James Fenimore Cooper.

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

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actly as it is done in France, for instance ; and it has
vastly less instrumentality in eflfecting that object than
it has in England. A rich widow cannot get prece-
dency of her superiors, by giving her hand to any


possessor of, a bigli title ; nor can a seat in Congress
be bought, and dollars be made the entering wedge
of further advancement, except as people choose to
yield to their influence in the shape of entertain-
ments, extravagance, and show. In point of fact,
money, without character, will do little here beyond
what it can get in plain barter. But you have been
at Oxford. There, young men can buy silk gowns,
and, with silk gowns, consideration, and with consid-
eration that is bought by money, they get exaggerated
and unnatural ideas of its importance. You see

young never dreamt that his class-mate was

poor, though he himself has more than twenty thou-
sand a year. 1 affirm, for I have passed the ordeal,
and I know it, that the thought of distinction from
money never enters the head of an American school-
boy, unless, indeed, it may be the^child of some ex-
ceedingly vulgar parvenu.

"Now, what can be more absurd than the fact that
grave English writers are constantly affirming, that
there is no other ground of distinction in America
than money? This incessant habit of asserting so
glaring a falsehood can only proceed from a con-
sciousness of the exorbitant influence of wealth among
themselves. There is no sort of doubt, that when
money is united to merit and talent, in the United
States, it can do more than when the latter quali-
ties stand unsupported by so powerful an ally ; but
among all the unjust and ridiculous charges brought
against us, there is not one more absurd than this,
that money places men in power, or at the head of
society, or high in the estimation of their fellow-citi-
zens. With the exception of the Patroon, there is
not a decidedly wealthy man in the whole represent-
ation of the State of New- York. Mr. Clinton is no-
toriously very poor. Of all the Presidents, only one
could be called rich. There is not a man of any
great fortune in any one of the higher offices of the


general government ; and it is not thought very repu-
table for a man of good estate to fill a situation of
mere emolument. Indeed, his countrymen would
not let him have it, for the simple reason that he had
enough already, unless his peculiar talents were

" As to society, it must always support that part
of its influence which is dependent on show and ex-
pense, by money; but in large towns, where there is
competition in wealth, as in other things, money does
but httle in this way, and it is every hour doing less.
You scarcely saw a parvenu^ unless he had merit,
(and a large proportion of onr parvenus have merit,)
in the circle into which I introduced you, though you
saw a vast number of men of breeding and character,
who had very little money. It is impossible to pre-
vent people who have money from riding in coaches
and giving entertainments, and it is not possible to
prevent people of grovelling minds from envying them
these enjoyments ; but it is possible for a community
to be so constituted as to hmit the superiority of mere
money; and if such a community exists on the globe,
it exists here. I dare say that men who have made
their money, get purse-proud, in the United States, as
they do in other places ; but it must be proved that
men who have not money are abject, and time-serv-
ing, and spiritless, before any thing is made out to-
wards establishing that money does more in America
than it does in France, or half as much as it does in

I must say, that my own observations confirm this
opinion. There was a beautiful simplicity in the
conduct of young , that denoted an entire ab-
sence of the coarser influence of money, and which
spoke volumes in favour of the wise regulations of
the institutions of his college. I am assured, and, so
far as opportunity will allow me to speak,! have every
where seen the most perfect and just equaUty in the


treatment of the youths, in all the public schools I
have visited. I am told that this was not always the
case. In Harvard College, for instance, before the
revolution, the aristocratic classification of the mother
country prevailed, and boys were taught from earliest
life, to consider the adventitious circumstances of
wealth and birth as being things of primary good. As
Cadwallader says, they who wTite of this country,
should know more of the actual state of its society
before they affirm so boldly that this or that influence
controls society, on authority no better than the
habits of those who live under systems so totally dif-
ferent. • I have certainly seen sneers in the public
journals, and heard them uttered too, against the
sudden elevation of this or that individual, by means
of his wealth ; but I find, on examination, that his
rise is little more than the style he can display, at the
cost of money, and that the bottom of the complaints
is generally envy. The boldness and distinctness with
which these remarks themselves are made, are proofs
that there is no overwhelming, since there is not even
a silencing, influence attached to the possession of

