James Fenimore Cooper.

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the whole house sit as a committee. This, you know,
is a practice derived from the English Parliament.
The bill, amended or not, is first passed by the com-
mittee of the wdiole house ; but its opponents have
still a chance to dispute its passage in the house
itself. When it has passed one of the houses, it is
sent to the other, where it goes through the same
forms. It is hardly necessary to say that the com-
mittees of the two houses commonly consult together,
and make their reports as nearly alike as possible.
In general they are the same, though the fate of a
bill is by no means sure because it has been approved
by the committees. All these forms do not prevent
individual members from olfering bills of their own ;
it is merely a practice, adopted to favour, examina-
ticA, and to expedite business.

AYhen a bill has passed the two houses, it is signed
by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and
the President of the Senate, and sent to the President
for his approbation. That ofiicer submits it to his
cabinet, as a matter of prudence and of courtesy,
though not of right. Should he choose it, however,
he can demand the written opinion of any of his
ministers, and then the individual who gives it may
be supposed to become responsible for the honesty of
his views. The President decides as he sees fit;
there remaining no alternative to the minister but sub-
mission, or separation from an administration of
whose policy he disapproves. If the President sign
the bill, it is a law ; but if he does not sign it, he is
oblifred to send it back to Congress wnth his reasons.
Should he neglect to do either, for ten days, it be-
D2



42 USAGES OF CONGRESS.

comes a law without his agency; and should he then
refuse to sign it, he may he impeached and punished,
as, probably, might such of his ministers who, it could
be proved, had been accessary to his obstinacy. If
Congress be not satisfied with the objections of the
President, they put the bill to the question again ;
and should two-thirds of both houses support it, it
becomes a law, without his agency.

The Congress of the United States is not remark-
able for the despatch of public business, nor is it
desirable that it should be. One of the greatest
merits of the peculiar government of the country, is
to be found in the fact, that the people are left, as
much as possible, to be the agents of tlieir own pros-
perity. The object of the laws is protection rather
than patronage. Haste is rarely necessary, where
such a state of society exists ; and though there may
be, and, undoubtedly, frequently is, inconvenience in
the delays that sometimes occur, more good than evil
is thought to follow the practice. The cause oi delay
most complained of, is the habit of making set
speeches, which is, perhaps, too common.

You are not, however, to suppose that a member
actually talks seventy-two hours without stopping, be-
cause he is said to have occupied the house three days.
Though iEolus himself does not seem to be longer
winded than some of the American legislators, none
of them are quite equal to such a blast. If we say
nine hours, perhaps, we get the maximum of their
breath ; and even this period is to be divided into
three several and distinct divisions. The houses
meet at twelve o'clock. They are commonly occu-
pied in the order of the day until two, when they go
into committees of the whole, or take up the deferred
business. This leaves the Demosthenes of the occa-
sion but three hours each day for the exercise of his
oratory. But bottom enough for three days, on the
same subject, is not the fortunate quality of many



USAGES OF CONGRESS. 43

men : so, after all, very few members ever occupy
the house more than an hour or two. The evil does
not so much exist in the extraordinary length of the
speeches, as in the number of those who can arrange
words enough to fill an hour of time.

The Americans are fond of argument. They dis-
cuss in society, a thing which is done nowhere else,
I beheve. The habit is often disagreeable, since
their opinions are not unfrequently coarsely urged ;
but the truth is profusely shaken from its husks, in
these sharp, intellectual encounters. It is not sur-
prising, that men, who have been accustomed all their
lives to have a word in what is passing, should carry
the desire to speak into a body which is professedly
deliberative. Still, if the trifling inconvenience of
these delays shall be put in contrast with the cold
and uncalculating injury, the prodigal expenditure,
and the quiet corruption with which legislation so
often flows on in its silent course, elsewhere, the ad-
vantage will be found immensely on the side of these
talkers.

