James Fenimore Cooper.

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that he himself submitted to a thousand vain and re-
strictive regulations, which only tended to embarrass
his operations and to lessen his influence abroad.

Again, it is quite common for the American to
gather in discourse with Englishmen, either by inu-
endoes, or direct assertions, that there is little or no
religion in his country! Nine times in ten, the former

* Witli Mexico.


is content to laugh in his sleeve at what he terms the
egregious ignorance of his relative ; or perhaps he
makes a circle of friends merry by enumerating this
instance, among fifty others, of the jaundiced views
that the folks on the homestead take of the condition
of those who have wandered beyond the paternal
estate. But should he be tempted to probe the feel-
ing (I will not call it reason) which induces so many
warm-hearted, and kindly intentioned individuals in
the mother country, to entertain a notion so unjust,
not to say so uncharitable, of their fellow-Christians,
under another rigime^ he will find that it is in truth
bottomed on no other foundation than the circum-
stance that we have no established church. And yet
it is a known fact that the peculiar faith of England,
is in America on the comparative increase, and that
in England itself, it is on a comparative decrease, one
half of the whole population being at this moment,
if I am rightly informed, dissenters from the very
church they think so necessary to religion, morals,
and order. In America, we think the change in the
latter country is owing to the establishment itself;
and the change in our own, to the fact that men are
always willing to acknowledge the merits of any thing
which is not too violently obtruded on their notice.
V\e may be wrong, and so may they ; but if the fact
were only half as well authenticated as is the one
that we are competent to maintain our present poHti-
cal institutions, I should consider it a question not
worth the trouble of discussion."

That Cadwallader would use some such manner
of reply I know, for the anecdote of his conversation
with the English statesman (now unhappily no more)
I have actually heard him mention. I confess the
justice of many of his remarks, for I am perfectly
conscious of havin^r been the subject of a great many
of these vague and general conjectures on American
policy; but a closer observation of the actual state


of the country is gradually forcing me to different
conclusions. The more candid European will admit
that a vast number of our usages and institutions owe
their existence, at the present hour, to prejudice.
Now, is it not possible that prejudice may have quite
as active an agency in keeping down aristocracy, as
in keeping it up ? It is perfectly absurd to say, that
it is an ordering of nature ; for nature, so far from
decreeing that the inequality of her gifts is to be per-
petuated in a direct male line, and in conformity to
the rights of primogeniture, is commonly content \vith
visiting a single family with her smiles, at long inter-
vals, and with a very unequal bounty. So far as
nature is concerned, then, she is diametrically opposed
to the perpetuation of power or consideration in the
regular descent. Neither talents, nor physical force,
nor courage, nor beauty, is often continued long in
any one race. But men do get, and do keep too, the
control of things in their own families, in most of the
countries of the earth. This is a practical argument,
which it will be found difficult to controvert. It is
precisely for this reason that I begin to think the
people of the United States will not soon part with
the power of which they are at present in such abso-
lute possession. But know^ledge you \vi\\ say is power,
and knowledge is confined to the few^ I am inclined
to think, after all, that the degree of knowledge w^hich
is necessary to make a man obstinate in the defence
of rights which he has been educated to believe in-
herent, is far from being very profound. It is well
know^n that despots have often failed in attempts on
the personal privileges of their subjects. Paul could
send a prince to Siberia, but he could not make a
Boyar shave. ' Now, the rights of suffrage, of perfect
pohtical equality, of freedom in religion, and of all
other political privileges, are the beards of these
people. It will be excessively hazardous to attempt
to shorten them by a hair. The ornaments of the


chin are not more effectually a gift of nature, than
are the political privileges of the American his birth-
right. Great as is the power of the English aristoc-
racy, there are limits to its exercise, as you very well
know, and any man can predict a revolution, should
they attempt to exceed them. I fancy the only dif-
ference between the mother and child m this particu-
lar is, that the latter, so far as political rights go, has
rather a richer inheritance than the former. Time
has clearly little to do with the matter beyond the
date of our individual existence, since a human life
is quite long enough to get thoroughly obstinate opin-
ions on any subject, even though prejudice should be
their basis.

