James Fenimore Cooper.

Notions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) online

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own person, held all the authority that was to be
exercised on that innportant day, by the younger com-
munity of Indiana. This gentleman, and one or two
others, were men of peculiar importance in an event
like this, since accident had placed them individually
on a level with large bodies of enlightened and dis-
creet men. Still it is not probable that they dared
to depart from the known wishes of the people they
represented, so direct and certain is the punishment
which usually attends popular displeasure in this

At the appointed hour, the States began to collect
the voices among themselves. The members voted by
ballot, having established for that purpose, a set of
simple forms by which the votes were collected and
reported to tellers appointed to receive them by the
house. Fraud was impossible, since each college
knew the precise number of its votes, and each indi-
vidual deposited his ballot with his own hand. TLc
duty was soon performed by the smaller States, and
a moment of breathless suspense succeeded while
the representatives of New-York were collecting
their votes. The friends of Mr. Adams had counted
on twelve States with great confidence, but the num-
ber and the peculiar policy of the members from
New-York had rendered their vote more doubtful.
The result was, however, soon known on the floor
of the house, as was quite apparent by the look of
suppressed triumph that was playing about the eyes
of certain partisans, and the air of forced composure
that was assumed by their adversaries.

The result was communicated to the Speaker,
(who had himself been a candidate before the elec-
toral colleges,) and then it was ofiiciaily announced
"that thirteen States had given their votes for John
Quincy Adams, for President of the United States


daring the four years, commencing on the fourth of
March next, and that the said John Quincj Adams
was duly elected/'*

yf hile the sweet, clear, voice of Mr. Clay was an-
nouncing this important news, 1 never witnessed a
more intense silence in any assembly. The stillness
continued a moment after his words had ceased, and
then followed the low hum of whispers, and imme-
diately after, a half involuntary and feeble clapping
of hands was heard in the galleries. This little burst
of exultation on the part of some indiscreet specta-
tors, gave me an opportunity of witnessing the man-
ner in which the American legislators maintain order
and assert their dignity. " Sergeant-at-arms, clear
the galleries !" commanded the Speaker, in a voice,
that of itself hushed the slightest sound of approba-
tion. The officers of the house instantly performed
their duty, and in a few moments those spacious and
commodious seats which were so lately teeming with
conscious human countenances, presented nothing to
the eye but its magnificent colonnade and long rows
of empty benches.

The house soon adjourned, and every body quitted
the Capitol, some tilled with jo^ they could ill sup-
press, and others evidently struggling to conceal the
defeat of expectations which had probably been more
fed by hope than reason. The important question
was, however, irretrievably decided by a first vote,
notwithstanding hundreds had anticipated that a strug-
gle similar to that of 1801 was about to occur again.

The election had been conducted with great heat,
especially in the public prints, and so much seeming
violence of denunciation had been used during the
discussion, that I confess I was induced to look about
me, as we quitted the edifice, in quest of the legions
that were to tame so many unquiet spirits, and to

* Thirteen States being a majority of the twenty-four which
now compose the Union, were necessary to a choice.


teach them submission to an authority that exercised
its functions in forms so simple as those I had just
witnessed. I had heard so much of revolution, and
of the disorders of popular governments, that it did
not appear possible a question which, an hour before,
had filled the minds and voices of men with so much
bitterness, could peaceably subside in quiet, and in
submission to a force that was invisible.

During the preceding week, more than one foreign
functionary had whispered in my ear something that
implied a sneer on the folly of periodically throwing
society so near the verge of dissolution, by enlisting
the passions of the community in a question that em-
braced so many important interests as these frequent
elections; and one of them had intimated an expecta-
tion that, in the event of his failure, there would be
a rising in favour of a military hero, who was not
accustomed to defeat. I remembered the reply of my
quiet yeoman in the stage-coach, and did not cer-
tainly carry my expectations quite so far; but still it
was inconceivable that passions which had been so
strongly excited, should subside without at least some
of the usual indications of a disappointed resentment.

