James Fenimore Cooper.

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should be, the lower officers are very generally w^ell
rewarded. Salaries of two or three thousand dollars,
for situations of no great dignity, are not uncommon,
and there are many subordinates who receive from
eight to twelve hundred. In short, the object, though
it sometimes fails, is to make all classes of men com-
fortable, without furnishing the means of a useless
splendour to any. The errors that have undoubtedly
been made, are the unavoidable results of a popular
p:overnment in which official men are sometimes re-
luctant to incur a responsibility that leads to no very
important results. 1 think that time will correct
them ; and, should it not, the evil is one of far less
magnitude than that which is entailed by a lavish
expenditure of the public money.

The whole of the civil, diplomatic, and miscella-
neous expenses of this government, for the year 1826,
were 2,600,177 dollars. This is, however, exclusive
of the cost of the State governments, and the cost of
collecting the revenue. The latter is about 750,000
dollars. The military expenditure was 6,243,236
dollars. But the greater part of this sum was for the
erection of fortifications, for ordnance, arming the
militia, Indian department, and pensions of soldiers
of the. revolution. Sic. The actual cost of the army,
pay, subsistence and clothing included, was about
2,000,000 of dollars. That so extensive a country
can protect itself at so cheap a rate, is in some



EXPENSE OF GOVERNMENT. 203

measure owing to its remote situation, but chiefly to
its institutions, which trust its defence to the citi-
zens. A vast deal is clearly gained, by thus limiting
resistance to its foreign enemies. I do not think that
the pressure of a crowded population can produce any
material difference, since the present system of Amer-
ica must ever make it the interest of a great majority
to preserve order. A soldier in the army receives
five dollars a month pay, with his clothes and victuals.
The officers are paid according to rank."^ The other
expenses of the army are of a temporary nature, and
furnish no clue to future estimates.

The navy of the United States, for the same year
(]S'26) cost 4,218,902 dollars. But this sum is'also
liable to a great deal of explanation. The United
States, to be in readiness to meet any emergency,
maintain a corps of about 950 officers. Their pres-
ent-policy is to foster this corps, and consequently no
one member of it is put on half-pay, except at his
own desire. The pay and subsistence of the officers,
and the pay of the men, actually afloat (rather more
than 5,000 in all,) somewhat exceeds a million of
dollars. In this number, too, about one-tenth are
quarter-deck officers. Much of the money is for the
expenses of navy-yards, and the ordinary. About
300,000 dollars are for the provisions of the men.
The rest is for the increase of the navy, arrearages,
and for the support of the marine corps, of whom

* A soldier enlists for five years. He i»eceives the following
articles of clothing during that period, viz. five uniform coats;
three cotton jackets with sleeves; three woollen ditto ditto;
ten pairs of gray woollen overalls; ten pairs of drilling ditto;
three fatigue frocks; five trowsers ; ten pairs of laced boots;
ten ditto shoes ; ten flannel shirts: ten cotton ditto ; ten pairs
of stockings; ten ditto socks; iwo leathern stocks; one great
coat; three blankets; five pairs of wings ; four pompons; two
cockades and ea<£les; four bands and tassels ; one leathern cap-
cover, plate, scales and ball; one forage-cap, and ten pairs of
flannel drawers.



204 EMOLUMENTS OF THE OFFICERS, ETC.

nearly 1 ,000 are employed. The latter are, of course,
in addition to the sea officers and seamen. It would
be troublesome to separate the several parts of these
expenditures in such a manner as to give a clear and
simple statement of each and all of them; but as the
American government publishes the most minute
documents on these subjects, it is in the power of any
one to do it who has sufficient interest in the subject
to pursue so elaborate an inquiry. I shall content my-
self with the main results, coupled with such facts of
a general nature, as I think may reward you for the
pain of deciphering my letters.*

