James Fenimore Cooper.

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square miles. Thus, you see, that about one-half of
the whole computed territory of the United States
is so far settled, as to have arrived at the point of
establishing the State or territorial governments. But
there is no probability that any other community will
be speedily formed, on this side of the Rocky Mountains,
of sufficient importance to aspire to the possession of a
separate government. The Prairies, and the deserts
of the west, present natural obstacles to the further
progress of the population in that quarter ; and cli-
mate opposes a serious reason to the comfortable ex-
istence of man towards the north-west. That all
these regions will, in time, come to have a popula-
tion of their own, is certain ; but, in a country where
there is still so much room for the employment of
men, that day is necessarily- distant.

I have estimated the whole white population, who
are now in possession of these G00,000 square mile^,
at 3,500,000, and the blacks at less than 1.900,000,

Vol. IJ. B b


of which number, as you know, I think something
hke 1 ,750,000 may be slaves. The free blacks in the
free States, in 1820, amounted to 112,281; 10 or
12,000 have been manumitted since, by the opera-
tion of the laws. The estimate of the whole num-
ber of blacks in the United States, must materially
exceed 2,000,000, or I have given quite enough to
the southern States. Supposing these estimates to
be near the truth, (it is impossible that they should
be exact,) the whole of the 600,000 square miles are
occupied by 5,400,000 souls, exclusive of Indians ;
or at the rate of nine inhabitants to the square mile.
But the remark which I have made concerning the
districts of country, entirely uninhabited, to the north,
is also applicable to similar regions to the south.
There are also fewer villages to the south than to
the north. The same is true with respect to towns
of all sizes. Baltimore, the largest city in the slave-
holding States, contains, perhaps, about half as many
inhabitants as Philadelphia ; and New-Orleans, and
Charleston, and Richmond, the only other three
towns of any magnitude, are not, all together, as
large as Boston. After the places just named, there
is no town that reaches 10,000 inhabitants, and few
that come up to half that number. There^re, how-
ever, one or two new thriving places on the bays of
the Gulf of Mexico, where cities will probably be
formed, though, I think, there is scarcely a town now
in existence, except Baltimore, New-Orleans, Charles-
ton, and Richmond, in the whole of this immense
region, that contains 10,000 souls.

In forming an idea of the appearance of a country
thus inhabited, in addition to the general fact of dis-
tricts that are entirely untenanted, you are to call
into view the peculiar division of property which
occurs on nearly all the coast. Extensive plantations,
on which none but the best land is worked, make
fearful interruptions in the agricultural character of


the country : and the vast pine barrens that occur
along the Atlantic, and even on the Gulf, leave wide
spaces of unoccupied ground, even in the longest set-
tled parts of these States.

But there are States, or parts of States, that present
a very different picture. Some of the counties of
Maryland and Virginia are in a high degree beautiful;
and the uplands of the Carolinas and Georgia are of
an entirely different character from the coasts. Ten-
nessee has not only a fine climate and a fertile soil,
but a population that, in common, might vie with the
population of any country for all the best attributes
of man.

You will see that the great physical force of this
nation, however, lies in the more northern States.
If we except Kentucky, Tennessee, and the uplands
generally, I think this must long continue to be the
Fact. The arts of hfe are more cultivated there than
to the south ; and as they get still more into use, men
will cling to their indulgence with all the tenacity of
acquired habits. Emigration to the south-western
States has been chiefl_y fed by Virginia, Georgia, and
the two Carolinas. These four States contained, in
1 790, 1 ,463,982, and in 1 8:2,0, 2,535,493. Emigration
to the new northern States has been chiefly fed by
New-England. In 1 790, New-England had 1 ,009,522
souls; and in 1820, 1,659,864. Here you see that
the rate of increase is rather in fa/our of the latter ;
but if we look into the increase oV the States that
have been fed by this emigration, it ^)vdl be found to
be still more in favour of the northern portion of the
country. In 1790, all the free States had 2,033,248
inhabitants, and in 1820, 5,225,117. In 1790, all the
slave-holding States contained 1,890,080 souls; and
in 1 820, 4,400,6 1 7. Here you see that, notwithstand-
ing the vast superiority of the southern States over
the northern in extent, the increase of population
in the latter is in a ratio considerably in their favour.


