Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER XI.: LOWELL. - Society, Manners and Politics in the United States
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LETTER XI.: LOWELL. - Michel Chevalier, Society, Manners and Politics in the United States 
Society, Manners and Politics in the United States: Being a Series of Letters on North America, translated from the third Paris edition (Boston: Weeks, Jordan & Co., 1839).
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Lowell, June 12, 1834.
The municipal elections which took place in New York two months ago, and the legislative elections in Virginia, which occupied the whole month of April, have revealed to the Opposition its whole strength. Their success was unexpected, particularly in New York; I say success, although the newly elected mayor belongs to the administration party, because the Opposition has the majority in both houses of the common council, the board of aldermen, and the board of assistants, who govern in reality. Since that time, the Opposition has continued to gain ground. There are some able statesmen in the Senate, who are also skilful parliamentary tacticians; they knew that by irritating the President they might force him to commit some act of imprudence, and this motive was not without its weight in the adoption by the Senate of resolutions censuring his conduct in regard to the Bank. The old General felt this censure very sensibly, and replied to it by a protest, which his best friends consider a mistake, and which the Senate refused to have entered on its journal. It is a matter of surprise that Mr Van Buren, whose sagacity all admit, did not interpose his influence to prevent the sending of this message. One of the fundamental maxims of American politics is, that the sword and purse should not be united in the same hands; that is, that the President, to whom the constitution has entrusted the military force of the Republic, should not also be the keeper of the public money. This is here a universally received, undisputed maxim; and the President’s protest clashes with this doctrine. It became necessary, therefore, to follow up the protest by an explanatory message, which the Opposition calls a recantation, and which in truth is one. This retractation or explanation has not, however, destroyed the effect of the first message, and the consequence has been a hesitation in the democratic ranks. The Virginia elections, which were then going on, show that they were influenced by it, and some other elections of less importance have turned out unfavorably to the Administration.
In Albany, the head-quarters of Mr Van Buren’s friends, the Opposition has carried the municipal elections. The partisans of the Administration have, as if in sport, added fault to fault. A committee of the House of Representatives, appointed to examine into the doings of the Bank, of which the majority were Jackson men, as the administration has the upper hand in that body, committed a series of blunders: there was a paper war between the committee and the directors of the Bank, in which the former were completely unhorsed, and had no better resource than the brutal idea of ordering the President and directors to be taken into custody by the sergeant-at-arms. Such a proposition was revolting to every body; the majority lately so compact, already exhibits symptoms of disaffection, and several recent votes show that the Opposition is gaining ground. One might say that the prudent, those, to use the words of the great master of diplomacy, whose watches go faster than those of their neighbours, are getting ready to desert. Out of the legislative houses, the Opposition is organising energetically for the general elections, which are to take place next autumn; it is making preparations in the spirit with which they are made, when one feels sure of victory, and is determined that it shall be a decisive one. In New York, for example, the common council have removed all the Jackson men from municipal offices; all have made way for the opponents of the Administration. The mayor will have an Anti-Jackson secretary, because that officer is chosen by the common council. These removals are harsh measures, but the friends of the Administration have no right to complain, for they have set the example on a larger scale, by removing hundreds of custom-house officers and postmasters. Without pretending to justify these violent acts, it should be considered that something more is involved than merely the removing of an adversary to make way for a friend. The Opposition wish that the inspectors of streets should be Anti-Jackson men, because the scavengers, who are in their employ, have a vote; just as the Administration insists upon all the postmasters being Jackson men, because in the country they have a certain influence.
It is less than a year since General Jackson visited the great towns of the North. He was received with acclamations such as neither America had ever before witnessed. Washington never excited half the enthusiasm; neither Bolivar, Pizarro, nor the great Cortez was ever saluted with such pompous epithets. It was an apotheosis. It is not yet a year since, and already abuse has succeeded to the most extravagant praise. A few days ago, I was grieved to read some unbecoming pleasantries upon the old General’s scars. What will be held sacred, if honourable wounds, all received in front, fighting for one’s country, are to become a subject of low jests? The war of the President on the Bank was certainly unjust and disastrous to the country; the measures taken in his name against that institution, were impolitic and unauthorised by law; the violent passion and imperious temper displayed by him in the affair, make a strange figure in the seat, that had been occupied by sages like Washington and his successors. All this is true; but when we look back on fifty years of public services, we are filled with grief and indignation to think, that at the end of so long a career, outrage and ingratitude will be, perhaps, his only reward. Can he have been raised so high, only that his fall should be greater? Is he destined to furnish another proof of the instability of popular favour in every age and all countries? But instead of dwelling on these unpleasant reflections, I will rather describe the scene now exhibited literally under my windows.
