James Fenimore Cooper.

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We took our leave in less than ten minutes.

I found the President a man of a gentlemanlike,
but of a grave and simple deportment. He expressed
his hope of seeing us soon again, in a way to make
me suspect we had rather been invited to his dinner,
as a matter of course, than by any express commands.
Let that be as it might, we went on the appointed
day, with as much confidence as if the banquet were
expressly spread in our behalf.

On this occasion we were honoured with the
presence of Mrs. Monroe, and of two or three of her
female relatives. Crossing the hall, we were admitted
to a drawing-room, in which most of the company
was already assembled. The hour was six. By far
the greater part of the guests were men, and perhaps
E 2



54 A DINNER WITH THE PRESID&NT.

two-thirds were members of Congress, It is unneces-
sary to describe a company that was composed of a
very fair representation of Congress, which, as you
already know, is composed of a very fair representa-
tion of the v/hole country, the very lowest classes
always excepted. There was great gravity of mien
in most of the company, and neither any very marked
exhibition, nor any positively striking want, of grace
of manner. The conversation was commonplace, and
a little sombre, though two or three men of the world
got around the ladies, where the battle of words was
maintained with sufficient spirit. I do not know
that it differed materially from a reunion any where
else. To me the entertainment had rather a cold
than a formal air. When dinner was announced, the
oldest Senator present (there were two, and seniority
of service is meant) took Mrs. Monroe and led her to
the table."^ The rest of the party followed without
much order. The President took a lady, as usual,
and preceded the rest of the guests.

The drawing-room was an apartment of a good size,
and of just proportions. It might have been about as
large as a better sort of Paris salon, in a private hotel.
It was furnished in a mixed style, partly Enghsh and
partly French, a custom that prevails a good deal
in all the fashions of this country. It was neat, suf-
ficiently rich, without being at all magnificent, and,
on the whole, was very much like a similar apart-
ment in the house of a man of rank and fortune in
Europe. The dining-room was in a better taste than
is common here, being quite simple, and but httle
furnished. The table was large and rather handsome.
The service was in china, as is uniformly the case,
plate being exceedingly rare, if at all used. There
was, however, a rich plateau, and a great abundance

* The wife uf the President is always styled the same as any
other lady.



SERVICE OF THE DINNER. 55

of the smaller articles of table plate. The cloth, nap-
kins, &c. (fee, were fine and beautiful.

The dinner was served in the French style, a little
Americanized. The dishes were handed round, though
some of the guests, appearing to prefer their own cus-
toms, very coolly helped themselves, to what they
found at hand. Of attendants there were a good
many. They were neatly dressed, out of livery, and
sufficient. To conclude, the whole entertainment
might have passed for a better sort of European din-
ner party, at which the guests were too numerous
for general, or very agreeable discourse, and some of
them too new to be entirely at their ease. Mrs. Mon-
roe arose at the end of the dessert, and withdrew,
attended by two or three of the most gallant of the
company. Being a stranger, Jules, I forgot the credit
of the club, and remained to see it out. No sooner
was his wife's back turned, than the President of the
United States reseated himself, inviting his guests to
imitate the- action, with a wave of the hand, that
seemed to say, "Now have we a matrimonial fourth
of July." Has it never struck you, Comte de Bcthizy,
that these domestic subjects feel a species of moment-
ary triumph, as they figure at the head of their tables
without any rival in authority near? Your English-
man, and his cis-atlantic kinsman, are the only real
slaves in their own households. Most other husbands
consider matrimony, more or less, a convenience ;
but these downright moralists talk of its obligations
and duties. Obligations ! There is our triumph. It
is when they feel the man within them waxing bold,
as they imbibe courage with their wine, that the wife
prudently retires, rather than remain to dispute a
sway that she knows is about to weaken itself, by
libations to victory. I never feel so thoroughly inde-
pendent as when I see one of your im.moderately
henpecked heroes, bristling up and chuckling with
glee as he looks around on the domestic throne which



56 THE DRAWING-ROOM.

has jiiSt been momentaril}^ abandoned by her who is
sealed there all the rest of the twenty-four hours. No
one need seek deeper into the history of customs, than
the date of this triumph, to iind the origin of drunken-
ness after dinner.

