James Fenimore Cooper.

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

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tenures. Some are during good behaviour ; others can be re-
moved by the govei^nors on a presentation by two-thii-ds of the
two legislative bodies (which is, perhaps, the wisest provision of
all;) others serve until sixty years of age, as in New-York;
and some until seventy, as in Connecticut. All are, of course
liable to impeachment.


should be kept superior to party influence. The
President cannot advance his son a step in either of
the two services named, unless the Senate consents ;
and the Senate would not consent, unless the young
man had clearly done something to merit the reward.

A case occurred a few years since, which goes to
prove the truth of what I tell you. A meritorious
lieutenant of the navy, who was entirely destitute of
the influence of connexions, came under the displea-
sure of some of the powders about the departm.ent
under which he served. His name was omitted in
the nominations to the Senate, and juniors were pro-
moted over his head. Unprotected, and supported
only by the truth, this gentleman went to Washington,
and laid his case before the Senators. He convinced
them that justice had not been done him ; and the
executive, in order to get other nominations confirm-
ed, was olDliged not only to promote this gentleman,
but to give him a commission that restored the rank
he had lost. Here was a clear case of juctice, in
opposition to influence ; for if the oflicer had been
guilty of any offence, he was subject to a code of
laws that, Heaven knows, is severe enough. If any
man beheves that such a system destroys discipline,
let him go on board an American man-of-war, and
examine for himself. In my opinion, it has a contrary
effect, by placing inferiors less in the power of their
immediate superiors, and by consequently rendering
both parties equally watchful.

In. relation to the more ordinary civil appoint-
ments, the executive of the United States adopts a
sufficiently discreet and useful course. The situa-
tions are, in general, well filled, and such a thing as a
sinecure does not exist in the whole government.
The President is, in fact, so far removed from the
familiar and personal interests of society, that it is
not difficult for him, even in a country as democratic
as this, to preserve a dignified moderation. One


hears a great deal said, in the United States, of man-
agement and intrigue ; but it is necessary to remem-
ber, that intrigue here, even when successful, does
no more than a downright dogged power does else-
where : and then it is always necessary to recollect,
that the Americans, in complaining, compare them-
selves with the abstract right, and not with other
people. Should one-tenth part of the executive
abuses exist here that exist elsewhere, the world
would ring with clamour.

You may form some idea of the truth of this opin-
ion, by an anecdote i shall mention. A New-York
merchant gravely assured me, that his countrymen
were in a bad way; that corruption had made great
strides among them ; and that he saw the downfall of
the nation in its advances. I begged he would men-
tion a fact. Leading me into a corner, he solemnly
assured me, in -a half whisper, that he knew^ of his
own observation, that one of the clerks of the cus-
tom-house of that city was in the habit of taking fees
that the lav/ did not sanction. You may depend on
it, Jules, 1 gave him a sharp look, to see that the fel-
low had no double meaning ; and then, convinced of
his sincerity, I thought it no more than humane to
offer the consolation of assuring him that these things*,
sometimes happened elsewhere. Now, is all this
owing to simplicity, and a new state of society? It
is a pity, then, it does not exist all over this continent.
The President possesses the right to fill all vacancies
that occur, during the recess of the Senate, by com-
missions that shall be valid until the termination of
the next session, unless full appointments shall be
sooner made. This power is in no danger of abuse,
since the President himself can be removed with
nearly the same ease as any other incumbent.

The authority of the President over the army and
navy, though that of a general or an admiral, as well
as of a civil magistrate, is aKvays exercised by deputy.


The Secretaries of the two departments are his or-
gans, and they sign the orders with their own names.
Washington took the field, as President, to suppress
the Pennsylvania insurrection ; and, to his everlast-
ing honour be it said, he effected his object without
shedding one drop of human blood.