From this familiar and obvious manner of reason-
ing (and I think it will be found to contain a fair pro-
portion of the truth) it would seem to result that
there is quite as little likelihood the American will
lose any of his extreme liberty, as that the Dutch-
man, the Frenchman, or the Englishm^an, will lose
any great portion of that which he now enjoys.
The question is then narrowed to the use the former
will make of his power.

The past speaks for itself, and in language suffi-
ciently plain for any man to comprehend, who is not
obstinately bent on refusing credit to institutions to
which he is unaccustomed. The future is necessarily,
in some degree, matter of conjecture; but in order to
anticipate it with an approach to accuracy, we will
continue our investigation of facts.

You are already master of my opinions on the
general character of the inhabitants of New-England.
If I add the results of the observations made in the
recent tour, you will possess the remarks I have
made on more than half of the whole population of
the country, and this too v\^ithout excluding the slaves
from the calculation.-

The great national characteristics througliout this


whole people, are, with few and limited exceptions,
every where essentially the same. But shades of
diiference do assuredly exist, which may serve ratlier
to modify the several states of society, than to effect
any material change. I think the principal distinc-
tions emanate from slavery, and from the greater or
less support that is given to the common schools.
The Americans themselves rightly esteem knowledge
as the palladium of their liberty, no less than the
mighty agent of their comparative importance ; and
wlierevcr a sound and wholesome policy prevails,
the utmost attention is paid to the means of its diffu-
sion. You should constantly remember, however,
that each State has the entire control of all these
subjects in its own hands. Consequently, although
the mighty truth is universally admitted, very different
means have been resorted to, in order to promote its

The pohcy of New-York and Ohio differs but little
from that of New-England in this particular. Un-
happily that of Peimsylvania is less enlightened. In
the former State during the current year (1824),
when the population is rather under I,GOO,000, there
are 7,642 common schools ; 402,940 scholars have
been taught in these schools for an average of nine
months. These are in addition to all the private
schools, which are numerous, especially in the towns;
and which include all that push education beyond
reading, writing, arithmetic, and a little grammar and

From these num.bers, which are taken from offi-
cial reports, you gain two important facts ; the extent
of the common education, and the number of the
children compared to that of the adults. During the

* In 1825, there were 7773 common schools, and 425,530
scholars, exclusive of those who attended QoQ schools, from
which no returns were made in time to be included.


same year (1824) there were 11,553 marriages,
61,383 births, and 22,544 deaths, or nearly three
births to one death. ' It must be remembered that
this State contains more populous towns than any
other, and that the deaths in the city of New-York
alone, from the wandering character of so great a
portion of its population, must necessarily exceed
the regular proportion of nature.

While on this subject, it may be well to advert to
a few other facts, of which I propose to make some
use, when further observation shall entitle me to
comment on the present condition and future fortunes
of the slaves. In 1790, the whole population of the
State of New-York was 340,120. Of this number
25,975 were blacks, chiefly slaves. In 1800 there
were 586,050 persons, of whom 30,988 were blacks,
chiefly slaves. In 1810, 959,049 persons, and 40,350
blacks, of whom, perhaps, nearly half were free. In
1820 the population was 1,372,812, of whom only
39,367 were blacks; viz., 10,088 slaves, and 29,279
free people of colour. In 1825 the population was
1,616,458, of whom 39,999 were blacks, all free, or,
what was the same thing, all to be free on the 4th of
July, 1827, and by far the most of them were free at
the time the census was actually taken.

