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had been followed in our country, we should have
been a poorer and, consequently, a less important
and less happy people than at present. The relations
between political liberality, and what is called politi-
cal prodigality, are wonderfully^ intimate.

" We find that our government is cheaper, and

* When tlie numbers of those who have nothing', get to be so
great as to make their voices of importance, it is time to thinls
of some serious change.


even stronger, for being popular. There is no doubt
that the jealousy of those who have little, often in-
duces a false economy, and that money might fre-
quently be saved by bidding higher for talent. We
lay no claims to perfection, but -we do say, that more
good is attained in this manner than in any other
which is practised elsewhere. We look at the ag-
gregate of advantage, and neither our calculations
nor our hopes have, as yet, been greatly deceived.

"As to the forms of our elections, you see tiiat
they are beyond example simple and orderly. After
an experience of near forty years, I can say that I
have never seen a blow struck, nor any other violent
proceeding, at a poll. These things certainly do hap-
pen, but, in comparison with the opportunities, at
remarkably long intervals. So far from the frequency
of elections tending to disturb society, they produce
an exactly different effect. A contest which is so
soon to be repeated loses half its interest by famili-
arity. Vast numbers of electors are content to be
lookers-on, rarely approaching a poll, except to vote
on some question of peculiar concern. The stru<^'gle
is generally whether A or B shall enjoy the temporary
honour or the trilling emolument in dispute, the com-
munity seldom being much the better or the worse
for the choice. People talk of the fluctuations which
are necessarily the consequences of a popular gov-
ernment. They do not understand what they say
Every other enlightened nation of the earth is at thi
moment divided between great opposing principles ;
whereas here, if w^e except the trifling collisions of
pecuniary interests, every body is of the same mind,
except as to the ordinarily immaterial question of a
choice between men. We have settled all the formi-
dable points ot policy, by conceding every thing that
any reasonable man can ask. The only danger which
exists to the duration of our confederacy (and that is
not a question of a form of government, but one of


mere policy), proceeds from the little that is aristo-
cratical in our Union. The concentrated power of
a State may become, like the overgrown power of an
individual, dangerous to our harmony; though we
think, and with very good reason, that, on the whole,
even this pecuharity adds to the durability of the

"It is unnecessary to say, that so far as mere conve-
nience goes, this method of election can be practised
by a hundred millions of people, as easily as by
twelve. As to corruption, comparatively speaking,
it cannot exist. No man can buy a state, a county,
or even a town. In a hotly contested election, it is
certainly sometimes practicable to influence votes
enough to turn the scale ; but, unless the question in-
volve the peculiar interests of the less fortunate class
of society, it is clear both parties can bribe alike, and
then the evil corrects itself. If the question be one
likely to unite the interests and the prejudices of the
humbler classes, nine times in ten it is both more
humane and wiser that they should prevail. That
sort of splendid and treacherous policy, which gives
a fallacious lustre to a nation by oppressing those
Vv^ho have the most need of support, is manifestly as
unwise as it is unjust. It violates the very principles
of the compact, since governments are not formed to
achieve, but to protect. After a sufHcient force has
been obtained to effect the first great objects of the
association, the governed, and not the governors, are
the true agents in every act of national prosperity.
Look at America. What people, or what monarch,
if you will, has done half so much as we have done,
(compared to our means,) in the last half century,
and precisely for the reason that the government is
obliged to content itself with protec¥on, or, at the
most, with that assistance which, in the nature oi
things, strictly requires a concentrated action.

" It is of far less importance, according to our no-


tions, what the executive of a nation is called, than
that all classes should have a direct iniluence on its
policy. We have no king, it is true, for the word
carries with it, to our ears, an idea of expenditure;
but we have a head, who, for the time being, has a
very reasonable portion of power. We are not jeal-
ous of him, for we have taken good care he shall do
no harm.

