The one matter in which, as far as my judgment goes, the people of the United States have excelled us Englishmen, so as to justify them in taking to themselves praise which we cannot take to ourselves or refuse to them, is the matter of Education. In saying this, I do not think that I am proclaiming anything disgraceful to England, though I am proclaiming much that is creditable to America. To the Americans of the States was given the good fortune of beginning at the beginning. The French at the time of their revolution endeavored to reorganize everything, and to begin the world again with new habits and grand theories; but the French as a people were too old for such a change, and the theories fell to the ground. But in the States, after their revolution, an Anglo-Saxon people had an opportunity of making a new State, with all the experience of the world before them; and to this matter of education they were from the first aware that they must look for their success. They did so; and unrivaled population, wealth, and intelligence has been the result; and with these, looking at the whole masses of the people — I think I am justified in saying — unrivaled comfort and happiness. It is not that you, my reader, to whom in this matter of education fortune and your parents have probably been bountiful, would have been more happy in New York than in London. It is not that I, who, at any rate, can read and write, have cause to wish that I had been an American. But it is this: if you and I can count up in a day all those on whom our eyes may rest and learn the circumstances of their lives, we shall be driven to conclude that nine-tenths of that number would have had a better life as Americans than they can have in their spheres as Englishmen. The States are at a discount with us now, in the beginning of this year of grace 1862; and Englishmen were not very willing to admit the above statement, even when the States were not at a discount. But I do not think that a man can travel through the States with his eyes open and not admit the fact. Many things will conspire to induce him to shut his eyes and admit no conclusion favorable to the Americans. Men and women will sometimes be impudent to him; the better his coat, the greater the impudence. He will be pelted with the braggadocio of equality. The corns of his Old World conservatism will be trampled on hourly by the purposely vicious herd of uncouth democracy. The fact that he is paymaster will go for nothing, and will fail to insure civility. I shall never forget my agony as I saw and heard my desk fall from a porter’s hand on a railway station, as he tossed it from him seven yards off on to the hard pavement. I heard its poor, weak intestines rattle in their death struggle, and knowing that it was smashed, I forgot my position on American soil and remonstrated. “It’s my desk, and you have utterly destroyed it,” I said. “Ha! ha! ha!” laughed the porter. “You’ve destroyed my property,” I rejoined, “and it’s no laughing matter.” And then all the crowd laughed. “Guess you’d better get it glued,” said one. So I gathered up the broken article and retired mournfully and crestfallen into a coach. This was very sad, and for the moment I deplored the ill luck which had brought me to so savage a country. Such and such like are the incidents which make an Englishman in the States unhappy, and rouse his gall against the institutions of the country; these things and the continued appliance of the irritating ointment of American braggadocio with which his sores are kept open. But though I was badly off on that railway platform, worse off than I should have been in England, all that crowd of porters round me were better off than our English porters. They had a “good time” of it. And this, O my English brother who has traveled through the States and returned disgusted, is the fact throughout. Those men whose familiarity was so disgusting to you are having a good time of it. “They might be a little more civil,” you say, “and yet read and write just as well.” True; but they are arguing in their minds that civility to you will be taken by you for subservience, or for an acknowledgment of superiority; and looking at your habits of life — yours and mine together — I am not quite sure that they are altogether wrong. Have you ever realized to yourself as a fact that the porter who carries your box has not made himself inferior to you by the very act of carrying that box? If not, that is the very lesson which the man wishes to teach you.
