James Fenimore Cooper.

Works (Volume 29) online

. (page 40 of 42)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 29) → online text (page 40 of 42)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ever, and an almost total forgetfulness of God, took the
place of the colonial humility with which they had com
menced their career in this new region. These feelings
were greatly heightened by three agents, that men ordina
rily suppose might have a very different effect religion,
law, and the press.

When the Rancocus returned, a few months after the
repulse of the pirates, she had on board of her some fifty
emigrants; the council still finding itself obliged to admit
the friends of families already settled in the colony, on due
application. Unhappily, among these emigrants were a
printer, a lawyer, and no less than four persons who might
be termed divines. Of the last, one was a presbyterian,
one a methodist, the third was a baptist, and the fourth a
quaker. Not long after the arrival of this importation, its
consequences became visible. The sectaries commenced
with a thousand professions of brotherly love, and a great



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 431

parade of Christian charity ; indeed they pretended that
they had emigrated in order to enjoy a higher degree of
religious liberty than was now to be found in America,
where men were divided into sects, thinking more of their
distinguishing tenets than of the Being whom they pro
fessed to serve. Forgetting the reasons which brought
them from home, or quite possibly carrying out the im
pulses which led them to resist their former neighbours,
these men set to work, immediately, to collect followers,
and believers after their own peculiar notions. Parson
Hornblower, who had hitherto occupied the ground by
himself, but who was always a good deal inclined to what
are termed " distinctive opinions," buckled on his armour,
and took the field in earnest. In order that the sheep of
one flock should not be mistaken for the sheep of another,
great care was taken to mark each and all with the brand
of sect. One clipped an ear, another smeared the wool
(or drew it over the eyes) and a third, as was the case
with Friend Stephen Dighton, the quaker, put on an entire
covering, so that his sheep might be known by their out
ward symbols, far as they could be seen. In a word, on
those remote and sweet islands, which, basking in the sun
and cooled by the trades, seemed designed by providence
to sing hymns daily and hourly to their maker's praise, the
subtleties of sectarian faith smothered that humble sub
mission to the divine law by trusting solely to the media
tion, substituting in its place immaterial observances and
theories which were much more strenuously urged than
clearly understood. The devil, in the form of a " profes
sor," once again entered Eden ; and the Peak, with so
much to raise the soul above the grosser strife of men, was
soon ringing with discussions on " free grace," " immer
sion," " spiritual baptism," and the " apostolical succes
sion." The birds sang as sweetly as ever, and their
morning and evening songs hymned the praises of their
creator as of old ; but, not so was it with the morning and
evening devotions of men. These last began to pray at
each other, and if Mr. Hornblower was an exception, it
was because his admirable liturgy did not furnish him
with the means of making these forays into the enemy's
camp.



432 TUB CRATER;

Nor did the accession of law and intelligence help the
matter much. Shortly after the lawyer made his appear
ance, men began to discover that they were wronged by
their neighbours, in a hundred ways which they had never
before discovered. Law, which had hitherto been used for
the purposes of justice, and of justice only, now began to
be used for those of speculation and revenge. A virtue
was found in it that had never before been suspected of ex
isting in the colony; it being discovered that men could make
not only very comfortable livings, but, in some cases, get
rich, by the law; not by its practice, but by its practices.
Now came into existence an entire new class of philan
thropists ; men who were ever ready to lend their money
to such of the needy as possessed property, taking judg
ment bonds, mortgages, and other innocent securities,
which were received because the lender always acted on a
principle of not lending without them, or had taken a
cow. or made their wives promises ; the end of all being
8. transfer of title, by which the friendly assistant com
monly relieved his dupe of the future care of all his pro
perty. The governor soon observed that one of these phi
lanthropists rarely extended his saving hand, that the bor
rower did not come out as naked as the ear of the corn
that has been through the sheller, or nothing but cob ; and
that, too, in a sort of patent-right time. Then there were
the labourers of the press to add to the influence of those
of religion and the law. The press took up the cause of
human rights, endeavouring to transfer the power of the
state from the public departments to its own printing-office ;
and aiming at establishing all the equality that can nourish
when one man has a monopoly of the means of making
his facts to suit himself, leaving his neighbours to get along
under such circumstances as they can. But the private
advantage secured to himself by this advocate of the
rights of all, was the smallest part of the injury he did,
though his.own interests were never lost sight of, and co
loured al) he did ; the people were soon convinced that
they had hitherto been living under an unheard-of tyranny,
and were invoked weekly to arouse in their might, and be
true to themselves and their posterity. In the first place,
not a tenth of them had ever been consulted on the sub-