I cannot say that Colonel Monroe abused his op-
portunity. After allowing all his guests sutficient time
to renew, in a few glasses, the recollections of similar
enjoyments of their own, he arose himself, giving the
hint to his company, that it was time to join the ladies.
In the drawing-room coffee was served, and every
body left the house before nine.

On the succeeding Wednesday, Mrs. Monroe open-
ed her doors to all the world. No invitation was
necessary, it being the usage for the wife of the Presi-
dent to receive once a fortnight during the session,
without distinction of persons. I waited for this
evening with more curiosity than any that I remember
ever to have sighed for. I could not imagine what
would be the result. To my fancy, a more hazard-
ous experiment could not be attempted. " How dare
she risk the chanCe of insult — of degradation ? or
how can she tolerate the vulgarity and coarseness to
which she must be exposed ?" was the question I put
to Cadwallader. " JSfous verrons^'''' was the phlegmatic
answer.

We reached the White House at nine. The court
(or rather the grounds) was filled with carriages, and
the company was arriving in great numbers. On this
occasion two or three additional drawing-rooms were
opened, though the frugality of Congress has prevented
them from finishing the principal reception-room of
the building.* I will acknowledge the same sort of
surprise that I felt at the Castle Garden fete, at find-



* The people furnish the entire house. It is the practice to
make a moderate appropriation for that purpose, at the
of each new President.



accession



APPEARANCE OF THE COMPANY. 51

ing the assemblage so respectable, in air, dress, and
deportment. Determined to know exactly in what
view to consider this ceremony, I gave my companion
no peace until every thing was explained.-

The " evening" at the White House, or the draw-
ing-room, as it is sometimes pleasantly called, is in
fact a collection of all classes of people who choose
to go to the trouble and expense of appearing in
dresses suited to an ordinary evening party. I am not
sure that even dress is much regarded ; for I certainly
saw a good many men there in boots. The fem.alcs
were all neatly and properly attired, though few were
ornamented with jewelry. Of course the poorer and
labouring classes of the community would find little
or no pleasure in such a scene. They consequently
stay away. The infamous, if known, would not be
admitted : for it is a peculiar consequence of the high
tone of morals in this country, that grave and notori-
ous offenders rarely presume to violate the public
feeling by invading society. Perhaps if Waehingtou
were a large town, the " evenings" could not exist ;
but as it is, no inconvenience is experienced.

Squeezing through the crowd, we achieved a pas-
sage to a part of the room where Mrs. Monroe was
standing, surrounded by a bevy of female friends.
After making our bows here, we sought the President.
The latter had posted himself at the top of the room,
where he remained most of the evening, shaking
hands with all who approached.* Near him stood
all the Secretaries, and a great number of the most

* It is a mistaken opinion, however, that shaking hands is a
custom not to be dispensed with in America. Most people prac-
tise it certainly, for it is thought to be a frank, manly, and, if
you will, a republican usage. But in a certain class, it is not
considered a mark of breeding to be too free with the hand, in
casual introductions, Two gentlemen meeting would be apt to
touch their hats (unless intimates) just as in Europe, though
either of them would offer his hand to any one who he thouglit



58 CHARACTER OF THE COMPANY.

distinguished men of the nation. Cadwallader pointed
out the different judges, and several menibers of both
houses of Congress, whose reputations were quite
famihar to me. Individuals of importance from all
parts of the Union were also here, and were em-
ployed in the manner usual to such scenes. Thus
far the " evening" would have been like any other
excessively crowded assembly ; but while my eyes
were roving over the different faces, they accidentally
fell on one they knew. It was the master of an inn,
in one of the larger towns. My friend and myself
had passed a fortnight in his house. I pointed him
out to Cadwallader, and I am afraid there was some-
thing like an European sneer in my manner as I
did so.