" Though we are glad to fmd that principles which
we have practised, and under which we have pros-
pered so long, are coming more in fashion in Europe,
1 think you must do us the justice to say, that we are
not a nation much addicted to the desire of prose-
lyting. For ourselves we have no fears, and as for
other people, if they make some faint imitations of
our system, and then fehcitate themselves on their
progress, we are well content thcy should have all
the merit of inventors. That is a miserable rivalry,
which would make a monopoly of happiness. I think,
as a people, we rather admire you most when we see
you advancing with moderation to your object, than
when we hear of the adoption of sudden and violent
means. We have ever been reformers rather than
revolutionists. Our own struggle for independence
v/as not in its aspect a revolution. We contrived to
give it all the dignity of a war, from the first blow.
Although our generals and soldiers might not have
been so well trained as those they fought against, they
were far more humane, considerate, and, in the end,
successful, than their adversaries. Our own progress
has been gradual. It is not long since a trifling re-
striction existed on the suffrage of this very State.
Experience proved that it excluded quite as many
discreet men as its removal would admit of vaga-
bonds. Now it is the distin^iishinf^ feature of our
policy, that we consider man a reasonable being, and
that we rather court, than avoid, the struggle be-
tween ignorance and intelligence. TVe fmd that this
Aa 2


policy rarely fails to assure the victory of the latter,
while it keeps dow^n its baneful monopolies. We
extended the suffrage to include every body, and
while complaint is removed, we find no difference in
the representation. As yet, it is rather an improve-
ment. Should it become an evil, however, we shall
find easy and moderate means to change it, since we
are certain that a majority will be sufiiciently saga-
cious to know their own interests. You have only
to convince us that it is the best government, and v>/e
will become an absolute monarchy to-morrow. It is
wonderful how prone we are to adopt that which
expectation induces us to think will be expedient,
and to reject that which experience teaches us is bad.
It must be confessed that, so far, all our experiments
have been in favour of democracy. I very well
know that you in Europe prophesy that our career
will end in monarchy. To be candid, your prophe-
cies excite but little feeling here, since we have taken
up the opinion you don't very well understand the
subject. But should it prove true, a la bonne heure ;
when we find that form of government best, depend
on it, we shall not hesitate to adopt it. You are at
perfect liberty, if you will, to establish a journal in
favour of despotism under the windows of the Capi-
tol. I will not promise you much patronage at first,
neither do I think you will be troubled with much
serious opposition. At all events, there is nothing in
the law to molest the speculation. Now look behind
you at the "poll" we have just left; reflect on this
fact, and then draw your conclusions, of our own
opinion, of the stability of our institutions. We may
deceive ourselves, but you of Europe must exhibit a
far more accurate knowledge of the state of our
country, before we shall rely on your crude prognos-
tics rather than on our own experience.'"

I could scarcely assure myself that Cadwallader
was not laughing at me during a good deal of the time


he was speaking, but after all, it must be confessed
there is some common sense in what he said. There
were three or four other passengers in the stage, men
of decent and sober exterior, among whom I detected
certain interchanges of queer glances, though none
of them appeared to think the subject of any very
en^Tossinsj interest. Provoked at their unreasonable
indifference to a theme so delightful as liberty, I asked
one of them " If he did not apprehend there would
be an end to the republic, should General Jackson
become the next President V "I rather think not,"
was his deliberate, and somewhat laconic answer.
" Why not? he is a soldier, and a man of ambition."
My unmoved yeoman did not care to dispute either
of these qualities, but he still persevered in thinking
there was not much danger, since " he did not know
any one in his neighbourhood who was much disposed
to help a man in such an undertaking."

It is provoking to find a whole nation dwelling in
this species of alarming security, for no other reason
than that their vulgar and every-day practices teach
them to rely on themselves, instead of trusting to the
rational inferences of philanthropic theorists, who
have so long been racking their ingenuity to demon-
strate that a condition of society which has delusively
endured for nearly two hundred years, has been in
existence all that time in direct opposition to the
legitimate deductions of the science of government.

