


bined and disciplined force of 80,000 men, aided by
large bodies of the disaffected to the American cause,
contending against an unprovided, scattered, popula-
tion of half a million of males, who had to resist, to
till their land, and to discharge all the customary obli-
gations of society. The aid of the French was cer-
tainly of great use to shorten the conflict; but the
men who had gone through the dark period of 1776,
'77, and '78, and who had cleared the southern and
eastern States, by their own exertions, were not Jikely
to submit to a power they had so often baffled.

In the war of 1812, the country was much better
provided, though still miserably defective in military
preparation, and in^ientific knowledge. The whole
population was about 8,000,000, and, though joined
as one man on the subject of independence, and the
maintenance of territory, nearly equally divided on
the question of the policy of the war. A capital
blunder was committed at the very commencement
of the struggle. Instead of placing young and talented
men at the head of the armies, officers of the revolu-
tion were sought for to fill those situations. The
Greenes, the Waynes, the Lincolns, Knoxes, &c. of
that war had followed, or preceded, their great chief
to the tomb, and few or none were left, of sufficient
distinction, to yield a pledge for their future useful-
ness. The very fact that a man had served in a
revolution without ^clat^ should have been prima
facie evidence of his incapacity. Still, ancient offi
cers, who had commanded regiments, or battalions,
in the war of 1770, were thought preferable to those
who had acquired their information in studying the
more modern tactics. The result proved as might
be expected. Not a single officer of the old school
(one excepted) did any thing to justify his appoint-
ment, while several of them inflicted heavy disgraces
on the arms of the country. The exception was Gen-
^,ral Jackson, vvho uas far too young to have arrived


at eminence in the revolution, and who gained his
renown by departing from the Fabian policy of that
struE^gle, instead of pursuing it.

The last war commenced in the middle of 1812,
and terminated at the commencement of 1 8 1 5. Vv^ith
the usual exceptions of personal enterprise and cour-
age, the two first campaigns were disgraceful, expen-
sive, and unmilitary. But time was already beginning
to correct the blunders of a fatal prejudice, or rather
fatal partiality. Men of character and talents forced
themselves into notice ; and although there existed,
in the conceptions of the manner in which the war
was to be conducted, a most lamentable impotency
in the cabinet, the campaign of 1814 was brilliant in
achievement. With the solitary exception of a rapid
expedition to Washington, through a barren and
nearly uninhabited country, the English were not
successful in a single attempt of any importance.
Four bloody affairs w-ere fought on the Niagara, to
the advantage of the Americans ; formidable inva-
sions on the north and on the south were successfully,
and, in one instance, brilliantly repelled; and, in fine,
the troops of the confederation, better drilled, and
better led, began to exhibit some of the finest qualities
of first-rate soldiers. There is no doubt that England
nobly maintained her colonies, which, of necessity,
became the disputed point in such a war ; but it is
just as true, that so soon as, encouraged by finding
herself unexpectedly released from her great Euro-
pean struggle, she attempted conquest in her turn,
she was quite as signally foiled.

Another quarter of a century may be necessary to
raise the United States to the importance of a first-
rate power, in the European sense. At the end of
that time, their population will be about 25,000,000,
which, though not compact, according to our ideas,
will be sufficiently available for all military purposes,
bj' means of the extraordinary facilities of intercom-
" X 2


municatlon that already exist, and are hourly increas*
ing in the country. I think, before that period ar-
rives, the republic will be felt as a military (or, more
properly, a naval) pouter, in the affairs of Christen-
dom. What she will become before the end of the
century, must depend more on herself than on any
thing the rest of the world can do to forward, or to
retard, the result.