In 1790, the slave-holding States had 137,168 fewer
inhabitants than their northern sisters ; whereas, in
1820, the northern States had 824,500 the most.
After allowing for the difference of capital^ the excess
is nearly 400,000 too many for the regular proportion
of the increase. It is also known that many adven-
turers go from the northern States into the southern,
while comparatively few southern men come north,
though it is certainly done. If we take 6,500,000 as
the present population of the northern States, (and
I believe it is within bounds,) there will remain
5,500,000 for the southern. This will show again
that the southern States are beginning to maintain
their own ; but their present growth is more owing
to the vast regions of fertile land that have lately been
opened for sale at the south, than to natural increase,
since every man who emigrates counts two in the
amount of comparative numbers.

The inducements that carry the northern man far
south, must be exceedingly strong to overcome the
effects of climate, and the repugnance he is apt to
feel to slavery. Still these inducements do exist, and
in some parts of the country the climate itself is among
the reasons for emigration. It is the coast, chiefly,
which is unhealthy; and even on the coast, there are
found many delightful and salubrious situations, where
northern men gladly resort for the purposes of trade.
It is quite natural that the northern population, having
occupied most of their own best lands, should begin
to find their way into the southern, and particularly
into the south-western States.

There is a considerable difference of character
between the people of the northern, and between
some of the people of the southern States of this
Union. I do not allude to the distinctive traits which
form the habits of a border man, and a man of the
towns ; for these exist between the frontier inhabitant
of New- York and the inhabitant of the city of that


name. But slavery itself, and the dispersed establish-
ments of the whites, which are a consequence of
slavery, have a direct effect on the manners of the
southern inhabitants.

The owner of slaves, whatever may be his correla-
tive standing with men of his own colour, is a species
of aristocrat, so far as manners are concerned. He
is kept, in his own person, from the pursuits and em-
ployments that are commonly thought to degrade
men, and of course he acquires the opinions of a su-
perior caste. Where opportunity of sufficient asso-
ciation is allowed, he gets the habits, also, of this
caste. I am of opinion, that in proportion to the
population, there are more men who belong to what
is termed the class of gentlemen, in the old southern
States of America than in any other country of the
world. So far as pride in themselves, a courteous
air, and a general intelhgence, are concerned, they
are, perhaps, quite on a level with the gentry of any
other country, though their intelligence must neces-
sarily be chiefly of that sort which is obtained by the
use of books, rather than of extensive familiarity with
the world. In respect to conventional manners, they
are not so generally finished as the upper classes of
other countries, or even of some classes in their own ;
though I do not know where to find gentlemen of
better air or better breeding throughout, than most
of those I have met in the southern Atlantic States.

The American who has had the advantage of early
association with men of breeding, and who possesses
the advantages of fortune and education, occupies a
station in society that the gentleman, or nobleman, of
no country of different political institutions can ever
fill. He sees, and knows that he exists without a su-
perior. He has wealth, and manner, and education,
and beyond this, neither he nor any of his country-
men can go. No man can, in truth, go beyond them
any wht^re; though artificial distinctions may have the


effect to reduce men helow the consideration that
these advantages should produce. So long as society
shall be governed by its ordinary and natural feelings,
it is not possible to deprive money, intelligence, and
manners, of their influence ; but it is quite possible to
give an artificial importance to other causes of distinc-
tion, to which society must bend by its own ordi-
nances. It is true, that in some countries, actual
power is connected with nominal rank ; but it is just
as true, that actual power is to be attained in America,
though by different means. Thus, the English gentle-
man may become a peer, and the American gentle-
man may become a Senator ; and, although the former
is certain of transmitting his rank to his posterity, still
it is a rank which, while it has many inferiors, has
some superiors. The American who sees himself in
possession of the three great requisites of an elevated
condition, meets the President as an equal, who is in-
trusted for a time, with honourable powers, but who
merely fills a station that he himself may one day

