James Fenimore Cooper.

Works (Volume 17) online

. (page 30 of 35)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 17) → online text (page 30 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


<*^cn remarked that sea-water was blue, and he had
frequently caused pails to be lowered, and the water
brought on deck, to see if he could come at any of
this blueing matter for indigo was both scarce
and dear in his part of the world, but he never
could make out anything by the experiment ; from
which he concluded that, on the whull, there was
pretty much no such thing as color, at all.

" As for the resolution before the house, it depend
ed entirely on the meaning of words. Now, after
all, what is a word ? Why, some people's words
are good, and other people's words are good for
nothing. For his part, he liked sealed instruments
which might be because he was a sealer but as
for mere words, he set but little store by them. He
once tuck a man's word for his wages ; and the
long and short of it was, that he lost his money.
He had known a thousand instances in which words
had proved to be of no value, and he did not see
why some gentlemen wished to make them of so
much importance here. For his part, he was for
puffing up nothing, no, not even a word or a color
above its desarts. The people seemed to call for a
change in the color of things, and he called upon
gentlemen to remember that this was a free coun
try, and one in which the laws ruled ; and therefore
he trusted they would be disposed to adapt the laws
to the wants of the people. What had the people
asked of the house in this matter ? So far as his
knowledge went, they had really asked nothing in
words, but he understood there was great discon
tent on the subject of the old colors ; and he con-



THE MONIK1NS. 417

strued their silence into an expression of contempt
for words in general. He was a Parpendic'lar, and
he should always maintain parpendic'lar sentiments.
Gentlemen might not agree with him, but, for one,
he was not disposed to jipordyze the liberties of his
constituents, and therefore he gave the rizolution
just as it came from the Riddles, without altering
a letter although he did think there was one word
misspelt he meant 'really,' which he had been
taught to spell 'ra'ally' but he was ready to
sacrifice even his opinions on this point to the good
of the country; and therefore he went with the Rid
dles, even to their misprints. He hoped the rizolu
tion would pass, with the entire unanimity so
important a subject demanded."

This speech produced a very strong sensation.
Up to this time, the principal orators of the house
had been much in the practice of splitting hairs
about some nice technicality in the Great Allegory;
but Noah, with the simplicity of a truly great mind,
had made a home-thrust at the root of the whole
matter ; laying about him with the single-hearted
ness of the illustrious Manchechan, when he couched
his lance against the wind-mills. The points ad
mitted, that there were no such things as colors,
and that words were of no moment, this, or indeed
any other resolution, might be passed with impunity.
The Perpendiculars in the house were singularly
satisfied, for, to say the truth, their arguments
hitherto had been rather flimsy. Out of doors, the
effect was greater still ; for it wrought a complete
change in the whole tenor of the Perpendicular
argument Monikins who the day before had
strenuously affirmed that their strength lay in the
phraseology of the Great Allegory, now suddenly
had tneir eyes opened, clearly perceiving that words
had no just value. The argument had certainly
undergone some modifications; but, luckily, the



418 THE MOM KIN'S.

deduction was undisturbed. The Brigadier noticed
this apparent anomaly; explaining, however, that
it was quite common in Leaplow, more especially
in all matters affecting politics ; though he felt per
suaded men must be more consistent.

No great time is required to put a well-orga
nized political corps to the right-about, when pro
per attention has been paid to the preparatory drills.
Although several of the best speakers among the
Perpendiculars had appeared in their places, with
ample notes, and otherwise in readiness to show
that the phraseology of the resolution was altoge
ther in favor of their views of the question, every
monikin of them promptly rejected his previous
argument, for the simple and more conclusive views
of Captain Poke. On the other hand, the Horizon
tals were so completely taken by surprise, that not
an orator among them all had a word to say for
himself. So far from replying, they actually per
mitted one of their antagonists to rise and to follow
up the blow of the Captain; a pretty certain sign
that they were bothered.