The present military condition of the United States,
though far from imposing, is altogether more respect-
able than it has ever before been. One who is ac-
customed to see kings manoeuvre large bodies of
household troops as their ordinary playthings, might
smile to be told that the whole aniiy of this great
repubHc contains but 6,000 men. The Bourbons
seldom lie down, dear Count, without as strong a
force to watch their slumbers. But he who estimates
the power of this people to injure, or to resist, by the
number of its regular troops, makes a miserable blun-
der. The habit of discipline and the knowledge of
military details are kept alive by the practice of this
small force. They are chiefly employed on the west-
ern frontier, or they garrison, by companies, the posts
on the seaboard. They answer all the objects of
preserving order on the one, and of guarding the pub-
lic property in the other. But the vast improvement
of the country is in the progress, and in the gradual
diffusion of professional knowledge. All the subor-
dinate ranks in this little army are filled by young
men, who have received rigid military educations,
tempered by a morahty, and a deference to the insti-
tutions of the land, that are elsewhere little cultivated,
and which tend to elevate the profession, by render-
ing a soldier strictly the support, and not the master
of the community.

It is not probable that the jealousy of the Ameri-
cans will ever admit of the employment of a very
large regular force in time of peace. They prefer


trusting to the care of armed citizens. Though the
miHtia never can be, compared with its numbers, as
formidable as discipHned troops, it is certainly suffi-
cient to maintain order, and to resist invasion. With
respect to the two latter objects, you may possibly
believe that America is pecuharly favoured by her
geographical situation. It is scarcely fair for govern-
ments to refuse to give a population the necessary
degree of intelligence, and then to say it will be dan-
gerous to entrust them with arms. We know that a
child may do mischief with a weapon, but we also
know that Nature has decreed that the time shall come
when it may be made highly useful to him. For
my part, I firmly believe, that if Europe would put
the school-book into one hand, the other might be
safely trusted with the musket. It is commonly the
interest of the vast majority in every nation to pre-
serve order ; and they will certainly do it best, if the
means are freely furnished. When the interests of
the majority are in favour of a change, there is some-
thing very like true wisdom and justice in permitting
it. Fancy, for a moment, twelve or fifteen millions,
resembling the population of New-England, in posses-
sion of a sufficient territory in the heart of Europe,
every man with a musket, a reasonable supply of
military munitions in readiness, and a moderate, dis-
ciplined force to furnish the nucleus of a regular army.
What nation could hope to invade them with success?
It is very true that the King of Prussia, now, is proba-
bly more dangerous to his neighbours than he would be
at the head of such a nation ; but a good deal of the truth
of all these questions lies in the fact, whether a nation
is any the better for being externally so very formi-
dable. Three or four communities, intelligent, content
with their condition, and intrusted with arms, like
the Americans, properly dispersed over the surface
of Europe, would be sufficient to insure the tranquil-
lity of one quarter of the globe of themselves It is


odd enough that the world should have been con-
tending so long about the l»alance of power, v/ithout
hitting on the cheapcFl mode of effecting it. Ink
costs far less than gunpowder ; and no reasonable
man can doubt that, if properly expended, it would
go farther, in oiie generation, to establish the natural
and useful boundaries of nations, than rivers of blood.
It is not a century since the fate of the British empire
was decided by less than twenty thousand soldiers.
It became Protestant, when it might have been Cath-
ohc. Here was a balance of pov/er, so far as Eng-
land and her dependencies were concerned, settled
by a handfull of men. It would require Europe
united to do the same thing over again, and all be-
cause new generations have acquired more liberal
ideas of their natural rights. And yet England is far,
in this particular, very far, from what she might be.
Even this country has still a great deal to do in ad-
vancing the mighty work of education.