In point of manner, the debates in both houses of
Congress are conducted with decorum. Those in the
Senate are particularly dignified ; that body main-
taining, at all times, rather more of gravity than the
other. In the Senate, the members are all uncovered;
in the lower house, they wear their hats, if they please.
The arrangements of the two halls are very much the
same ; but the Senate chamber is, of course, much
the smallest. The members of the Senate may be,
on the whole, rather older than the representatives ;
though there are several between the ages of thirty
and tive-and-forty. It is necessary to be thirty, in
order to sit.

The forms of the two houses are the same. They
meet at a stated hour (12 o'clock), and, after listen-
ing to prayers, the regular business of the day is com-
menced. Yoa would probably suppose that, in a



44 USAGES OF CONGRESS.

country where there is no established religion, it
might be difficult for an indiscriminately collected
assembly to agree on the form in which these peti-
tions should be offered up- to the Deity. Nothing is,
however, more untrue. Each house chooses its own
chaplain, or chaplains, who are sometimes of one
denomination, and sometimes of another. Prayers
are vastly better attended than in England, on such
occasions. I remember once to have asked the
member from Cadwallader's county, how he recon-
ciled it to his conscience, to listen. to the petitions
offered up by a clergyman of a sect entirely different
from his own. The simple answer was, that he be-
heved the Almighty understood all languages.*

Although instances of ^ want of temper and of vio-
lent expressions have certainly occurred in Congress,
they are rare, and always strongly condemned. Each
new speaker is patiently heard, and there is no other
manner of manifesting indifference to his logic prac-
tised, than those of writing letters, reading news-
papers, and sometimes of quitting the hall. There is
far greater silence than in the French Chambers,
though more moving about than in the House of
Commons, for the simple reason that there is more
room to do it in. There is sometimes a low laugh ;
hut systematic coughing is never heard. Cries of ap-
probation or of disapprobation, interruptions, unless
to demand order, or arnf other similar indecencies,
are unknown. These people appear to me to have
no f^ar of themselves, or of any body else, in matters



* The writei' was afterwards present when a Roman Catholic
preached to both houses of Congress in the hall of tlie House of
R.epresentatives, although it is not probable that more than one
or two of the members were of his religious persuasion, if, in-
deed, there was one. Nearly all of the higher officers of govern-
ment were present, though tiiey were Protestants to a man. Nor
was there any show of liberality in the affciir at all, but every
thing appeared natural, and quite as a matter of course.



USAGES OF CONGRESS. 45

that relate to government. They go on boldly, sys-
tematically, and orderly, without any visible restraint.
It appears as if they knew that use and education had
implanted such general principles in every man, that
they know where to find him, on all grave occasions.
If they scatter firebrands freely in debate, and in their
journals, it is because they are sure there are no
combustibles into which they can fall. The gallery
of Congress is very capacious, and any one may enter
it, who pleases. \l there could be a hazardous experi-
ment tried on the government, I think it would be in
attempting to browbeat Congress. It would be quite
as safe to attempt to assassinate a sovereign, in the
midst of his guards. The members, the army, the
navy, the community, and even the women, would
rise in support of its privileges. The perfect security
of its rights might render the efTort of an individual
too ridiculous for resentment ; but any serious plot
of the sort would be sure to draw down the indigna-
tion of the whole republic. — Adieu.



TO THE COUNT JULES DE BETHIZY,
Sec. Sec.



Washington,



To you, w^ho so stoutly m.aintain that the regula-
tions of etiquette are necessary to order, it may be
surprising to learn with how little of preparation the
functionaries of this government get through the cere-
monials of their otiices. Just so far as etiquette is
of use in facilitating intercourse, is it rational ; but
these people very rightly believe, that their institu-
tions enable them to move on with far less than is



46 ETIQUETTE OF WASHINGTON.

practised in Europe. We will seize a moment to
discuss the matter in some of its general bearings.