&c. Sec,


My pen grows weary, for T have seen so much,
and written so little to the purpose, that I feel dis-
posed to throw it away altogether. After making
the tour of the coast of New-England, and seeing all
its large towns, I have returned here to prepare for
my departure. I cannot quit the country, however,
without giving you a summary of the information J

318 A SUMMARr.

have gained, or without indulging a little in specula-
tions to which that information must naturally give

The first reflection that is excited in the mind of
an intelligent foreigner, after visiting these States, is
an inquiry into the causes that have affected so much
with means so limited, and in a time so short. A
century ago, the whole of the 1,000,000 of square
miles that are now more or less occupied by these
people, did not contain a milhon of souls. So late
as the year 1776, the population was materially under
3,000,000 ; nor at the time did they actually cover
more than 200,000 square miles, if indeed they cov-
ered as much. But since the peace of 1783, activity,
enterprise, intelligence, and skill, appear to have been
contending with each other, and they have certainly
produced a result that the world has never before
witnessed. I have heard Europeans say, that when
they have heard that the Americans, of whom they
had been accustomed to think as dwellers in remote
and dark forests, possessed a million of tons of
shipping, they believed their neutral character had
made their flag a cloak for the enterprise and wealth
of other nations. No doubt their commerce was a
little unnaturally forced, and many frauds did exist ;
but the motives for deception have ceased these dozen
years, and still America has a million and a half of
tonnage. Perhaps no one demonstration of the energy
of this population has excited in Europe the surprise
that has been created by the boldness and dexterity
with which they have constructed canals, that put to
shame all similar works any where else. We under-
stand the nature and the expense of this description
of pubhc works, and we know how to make a proper
estimate of the enterprise necessary to effect them.
But although the system of canals, which has broke
so suddenly into existence in the United States, within
the last ten years, argues an advanced and advancing


state of society, it manifests no new principle of en-
ergy. It may be a higher exhibition of the quahty,
since the stage of improvement demands a superior
manifestation of skill ; but, believe me, the spirit
which has produced it has not been dormant an hour
since the British colonies have achieved their inde-

Although circumstances have lessened the interest
which Europe has felt in America, it may be well
questioned, whether the United States do not, at this
hour, enjoy a higher consideration, on our side of the
Atlantic, than the political doctrines, formerly in
fashion, would have given to a people so dispersed,
so few in numbers, and so remote. Their vast and
growing commerce, alone, makes them an object of
the greatest attention ; and the sure conviction that
the child of that commerce, a marine, is likely soon
to play its part in the great game of nations, gives
additional interest to this republic. Still our antici-
pations are vague, founded on data but imperfectly
understood, and, at all times, fettered by the preju-
dices and distinctive opinions of our own hemisphere.

In the first place, the influence of emigration on
the growth of the United States has been usually
overrated by Europeans. I have had occasion to
say, already, that for thirty years it did not add many
more than five thousand souls, annually, to the popu-
lation. The fact is sufficiently known by the returns
of the custom-houses, where all masters ofsvessels are
obliged to report the number of their passengers. It
is true, that thousands, who leave the mother country
for the British provinces, find their way into the re-
public by land ; but, perhaps, an equal num.ber of
natives have removed into the Canadas, the upper
province of which is nearly, or quite half, peopled by
emigrants from the States, or their descendants.

