Page images
PDF
EPUB

themselves by becoming the advocates of their more fortunate brethren, who have obtained places under the president.

The respect which is withheld from the sages of the law does not appear, from Mr. Bristed, to be transferred in any inconvenient degree to the ministers of religion. A church establishment, founded on liberal principles, is one of those blessings to which we are indebted for innumerable benefits: an order of men, selected from all descriptions and classes, from the sons of the peer to those of the trader and the farmer, and set apart to cultivate knowledge, diffuse religion, and promote virtue, must, in spite of individual exceptions, produce a more abundant and beneficial influence than can be disa pensed by any other means. This blessing our transatlantic brethren cannot be said to enjoy.

Mr. Bristed's account of the state of religion in America deserves the consideration, and, we will add, the commiseration of our readers.

• The late president Dwight declared, in 1812, that there were three millions of souls in the United States, entirely destitute of all' religious ordinances and worship. It is also asserted, by good authority, that in the southern and western states societies exist, built on the model of the transalpine clubs in Italy and the atheistic assemblies of France and Germany, and, like them, incessantly labouring to root out every vestige of Christianity: so that in a few years we are in danger of being overfun with unbaptised infidels, the most atrocious and remorseless banditti that infest and desolate human society.

• Indeed many serious people doubt the permanence of the Federal Constitution, because in that national compact there is no reference to the providence of God: We, the people, being the constitutional substitute for Jehovah.

• Of national religion we have not much to boast; a few of our state governments, particularly in New England, and recently in New York, do acknowledge God as the governor among the nations, and occasionally recommend" (for they have no power to appoint) days to be set apart for general fasting, prayer and thanksgiving. But the greater number of the states declare it to be unconstitutional to refer to the providence of God in any of their public acts; and Virginia carries this doctrine so far as not to allow any chaplain officiate in her state legislature; giving as a reason, by an overwhelming majority of her representatives, in December, 1817, that the constitution permits no one religious sect to have preference to any other; and, therefore, as a chaplain must belong to some sect, it would be UNCONSTITUTIONAL for the Virginian legislators to listen to his prayers or preaching,

In the winter of 1814-15 the legislature of Louisiana rejected, by an immense majority, a bill “ For the better observance of the Sabbath; for punishing the crime of sodomy; for preventing the detacing of churches; for shutting the stores and theatres on Sundays, and for other purposes :" the chief opposer of the bill declaring, on the legislative floor, " that such persecuting intolerance might well suit the New

A 4

England

England puritans, who were descended from the bigoted fanatics of Old England, who were great readers of the Bible, and, consequently, IGNORANT, PREJUDICED, COLD-BLOODED, FALSE AND CRUEL; but could never be fastened on the more enlightened, liberal and philosophical inhabitants of Louisiana, the descendants of Frenchmen.”—p. 394.

The system of public education (if system it may be called) is precisely what those precious fruits of it may be supposed to indicate. With other feelings than those of satisfaction we cannot but advert to the small number of books published in America, (where, as we learn from Mr. Bristed, the number of readers is so considerable,) which have any tendency to improve the mind or enlighten the understanding. It is true that many of our most popular writings are reprinted in the United States; but, if we might venture to judge at this distance, we should say that the valuable part of our productions are less widely disseminated than those of a light, a worthless, or a pernicious tendency. Ages may pass away before America will find either leisure or inclination for the study of Bacon, Locke and Newton; but in the interim fitter substitutes might surely be procured for them than the polluted trash of our Jacobinical press. The evil, however, is deeply rooted. In every part of this vast country, the institutions for education are evidently on too low a scale: they can do no more than create mediocrity in learning; and, indeed, till the country, by being more thickly peopled, causes a greater division of labour than yet exists, till there shall be a sufficient field for men of learning to acquire reputation and rank by their talents, independent of the pecuniary advantages which may or may not arise from them, America can scarcely be expected to make any very considerable advancement in literature. Meanwhile, she may derive what consolation she can from the reflection that this low state of education, with all its concomitant vices, is the natural consequence of that spirit of republicanism on which she mainly prides herself. The early independence which it encourages has, according to Mr. Bristed, a most injurious and wide-spreading effect.