OR, VULCAN S PEAK.

ject of the institutions at all, but had been compelled to
take them as they found them. Nor had the present in
cumbents of office been placed in power by a vote of a
majority, the original colonists having saved those who
came later to the island all trouble in the premises. In
these facts was an unceasing theme of declamation and
complaint to be found. It was surprising how little the
people really knew of the oppression under which they
laboured, until this stranger came amongst them to en
lighten their understandings. Nor was it less wonderful
how many sources of wrong he exposed, that no one had
ever dreamed of having an existence. Although there was
not a tax of any sort laid in the colony, not a shilling ever
collected in the way of import duties, he boldly pronounced
the citizens of the islands to be the most overburthened
people in Christendom '. The taxation of England was no
thing to it, and he did not hesitate to proclaim a general
bankruptcy as the consequence, unless some of his own
expedients were resorted to, in order to arrest the evil.
Our limits will not admit of a description of the process by
which this person demonstrated that a people who literally
contributed nothing at all, were overtaxed ; but any one who
has paid attention to the opposing sides of a discussion on
such a subject, can readily imagine how easily such an ap
parent contradiction can be reconciled, and the proposition
demonstrated.

In the age of which we are writing, a majority of man
kind fancied that a statement made in print was far more
likely to be true than one made orally. Then he who stood
up in his proper person and uttered his facts on the respon
sibility of his personal character, was far less likely to gain
credit than the anonymous scribbler, who recorded his lie
on paper, though he made his record behind a screen, and
half the time as much without personal identity as he
would be found to be without personal character, were he
actually seen and recognised. In our time, the press has
pretty effectually cured all observant persons at least of
giving faith to a statement merely because it is in print,
and has become so far alive to its own great inferiority as
publicly to talk of conventions to purify itself, and other
wise to do something to regain its credit ; but such was
37



434 THE CRATER;

not the faet, even in America, forty years since. The
theory of an unrestrained press has fully developed itself
within the last quarter of a century, so that even the
elderly ladies, who once said with marvellous unction, " It
must be true, for it 's in print," are now very apt to say,
"Oh! it's only a newspaper account!" The foulest pool
has been furnished by a beneficent Providence with the
means of cleansing its own waters.

But the " Crater Truth-Teller" conld utter its lies, as a
privileged publication, at the period of this narrative.
Types still had a sanctity ; and it is surprising how much
they deceived, and how many were their dupes. The jour
nal did not even take the ordinary pains to mystify its
readers, and to conceal its own cupidity, as are practised
in communities more advanced in civilization. We dare
say that journals are to be found in London and Paris, that
take just as great liberties with the fact as the Crater Truth-
Teller ; but they treat their readers with a little more out
ward respect, however much they may mislead them with
falsehoods. Your London and Paris publics are not to be
dealt with as if composed of credulous old women, but re
quire something like a plausible mystification to throw dust
in their eyes. They have a remarkable proneness to believe
that which they wish, it is true ; but, beyond that weakness,
some limits are placed to their faith, and appearances must
be a good deal consulted.