If a man can forget his own miseries in his journeyings, and think of the people he comes to see rather than of himself, I think he will find himself driven to admit that education has made life for the million in the Northern States better than life for the million is with us. They have begun at the beginning, and have so managed that every one may learn to read and write — have so managed that almost every one does learn to read and write. With us this cannot now be done. Population had come upon us in masses too thick for management, before we had as yet acknowledged that it would be a good thing that these masses should be educated. Prejudices, too, had sprung up, and habits, and strong sectional feelings, all antagonistic to a great national system of education. We are, I suppose, now doing all that we can do; but comparatively it is little. I think I saw some time since that the cost for gratuitous education, or education in part gratuitous, which had fallen upon the nation had already amounted to the sum of 800,000l.; and I think also that I read in the document which revealed to me this fact a very strong opinion that government could not at present go much further. But if this matter were regarded in England as it is regarded in Massachusetts, or rather, had it from some prosperous beginning been put upon a similar footing, 800,000l. would not have been esteemed a great expenditure for free education simply in the City of London. In 1857 the public schools of Boston cost 70,000l., and these schools were devoted to a population of about 180,000 souls. Taking the population of London at two and a half millions, the whole sum now devoted to England would, if expended in the metropolis, make education there even cheaper than it is in Boston. In Boston, during 1857, there were above 24,000 pupils at these public schools, giving more than one-eighth of the whole population. But I fear it would not be practicable for us to spend 800,000l. on the gratuitous education of London. Rich as we are, we should not know where to raise the money. In Boston it is raised by a separate tax. It is a thing understood, acknowledged, and made easy by being habitual — as is our national debt. I do not know that Boston is peculiarly blessed, but I quote the instance, as I have a record of its schools before me. At the three high schools in Boston, at which the average of pupils is 526, about 13l. per head is paid for free education. The average price per annum of a child’s schooling throughout these schools in Boston is about 3l. for each. To the higher schools any boy or girl may attain without any expense, and the education is probably as good as can be given, and as far advanced. The only question is, whether it is not advanced further than may be necessary. Here, as at New York, I was almost startled by the amount of knowledge around me, and listened, as I might have done to an examination in theology among young Brahmins. When a young lad explained in my hearing all the properties of the different levers as exemplified by the bones of the human body, I bowed my head before him in unaffected humility. We, at our English schools, never got beyond the use of those bones which he described with such accurate scientific knowledge. In one of the girls’ schools they were reading Milton, and when we entered were discussing the nature of the pool in which the devil is described as wallowing. The question had been raised by one of the girls. A pool, so called, was supposed to contain but a small amount of water, and how could the devil, being so large, get into it? Then came the origin of the word pool — from “palus,” a marsh, as we were told, some dictionary attesting to the fact, and such a marsh might cover a large expanse. The “Palus Maeotis” was then quoted. And so we went on till Satan’s theory of political liberty,
“Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,”
was thoroughly discussed and understood. These girls of sixteen and seventeen got up one after another and gave their opinions on the subject — how far the devil was right, and how far he was manifestly wrong. I was attended by one of the directors or guardians of the schools; and the teacher, I thought, was a little embarrassed by her position. But the girls themselves were as easy in their demeanor as though they were stitching handkerchiefs at home.
It is impossible to refrain from telling all this, and from making a little innocent fun out of the superexcellencies of these schools; but the total result on my mind was very greatly in their favor. And indeed the testimony came in both ways. Not only was I called on to form an opinion of what the men and women would become from the education which was given to the boys and girls, but also to say what must have been the education of the boys and girls from what I saw of the men and women. Of course it will be understood that I am not here speaking of those I met in society or of their children, but of the working people — of that class who find that a gratuitous education for their children is needful, if any considerable amount of education is to be given. The result is to be seen daily in the whole intercourse of life. The coachman who drives you, the man who mends your window, the boy who brings home your purchases, the girl who stitches your wife’s dress — they all carry with them sure signs of education, and show it in every word they utter.
It will of course be understood that this is, in the separate States, a matter of State law; indeed, I may go further, and say that it is, in most of the States, a matter of State constitution. It is by no means a matter of Federal constitution. The United States as a nation takes no heed of the education of its people. All that is left to the judgment of the separate States. In most of the thirteen original States provision is made in the written constitution for the general education of the people; but this is not done in all. I find that it was more frequently done in the Northern or free-soil States than in those which admitted slavery, as might have been expected. In the constitutions of South Carolina and Virginia I find no allusion to the public provision for education; but in those of North Carolina and Georgia it is enjoined. The forty-first section of the constitution for North Carolina enjoins that “schools shall be established by the legislature for the convenient instruction of youth, with such salaries to the masters, paid by the public, as may enable them to instruct at LOW PRICES”— showing that the intention here was to assist education, and not provide it altogether gratuitously. I think that provision for public education is enjoined in the constitutions of all the States admitted into the Union since the first Federal knot was tied except in that of Illinois. Vermont was the first so admitted, in 1791; and Vermont declares that “a competent number of schools ought to be maintained in each town for the convenient instruction of youth.” Ohio was the second, in 1802; and Ohio enjoins that “the General Assembly shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as, with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the State; but no religions or other sect or sects shall ever have any exclusive right or control of any part of the school funds of this State.” In Indiana, admitted in 1816, it is required that “the General Assembly shall provide by law for a general and uniform system of common schools.” Illinois was admitted next, in 1818; but the constitution of Illinois is silent on the subject of education. It enjoins, however, in lieu of this, that no person shall fight a duel or send a challenge! If he do, he is not only to be punished, but to be deprived forever of the power of holding any office of honor or profit in the State. I have no reason, however, for supposing that education is neglected in Illinois, or that dueling has been abolished. In Maine it is demanded that the towns — the whole country is divided into what are called towns — shall make suitable provision at their own expense for the support and maintenance of public schools.