" Yes, I have just shaken hands with him," re-
turned my friend, coolly. " He keeps an excellent
tavern, you must allow ; and, what is more, had not
that circumstance been the means of your making
hi^ Tj/' juaintance, you might have mistaken him for
o.ie of the magnates of the land. I understand your

look, Count de , better than you understand

the subject at which you are smiling. Fancy, for a
moment, that this assembly were confined to a hun-
dred or two, like those eminent men you see collected
in that corner, and to these beautiful and remarkably
delicate women you see standing near us ; in what,
except name, would it be inferior to the best collec-
tions of your side of the ocean? You need not
apologize, for we understand one another perfectly.
J know Europe rather better than you know America,
for the simple reason, that one part of Europe is so
much like another, that it is by no means an abstruse



expected it. When a.i European, therefore, offers to shake han('
with an American of breeding, unless on familiar terms, he mis-
takes the manners of the country. The natural feeling of gen-
tlemanly reserve is the guide there, as it is with us.



CHARACTER OF THE COMPANY. ~ 59

study, SO far as mere manners are concerned; where-
as, in America, there exists a state of things that is
entirely new. We will make the comparison, not in
the way you are at this moment employed in doing,
hut in the way common sense dictates.

" It is very true that you meet here a great variety
of people of very many conditions of life. This
person you see on my left is a shopkeeper from New
York : no — not the one in black, but the genteel-
looking man in blue — I dare say you took him for an
attache of one of the legations. And this lovely crea-
ture, w^ho demeans herself with so much elegance
and propriety, is the daughter of a mechanic of Bal-
timore. In this manner we might dissect half the
company, perhaps ; some being of better, and some
of worse, exteriors. But what does it all prove I
Not that the President of the United States is obliged
to throw open his doors to the rabble, as you might
be tempted to call it, for he is under no sort of obli-
gation to open his doors to any body. But he chooses
to see the world, and he must do one of two things.
He must make invidious and difficult selections,
which, in a public man, would excite just remarks
in a government like ours, or he must run the hazard
of remaining three or four hours in a room filled with
a promiscuous assembly. He has w^isely chosen the
latter.

" What is the consequence ? Your ears are not of-
fended by improper discourse. Your individuality is
not wounded by impertinence, nor even your taste
annoyed by any very striking coarseness of manner.
Now it appears to me, that every American should
exult in this very exhibition. Not for the vulgar rea-
son that it is a proof of the equality of our rights, for
it is a mistake to think that society is a necessary de-
pendant of government. In this respect the ' even-
ings ' are some such deception as that ceremony one
hears of in Europe, in which sovereigns wash the



60 EXPLANATION OF THE DRAWING-ROOM.

feet of beggars. But he should exult that the house
of his first magistrate can be thrown open to the
world, and an assembly so well-behaved, so decent,
so reasonable, so free alike from sheepishness and
presumption, in short so completely creditable, in
every point of view, is collected by the liberty.
Open the doors of one of your palaces in this man-
ner, and let us see what would be the character of
the company.

" There is a good sense in our community, which
removes all dangers of unpleasant consequences from
too much familiarity. It imposes the necessity on
him v/ho would be thought a gentleman, of being cir-
cumspect and reasonable, but it leaves him sufficient-
ly the master of all his movements and associations.
The seeming scarcity of high-bred men in this coun-
try, compared with the number one sees in Europe,
is much less owing to our form of government, than
#ie fact that they are so widely scattered. Quite
half, too, of what is called fastidious breeding, is pure-
ly conventional, and, to make conventions, men must
meet.

" I have known a cartman leave his horse in the
street, and go into a reception-room to shake hands
with the President. He oifended the good sense of
all present, because it was not thought decent that a
labourer should come in a dirty dress on such an oc-
casion ; but while he made a trifling mistake ia this
particular,. he proved how well he understood the
difference between government and society. He
knew the levee was a sort of homage paid to politi-
cal equality in the person of the first magistrate, but
he would not have presumed to enter the house of
the same person as a private individual without being
invited, or without a reasonable excuse in the way
of business.