But at the crater no such precaution seemed to be ne
cessary. It is true that the editor did use the pronoun
" we," in speaking of himself; but he took all other occa
sions to assert his individuality, and to use his journal dili
gently in its behalf. Thus, whenever he got into the law,
his columns were devoted to publicly maintaining, his own
side of the question, although such a course was not only
opposed to every man's sense of propriety, but was directly
flying into the teeth of the laws of the land; but little did
he care for that. He was a public servant, and of course
all he did was right. To be sure, other public servants
were in the same category, all they did being wrong ; but
he had the means of telling his own story, and a large
number of gaping dunces were ever ready to believe him.
His manner of filling his larder is particularly worthy of



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 435

being mentioned. Quite as often as onee a week, his jour
nal had some such elegant article as this, viz : " Our
esteemed friend, Peter Snooks" perhaps it was Peter
Snooks, Esquire " has just brought us a fair specimen of
his cocoa-nuts, which we do not hesitate in recommending
to the housekeepers of the crater, as among the choicest
of the group." Of course, 'Squire Snooks was grateful for
this puff, and often brought more cocoa-nuts. The same
great supervision was extended to the bananas, the bread
fruit, the cucumbers, the melons, and even the squashes,
and always with the same results to the editorial larder.
Once, however, this worthy did get himself in a quandary
with his use of the imperial pronoun. A mate of one of
the vessels inflicted personal chastisement on him, for some
impertinent comments he saw fit to make on the honest
tar's vessel ; and, this being matter of intense interest to
the public mind, he went into a detail of all the evolutions
of the combat. Other men may pull each other's noses,
and inflict kicks and blows, without the world's caring a
straw about it; but the editorial interest is too intense to
be overlooked in this manner. A bulletin of the battle
was published; the editor speaking of himself always in
the plural, out of excess of modesty, and to avoid ego
tism (!) in three columns which were all about himself,
using such expressions as these: "We now struck our
antagonist a blow with our fist, and followed this up with
a kick of our foot, and otherwise toe made an assault on
him that he will have reason to remember to his dying day."
Now, these expressions, for a time, set all the old women
in the colony against the editor, until he went into an ela
borate explanation, showing that his modesty was so pain
fully sensitive that he could not say / on any account,
though he occupied three more columns of his paper in
explaining the state of our feelings. But, at first, the cry
went forth that the battle had been of two against one;
and that even the simple-minded colonists set down as
somewhat cowardly. So much for talking about we in the
bulletin of a single combat !

The political effects produced by this paper, however,
were much the most material part of its results. When
ever it offended and disgusted its readers by ita dishonesty,



436 THE CRATER;

selfishness, vulgarity, and lies and it did this every week,
being a hebdomadal it recovered the ground it had lost
by beginning to talk of ' the people' and their rights. This
the colonists could not withstand. All their sympathies
were enlisted in behalf of him who thought so much of
their rights ; and, at the very moment he was trampling on
these rights, to advance his own personal views, and even
treating them with contempt by uttering the trash he did,
they imagined that he and his paper in particular, and its
doctrines in general, were a sort of gift from Heaven to
form the palladium of their precious liberties !

The great theory advanced by this editorial tyro, was,
that a majority of any community had a right to do as it
pleased. The governor early saw, not only the fallacies,
but the danger of this doctrine ; and he wrote several com
munications himself, in order to prove that it was false. If
true, he contended it was true altogether ; and that it must
be taken, if taken as an axiom at all, with its largest con
sequences. Now, if a majority has a right to rule, in this
arbitrary manner, it has a right to set its dogmas above the
commandments, and to legalize theft, murder, adultery,
and all the other sins denounced in the twentieth chapter
of Exodus. This was a poser to the demagogue, but he
made an effort to get rid of it, by excepting the laws of
God, which he allowed that even majorities were bound to
respect. Thereupon, the governor replied that the laws
of God were nothing but the great principles which ought
to govern human conduct, and that his concession was an
avowal that there was a power to which majorities should
defer. Now, this was just as true of minorities as it was
of majorities, and the amount of it all was that men, in
establishing governments, merely set up a standard of prin
ciples which they pledged themselves to respect ; and that,
even in the most democratical communities, all that majo
rities could legally effect was to decide certain minor ques
tions which, being necessarily referred to some tribunal
for decision, was of preference referred to them. If there
was a power superior to the will of the majority, in the
management of human affairs, then majorities were not
supreme ; and it behooved the citizen to regard the last as
only what they really are, and what they were probably



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 437

designed to be tribunals subject to the control of certain
just principles.

