James Fenimore Cooper.

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

. (page 56 of 58)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 56 of 58)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


its objects. A vast deal is said, pro and con, on this
subject. One party contends that it will destroy the
shipping, aiid prove fatal to the revenue. If this
reasoning be true, then the time is inevitable when
the shipping and revenue of the United States must
disappear, for nothing is more certain than that the
time will come, when a vast proportion of their
population will find that no great community can
exist in prosperity, without a division of employment.
But it is plain that these partisans utter absurdities,
since it is a matter of perfect indifference to the citi-
zen to whom or by what process he pays the dollar
of duty that he is now obliged to pay for his coat.
If the collector of some port does not receive it,
some other collector can and will. But this dollar
will be paid on an increased price, since the Ameri-
can manufacturer cannot put his goods in the market
as cheap as the foreign manufacturer, or he would
not ask for protection. This may be true at the mo-
ment, and I am of opmion, that, v/ith the exception



328 A SUMMARY.

of articles that are deemed important to defence, and
perhaps to certain articles that require some little
tim.e to give them the perfection necessary to compe-
tition, no laws will be passed immediately on the sub-
ject. The question of manufactures is, however,
clearly one of interest. Of their usefulness, and of
their being one of the most active agents of wealth,
as well as of the comfort of society, there can be no
doubt. It is therefore like so many other questions
in America, purely one of time. Although it may not
accord with her policy this year, to encourage them,
or for her citizens to embark in them, the result is
inevitable. A nation that lives as fast as this, does
not compute time by ordinary calculations. Fifty
years ago, they manufactured next to nothing. They
now manufacture almost every article of familiar use,
and very many of them, much better than the arti-
cles that are imported. They even begin to export.
The coarse cotton goods of this country are already
sent to South America, and I am told that they are
preferred to the British. Importations of coarse cot-
tons from India have entirely ceased ; and indeed 1
was assured that their coarse cottons were greatly
preferred in their own markets to any other.

The American manufacturer has to contend with
one difficulty, that is not known to the manufacturers
of other countries. The unobstructed commerce of
the United States admits of importations from all
quarters, and of course the consumer is accustomed
to gratify his taste with the best articles. A French
duke might be content to use a French knife or a
French lock ; but an American merchant would re-
ject both : he knows that the English are better. On
the other hand, an English duchess (unless she could
smuggle a little) might be content with an English
silk ; but an American lady would openly dress her-
self in silk manufactured at Lyons. The same is
true of hundreds of other articles. The American



A SUMMARY. 329

manufacturer is therefore compelled to start into ex-
istence full grown, or nearly so, in order to command
success. I think this peculiarity will have, and has
had, the effect to retard the appearance of articles
manufactured in the country, though it will make
their final success as sure as their appearance will be
sudden.

It is impossible to speak with certainty on the de-
tails of a question so complicated. A thousand articles
are* manufactured already, and may be considered as
established. Twenty years ago, the Americans im-
ported all their good hats ; fifteen years ago, they
imported most of their coarse cottons ; and ten years
ago, they imported most, if not ail, of their fine glass
and ornamental hardware, such as fire-grates, &c.
A vast deal of these importations have ceased, and I
am told that, considering the increase of the consum-
ers, they are diminishing daily.

Though the particular matter that is now in dis-
pute may be one of deep interest to certain mer-
chants and manufacturers, it is clearly not the main
question. Manufacturing is a pursuit so natural, and
one so evidently necessary to all extended communi-
ties, that its adoption is inevitable at some day or
other. The policy of the Americans wisely leaves
them, in all cases except those of extraordinary ne-
cessity, (which become exceptions of course,) to the
operation of natural influences. Policy will, nineteen
times in twenty, indicate its own wants. If it be ad-
mitted that a people, who possess the raw materials
in abundance, who enjoy the fruits of the earth to an
excess that renders their cultivation little profitable,
must have recourse to their ingenuity, and to their
industry, to find new employments and ditlerent
sources of wealth, then the Americans must become
manufacturers. When the true hour shall arrive, it
will be vain to utter speculative reasons, for the
Wants of the nation will work out their own cure.
f:e2