Strictly speaking, indeed, (he says, there is no such thing as social subordination in the United States. Parents have no command over their children, nor teachers over their scholars, nor lawyers nor physicians over their pupils, nor farmers over their labourers, nor merchants over their clerks, carmen ånd porters, nor masters over their servants. All are equal, all do as they list, and all are free not to work, except the master, who must himself be a slave if he means his business to prosper, for he has no controul over any other head, eyes, or hands than his own. Owing, perhaps, to the very popular nature of our institutions, the American children are seldom taught that profound reverence for, and strict obedience to, their parents, which are at once the basis of domesțic comfort and of the welfare of the children themselves. Of course, where there is no parental authority there can be no discipline in schools and colleges. If a preceptor presume to strike or effectually punish a boy, he most probably loses at least one scholar, perhaps more. And, as no inconvenience attaches to a boy's being expelled from school or college, the teachers have no authority, nor learning no honour, in the United States.'-p. 459.

where

While America, with a perversity which cannot be too much regretted, has deserted her model in the grave and important instances which we have just mentioned, she has chosen to copy it in one of its most defective parts. Our system of poor laws is radically bad. There is scarcely a statesman or philosopher in this country who would advocate their re-establishment if they were once abolished. The conviction of the injury done by them to the industry, to the prudence, to the regard for reputation, to the charities of domestic life, and to the sobriety and honesty of the poor, is strong and universal, and the general study is, how to remove the evil with as little inconvenience as is compatible with the interests created by such long existing institutions, and with as little temporary suffering as possible. Whilst by ages of painful experience we have arrived at this conviction, America has just commenced the ruinous system; and is beginning to feel the evils which it must produce, and which will spread there with even greater rapidity than they have done with us.

Some of our States,' says Mr. Bristed, particularly that of New York, have borrowed the English system of poor laws. On account of their extensive territory, comparatively with their population, abundance of employment and sustenance, the United States do not suffer so much from the poor laws as England. But as far as they go, they produce substantial evil unmingled with any good.'

This city in which Mr. Bristed himself resides) contains about one hundred thousand inhabitants of various colours and countries. During the winter of 1817, fifteen thousand of them, he says,' or one seventh of the whole population, received aid from the hand of public and private charity,' and the number of destitute poor. averaged an augmentation far exceeding the rate of its actual increase in population. Nor can it be concealed that the leprosy of wickedness and crime has tainted the lower class of citizens in an awful degree. Here are three thousand houses licensed to sell spirituous liquors, and, in addition, great numbers of cellars and vaults where ardent spirits are vended without licences; wbilst in London, with more than ten times its population, the number scarcely exceeds four thousand.

Whilst lamenting this dreadful aggregation of wretchedness, Mr. Bristed is not inattentive to the political effects which the laws thus blindly borrowed from us must inevitably produce.

It is unnecessary (he says) to expatiate on a fact established by the experience of all history; namely, that whenever the lower orders of the community are generally corrupted in their morals, the death-warrant of their civil and religious liberties is already signed. And if such an event has uniformly taken place in the governments of the old world, where the people are not suffered to exercise any great share of political power, or enjoy any great portion of political rights and previleges, how much more certain and speedy must be the desolation in the United States, all of whose governments have their foundations laid broad and deep on the popular sovereignty, and all of whose institutions rest, ultimately, upon the basis of popular opinion? It requires no prophetic inspiration to foretel the rapid dissolution of a government, planted in the soil of universal suffrage, when once its electors have become deaf to the calls of duty, by the long continued habit of iniquity, and when the mere sale of their votes to the highest bidder may be considered as one of the least dark in the long catalogue of their accustomed crimes.'