The new speaker was a very prominent leader
of the Perpendiculars. He was one of those poli
ticians who are only the more dexterous from hav
ing been of all sides, knowing by experience the
weak and the strong points of each, and being fami
liar with every subdivision of political sentiment
that had ever existed in the country. This ingenious
orator took up the subject with spirit, treating it
throughout on the principle of the honorable mem
ber wno had last spoken. According to his views
of the question, the gist of a resolution, or a law,
was to be found in things and not in words. Words
were so many false lights to mislead, and he need
not tell this house a fact that was famliar to all
who heard him words would be, and were, daily
moulded to suit the convenience of all sorts of per-



THE MONIKINS. 419

sons. It was a capital error in political life to be
lavish of words, for the time might come when tho
garrulous and voluble would have cause to repent of
having used them. He asked the house if the thing
proposed were necessary did the public interests
require it was the public mind prepared for it ; if so,
he begged gentlemen to do their duties to themselves,
their characters, their consciences, their religion,
their property, and, lastly, their constituents.

This orator had endeavored to destroy words by
words, and I thought the house regarded his effort
rather favorably. I now determined to make a
rally in favor of the fundamental law, which evi
dently had as yet been but little regarded in the
discussion. I caught the Speaker's eye, accordingly,
and was on my feet in a moment.

I commenced by paying elaborate compliments
to the talents and motives of those who had pre
ceded me, and made some proper allusions to the
known intelligence, patriotism, virtue, and legal
attainments of the house. All this was so well re
ceived, that taking courage, I determined to come
down upon my adversaries, at once, with the text
of the written law. Prefacing the blow with an
eulogium on the admirable nature of those institu
tions which were universally admitted to be the
wonder of the world, and which were commonly
pronounced to be the second perfection of monikin
reason, those of Leaphigh being invariably deemed
the first, I made a few apposite remarks on the
necessity of respecting the vital ordinances of the
body politic, and asked the attention of my hearers
while I read to them a particular clause, which
it had struck me had some allusion to the very
point now in consideration. Having thus clear-
ed the way, I had not the folly to defeat the ob
jects of so much preparation, by an indiscreet
precipitancy. So far from it, previously to read-



420 THE MONIKINS.

Jig the extract from the constitution, I waited until
the attention of every member present was attracted
more forcibly by the dignity, deliberation, and gra
vity of my manner, than by the substance of what
had yet been said. In the midst of this deep silence
and expectation I read aloud, in a voice that reached
every cranny of the hall

" The Great Council shall, in no case whatever,
pass any law, or resolution, declaring white to be
black."

If I had been calm in the presentation of this au
thority, I was equally self-possessed in waiting for
its effect. Looking about me, I saw surprise, per
plexity, doubt, wonder and uncertainty, in every
countenance, if I did not find conviction. One fact
embarrassed even me. Our friends the Horizontals
were evidently quite as much at fault as our oppo
nents the Perpendiculars, instead of being, as I had
good reason to hope, in an ecstasy of pleasure on
hearing their cause sustained by an authority so
weighty.

"Will the honorable member have the goodness to
explain from what author he has quoted ?" one of the
leading Perpendiculars at length ventured to inquire.

" The language you have just heard, Mr. Speak
er," I resumed, believing that now was the favor
able instant to follow up the matter, " is language
that must find an echo in every heart it is lan
guage that can never be used in vain in this vene
rable hall, language that carries with it conviction
and command" I observed that the members were
now fairly gaping at each other with wonder
" Sir, I am asked to name the author from whom 1
have quoted these sententious and explicit words
Sir, what you have just heard is to be found in the
Article IV Clause 6, of the Great National Alle
gory "



THE MONIKINS. 421

"Order Order Order!" shouted a hundred
raven throats.

I stood aghast, even more amazed than the house
itself had been only the instant before.

" Order Order Order Order Order !" con
tinued to be yelled, as if a million of demons were
screeching in the hall.

"The honorable member will please to recollect,'*
said the bland, and ex-officio impartial Speaker,
who, by the way, was a Perpendicular, elected by
fraud, " that it is out of order to use personalities."