It will be well to recollect that the State of
New-York, so far from being a place avoided by
the blacks, is rather one they seek. The scarcity
of domestics, and the large proportion of families
who keep servants, induce thousands of free people
of colour to resort there for employment. A great
many are also hired as the labourers on board of
vessels. Still they do not increase, amid the vast
increase of the whites. A trifling migration to Hayti
may have affected the returns a little, but there is no
doubt that the migration into the State exceeds that
from it. One must remember how few marriages
take place among these people; their moral condition,


their vagrant habits, their exposiire,'their dirt, and all
the accumulated misfortunes of their race.*

I think it is quite fair to infer, from these state-
ments, that freedom is not favourable to the con-
tinuation of the blacks while society exists under the
influence of its present prejudices. The general
returns of the number of the free blacks in the whole
of the United States, certainly show that they are on
theincrease ; but this fact is to be ascribed to the
constant manumissions, and not to any natural cause.
In Massachusetts, there have been no slaves since the
declaration of independence. It has, of course, been
a favourite residence of the blacks, some of whom
have risen to respectable situations in life. Among
them, there have been traders, ship-masters, and even
ship-owners ; and yet they have scarcely increased in
number, during the last thirty years. In 1790, there
w^ere 5,463 blacks in that State ; and in 1820, there
w^ere 6,740. During the same time the whole popula-
tion has advanced from 378,787 to 523,287.t A vast
emigration to the new States has ,kept down tliC
population of Massachusetts. Thus, you see, that
while the wdiites have increased in thirty years
more than thirty-eight per cent., the blacks have not
reached the rate of twenty-four per cent, and this,
too, under as favourable circumstances, as they are
probably fated to enjoy, for a long time to come, in
these repubhcs. But Massachusetts was alone for
many years, in the protection and favour she extended

* At the census of 182.5, there were in the State of New-York
1,513,421 neat cattle ; 349,628 horses; 3,496,539 sheep; 1,467.573
hogs ; 2,269 grist-mills, chiefly by water; 5,195 saw-mills, almost
all by water; 1,222 fulhng-mills ; 1,584 carding-miils; 76 cotton,
and 189 woollen manufactories of cloth for sale. There were
645 deaf and dumb, 1,421 idiots, and 819 lunatics. It should,
however, be remembered, that unfortunate subjects of these
maladies, are frequently sent from other tStates to the benevolent
institutions of this.

t Census of 1820.


to this unfortunate race. The rate of their increase
was vastly greater, before the manumission laws
went into force in the adjoining States, than now.
Thus, between 1790 and 1800, they increased one
hundred and eighty per cent, a rate much greater
than that of the whites during the same period (a
consequence of the influx of the former, and of the
emigration of the latter). Between 1800 and 1810
their increase was forty-four per cent., and between
1810 and 1820 only five per cent. ; there being only
three more blacks in 1820 than in 1810, while the
whites, notwithstanding emigration, had augmented

Now it is quite certain that, in a country subject
to so many changes as this, and where man is so
very active, all statistical calculations are liable to
the influences of minute and familiar causes, which
are very likely to escape the detection of a stranger.
When Cadwallader first directed my attention to the
fo; o:;oing reports, I was about to jump to the instant
co^nckision, that the free blacks did not propagate
their species at all, and that, as the gross increase of
their numbers in the country was owing to manumis-
sions, nothing remained but to give them all their
freedom, in order to render the race extinct. But
my companion, like most of his countrymen, is a
calculator too wary and too ingenious to fall into so
gross an error.

There is no doubt that the free blacks, like the
aborigines, gradually disappear before the superior
moral and physical influence of the whites, but the
rate of their decrease is not to be calculated by that
in the State of Massachusetts, nor even by that of
the native possessors of the soil. A black man, unlike
an Indian, can be easily civilized ; and perhaps there
are no peasants in the world who require a greater
indulgence of their personal comforts than the people
of colour in the northern and middle States of this


Union. In this respect they are like the menials of
most other nations, having acquired from their mas-
ters a reflected taste for luxury. But it is well known
that cold is not congenial to the physical tempera-
ment of a black.* The free blacks are found hover-
ing as near as possible to the slave States, because
the climate of the south is what they crave. Thus,
in Pennsylvania they increase, while in New- York
they decrease. Some portion of this effect is no
doubt produced by the more extensive commerce of
the latter (which works up a great number of blacks
as sailors), and by the peculiar policy of the Quakers,
as well as of the descendants of the Germans, in the
former State, both of whom display singular care of