Wliile descending Capitol hill, we met a warm
partisan of the unsuccessful candidate, who was

known to us both. '-Well, ," said Cadwalla-

der, "what do you intend to do now ? Your man has,
beyond all hope, lost the day." "We shall change
the face of things four years hence," was the answer.
The reply was given in the tone of one who seemed
conscious that he and his friends had been mistaken
in their force, but who, at the same time, felt that
legal means of obtaining a triumph were always be-
fore him. I must acknowledge, when I found that
one of the most violent partisans 1 had ever met,
was for deferring his schemes of revenge to a day so
distant as four years, and that he even then contem-
plated to effect his object by means of the ballot-box,


I began to despair of seeing a revolution in America
during my visit. It is true, that the defeated party
have begun already to raise a clamour against cor-
ruptions and bargains ; but it is very evident that
they are doing it as mariners place an extra anchor
to windward, to be in readiness for the tempest
which is known to come on periodically.*

The result of this election, and the sudden calm
that succeeded to so much apparent warmth, have
again led me to reflect on the vague and imperfect
impressions which we get in Europe, of the actual
political condition of America. During the war of
1812, one saw monthly accounts, in the journals of
England, that this, or that, State of the confederation
was on the verge of a separation from the Union, and
that distress had driven men to madness and all sorts
of political desperation. If these accounts were pub-
lished in good faith, they imply an inconceivable igno-
rance of the actual state of the country ; for, unless
the opinions of intelligent men of all parties grossly
deceive me, there never has been one hour since the
adoption of the present constitution, when probably
one thousand natives of the whole United States have
seriously contemplated any such event as likely to be
near. If the paragraphs to which I allude, were

* The writer had an excellent opportunity of witnessing the
effect of the American institutions, shortly after the event above
described, while on a .visit to the city of Philadelphia. A for-
eigner, who conducted a paper in that city, was so profoundly
ignorant of the people among whom he lived, as to invite a
meeting of the citizens of Pennsylvania, in order to provide
the means of marching to Washington to put down Mr. Adams,
who, it was affirmed, had been elected by means of corruption.
Curiosity drew thousands of spectators to the appointed spot,
in order to see what would be done at such a meeting. No
officers appeared to oppose it, and yet the affair ended in the
utter disdain of the whole community. The miserable intruder
on the peaceful habits and common sense of the Americans
was too much despised to be punished for his impudence,
though he could not escape contempt and ridicule.


published with a view to deceive the people of Eu-
rope, it has induced the inevitable consequences of a
wilful ignorance, viz. disappointment. I am perfectly
satisfied, that a vast majority of the citizens of this
country have more confidence in their own institu-
tions than in those of any other nation ; nor can I
find, on a reasonably close examination of the subject,
that they are so \ery wrong. One thing is certain,
that other nations have made much nearer approaches
to their opinions, during the last half century, than
they have made to the opinions of other nations.*

I have conversed freely on this matter with my
friend Cadwallader. I cannot say that he discusses
the subject with particular gravity ; but one of his
remarks struck me as possessing singular force. '-How
is it," he said, "that you, or any stranger who enters
our country, can and does freely discuss the danger
of a dissolution of our confedei-acy, or the probability
that we shall one day become a monarchy, and that,
too, without giving offence or finding any difficulty in
meeting with disputants ? or how is it that an Ameri-
can never goes into an European country, Switzer-

* What are all the changes that have occurred in so many
kingdoms on the continent of Europe, but approaches to the
American system? It is certainly the fashion, and for obvious
reasons, to look to England as a model for the new constitu-
tions, but what is England herself about? The Ameiic^tn
would say, that the recent repeal or alteration of the Test A t,
the state of the Catliolic question, the disfranchisement of rot^ a
boroughs, tlse improvement of the common law, and, in short,
the whole plan of rational reform which now pervades Eng-
land, rests on principles, that rather than abandon, his ances-
tors preferred to emigrate. When a man states this undeniable
truth, with a view to exult in the superior penetration of his
own people, he should be remiinded how very far the most
faultless are from perfection in any thing ; but when an Euro-
pean insolently and ignorantly assumes that the United States
are existing iii a state of political insecurity, every day and
every hour, the citizen of the latter country has a natural right
to throw these stubborn facts into the teeth of such supercilious