330 A SUMMARY.

If restrictive laws shall be necessary to effect it, the
people will allow of a lesser evil to get rid of a
greater. When the manufacturers of America have
once got fairly established, so that practice has given
them skill, and capital has accumulated a little, there
will be no fear of foreign competition. The exceed-
ing ingenuity and wonderful aptitude of these people
will give them the same superiority in the fabrication
of a button or of a yard of cloth, as they now pos-
sess in the construction of a ship, or as they have
manifested that they possess in the construction of a
canal. A sufficient motive is all that is necessary to
induce exertion. They have taken the infallible
measure to insure success, in bringing the greatest
possible number of competitors into action, by dif-
fusing intelligence so widely, and to an extent so
creditable. 1 think that most questions of manu-
facturing will be settled practically in the next five-
and-tv7enty years.

The vast extent of the United States affords all the
means of wealth and comfort that climate, mines, and
other natural facilities, can supply. They are known
to possess lead, copper, gold, iron, salt, and coal.
The lead mines of Missouri are very extensive, and,
with little or no skill, are already productive. The
gold of Carolina is probably quite as abundanjt as
is desirable. Copper is found in many places, but it is
not yet much wrought. Iron is abundant, much work-
ed, and some of it is more esteemed than any import-
ed. Salt abounds, and could easily supply the whole
country, or even furnish the article for exportation.
It is not mined for yet, since the springs are found so
saturated with the mineral as to render the process
of boiling and evaporation more profitable. Coal
exists in various parts of the country. It is procured,
however, chiefly in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Rhode
Island. It is of various kinds, and of different degrees
of excellence. That most in use is of the class an^



A SUMMARY. 331

thracite. Of this species there are seVeral gradations
of quahty. That of Pennsylvania is said to be the
best. Mountains of coal exist in that State, and the
people of the growing manufacturing town of Pitts-
burgh cut it out of the hills with as much facihty as
they would bring away an equal weight of dirt. Ca-
nals and railways are made to several of the coal
mines, or rather coal mountains^ and domestic coal is
getting into very general use. The coal of eastern
Pennsylvania is most fortunately placed. It lies w ithin
sixty or seventy miles of Philadelphia, to which place
it is already conveyed by water. Philadelphia has a
large capital, is now a great manufacturing tow^n, and
will probably be one of the largest in the world in
the course of half a century. When at Philadelphia,
coal, or any thing else, can be carried by water to
any part of the country w^hich has a water commu-
nication with the ocean.

The cultivation of the vine has commenced. Wine
is already made ; though, as time is absolutely neces-
sary to produce excellence in the quality of the grape,
and as capital is still easily convertible to so many
lucrative uses, it is possible that half a century may
elapse before the United States shall export their
liquors. That they wall sooner or later do so, is, I
think, beyond a doubt. The silk-worm is also be-
ginning to attract attention, and plantations of the
olive are coming daily more into fashion. Jn short,
there are no means of comfort, indulgence, or wealth,
that the Americans, in some one part of their coun-
try, cannot command ; and it would be as w^eak, as
it will unquestionably be false, to suppose that a peo-
ple so sagacious and so active wall neglect them be-
yond the moment when circumstances shall render
their adoption profitable or convenient.

The construction of canals, on a practical scale,
the mining for coal, the exportation of cotton goods,
and numberless other improvements, which argue an



332 SUMMARY.

advancing state of society, have all sprung into ex-
istence within the last dozen years."^ It is a know-
ledge of these facts, with a clear and sagacious un-
derstanding of their immense results, coupled with
the exciting moral causes, that render the American
sanguine, aspiring, and confident in his anticipations.
He sees that his nation lives centuries in an age, and
he feels no disposition to consider himself a child,
because other people, in their dotage, choose to re-
member the hour of his birth.