Some of these constitutional enactments are most magniloquently worded, but not always with precise grammatical correctness. That for the famous Bay State of Massachusetts runs as follows: “Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties, and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interest of literature and the sciences, and of all seminaries of them, especially the University at Cambridge, public schools and grammar schools, in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions by rewards and immunities for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in all their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections and generous sentiments among the people.” I must confess that, had the words of that little constitutional enactment been made known to me before I had seen its practical results, I should not have put much faith in it. Of all the public schools I have ever seen — by public schools I mean schools for the people at large maintained at public cost — those of Massachusetts are, I think, the best. But of all the educational enactments which I ever read, that of the same State is, I should say, the worst. In Texas now, of which as a State the people of Massachusetts do not think much, they have done it better: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of this State to make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of public schools.” So say the Texans; but then the Texans had the advantage of a later experience than any which fell in the way of the constitution-makers of Massachusetts.
There is something of the magniloquence of the French style — of the liberty, equality, and fraternity mode of eloquence — in the preambles of most of these constitutions, which, but for their success, would have seemed to have prophesied loudly of failure. Those of New York and Pennsylvania are the least so, and that of Massachusetts by far the most violently magniloquent. They generally commence by thanking God for the present civil and religious liberty of the people, and by declaring that all men are born free and equal. New York and Pennsylvania, however, refrain from any such very general remarks.
I am well aware that all these constitutional enactments are not likely to obtain much credit in England. It is not only that grand phrases fail to convince us, but that they carry to our senses almost an assurance of their own inefficiency. When we hear that a people have declared their intention of being henceforward better than their neighbors, and going upon a new theory that shall lead them direct to a terrestrial paradise, we button up our pockets and lock up our spoons. And that is what we have done very much as regards the Americans. We have walked with them and talked with them, and bought with them and sold with them; but we have mistrusted them as to their internal habits and modes of life, thinking that their philanthropy was pretentious and that their theories were vague. Many cities in the States are but skeletons of towns, the streets being there, and the houses numbered — but not one house built out of ten that have been so counted up. We have regarded their institutions as we regard those cities, and have been specially willing so to consider them because of the fine language in which they have been paraded before us. They have been regarded as the skeletons of philanthropical systems, to which blood and flesh and muscle, and even skin, are wanting. But it is at least but fair to inquire how far the promise made has been carried out. The elaborate wordings of the constitutions made by the French politicians in the days of their great revolution have always been to us no more than so many written grimaces; but we should not have continued so to regard them had the political liberty which they promised followed upon the promises so magniloquently made. As regards education in the States — at any rate in the Northern and Western States — I think that the assurances put forth in the various written constitutions have been kept. If this be so, an American citizen, let him be ever so arrogant, ever so impudent if you will, is at any rate a civilized being, and on the road to that cultivation which will sooner or later divest him of his arrogance. Emollit mores. We quote here our old friend the colonel again. If a gentleman be compelled to confine his classical allusions to one quotation, he cannot do better than hang by that.
But has education been so general, and has it had the desired result? In the City of Boston, as I have said, I found that in 1857 about one-eighth of the whole population were then on the books of the free public schools as pupils, and that about one-ninth of the population formed the average daily attendance. To these numbers of course must be added all pupils of the richer classes — those for whose education their parents chose to pay. As nearly as I can learn, the average duration of each pupil’s schooling is six years, and if this be figured out statistically, I think it will show that education in Boston reaches a very large majority — I might almost say the whole — of the population. That the education given in other towns of Massachusetts is not so good as that given in Boston I do not doubt, but I have reason to believe that it is quite as general.