Constitutions, or the fundamental law, the governor went
on to say, were meant to be the expression of those just
and general principles which should control human so
ciety, and as such should prevail over majorities. Consti
tutions were expressly intended to defend the rights of
minorities ; since without them, each question, or interest,
might be settled by the majority, as it arose. It was but a
truism to say that the oppression of the majority was the
worst sort of oppression ; since the parties injured not only
endured the burthen imposed by many, but were cut off
from the sympathy of their kind, which can alleviate
much suffering, by the inherent character of the tyranny.

There was a great deal of good sense, and much truth
in what the governor wrote, on this occasion ; but of what
avail could it prove with the ignorant and short-sighted,
who put more trust in one honeyed phrase of the journal,
that flourished about the ' people' and their rights,' than
in all the arguments that reason, sustained even by revela
tion, could offer to show the fallacies and dangers of this
new doctrine. As a matter of course, the wiles of the
demagogue were not without fruits. Although every man
in the colony, either in his own person, or in that of his
parent or guardian, had directly entered into the covenants
of the fundamental law, as that law then existed, they now
began to quarrel with its provisions, and to advance doc
trines that would subvert everything as established, in
order to put something new and untried in its place.
Progress was the great desideratum; and change was the
hand-maiden of progress. A sort of ' puss in the corner'
game was started, which was to enable those who had no
places to run into the seats of those who had. This is a
favourite pursuit of man, all over the world, in monarchies
as well as in democracies ; for, after all that institutions
. can effect, there is little change in men by putting on, or
in taking off ermine and robes, or in wearing ' republican
simplicity,' in office or out of office ; but the demagogue is
nothing but the courtier, pouring out his homage in the
gutters, instead of in an ante-chamber.

Nor did the governor run into extremes in his attempts
J37*



438 THE CRATER;

to restrain the false reasoning and exaggerations of the
demagogue and his deluded, or selfish followers. Nothing
would be easier than to demonstrate that their notions of
the rights of numbers was wrong, to demonstrate that were
their theories carried out in practice, there could be, and
would be nothing permanent or settled in human affairs ;
yet not only did each lustrum, but each year, each month,
each week, each hour, each minute demand its reform.
Society must be periodically reduced to its elements, in
order to redress grievances. The governor did not deny
that men had their natural rights, at the very moment he
insisted that these rights were just as much a portion of
the minority as of the majority. He was perfectly willing
that equal laws should prevail, as equal laws did prevail in
the colony, though he was not disposed to throw every
thing into confusion merely to satisfy a theory. For a
long time, therefore, he opposed the designs of the new-
school, and insisted on his vested rights, as established in
the fundamental law, which had made him ruler for life.
But "it is hard to kick against the pricks." Although
the claim of the governor was in every sense connected
with justice, perfectly sacred, it could not resist the throes
of cupidity, selfishness, and envy. By this time, the news
paper, that palladium of liberty, had worked the minds of
the masses to a state in which the naked pretension of
possessing rights that were not common to everybody else
was, to the last degree, " tolerable and not to be endured."
To such a height did the fever of liberty rise, that men
assumed a right to quarrel with the private habits of the
governor and his family, some pronouncing him proud be
cause he did not neglect his teeth, as the majority did, eat
when they ate, and otherwise presumed to be of different
habits from those around him. Some even objected to
him because he spat in his pocket-handkerchief, and did
not blow his nose with his fingers.