It is the fashion of Europe to talk a great deal
of the leveUing institutions of the United States.
I have elsewhere said, that elevating would be a bet-
ter word. It is difficult to conceive how institutions
that admit of the strongest temptations for every man
to aspire, can have the effect of placing a nation be-
low the level of other communities. All rational
theory, and what is of far more importance, the facts,
prove exactly the reverse. I would defy any nation
on earth to produce as many men (and women too) as
the United States, allowing for their opportunities and
their numbers, who have reached a creditable moral
elevation of character. I include manners, no less
than principles, intelligence, and other requisites.
That this class will increase, both in quality and
quantity, as the population becomes more dense, is,


I think, unavoidable ; and then we shall have a new
face put upon certain ancient theories.

Let us suppose these States inhabited by one hun-
dred millions of people. It is, for our present purpose,
a matter of indifference whether they shall live under
one government, or under twenty. Their men of
fortune, breeding, and education, have reached the
acme of human elevation, (of course no allusion is in-
tended to religion,) for a pateiit of nobility does no-
thing towards raising the qualifications of its possessor,
however it may serve to depress his inferiors. We
will suppose some four or five millions of these men
acknowledging, and actually possessing no earthly
superior, in full communion with the rest of the world.
What do you think will be their effect on the condi-
tion of society ? They will claim to be equal to ranks
that are admitted to be superior to the immense ma-
jorities of other nations. Nor do I see how their claim
is well to be denied. They will be quite equal in
manners, in wealth, in general elevation of character,
(even admitting that they shall be subdivided again
and again as States in pofitical power,) and they will
insist on being equal, in society, to the highest ranks
of other countries. Now, my dear Somersetshire
baronet, what are we to do in order to maintain our
present unquestionable superiority over these gentry,
who are contriving to get above us by their levelling
institutions. We cannot pistol them down, for, unhap-
pily, a democrat can shoot as well as an aristocrat,
and in point of numbers, they will be ten to one ; we
cannot laugh them down, for the joke will be on their
side ; we cannot look them down, for they will have
a full share of the substantials, and by present symp-
toms, I think they will have more ; nor can we send
them to Coventry, for, independently of getting so
many motley nations as Europe contains, to be ex-
actly of one mind, they will care less about the
association than we.


I have been "led into this train of, reflections, by
studying the character of the better classes of these
people, more especially as I have found them in the
southern States. Their conventional manners vary,
of course, according to circumstances ; but that high
and manly principle of fearless independence, v/hich
is almost peculiar to this country, forms a conspicuous
feature in their characters. I very well know, that
where manners are wanting, this bold quality may
make men exacting and coarse ; but where manners
do prevail, and, considering the circumstances, they
prevail here to an extraordinary degree, it makes men
truly noble. .

Slavery is not favourable to the milder qualities in
the master. It may polish, but it never subdues his
manner. But he who governs many human beings,
without having much intercourse with his equals, is
apt to acquire habits of impatience and self-will.
That these qualities exist in a much greater degree
in the southern than in the northern States of Amer-
ica, is, I believe, undeniable ; though I do not think
they exist to the degree that the theory would lead
us to suppose.

The accounts of the violence and vindictive tem-
pers of the people of the southern States of America
are, I am quite satisfied, grossly exaggerated, not only
in Europe, but in America itself. It is commonly
sufficient that rare exceptions of any thing extraordi-
nary should occur, any where, to give circulation to
reports that such things are distinctive of national
character. I recollect to have seen a caricature, in
the Palais Royal, of an Englishman leading his wife
to be sold with a halter round her neck ; and I make
no doubt, that to thousands of the spectators it con-
veyed an idea of a common national usage, if not of
a law. When I descended the Ohio and the Missis-
sippi, it was not done without some terror for my
eyes ; but I cannot say that I saw any body gouged

DUELS. 297

during the whole journey. Sundry man^ellous tales
were told me; but, like all other marvellous exploits,
they would not endure examination. Such \hings
must have occurred, or the rumour would not have
been raised ; but, if it were ever common, the prac-
tice is certainly getting into disuse. That rude and
violent men should have navigated these endless
rivers when their banks were nearly untenanted, is
quite probable ; but the manners of the boatmen now
are about as good as those of boatmen in Europe ; in
many things, they are much better.

