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New York James Fenimore Cooper

New York

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Notwithstanding all these obvious tendencies and the manifest dangers that beset the real liberties of the country, we do not see that any material influence will be brought by them to bear upon the fortunes and ascendancy of the particular place of which we are writing. Even political despotism in this age would necessarily respect the ordinary rights of commerce, and quite probably the greater security that would be given to property, the increased dignity and authority of the courts of justice, and the visible control of a vigilant and efficient government might rather have a tendency to build up than to check the progress of the capital of any country.

Civil war, in our view, can alone produce any material checks to the prosperity of these towns of Manhattan. Against the malign influence of so great a source of evil no one can with discretion venture to predict the consequences. But we do not think that it enters into the spirit of the true American character, so remarkable for its mildness and disposition to mercy, in carrying out the powers of government, to permit such a struggle as would be likely to produce long-continued, or very withering local distress. Compromises in some form or other would be resorted to, to restore the course of the commerce of the country; and although it might be, and probably would be, that this could only be accomplished in the midst of the triumph of disorder, irresponsibility, and the derangement of most that is necessary to permanent security and quiet, a set of laws would arise for the control of the affairs of the towns that would exercise their sway, without any appeal to regularly constituted authority, beyond that of the law of necessity. At this very moment, when we have all the machinery of an efficient government around us, and one has a right to look to the courts for the protection of his rights, a thousand dollars of debt are secured and paid in a place like that of New York, by the sole influence of commercial opinion, where one dollar is secured and paid by the process of law. Trade issues its own edicts, and they are ordinarily found to be too powerful for resistance, wherever there are the concentrated means of rendering them formidable by the magnitude of the interests they control.

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We see, then, nothing in the future that is very likely seriously to disturb the continued growth and increasing ascendancy of the great mart of the country. A trading people will pursue its interests under any conceivable or tolerable condition of things. It would require a generation or two, indeed, to obliterate, or even sensibly to diminish the habits and opinions now in existence among the people; and it must ever be remembered that society pursues its regular course more or less successfully, according to circumstances, even in the midst of revolution, war, and rapine. A battle is fought to-day, and a month hence it becomes difficult to discover its traces, over which the plough has already passed, and among which the husbandman is resuming his toil, as he replaces his fences, and clears away his fallen trees after the passage of the whirlwind. It follows from these views, and this course of reasoning, which might be greatly extended and much more satisfactorily developed, that political changes have less direct influence on the ordinary march of society than is commonly supposed. The spirit of the age is and must be respected by rulers of every shade of character; and the fourth estate, as opinion is commonly termed, enters largely into the ordinary action of every form of government or combination of social organization that the accidents of history have produced, or the sagacity and wants of men have more ambitiously paraded before the eyes of their fellow creatures. When we couple with these facts the certainty that there are undercurrents which enable ordinary society, trade, and all the other active and daily recurring interests of life, to manage their own affairs more or less in their own way, it is not easy to foresee any material consequences to the progress of a place like this at the mouth of the Hudson, that can trace their rise to the future course of political events in the country. We do not anticipate any apparent dissolution of the ordinary ties of society, for we know that nations will bear burdens of this nature for a long period of time, without struggling or making the effort necessary to remove them; and that it is only when they are felt to be intolerable to the great body of the people that one may confidently hope for redress and reformation. Petty wrongs are never repaired by the masses; they sometimes vindicate their rights by means of the strong arm, when seriously required to do so, but in general the wrong is endured, and the victim immolated without awakening attention or leaving any regrets among those who escape its immediate consequences.

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James Fenimore Cooper

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