" Personalities ! I do not understand, sir "

" The instrument to which the honorable member
has alluded, his own good sense will tell him, was
never written by itself so far from this, the very
members of the convention by which it was drawn
up, are at this instant members of this house, and
most of them supporters of the resolution now be
fore the house ; and it will be deemed personal to
throw into their faces former official acts, in this
unheard-of manner. I am sorry it is my duty to
say, that the honorable member is entirely out of
order."

" But, sir, the Sacred National-: "

" Sacred, sir, beyond a doubt but in a sense
different from what you imagine much too sacred,
sir, ever to be alluded to here. There are the works
of the commentators, the books of constructions,
and especially the writings of various foreign and
perfectly disinterested statesmen, need I name
Ekrub in particular ! that are at the command of
members ; but so long as I am honored with a seat
in this chair, I shall peremptorily decide against all
personalities."

I was dumb-founded. The idea that the authority

itself would be refused never crossed my mind,

though I nad anticipated a sharp struggle on its

construction. The constitution only required thai

36



422 THE MONIKINS.

no law should be passed declaring black to bo
white, whereas the resolution merely ordered thai

enceforth white should be black. Here was mat
ter for discussion, nor was I at all sanguine as to
the result ; but to be thus knocked on the head by a
club, in tlie outset, was too much for the modesty
of a maiden speech. I took my seat in confusion ;
and I plainly saw that the Perpendiculars, by their
sneers, now expected to carry everything triumph
antly their own way. This, most probably, would
have been the case, had not one of the Tangents
immediately got the floor, to move the amendment.
To the vast indignation of Captain Poke, and, in
some degree, to my own mortification, this duty
was intrusted to the Hon. Robert Smut. Mr. Smut
commenced with entreating members not to be led
away by the sophistry of the first speaker. That
honorable member, no doubt, felt himself called
upon to defend the position taken by his friends;
but those that knew him well, as it had been his
fate to know him, must be persuaded that his sen
timents had, at least, undergone a sudden and mi
raculous change. That honorable member denied
the existence of color, at all ! He would ask that
honorable member if he had never been instru
mental himself in producing what is generally called
" black and blue color ?" he should like to know
if that honorable member placed as little value,
at present, on blows as he now seemed to set on
words he begged pardon of the house, but this
was a matter of great interest to himself he knew
that there never had been a greater manufacturer
of " black and blue color" than that honorable
member, and he wondered at his now so pertina
ciously denying the existence of colors, and at his
wish to underrate their value. For his part, he
trusted he understood the importance of words, and

he value of hues; and while he did not exactly seo



THE MOMKINS. 423

the necessity of deeming black so inviolable as some
gentlemen appeared to think it, he was not by any
means prepared to go as far as those who had in
troduced this resolution. He did not believe thai
public opinion was satisfied with maintaining that
black was black, but he thought it was not yet dis
posed to affirm that black was white. He did not
say that such a day might not arrive; he only
maintained that it had not yet arrived, and with a
view to meet that which he believed was the pub
lic sentiment, he should move, by way of amend
ment, to strike out the whole of the resolution after
the word "really," and insert that which would
cause the whole resolution to read as follows, viz.

"Resolved, that the color which has hitherto
been deemed to be black, is really lead-color"

Hereupon, the Honorable Mr. Smut took his seat,
leaving the house to its own ruminations. The
leaders of the Perpendiculars, foreseeing that if
they got half-way this session, they might effect the
rest of their object the next, determined to accept
the compromise; and the resolution, as amended,
passed by a handsome majority. So this important
point was finally decided for the moment, leaving
great hopes among the Perpendiculars of being
able to lay the Horizontals even flatter on their
backs than they were just then.

The next question that presented itself was of far
less interest, exciting no great attention. To under
stand it, however, it will be necessary to refer a
little to history. The government of Leapthrough
had, about sixty-three years before, caused one hun
dred and twenty-six Leaplow ships to be burned on
the high seas, or otherwise destroyed. The pretence
was, that they incommoded Leapthrough. Leap-
low was much too great a nation to submit to so
heinous an outrage, while, at the same time, she was