How pitiful do the paltry criticisms on an inn, or
the idle, and, half the time, vulgar comments on the
vulgarity of Si parvenu^ become, when objects and
facts like these are pressing themselves on the mind!
I have heard it said, that there are European authors
who feel a diffidence of contracting acquaintances
with American gentlemen, because they feel a con-
sciousness of having turned the United States into
ridicule ! I can tell these unfortunate subjects of a
precipitate opinion, that they may lay aside their
scruples. No American of any character, or know-
ledge of his own country, can feel any thing but
commiseration for the man who has attempted to
throw ridicule on a nation like this. The contest is
too unequal to admit of any doubt as to the result,
and the wiser way will be for these Quixotes in lit-
erature to say and think as httle as possible about
their American tilting match, in order that the world
may not liken their lances to that used by the hero
of La Mancha, and their helmets to barbers' basins.

* Forty years ago, no cotton was raised in the United States



( 333 )



TO SIR EDWARD WALLER, BART.

Sfc. Sfc.



Washington,



Having given so much of our attention to the sub-
ject of the sources of the national importance pos-
sessed by the Americans, it may not be without its
use to devote an hour to the consideration of the
manner in which they will probably be used. The
points of main interest are, wb.ether the present re-
publican institutions of the country will endure, and
whether the States will long continue to act as one
people, or w^ill submit to be divided into two or
more confederacies.

The first fact that strikes an intelligent man, in
considering the structure of this government, and the
state of society that exists under it, is its perfectly
natural formation. It is scarcely possible, I am not
sure that it is possible, to conceive of a community
which has attained the advantages of high civiliza-
tion, that is less artificial.

In order that individual efforts should be excited
(without which nations must inevitably become slug-
gish, and finally barbarous, though dwelling in any
abundance,) the rights of property are respected.
Beyond this the law leaves every man (the slaves in
the southern States exceptea) on grounds of perfect
equality. This equality is, however, an equality of
rights only; since talents, money, and enterprise,
being left to their natural influences, produce their
natural effects, and no more.

In respect to the continuation of the present re-
publican institutions of this country, every fact, every
Bymptom, and all reasoning, is, I think, in their fa-



334 PERPETUITY OF THE INSTITUTIONS.

voiir. In the first place, they have, in substance,
continued for nearly, and in some instances for quite,
two centuries. The habits of the people, their edu-
cation, their feelings, and their interests, unite to
preserve them. It is true, there are not many in-
stances in the world, of governments on an extended
scale, existing for any great length of time, in forms
nearly resembling those of the United States ; but
there are examples enough to prove that governments
have endured for centuries on principles that will
make this endure, though policy were less active
than it is in contributing to its preservation. We
will endeavour to find some of them. The govern-
ment of England is representative, and to a great
degree it is free ; that is to say, it is .a government
of laws, instead of being a government of will, which
I take it constitutes the essential ditTerence between
liberty and despotism. Now, the main point of dif-
ference between the government of England, and
that of the United States, is in the bodies that are
the respective repositories of power. In the former
country, the power is in the aristocracy; in the lat-
ter country, it is in the people. That the latter is
more natural, is sufficiently evident, from the fact that
England itself has been quietly tending towards the
same result, during two centuries, under circum-
stances that have been calculated to bring natural
influences into play. It is true, that the power still
rests in the aristocracy, but it is not an aristocracy
that is exclusive. To speak of the governing aris-
tocracy of England, as a class of nobles, is absurd ;
it is the aristocracy of wealth, of talents, and of en-
terprise, that rules Great Britain. Were the avenues
to political power closed against the approach of
new aspirants, the government of Great Britain would
be overturned in a dozen years. It is not in the
powder of art to repress the energy of natural in-
fluences, when they have once gathered head. The



PERPETUITY OF THE INSTITUTIONS. 335

effect of vast commerce, of intelligence diffused to a
certain degree, and of individual enterprise, has been
to wrest the power from the crown, to curtail its in-
fluence in the lords, and to repose most of its exercise
in the commons. Now, all that democracy can do
without recourse to violence in England, is here
done, because it is obeying a natural law. But the
very difficulty which is found in effecting a final tri-
umph, (as by compelling the lords to acquiesce at
all times in the wishes of the commons,) proves the
difficulty of completely wresting power from those
who hold it, though they may happen to be the few.
So far it is an argument in favour of the perpetuity
of the American democracies, for they, too, are used
to the authority of the people. Still, public opinion,
which is no more than popular law, is so triumphant,
that it is difficult to conceive a question on which
a clear majority of the people of England should be
decidedly united, that the three estates would incur
the risk of opposing. Let us turn the picture to the
side of America.

