James Fenimore Cooper.

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wood, that I have seen since my landing ; nor are
they the smallest subjects of my surprize. The great
enterprise and exceeding ingenuity of the people are
here displayed to great advantage. It is only neces-
sary to discover the want of a bridge, or a canal, to
insure an effort, and commonly a successful one, to
bring it into existence. A bridge, a quarter, a half,
or even a whole mile, in length, as is the case with
that of Columbia (across the Susquehannah), is no
extraordinary undertaking for the inhabitants of a
country which, forty years before, and often less, was
an entire wilderness. I scarcely know how to give
you a correct idea of one of these avenues of timber.
As they are commonly thrown across some vast river,
or perhaps a lake, on whose banks the native forest
is to be found, the material is chea^, and easy to be


transported. The cost, therefore, is in no proportion
to the magnitude of the work. They are built on
different plans ; some being as rude and simple as
possible, and others forming beautiful models of
scientific skill, and even of taste. I should think a
majority of them are suspended by chains. Some are,
however, suspended by wood, from arches of timber,
that rest either on piers of stone, or on well-secured
foundations of frame-work. The better sort are cov-
ered, having roofs and even windows ; so that it often
happens that the traveller, perhaps whilst ruminating
on the recent origin of this country, finds himself
journeying through an edifice which is from a quar
ter of a mile to a mile in length.

The State of Pennsylvania possesses a population,
less identified with the great national character, than
any other member of this confederation. It is com-
puted that about one-third of all its inhabitants are
the descendants of German emigrants. They are
remarkably tenacious of their own customs and opin-
ions, and even of their language, though the whole
are gradually giving way before the superior influence
of the English character. I conversed w^th several
of the yeomen of this description of inhabitants.
They spoke English with an accent as if it were a
language acquired after infancy, and it was easy to
trace a difference in the activity of their thoughts, as
compared with those of most of their countrymen.
I found them, however, possessed of the same notions
of political liberty, which have been so long estab-
lished in this country, as to have become essential
ingredients in the characters of all its inhabitants.
I met with others, whose descent could only be
traced in their names ; their manners, language, and
opinions, having already undergone the final change.

The existence of so large a body of people, pos-
sessing a language and prejudices of their own, and
living so near to each other, as to render it easy to


perpetuate them all (for a time at least), has not been
without its inconvenience to the State. It is said, that
their hostihty to innovation has induced these people
to oppose the introduction of common schools, a
policy w^hich, if much longer persevered in, is in
itself sufficient to throw their community a century in
the rear of their neighbours. There are other estab-
lishments of the Germans in different parts of the
Union, but none near so wealthy nor important as the
people just named. There are also the French of
Louisiana, the Spaniards of Florida, and a few Hol-
landers in New- Jersey, New- York, &c. &;c. But the
whole of these slight differences in identity of char-
acter, are fast disappearing, and it is probable that
another generation will effect their extinction. As
near as I can learn, quite nine millions of the ten
who compose the white population of this country
are descendants of the English (Irish and Scotch
included); the rest may spring from half the other
nations of Europe, chiefly, however, the Germans, the
Dutch, and the French, and in proportions agreeably
to the order in which they are named. But of this
million, assuming the estimate to be exact, which in
itself is not quite certain, more than half have proba-
bly lost all the distinctive marks of their origin, if we
except those who are actually Europeans by birth.^
I do not think one meets as many foreigners estab-
lished in this country as the circumstances might give
reason to believe. There are particular places where
they assemble, and where they are rather striking by
their numbers, but, in the interior, I have frequently

* The writer is told that an immense emigration to the United
States has occurred since he left it. One statement says that
22,000 Iriuh alone, arrived at the city of New-York during the
last year. The citizens complain of their riotous and disorderly
conduct, and it is thouglit some severe remedy will be adopted
to cure an evil that is getting to be serious.


travelled days without meeting with an individual of
the sort to know him."*

Before we quitted the State of Pennsylvania, there
was a sensible change for the worse, in the appear-
ance of the country, and we entered Maryland at a
point but little adapted to give us the most favour-
able impressions of the eflfects of a slave population.
The aspect of things, however, changed materially
for the better as we approached Baltimore, whose
environs, seen as I saw them in a mild day late in the
autumn, when a second spring so often seems about
to open on the vegetation of this climate, were as
pleasing as those of any town T remember.