424 THE MONIKINS.

much too magnanimous and wise a nation to resent
t in an every-day and vulgar manner. Instead of
getting in a passion and loading her cannon, she
summoned all her logic and began to reason. After
reasoning the matter with Leapthrough for fifty-two
years, or until all the parties who had been wronged
were dead, and could no longer be benefited by her
logic, she determined to abate two-thirds of her
pretensions in a pecuniary sense, and all her pre
tensions in an honorary sense, and to compromise
the affair by accepting a certain insignificant sum
of money as a salve to the whole wrong. Leap-
through conditioned to pay this money, in the most
solemn and satisfactory manner; and everybody
was delighted with the amicable termination of a
very vexatious and a seemingly interminable dis
cussion. Leapthrough was quite as glad to get rid
of the matter as Leaplow, and very naturally, under
all the circumstances, thought the whole thing at
length was done with, when she conditioned to pay
the money. The Great Sachem of Leaplow, most
unfortunately, however, had a "will of iron," or, in
other words, he thought the money ought to be paid
as well as conditioned to be paid. This despotic
construction of the bargain had given rise to un
heard-of dissatisfaction in Leapthrough, as indeed
might have been expected; but it was, oddly enough,
condemned with some heat even in Leaplow itself,
where it was stoutly maintained by certain ingenious
logicians, that the only true way to settle a bargain
to pay money, was to make a new one for a less
sum, whenever the amount fell due; a plan that,
with a proper moderation and patience, would be
certain, in time, to extinguish the whole debt

Several very elaborate patriots had taken this
matter in hand, and it was now about to be pre
sented to the house, under four different categories



THE MOMKIJTS. 425

Category No. 1, had the merit of simplicity ana
precision. It proposed merely that Leaplow should
pay the money itself, and take up the bond, using
its own funds. Category No. 2, embraced a recom
mendation of the Great Sachem for Leaplow to
pay itself, using, however, certain funds of Leap-
through. Category 3d, was a proposal to offer ten
millions to Leapthrough to say no more about the
transaction at all. Category 4th, was to commence
the negotiating or abating system mentioned, with
out delay, in order to extinguish the claim by in
stalments as soon as possible.

The question came up on the consideration of the
different projects connected with these four leading
principles. My limits will not admit of a detailed
history of the debate. All I can do, is merely to
give an outline of the logic that these various pro
positions set in motion, of the legislative ingenuity
of which they were the parents, and of the multitude
of legitimate conclusions that so naturally followed.

In favor of Category No. 1, it was urged that,
by adopting its leading idea, the affair would be
altogether in our own hands, and might consequently
be settled with greater attention to purely Leaplow
interests ; that further delay could only proceed
from our own negligence; that no other project
was so likely to get rid of this protracted negotia
tion in so short a time ; that by paying the debt
with the Leaplow funds, we should be sure of re
ceiving its amount in the good legal currency of
the republic ; that it would be singularly economi
cal, as the agent who paid might also be authorized
to receive, whereby there would be a saving in
salary ; and, finally, that, under this category, the
whole affair might be brought within the limits of
a nut-shell, and the compass of any one's under
standing.

36*



426 THE MONIKINS.

In favor of Category No. 2, little more than very
equivocal sophisms, which savored strongly of com
mon-place opinions, were presented. It was pre
tended, for instance, that he who signed a bond was
in equity bound to pay it ; that, if he refused, the
other party had the natural and legal remedy of
compulsion; that it might not always be convenient
for a creditor to pay all the obligations of other
people which he might happen to hold ; that if his
transactions were extensive, money might be want
ing to carry out such a principle; and that, as a
precedent, it would comport much more with Leap-
jow prudence and discretion to maintain the old and
tried notions of probity and justice, than to enter on
the unknown ocean of uncertainty that was connect
ed with the new opinions, by admitting which, we
could never know when we were fairly out of debt.