I have elsewhere alluded to the duels of America,
and as they may properly be introduced here, we
will endeavour to discuss the subject. Personal com-
bats are, beyond a doubt, the relics of an age when
man had the desires of high civilization, without any
other means of attaining them than by appeals to
force. The principle on which they are grounded,
says, that a man is willing to prove that he cares less
for his life than he does for his reputation. I k^v^
too, that more or less of a desire to punish aggressioii,
or of personal feelings, are mingled with the senti-
ment ; but as it is a chivalrous subject, we will give
it its most chivalrous construction. In the eastern
States of America, in New-York, (the city of that
name excepted,) and in parts of Ohio and Pennsyl-
vania, duels are less frequent than, perhaps, in any
other civilized country, especially in a country where
men have as high a respect for themselves as they
have in this. My friend, who has known the more
western counties of New-York intimately for thirty
years, assures me that he does not recollect but one
duel in all that time, and that was fought full five-
and-twenty years ago. He does not pretend that this
combat stands alone ; bnt he thinks that he should
have heard of them had there been many more. He
also excepts those meetings which took place be-
tween officers while the froops and seamen were

298 DUELS.

serving within the districts named. A duel in New-
England is exceedingly rare. He accounts for this
fact on his favourite principle of common sense. Re-
ligious education may do a great deal, but then com-
mon sense has something to do with religion. There
are many instances in which English clergymen have
been engaged in duels : and I fancy that it is not an
uncommon circumstance for men who are in full com-
munion with their respective churches, in Europe,
to meet in private combats. Such a thing could
scarcely occur in the United States, the reason of the
people being much too exacting to allow of so broad
a contradiction between profession and practice. Cad-
wallader thinks, and my own observation confirms
his opinion, there is a greater proportion of men (in
high situations of life too) in the United States, who
dare, and who would, refuse, and who have refused to
light duels, on the ground of the absurdity of the
practice, than in any other nation he has visited. I
m-M say that this is the only people among whom I
have found gentleman-hke men who have openly
laughed at the gross folly of the usage, and who, it
was understood, considered themselves as too rational
to be guilty of so great an act of folly. It must be
admitted that common sense has done all it can do
with these individuals.

Next to this class, which is very numerous in the
portions of country named, come those who live
in the great towns, and all the rest of the middle
States. Duelling is about as common in this portion
of the country, as it is in France or in England.
Perhaps the older parts of Virginia and the two
CaroUnas may be included in this division ; though,
as it is thought, and I believe justly, that men in
warm climates have quicker and more sensitive pas-
sions than men in colder, it is possible they may be
rather more frequent.

The whole of the remainder of the Union may be

DUELS. 299

included, with certain exceptions, in another division,
in which duels are probably, considering the amount
of the white population, as at least four to one, com-
pared with Europe, or even in a higher rate of dis-

It is necessary, however, to bear in mind one cir-
cumstance which has had a great influence in ob-
taining a character for the Americans, not only as
duellists, but as a semi-barbarous people, in Europe.
Nothing occurs the least out of the ordinary course
of events, and in which the law is offended, that does
not go the rounds of their thousand journals. It is
also fair to suppose that the ingenuity of an editor
on a remote frontier is often at a loss to give interest
to his sheet, and that when an opportunity does occur,
he suffers none of the more interesting, which is al-
ways the exciting, portion of the incidents to be kept
in shadow.