In point of style, there is none whatever practised
in addressing any one oliicer of the government.
The naked appellation of the office is used in conver
sation sometimes, and commonly, though not always
in notes and letters. The tone can be taken bes'
from the incumbents themselves. An invitation U
dine at the " White House," always runs, " The Pre?
ident requests the pleasure," &c. A secretary com

monly says, "Mr. requests," &c. Now

the best style, and that w^hich is expected, is to repl.
in the same form. Thus a note should be addresseu

"To Mr. ," to "the President," "To Mr. Adams^.,

(the secretary of state)," or "To Mr. Southard (the
secretary of the navy)." The use of honourable to
either, or indeed to any one else, is not deemed I)on
ton. It is done, however, quite frequently by those
who are ignorant of the tone of the place. The use
of the terms " excellency" and " honourable," came
in with the colonial practices. I have more than once
had occasion to say that these people have never been
violent in their innovations. The changes in things
not deemed material, have always been gradual, and
the work of time. Washington, at the head of the
army, was called "his excellency," as a matter of
course, and he carried the title with him to the chair
of state. The colonial governors had the same title,
and one of the States (Massachusetts) continued it in
its constitution. But, though often observed, even
now, it is a practice gradually falling into disuse. It is
not seriously pretended there is any thing anti-repub-
lican ill giving a title to a public officer; indeed many
contend it should be done, as a way of imparting
more consideration to the rank ; but, as neflr as I
can learn, the taste of the nation is silently receding
from the custom. Cadwallader tells me that, twenty-
years ago, it would have been thought rather a breach



ETIQUETTE OF WASHIXGTOX. 47

of politeness to address a letter to a member of Con-
gress, without prefixing 'honourable' to the name,
though the better practice now is to omit it. When
1 asked him if he saw any reason for the change, he
answered, none, but the fact that the thing grew
contemptible from its frequency.

" Twenty years ago," he continued, " an officer of
the militia, above the rank of captain, was sure of
bearing his title ; but now, among men of a certain
class, it is getting into disuse, unless one has reached
the rank perhaps of general. There is no general
rule, however, as the people of the country are fond
of calling a man by the title of an office which they
may have had an agency in conferring. I think there
is a quiet waggery in the nation, that takes pleasure
in giving quaint names. Thus, dwarfs are often
called ' major '^ — heaven knows why ! but I have met
three who all bore this title. I have a gardener, who
is universally styled judge, and an old black family
servant is never known by any other name than that
of governor. Nicknames are rather too much in use
with us. The liberty is not often taken, of course,
with men of the better orders. They are much dis-
posed to dispense with all sorts of titles. We call 3.%
gentleman an esquire, by courtesy, according to a
practice imported from England ; though some one-
sided masters of ceremonies deny that any but magis-
trates, counsellors, fcc. have a right to the title ; just



* The writer has just seen an American play-bill, in which
Major Stevens, a dwarf, is advertised to enact the part of Tom
Thumb. There is also a strange effect, in the way of names,
produced by reading. The v\'riter met several men, who were
called Don Sebastian, Don Alonzo, &;c. Szc. In one instance, he
knew a person who was called Lord George Gordon. The
latter proceeded from waggery, but the mothers of the former
had found names in books that captivated their fancy. Women
of a similar rank of life in Europe, would knov; but little of
titles beyond the limits of their own parishes.



48 ETIQUETTE OF THE GOVERNMENT.

as if even thej could find better authority for their
claims than any body else. The truth is, the courts
continue a few of the colonial forms, which may be
well enough, and their officers sometimes think that
us6 has grown into a law. In New-England the
custom goes so far as to call a deacon of a church by
his title ; and I have even seen ' serjeant' placed be
fore the name of a respectable yeoman. The practice
as it confines the appellation to the office, is rather
republican than otherwise ; but, as I have just said,
it is getting into disuse, because it is no longer a dis-
tinction."

In conversation, the actual President, I find, is
called Colonel Monroe. I am told his predecessors
were addressed as Mr. Madison, Mr. Jeffi^rson, Mr.
Adams, and General Washington.''^ The Secretaries
and the members of Congress are addressed as other
gentlemen. In the two houses, the etiquette is to
speak of another member as " the gentleman from
Virginia," " the gentleman from Connecticut, who
spoke last," and, sometimes, as " the honourable gen-
tleman," &;c. The President is commonly alluded
to, in debate, as " the executive." Other indirect
means of indicating the members meant, are some-
times adopted ; but, as in the British Parliament,
names are always avoided.

