Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

diminished the ignorance, poverty, and vice of the larger cities. Many of the most respectable families, both ladies and gentlemen, gratuitously engage in the labour of teaching the Sunday scholars, black and white, old and young. Their exertions have caused the Sabbath to be respected by the poor, the idle, and the profligate ; and have quickened the growth of piety, order, industry, and cleanliness, amidst the habitations of filth, indolence, confusion, and iniquity. Nor have the people of the United States, in proportion to their number and means, fallen short of their Christian brethren in Europe in well-directed efforts to disseminate the sacred Scriptures. In almost every state of the Union, north, east, west, and south, and in many separate districts of some of the states, have Bible societies started up, under the direction of zeal and wisdom. The American Bible Society, a national institution, established so recently as in May, 1816, has already (August, 1818) above 150 auxiHiary branches; besides which there are several independent associations for the distribution of Bibles and Common Prayer-books. The Missionary Societies are established for the purpose of converting the Indians, and also to supply with pious instruction the many thousands of their own people who are altogether destitute of religious ordinances. The labours of these societies have been singularly beneficial, and are daily and hourly augmenting in usefulness. The morals, manners, and character of every country are founded upon its religious and social institutions, which in the United States are framed in the fulness of individual liberty; leaving every one to think, speak, and act according to his own inclination and views, provided his conduct does not tend to injure his neighbours. Great mistakes may be committed by judging of the American character from what is to be seen in the seaports. The commercial cities of America are like those of other countries, and principle is often sacrificed at the shrine of commerce. To view the character of the American people fairly, we must go into the interior, and there the first remark will probably be, that the inhabitants have a high spirit of independence, and will brook no superiority. Every man is conscious of his own political importance, and will suffer none to treat him with disrespect: nor is this disposition confined to one rank; it pervades the whole, and is probably the best security for the liberties of the country. It has been sometimes remarked, that this disposition may encourage rudeness; but there is no truth

in this observation. As the people will bend to no superiority, so they really affect none; and it is certainly a or. own fault if he does not enjoy happiness among enn. It is very common for many selfish and short-sighted people in Britain to set up their own country as the model of all perfection, and to doubt the existence of equal advantages any where else; and to no country has this doubt

been more extended than to the United States of America. ,

It is really surprizing to see, that notwithstanding the great intercourse between the two countries, there should be so much ignorance, or rather misinformation, in Great Britain respecting America. Any unprejudiced observer must be obliged to acknowledge, that the American people possess a polish of manners, and speak a style of language, which must be the result of education, at least equal to what exists in Britain. And this does not appear to be confined to large towns, but to extend over the whole

of the United States. The habits and manners of the United States are considerably influenced by the eager appetite for the acquisition of wealth, which is necessarily the great absorbing passion of all new and thinly-settled countries;–and also by the perpetual proneness to mingle in the party-politics of the day, which is the natural consequence of popular and democratic institutions. Of course these pursuits prevail most in the large cities, because they afford the greatest facilities of commercial enterprize, and the busiest scene of political exertion. In America, as well as in England, politics is a very popular subject, and the question between the parties is not generally understood. It appears to have arisen about the time when the federal constitution was adopted; which having occasioned many animated debates, both public and private, those who supported it were called federalists, and those who opposed it anti-federalists : and though it has now received the sanction of the whole community, yet the party distinction still subsists under the names of federalists and democrats. Both parties, however, profess republicanism, and are styled federal republicans, and democratic republicans ; but the political difference between them is entirely distinct from that existing between chig and tory in Britain; where the question is whether the power of government shall be vested in the people or in the crown.—in America it is whether it shall be confided to this or that set of men. The trading spirit is diffused all over the Union: farmers, mechanics, soldiers, seamen, lawyers, legislators,

- - - I - - - -

physicians, nay, sometimes even the clergy indulge in mercantile speculations; even politics themselves give way to the universal desire of amassing money. The peculiár circumstances of the republic have conspired to foster the growth of this commercial disposition. During twenty-five years, while war impoverished and wasted Europe, commerce enriched the United States with a rapidity, and to an extent unexampled in the history of nations. Since the peace of 1815, indeed, the diminution of their foreign trade, and the amazing number of insolvencies, ought to teach them to moderate their inordinate desire for wealth, and that extravagance of expenditure far surpassing the rate of living among the corresponding classes in Europe. The great body of the American people being of English origin, they resemble their parent country in a very striking degree; modified indeed by the diversities of goyernment, soil, climate, and condition of society. Being, however, all under the influences of the same language, religion, laws, and policy, the several states which compose the Union present substantially the same character, with only a few shades of local variety. All the state governments are elective and popular, the full sovereignty residing in the people, who therefore feel a sense of personal importance and elevation unknown to the mass of population in any other country. To which add their ge: neral intelligence, abundance, enterprize, and spirit, and we see a people at least equal to those of any other nation in physical, intellectual, and moral capacity and power. . In the New England states, property is more equally divided than in any other civilized country. . There are but few overgrown capitalists, and still fewer plunged into the depths of indigence. Those states are alike free from the insolence of wealth on one hand, and the servility of pauperism on the other. They exhibit a more perfect equality in means, morals, manners, and character than has ever elsewhere been found. With the exception of Rhode-Island, they all support religion by law; their numerous parish priests, all chosen by the people themselves, moderately paid, and in general well informed and pious, are continually employed on the sabbaths, and during the week days, in the instruction and amendment of their respective congregations: elementary schools are established in every township, and perhaps not a native of New-England is to be found who cannot read, write, and cast accounts. They live universally in villages or modertely-sized towns, and carry on their commercial, manuacturing, and agricultural operations by the voluntary

