The Americans as They Are: Described in a tour through the valley of the Mississippi - Charles Sealsfield - ebook

The Americans as They AreDescribed in a tour through the valley of the MississippiByCharles Sealsfield

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The Americans as They Are

Described in a tour through the valley of the Mississippi


Charles Sealsfield

Table of Contents
























The publication of this tour was intended for the year 1827. Several circumstances have prevented it.

The American is, as far as relates to his own country, justly supposed to be prone to exaggeration. English travellers, on the contrary, are apt to undervalue brother Jonathan and his country. The Author has twice seen these countries, of whose present state he gives a sketch in the following pages. He is far from claiming for his work any sort of literary merit. Truth and practical observation are his chief points. Whether his opinions and statements are correct, it remains for the reader to judge, and experience to confirm.

London, March, 1828.


Upwards of half a century has now elapsed since the independence of the United States became firmly established. During this period two great questions have been solved, exposing the fallacies of human calculations, which anticipated only present anarchy and ultimate dissolution as the fate of the new Republics. The possibility of a people governing themselves, and being prosperous and happy, time, the sure ordeal of all projects, has at length demonstrated. Their political infancy is over, they are approaching towards manhood, and fully sensible of their strength, their first magistrate has ventured to utter those important words contained in his address of 1820: that “notwithstanding their neutrality, they would consider any attempt on the part of the European Powers, to extend their system to any portion of THEIRhemisphere, as dangerous to their peace and safety; and that they could not admit of any projects of colonization on the part of Europe.” Thus, for the first time, they have asserted their right of taking a part DE FACTO in the great transactions of European Powers, and pronounced their declaration in a tone, which has certainly contributed to the abandonment of those intentions which were fast ripening into execution.

The important influence of American liberty throughout the civilised world, has been already apparent; and more especially in France, in the South American revolutions, and in the commotions in Spain, Portugal, Naples, and Piedmont. These owe their origin, not to any instigation on the part of the United States, but to the influence of their example in raising the standard of freedom, and more than all, to the success which crowned their efforts. Great has been on the other hand, the influence of European politics on the North American nation. A party, existing since the revolution, and extending its ramifications over the whole United States, is now growing into importance, and guided by the principles of European diplomacy, is rooting itself deeper and deeper, drawing within its ranks the wealthy, the enlightened, the dissatisfied; thus adding every day to its strength. We see, in short, the principle of monarchy developing itself in the United States, and though it is not attempted to establish it by means of a revolution, which would infallibly fail, there is a design to bring it about by that cunning, cautious, and I may add, American way, which must eventually succeed; unless the spirit of freedom be sufficiently powerful to neutralize the subtle poison in its progress, or to triumph over its revolutionary results. There have occurred many changes in the United States within the last ten years. The present rulers have succeeded in so amalgamating opinions, that whatever may be said to the contrary, only two parties are now in existence. These are the monarchists, who would become governors, and the republicans, who would not be governed.

The object proposed in the following pages has been to exhibit to the eyes of the European world, the real state of American affairs, divested of all prejudice, and all party spirit. Adams on the whole is a favourite with Great Britain. This empire however, has no reason to admire him; should his plans succeed, the cost to Great Britain would be the loss of her last possession in North America. But as long as the American Republic continues united, this unwieldy mass of twenty-four states can never become dangerous.

Of the different orders of society, there is yet little to be said, but they are developing themselves as fast as wealth, ambition, luxury, and the sciences on the one side, and poverty, ignorance, and indirect oppression on the other, will permit them. There, as every where else, this is the natural course of things. To show the state of society in general, and the relative bearings of the different classes to each other, and thus to afford a clear idea of what the United States really are, is the second object attempted in this work. To represent social intercourse and prevailing habits in such a manner as to enable the future emigrant to follow the prescribed track, and to settle with security and advantage to himself and to his new country; to afford him the means of judging for himself, by giving him a complete view of public and private life in general, as well as of each profession or business in particular, is the third object here contemplated.

The capitalist, the merchant, the farmer, the physician, the lawyer, the mechanic, cannot fail, I trust, to find adequate information respecting the course which, on their settling in the Union, will be the most eligible to pursue. Farther explanation I think unnecessary. He who would consider the following condensed picture of Trans-atlantic society and manners insufficient, would not be better informed, if I were to enlarge the work to twice its size. Such an objection would shew him to be unfit to adventure in the character of a settler in a country where so many snares will beset his path, and call for no small degree of natural shrewdness and penetration.