No civil officer of the government has a costume,
except the judges of the supreme court. The latter
wear, in court, plain black silk gowns. They com
menced with wigs and scarlet robes, but soon dis-
carded them as inconvenient. The President might,
on occasion, appear attired either as a general or an
admiral ; and, in some instances, Washington did as
the former ; but it is the usage for the President to

* The present President (1028) is called Mr. Adams. The
writer never heard the term " excellency" used, in speaking to
him or to his predecessor.



SOCIETY OF THE CIXCIXNATI. 49

dress like any other gentlerrian, consulting his own
taste and appearance. The same is true of the Vice-
President, of the Speaker of the House of Represent-
atives, and of all other ofiicers and members. You
know there is no order of knighthood in the country.
At the close of t)ie war of the revolution, the officers
of the army formed themselves into a society called
the society of Cincinnati. They adopted a little
enamelled badge, which bears some resemblance to
a simple European cross. Even this immaterial dis-
tinction gave offence, and some of the State societies
were abolished many years ago. The plan was to
perpetuate the feeling which had united them as a
corps, through their descendants, it being intended
that the eldest male heir should succeed to the father.
You may trace, in this httle circumstance, the linger-
ing of ancient prejudices. Still, had not Washington
been at the head of this society, and had not the
services of its members been so undeniable, and so
pitifully rewarded, this trifling consolation to their
pride would not have been endured even at that
lime. The society is daily getting of less importance,
though possibly of more interest, and there is no
doubt but it will disappear entirely, with the indi-
viduals who were personal actors in the scenes which
called it into existence. It is probable there will
be no more members of the Cincinnati a dozen years
hence.

The constitution has shown a marked jealousy of
the introduction of any distinctions that are not solely
attached to office, which, as you know, are fluctuat-
ing, and entirely dependent on popular favour. Thus,
no American can receive a title, or a decoration,
from a foreign court, without losing his citizenship;
nor can any officer of the government receive even
a trifling present from another power. There are a
good many people here whose fathers bore titles. In
all cases, where u^e had not become too strong, they

Vol. II. E



60 A TERRITORIAL TITLE.

were dropped. In short, I think the tone in all such
matters in America, is to follow the natural course
of things. It is not natural for a community, like
this, to cherish hereditary titles, and yet it would be
doins; violence to usage by attempting to change the
appellation of an individual, who had been known by
a titie for perhaps half a century. The Dutch in
New-York had a sort of lords of the manor, who
were known by the title of patroons (paterons). Cad-
wallader tells me that, in his youth, he knew several
of these patroons. But they have all disappeared,
except one. The exception is a gentleman resident
at Albany, who is perhaps the greatest landed pro-
prietor in the United States. Every body, who is
familiar with the haoits of that part of the country,
calls this gentleman " the patroon." His father, and
several of his ancestors, bore the same appellation.
There is not the slightest jealousy or feeling on the
subject. He is a member of Congress ; and though
persons from other parts of the Union address him
by his real name, my friend always calls him " pa-
troon." The immense estate of this gentleman was
entailed, and he came into possession about the time
of the revolution. But there are no more entails in
any of the States ; and although the possessions of the
patroon will undoubtedly go to his children, it is more
than probable that the appellation will cease with
his own life.

The etiquette of the American government is as
simple as possible. Some attention to forms is found
convenient, and as so many foreign ministers reside
here, perhaps it is necessary. The practice of all
American society, in respect to precedency, is very
much like your own, always excepting the great otfi
cers of the two governments. Age, talent, and char
acter, exercise a great and a natural influence, and
there, I think, the matter is permitted to rest. A
governor of a State, ox^ even a Senator of the Uniteu



ETIQUETTE OF THE COUXTRY. 51

States, would be expected to lead the mistress of the
house to the table, perhaps, just as a stranger, or a
man of particular personal claims, would be permit-
ted to do the same thing. But the deference paid to
official rank would be very apt to end there. A mere
member of the lower house may receive certain dis-
tinctions in public ceremonies, but scarcely in society.
It would be intolerable for a son of the President to
presume on his birth in any situation. He might,
and certainly would be more caressed, on account
of the circumstance; but he must always content
himself with precisely the degree of attention that is
offered. The son of any other gentleman is, in every
respect, his equal in society, and the son of any other
man his equal before the world. You will under-
stand me to speak now with direct reference to
practice, for in theory there is no difference at all.*