The town of Lowell dates its origin eleven years ago, and it now contains 15,000 inhabitants, inclusive of the suburb of Belvedere. Twelve years ago it was a barren waste, in which the silence was interrupted only by the murmur of the little river of Concord, and the noisy dashings of the clear waters of the Merrimac, against the granite blocks that suddenly obstruct their course. At present, it is a pile of huge factories, each five, six, or seven stories high, and capped with a little white belfry, which strongly contrasts with the red masonry of the building, and is distinctly projected on the dark hills in the horizon. By the side of these larger structures rise numerous little wooden houses, painted white, with green blinds, very neat, very snug, very nicely carpeted, and with a few small trees around them, or brick houses in the English style, that is to say, simple, but tasteful without and comfortable within; on one side, fancy-goods shops and milliners’ rooms without number, for the women* are the majority in Lowell, and vast hotels in the American style, very much like barracks (the only barracks in Lowell); on another, canals, water-wheels, water-falls, bridges, banks, schools, and libraries, for in Lowell reading is the only recreation,* and there are no less than seven journals printed here. All around are churches and meeting-houses of every sect, Episcopalian, Baptist, Congregationalist, Methodist, Universalist. Unitarian, &c., and there is also a Roman Catholic chapel. Here are all the edifices of a flourishing town in the Old World, except the prisons, hospitals, and theatres: everywhere is heard the noise of hammers, of spindles, of bells calling the hands to their work, or dismissing them from their tasks, of coaches and six arriving or starting off, of the blowing of rocks to make a mill-race or to level a road; it is the peaceful hum of an industrious population, whose movements are regulated like clockwork; a population not native to the town, and one half of which at least will die elsewhere, after having aided in founding three or four other towns; for the full-blooded American has this in common with the Tartar, that he is encamped, not established, on the soil he treads upon.
Massachusetts and the adjoining small States of New England contain several manufacturing towns similar to Lowell, but none of them on so large a scale. An American, well acquainted with the character of his countrymen, gave me the following account of the origin of these towns, and of Lowell in particular. “In 1812,” said he, “the United States declared war against Great Britain to defend the honour of their insulted flag. Boston and the rest of New England opposed the war, and thus drew upon themselves the reproaches of their brethren of the Middle and Southern States. The fact is, they were quite as sensitive as the rest of their countrymen to any insult offered their flag by the mistress of the ocean; the patriotism of the New Englanders is above suspicion; they began the war of Independence, and they supported the principal burden of that war. They were, likewise, resolved to have satisfaction for the outrages committed by England, for it was they who had the greater number of seamen impressed by the English;* but they did not wish to have recourse to the cannon’s mouth. A commercial people, they had much to lose and nothing to gain by a maritime war; a clear-sighted race, they saw that the chance of war was on the side that could muster the largest armies and the most numerous navy; in a word, war appeared to them to be a barbarous, old-fashioned means, unworthy of their inventive wit. The Yankees never do anything like other people, but they always have some contrivance in store, that nobody else would have ever thought of. After a careful examination, the Yankee said to himself, the best mode of warfare against the English will be to attack the sources of their wealth; now what is the principal source of the wealth of Great Britain? Its manufactures. Among its manufactures which are the most productive? Why the cotton. Well then, we will set up spinning works and manufactories of cottons; this will be our war on Great Britain. Ten or twelve years were passed in making experiments, in preliminary preparations and attempts to form a class of operatives, and to make machinery. In 1823, the Merrimack corporation began operations at Lowell, where the River Merrimack has a fall of 32 feet, creating a vast motive power, and has been followed by the Hamilton, Appleton, Lowell, Suffolk, Tremont, Lawrence, and other companies in succession.”
Such is Lowell. Its name is derived from that of a Boston merchant, who was one of the first promoters of the cotton-manufacture in the United States. It is not like one of our European towns that was built by some demi-god, a son of Jupiter, or by some hero of the Trojan war, or by the genius of an Alexander or a Cæsar, or by some saint, attracting crowds by his miracles, or by the whim of some great sovereign, like Louis XIV. or Frederic, or by an edict of Peter the Great. It was neither a pious foundation, nor an asylum for fugitives, nor a military post; but it is one of the speculations of the merchants of Boston. The same spirit of enterprise, which a year ago suggested the idea of sending a cargo of ice from Boston to Calcutta round Cape Horn, to cool the drink of Lord William Bentinck and the nabobs of the India company, has led them to build up a town here, wholly at their own expense, with all the buildings required by the wants of a civilised community, in order to be able to manufacture white cottons and calicoes; and they have succeeded, as they always succeed in their speculations. The semi-annual dividends of the manufacturing companies in Lowell, are generally from 5 to 6 per cent.