Cincinnati.—Parting Glance at Ohio.—Character of its Government and its Inhabitants.

The city of Cincinnati is the largest in the state of Ohio: for the last eight years it has left even Pittsburgh far behind. It is situated in 39° 5′ 54″ north latitude, and 7° 31′ west longitude, on the second bank of the Ohio, rising gradually and extending to the west, the north, and the east, for a distance of several miles. The lower part of the city below the new warehouse, is exposed, during the spring tides, to inundations which are not, however, productive of serious consequences; the whole mass of water turning to the Kentuckian shore. The river is here about a mile wide, and assumes the form of a half moon. When viewed from the high banks, the mighty sheet of water, rolling down in a deep bed, affords a splendid sight. In 1780, the spot where now stands one of the prettiest towns of the Union, was a native forest. In that year, the first attempt was made at forming a settlement in the country, by erecting a blockhouse, which was called Fort Washington, and was enlarged at a subsequent period. In the year 1788, Judge Symmes laid out the town, whose occupants he drew from the New England States. Successive attacks, however, of the Indians wearied them out, and the greater part withdrew. The battle gained by General Wayne over these natives, tranquillised the country; and after the year 1794, Cincinnati rapidly improved. It became the capital of the western district, which was erected into a territorial government. When Ohio was declared an independent state, in the year 1800, Cincinnati continued to be the seat of the legislature till 1806.

Fort Washington has since made room for peaceful dwellings. Their number is at present 1560, with 12,000 inhabitants. The streets are regular, broad, and mostly well paved. The main street, which runs the length of a mile from the court-house down to the quay, is elegant.—Among the public buildings, the court-house is constructed in an extremely simple but noble style; the Episcopalian, the Catholic, and the Presbyterian churches, the academy and the United States’ bank, are handsome buildings. Besides these, are churches for Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Swedenborghians, Unitarians, a Lancasterian school, the farmers’, the mechanics’, and the Cincinnati banks, a reading room with a well provided library, five newspaper printing offices;—among these papers are the Cincinnati Literary Gazette, and a price current—and the land office for the southern part of the state. The colonnade of the theatre is, however, a strange specimen of the architectural genius of the backwoods. Among the manufacturing establishments, the principal are,—the steam mill on the river, a saw-mill, cloth and cotton manufactories, several steam engines, iron and nail manufactories, all on the steam principle. Cincinnati carries on an important trade with New Orleans, and it may be considered as the staple of the state. The produce of the whole state is brought to Cincinnati, and shipped down the Ohio and Mississippi. The only impediments to its uninterrupted trade, are the falls of the Ohio at Louisville, which obstruct the navigation during eight months in the year. These obstacles are now on the point of being removed. The exports from Cincinnati are flour, whisky, salt, hams, pork, beef, dried and fresh fruits, corn, &c.; the imports are cotton, sugar, rice, indigo, tobacco, coffee, and spices. The manufactured goods are generally brought in waggons from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, and discharged there. In order to improve the commerce of Cincinnati, an insurance company has been formed. There is a committee established for the inspection of vessels running between New Orleans and this place. There are a number of steam and other boats building at the present time. For the benefit of travellers, &c., a line of steam boats is established between Cincinnati and Louisville; and they start regularly every second day, performing the voyage of 115 miles to Louisville in twelve, and back again in twenty hours.