* The writer, since his return to Europe, has had an opportu-
nity of ascertaining how far the question of precedency is some-
times pushed in England. At an entertainment given not long
since in London, there v/ere present, besides many Englishmen
of rank, a Russian and a Ptoman Prince- The high-bred Eng-
lish peers could not hesitate to give the pas to the strangers;
but these gentlemen were delicate in respect of each other. The
question was one far too awful for the mistres-s of the house to
attempt to decide. After the whole party had stood in reveren-
tial silence for a sufficiently awkward minute, the ladies moved
to the banquet in a body, followed by the gentlemen in the same
solitary order. Within a fortnight of that memorable coup
d'' tliquttlt^ the writer was present at a similar entertainment at
Paris. Here there were also men of distinction from ditFerent
countries, without any graduated scale to determine their co-
relative rank. There was, however, one gentleman whose
claims, though a countryman of the hostess, might, in all fair-
ness, be considered to be pre-eminent, since, to personal rank, he
united the highest talents, and the utmost private merit. The
lady of the house, in order to anticipate any doubts, took his
arm, and then, with exquisite grace and tact, she sav/ each of
the other claimants accommodated with a proper companion,
and every one advanced towards tiie sallea manger in less than
a iiiixiute.



52 AN ESSAY ON ETIQUETTE.

The present Secretary of State* undertook, in great
simplicity, to give his opinions lately on some ques-
tions of etiquette connected with the subject of ofn-
cial intercourse. There was probably a great deal
of good sense in what he published, and no doubt the
practices he recommended were not without conve-
nience. But it is generally thought he committed an
error in writing about them at all. Now, it is just in
this fact that I think the common sense of the Ameri-
cans is to be traced. Whatever is convenient, in the
way of ceremony, they are very apt to adopt ; but
they are not disposed to make trifles matters of se-
rious discussion. The Secretary was a good deal
quizzed for his essay, though I dare say most people
practised the very thing they laughed at.

At Washington official rank is certainly more attend-
ed to than elsewhere. I cannot give you an insight
into the whole table of precedency, but some of its
secrets have been practically divulged in my presence.
The day after our arrival, Cadwallader and myself
left cards at the President's House ; at the houses of
the heads of departments ; at those of the foreign
ministers ; and at the lodgings of a dozen Senators.
We met sundr}^ members of Congress, but my friend
did not appear to think it necessary to treat them as
personages entitled to particular deference. Their
claims form a disputed point, 1 find ; but Cadwallader
knows his own foothold in society too well to trouble
himself with a disputed point. We called on a few,
as "good fellows," but on none officially.

Our cards were all returned, except by the Presi-
dent. During the session this functionary never visits,
though he receives twice a week. Between the
sessions, when the society of Washington is reduced
to a very few families, I understand he consults his
own pleasure. In the course of the week we received

* The actual President.



A VISIT TO THE PRESIDENT. 53

notes to attend the "evenings" of those who opened
their houses ; and invitations to dine with the Secre-
taries soon followed. Tlie dinner of the President
came last ; but as it contains the essence of all the
etiquette of this simple court, I shall select it for a
short description.

Cadwallader was personally known to Mr. Monroe
(the President), and we took an opportunity to repeat
our call between the time of leaving our cards and
the day of the dinner. The principal entrance of
the "White House" communicates with a spacious
vestibule, or rather a hall. FVom this we passed into
an apartment, where those who visit the President, in
the mornings, are to wait their turns for the interview.
Our names had been given in at the door, and after
two or three, who preceded us, had been admitted,
we were desired to follow the domestic. Our recep-
tion was in a cabinet, and the visit of course quite
short. Colonel Monroe received us politely, but with
an American gravity, which perhaps was not mis
placed in such an officer. He offered his hand to me,
though an entire stranger, and asked the common-
place questions concerning my visit to the country.



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 33 of 58)