Baltimore is a neat, well-built city, of near 70,000
inhabitants. It contains many excellent private houses,
and some public ediiices, in better taste than com-
mon ; but, like Philadelphia, it wants the gay, ani-
mated look which renders New-York so very remark-

* By the last census of the State of New- York, there were
40,430 aliens^ in a population of 1,616,450. But this enumera-
tion is liable to explanation. A native of Europe who has be-
come a citizen is not an alien, while a native of the United States
who is not a citizen, is. The latter class, though not very im-
portant, is more numerous than one would suppose. There were
many natives who took sides with the crown in the w^r of 1776,
and wlio still retain their characters of British subjects, being
pensioners. Sec. k,c. although they prefer to reside, and even
to leave their descendants in the place of their birth. Such per-
sons are aliens of course, in the eyes of the law. There are
others who have come to the country with an intention to reside,
and to establish their children, who are averse to throw aside
tlieir native allegiance. These continue aliens. There are others,
again, who intend to become citizens, but who have not yet
completed the term of probation. In addition to these explana-
tions, the city of New- York receives more emigrants, perhaps,
than all the rest of the United States together, and it is the cho-
sen residence of foreign merchants established in the country.
It may be \xc\\ to add, that there were 5,610 paupers included in
this census of the State of New-York, or about one pauper to
every 288 of the inhabitants. Of this number, 1,742 were in the
city of New- York alone. A vast number of paupers from Europe
are dishonestly throv/n upon the shores of this country.


able. The difference is to be ascribed to the want
of paint, and to the greater activity of business in the
latter place. We found here, as indeed on most of
our recent route, excellent inns, and took up our
abode for several days.*

I saw in this city, for the first time since my arri-
val, a monument erected to Washington. It is a
noble column, in stone, and is admirably placed on
elevated ground, in what is now a suburb, but which
I believe it is intended shall one day become a public
square. The want of these squares is a great defect
in all the cities I have seen, though it is one which
will soon be repaired. The plans of most of them
embrace more or less areas of the sort, and some of
them are already beginning to be enjoyed. There is
also another monument, in very goo.i taste, to per-
petuate the memory of those citizens who fell in a
skirmish with the British, during the last war, in de-
fence of this city. The whole number was not great,
(some thirty or forty militia, I beheve,) but it was
thought their quality gave them a particular claim on
the gratitude of their townsmen.

You may remember that General Ross, after his
successful attack on Washington, made a movement
threatening Baltimore. Your countrymen possessed
an incalculable advantage in the command of the
sea, by means of which they not only directed their
attacks against the most defenceless points, but they
were always enabled to keep their adversaries in an

* An idea may be formed of the great amount of travelling in
the United States, by the size of the inns. One was building in
Baltimore before the writer left America, which promised to ex-
ceed in size any he remembers. The City Hotel, in New-York,
is a vast edifice; and, in a great number of the western villages,
the writer saw taverns that were as large as many of the Paris
hotels. In a country where domestics are never abundant, and
are often bad, this disproportion between the number of the
guests and the attendants is a striking fault.


embarrassing ignorance of their force. Thus, about
the period of the expedition to Washington, I see, by
the journals of that day, an opinion prevailed in
America that England, relensed from her European
war, had sent Lord Hill against them, at the head of
a large army. It is quite possible that agents of youi
commanders were industrious in circulating a rumoui
that seemed so very probable. ' The Americans say,
that their ignorance of the force of General Ross
alone saved him from destruction.