The President has a full, unequivocal power to
pardon all criminals, except in cases of impeach-
ment. It has been said (by Blacks^cOne and Montes-
quieu) that this power is incom.patible with the na-
ture of a democratic government. I know no better
answer to an argument than a fact, and the fact un-
deniably is, that the most democratic communities
of the world exercise it with perfect safety. The
mistake of these two writers only shows how very easy
it is for the most acute minds to get so enveloped in
prejudice, as in some measure to impair the faculties.
The essence of the difference between a democracy
and a despotism is not so much in the amount of
the power wielded, as in the manner in w^hich it is

I believe I have now given you a hurried outline
of the authority and ofhce of the President of the

* It is surprising what vague and obstinate notions of govern-
ment people acquire by habit. In Annerica, the writer was
several times asked how it was possible that one man could
control the interests of a whole community; and in Europe,
he has often been pressed to say whether there is any authority
in the United States to repress the most common evils. If
these worthy thinkers on civil polity Avould take the trouble to
tax their intellects a little, they would see that necessity is a
judicious legislator, and that no country can exist long, with-
out such a state of things as shall render society reasonable,
quiet, and secure. The great point of difference is in the forms
by which its objects are effected. There is no doubt that one
people can do things that would be fatal to the order of another
(for a time at leasf) and it is quite certain that they who can
get all that government aims at, in the cheapest and sunplest
manner, are^the best off. The great desideraturn is, to add se-
curity to freedom of personal elforts ; and this is a point that
varies in different situations of the world, just as much as intel-
lect and intelligence themselves vary.
Vol. II. U


United States, He possesses a reasonable portion
of power, but its exercise is balanced by a number
of constitutionaJ checks, and, what is not less avail-
able in the present state of the world, by the watch-
fulness and force of pubHc opinion. Society must
materially recede before this high functionary can
easily abuse his trust ; and when that happens, the
Americans, in common with the rest of the world,
must be content to return to the political condition
from which all our ancestors emerged. It is impor-
tant, also, to remember that the character, qualifica-
tions, and usefulness of a President, are pretty gene-
rally sifted to the bottom, before the individual
reaches the station at all.



You inquire concerning the state of religion in the
United States. I presume you ask the question in
reference to its outward and visible signs, since it is
not to be supposed that a layman, like myself, is suf-
ficiently versed in its mysteries to go deeper than
that which is apparent.

You know there is no establishment. Congress is
prohibited by the constitution from creating one, and
most (I beheve all) of the State constitutions have
the same provision. In point of fact, there is none
whatever. The clergy, and all that pertains, there-
fore, to religion, are supported by voluntary contri-
butions, or by endowments that have been made by
devises, gifts, and other private means.


The first point to be considered, is the number
and the nature of the sects. If the Presbyterians
and Congregationalists, between whom there exist
mere shades of difference in disciphne and opinion,
shall be considered as forming one sect, they are cer-
tainly the most numerous. It is computed that they
posssess near three thousand congregations. The
Baptists are known to have more than two thousand.
Perhaps the Methodists rank next in numbers. The
Protestant Episcopal church is greatly on the in-
crease. I find, by the Ecclesiastical Register, that
it contains ten bishops, and three hundred and ninety-
four clergymen.* Most of the latter are settled, and
many have two or three congregations under their
charge. There are -a good many Friends (Quakers)

* ft may be interesting to those of a similar faith in Eng-land,
to understand the constitution of this church in the United
States. Where there are EpiscopaHans enough, the diocese
is confined to a single State. But, as there are ten bishops,
and twenty-four States, it is plain that several of the States
are contained in one diocese. There are, in point of fact,
hovvevef, e'^^ven dioceses, that of Delaware being vacant. The
highest spiritual authority known is, of course, a bishop. Priests
and deacons being all the orders named in the Bible, are all the
other orders known or used in America. The highest authority
is exercised bj^ the general convention. The general conven-
tion is composed of two bodies, a house of bishops, and a house
of lay delegates. Each diocese has a convention for the regu-
lation of ifs own aifairs. The general convention consists of
the bishops, who form the house of bishops, and of laymen, who
are sent as delegates from the State convention. The object
of this body is to promote harmony and uniformity of doctrine
in the whole church. The State conventions contain the clergy
of the diocese, and a lay delegation from each church. In both
conventions, the clergy (or bTshops, as the case may be) and the
laymen vote separately, a m.ajority of each being necessary to
an ordinance. Clergymen are presented by their congrega-
tions, and bishops are^elected by the conventions of the diocese,
and are approved of by the house of bishops. There is no sala-
ry yet given to any bishop, though provisions to a reasonable
amount are making for that object. At present, they are all
rectors of churches. The oldest bishop for the time being, is
called the presidinsr bishop, though he enjoys no exclusive au-
thority. There haAC been, in all. twenty-one bishops of this
church Id the United States, and they hold their ordination


