Thomas Colley Grattan.

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clergy of all creeds, the subserviency of many among the
gentry and the middle classes to the domineering great —
these are among the causes of evils which are admitted
and deplored. ParUament is busily employed for their
redress. Our most eloquent authors and speakers wage
an unceasing war against the prevalence of those abuses
in our social system. Numberless societies exist for their
amelioration. Funds to a large amount are subscribed to
carry out the various projects of improvement. No body
of men of any influence, no individuals of either sex,
venture to palUate the existence of these ills ; nor does
any one object to the interference of foreigners, whether
exerted in England or elsewhere, in pointing out,
or devising remedies for, our abounding defects. But
were those blots upon our boasted greatness ten times
more disfiguring than they are, were our priests more
bigotted, our peers more haughty, our commoners
more cringing, our Parliament less active — did the

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sempstresses work their worn fingers still closer to the
bone, or sordid mill-owners drive their operatives still
faster to exhaustion, or were all the vices inherent in our
nature, and inseparable from civilization a thousand fold
greater than they are among us, could all that combina-
tion justify slavery in America 1 Could southern slave-
holders be acquitted at the bar of Public Justice for
maintaining, or cotton buyers at the north for defending
it ? or should Englishmen be debarred from publicly
denouncing what they all abhor ? The fact is that it
cannot be defended, nor palliated — and what is worse,
there is but small chance of its being soon remedied, and
none that I can see of its being finally abolished.
Admitting all this, we in England would be quite satisfied
if Americans admitted it as well. If a bold and straight-
forward sentiment of Anti-Slavery existed in the United
States— if what is undeniable as a fact was avowed to be
an abomination — and if means were adopted to abate it,
ever so insuflBcient, or with results ever so remote, the
reproaches of Europe would cease, sarcasm be still, and
America be cordially met and co-operated with on the
broad road of philanthropy.

But as long as the country which boasts of liberty
cherishes slavery in its very heart, as long as the States
which are really free fraternize with those that hold
bondage as a privilege and make man an article of barter
and sale, as long as the spinners of cotton make common
cause with those who grow it, and while both combine to
cnish the generous few who fight the battle of Emanci-
pation, so long will the voice of the Old World be raised
against those obnoxious portions of the New.

And — finally to dispose of this " great argument " —
admitting from the inferiority of the negro race that its

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bondage is an allowable result, its operation only warrants
the enslaving of the absolute, or what the Americans
designate " the full-blooded '^ negro, the manifest black,
who is stamped by nature with that fatal brand which
proclaims the inferiority, and vindicates the enslavement.
But when this degrading stain is, generation after genera-
tion, so weakened as to be almost entirely effaced, when
amalgamation has done its work, and the struggle of
white against black has been so triumphant that no
visible trace of the latter is left, when the complexion is
clear, the features symmetrical, the form graceful, the
individual a model of female beauty, what possible excuse
is left for the law that condemns such a being to chains
and stripes, to private indignity and public sale 1 The
predominance of colour is beyond denial white. The
distinction of race decided ; and no perceptible tinge ot
African descent. Yet this fair, accomplished, educated
woman, is legally a chattel, liable to be seized wherever
found, and sold in the public slave mart. Quadroons
are in all the slave states, but chiefly in Louisiana, bred
for slavery and "held to'* prostitution, as the most
valuable property which the odious system can supply.
And this is the chief damning fact of the argument that
would make " involuntary servitude ** the inevitable
destiny of an inferior race.

The Slave Trade with Africa is a question entirely
distinct from the one I have been treating. It is out ot
the province of this work, and it would be peculiarly
indiscreet at the present moment for any unofficial and
unauthorized person to enter upon it in public discussion,
at the risk of doing mischief, and without the chance of
doing good. It is now in the hands of Her Majesty's
Government, and they are in communication upon it with

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that of the United States and with the Emperor of the
French. Some recent events — the visiting of American
ships by our cruizers in the Gulf of Mexico, the seizure
of a slaver, and the liberation of the remains of its living
cargo, by a vessel of the United States, and that of the
French ship the " Charles-Georges '" by the Portuguese
authorities, have occurred in close conjunction, and have
brought the whole concentrated points of the question to
an issue. The interests of the world at large are at stake,
and their importance will, it is to be hoped, ensure a rea-
sonable, prompt, and we may trust, a permanent solution.
In the meantime, the declamation of American slave-
holders and their Northern allies may be safely allowed to
pass unrefuted — they may declare their belief (I have
heard them declare it within the last few months) that
the slave trade will be revived with the sanction of England
within five years, and that the whole world is on the
point of acknowledging the justice, expediency, and abso-
lute necessity, of their system. We may however hope
that the watchful antagonism of the world against such
doctrines will not slumber, but that England will keep the
place she has so long maintained at the head of the anti-
slavery movement, ready as ever to continue her sacrifices
in the cause, and to follow up by every moral means of
persuasion, remonstrance and example, an object which
would not justify, and probably could never be attained
by, War.