But Baltimore was a far more important place
than Washington, and time had been given to collect
an army of citizens. Ths whole affair terminated in
a hot skirmish between an advanced party of some
two or three thousand Americans, and a portion of
the British army. The former retreated, as had been
expected, but the English commander lost his life in
the rencontre. His successor wisely abandoned an
attempt that must have terminated in the annihilation
of his force, which was neither strong enoufrh to carry
the defences of the place, nor to protect itself againit
an attack when suffering under reverses, and from an
enemy who would soon have been apprized of its
weakness. A bombardment of a fort, which was de-
fended by regular troops, proved also totally useless.*

* It is worthy of remark, and deserving of explanation, that
no attack, of any importance, against an American fort by ships,
has ever been successful, while a great number have been sig-
nally defeated. The reader of American history is familiar with
the affairs of Fort Moultrie, Fort Mifflin, Fort Boyer, &c. &c. ;
but where is he to find the reverse of the picture ? The writer
has heard more than one professional man say, it is just as im-
possible for ships to reduce forts (under tolerably equal circum-
stances) as it is for forts to stop the passage of sliips when fa-
voured by wind and tide. This theory, if true, is consoling to
humanity, since one should always wish success to tlie assailed,
especially when they defend a town against the assaults of hire-
lings. The exceptions of Algiers and Navarino prove nothing,
since the defenders were seaii-barbavous ; and at Copenhagen,


We have been pleased with our residence at Bal-
timore. It contains a great many polished and en-
lightened men ; and perhaps, there is no part of this
Union where society is more elegant, or the women
handsomer. The latter circmnstance soothed my
feelings during the delay of a fortnight. — Adieu.

the victory was over a flotilla rather than over the batteries.
The destruction of the little work on the Potomac, when the
British ascended that river, was clearly an evacuation and not a
defeat, and was decided on from an exaggerated notion of the
power of the troops in its rear, and not at all in consequence of
the marine attack. It was abandoned at the first shot


NOTE A.— Page 6.

" I OWE you an explanation," my friend continued, after
the usual language of civility, " for the httle interest that 1
have manifested in your persevering attempts to obtain such
English works as may form a preparation for your intended
travels in America. I will make no further secret of the
cause, and when you hear my sentiments on this matter, I
think you will learn those which are common to a very great
majority of my countrymen.

'•'■ At the period when I grew into manhood, that bitterness
of feeling which had been created in the United States to-
w-ards Great Britain, by the struggle of the revolution, had
greatly subsided, in a return of the kindness which was natu-
ral to affinity of blood, and to a community of language,
usages, and opinions. Our object in the war had been ob-
tained. When we reverted to its events, it was rather with
exultation than hostility. Scenes of personal suffering, and
perhaps of personal wrongs, were forgotten in the general
prosperity. It is not necessary to ascribe any pecuhar qual-
ities of magnanimity, or of Christian charity, to the American
people, in order to maintain that fewer instances of a generous
and manly forgetfulness can be furnished in the history of
nations, than what they generally maniiested towards their
former rulers. The past presented recollections on which
they were not ashamed to dwell, while the future was replete
with the most anhnating hopes. In such an enviable position,
a community, like an individual, must have been odiously
constituted to find pleasure in the contemplation of any but
the brighter parts of human character. We gave the English
credit for the possession of all those virtues, which, in the
weakness of natural vanity, we are fond of ascribing to our-
selves. There w^ere few excellencies on which we grounded
our ovv'n national pride, that we were disposed to deny them.
It would have been difficult to ascribe different results to
causes whose inliuence was thought to be felt by the two na-
tions in common. They were brave, for they were free ;
they were virtuous, for they were religious ; and they were
rehgious, because we worshipned before the same altars. In