We have an obstinate habit of insisting that, though
America is prospering v^'ith all her freedom and
economy, her system would be fatal to any European
nation. I once ventured to assert this position to my
travelling friend, who met my opinion by bluntly ask-
ing — ""How do you know it? In what age, or in
what country, did you ever try the experiment ? I
grant that certain desperate political adventures have
been attempted, in which a few good men have joined
a great many bad ones, in overturning governments,
and that the mockery of liberty has been assumed by
the latter, until it suited their convenience to throw
aside the mask, and then tyranny has succeeded
to the temporary deception, as a perfect matter of
course. But so far as the experience of Europe goes,
and considering the question altogether in a military
point of view, 1 think it will be found that the freest
nations have, ccoteris paribus^ always been found the
most difficult to conquer. I might quote Scotland,


Holland, and Switzerland, in favour of this theory.
You will say, perhaps, that the first and the last were
more indebted for their independence to their peculiar
condition and poverty than to any actual political
institutions, more particularly the fornner. Granted.
And yet you find that it is only necessary to make a
man feel a direct interest in preserving his actual
condition to make him resolute in defending it. One
would think there was far less to fight for in the hills
of Scotland, than in the plains of Italy ; and yet Italy
has been overrun a hundred times by invaders, and
Scotland never. But you think the hills and the fast-
nesses composed the strength of Scotland and '\Vales.
No doubt they added; but will any man accuse the
Netherlands, particularly Holland, of being a moun-
tainous country ? Do you think Napoleon would
have ventured to march his vast army into a country
so remote from France as Russia, had the latter been
peopled with 20,000,000 of Americans, and had even
the climate been as temperate as that of Paris ? What
were the facts in similar invasions, though certainly
on a greatly lessened scale ? Ten or twelve thousand
yeomen, intermingled with a few regular troops, who
were animated by the same spirit, intercepted and
destroyed Burgoyne, at the head of ten thousand
regulars, who were quite as good troops as any in
the imperial guard. Prevost, at the head of an ad-
mirable force of many thousand men, who had been
fighting the best battles of Europe, w^as checked by
a handfull of countrymen, and would have shared the
fate of Burgoyne near the same spot, had he not been
timely admonished to make a disgraceful retreat, by
the fortune of his predecessor. Jackson, with some
five or six thousand Tennesseans, Kentuckians, and
Louisianians, did not even permit his enemy to involve
himself in the difficulties of a distant retreat. The
situation of a wealthy city required that the spirit of
these freemen should be shown in its front ; and Vv-eil


did they make it known. A similar fate would ha\x
attended the excursion to Washington, had time been
given for arrangement, and the collection of a force
sutticient for the object. But the experience of even
the most despotic governments goes to show how
much more formidable they become, when each
man is made to believe it is his interest to resist ag

But the Americans appear sensible, that while the
irresistible force of every nation exists in giving all
of its citizens the deepest possible interest in its
welfare, they do not neglect such rational means of
rendering their numbers as effective as may be, with-
out rendering the system of defence unnecessarily
burthensome. There can be no 4oubt, that in this
respect at least the republic is greatly favoured by
its geographical position. Removed from all the or-
dinary dangers of external aggression, the country is
able to advance in its career of improvement, with
the freedom of a child, whose limbs are permitted to
grow, and whose chest expands, unshackled by the
vicious effects of swaddhngs, or any other artificial

Compared with its state in 1812, the present mili-
tary condition of the United States presents the fol-
lowing points of difference. Instead of possessing a
few indifferently educated graduates of an infant mili-
tary school, it has now hundreds, who have long en-
joyed the advantages of far higher instruction. The
corps of engineers, in particular, is rapidly inproving,
and is already exceedingly respectable. A system of
order and exactitude has been introduced into the
police and commissariat of the army, which will
serve to render any future force doubly effective,
and which may be readily extended to meet the ex-
igencies of the largest armies. Formidable fortresses
have been erected, or are in progress of erection,
which will give security to most of the coast, and


protection to the commerce of the country. By the
aid of canals and great roads, armies on the frontiers
can now he supphed at one sixth of the former cost,
and in half the time. Arms, artillery, and all the
munitions of war, woollen and cotton clothing, in
short, the whole materiel of an army, could now
be furnished in the country at a reasonable cost ;
whereas, as late as 1812, the Americans were so en-
tirely dependent on their enemy for a supply, that
regiments were absolutely unable to march for want
of so simple an article as blankets. The population
has advanced from 8 to 12,000,000, and the revenue
in even a greater proportion. The debt is in about
the same ratio to the inhabitants as before the war ;
but as the expenditures are not increased in the pro-
portion of the revenue, it is in the course of rapid
extinguishment. A very few years more of peace
will effect this desirable object.*