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luaugaration of Mr. Polk— Oregon Qaestion — ^BritiBh Golumbia-^Rapid Decline in
Influential Men in the United States — ^Despondency of the Whigs — Elation
of the Democrats — Mexican War — Last Viait to Washington — Desultory
ReflectionB — ^Discipline — In the Army — ^In Civil Life— The AmeriosnB a
Military People — Obedience to Authority — ^Definition of Lynch Law — Its
Practical Effect — Not dangerous to the Institutions of the Country.

As I am nearly approaching th,e termination of my
work, many subjects press upon me, and I must request
my readers to excuse a somewhat incongruous mixture of
materials for its closing chapters ; while I must necessarily
leave several subjects worth remark wholly untouched.

Washington, without the presence of Mr. Clay, was
deprived of one of its greatest attractions. But there
were always objects of interest there, both public and
private, to repay the trouble of a journey ; and a Pre-
sidential inauguration had elements in it, no matter who
were the chief personages in the scene, that excited
curiosity, were sure to give amusement, and contained
many chances for something agreeable turning up. Such
was the case in March, 1845, when I was next there, and
Mr. Polk had come to take possession of his honours and
the White House, vacated by his predecessor Mr. John

The inauguration and its f(&tes formed a very indifferent
spectacle. No enthusiasm could possibly circle round men

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of such second or third rate calibre as those who now
filled the chief places in the government. The whole of
the " scenery, machinery, and decorations,*' as well as the
principal actors, had been changed; and public affairs
offered but little excitement. Society, however, though
many of its ornaments had been removed, was still agree-
able. The Corps diplomatique was always there as a
rallying point, and several of the private houses were as
usual open freely to visitors.

The burning of the Theatre at this period was an event
that caused some local emotion, though fortunately no
lives were lost ; and a new subject of dispute with England,
the Oregon question, was soon involved in the intricacies
of a diplomatic correspondence, in which, as usual, the
Americans had the best of the argument, owing chiefly,
as I believe (from the best English authority), to the
very ingenious (not ingenuous) manner in which it was
handled by the then Secretary of State, who is now in his
turn the present President.

I have already entered so much at length into the
history of two memorable transactions relating to increase
of territory, that I will here barely allude tO' this one, of
Oregon, which offered no great interest from either the
subject or its negotiators. A good deal of blustering, and
as I can well believe, some chicanery, on the part of the
United States, ended in a settlement which gave to
England that fine territory, the value of which was little
imagined at the time ; but which now, under the title of
British Columbia, affords an opportunity to a man of
genius to prove, that the highest order of literary fame
is not incompatible with the great business of official
colonial management.

Year after year, as my stay in the United States was

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drawing to an end, the country lost by degrees the far
greater part of its interest for me. The most remarkable
of the public men were rapidly disappearing altogether
from the scene of life, or withdrawing from the struggles
to which their rivalry had given eclat The great game
of pohtics was fast losing its importance, the area of its
exhibition became narrowed, while it was played by those
whose greatest skill seemed but trickery, and who were not
capable of conceiving the bold moves of their more daring,
but not more scrupulous, predecessors. It was pitiable
to mark the succession of adventurers, who so quickly
became prominent, and the tone of despondency which
pervaded all the better regulated minds. The lofty hopes
of philanthropists seemed fading away before every false
step which the country was, as they believed, making.
Every one of those appeared to lead inevitably to another
still more disastrous ; and to quote a burst of American
eloquence on the painful state of things, " a profound
sigh seemed to be wrung from the nation's heart ; tears,
such as Cato might have wept, were shed from manly
eyes ; and many of its truest friends began to despair of
the republic."*

This was, however, only one side of the question. A
large majority of the millions whose will gave the law,
saw a boundless expanse of greatness and glory before
the advancing destiny of the country. Both parties
were convinced of their own sagacity ; and it is an axiom
as old as Plato, that whatever appears true to each
man's individual mind, is true for him. Events, the great
test which alone can prove a speculative truth, were
hurrying on.

♦ '* Life of Henry Clay," by Epes Sargent ; edited by Horace Oreely.

