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New York James Fenimore Cooper

New York

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It has long been a subject of investigation among moralists, whether the existence of towns like those of London, Paris, New York, &c., is or is not favorable to the development of the better qualities of the human character. As for ourselves, we do not believe any more in the superior innocence and virtue of a rural population than in that of the largest capitals, perfectly conscious of the appalling accumulation of vice, and sin, and crime that is to be found in such places as London and Paris, and even in New York. We cannot shut our eyes to the numberless evils of the same general character of disobedience to the law of God, that are to be found even in the forest and the most secluded dales of the country. If there be incentives to wrong-doing in the crowded population of a capital town, there are many incentives to refinement, public virtue, and even piety, that are not to be met with elsewhere. In this respect we apprehend that good and evil are more nearly balanced among us than is commonly supposed; and we doubt if it were possible to render the laws a dead letter in the streets of New York, as has been done around the bell of the Capitol at Albany[12] , and strictly among its rural population, directly beneath the eyes of the highest authority of the State. The danger to valuable and movable property would be too imminent, and those who felt an interest in its preservation would not fail to rally in its defence. It is precisely on this principle that in the end property will protect itself as against the popular inroads which are inevitable, should the present tendencies receive no check. Calm, disinterested, and judicious legislation is a thing not to be hoped for. It never occurs in any state of society except under the pressure of great events; and this for the very simple reason that men, acting in factions, are never calm, judicious, or disinterested.

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Nevertheless, the community will live on, suffer, and be deluded: it may even fancy itself almost within reach of perfection, but it will live on to be disappointed. There is no such thing on earth, and the only real question for the American statesman is to measure the results of different defective systems for the government of the human race. We are far from saying that our own, with all its flagrant and obvious defects, will be the worst, more especially when considered solely in connection with whole numbers; though we cannot deny, nor do we wish to conceal, the bitterness of the wrongs that are so frequently inflicted by the many on the few. This is, perhaps, the worst species of tyranny. He who suffers under the arbitrary power of a single despot, or by the selfish exactions of a privileged few, is certain to be sustained by the sympathies of the masses. But he who is crushed by the masses themselves, must look beyond the limits of his earthly being for consolation and support. The wrongs committed by democracies are of the most cruel character; and though wanting in that apparent violence and sternness that marks the course of law in the hands of narrower governments, for it has no need of this severity, they carry with them in their course all the feelings that render injustice and oppression intolerable.

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New York
James Fenimore Cooper

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