The first, the most important and the least under-
stood, cause of the exceeding advance of the Ameri-


can States, is to be found in the character of their
population. The general diifusion of a respectable
degree of intelligence, would, of itself, produce an
effect that it might be dil^cult to estimate precisely,
but which may be always traced in its strongest point
of view, in the respective conditions of the savage
and of the civilized man. In addition to this general
and mighty cause, the actual necessities of sbciety
supply an incentive to ingenuity and talent, that are
wanted elsewhere. Were the American an indolent
and contented being, nurtured in dulness, and kept
in ignorance of the incentives which prompt men to
exertion, this very state of necessity might serve to
depress him still lower in the scale of being. But
there is nothing more surprising in the country, than
the universal knowledge which exists of the condition
of Europe. Their wants, therefore, feed their de-
sires, and, together, they give birth to all the thou-
sand auxiliaries of exceeding ingenuity. A proof of
this fact is to be found in the manner in which the
first canal of any importance was constructed. As it
speaks volumes on the subject, I shall relate it.

Five-and-twenty years ago, engineers from Europe
began to make their appearance in America. They
brought with them the rules of science, and a compe-
tent knowledge of the estimates of force, and the
adaptation of principles to results ; but they brought
them, all calculated to meet the contingencies of
the European man. Experience showed that they
neither knew how to allow for the difficulties
of a novel situation, nor for the excess of intellect
they were enabled to use. Their estimates were
always wild, uncertain, and fatal, in a country that
was still experimenting. But five-and-twenty years
ago was too soon for canals in America. It was wise
to wait for a political symptom in a country where
a natural impulse will always indicate the hour for
action. Though five-and-twenty, or twenty, or even


fifteen years, were too soon, still ten were not. Ten
years ago, demonstrations had been made which en-
abled keen observers to detect that the time for ex^
traordinary exertion had come. The great western
canal of New- York was conceived and planned. But
instead of seeking for European engineers, a few of
the common surveyors of the country were called to
the aid of those who were intrusted with the duty
of making the estimates ; and men of practical know-
ledge, who understood the people with whom they
had to deal, and who had tutored their faculties in
the thousand coUisions of active hfe, were brought
to the task as counsellors. The result is worthy of
grave attention. The work, in its fruits and in its
positive extent, exceeded any thing of a similar na-
ture ever attempted in Christendom. The authority
to whom responsibility was due, was more exacting
than any of our hemisphere. Economy was incul-
cated to a degree little known in other nations ; and,
in short, greater accuracy than usual w^as required
under circumstances apparently the least favourable
to attain it. Now, this canal was made (with such
means) at a materially less cost, in infinitely less
time, and with a boldness in the estimates, and an
accuracy in the results, that were next to marvellous.
There was not a man of any reputation for science
employed in the work. But the utmost practical
knowledge of men and of things was manifested
in the whole of the affair. The beginning of each
year brought its estimate of the expense, and of the
profits, and the close its returns, in wonderful con-
formity. The labour is completed, and the benefit
is exceeding the hopes of the most sanguine.

In this sketch of the circumstances under which
the New-York canal has been made, we may trace
the cause of the prodigious advance of this nation.
Some such work as this was necessary to demonstrate
to the world, that the qualities which are so exclu-


sively the fruits of liberty and of a diffused intelli-
gence, have an existence elsewhere than in the de-
sires of the good. Without it, it might have been said,
the advance of America is deceptive ; she is doing no
more than our- own population could do under cir-
cumstances that admitted of so much display; but
she will find the difference between felling trees, and
burning forests, and giving the finish which denotes
the material progress of society. The mouths of such
critics are now silenced. The American can point
to his ploughs, to his ships, to his canals, to his bridges,
and, in short, to every thing that is useful in his par-
ticular state of society, and demand, where a better
or a cheaper has been produced, under any thing
like circumstances of equality ?

It is vain to deny the causes or the effects of the
American system, dear Bethizy; nor should a man as
philanthropic as yourself wish to deny them, since
they rest on principles that favour the happiness and
r;ro«perity of the human race. We should not cavil
about names, nor minor distinctions, in governments,
if the great and moving principles are such as con-
template the improvement of the species in the mass,
and not in exclusive and selfish exceptions.