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War with Mexico was the inevitable consequence of
the Annexation of Texas ; and it was no doubt an item in
the plans of American politicians by whom that policy of
spoliation was effected. The prophetic Yoice of Channing
in its dying sounds, denounced the transaction and pretty
accurately foretold its results. As the best known in
England of all the many writers who treated that subject
in the same tone, I will insert a portion of his published
letter to Mr. Clay, which, eloquent and truthful as it is,
produced small effect on the consciences or convictions of
the American Government and its supporters.* The
extent of its predictions has not as yet been ratified by
results ; nor would it be prudent to anticipate or reckon
on their entire fulfilment. Channing, as a moralist and a
Christian, held a high rank ; but I doubt if he always took
the true measure of public characters, or saw largely into the
depths of political combinations. In prognosticating a war
on the part of England to sustain the integrity of Mexico
against American aggression, he was certainly at fault.
English statesmen have not come forward as the champions
of " oppressed nationalities," even when the interests of
England itself seemed to be involved. The complications
of European affairs forbid the chivalric interference which
high and generous feeling would prompt, and tyranny too
often scorns the remonstrances which are not followed up
by blows. The words of Dr. Channing found many an
echo in the public, but fell dead on the political minds of
his countrymen, and the inevitable war was soon prepared
for, provoked, and entered on.

* See Appendix.

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The Mexican Minister at Washington had announced to
the Goyernment there that the act of the Annexation of
Texas could only be considered as tantamont to a decla-
ration of war, and the first measure of actual aggression
on the part of the United States, the advance of General
Taylor and his forces into the neutral and still disputed
territory between the two counties was of course con-
sidered as the commencement of hostilities. It was in
vain that Clay, Gallatin, Webster, and all the other poli-
ticians of that school proclaimed in their writings and
speeches the unjust proceedings of the United States.
The only answer by the Government and Congress was a
levy of 50,000 volunteers ; and within two years, from
March, 1846 to February, 1848, the whole of Mexico was
subjugated, after an obstinate resistance, and several actions,
of which General Scott was the chief commander, and
Zachary Taylor the principal hero. The vain pretensions
of Scott to the next Presidential vacancy were passed
over, and Taylor, whom he superseded in Mexico, left
him in the back ground at Washington, also beating
his democratic opponent General Cass, whose chief dis-
tinction at that time was, like that of another of those
lawyer-and-attorney Generals, Caleb Gushing, a bitter
enmity to England which latter has, I believe, in no way

The conquest of Mexico, and the consequent large
accession of territory, including the valuable acquisition
of California, aflforded unquestionable proofs of energy,
courage, and discipline in the American people. I left the
country, not to return, during the progress of the war ;
and I had previously two further opportunities of looking
on in Washington at the march of events and the men
by whom they were directed. My last visit was in the

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summer of 1846, in that hot, dull season when the Capitol
being empty, Pennsylvania Avenue deserted, and the White
House dependant for attraction on the social qualities of
its temporary occupants, I found little to regret in taking
my last leave of the place where I had spent so many
pleasant days.

In reference to the subject I have been more imme-
diately touching on, some reflections arise on one very
remarkable quality of the people I am now so nearly
parting with, though they may wander into less important
associations than those from which they spring.

The Americans appear to me to possess, beyond all
other people, the instinct of discipline. I mean this in its
highest sense, according to the distinction pointed out by
the Duke of Wellington in one of his letters — " Habits of
obedience to orders as well as military instruction." This
peculiarity extends, in a very extraordinary degree,
through the portions of the country which I have visited ;
and its development has decided me in ranking the United
States among the military nations of the earth. Mere
animal courage forms a very common element towards
that character. Most men and all people will fight. The
Irishman flourishing his shillelah, the Switzer levelling
his rifle, the Spaniard wielding his knife, are all brave,
and can all be drilled into discipline. But the spirit of
order pervading a whole population, by the influence
of which men are soldiers ready made, is the national
quality which I saw so eminently displayed in the United

Obedience to authority is supposed by superficial
observers to be repugnant to the spirit and the practice
of the American people. This is a great mistake ; and I
account for it by believing that those who formed the

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opinioA have only had in yiew the positive, and at times
obstinate, resistance offered by the people at large to
certain encroachments of executive power, or to judicial
decisions which the general sense pronounced to be unjust.
That such instances have occasionally occurred is unques-
tionable, and that deplorable violations of law and acts of
great violence may be cited is equally a fact. But it is,
in the first place, to be remarked that such excesses are
common in all the civilized countries of Europe ; and, in
the second, it should be remembered that they may be
considered as inseparable from the workings of a demo-
cratic constitution. Local outbreaks of popular force are
the natural consequence of power lodged in the people at
large. Human nature, with all its impulses, its passions,
and its imperfections, is liable to those explosions, as the
elemental harmonies are interrupted at times by storms,
or as the mortal frame is subject to febrile eruptions or
internal spasms. Occasional popular excess is the price
paid for self-government ; and it is absurd to be surprized
at a burst of mob fury, while we complacently consider
tyrannical outrage as quite consistent (however odious)
in a single despot. The true way of becoming reconciled
to the lamentable irregularities of our social existence is
to consider it in the nature of a compromise, to be con-
tent with the fiat that has doomed it to imperfection, but
to labour to lessen its deficiencies.