During the thirty-five years which have elapsed since the recognition of their independence, the population of America has advanced from two and a half to nearly eight millions: a great increase; but considering the vast emigration caused by the tempestuous state of Europe and her settlements, not so rapid as that which preceded their independence. The increase of the slaves and people of colour appears to have been in a much greater proportion than that of the white population, and it is not improbable that in a few generations the negro race will exceed the whites in all except the eastern states. The number of slaves in the United States is now above two millions, and, including the free negroes, the black population of America constitutes more than one fourth part of the whole. This is weakness, not strength; for, besides deducting their own numbers, some portion of the effective power of the community must ever, in war, be employed in watching and guarding them. Mr. Bristed remarks,

Whilst the slave-holding system exists, the division of the negroes, the vigilance of the overseer, the fear of the driver's lash, and the horrible torments inflicted upon servile contumacy, may prevent the blacks from uniting and exterminating their masters. Although Mr. Randolph on the floor of Congress, declared, that even now, whenever the midnight bell tolls the alarm of fire in any of the towns or cities of Virginia, every mother clasps her infant to her bosom, in agonizing expectation that the tocsin is sounding the cry of a general negro insurrection; and warning the devoted victims of the near approach of indiscriminate pillage, rape, murder and conflagration.'-p.390.

• The free blacks, (he adds) which swarm in our northern and middle states, are generally idle, vicious, and profligate, with no sense of moral obligation. For some winters past a gang of free blacks used to amuse themselves in the city of New York, by setting fire to whole rows of houses, for the purpose of pilfering amidst the confusion and horror of

the

the flames. In the winter of 1816-17 a negro was hanged for this crime, and fires have been proportionally scarce ever since. A hint this, which might be rendered profitable,' (in other countries besides America) if our state legislators would strengthen the criminal code, and recommend our house-breakers, highway-robbers, and forgers to the gallows, instead of providing them with a comfortable domicile in the state prison for a season, and then letting them out to renew their depredations upon the public.'

With all this, however, Mr. Bristed pronounces that the American people possess the materials of moral greatness superior to those of any other country'! We know that wherever there are human beings, Providence has furnished materials for happiness to those who erect a tirın foundation, and use those materials with skill and judgment. Whether the Americans are likely to do so, it will be early enough to inquire when the following important objects,' which, with many others, (notwithstanding the superabundance of building natter,) their panegyrist enumerates as still wanting to perfect this paramount structure of moral greatness,' shall be erased from the list of desiderata.' 1.' To augment the power of the general government.' 2.. To tighten the cords and strengthen the stakes of the federal union.' 3. "To organise a judicious system of national finance.' 4. "To provide for the more general diffusion of religious worship.' 5. To enlarge and elevate the system of liberal education: and, 6. To increase the dimensions, and exalt the standard of their literature, art, and science. How this is to be accomplished we are not told, and we cannot comprehend. It strikes us, however, that with such a formidable catalogue of indispensable requisites'—to the supply of which (by his own admission) the selfishness, vanity, ignorance, and profligacy of the people oppose the most invincible obstacles, Mr. Bristed might, without much peril to his consistency, have adopted a more modest, tone in vaunting of the superior materials for moral greatness possessed by the Americans.'

Possessing an extensive territory, with an insufficient quantity of capital to occupy it, America must necessarily be an agricultural country until labour shall become more abundant than land; a period not likely to arrive for some centuries. The tide of population, at present, is rapidly extending itself towards the banks of the Mississippi, the Ohio, and the Missouri; there it spreads over a vast surface, and finding sufficient to satisfy the animal wants, it increases the numbers, without adding much to the disposable wealth of the community, and still less to the strength of the gorernment.

In the rude state of husbandry in which the explorers of new lands are placed, little is raised, from even the most fertile soil, beyond what suffices for their immediate

demands,

« PreviousContinue »