in Pennsylvania, New-Jersey, and New-York. The
two former States were originally settled by religion-
ists of this persuasion. The Roman Catholics are
the most nmnerous in Maryland and Louisiana. The
first was a Roman Catholic colony, and the latter
has, as you know, been both French and Spanish.
The Floridas must also contain some Catholics.
Many of the Irish who come to this country, and
who are settled in the more northern States, are
also Catholics ; but, including all, I should not think
they rank higher, in point of numbers, than the sixth
or seventh sect, after allowing for all the subdivisions
among the Protestants themselves. There are some
Lutherans and Moravians, and a great variety of less
numerous or local sects.

The most important point that is proved by the
condition of this country, is the fact that religion can,
and does, exist as well without as with the aid of
government. The experiment has been tried here,
for two centuries, and it is completely successful. So
far from competition (if 1 may use so irreverent a
term on so grave a subject) weakening, it increases
its influence, by keeping zeal alive. While the Epis-
copalian clergyman sees the Presbyterian priest exist-
ing in his neighbourhood, and enjoying all the advan-
tages that he himself enjoys, he is clearly obliged to
do one of two things ; either to abandon the race, or
to contend with watchfulness and care. Now, this
is exactly what is done here. The clergy are as
chary as women of their characters, for they are cer-
tain of being proved, not by tests of their own estab-
lishing, but by those established by their competitors.

from the archbishops of Canterbury and York, and from the
non-juring bishops of the Episcopal church of Scotland, jointly.
The law recognises these authorities to a certain extent, as
it does the authorities of all other churches. The Catholics
have their archbishops and bisliops, the Methodists their bishops,
and the Presbyterians, Baptists, Sic. Sic, their own particulai
forms of government.

religion:. 233

You may be inclined to ask if such a rivalry does
not lead to strife and ill blood? Just the contrary.
Each party knows that he is to gain, or to lose influ-
ence, precisely as he manifests the practice of the
doctiines he teaches: and that, I apprehend, so far as
(Christianity is concerned, is charity and forbearance.
At all events, with now and then £^i insulated and
rare exception, gneat apparent good-will and cor-
diality exist among the clergy of the ditTerent sects;
and, T fancy, it is precisely for the reason that there
is nothing to be gained, and a good deal to be lost,
by a different line of conduct. This is considering
the question solely on its temporal side, but you
know I commenced with professing ignorance of the

Freedom of thought on matters of religion, is so
completely a consequence of intellectual advance-
ment, that it is impossible to prevent men who think
much from doing one of two things ; they either
choose their own course, in secret, or they become
indifferent to the subject altogether. I have always
been of opinion that sects carry their article's of faith
too far, since it is next to impossible to get two intel-
lectual men to view any long series of metaphysical
propositions in precisely the same light; and it would
be better to leave them to the dictates of their own
consciences, and to the lights of their own nitelli-
■gence in lesser matters, after they are once fairly of
a mind on the m.ore material truths of their creed.
This desirable object is obtained in the United States,
to a certain degree, though not entirely, by allownig
every man to choose his "church, without attracting
comment or censure. Charity is a consequence of
such a state of things, at least that charity which
manifests itself outwardly. The true object of reli-
gion is, to teach men the path to heaven, and that is
an affair more affecting the individual than any body
else. The moment society ceases to take the abso-


lute direction of the matter into its own hands, indi-
viduals interest themselv^es rather than lose the object;
and, unless they do interest themselves, under any
system, I believe we are taught to think that estab-
lishments will do them no great good.