And in largely considering the social and political
system of the United States, I confess it appears to me
marvellous that so little is to be found exceptionable
in the conduct of things. It ' should never be forgotten
that, on the formation of the Federal Constitution, very
little confidence was entertained of its well-working even
by its framers. The debates in the convention assembled

VOL. n.

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for the purpose, as lately published in the Madison ^pers,
show that fact very plainly. The constitution was con-
sidered merely as a great experiment. It has been now
in action for seventy years, and latterly on a scale of
seven-fold its original extent. When it is remembered
that inventions of machinery which perform their func-
tions admirably in the narrow sphere of the original
models, often fail when adapted to the practical pur-
poses of science on a larger scale, it must strike us as
astonishing that this constitution, framed for the uses
of four millions of men, has up to this day been found
to work so well for the governance of thirty millions
and more.

This great result is to be attributed to the good sense
of these " milUons ;" for, had the masses been deficient in
that quality, their leaders could not by any arguments
have kept things straight. And when it is considered
that those leaders are the very individuals who have
formed the chief exceptions to the general propriety, and
that it is among them that instances of imprudence and
outbreaks of selfish violence have been most frequent, the
people at large deserve a still greater share of our admi-
ration and respect. Indeed, the greater my experience of
the country, the more did I esteem the masses, and the
less did individuals seem to merit regard. It is certainly
in pubUc that the national character appears to most
advantage — at large meetings, political or otherwise, at
great festivals, in steamboats, railroad trains, &c. ; and the
thing which of all others was the most striking and most
wonderful to me was that instinct of discipline by which
the greatest portion of. the general good is established
and maintained.

This pervading quality may be seen all through the

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social i^jstem. Beginning with the immense concourses
which are brought together during election times, such as I
hare described in a preceding chapter, many thousands
meet together, are regularly organised like military bodies,
divided into platoons, companies, battalions, brigades,
under the command of "marshals;'' and thus com-
manded, these large bodies mancBuvre, and disperse, with
an order and regularity as complete as that of any army
at a review. Interruptions or accidents of the slightest
kind are extremely rare on these occasions. The spirit
of subordination is perfect, and is a guarantee against all

It is the same with regard to public entertainments. On
such occasions the Americans are not satisfied, as with us,
that each individual should buy his ticket and repair to the
banquet-hall as best suits his convenience. With them a
certain parade-ground is always fixed on, where the pre-
sident of the feast and his assistants, invited guests, and
all those who hold tickets by purchase, are called on by
advertisements to assemble ; and, being duly marshalled
into proper order, they march, preceded by a band of
music, to the dining place through the most pubUc
thorough&res. It has been my lot to walk in those pro-
cessions, which are by no means confined to miUtary
celebrations. I have had for my right or left hand file
Judge Story, Grovemor Everett, the venerable ex-
President John Quincy Adams, and other distinguished
civilians on such occasions, and I have invariably re-
marked the precision with which they all attended to
the keeping of time and distance, and the other duties
of the drill

Large public balls are conducted with much of the
same management Committees are formed to supervise

a o 2

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each particular branch of the matter in hand. Some take
charge of the decorations, others of the music^ others of
the formation of the dancing groups, of the supper, the
reception-rooms, and so on; and in each compartment
several gentlemen are to be seen, all through the evening
and night, performing with indefatigable zeal the most
fatiguing and monotonous offices, entirely from a sense of
duty, and sustained by the pride of discipline, which seems
the ruling principle among them.

Let us next look at the management of the hotels and
inns, great and small, and of the boarding-houses which
abound throughout the country. In every one of
these establishments rules are made with a severity and
observed with a strictness that would be remarkable
anywhere, but which in a country of such boasted
independence, are truly surprizing. The master of the
hotel, very often a colonel or major of miHtia (titles that
are frequently borne by even the bar-keepers) is a perfect
despot. He fixes and changes hours, orders his waiters,
aud controls his customers with an air of command that
might be supposed to arise from his military rank ; but
the merest old woman who is mistress of a boarding-house
exercises an equal amount of authority. The most arbi-
trary and capricious regulations are submitted to by the
lodgers with a deference that is at times laughable.
They fly to the sound of the gong or bell with the
forced alacrity of soldiers rushing from their .barrack-rooms
at the bugle's call. To be a minute late for any meal
seems looked on as a breach of duty. The ease, comfort,
or convenience of individuals is never thought of in the
arrangements of the house. Gentlemen are removed from
one room to another without their consent being asked,
and often in defiance of their wish. Every one submits.

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if not cheerfully at least without remonstrance/ to the
rules for the general convenience, which can only be
caused by a pervading good sense that consults the
" greatest happiness of the greatest number/' or, what is
less utilitarian but more likely — that instinct of discipline
to which I have previously alluded.

Online LibraryThomas Colley GrattanCivilized America → online text (page 35 of 42)