It is a mistaken idea that the Americans arc a people
so. much engaged in commerce as to be indifferent
to the nicer points of national honour and military
renown. It is far more true to describe them as a
people who have hitherto been removed from the
temptation of aggression, and in whom the native
principles of justice have, in consequence, never been
weakened. One hears a grea<^ deal in France, among
the upper classes, of the French honour, and in Eng-
land<of British character, &c. &c. ; but neither of these
nations has ever manifested one half the jealous
watchfulness of their rights as these simple repub-
licans. They dared the war of their independence
in the maintenance of a perfectly abstract principle,
for no one pretends that the taxation of England was
oppressive in fact ; and at this hour, it becomes very
necessary for the graver heads of the nation to temper

* The average amount of customs for ten years before tlie
war, a little exceeded 1-2,000,000 of dollars a j'ear; it may now
be stated at about 20,000,000.


the public mind, at the smallest rumourof any assault
on their dignity or national character. The politicians
are moderate, because they see that aggression bears
an aspect with them different from that which it
assumes towards other people. An aggression by
England, for instance, on America, is much like an
insult offered by a man to a boy. The latter may
bear it, because he can say to himself, the other will
not dare to repeat it next year. Thus the American
politician reasons, or rather has reasoned, that time is
all-important to them. Nations do not often go to war
for indemnity, but to maintain established rights by
showing spirit and force, or for conquest. Conquest
the Americans do not need, and there is no fear of
injuries growing into precedent against a people who
are rich, out of debt, free, intelligent, intrinsically
brave, however prudent they may be, and who in
fifty years will number 50,000,000 ! I think, however,
that the spirit of the people rather runs ahead of their
actual force, than otherwise. Perhaps their revolu-
tion was twenty years too soon ; and now, though
lovers of peace, and frequently religiously indisposed
to war, it is quite easy to see that they chafe, to a
man, at the idea of any invasion on what they deem
their natural rights.

It may serve to give you an idea of the different
attitude which this country takes in 1 825, from what
it maintained in 1812, by stating two facts. It ia^well
Known that thousands of their citizens were impressed
with impunity, into the British navy before the lattei
period. There was a false rumour the other day
that a similar act had occurred on the coast of Africa
1 heard but one opinion on the subject. " We must
have explanation and justice without delay.'' Cad
wallader says, that he can hardly imagine a case ir
which two or three impressments (unless subject tc
clear explanations) would not now produce a v^^ar
The rumour, that England was to become mistress


of Cuba, has also been circulated during my visit.
I have sought opportunities to demand the conse-
quences. The answer has been, at least five times in
six, " war.'*'

It is not difficult to see, that the day is at hand
v^hen this republic will be felt in the great general
political questions of Christendom. It may then be
fortunate for humanity, that the mighty power she
will shortly wield, is not to be exercised to satisfy the
ambition of individuals, but that they who will have
to bear the burthen of the contests, will also have a
direct influence on their existence. Neither the insti-
tutions, nor the necessities of America, are ominous
of a thirst for conquest ; but, with her widely-spread
commerce, it will be impossible to avoid frequent
and keen collisions with other nations. I think, for
a long time to come, that her armies will be chiefly
confined to the defensive ; but another and a very
different question presents itself, when we turn our
attention towards her fleets.

Sec. Sec.

New- York,

After having ascended the Hudson as far as
Albany, in company with La Fayette, and taken our
leave of the veteran, our faces were turned west. At
that place we saw a few remaining evidences of the
Dutch, in the names and in the construction of a good
many houses; but the city (containing about 16,000
inhabitants) is chiefly modern. Our route, for sixty
or seventy miles, was along one of the great thorough-

VoL. I y ^


fares of the interior, when we inchned to the south,

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 20 of 58)