There are in Cincinnati a great number of wholesale, commission, and retail merchants; but the want of ready money is as much felt here as anywhere else, and causes a stagnation of business. The inhabitants are chiefly American born, with some admixture of Germans, French, and Irish. As the former are mostly from the New England States, the general character of the inhabitants has taken an adventurous turn, which is conspicuous in their buildings. Most of the houses in the city are elegant, many are truly beautiful; but they belong to the bank of the United States, which possesses at least 200 of the finest houses in Cincinnati. The building mania obtained such strong hold of the inhabitants, that most of them forgot their actual means; and accordingly, having drawn money from the bank which they were unable to refund, they had at last to give up lots and buildings to the United States’ bank. Though this city possesses in itself many advantages over other towns of the Ohio, and has much the start of them in point of commerce and manufactures, yet there is little expectation of its increasing in the same proportion as it has hitherto done. Neither of the canals which are intended to join the Ohio, will come up as far as this town. The great Ohio canal is to run near the mouth of the Sciota river; the Dayton canal below Cincinnati; and these places will attract a considerable part of the population. The third canal, which is to connect the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and of the Ohio, will be more advantageous to the towns of Upper Ohio, Marietta, Steubenville, and Wheeling. Commerce will thus be more equally divided, and Cincinnati cannot always expect to continue as it has hitherto been, the staple of the trade to the southward of the Ohio. The merchant possessed of a moderate capital, if he consult his interest, will not establish himself at Cincinnati, but at one of the intermediate places of the above-mentioned three canals. The farmer has eligible spots in the Tuscarora valleys, about New Lancaster, Columbus, Franklintown, Pickaway, Chilicathe, and especially in the Sandusky counties on lake Erie. Mechanics, such as carpenters, cabinet makers, &c., will also find these new settlements more advantageous markets for their industry than the city of Cincinnati itself. The manufacturers, of every kind, will choose either Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, but still give the preference to the former, in spite of its smoke and dirt, as the place most favoured by natural position, which must necessarily become the first manufacturing town of the Union, notwithstanding the well-known inactivity of the Pennsylvanians. But as the state of Ohio must look to its manufactures, unless it chooses to continue a loser by the exchange of its raw produce; Cincinnati, whose manufactures have attained a high degree of perfection, favoured as it is by its coal mines, its water communication, and the fertility and consequent cheapness of the necessaries of life, must always possess very great advantages. Travellers arriving from the north, proceed to the south by way of Louisville on board a steam boat; and coming from thence, they go either to the eastward to Philadelphia by the mail stage, or by the same conveyance northward, through Chilicathe and Columbus, to lake Erie, where they embark for Buffalo.

During my stay, on the twenty-fifth of October, a question of some importance for the inhabitants of Cincinnati was to be decided. It was concerning a stricter police and its necessary regulations. The city council, with the wealthier class of inhabitants, had been for some time previous to the decision, engaged in preparing and gaining over the multitude. I went to the court-house in company with Mr. Bama, a wholesale merchant, and several gentlemen, to hear the speeches delivered on both sides, and the result of the motion. It was four o’clock when we arrived, and about 600 persons were assembled in and outside of the court-house. The noise, however, was such, that it was impossible to hear more than detached periods. At eight o’clock, when almost dark, they had gone through the business, and the poll was about to commence. The party for abridging public liberty was ordered to go out on the left:—those who insisted on the preservation of the present order of things, were to draw off to the right. On arriving before the court-house, they ranged themselves in two separate ranks, each of which was counted by the presiding judge. There was a majority of 72 votes in favour of the party which upheld the present system, and the question was, therefore, decided in favour of popular liberty. I found here, as well as everywhere else, that the freedom of a community is nowhere more exposed to encroachments than in large towns, where dissipation and occupations of every kind are likely to engross the attention of the people, who leave the magistrates to do what they please. The city council were on the point of obtaining the majority, had it not been for the farmers whom the market-day had drawn to town. These, of course, did not fail to open the eyes of the honest burghers; and the question was accordingly negatived.

The prevailing manners of society at Cincinnati, are those peculiar to larger cities, without the formalities and mannerism of the eastern sea ports. Freedom of thought prevails in a high degree, and toleration is exercised without limitation. The women are considered very handsome; their deportment is free from pride; but simple and unassuming as they appear, they evince a high taste for literary and mental accomplishments. The Literary Gazette owes its origin to their united efforts. There is no doubt that the commanding situation of this beautiful town, its majestic river, its mild climate, which may be compared to the south of France, and the liberal spirit of its inhabitants, contribute to render this place, both in a physical and moral point of view, one of the most eligible residences in the Union.

As much, indeed, may be said of the state of Ohio in general. It combines in itself all the elements that tend to make its inhabitants the happiest people on the face of the earth. Nature has done every thing in favour of this country. In point of fertility, it excels every one of the thirteen old states; and, owing to its political institutions, and the abolition of slavery, it has taken the lead among those newly created.