All this time, religion was running riot, as well as poli
tics. The next-door neighbours hated each other most
sincerely, because they took different views of regenera
tion, justification, predestination and all the other subtle
ties of doctrine. What was remarkable, they who had the
most clouded notions of such subjects were the loudest in



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 439

their denunciations. Unhappily, the Rev. Mr. Hornblower,
who had possession of the ground, took a course which had
a tendency to aggravate instead of lessening this strife
among the sects. Had he been prudent, he would have
proclaimed louder than ever " Christ, and him crucified ;"
but, he made the capital mistake of going up and down,
crying with the mob, " the church, the church !" This
kept constantly before the eyes and ears of the dissenting
part of the population dissenting from his opinions if not
from an establishment the very features that were the
most offensive to them. By " the church" they did not
understand the same divine institution as that recognised
by Mr. Hornblower himself, but surplices, and standing
up and sitting down, and gowns, and reading prayers out
of a book, and a great many other similar observances,
which were deemed by most of the people relics of the
41 scarlet woman." It is wonderful, about what insignifi
cant matters men can quarrel, when they wish to fall out.
Perhaps religion, under these influences, had quite as
much to do with the downfall of the governor, which
shortly after occurred, as politics, and the newspaper, and
the new lawyer, all of which and whom did everything that
was in their power to destroy him.

At length, the demagogues thought they had made suf
ficient progress to spring their mine. The journal came
out with a proposal to call a convention, to alter and im
prove the fundamental law. That law contained a clause
already pointing out the mode by which amendments were
to be made in the constitution ; but this mode required the
consent of the governor, of the council, and finally, of the
people. It was a slow, deliberative process, too, one by
which men had time to reflect on what they were doing,
and so far protected vested rights as to render it certain
that no very great revolution could be effected under its
shadow. Now, the disaffected aimed at revolution at
carrying out completely the game of " puss in the corner,"
and it became necessary to set up some new principle by
which they could circumvent the old fundamental law.

This was very easily accomplished in the actual state of
the public mind ; it was only to carry out the doctrine of
the sway of the majority to a practical result; and this was



440 THE CRATER;

so cleverly done as actually to put the balance of power w
the hands of the minority. There is nothing new in this,
however, as any cool-headed man may see in this enlight
ened republic of our own, daily examples in which the
majority-principle works purely for the aggrandizement
of a minority clique. It makes very little difference how
men are ruled ; they will be cheated ; for, failing of rogues
at head-quarters to perform that office for them, they are
quite certain to set to work to devise some means of cheat
ing themselves. At the crater this last trouble was spared
them, the opposition performing that office in the following
ingenious manner.

The whole colony was divided into parishes, which ex
ercised in themselves a few of the minor functions of go
vernment. They had a limited legislative power, like the
American town meetings. In these parishes, laws were
passed, to require the people to vote ' yes' or ' no,' in order
to ascertain whether there should, or should not be, a con
vention to amend the constitution. About one-fourth of
the electors attended these primary meetings, and of the
ten meetings which were held, in six " yes" prevailed by
average majorities of about two votes in each parish. This
was held to be demonstration of the wishes of the majority
of the people to have a convention, though most of those
who staid away did so because they believed the whole
procedure not only illegal, but dangerous. Your hungry
demagogue, however, is not to be defeated by any scruples
so delicate. To work these elites of the colony went, to
organise an election for members of the convention. At
this election about a third of the electors appeared, the
candidates succeeding by handsome majorities, the rest
staying away because they believed the whole proceedings
illegal. Thus fortified by the sacred principle of the sway
of majorities, these representatives of a minority, met in
convention, and formed an entirely new fundamental law *
one, indeed, that completely subverted the old one, not
only in fact, but in theory. In order to get rid of the go
vernor to a perfect certainty, for it was known that he
could still command more votes for the office than anj
other man in the colony, one article provided that no per-
BOB should hold the office of governor, either prospective!^



OR, VULCAN'S PEAK. 441

or perspectively, more than five years, consecutively. This
placed Mr. Mark Woolston on the shelf at the next elec
tion. Two legislative bodies were formed, the old council
was annihilated, and everything was done that cunning



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 29) → online text (page 40 of 42)