" Tliere are, no doubt, individuals wlio mistake
the character of these assemblies, but the great ma-



EXPLANATION OF THE DRAWING-ROOM. 61

jority do not. Thej are simply a periodical acknow-
ledgment, that there is no legal barrier to the ad-
vancement of any one to the first association in the
Union. You perceive there are no masters of cer-
emonies, no ushers, no announcing, nor indeed any
let or hindrance to the ingress of all who please to
come ; and yet how few, in comparison to the whole '
number who might enter, do actually appear. If
there is any man, in Washington, so dull as to sup
pose equality means a right to thrust himself into any
company he pleases, it is probable he satisfies his
vanity by boasting that he can go to the White House
once a fortnight as w^ell as a governor or any body
else. You v/ill confess his pride is appeased at a
cheap rate. Any prince can collect a well-dressed
and well-behaved crowd by calling his nobles around
him ; but I fancy the President of the United States
is the only head of a nation who need feel no appre-
hension of throwing open his doors to every body.
Until you can show^ an assembly composed of similar
materials, which shall equal this, not only in decency,
but in ease and in general manners, you ought in
reason to be content to confess your inferiority." **

You will perceive the utter impossibility of having
an opinion of } our own, dear Jules, when a man is
obstinately bent on considering things always in
reference to common sense, instead of consulting the
reverend usages which have been established by the
world, whether founded on prejudice or not. So far
as mere appearance goes, 1 must confess, however,
my friend was not very wrong, since the company
at the White House, on this occasion, was certainly
as well-behaved, all things considered, as could be
wished.

Vol. II. F



( 62 )



TO THE BARON VON KEMPERFELT,



Washington,



Washington, as it contains all the public offices, is
the best place to ascertain the general statistical facts
connected with the condition of this country. 1 have
hitherto purposely avoided touching on the marine
of the United States, until I should have an oppor-
tunity of getting the information necessary to do it
justice. On no occasion, however, have I neglected
to examine the ships and the navy-yards as I passed
through the seaports, though I have reserved all my
remarks until I had something material to communi-
cate. It is my intention to dispose of the subject
altogether in this letter.

Until the period of the war which separated the
two countries, the American mariners performed
most of their military service in the navy of Great
Britain. The history of the colonies, however, is
not altogether destitute of nautical incidents, that
were rather remarkable for skill and enterprise.
The privateers of this hemisphere were always con-
spicuous in the colonial contests; and they were
then, as they have always been since, of a character
for order and chivalry that ought not to be too confi-
dently expected from a class of adventurers w^ho
professedly take up arms for an object so little justi-
fiable, and perhaps so ignoble, as gain. But men of
a stamp altogether superior to the privateersmen of
Europe were induced, by the peculiar situation of
their country, to embark in these doubtful military
enterprises in America. There v/as no regular ser-
vice in which to show their martial quahties ; and



THE WAR OF 1745. G3

those among them whojelt a longing for the hazards
and adventures of naval warfare, were obliged to
hoist these semi-chivalrous flags, or to stay at home.
Still, unless very wrongly informed, it was much the
fashion for the gentry of the colonies to place their
sons in the navy of the mother country ; and many
distinguished names, in the higher ranks of the British
marine at this day, have been pointed out to me in
corroboration of the circumstance. It is generally
believed that Washington himself was destined to
such a life, and that nothing but the unconquerable
reluctance of a tender mother prevented him from
figuring in a very different character from that which
he was afterwards enabled to enact with so much
usefulness and true glory.

The first evidences of a nautical enterprise, on an
extended scale, that I can discover in the history of
these people, are contained in the accounts of the
expedition against Louisbourg. The States of New-
Englatid, or rather Massachusetts alone, undertook
to reduce that important fortress during the war of
1745. A considerable naval armament accompanied
the expedition, which was successful, though it con-
tained no ship of a force sufficient to combat with the
heavier vessels of their enemy. Still it manifested
a disposition to the sort, of warfare of which I am
writing, more especially as the mother country not
only possessed a squadron near, but actually employ-
ed it in the service. A people whose maritime pro-
pensities were less strong might have been content
to have thrown the whole of this branch of the un-
dertaking on an ally that was so well qualified to dis-
charge the duty with credit.