The second great cause of the advancement of the
United States is the abundance which is the conse-
quence of room and of intelligence united, and which
admits of so rapid an increase of its positive physical
force. It is known that the population has doubled
in about twenty-three years, though it is supposed
that this rate of increase is gradually diminishing. It
is probable that in the next fifty-tive years, there will
be two more duplications of the amount. Of this
number, supposing that slavery continues in its pres-
ent form, and under its present influences, (two things
that cannot be rationally supposed,) seven millions
will be slaves, and forty-three millions freemen. But
slavery, though on the increase, as a whole, is known


not to be on the increase in a ratio equal to that of
the whites.

The third cause of the great progress of this coun-
try, and it is one intimately blended with all the
other moral causes, is the perfect freedom of its civil
and religious institutions, which give the utmost pos-
sible play to the energies, and the strongest possible
inducements to the laudable ambition of man.

There is unquestionably a powerful action and re-
action between all these influences, which produce a
vast combined result. A rapid review of what has
been done in the way of general improvement, in the
nation, may serve to give some idea of their elfects.

I shall not write here of the condition of the army,
and navy, and mihtia, since enough has been already
said to furnish a sufficiently accurate knowledge of
those branches of the subject.

The finances of the United States, you know to
be prosperous. The public debt, at the close of the
last war, (1815,) amounted to about 120,000,000.
On the first of October, 1827, it was 68,913,541 dol-
lars. But as seven millions of this debt was created
for the purchase of the bank stock so often named,
the true debt should not be estimated at more than
61,913,541 dollars."^ This debt pays an interest of
6, 5, 41 and 3 per cent. On 13,296,247 dollars, an
interest of 3 per cent, is paid ; on 28,831,128, an in-
terest of 6 percent, is paid; on 15,993,972, an interest
of 4 J per cent, is paid; on 5,792,000, an interest of
5 per cent, is paid. These sums make the amount
named. The gradual diminution of the debt is taking
place as fast as the terms of the loans will admit,

* On the first of January 1828, it was estimated to be
67,413,377 dollars; or, deducting the seven millions for bank
stock, at 60,413,377. The writer has since seen it announced,
that 5,000,000 of principal will be paid on the 1st of July, 1828,
so that the debt of the United States, on that day, will be about
55,413,377 dollars, if the cost of the bank stock shall be deduct-
ed'. (See next page.)


and on those portions which pay the highest rate of
interest. The last may be redeemed in 1835, and
probably loill be redeemed, at the present rate of
diminution, before the end of the next dozen years,
unless some new causes for loans should occur. In
addition to these facts, it must be remembered that a
stock which pays but three per cent, is never worth
par. Thus, if the 1 3,296,247 of the 3 per cents, can
be bought for 80 dollars in the 100, this portion of
the debt is also reduced in point of fact to 10,596,968
dollars. So that, all things considered, the whole
actual debt of the United States cannot be consider-
ed as being more (on the 1st of July, 1828) than
52,714,098 dollars, or something less than 12,000,000
of pounds sterling.

In a country so united in interests, but so separated
by distance, a system of extended and easy internal
communication is of vital importance. Without it,
neither commerce, nor political harmony, nor intelli-
gence, could exist to the degree that is necessary to
the objects of the confederation. It has therefore
been effected at some cost, but in a manner that is
already returning its reward in pecuniary profit, as
well as in the other great essentials named. The
subject naturally divides itself into three branches,
viz. that of information, that of internal trade, and
that of personal communication.