( 272 )


Since my last letter, I have visited New-Jersey
ihe eastern parts of Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
With the exception of Maine, Illinois, and Indiana,
(quite new States,) I have now seen something of all
those communities, which, in common parlance, are
called the " free States," in contradistinction to those
which still encourage the existence of domestic
slavery. As respects this material point of policy,
the confederation is nearly equally divided in the
numher of States, thirteen having virtually gotten rid
of slavery, and eleven still adhering to the system.
The difference between the white population, how-
ever, is vastly more in favour of the " free States."
We shall not be far out of the way, in stating the
whole of the white population of the United States
at a little more than iew millions. Of this number,
near, if not quite, seven millions are contained in the
thirteen northern, middle, and north-western States.

This portion of the Union is governed by the sam.e
pohcy, and its inhabitants seek their prosperity in the
same sources of wealth and in the same spirit of im-
provement. More than half of them are either natives
of New-England, or are descended from those who
were born in that district of the country. Together,
the States I have named cover a surface of little less
than 300,000 square miles. If the territory of Michi-
gan be included, (which is not yet sufficiently popu-
lous to be a State,) the amount will be swelled to
near 330,000. The former will give rather more
than twenty-three to the square mile, as the rate of
the whole population on the whole surface. But in


making the estimate, what I have already said of the
vast regions that are not peopled at all, must be kept
in view. Perhaps one third of the territory should
be excluded from the calculation altogether. This
would leave something more than thirty to the square
mile, for the average. But even this estimate is neces-
sarily delusive, as it is known that in the old States
there are sixty and seventy souls to the square mile,
and in some parts of them many more.

In the course of reflection on this subject, I have
been led to inquire when these republics are to reach
that ratio of population which, of necessity, is to
compel them to adapt their institutions to the usages
of European policy. The result is not quite so con-
clusive as one might at first be disposed to believe. J
find that despotism flourishes with little or no oppo-
sition in Russia, a country of about twenty-five to the
square mile; in Turkey, one of about fifty;* in Spain,
one of, say sixty; in Denmark, one of about eighty,
&c. &;c. ;*and that liberty is beginning to thrive, or
has long thriven, in England, one of more than two
hundred; in the Netherlands, one of an equal rate;
and, in short, in France, in several of the most popu-
lous states of Germany, some of which mount as
high as six and nine hundred to the square mile, more
particularly the free towns !

Here is pretty clear evidence, by that unanswer-
able argument — fact, that the populousness of a
country is not necessarily to control the freedom or
despotism of its institutions. But the United States
have carried the freedom of their institutions too far,
since they go much farther than we have ever found
it wise or safe to go in Europe. England herself has
stopped short of such excessive freedom. The latter
position is certainly much nearer to the truth than
the other, and yet if we should assemble even the

* Both in Europe.


travelled brethren of oar own club, and put the ques-
tion to them — "How far do you think that liberty
and equality of political rights can be carried in a
government, without danger to its foundations V — it
would be seen that the replies would smack a little
of the early impressions of the diiferent worthies w^ho
compose the fraternity. Let us fancy ourselves for a
moment in solemn conclave on this knotty point,
and we will endeavour to anticipate the different
answers. We will begin with the Prince Andre

" I am of opinion," says our accomplished, intelli
gent, and loyal prince, " that without a vast standing
army, a nation can neither secure its frontiers, nor
on occasion bring them properly within a ring fence.
In what manner is a serf to be made to respect his
lord, unless he see that the latter can enforce his
rights by having recourse to the bayonet, or in what
manner is even rank among ourselves to be regulated,
without a common centre wdicnce it must now ? It
would be utterly impossible to keep an empire com-
posed of subjects born in the arctic circle and sub-
jects born on the Caspian, men speaking ditlerent
languages, and worshipping Jesus and Mahomet, to-
gether, without such a concentration of power as
shall place each in salutary fear of the ruler. It is
quite clear that a nation without a vast standing
army "