At the commencement of the struggle for indepen-
dence, notwithstanding the overwhelming force of
their enemy, the Americans early showed the new
flag on the ocean. Almost any other people of the
world, under similar circumstances, would have re-



t i THE WAR OF 1776.

tired into their valleys and fastnesses ; but the pri-
vateers and pubHc cruisers of America, while the
divided and feeble population at home were strug-
gling daily for their political existence, continued,
daring the whole of that war, to carry hostilities
even to the shores of Great Britain. Had the govern-
ment of the country even wished to husband its re-
sources for domestic defence, it is more than probable
it would have been found that it did not possess suffi-
cient authority to repress the nautical temper of the
country. It acted a wiser part. Although a more hope-
less adventure could not apparently be conceived,
than for these infant States to contend against the
overwhelming power of England on the ocean, yet
the new government early directed a considerable por-
tion of its scanty means to that object. Nor was the
desperate adventure without its benefits. It served to
make the nations of Europe more familiarly accjuaint-
ed with the power that was struggling into existence,
and it afforded an additional pledge of its final suc-
cess, by furnishing visible evidence of the possession
of an enterprise that merited confidence and support.
Though the marine of the United States, in the war
of the revolution, was imperfectly organized, and
exceedingly weak, the spirit of their seamen was
often exhibited in a manner to show that the nation
possessed an extraordinary aptitude to that particular
species of service. Their discipline was not, nor
could not well be, better than that ordinarily observed
on board of private vessels of war, since the ships
were of necessity officered by men taken from the
trading vessels of the country ; still the battles of that
period were often bloody and severe, and were fre
quently attended with a signal and brilliant success.
At the peace of '83, the half-formed and imperfect
marine of the country disappeared. The confedera-
tion, as it then existed, did not admit, without an
important object, of the exercise of a power that



WAR WITH ALGIERS. 65

involved so serious an expense as its maintenance.
Each State, at that time, collected its own imposts,
and imposed its own taxes. A few schooners, for the
security of the revenue, were kept in some of the
larger seaports ; but of a navj, either in officers or
ships, there was postively none.

When the constitution of the country, as it now
exists, was adopted (in 1 789), Washington was placed
at the head of the country, filling, for the first time, its
higiiest civil station. He recommended the construc-
tion of a few frigates, in order to protect its commerce
against the depredations of the Barbary powers, who
were then in the fullest practice of those lawless
robberies which were so long the scourge and dis-
grace of the civilized world. This recommendation
was the foundation of the present navy of the United
States. Though, so far as the Algerines themselves
were concerned, a war actually existed, no cruizer
of this country took part in its operations. According
to the fashion of that day, peace was soon purchased.
But the capture of a few of their unarmed merchant-
men had served to apprize the Americans of the
absolute necessity of a marine to protect their rights
as a commercial community.

' This little affair was scarcely adjusted before a
misunderstanding occurred between the French and
American republics. A sort of armed neutrality was
attempted by the latter ; but, though no declaration
of war was ever actually made, it soon terminated in
open hostilities. It was now thought prudent to ex-
tend a still greater protection to the commerce of the
country, and a sudden and considerable increase to
the navy was made. In order to effect this purpose,
it became necessary to build or to purchase ships,
and to procure officers. Vessels were both bought
and constructed, and seamen of various degrees of
character were induced to abandon the peaceful for
the more warlike pui-suits of their profession. A small
F 2



66 WAR WITH FRANCE.

corps of officers had been chosen to command the
first half-dozen frigates from among the veterans
w^ho still survived the great struggle for independence ;.
but this was a body soon exhausted, especially as it
was found necessary that a rigid selection should be
observed. To supply the deficiencies, spirited and
skilful young men were sought among the masters
and the mates of the merchantmen. A mixed marine
was by these means created, though it is scarcely
possible not to beheve that in ships and comimanders
there must have existed the utmost inequality of merit
and of fitness for the duty required of both. Still, as
the propensity of the nation is so decidedly maritime,
the war proved creditable. Many battles were fought,
and with a success that was invariable.

This maritime war occurred during the presidency
of Mr. Adams. The creation of a navy was thought



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 34 of 58)