Ohio is bounded on the north by lake Erie, on the west by the state of Indiana, on the south by the river Ohio, and on the east by Pennsylvania, comprising an area of 4,000 square miles; it is divided into 71 counties, and has a population of 72,000 souls. This state forms the eastern extremity of the great valley of the Mississippi, which has the Alleghany for its eastern, and the Rocky Mountains for its western boundary, sinking by degrees as it approaches the Mississippi, and extending more than a thousand miles towards the south. The climate of this state, which presents for the most part the form of an elevated plain, running between the mountainous Pennsylvania and the swampy Mississippi states, is temperate, extending from 38° 28′, to 72° 58′ northern latitude, and from 3° 32′, to 7° 40′ west longitude. Its temperature varies less than that of other states. Its soil is inexhaustible; its fertility, especially in the northern and southern parts, being truly astonishing; and though some portions have been cultivated upwards of thirty years without being manured, the land still yields the same quantity of produce. The northern inhabitants of the state send their produce down to New York by lake Erie, and the Buffalo canal; the southern find a market in Louisiana and New Orleans. The middle part suffered greatly from the want of water communication, to which they are now on the point of applying a remedy, in order to obtain an intercourse with New York; which, as it is well known, has effected by means of a canal, a water communication with lake Erie. The Ohions commenced a canal in the year 1825, beginning at Cleveland on the shores of lake Erie, taking thence a southern course through Tuscarora county at Zanesville, turning to the right six miles below Columbus, and running down to the shores of the Ohio. It is intended to be completed in the space of three years. The state of Ohio expects from this canal, which if the pecuniary means be considered may be called a gigantic undertaking, a ready market for its produce in the city and state of New York; looking forward, at the same time, to become the staple for the trade between New York and New Orleans. It cannot fail, however, to be productive of still greater advantage to the United States in general, and to the cities of New York and New Orleans in particular, which will thus have the means of a land or water communication, over a space of nearly 3,000 miles. The first idea of this canal originated with the state of New York; the citizens of which, when they had finished their own, encouraged those of Ohio to enter upon a similar undertaking. Encouragement was not much wanting; the plan of joining the waters of the Hudson and the Mississippi was taken up with enthusiasm; canal committees were formed; most of the towns in the state sent their deputies, and after the customary debates, the resolution was adopted. The only difficulty was to raise the requisite funds. New York offered to defray the necessary expenses, if allowed the revenue arising from the new canal, for a certain period. The pride of the Ohions revolted against the proposition; they preferred raising a loan in New York. In this respect the government of the state committed a great error. A loan of three millions of dollars, and the necessary evils attendant upon it, are certainly a heavy burthen to a new state, which can scarcely reckon an existence of forty years, especially as the new canal may be considered a continuation of the great one of New York, and as the advantage resulting from it to the state can bear no comparison with that which New York derives from its own.

New York, already the most important commercial city of the Union, will, after the completion of this canal, enjoy the trade of the western and south-western states, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, Mississippi, &c.; and thus the Ohio canal will rather contribute to the aggrandizement of New York, than to that of Ohio. Their debt, so out of proportion with the resources of the state, made the people of Ohio relax in their ardour for carrying this project into effect, and gave rise to discontent against the administration of the state. But the same case happened in New York, and the exultation of the inhabitants of Ohio, when they see the work accomplished, will scarcely yield to that which was manifested by the people of the former state. There is, nevertheless, not any city in the state of Ohio to be compared with New York, Philadelphia, or Boston, nor is it probable there will be. At the same time this want is largely compensated by the absence of immorality and luxury—evils necessarily attached to large and opulent cities—which may be said to attract the heart’s blood of the country, and send forth the very dregs of it in return. In Ohio, wealth is not accumulated in one place, or in a few hands; it is visibly diffused over the whole community. The country towns and villages are invariably constructed in a more elegant and tasteful manner than those of Pennsylvania, and the Northern states. There is something grand in their plan and execution, though the prevailing want or insufficiency of means to carry them through, is still an obstacle in the way. The farms and country houses are elegant; I saw hundreds of them, which no English nobleman would be ashamed of. They are generally of brick, sometimes of wood, and built in a tasteful style. The turnpike roads are in excellent order. It is astonishing to see what has been done during a few years, and under an increasing scarcity of money, by the mere dint of industry. The traveller will seldom have reason to rail at bad roads or bad taverns; I could only complain of one of the latter, which stands upon a road that is seldom travelled. In every county town there are at least two elegant inns, and the tables are loaded with such a variety of venison and dishes of every kind, that even a gourmand could not justly complain.