Vol. II. Q


land, perhaps, excepted, without finding men, let
their breeding be what it may, who very unequivo-
cally let him know that they consider his government
as a chimerical project, and the constitution of his
empire exceedingly frail ; while, on the other hand,
if the American attempt a comparison between his
own government and that of his assailant, he is gen-
erally silenced by cold looks and an averted eye ?
It is odd that all this sensitiveness, more especially
as the parties exhibiting it rarely fail of being bold
enough on the subject of American democracy,
should abide in the midst of such conscious security.
We all of us know, that most Europeans so far iden-
tify themselves with their soil as to believe they have
a moral superiority over the American that is exactly
in proportion to the antiquity of their governments ;
but we also know a fact that commonly escapes their
acuteness. The practices of Europe form part of
our experience ; while Europe knows nothing of our
practices. Answer me one thing. Why does Amer-
ica trouble herself so little about the governments of
Europe, while all Europe is demonstrating on paper
that our republics cannot endure? I think, when
you find the motive of this marked difference, you
will not be far from the secret consciousness which
the two parties have in the strength and durability
of their respective systems."

The evening of the day of the election was one
of those on which 'Mrs. Monroe opens the doors of
the White House to the motley assemblage I have
already described. Great curiosity was felt by every
one to be present, because it was known that the
principal personages, who had been so recently ex-
erting themselves in the question which was just de-
cided, were in the habit of paying their respects, on
these occasions, to the wife of the first magistrate.
We went at ten.

Perhaps the company on this evening was a little


more numerous than on the preceding drawing-room.
It was composed of the same sort of visiters, and it
was characterized by the same decency of exterior
and of deportment. We found the President and
Mrs. Monroe in their usual places ; the former en-
circled by a knot of politicians, and the latter attend-
ed by a circle of women, of rather brilliant appear-
ance. Most of the Secretaries were near, conversing
cheerfally, like men who had just got rid of an irk-
some and onerous toil ; and I thought, by tlie placid
air of the venerable chief justice, that lie was well
content that the harassing question was decided.
The assistant justices of the supreme court were also
present, near the person of the President; and a
group had collected in the same room ; in the midst
of which I discovered the smiling features and play-
ful eye of La Fayette. The Speaker was known to
have favoured the election of Mr. Adams, and 1
thought I could trace secret satisfaction at the result
in a countenance that his height elevated above those
of most of his companions. There was no coarse
exultation oa the part of the victors, nor any un-
manly dejection on that of the defeated. Several of
the latter spoke to us ; and, in reply to the laughing
condolences of my friend, they made but one re-
mark — " We shall see what the next four years will

"Plow do you do, General Jackson?" said Cad-
wallader, as we passed out of one drawing-room into
another. The unsuccessful candidate returned the
greeting with his usually mild and graceful mien. I
watched his manly and marked features narrowly,
during the courteous dialogue that followed ; but,
with all my suspicions, it w-as impossible to trace the
slightest symptoms of a lurking disappointment. He
left us laughing and conversing cheerfully with s.ome
ladies, who induced him to join their party. A minute
before, he had been seen congratulating his success-


ful rival with great dignity, and with perfect good

We now entered the last apartment of the suite,
with the hope of finding a cooler atmosphere. A
group, of men, among whom perhaps a dozen women
were intermingled, had collected, about some object
of common interest. Drawing near, I caught a
glimpse of the cold air which, in contrast to an un-
commonly fine and piercing eye, forms so remarka-
ble an expression in the countenance of Mr. Adams.
He was certainly in good spirits ; though, had we not
known his recent victory, it is probable that his man-
ner would not have been at all remarked. He soon
extricated himself from the crowd, and spoke to two
or three of us who stood together. " Why have you
not been to see us lately?" he inquired of a member
of Congress, from Virginia : " Mrs. Adams complains
that you were not at her last evening." " I have
been there so often this winter, that I began to think
it necessary to be absent -for the sake of form." " Is
that the etiquette?" " We must ask this nnestion of
you ;" returned the Virginian, laughing, in allusion to
the Secretary ""s well-known strictures on the subject ;
'•'- ijou are our authority in all matters of etiquette."
" ^Vell then," returned the President elect, with great
good humour, and v^'ith the tact of a courtier ; '' 1