Still society has a worldly interest in the existence
of religion — granted. But if it can obtain its object
without an establishment, of what use is the latter ?
It is true, one does not see as many churches in a
given number of square miles in America, as in a
given number of square miles in France or England:
nor are there as many people to use them. In order
to institute a fair comparison, all things must be con-
sidered. In the hrst place, I am of opinion that the
Americans have more places of worship than twelve
millions of people in any other country of the globe;
and if the peculiar condition of the new States be
considered, I believe they have, in point of moral
truth, twice as many. I am quite willing to admit
that the cheapness of construction, the freedom of
opinion, and necessity itself, may all contribute to pro-
duce such a result, but I cannot see how this negative
proof is to demonstrate that rehgion suffers from the
want of an establishment. Let us examine the pro-
gress of the sects in a parish.

Ten miles square of wilderness is laid out in a
township. Settlers come into it from all quarters, and
of all denominations. The State has reserved a few
hundred acres of land, perhaps, for the support of
religion. The first thing commonly done, is to erect
a shop for a blacksmith, and there is generally an inn
near it, both being, of course, established in some
convenient place. The school-house, or three or four
of them, soon follow, and then people begin to think
of a church. During the time that force for so im-
portant an object has been collecting, itinerant teach-
ers, missionaries, &c., sent from the older parts of
the country, have been in the habit of collecting the


people in the school-houses, barns, or some other
building, in order to keep alive the remembrance of
holy things. I think it may be taken as a rule, that
few settlements, in the more flourishing parts of the
country, exist fifteen years without reaching the
church-building age. Some do it much sooner, and
others, certainly, require more time to mature their
efforts. But the church (the building) must have
a faith, as well as its builders? Not necessarily.
Churches ?ire frequently built and kept in abeyance
for a maturity of opinions, though nineteen times in
twenty the very disposition to erect a church pre-
supposes an understanding as to the denomination it
is to serve. In coming to this understanding, the
i^inority are, of course, obliged to yield, which is
precisely what they would have to do if there were
an establishment. But an establishment would keep
men from error. Let us see how the truth lies on
this point. How do the establishments of Scotland,
England,''Denmark, France, and Turkey, for instance,
agree? It is quite plain, I think, that establishments
have nothing to do with truth ; and is it not equally
plain, by the example of this country, that they are
not necessary to the existence of religion? But
America w^as settled by religionists, and the spirit
they infused in the country is not yet extinct ! Ad-
mitted. Is there any more likelihood, had the an-
cestors of the Americans been Atheists, that the
present generation would create an establishment,
than that it would receive religion in sects ? Did the
apostles come into favour under an establishment ? Or
would not a country be more likely to receive reli-
gion in forms to suit tastes and opinions, than in any
one form that could not suit all faculties, or appease
all judgments ? Here then, I think, we have some
reason to believe that establishments neither intro-
duce nor keep religion in a country. But let us go
back to our settlement.


The church is built, and as the Presbyterians have
given the most money, and are far the most numerous,
the priest who is called is of their persuasion. Those
who are firm in their own particular faith, cherish it
in secret; and when the proper time comes, they
join a congregation of their own people. They could
do no more, if the church wa*s built under an estab-
lishment. Those who are not very rigid in their faith,
most probably drop quietly into the communion of
the church they find so convenient. An estabHsh-
ment would compel them to do precisely the same
thing. In the course of a few years more, however,
the people begin to separate, or rather to follow their
own opinions ; and then every thing settles down as
quietly as men choose their wnves, or make any other
important selection that they have reason to think is
particularly interesting to their individual happiness.
But does not all this intermingling and indistinctness
produce disorder and confusion ? Just the contrary.
While society is in its infancy it produces harmony,
by inducing mutual support ; and it weakens preju-
dice, and is fatal to superstition, by bringing the for-
mer in subjection to all it wants to destroy it — fa-
miliarity : and by rendering the other obnoxious to
the ridicule and exposed to the reason of competi-
tors. It is a known fact, that a century ago, the
American religionists were among the most bigoted
of their respective sects ; and it is just as true now,
that they have immensely improved, and that they
are daily growing still more reasonable, as familiarity
with each other teaches them how very little better
any one man is than the rest of his fellow-creatures.