I have spoken of one of the schools of New York. In that city the public schools are apportioned to the wards, and are so arranged that in each ward of the city there are public schools of different standing for the gratuitous use of the children. The population of the City of New York in 1857 was about 650,000, and in that year it is stated that there were 135,000 pupils in the schools. By this it would appear that one person in five throughout the city was then under process of education — which statement, however, I cannot receive with implicit credence. It is, however, also stated that the daily attendances averaged something less than 50,000 a day, and this latter statement probably implies some mistake in the former one. Taking the two together for what they are worth, they show, I think, that school teaching is not only brought within the reach of the population generally, but is used by almost all classes. At New York there are separate free schools for colored children. At Philadelphia I did not see the schools, but I was assured that the arrangements there were equal to those at New York and Boston. Indeed I was told that they were infinitely better; but then I was so told by a Philadelphian. In the State of Connecticut the public schools are certainly equal to those in any part of the union. As far as I could learn education — what we should call advanced education — is brought within the reach of all classes in the Northern and Western States of America — and, I would wish to add here, to those of the Canadas also.
So much for the schools, and now for the results. I do not know that anything impresses a visitor more strongly with the amount of books sold in the States, than the practice of selling them as it has been adopted in the railway cars. Personally the traveler will find the system very disagreeable — as is everything connected with these cars. A young man enters during the journey — for the trade is carried out while the cars are traveling, as is also a very brisk trade in lollipops, sugar-candy, apples, and ham sandwiches — the young tradesman enters the car firstly with a pile of magazines, or of novels bound like magazines. These are chiefly the “Atlantic,” published at Boston, “Harper’s Magazine,” published at New York, and a cheap series of novels published at Philadelphia. As he walks along he flings one at every passenger. An Englishman, when he is first introduced to this manner of trade, becomes much astonished. He is probably reading, and on a sudden he finds a fat, fluffy magazine, very unattractive in its exterior, dropped on to the page he is perusing. I thought at first that it was a present from some crazed philanthropist, who was thus endeavoring to disseminate literature. But I was soon undeceived. The bookseller, having gone down the whole car and the next, returned, and beginning again where he had begun before, picked up either his magazine or else the price of it. Then, in some half hour, he came again, with an armful or basket of books, and distributed them in the same way. They were generally novels, but not always. I do not think that any endeavor is made to assimilate the book to the expected customer. The object is to bring the book and the man together, and in this way a very large sale is effected. The same thing is done with illustrated newspapers. The sale of political newspapers goes on so quickly in these cars that no such enforced distribution is necessary. I should say that the average consumption of newspapers by an American must amount to about three a day. At Washington I begged the keeper of my lodgings to let me have a paper regularly — one American newspaper being much the same to me as another — and my host supplied me daily with four.
But the numbers of the popular books of the day, printed and sold, afford the most conclusive proof of the extent to which education is carried in the States. The readers of Tennyson, Mackay, Dickens, Bulwer, Collins, Hughes, and Martin Tupper are to be counted by tens of thousands in the States, to the thousands by which they may be counted in our own islands. I do not doubt that I had fully fifteen copies of the “Silver Cord” thrown at my head in different railway cars on the continent of America. Nor is the taste by any means confined to the literature of England. Longfellow, Curtis, Holmes, Hawthorne, Lowell, Emerson, and Mrs. Stowe are almost as popular as their English rivals. I do not say whether or no the literature is well chosen, but there it is. It is printed, sold, and read. The disposal of ten thousand copies of a work is no large sale in America of a book published at a dollar; but in England it is a very large sale of a book brought out at five shillings.
I do not remember that I ever examined the rooms of an American without finding books or magazines in them. I do not speak here of the houses of my friends, as of course the same remark would apply as strongly in England; but of the houses of persons presumed to earn their bread by the labor of their hands. The opportunity for such examination does not come daily; but when it has been in my power I have made it, and have always found signs of education. Men and women of the classes to which I allude talk of reading and writing as of arts belonging to them as a matter of course, quite as much as are the arts of eating and drinking. A porter or a farmer’s servant in the States is not proud of reading and writing. It is to him quite a matter of course. The coachmen on their boxes and the boots as they set in the halls of the hotels have newspapers constantly in their hands. The young women have them also, and the children. The fact comes home to one at every turn, and at every hour, that the people are an educated people. The whole of this question between North and South is as well understood by the servants as by their masters, is discussed as vehemently by the private soldiers as by the officers. The politics of the country and the nature of its Constitution are familiar to every laborer. The very wording of the Declaration of Independence is in the memory of every lad of sixteen. Boys and girls of a younger age than that know why Slidell and Mason were arrested, and will tell you why they should have been given up, or why they should have been held in durance. The question of the war with England is debated by every native pavior and hodman of New York.