" 1 beg pardon for the interruption, mon Prince,"
cries Professor Jansen : "I agree with you in toto^
except as to the army. Certainly no spectacle is
more beautiful than that of a kind and benevolent
monarch, dwelhng in the midst of his people like a
father in the bosom of a vast family, and at once the
source of order and the fountain of honour. Still I
can see no great use in an overgrown army, w^hich
infallibly leads to a waste of money and a mispend-
ing of thne. Soldiers are unquestionably necessary


to prevent invasion or aggression, and to be in readi-
ness to look down any sudden attempts at revolution;
but they are dangerous and extravagant playthings.
When a sovereign begins to stir his battalions as he
does his chess-men, one can never calculate what
move he means to make next ; and as to rank, what
can be more venerable or more noble than the class
of Counts, for instance — [" Hear, hear," from Sir
Edward Waller] — a set of nobles who hold so happy
and so respected an intermediate station between the
prince and his people ? That is clearly the happiest
government in the whole world, where the labour of
ruling is devolved on one man : but I shall always
protest against the wisdom of a large standing army."

" Quant a moi^'''' observes the colonel, making ah
apologetic bow, " I cannot agree with either the one
or the other. An army before all things, but no des-
pot ; and, least of all, a despot who does nothing but
stay at home and vegetate on his throne. If I must
have an absolute monarch. King Stork any day to
King Log. In my youth, I -tsnil confess, certain
visions of glory floated before my eyes, and conquest
appeared the best good of life ; but time and hard
service have weakened these impressions, and 1 can
now plainly perceive all the advantages of La Chartc.
In a constitutional monarchy, one can enjoy the ad-
vantages of a despotism without any of its disadvan-
tages. You have an army to vindicate the national
honour, as ready, as brave, and as efficient, as though
the power of its head were unlimited ; and jet you
have not the constant danger of lettres de cachet^ bas-
tiles, and monks. By a judicious division of estates,
those odious monopolies, which have so fatal a ten-
dency to aristocracy *"

" If you stop there, dear Jules," interrupts a cer-
tain Sir Edward Waller, " we shall be in the ma-
jority, and the question is our own. Nothing can be
more dangerous than a despotism, every one must


allow" (though two worthy members had just held
the contrary doctrine.) " But you are touching on
the very thing now, that must unavoidably prove fatal
to your monarchy, la charte^ and all, since it is clear,
that a monarch needs the support of an aristocracy,
and an aristocracy is nothing without money. — An
enlightened, unpaid, disinterested gentry, who pos-
sess all the property "

' Money !' echoes the colonel, in heat ; " it is that
money \vhich is the curse of you English. You have
it all, and yet you see you are hourly in terror of
bankruptcy. Thank God, if the Revolution has done
nothing else, it has cut up root and branch all our
odious seignories, with their feudal follies ; and man
now begins to think himself the owner of the soil, and
not a plant."

" Nay, my dear Bethizy, keep your temper ; you
are not now storming the bridge of Lodi. Reflect
one moment ; what will become of France when her
v.hole territory shall be subdivided in freeholds not
bigger than a pocket-handkerchief?"

" And your island ! what will the poor devils of

paupers do when Lord shall own the whole

island ?"

" I think," observes the abbate, perceiving that the
argument is likely to wax hot, " that it is a question
that will admit of much to be said on both sides,
whether a people will leave more lasting and brilliant
recollections, if their career has been run under a re-
publican or a monarchical form of government. In
Italy, we find arguments to maintain both positions ;
though at present we are somewhat divided betv^een
a hierarchy and such minute geographical divisions
as shall insure a close inspection into the interests of
all who have any right at all to be consulted in these
matters. I can neither agree v/ith the prince, nor
with the professor, nor with the Count, nor yet with
Sir Edward, though I think all of us must be of

A REPLY. 277

opinion that a popular government is a thing quite

" Oh ! all, all, all, all."

" It is quite certain that jour Lazzaroni would
scarcely know what to do with political power if
they had it," continues the abhate.

" Nor a serf," says the Prince.

" I can see no use in giving it even to a Count,"
mutters the Dane.