* All experience proves, that ages and generations must
elapse before the descendants of the African can acquire habits
of endurance which shall enable him effectually to resist frost,
if, indeed, it can ever be done. Indeed, while the negro is often
powerful of frame, and generally supple and active, it may, be
questioned whether he can endure extreme fatigue of any sort,
as well as a white man ; at least, as well as the hardy and vigor-
ous wliites of this country. A thousand instances might be
adduced to prove this position ; but two must sufRce. A few
years since, an American whaler was struck by a whale in the
Pacific Ocean, and the vessel instantly bilged. The crew was
compelled to traverse half of that vast ocean in their boats, sub-
ject to the utmost privation, and sustaining the most horrible
sufferings. But few survived to reach the land. The blacks,
of whom there were a fair proportion, died, being the first to
sink under their abstinence and labour. — A few years since, a
small vessel ran into a bay on Long Island, during a severe
snow-storm, at a time that Cadwallader was near the spot. She
was soon surrounded by a thin ice, and as her crew had no fire,
nor boat, they were reduced to the utmost distress. A signal
was made to that effect. A young gentleman proceeded to the
rescue of the unfortunate mariners, seconded by two servants,
one of whom was white, and the other black. The latter was a
farm labourer of great strength and activity. The ice was to be
broken near a mile, in the face of a cutting wind, and while the
thermometer (Fahrenheit) stood several degrees below Zero.
The crew were rescued, but the black was near dying, and
had to be landed before half the toil was completed, and a white
man was taken in his place.


their black dependants. Bat, on the whole, T think
it must be assumed as a fact for our future reasoning,
that the free blacks rather decrease than otherwise
(always excepting the effects of manumission) ; and
it is well known, that the whole white population
grows rather faster than the whole black.

Before closing these remarks I will add, that the
whites, with the exception of certain districts in the
southern states, attain a greater, degree of longevity
than the blacks, and that it is known that the slaves
have more children than the free people of colour.

It is not improbable that there are some immaterial
errors in the reports, from which the number of chil-
dren in the common schools of New-York have been
taken, since the State bestows its bounty in propor-
tion to the wants of the district ; but, on the other
hand, it must be remembered, that the amounts are
2;athered by public and qualified officers, and that
each school district is obliged to tax itself for just as
much money as it receives, in order to raise the sum
necessary to defray the current expenses of common
education, so that, on the whole, it is probable there
is no great exaggeration ; nor is a traveller, who has
witnessed the immense number of white-headed and
chubby little urchins he sees all over the country, at
all disposed to suspect it.

We of Europe, when we listen to the wonders of
these regions, in the way of increase and prosperity,
are a little addicted to suspect the native narrators
of the prodigies of a love of the marvellous. I once
ventured to ask Cadwallader his opinion on this deli-
cate point. His answer was sufficiently to the point,
and you shall have it, without the smallest qualifica-
tion : —

" That the Europeans," he said, " will not believe
facts, which have a daily existence before our eyes,
proves nothing but their ignorance. In my own opin-
ion, and this is but a matter of opinion, there is less


falsehood uttered in the United States (if you exclude
the slaves) than in any other Christian country, though
Heaven knows there is quite enough. In saying false-
hood, I mean untruths, whether intentional or not.
A certain degree of gross credulity is absolutely ne-
cessary, that one very numerous class of vulgar false-
hoods should flourish any where. Our European
kinsmen, who are quite as enlightened as any other
peo])le of your hemisphere, are far from being ex-
empt from the foible of excessive credulity. The
tales one hears on the top of a stage-coach would
scarcely do in an American vehicle ; for the shrewd,
practical, quick-witted, and restless people of this
country, would be ashamed to believe, and conse-
quently ashamed to tell, half the extraordinary feats
of such or such a subject of notoriety, merely be-
cause they have been accustomed to think under-
standingly of what a man can do in almost every
situation in which he is ordinarily placed. No-
where is a lie so soon and so thoroughly sifted as
here. ^ Even the institutions of the country are fa-
vourp.ble to the discovery of truth, as no man is ex
ojjicto considered immaculate. Love of country, a
stronger passion in America than even in England, or
rather a more general one, has never protected an
ofbrer in a false colouring of a victory or a defeat,
when the truth was within the reach of the multitude.
The attempts are comparatively rare, for the hazard
is notorious. During the war of the revolution, the
public documents of the nation, which were issued
in something like the form of bulletins, were found
to be so true, that the signature of the Secretary of
Congress was universally deemed conclusive as to all
interesting facts.