I know what Englishmen will say in answer to this. They will declare that they do not want their paviors and hodmen to talk politics; that they are as well pleased that their coachmen and cooks should not always have a newspaper in their hands; that private soldiers will fight as well, and obey better, if they are not trained to discuss the causes which have brought them into the field. An English gentleman will think that his gardener will be a better gardener without than with any excessive political ardor, and the English lady will prefer that her housemaid shall not have a very pronounced opinion of her own as to the capabilities of the cabinet ministers. But I would submit to all Englishmen and English women who may look at these pages whether such an opinion or feeling on their part bears much, or even at all, upon the subject. I am not saying that the man who is driven in the coach is better off because his coachman reads the paper, but that the coachman himself who reads the paper is better off than the coachman who does not and cannot. I think that we are too apt, in considering the ways and habits of any people, to judge of them by the effect of those ways and habits on us, rather than by their effects on the owners of them. When we go among garlic eaters, we condemn them because they are offensive to us; but to judge of them properly we should ascertain whether or no the garlic be offensive to them. If we could imagine a nation of vegetarians hearing for the first time of our habits as flesh eaters, we should feel sure that they would be struck with horror at our blood-stained banquets; but when they came to argue with us, we should bid them inquire whether we flesh eaters did not live longer and do more than the vegetarians. When we express a dislike to the shoeboy reading his newspaper, I apprehend we do so because we fear that the shoeboy is coming near our own heels. I know there is among us a strong feeling that the lower classes are better without politics, as there is also that they are better without crinoline and artificial flowers; but if politics, and crinoline, and artificial flowers are good at all, they are good for all who can honestly come by them and honestly use them. The political coachman is perhaps less valuable to his master as a coachman than he would be without his politics, but he with his politics is more valuable to himself. For myself, I do not like the Americans of the lower orders. I am not comfortable among them. They tread on my corns and offend me. They make my daily life unpleasant. But I do respect them. I acknowledge their intelligence and personal dignity. I know that they are men and women worthy to be so called; I see that they are living as human beings in possession of reasoning faculties; and I perceive that they owe this to the progress that education has made among them.
After all, what is wanted in this world? Is it not that men should eat and drink, and read and write, and say their prayers? Does not that include everything, providing that they eat and drink enough, read and write without restraint, and say their prayers without hypocrisy? When we talk of the advances of civilization, do we mean anything but this, that men who now eat and drink badly shall eat and drink well, and that those who cannot read and write now shall learn to do so — the prayers following, as prayers will follow upon such learning? Civilization does not consist in the eschewing of garlic or the keeping clean of a man’s finger-nails. It may lead to such delicacies, and probably will do so. But the man who thinks that civilization cannot exist without them imagines that the church cannot stand without the spire. In the States of America men do eat and drink, and do read and write.
But as to saying their prayers? That, as far as I can see, has come also, though perhaps not in a manner altogether satisfactory, or to a degree which should be held to be sufficient. Englishmen of strong religious feeling will often be startled in America by the freedom with which religious subjects are discussed, and the ease with which the matter is treated; but he will very rarely be shocked by that utter absence of all knowledge on the subject — that total darkness which is still so common among the lower orders in our own country. It is not a common thing to meet an American who belongs to no denomination of Christian worship, and who cannot tell you why he belongs to that which he has chosen.
“But,” it will be said, “all the intelligence and education of this people have not saved them from falling out among themselves and their friends, and running into troubles by which they will be ruined. Their political arrangements have been so bad that, in spite of all their reading and writing, they must go to the wall.” I venture to express an opinion that they will by no means go to the wall, and that they will be saved from such a destiny, if in no other way, then by their education. Of their political arrangements, as I mean before long to rush into that perilous subject, I will say nothing here. But no political convulsions, should such arise — no revolution in the Constitution, should such be necessary — will have any wide effect on the social position of the people to their serious detriment. They have the great qualities of the Anglo-Saxon race — industry, intelligence, and self-confidence; and if these qualities will no longer suffice to keep such a people on their legs, the world must be coming to an end.