labour of freemen, and not by the compelled or half-paid labour of slaves, black or white. In sobriety of manners, in intelligence, spirit, and enterprize, the New-England men and those of Scotland are very much alike. Dr. Currie, late of Liverpool, in his elegant biography of the poet Burns, enters at length into the causes which have rendered the great body of the Scottish people so very superior to those of any other European country. The result of his reasoning is, that this national superiority is owing to the combined efforts of the system of parish schools giving to ALL the means of elementary education, and of a moderately-paid, able, and well-informed clergy, coming into constant contact with, and instructing and regulating the people: to which he adds, as no trifling auxiliary, the absence of those poor-lates which have impoverished degraded, and corrputed the whole people of England. In the United States they have also unfortunately adopted the poor-law system; which, so far as it has yet operated, has proved a canker-worm gnawing at the heart's core of the national morals, prosperity, and strength. The American people, however, possess one decided advantage over those of every other country, namely, that of the political sovereignty residing in themselves; whence they exhibit in their own persons a moral fearlessness, confidence, and elevation, unknown and unimagined elsewhere. A native free-born American knows no superior on earth; from the cradle to the grave he is taught to believe that all public officers are his servants; and while in all other countries the people are continually flattering and praising their rulers, the very reverse is the case in America, and the rulers are obliged to bow to the supreme power of the people. It may, upon the whole, be safely asserted, that the New-England population is not inferior to any in the world for steady habits, dauntless courage, intelligence, interprize, perseverance—in all the qualities necessary to render a nation first in war and first in peace. In the middle states the population is not so national and unmixed as in New-England, whose inhabitants are altogether of English origin. They do not support religion by law; and a considerable portion of their people are destitute of a clergyman, even in the state of New York, and a still gréater proportion in some of the other middle states. Elementary schools are not sufficiently numerous, particularly in Pennsylvania, many of whose inhabitants can Leither read nor write. "o, is not so equally divided, and the distinction of ric and poor is more broadly marked than in New-Eng

land. Many of their settlements are more recent, and exhibit the physical, intellectual, and moral disadvan: tages of new settlements, in the privations, ignorance, and irreligion of the settlers; who were composed of many different nations, having no one common object in view, either in regard to religious, moral, or social institutions. The English, Dutch, Germans, French, Irish, Scotch, Swiss, &c. have not yet had time and opportunity to be all melted down into one common national mass of American character. The slaves in this section of the Union are more numerous than in New-England, and in Maryland they are sufficiently so to influence and derogate from the character"of the people. The moral habits of the middle states, generally, are more lax than those of New-England. New York, indeed, partly from proximity of situation, but chiefly from its continual acquisition of emigrants from the eastern states, is rapidly assuming a New-England character and aspect. In the southern states, religion receives no support from the law; and a very large proportion of the inhabitants are destitute of regular preaching and religious instruction. The elementary schools are few, and in general not well administered;—many of the white inhabitants cannot even read. Labour in most parts is performed chiefly by slaves; and slavery here, as every where else, has corrupted the public morals. The mulattoes are increasing very rapidly; and, perhaps, in the lapse of years, the black, white, and yellow population will be incorporated into one indiscriminate mass. Duelling and gaming are very prevalent; and, together with other vices, require the restraining power of religion and morality to check their progress towards national ruin. But when speaking of the gradual relaxation of morals in the United States, as we pass from the north and east to the south and west, it is to be understood that the American ladies, are not included in this unavoidable censure. In no nation under the canopy of heaven do female virtue and purity hold a higher rank than in the Union ; where there are no instances of those domestic infidelities which dishonour so many families in other countries. The ladies of America make virtuous and affectionate wives, kind and indulgent mothers; are, in general, easy, affable, intelligent, and well-bred; their manners presenting a happy medium between the too distant reserve and forbidding coldness of the English, and the too obvious, too intrusive behaviour of the French women. Their demeanour has a strong resemblance to that of the Irish and

« AnteriorContinuar »