" In no one instance were the people ever inten-
tionally deceived, and it is rare indeed that they were
ever deceived at all. History, in 1324, gives in sub-
stance the same accounts of our battles, fortunes,

Vol. T. C c


and reverses, as did Charles Thompson in 1776. In-
deed, it would be just as impracticable for the gov-
enmient to mislead, for any length of time, as it
would for an individual to make people think a man
could work a miracle, or get into a quart bottle.
Thus we are spared a prodigious amount of false-
hood, which prevails elsewhere, merely because no
one will believe it ; or, at least, there will not be
enough of the credulous to permit an improbable lie
to flourish. Then the servile deceptio«n, which is a
necessary attendant of great inequality of condition,
cannot be, and is not, as frequent here as in Europe.
A mechanic will be very apt to tell any man his mind
who offends him, whether he be a governor or merely
a brother in the trade.

" Moral influence is also quite as strong in the
United States, as in the most moral countries of the
east. Indeed, I know but one cause why deception
should be more active here than in Europe, while I
can see and do know a multitude why it should not.
The frequency of elections certainly gives rise to a
greater frequency of those amiable misrepresenta-
tions that are so peculiar to all political struggles.
But, in point of effect, these election lies, as they are
called, defeat themselves ; they indeed do even more;
they often defeat the truth, as most people are pre-
disposed to incredulity. And yet, four fifths of our
elections pass away like this you have just witnessed,
without exciting sufhcient interest to raise a lie about
them at all.

" Facts, undeniable, manifest, and, to an American,
familiar facts, do certainly often assume to the un-
practised ears of an European, an air of startling ex-
aggeration. There appears in mankind a disposition
always to believe too much, or to believe too little.
The exact and true medium is hit by very few, who,
by uniting a sufficiency of experience to a necessary
amount of native penetration, are enabled to estimate


testimony with accuracy. I have repeatedly felt,
while in Europe, the embarrassment of encountering
those who were disposed to believe miracles on the
subject of my country, -and those who were not dis-
posed to believe that things, under any circumstances,
could vary materially from the state in which they
existed, before their own eyes. Even educated
men cease to resemble each other in this respect,
for all the books in the world cannot qualify a
man to estimate the power of his species half so
well as personal observation. Our very obstinacy in
incredulity on practical things, goes to prove the
general sense of mankind concerning the value of
experience, by showing how apt we are to refuse
credit to acts which exceed any thing we have our-
selves witnessed. Perhaps, in a country where so
much is actually done, there is some disposition, on
the part of vulgar minds, to exceed possibility in their
anticipations, and even in their narrations, but this
would prove the quality rather than the amount of
our misrcjvresentation. On the whole, I incline to
the opinion, that there are more untruths told in de-
nying the unparalleled advances of this country, than
in affirming it."



Our passage from New-York to Philadelphia,
Aough the distance is less than ninety miles, was
made, as is so usual here, by land and by water. In
consequence of the unequalled facilities ollered by
their rivers, bays, and sounds, the Americans enjoy.


in a very large portion of their country, the means
of travelling that are che^p and commodious to a
degree that is unknown in any other country. Of the
steam-boats I have already spoken; but 1 do not
remember to have said any thing concerning their
extraordinary cheapness. The passage money is
sometimes little more than nominal. I have been

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 24 of 58)