I have said that it is not a common thing to meet an American who belongs to no denomination of Christian worship. This I think is so but I would not wish to be taken as saying that religion, on that account, stands on a satisfactory footing in the States. Of all subjects of discussion, this is the most difficult. It is one as to which most of us feel that to some extent we must trust to our prejudices rather than our judgments. It is a matter on which we do not dare to rely implicitly on our own reasoning faculties, and therefore throw ourselves on the opinions of those whom we believe to have been better men and deeper thinkers than ourselves. For myself, I love the name of State and Church, and believe that much of our English well-being has depended on it. I have made up my mind to think that union good, and am not to be turned away from that conviction. Nevertheless I am not prepared to argue the matter. One does not always carry one’s proof at one’s finger ends.
But I feel very strongly that much of that which is evil in the structure of American politics is owing to the absence of any national religion, and that something also of social evil has sprung from the same cause. It is not that men do not say their prayers. For aught I know, they may do so as frequently and as fervently, or more frequently and more fervently, than we do; but there is a rowdiness, if I may be allowed to use such a word, in their manner of doing so which robs religion of that reverence which is, if not its essence, at any rate its chief protection. It is a part of their system that religion shall be perfectly free, and that no man shall be in any way constrained in that matter. Consequently, the question of a man’s religion is regarded in a free-and-easy way. It is well, for instance, that a young lad should go somewhere on a Sunday; but a sermon is a sermon, and it does not much concern the lad’s father whether his son hear the discourse of a freethinker in the music-hall, or the eloquent but lengthy outpouring of a preacher in a Methodist chapel. Everybody is bound to have a religion, but it does not much matter what it is.
The difficulty in which the first fathers of the Revolution found themselves on this question is shown by the constitutions of the different States. There can be no doubt that the inhabitants of the New England States were, as things went, a strictly religious community. They had no idea of throwing over the worship of God, as the French had attempted to do at their revolution. They intended that the new nation should be pre-eminently composed of a God-fearing people; but they intended also that they should be a people free in everything — free to choose their own forms of worship. They intended that the nation should be a Protestant people; but they intended also that no man’s conscience should be coerced in the matter of his own religion. It was hard to reconcile these two things, and to explain to the citizens that it behooved them to worship God — even under penalties for omission; but that it was at the same time open to them to select any form of worship that they pleased, however that form might differ from the practices of the majority. In Connecticut it is declared that it is the duty of all men to worship the Supreme Being, the Creator and Preserver of the universe, but that it is their right to render that worship in the mode most consistent with the dictates of their consciences. And then, a few lines further down, the article skips the great difficulty in a manner somewhat disingenuous, and declares that each and every society of Christians in the State shall have and enjoy the same and equal privileges. But it does not say whether a Jew shall be divested of those privileges, or, if he be divested, how that treatment of him is to be reconciled with the assurance that it is every man’s right to worship the Supreme Being in the mode most consistent with the dictates of his own conscience.
In Rhode Island they were more honest. It is there declared that every man shall be free to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and to profess and by argument to maintain his opinion in matters of religion; and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect his civil capacity. Here it is simply presumed that every man will worship a God, and no allusion is made even to Christianity.
In Massachusetts they are again hardly honest. “It is the right,” says the constitution, “as well as the duty of all men in society publicly and at stated seasons to worship the supreme Being, the Great Creator and Preserver of the universe.” And then it goes on to say that every man may do so in what form he pleases; but further down it declares that “every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law.” But what about those who are not Christians? In New Hampshire it is exactly the same. It is enacted that “every individual has a natural and unalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience and reason.” And that “every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves quietly and as good citizens of the State, shall be equally under the protection of the law.” From all which it is, I think, manifest that the men who framed these documents, desirous above all things of cutting themselves and their people loose from every kind of trammel, still felt the necessity of enforcing religion — of making it, to a certain extent, a matter of State duty. In the first constitution of North Carolina it is enjoined “that no person who shall deny the being of God, or the truth of the Protestant religion, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit.” But this was altered in the year 1836, and the words “Christian religion” were substituted for “Protestant religion.”