Here we have a government in which the people
are the sources of power. The state of society is
precisely that (though in a still higher degree) which
in England has wrought a change from absolute mon-
archy to a species of qualified aristocracy. Instead
of waiting for the march of natural events, circum-
stances permitted that they should be anticipated.
They have been anticipated, and so far from a reac-
tion being the result, greater harmony is daily occur-
ring between causes and effects, as the government
gets more adapted to practical objects.

I see but one possible manner in which the people
of the United States can ever lose any of their liberty.
They may enact laws of a more rigid character as
the advancement or corruption of society shall re-
quire them, and they may possibly be driven to some
slight curtailments of the franchise for the same



336 PERPETUITY OF THE INSTITUTIONS.

reason ; but this will, in no degree, change the prin-
ciple of their government. By losing their intelli-
gence, the people of the United States may lose the
consciousness of their rights, and with it their enjoy-
ment. But all experience goes to show how difficult
it is to wrest vested rights from communities.

But the vulgar argument against the perpetuity of
the American government, is the impossibility tha
the rich should not govern the poor, and the intel-
lectual the weak of mind. The continuation of
property in families, and its consequent accumulation
in individuals, by entails, is a provision of aristocracy
in order to secure its power. The \ery provision
itself argues a consciousness of natural weakness.
It is evident, that it is as unjust, as it is opposed to
our common affections, to make one child affluent
at the expense of half a dozen others. No man, left
to the operation of natural feeling, would do so cruel
an act. This fact is sufficiently proved by the ex-
ample of the Americans themselves, who have a
perfect right to do this injustice if they please, by
simply making those in existence, and who have a
natural hold on their affections, the subjects of the
wrong. Still no man does it. It is true that the
father of an only son might create a sort of short
entail, that should work injustice to descendants he
could not know ; or a father who was educated under
an artificial system, where advantages are actually
established from the practice, might do the same
thing ; but we have proof in the United States, that
the father will not do it, under the operation of nat-
ural causes. Now, the Americans have taken care
that this artificial state of things shall not occur, for
strict entails cannot be made ; and if one father
should be so obdurate and unnatural as to do a
wrong, in order to rob parties who were strangers to
him, of their natural rights to his estate, he has no
pledge that his son will be as absurd as himself



PERPETUITY OF THE INSTITUTIONS. 337

There is no truth more certain, than that property
will regulate itself when left to itself. It will change
hands often, and become the reward of industry,
talent, and enterprise. But we have no need of
speculating in order to know what effect money will
produce on the institutions of America. There are
thousands of rich men here, and of very rich men
too, and there is not a class of the community that
has less political power. There are many reasons
why it should be so.

Wealth gives no direct influence in politics. Seats
in Congress are not bought and sold. Then the owners
of great wealth are two-thirds of the time more
agreeably employed in its increase, than in courting
popularity, without which, nothing pohtical can be
done ; and there is also a reluctance to give men,
who have much money, places of much profit at all.
But it is plain, that wealth, even supposing it could
be brought to act in concert throughout a country
like this, can never work a change in its institutions,
until it can be accumulated for generations ; and that
is a result the institutions themselves forbid. Indeed,
so little do I think a danger that is so often named
is to be dreaded, that I think there would be vastly
more danger, that the people of a nation like this
vs^ould find means to strip any given set of men of
exorbitant wealth, than the set of men themselves
would find means to strip the nation of its liberties.
Neither case is likely to occur, however, since the
danger is scarcely within the bounds of a reasonable
probability.