Category No. 3, was discussed on an entirely new
system of logic, which appeared to have great favor
with that class of the members who were of the
more refined school of ethics. These orators referred
the whole matter to a sentiment of honor. They
commenced by drawing vivid pictures of the out
rages in which the original wrongs had been com
mitted. They spoke of ruined families, plundered
mariners, and blasted hopes. They presented mi
nute arithmetical calculations to show that just forty
times as much wrong had, in fact, been done, as
this bond assumed ; and that, as the case actually
stood, Leaplow ought, in strict justice, to receive
exactly forty times the amount of the money that
was actually included in the instrument. Turning
from these interesting details, they next presented
the question of honor. Leapthrough, bv attacking
the Leaplow flag, and invading Leaplow rights,
had made it principally a question of honor, and,
in disposing 01 it, the principle of honor ought never



THE MONIKINS. 427

to be lost sight of. It was honorable to pay one's
debts this no one could dispute ; but it was not so
clear, by any means, that there was any honor in
receiving one's dues. The national honor was
concerned ; and they called on members, as they
cherished the sacred sentiment, to come forward
and sustain it by their votes. As the matter stood,
Leaplow had the best of it. In compounding with
her creditor, as had been done in the treaty,
Leapthrough lost some honor in refusing to pay
the bond, she lost still more ; and now, if we should
send her the ten millions proposed, and she should
have the weakness to accept it, we should fairly
get our foot upon her neck, and she could never
look us in the face again !

The Category No. 4, brought up a member who
had made political economy his chief study. This
person presented the following case: According
to his calculations, the wrong had been committed
precisely sixty-three years, and twenty-six days, and
two-thirds of a day, ago. For the whole of that
long period Leaplow had been troubled with this
vexatious question, which had hung like a cloud
over the otherwise unimpaired brightness of her
political landscape. It was time to get rid of it.
The sum stipulated was just twenty-five millions,
to be paid in twenty-five annual instalments, of a
million each. Now, he proposed to reduce the
instalments to one half the number, but in no way
to change the sum. That point ought to be con
sidered as irrevocably settled. This would dimin
ish the debt one half. Before the first instalment
should become due, he would effect a postponement,
by diminishing the instalments again to six, refer
ring the time to the latest periods named in the last
treaty, and always most sacredly keeping the sums
precisely the same. It would be impossible to touch



428 THE MONIKINS.

he sums, which, he repeated, ought to be considered
as sacred. Before the expiration of the first seven
years, a new arrangement might reduce the instal
ments to two, or even to one always respecting
the sum; and finally, at the proper moment, a treaty
could be concluded, declaring that there should be
no instalment at all, reserving the point, that if
there had been an instalment, Leaplow could never
have consented to reduce it below one million. The
result would be, that in about five-and-twenty years
the country would be fairly rid of the matter, and
the national character, which it was agreed on all
lands was even now as high as it well could be,
would probably be raised many degrees higher.
The negotiation had commenced in a spirit of com
promise; and our character for consistency required
that this spirit of compromise should continue to
govern our conduct as long as a single farthing
remained unpaid.

This idea took wonderfully ; and I do believe it
would have passed by a handsome majority, had
not a new proposition been presented, by an orator
of singularly pathetic powers.

The new speaker objected to all four of the cate
gories. He said that each and every one of them
would lead to war. Leapthrough was a chivalrous
and high-minded nation, as was apparent by the
present aspect of things. Should we presume to
take up the bond, using our own funds, it would
mortally offend her pride, and she would fight us ;
did we presume to take up the bond, using her
funds, it would offend her financial system, and she
would fight us; did we presume to offer her ten mil
lions to say no more about the matter, it would
offend her dignity by intimating that she was to be
nought off from her rights, and she would fight us;
did we presume to adopt the system of new nego-



THE MON1KINS. 429

tiations, it would mortally offend her honor, by
intimating that she would not respect her old nego
tiations, and she would fight us. He saw war in
all four of the categories. He was for a peace cate
gory, and he thought he had in his hand a proposi
tion, that by proper management, using the most
tender delicacy, and otherwise respecting the sen
sibilities of the high and honorable nation in ques
tion, we might possibly get out of this embarrassing
dilemma without actually coming to blows he
said to blows, for he wished to impress on honora
ble members the penalties of war. He invited
gentlemen to recollect that a conflict between two
great nations was a serious affair. If Leapthrough
were a little nation, it would be a different matter,
and the contest might be conducted in a corner;
our honor was intimately connected with all we did



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 17) → online text (page 30 of 35)