But it will become necessary, in time, to make
some use of the land which has been reserved for
the support of the gospel. How is this to be done
in such a manner as not to give offence to the mi-
nority? You v^ill recollect that this fund has been
created in the most insensible manner, and not by the


aid 'of any imposition that is felt by the citizen. It is
not so much a measure of general policy, as one that
is intended to aid, to a reasonable extent, the ^viEhes
of the majority. ^Vere there Jews or Mahomed-
ans enough in the land, to make such a measure
necessary, I take it for.granted, they would get their
share. It is the great merit of this government, that
it does not aim so much to satisfy theories as to pro-
duce w^holesome practical results. It is the great
fault of its enemies, that instead of looking at it as a
government should be viewed, in its worldly and
positive aspects, they are for ever endeavouring to
hod some inconsistency in theory which shall appease
a sense of secret uneasiness, that is beginning to <^et
a little too prevalent for their complacency, that it
is a more enviable state of society than they wish to

As respects the matter in question, the people of
New-York (for it is altogether an affair of, the indi-
vidual States,) have seen they must do nothing, under
the most favourable circumstances for doing a great
deal for the support of religion, or they must incur
the risk of invading some perfectly dormant princi-
ple of a bald theory. They give land, which is of
no value at the time, leaving the people to dispose
of it w^hen it does become of value. We will sup-
pose this reservation now to be w^orth a division.
The inhabitants of the town are then required to
make their election. Every congregation, which is
in truth a congregation, gets its share, and there the
business is disposed of. The infidel, or the man of
indifTerence, or perhaps a solitary Cathohc, gets no-
thing, it is true, for he does not want it. You will
at once see that this sort of provision is of use only
to those w^ho go through the hardship of settling a
town, since their successors may have diflferent re-
ligious persuasions ; but it is meant for the encourage-
ment and consolation of those wdio do undergo the


privations incident to such a service. The best pos
sible proof of the wisdom of the measure is, that it
does good, without doing the least harm to any body.
I can readily understand that they who have been
long accustomed to quarrel, and to see others quarrel
about the temporalities of churches, will tind a thou-
sand difficulties in disposing of such a grant as this 1
have named ; but fact is daily proving here that it
can be done, when men are once accustomed to meet
on such occasions in a spirit of amity, without any
difficulty at all.

I remember to have held a conversation with an
innkeeper, who resided within a few yards of an
edifice that was then in the course of erection as a
place of public worship. I asked him the denomi-
nation of the people to whom it belonged. His an-
swer was, " The Presbyterians."" " And you, you
are a Presbyterian, noh> doubt?" "No, I was bap-
tized in the Episcopal church, and I must say, I like
it best after all." " Ah, then you have nothing to do
with the cost of building this house?" " I have paid
my share." " But how is this, you pay for the sup-
port of a church to which you do not belong?" " I
do as I please, and I please to help my neighbours,
who will help me in some other way, if not in this ;
besides, they are Christians as well as myself: and
>mean to have a pew, and go and hear their parson
till I can hear one of my own church." " But you
may be converted ?" " Well," he said, smiling, " then
I shall be a Presbyterian, and my wife and myself
will be of the same mind ; we are not afraid of look-
ing the truth in the face in America, let it come out
of what pulpit it may."

In fact, the utmost harmony and good-will prevails
among the different sects. Controversy is but httle

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 48 of 58)