In New England the Congregationalists are, I think, the dominant sect. In Massachusetts, and I believe in the other New England States, a man is presumed to be a Congregationalist if he do not declare himself to be anything else; as with us the Church of England counts all who do not specially have themselves counted elsewhere. The Congregationalist, as far as I can learn, is very near to a Presbyterian. In New England I think the Unitarians would rank next in number; but a Unitarian in America is not the same as a Unitarian with us. Here, if I understand the nature of his creed, a Unitarian does not recognize the divinity of our Saviour. In America he does do so, but throws over the doctrine of the Trinity. The Protestant Episcopalians muster strong in all the great cities, and I fancy that they would be regarded as taking the lead of the other religious denominations in New York. Their tendency is to high-church doctrines. I wish they had not found it necessary to alter the forms of our prayer-book in so many little matters, as to which there was no national expediency for such changes. But it was probably thought necessary that a new people should show their independence in all things. The Roman Catholics have a very strong party — as a matter of course — seeing how great has been the emigration from Ireland; but here, as in Ireland — and as indeed is the case all the world over — the Roman Catholics are the hewers of wood and drawers of water. The Germans, who have latterly flocked into the States in such swarms that they have almost Germanized certain States, have, of course, their own churches. In every town there are places of worship for Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anabaptists, and every denomination of Christianity; and the meeting-houses prepared for these sects are not, as with us, hideous buildings, contrived to inspire disgust by the enormity of their ugliness, nor are they called Salem, Ebenezer, and Sion, nor do the ministers within them look in any way like the Deputy-Shepherd. The churches belonging to those sects are often handsome. This is especially the case in New York, and the pastors are not unfrequently among the best educated and most agreeable men whom the traveler will meet. They are for the most part well paid, and are enabled by their outward position to hold that place in the world’s ranks which should always belong to a clergyman. I have not been able to obtain information from which I can state with anything like correctness what may be the average income of ministers of the Gospel in the Northern States; but that it is much higher than the average income of our parish clergymen, admits, I think, of no doubt. The stipends of clergymen in the American towns are higher than those paid in the country. The opposite to this, I think, as a rule, is the case with us.
I have said that religion in the States is rowdy. By that I mean to imply that it seems to me to be divested of that reverential order and strictness of rule which, according to our ideas, should be attached to matters of religion. One hardly knows where the affairs of this world end, or where those of the next begin. When the holy men were had in at the lecture, were they doing stage-work or church-work? On hearing sermons, one is often driven to ask one’s self whether the discourse from the pulpit be in its nature political or religious. I heard an Episcopalian Protestant clergyman talk of the scoffing nations of Europe, because at that moment he was angry with England and France about Slidell and Mason. I have heard a chapter of the Bible read in Congress at the desire of a member, and very badly read. After which the chapter itself and the reading of it became a subject of debate, partly jocose and partly acrimonious. It is a common thing for a clergyman to change his profession and follow any other pursuit. I know two or three gentlemen who were once in that line of life, but have since gone into other trades. There is, I think, an unexpressed determination on the part of the people to abandon all reverence, and to regard religion from an altogether worldly point of view. They are willing to have religion, as they are willing to have laws; but they choose to make it for themselves. They do not object to pay for it, but they like to have the handling of the article for which they pay. As the descendants of Puritans and other godly Protestants, they will submit to religious teaching, but as republicans they will have no priestcraft. The French at their revolution had the latter feeling without the former, and were therefore consistent with themselves in abolishing all worship. The Americans desire to do the same thing politically, but infidelity has had no charms for them. They say their prayers, and then seem to apologize for doing so, as though it were hardly the act of a free and enlightened citizen, justified in ruling himself as he pleases. All this to me is rowdy. I know no other word by which I can so well describe it.
Nevertheless the nation is religious in its tendencies, and prone to acknowledge the goodness of God in all things. A man there is expected to belong to some church, and is not, I think, well looked on if he profess that he belongs to none. He may be a Swedenborgian, a Quaker, a Muggletonian — anything will do, But it is expected of him that he shall place himself under some flag, and do his share in supporting the flag to which he belongs. This duty is, I think, generally fulfilled.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55