* In the January number (LXXIII.) of the Quarterly Re-
view, there is an article on the United States of America. The
reviewer speaks boldly of the American navy, for he professes
to treat of a work written by an English naval officer, who, ia
his turn, had also written a little decidedly on the same subject.
In a note attached to the end of this volume, the writer has en-
deavoured to show in what points his information differs from
that of both reviewer and reviewed, in respect to this important
branch of the American policy. His present object is, how-
ever, confined to expenditure. In page 279 of the said Review,
is the ft)llowing sentence: "With this small number of men"
(4,2b8,) " the establishments of the dock-yards on a very limited
scale, and the civil branches of the service, a mere trifle, the
sum expended for the naval department in 1826, was 4,222,952
dollars, or close upon one million sterling. In the printed
report of the secretary of the treasury, now before the writer,
Letter F. page 39, is a minute statement of the expenditure of
the naval establishment for the year 1H26. The gross amount
is 4,218,902 dollars, 45 cents. From this Report the following
items are extracted : " Repairs of vessels, 485,970 ; ship-houses,
44,296: gradual increase of the navy, 793,704; ten sloops of
war, 506,163; prohibition of slave trade, 22,220; pay and sub-
sistence of marine corps (which is not included in the before
mentioned number of men,) 219,686:" and no less a sum than
294,380 for improvements and additions to navy-yards, besides
a number of small miscellaneous items, that make together
about 110.000 more. The figures are all meant to represent
dollars, and together they make 2,576,419, or something more
than one-half the sum that the reviewer has taken for premises
by which he wishes to show that the Americans maintain a
small force at an enormous expense. Not one of the items here
enumerated, properly belongs to the expense of the small
number of men, tlie civil branches of the service, or the estab-
lishments of the dock-yards, unless additions and improvements



EXPENSE OF GOVERNMENT. 205

All the appointments of a captain of the navy, in
command of a shore station, are w^orth something less
than four thousand dollars a year, exclusive of a
house. When in command of a vessel, his pay is
considerably less. There is a difference made in the
case of a vessel of a very small size, though the com-
mander of a 44 receives as much as the commander
of a 74. But the pay of both the army and navy
should not be considered as permanently established,
especially of the latter service, which is just beginning
to receive, in all its branches, that grave attention that
its vital importance to the security and dignity of the
nation demands.

You will perceive that, as a rule, the inferior
agents of the American government are better paid
than the same description of individuals in the em-
ployment of almost any other nation, w^hile the higher
officers receive less.*

The positive annual expenses of the American
government are not far from 13,000,000 dollars. Of
this sum, rather more than three millions and a half
are for the interest of the national debt. But the odd
half million is met by the dividends of bank stock,
for the purchase of which several millions of the

to the latter can be thus considered. Independently of all this,
the balance not only supports the service afloat, &c. Sec. but it
keeps all the officers of the navy (with perhaps a dozen volun-
tary exceptions) on full pay. The writer here leaves the mat-
ter between the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States,
and the contributor to the Quarterly Review.— See Note A.
end of the volume.

* The expenditure for the year 18^8, is estimated as follows :
the result rarely differinor m'ateriallv from these calculations.
Civil, diplomatic, and miscellaneous, 1,828,385 dollars; mili-
tary service, including fortifications, ordnance, Indian depart-
ment, provisions, arming of militia, &c. 4,332,091 dollars;
naval service, including the gradual increase of the navy,
3,788,349 dollars, making a total'for the regular expenses of the
government, including sums previously voted for erecting forts
and building ships, of 9, 947, 125 dollars. The interest of the debt
is not contained in this amount.

Vol. II. S



206 EXPENSES OF GOVERNMENT.

debt were created. The actual outgoings, there-
fore, for the current service of the country, all im-
provements and constructions included, are w^ithin
10,000,000 dollars. Every thing is so much on the
advance in the United States, that it is dithcult to
arrive at an exact understanding of what is meant by
current expenditure. Thus, of 2,600,177 dollars,
which formed the amount of the civil, miscellaneO'US
and diplomatic head of the account (for the year
1826,) near 1,200,000 dollars were miscellaneous
enough, as the charges included 188,000 dollars for
light-houses, near 300,000 for canal stock, and more
than 200,000 for old claims arising out of the war of
1812. The real civil list of that year, exclusive of
diplomacy, was 1,256,745 dollars, and the cost erf all
the diplomacy of the country was 180,103 dollars.
This trifling sum supported the whole expense and
contingencies, in short, the entire cost of more than
twenty different missions in Europe, Africa, and Amer-
ica. It is worthy of remark, that the diplomacy of
this country is managed about as well as that of most
nations ; and I am of opinion, that, when its power
shall become sufficiently great to be dreaded, it will
be found to be still more successful.