A century ago, men met in detachments of five and
six on a side, to settle some trifling point of honour
between two. After this, it was thought that every
man might purge himself of disgrace in his own per-
son. Swords were used, until common sense began
to teach men that it was folly to pre-suppose the
same degree of strength and personal activity and
skill in any two men. Then came pistols. For a
long time (the practice still exists in some places)
the injured party was to call out the offender, and to
stand up and be shot at, before he could with pro-
priety get a chance to redress his wrongs. This prac-
tice can surely only be accounted for by supposing
that the object of the challenger was to purge him-
self of disgrace by risking his life.

As I understand the matter, the rough, steady, un>
accommodating fashion, which the Americans have
of viewing things, had long induced them to chafe
under these equivocal practices. Common sense did
its work thoroughly on a great proportion of the na-

300 DUELS.

tion, who said plainly, we shall not do so ridiculous
a thing as to let a man shoot at us because he has
done us a wrong ; and as for revenge, we think it
nobler to forgive. But common sense did not go so
far with, perhaps, a moderate majority. They con-
tinued to fight in the European fashion. About five-
and-twenty years ago, there was a great intellectual
crisis in this nation. They began to cut up certain
antiquated opinions, freely, and to talk with more
boldness than before, of all things connected with
government, morals, and customs. When two men
went into the field and both returned unharmed, the
non-combatants were apt to ask, with a sneer, for
what did you go there ? This sort of language, which
was used openly, and with something of the air of
contempt, compelled the combatants to give some
proof that they had been in a little jeopardy, and, in
short, it set common sense at work on their side of
the question. They were not sufficiently under its
influence to join the non-combatants, but they had
too much directness of thought not to make the prac-
tice consistent with itself When they looked at their
pistols, which were fixed with hair-triggers, and
which bore a most bloody aspect, and which, by the
bye, underwent all these preparations in Europe,
wiience they were imported, they were induced to
inquire into the object of so much arrangement. The
result was, that in addition to the absurdity of fight-
ing at all, they had incurred the absurdity of fighting
with so little danger, as to make the practice d1)ubly
ridiculous in the eyes of those who determined to
look at the naked truth. So they began to take aim,
and to practise, and to get skill, until they reached
the present honourable standard.

This system of stripping a thing, that is foolish in
itself, of all its inconsistent folly, has brought the
custom under a certain set of rules. The true object
of every duel is, or it ought to be, to exhibit courage

DUELS. 301

A shall not injure B without incurring a certain risk;
and he shall, at least, be driven to prove that he has
spirit to meet that risk. It is true, that the world
admits a degree of vengeance into the custom, since
it says, that certain offences require two shots, and
certain others may be expiated by one. But I think,
on the whole, that even this extraordinary bloody-
mindedness takes the aspect of an additional purga-
tion to the man who has received the wrong. That
courage which is willing to endure the pain of a
wound, but which shrinks from the danger of death,
say the American dueUists, (in their practice) is, like
the courage of a boxer, of a very inferior quality.
They, therefore, deal in that which is thought to' be

It is quite plain that fighting is a serious thing, and
serious things become a httle absurd, unless done in
a serious manner. But it is plain, that there must be
a medium in the serious character of a duel, or men
might put the pistols into each other's mouths at once,
and then absurdity on the other side, would be gain-
ed, and a practice, that is sufhciently foolish in itself,
is obliged to get as near the true medium as possible,
or it could not exist in a common sense nation. This
little prelude brings us to the field of battle.

The American brings on the ground, just as much
skill with the weapon he is to use, as he can ; which,
you will see, is just what the swordsman did, or the
great masters of the art, the ancient chivalry of
Europe. When confronted to his antagonist, he finds
himself thrown on the severest possible trial of his
steadiness and nerves, or on the very quality whose
prepossession he came thus to prove. He knov.s
that his life is the penalty of a blunder, just as a false
guard would have been fatal with the other weapon.
The result is, certainly, that, perhaps, in every two or
three duels, one man falls, and, in almost all, some-
body is hurt. The usual forms are much as they are

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 53 of 58)