pronounce it to be always etiquette for Mr. to

visit Mrs. Adams."*

* Mr. Adams and General Jackson are again candidates for
the presidency. As the contest .is as yet confined to these two,
arsd it is so sFiortly to be decided (in December of 18:28,) it is
pro!)able that one of them will be chosen. What the writer
now states, he says understandingly. A good deal is certainly
said concerning the inexperience of General Jackson, and
some press the circumstance of his chief merit being military
as a reason against him. There is not a man in the Union who,
however, seriously apprehends any danger from his election.
It is f.ilse that he is not supported by wary and prudent men.
The writer can name a hundred gentlemen in the middle States
of education, cf fortune, and of religion, too, who are his warm

K 185 )



Yesterday, while walking with Cadwallader on
the banks of the Potomac, we saw a group of gen-
tlemen, in the midst of whom we distinguished the
animated features of La Fayette, moving towards a
steam-boat that was waiting their arrival. A moment
of explanation induced us to join the party, which
was about to visit the tomb of Washington.

Mount Vernon, an estate which the hero inherited
from an elder brother, lies on the river at the dis-
tance of about two hours^ sailing towards the sea.
The boat was rather more crowded than w^as desira-
ble for such a visit ; but the circumstances left us no
choice. We passed the little city of Alexandria on
our route, and reached the point of destination within
a reasonable time of oub departure.

The estate of Mount Vernon was left by the will
of its late possessor to his nephew, Mr. Bushrod
Washington, who 'has long been one of the assistant
justices of the supreme court of the United States.
The country, immediately about the dwelling, is much
wooded ; the land being neither particularly level,
nor yet very uneven. The house stands on a rather

friends. The question is altogether one of men, tljere being
scarcely a measure of policy that is likely to be much affected
by the result. A great deal of the popularity of General Jack-
son is owing to arT injudicious and presuming opposition, which
has foolishly ascribed a danger to his success, that is as false, as
his friends are determined to manifest it is ridiculous. But men
may well hesitate about rejecting so tried a patriot, and so ex-
perienced a statesman, as Mr. Adams.


sudden rise, which may be elevated more than a
hundred feet above the level of the water. The
ascent from the river is quite precipitous, though the
ground falls away to the north and to the south, with
rather more regularity. The building is placed on the
highest point; a position which scarcely leaves room
for a very narrow lawn between it and the brow of
the declivity in front. In the rear, the formation of
the ground is level, for some distance, and tolerably
extensive gardens communicate with the inner or
back court.

The house of Mount Vernon is constructed of a
frame-work, whose interstices, I am informed, are
filled with bricks. The exterior covering is of planks,
concealed in such a manner as to give it, at a little
distance, the appearance of being made of hewn stone.
The interior finish is like that of any other better sort
of mansion. The length of the w hole edifice cannot
greatly exceed one hundred feet-, and 1 should think
that, in de})th, it is something less than fifty. There
are, however, two semicircular chains of offices,
which project from each of its ends towards the rear,
something in the form of sweeping galleries. These
additions serve to give the building much more of an
air of size from the side of the gardens than from that
of the river. Towards the east (the riverfront) there
is a colonnade which supports a roof that is continued
from the main edifice. Though the pillars are very
simple, the effect of a colonnade, so lofty and so long^
is rather striking ; and, on the whole, it leaves an im-
pression that the house was one not altogether un-
worthy of its simple but ilhistrious possessor.