312 NOTES.

our eyes, there was perfection in their hteratiire and arts, for
if it^did not exist there, it was a stranger to us, since we
knew no other. In short, as our triumpli was indisputable,
we conld afford to forget the recent feud, and we were fond
of cherishing the present amity, since, with all the feehngs of
a reading and highly civilized people, we delighted in the
glory of our fathers. Had we churlishly denied our connexion
with that of England, we should have left ourselves without
an ancestry. So very deeply was this sentiment engrafted in
our opinions, it might almost be said in our natures, that, with
some exceptions that grew out of the opposition of internal
politics, most of our sympathies were with the English, in the
fierce struggle that soon agitated Christendom. We exulted
in her successes over the arms of a people who had lent us
their treasure, and shed the blood of their brave in the quarrel
which gave us a rank among the nations of the world. A
momentary and heedless enthusiasm, which manifested itself
in favour of the French at the commencement of their revo-
lution, had been checked in the government by the steadiness
of Washington, and had early been suppressed in the people,
by the excesses into which the leaders of that revolution suf-
fered themselves to be hurried. Without reflecting how much
of the merit of evidence must depend on the character of indi-
viduals, we gave credit to the ofhcial documents of England,
to the prejudice of all others ; and, removed ourselves from
the necessity of political deception, or of matured misrepre-
sentation, we refused to believe it could exist in a people who
affirmed what they had to promulge, not only in our language
but with all those forms with which we had ourselves so long
been accustomed to add solemnity and weight to the truth.
Destitute of a literature of our own, but rich in the possession
of that which we derived from our ancestors, we were con-
tent to submit our minds to the continued domination of wri-
ters, on whom it was believed that the mantle of Elijah had
rested in virtue of their birth-right. So far as Europe was
concerned, for many years after the peace of 1783, the great
mass of the American people saw with English eyes, and
judged with English prejudices. This was a fearful position
to be occupied by a nation whose policy is so greatly con-
trolled by the influence of public opinion. It was one which
could not peacefully continue, in the actual condition of the

" To me the gloomy period of 1792 is almost a matter of
history. A mild and reflecting people, who, in their own case,
had known so well liow to temper resistance to oppression,
coidd not long sympathize in the movements of men who

NOTES. 313

affected to think that hberty could only be propitiated by ob-
lations of innocent blood. Particular services to ourselves
were forgotten in the general offences against justice and
humanity. I have heard tliat the brief ardour which had
been excited in favour of the French was succeeded by the
coldness of disappointment. It is mo^e than probable that
the reaction hastened the renewal of those ancient attach-
ments to which I have alluded, and which certainly existed,
in the greatest force, at the time to which my personal recol-
lections distinctly extend.

" xVlthough the struggles of domestic politics had, in some
measure, created a sort of opposition to English supremacy,
it was altogether too feeble to shake the deep-rooted .and
confiding faith of the nation. There was so much that was
true, blended with a great deal that was ideal in our admira-
tion of Enghsh character, and, more than all, there was so
much wdiich, admirable or not, resembled ourselves, that it
was not easy to depreciate its merits. Detractors were heard,
it is true ; but they either declaimed with vulgar coarseness,
or uttered their opinions so feebly, as to leave reasonable
doubts of their own sincerity. This extraordinary mental
bondage continued, with no very important interruption, dur-
ing the first ten years of the present century. The amicable
feelings of the nation had, indeed, suffered some violent shocks
by the operation of the foreign policy of Great Britain, the
effects of which were as unceasingly proclaimed by one po-
litical party of our country, as were those of the decrees of
Napoleon by the other. But the hostility they created was
directed rather to the English ministry than to the nation.
It is no small evidence of the extent of our prejudice, tliat,
while the maritime condemnations of the English, though
conducted with all the pomp of gown and wig, were mainly
imputed to the cupidity of individuals, those of Napoleon,
which were effected by a nod of liis head and the agency of
a few gem d'armes, were, v^ith as little hesitation, ascribed
to the established perfidy of the French character ! Had not
England herself disturbed tliis mental ascendancy, I do not
see any plausible reason why it might not have continued to
the present hour. The jealousy of a sensitive rivalry, how-
ever, began to manifest itself prematurely ; and as an unrea-
sonable desire of exercising, unduly, her political dominion
over the colonies precipitated a separation of the two coun-
tries, so did her extreme sensitiveness on the subject of profit
hasten a mental emancipation that might easily have been
deferred, until at least the numbers and importance of the
American people had borne them beyond the possibility of