The clear revenue of the United States, from the
customs alone, is now (1828) about 20,000,000 of
dollars. As this source of receipts produces in itself
a great excess over all the outgoings, there are no
direct impositions laid by the general government.
The debt is in the course of rapid extinguishment,
and as the interest is annually diminished, the ability
of the country to increase its expenditure is of course
increased. Notwithstanding this prosperous state of
the public purse, the most rigid economy is observed;
a circumstance that it is idle to say is produced by
any other cause than the direct agency of the people
on the administration.

Thus far we have not touched on the salaries of



EXPENSES OF GOVERNMENT. 207

the State governments at all. They are graduated,
however, on the same scale of expense, the richest
and largest of these communities rarely paying as
much to the public servants as the general govern-
ment. There is undoubtedly, in some few instances,
as in the legislatures and judiciaries, a double set of
officers to support; but, when one remembers the
great extent of the country, it will be seen that, under
any other form of government, it would be impossible
to avoid this expense. No single set of judges could
travel over this great surface in times sufficiently
short to administer justice equally and promptly, nor
could one great and central legislative body enact all
the local laws that are absolutely necessary to a
country so new and so vast.

The only reply that the enemies of America (and
they are all the enemies of liberty) can urge, when
her example is pointed to in support of the doctrine
of economy, is founded on the fact of the double form
of its government, and the additional expense that is
consequently incurred. I know of but two ways in
which we can arrive sufficiently near the truth to
ascertain whether this additional cost raises the ex-
penses of the American to the level of those of the
European or not. The one (and is it not infallible ?)
is to compare the amount of contributions paid by the
parties ; and the other is to attempt to reach the cost of
governing some particular portion of the confederacy,
and then to make the necessary comparisons between
it and some equal comm.unity in our hemisphere.
We will endeavour to do both.

The State of New-York contains one-seventh of
the entire population of the Union. One-seventh
of 2,600,177 dollars, the whole amount of the " civil,
diplomatic, and miscellaneous expenses" of the gene-
ral government for the year (182G) is 371 ,453. This
dividend includes more than one milhon of miscella-
neous expenditure, such as " light-houses," " stock in



208 EXPENSES OF GOVERNMENT.

canal companies," and " payment bf claims for build-
ings destroyed in the war;" but no matter, we will
take the amount in gross. Now the whole expendi-
ture of the civil list of the State of New-York, is about
350,000 dollars. The two sums make 721,453 dol-
lars. Here you have 1,700,000 inhabitants receiving
justice at their own doors, internal protection, legis-
lation in the utmost convenient form possible, and all
the more general advantages of government, for the
sum of less than half a dollar a head annually. If you
divide the military and naval expenses of the United
States by seven, you have the entire pecuniary charge
that they defray, not only for the current expenses,
but for the material provisions they are making for
future defence."^ The States are at no other mate-
rial expenses than those attached to the civil list,
unless it be for the purpose of domestic improve-
ments^ and even a great portion of the latter is thus
defrayed, in the salaries of the employes.

Of incidental expenses the American pays less,
considering his means, than the inhabitant of any
other nation. Their city corporations, with the ex-
ception of one or two, are cheap, and little or no
money is expended in mere show. There are no
church establishments, and the religious contributions
are therefore voluntary. Still the clergy are support-
ed. There are various manners of doing this, as you
may suppose, in a country so diversitied in condition.
In many of the old congregations, there are endow-
ments which have grown in value' with the growth
of the country, and which now serve to relieve the
people of a large portion of the expense. A farm
bought for that purpose, and a house erected when
land and materials were cheap, become valuable and
useful in time. There is a common practice of

* It should be remembered that all the expenses of the gene-
ral government (in time of peace^ are paid by the importation
duties.