The interior of the building is exceedingly irregu-
lar, though far from inconvenient. I had full leisure
for its examination, while a solemn scene was taking
place at the tomb. La Fayette had been permitted to
go to this sacred spot, unattended by any except the
immediate members of the two families. I was per-


mitted, bj an especial favour, to pass up the ascent
by another path, and to examine the rest of the
grounds and the mansion.

There was but one considerable apartment in the
dwelling. This was a drawing-room that occupied the
whole width of the house, with a proper proportion
of its length. The rest of the rooms were small, and
of arrangements to prove that thej were constructed
before the master of the mansion was in the habit of
receiving more guests than fell to the share of a pri-
vate gentleman. Most of the furniture was of the
time of the hero. It was exceedingly simple, though
I thought it quite good enough, in fashion and in form,
for a country residence. The principal drawing-room
had more the air of a reception-room than the others,
which were altogether in a quiet, comfortable, and
domestic taste. There was a library, that is rather
large for America, but which, in Europe, would be
thought very small for the habitation of a man of any

I looked on all these things with a deep and in-
creasing emotion. The house, at the moment, with
the exception of Cadwallader and myself, and a do-
mestic who showed us through the rooms, was entirely
empty. JMore than once, as my hand touched a lock
to open some door, I felt the blood stealing up my
arm, a| the sudden conviction flashed on my mind
that the member rested on a place where the hand of
Washington had probably been laid a thousand times.
That indescribable, but natural and deeply grateful,
feeling beset me, which we all are made to know
when the image of a fellow-naortal, who has left a
mighty name on earth, is conjured before us by the
imagination in the nearest approaches to reality that
death, and time, and place, and the whisperings of an
excited fancy, will allow. There was a sort of secret
desire, rather than an expectation, of finding some-
thing more than what reason told me to expect; and

188 A RELIC.

I passed from parlour to parlour, in my haste, until
my companions were left behind, and 1 found myself
alone in a sort of upper office of the mansion. I shall
never forget the sensation that I felt, as my eye gazed
on the first object it encountered. It was an article
of no more dignity than a leathern fire-bucket ; but
the words "Geo. Washington" were legibly written
on it in wiiite paint. I know not how it was, but the
orsran never altered its look until the name stood be-
fore my vision distinct, insulated, and almost endowed
with the attributes of the human form. The deception
was aided by all the accessories wdiich the house
could furnish. Just at that instant, my friend, who is
a man of tall stature and grave air, appeared in the
adjoining door, without spealiing. I felt the blood
creeping near my heart with awe, nor did the illusion
vanish until Cadwallader passed before me, and laid
a hand, with a melancholy smile, on the words, and
then retired towards the grounds, w^ith a face that I
thought he would gladly conceal.

We were shown into the gardens and green-
houses. In the latter, the domestic culled us a bou-
quet of hot-house flowers; and, turning to a box
which lay at band, he topk a sheet of paper, and,
enveloping their stems, presented them to my friend.
Cadwallader received them thoughtfully; but his
mind was too much occupied at the moment to attend
to so trilling an occurrence. We had returned^o the
city, and w^ere at our late dinner, when his eye seem-
ed riveted, by some charm, on the paper that en-
circled this little offering. Scattering the flowers on
every side of him, he laid the paper on the table, and
read its contents with hreathless eagerness. It proved
to be a sheet torn from a flirming journal of the mod-
ern Cincinnatus, which had been kept in his own
hand. The writing was distinct, though there were
many technical abbreviations : the pages were with-
out blot or erasure, and the precision of the language


and the niiriuteness of the details were rigidly exact.
The precious morsel was divided, and eacli of us took
his portion, like men who were well content with the
possession of some sacred relic.

VVhe!i we left the green-house, we were joined by
the party of the veteran Frenchman. We had part-
ed at the margin of the water, and each of us had
found subjects for reflection that were alike pleasing
and painful. Just before we separated, there had
been a little hesitation in the choice of the path that
led to the mansion. " Let me show you the way,"
cried M. George La Fayette, eagerly, but with evi-

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 44 of 58)