The cotton manufacture in America, which dates only from the last war with England, is rapidly extending, although the modifications of the tariff, required by the attitude of South Carolina last year, have somewhat tended to check the manufacturing spirit. Boston seems destined, like Liverpool, to have its Lancashire behind it. As water-courses abound in New England, according to the nature of all primary regions, steam-engines may be dispensed with for a long time to come. This part of the country is very unproductive, and it required all the perseverance and obstinacy, even, of the Puritans to introduce into it the comforts of life. It is rugged, rocky, mountainous, and bleak, consisting in fact of the first ridges of the Alleghanies, which extend hence to the Gulf of Mexico, continually receding from the Atlantic as they stretch southwards. The inhabitants have an extraordinary mechanical genius, they are patient, attentive, and inventive, and they must succeed in manufactures; or rather they have already succeeded, and Lowell is a miniature Manchester. About 30,000 bales of cotton, or one sixth of the whole domestic consumption (see Note 14 ), are consumed in Lowell, besides which there are several manufactories of broadcloths, cassimeres, and carpets. To strengthen the resemblance between their city and Liverpool, the Boston merchants determined to construct a railroad from Boston to Lowell, the length of which is 26 miles; there was already a canal, as there is one between Liverpool and Manchester, but this has been found insufficient, as it was at Liverpool and Manchester. They would not permit this road to be constructed in the usual hasty and provisional manner of the American works, but they determined to have something Roman, and their engineers have given it to them, and have certainly made the most solid railroad in the world. They have only left out the beautiful masonry, the arches of hewn stone, the columns, and all the monumental architecture, which makes the Liverpool and Manchester railroad one of the wonders of modern times; these magnificent ornaments yield no dividends. Yet the Boston and Lowell railroad in its Roman or Cyclopean simplicity, will cost 56,000 dollars a mile.
In travelling through the neighbourhood of Manchester, one is struck with wonder at the sight of the great spinning works; in looking at those huge white buildings by moon-light, projecting themselves on the dark back ground above the plain, those hundreds of windows from which stream the brilliant rays of gas-lights, those lofty chimneys, higher than the highest obelisks, one is tempted to think them palaces, abodes of pleasure and joy. Alas! the delusive splendours! alas! the whited sepulchres! All this fairy illusion vanishes, when one crosses their door-sill, sees the haggard looks and ragged clothes of the crowd that fills these vast structures, beholds those poor children whom Parliament vainly strives to protect against their fathers, who are incessantly begetting new competitors, and against the lash of their overseers. On arriving at Lowell, the first impression of pleasure caused by the sight of the town, new and fresh like an opera scene, fades away before the melancholy reflection, will this become like Lancashire? Does this brilliant glare hide the misery and suffering of operatives, and those degrading vices, engendered by poverty in the manufacturing towns, drunkenness and prostitution, popular sedition hanging over the heads of the rich by a frail thread, which an ordinary accident, and slight imprudence, or a breath of the bad passions, would snap asunder? This question I hasten to answer.
[* ] The female population of Lowell, between the ages of 15 and 25 years, corresponds to a total population of from 50,000 to 60,000 souls.
[* ] The rigid spirit of Puritanism has been carried to its utmost in Lowell, owing to the great number of young girls collected together in the factories. In 1836, a man was fined by the municipal authorities for exercising the trade of common fiddler; he was treated as if he had outraged the public morals, the magistrates fearing that the pleasures of the dance might tend to corruption of manners.
[* ] New England comprises but one sixth part of the whole population of the Union, but she owns one half of the shipping of the country, or 700,000 tons out of a little more than fourteen hundred thousand.
[Note 14—page 132.]Cotton Manufacture.
At the end of 1836, the Lowell cotton factories comprised 129,828 spindles and 4,197 looms, and employed 6,793 operatives of whom 5,416 were women. The quantity of cloth made was 849,300 yards a week, or at the rate of 44 million yards a year; raw cotton consumed 38,000 bales, or 15 million pounds yearly.
In 1831, the American manufacture employed 62,157 operatives, of whom 38,927 were women and 4,691 children. There were beside 4,760 hand-weavers, 40,709 persons employed in accessory labours, making the whole number of persons engaged directly and indirectly 117,626. The factories contained 1,246,503 spindles, and 33,506 looms, and produced 230,461,990 yards of stuffs, besides 1,200,000 pounds of yarn, which were woven in families during the winter. The consumption of raw cotton was 77 million pounds. The value of the products was 26 million dollars, eleven millions of which were paid in wages. (Pitkin’s Statistics, 526.)
There were in England, in 1834, according to Baines, (History of Cotton Manufacture,) 100,000 power-looms, and 250,000 hand-looms. The difference between the number of the hand-looms in England and the United States deserves to be noticed. The hand-weavers in Great Britain form one of the most wretched classes of the population. The English factories employed 729,000 persons, or with the dyers, bleachers, measurers, folders, packers, &c., and all hands employed in building and repairing the mills, 1,500,000. In 1833 the English factories consumed 332 million pounds of cotton. The value of their annual products is estimated at from 30 to 34 million pounds sterling; the wages of the 724,000 operatives amount to 13 millions.
In 1834, the French manufacture employed 600,000 persons, and the annual value of its products was about 110 million dollars; quantity of cotton consumed 100 million pounds. If these statements are correct, it follows, that our operatives produce less than the English or Americans.