EXPENSES OF GOVERXMENT. 209

erecting a church by contributions, -and then renting
the pews, for the support of the clergyman. No
general rule is, however, applicable to this particular
branch of expense ; but as no one taxes himself be-
yond his own pleasure, and as churches are, for the
circumstances, exceedingly numerous, it is fair to
presume that the population do not lind the expense
of supporting the clergy burthensome. Trilling ad-
ditional taxes are also laid in the counties and towns
to defray local expenses, and, among others, for the
maintenance of the common schools. These taxes
also vary according to circumstances, the county
which is building a court-house and jail, or which is
engaged in any other public work, paying more at
the moment than the county which has already dis-
charged that duty. The cchole tax paid on a farm
valued at 5,000 dollars in one of the older counties
of New- York, was five dollars. This included every
charge for that year, though the assessment is subject
to variations, being sometimes more and sometimes
less. As the United States, in point of fact, imposes
no taxes in time of peace, this charge was all the
owner of this farm had to pay (as such) for the entire
protection of government. It is true he contributed
something in the way of duties on imj)orted goods,
but that is a contribution that depended entirely on
his personal expenditure. The impositions of the
general government are, as you already know, com-
monly much lighter than those laid in other commer-
cial nations.

In order to make a correct estimate, however, of
the comparative rate of the taxes paid by the Amer-
ican, it is necessary to consider the value of what he
receives. He is required to pay for improvements
in the country, which produce a direct influence on
the increasing value of his property. The income
and the price of his farm keep equal pace with the
growth of the settlement in which he lives. He en



SIQ j:XPENSES OF GOVERNMENT.

joys the means of giving a creditable education to his
children, within a reasonable distance of his own
dwelling, and all for the sum included in the State
tax, if the cost of school-books, paper, &:c. be ex-
cepted. He is certainly compelled to devote more
or less of his time to working the highways,"^ but
then he takes care that the route by his own door
shall be kept in as good order as that by the door of
any body else.

As a whole, the public impositions in America,
including taxes, duties, labour, mihtia service, clergy,
and every thing else, are exceedingly light. But it
is absolutely impossible to give any particular exam-
ple which shall not be liable to so much exception
as to destroy it as a rule. So much of the contribu-
tion is returned in the way of improvements which
affect the value of the property taxed, that, had I all
the statements in my head, I do not know that I
could give you a clear idea of their relative amount.
All those local impositions which exist in other coun-
tries, as octrois, &c. &;c. are utterly unknown here.

I have heard it imputed to America as a fault, that
her system leads to the loss of time and money in
excessive litigation. It is said that there are more
suits at law here, than among any similar number of
people in the known world. Although I cannot pre-
tend to say that the fact is so, I should be surprised
to learn that it was otherwise.

The whole territory of the United States covers
2,000,000 of square miles. It is true that the title
to more than half of this immense surface still exists
in the government, where a vast deal of it will prob-
ably continue for ages. But, in order to bring our



* This imposition is laid according to the property of the
individual. A commutation in money at a very reduced rate
is allowed, but it is impossible to give its amount, since it is
an assessment that diminishes with the improvement of the
counti'y.



AMOUNT OF LITIGATION. 211

calculations within the bounds of exactitude, let us
again look «t New- York. This State has 46,000
square miles of territory, which is owned among, we
will say (1828,) 1,750,000 people. Now, to every
foot of this land there is a title somewhere. Very
little, indeed, is the property of the State. Here,
then, is a plain and direct resaon why the 1,750,000
inhabitants should have more questions about land
titles than the same number any where else, simply
because they are the owners of more of the article
in dispute. Land is also greatly subdivided in all the
older parts of America, and of course each subdivi-
sion has its separate title. Then the rapid transfer
of property which is incidental to the condition of a
country in progress of settlement, multiplies convey-
ances, and each new "conveyance opens the way to
litigation. The revolution, with its changes, also
gave birth to disputes which time is just beginning to
settle, as indeed it is beginning to settle all other con-
troversies that grow exclusively out of the transfers
of real estates.