For the first, the general post-office, with its num-
berless dependencies, has been established. The
diffusion of intelligence is justly considered by the
American statesmen to be no less important to the
preservation of their institutions, than to the general
advancement of the character and power of the na-
tion. There are in the country about 7000 post-
offices, (1828,) and a nearly incalculable distance of
post route. The chief of this department says, that
there is now scarcely an inhabited district of any
size in all these vast regions, to which the ramifica-


tions of these routes do not extend. The same adnii-
rable economy exists in the management of this de-
partment, as in all the others of the government.
Although it is quite plain that comparatively little
correspondence can exist to defray the expenses of
routes so extended, yet the department not only pays
for itself, but it is beginning to yield a small revenue
to the country. One would think that, under such
circumstances, the cost of letters and journals was
greater here than elsewhere. You shall judge for
yourself. A letter for less than thirty miles pays six
cents ; for less than eighty, and over thirty, ten cents ;
for less than one hundred and fifty miles, and over
eighty, twelve and a half cents ; for all distances over
four hundred miles, twenty-five cents. A cent is one
hundredth part of a dollar, or about an Enghsh half-
penny : thus a letter will be transferred fifteen hun-
dred miles, for a shilling sterling. Double letters
pay double, until they attain a certain weight, when
they begin to pay by the ounce. Printed sheets,
journals, or any thing else, pay one cent, for less than
one hundred miles, per sheet, and one cent and a half
for all distances over. The editors of public journals
receive all their printed sheets gratis. The mail is
carried in coaches a great proportion of the distance,
in sulkies in other portions, and on horseback the rest.

The personal communication is effected by means
of stage-coaches and steam-boats. The vast rivers,
and tlie prodigious facilities that are offered by means
of the bays, enable passengers to travel with astonish-
ing ease, rapidity and cheapness. The traveller may
leave Boston by land ; a ride of forty-five miles brings
him to Providence ; here he embarks for New-York,
200 miles further, by the way of the sound of Long
Island ; the Raritan carries him to Brunswick ; a few
miles more of land carriage takes him to the Delaware;
the river and bay of that name bring him to New-
castle ; three ho^irs by land, and he is on tlie waters

Vol. TI. K e


of the Chesapeake ; from the bay he may ascend half
a dozen fivers, or proceed along the coast. At Nor-
folk, he enters a canal, and by means of sounds, bays,
and trifling land carriage, it is quite possible to reach
the southern limits of Georgia. Most of this route is
travelled in the manner I have described, and the rest
of it is daily getting to be more so.

The internal commerce of America exists with the
least possible encumbrance. It is conducted chiefly
by water, and an immense deal of it is done coast-
wise, by means of the rivers, that are so many arte-
ries penetrating the country in every direction. A
license costs a few dollars, (two I believe,) and when
a vessel is provided with such a document, there is no
impediment to its passage into any of the public wa-
ters of the country. The whole confederation is un-
qualiiiedly one nation in respect to commerce.

The government of the United States is also mak-
ing certain military roads that are intended to inter-
sect the country in those directions in which water
does not flow, hi addition to these improvements.
States and chartered companies are effecting a vast
deal more in the same way, that I have neither the
room nor the knowledge necessary to communicate.
As the debt is discharged, and larger sums come into
the disposal of Congress, it is to be presumed that
they will increase the expenditures, by advancing the
improvement of the country in all things that properly
belong to their power.

In manufactures, the Americans have made im-
mense progress, since their separation from the mother
country. The great Lord Chatham declared it should
be the policy of England to prevent her colonies from
manufacturing even a hobnail ; and this plan of mo-
nopolizing wealth was tolerably successful, so long
as the Americans were dependent on England, and
even for many years afterwards. But, although the
importations of this country, for home consumption,


are greater now than they ever have been, its own
manufactures have increased lift} -fold.

The question of protecting manufactures by legis-
lative enactments, is the one which involves more
political warmth, at the present time, than any other
question of mere pohcy. Indeed, it may be said to
be the only one. The disputants are chiefly men that
are immediately interested in the result, though it is
certain, that a few leading politicians adopt the op-
posite sides on policy or on principle. The only real
point in dispute is, whether America has reached the
period when it has become her interest to encourage
her manufactures, at some little expense to her com-
merce, or rather at some little expense and loss to
those who are engaged in particular branches of
commerce, since it is obvious that nothing can have
a greater tendency to increase the trade betvvxen dif-
ferent sections of a country hke this, than increasing

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 55 of 58)