" Nor to a Manchester reformer," puts in Sir

" It is quite certain the canaille do not know how
to use it," adds Jules Bethizy, with a melancholy
sigh ; and so the question is disposed of.

Now, if my friend Cadwallader were a member of
the club (and I hope to live long enough to see the
day when he shall become one,) he might give a very
different opinion from them all. Let us imagine, for
an instant, what would be the nature of his argument.
He would probably say, that, " my countrymen have
taken care there shall be neither Lazzaroni, nor serf,
(he might gag a little at the thought of the blacks,)*
nor Counts, nor Manchester reformers ; and any
opinions which may be fonned on premises of this
nature are, in consequence, utterly inapplicable to us.
I dare say the abbate will very willingly admit, that
if there were nothing but cardinals in Italy, a popular
government would do very well ; and perhaps Sir
Edward will allow if the English population were all
baronets of seven thousand a year, the elective fran-
chise might be extended even in his kingdom without
any very imminent danger. It is wonderful ho^v very
dithcult it is to make men comprehend that a thing

* It is manifestly unsafe to found any arguments concerning
the political institutions of this country on the existence of
slavery, since the slaves have no more to do with governmeiil then
inanimate objocts.

Vol. J B b

278 A REPLY.

can be dene by any one else, which they have lon^
been used to consider as exceeding their own abihtj
to perform. This feehng of selfishness, or of vanity,
wdiichever you please, insinuates itself into all our
actions, and finally warps our opinions, and obscures
our judgments.

" I do not believe it is in the power of man to
make a Turk comprehend the nature of English
liberty ; simply because, when he looks around him,
and sees the state of society in which he himself vege-
tates, he can neither understand the energy of char-
acter which requires such latitude for its exertion,
nor the state of things which can possibly render it
safe. It appears to me, that it is very nearly as diffi-
cult to make an Englishman comprehend that it is
very possible for a people to prosper under a degree of
liberty still greater than that he enjoys. His self-love,
his prejudices, and his habits are all opposed to the
admission. Experience and fact go for nothing. He
is determined there shall be some drawback to ail
the seeming prosperity of a state of things which ex
ceeds his own notions of the sources whence pros-
perity ought to flow ; and though he may not be suf-
ficiently conversant with the details to lay his finger
on the sore spot, he is quite confident there must be
one. He swears it is festering, and that by-and-bye
we shall hear something of it worth knowing. I re-
member once to have conversed with a renowned
English statesman on this very subject. He was suf-
ficiently complimentary on the institutions of my
country, and on the character of my countrymen, but
we were neither of us the dupes of such simple
courtesy. I believe he did me the justice to see that
I understood him, for he very soon took occasion to
remark that he should like the government of the
United States better if it were a ' Frank Republic,''
Perceiving that I looked surprised, and possibly un
derstanding the expression of my countenance tc sav


how much I wondered that a man of his experience
should expect great frankness in any government, he
went on to explain ; ' I mean,' he continued, ' that I
should like your government better, if there were no
pageant of a head, and if Congress would act for itself
directly, without the intervention of a President.''

This conversation occurred shortly after the Senate
of the United States had rejected a treaty with Great
Britain, which the President had made (through the
public minister), and which the King of Great Britain
had previously ratified. '•H'lnc illce lachryma.'' I con-
fined my answer to a simple observation, that the
actual power of the President was very little, but
that we should unnecessarily impede the execution
of the laws, and embarrass our intercourse with for-
eign nations, by abolishing the office, which added
greatly to the convenience of the country, without in
the slightest degree invading or endangering the lib-
erties of the people.

Now, what was the amount of the argument which
this gifted man agitated in his own mind, on a subject
so important to the policy of a great nation ? He could
understand that a right might exist somewhere to
annul the bargain of a minister, for in his proper
person he had just before refused to ratify a treaty
made by one of his own agents,'^ but he could not
understand that this power should, or could, with
propriety, be lodged in hands where he was not ac-
customed to see it. Napoleon would have told him

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 23 of 58)