Talents may unite to destroy the rights of the peo-
ple. I take it, that talents are just as likely to regu-
late themselves, and to produce an equality, as money.
It is not in nature, that any great number of talented
men should conspire to overturn the government,
since, in the first place, it would require an improb-
able unanimity of talent, and, in the second place, a

Vol. II. F f



338 PERPETUITY OF THE INSTITUTIONS.

majority of the conspirators would be literally sell-
ing their birthrights for messes of pottage. If there be
a country in the world where talent has already a
certain and manly road to preferment,, it is in this.
Under the present system, each man can work for
himself, whereas, by changing it to a monarchy, the
many would have to toil for the advantage of the
few. As to those inducements which are known to
influence men in Europe, such as titles, and decora-
tions, they are entirely artificial ; and I know, from
observation, that it would be a difficult matter to get,
even now, a vast proportion of the Americans to con-
sent to use them. We are, completely the creatures
of habit in all these matters, and it is the habit of
the American to look on distinctions of this nature
with a cold eye. This peculiarity of opinion is gain-
ing ground daily, for there was, for a time, on pre-
cisely the same principle of habit, a lingering of the
ancient prejudices. We should never forget that the
moral influence of this nation is beginning to mani-
fest itself in stronger colours every hour. The time,
I think, is near, when the American gentleman will
pride himself as much on his peculiar simplicity, as
gentlemen of other nations take pride in their quar-
terings and titles. The strength of this feeling will
keep even pace with the power of the nation, until
it will become difficult indeed, to persuade a man
that glories in having no worldly superior, to submit
to a division of society, that, by an artificial arrange-
ment, shall place him beneath so many others. You
will remember, that the great difference between this
government and most others, is the important fact,
that the Americans began at the bottom to raise their
superstructure, whereas we have, in nearly every in-
stance, began at the top to work downwards. Men
have been elevated towards the throne in our sys-
tems ; but in what manner are you to elevate a mar
who finds himself already at the summit? It is true,



PERPETUITY OF THE INSTITUTIONS. 339

that if a hundred, or a thousand Americans could
monopolize the honours and emoluments of a change
of government, that number might conspire to keep
their present elevation, and force the rest of the na-
tion below them. But a thousand, nor ten thousand
men of the highest talent, could not persuade a mil-
lion to give up rights that they are educated to be-
lieve inherent, even if these ten thousand could agree
among themselves as to the gradations of their own
rewards. A nobleman of France, or of England,
cannot understand the sort of veneration that a vizier
feels for the Grand Turk ; and any attempt on the
part of the sovereigns of these two countries, to bring
the peers into the abject submission that is practised
in the seraglio, would induce a singular commotion.
Now, to the American it is just as inconceivable how
one man can yield precedency, or respect, or sub-
mission to another, merely because he happens to be
born an eldest son. You see all this is artificial, and
the fact of its long existence in the world establishes
nothing, but the opinions of the world. Opinions
that are the nearest to nature, are the least liable to
change. The world thought that the sun moved
round the earth until quite lately, and yet the fact, I
beheve, is not so. We will sum up this argument
in a very few words. Ten centuries ago, one century
since, nay, twenty years since, very different opinions
existed in Europe on the subject of governments
from those that are now getting into fashion. The
tendency is to natural rights, at the expense of artifi-
cial institutions: In some few instances, change has
been attempted by revolution; but revolution is a
dangerous remedy. The Americans had no revolu-
tion, strictly speaking ; they have only preceded the
rest of Christendom in their reforms, because circum-
stances permitted it. If they have gone farther than
it may be wise for other nations to follow, it is no
reason that they are not safe themselves. So has



340 PERPETUITY OF THE INSTITUTIONS.

England gone farther than France, and France far-
ther than Sweden, and Sweden farther than Russia.
There is no danger of reaction in America, for there
has been no blow to produce the rebound. The
progress has been steady and natural ; and there must
be a gradual return to the ignorance of the thirteenth



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 56 of 58)