The United States are, again, a more commercial
nation, compared with their population, than any
other in the world. Among such a people legal dis-
putes must, of necessity, arise. Justice is compara-
tively cheap, and easy of access. Men have confi-
dence in her decrees ; and the fear of power, influ-
ence, and corruption, is unknown. In such circum-
stances, wrong-headed persons, who are ever apt to
fancy themselves in the right, make their appeals to
the tribunals boldly. I do not believe that the sys-
tem of the United States encourages litigation, ex-
cept as it brings all men before the court on terms
not of nominal, but of a true equality. Still I can
believe, that the great number of low practitioners
of the law who are scattered up and down the coun-
try, do induce men to enter rashly into legal contests.



212 REASONS OF'LITIGATION.

Ill the older and more regulated States, litigation is
far less frequent, cccteris pai-ibus^ than in those that
are more new. The same is true of the proportion
of taxes, as compared to the value of property. 1
am of opinion that, were it not for the great number
of country lawyers in America, it would be found
that litigation is less resorted to than in many other
countries, notwithstanding the unavoidable causes of
contention which exist in a new country. The num-
ber of the lawyers is undeniably an evil ; but, besides
being an evil which is likely to correct itself, and
which is already beginning to correct itself, it is one
that is not witliout its advantages: They serve to
keep alive an active knowledge of their rights among
the people; and although much abused as pettifog-
gers, they make, in common, exceedingly useftd and
intelligent local legislators.

There is a great fashion of decrying men of mod-
erate acquirements in all things, as if life were not
more a matter of experience than of theories. Jt is
much easier to assume than to prove, that a set of
profound thinkers would legislate better for a com-
munity than a set of active and half-educated men,
who are familiar with the practices of the world.
All the common passions of man are as well, and
perhaps better known to the latter than to the former,
and after legislation has provided against the dangers
that are coincident to their existence, one must seek
the rest of its duties in the world and not in books.
But what says experience? It would be difficult to
find any one country on earth in which the laws are
better adapted to promote the true interests of the
community, than in the most, I am not sure I could
not say the least, favoured of the States of this re-
public. And yet legislation is the business of prac-
tical men altogether. At all events, they have con-
trived to obtain quiet and security at a cheaper rate



EXPENCES OF GOVERNMENT, ETC. 213

than other people, and that, too, in nnanj cases under
all the unpropitioQs circumstances of great dispersion
and the first stages of society.

It is a rule which applies to all salaries in this
country, that little or no allowances are made for the
support of mere dignity. The dignity of government
is supposed to rest in the people themselves ; and
among their other provisions for its support, they
have taken care to retain most of the money. The
President receives a larger sum certainly than is ne-
cessary for his mere subsistence ; but then the Presi-
dent is liable to a vast number of expenses that other
functionaries escape ; and, in his case, it is thought
politic to bid a little hi^er than common, in order
to command talent. It is not too much to say, that
the President of the United States, if a prudent man,
can save quite as much money out of his salarv, each
year, as a first-rate lawyer in practice would gain ;
and I confess I see but one reason why he has the
smallest right to ask any more. He has generally
reached a time of life when he retires, that forbids
further exertion ; and perhaps it is wisest to attach a
degree of consideration to this high office, which shall
preclude men from descending subsequently to infe-
rior duties. The latter point, however, is one that
will certainly admit of dispute, and I do not think the
former as strong as it first appears. Necessity w^ill
teach men the value of prudence and exertion in
early life ; nor is this the country that ought to wish
to see its chief magistrate setting an example of use-
less, but attractive splendour. There are no vices
so contagious as the corruptions which flow from the
excessive use of money ; for the desire to possess it,
is a passion that all men feel, since it is the medium
by which all the ordinary good of life is obtained.
The accountableness af the public agents, and the
simplicity of men of station, are matters of so vast
importance in a republic, that the one should never



214 GRATITUDE TO LA FAYETTE.

be neglected, and as little occasion as possible sbould
be given to make any serious innovations on the
other.

We have just had a proof that the government cf
the United States knows how to give with grace and



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 46 of 58)