Vol. I. E e

314 NOTES.

foreign influence. I think that this jealousy may be divided
into two classes — that of calculation, and that of feeling-.
The quick-sighted and practised merchants of England were
not slow to discover that there was reason to apprehend a
rival in a nation who possessed, in addition to all their he-
reditary aptitude and knowledge, such rare, natural, commer-
cial advantages. Though not fond of admitting the fact, they
could not deny, even to themselves, that the very absence of
personal restraint, which, by giving energy and interest to
the efforts of individuals, had accumulated the commercial
grandeur of their own empire, was possessed by the infant
republics to a degree that was hitherto unknown in the annals
of the civilized world. The politicians of England found
leisure, even amid the cares of their great European strug-
gle, to turn their attention to a subject that is ever considered
by her statesmen with the watchfulness with which we re-
gard the most remote assaults on the materials of our ex-
istence. Had it not been their present interests to retain us
as customers, it is probable that the efforts of the English
ministry to curtail our growing prosperity, would have been
far more decisive and manifest. It is thought, too, that for a
long time they were deluded with the futile hope of seeing
our growing power weakened by a dissolution of the confed-
eracy ; a movement that would have left us w^ith all our wants,
and with a lessened ability to furnish them with a domestic
supply. There was, also, a period of political alarm when
the aristocracy of England trembled for its ascendancy. The
spectacle of a democratic government, existing on an ex-
tended scale, could not, in such a crisis, find favour in their
eyes. The greater its success, the greater was its offence
against those prophetic opinions which liad early predicted
its fall. Though a large proportion, even of the hereditary
counsellors of England, were exclusively occupied with the
more momentous concerns of the hour, or wilfully shut their
eyes on a perspective which presented so few objects of grat-
ification, some there were too sagacious and too reasoning
not to see tliat the diffusion of intelligence, to which they
owed their own national supremacy, was in danger of being
exceeded, and that too from a quarter of the world which they
had been accustomed to regard with the complacency of ac-
knowledged superiors. Still, circumstances beyond their
control admitted of no measures likely to retard the event
they deprecated. The States of America were therefore kept
as much as possible out of view, or were regarded with an
indiflerence in which there w^as much more of affectation than
of reahty. In this state of things, a deep, settled aversion to

NOTES. 315

America grew in the minds of that portion of the English
community v/ho possessed sufficient knowledge to be awaie
of her existence at all, or who did not believe us a people too
insignificant for attention. If there were any exceptions to
this rule, they were no more than the members of a class of
philanthropists which, unhappily, bears, m all countries, too
limited a proportion to the mass of mankind. In a nation
where pens are so active, there is but a brief interval between
the conception of an idea and its publication. By referring
to the daily and periodical journals of the country, you will
find that whenever it was thought necessary to mention
America, it was invariably done in terms of disparagement
and reproach. It is even said that the government of an em-
pire that boasts itself to be the most enlightened and mag-
nanimous in the w^orld, not only employed mercenary pens to
vituperate, in periodical journals of the most pretending
character, a people they affected to despise, but that it
sought itinerant circulators of calumny, who journeyed, or
pretended to journey through our States, in order to discover
and to expose the nakedness of the land. The latter circum-
stance I am inclined to discredit, for I cannot think that any
English ministry would have had the weakness to bestow
their money where there was so httle talent to invite reward.
Of the former I shall say no more than that it is implicitly
believed by many enlightened men in America, an». that if it
be not tru ■, it is unfortunate that more care had not been
taken to avoid the grounds of a suspicion that seems so
plausible. Here, then, you have the remarkable spectacle
of two people of a common origin, and possessing, in common,
so many of the governing principles which decide character

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 26 of 58)