Page images

A Western character; for, although these twelve million people exhibit great diversities of origin, culture, and opinion on the one hand, and on the other are yearly becoming more thoroughly American, they at present exhibit positive traits of character as the result of the peculiar conditions of Western life. We propose in this article to consider, in a general way, this interesting spectacle of Western emigration and Western character.

At the outset, we may dismiss, as not pertinent to our inquiries, the very small class of persons on whose character an emigration to the West has produced no marked impression. In every Western community we find a few individuals, sometimes a respectable little clique, who, dwelling bodily amid the scenes of our New World, have spiritually never strayed beyond their place of nativity. The stubborn old English, Scotch, or North-Irish gentleman, who, after fifty years of Western-American friction, still carries London, Edinburgh, or Belfast in every stamp of his obstinate foot; the jolly German student, from whose vision the cloud-land of his meerschaum obscures the whole universe, save his own complacent "Ego," and who, even amid the opening thunders of the Judgment morning would call for his "lager" and be a "Philister;" the run-down French aristocrat, trying, with a sort of comic desperation, to keep his feet planted in the tracks of his forefathers; the Southern swashbuckler, who wears his hair long, rants in as insolent defiance of modern ideas, and chews his plug-tobacco as frantically, as if the Southern Confederacy were in full blast; the slow Pennsyl vanian farmer and his more moderate wife, who, on the broad plains of Central Ohio, seem yet to abide in one of the dimples of father Alleghany's hands; the dear old Quaker lady, whom God keeps, as she is, as a model of essential womanhood; the trim Yankee housekeeper, dying slowly with her daily toil of washing the dirt from the surface of the great West, and dreaming o'nights of going to glory by the way of Worcester, Mass.; the New-York swell and the Philadelphia exquisite, whom even the splendors of Chicago cannot persuade to take down their harps from the willows; the

gentlemanly University master of a select school of young ladies or gentlemen, who lives a sort of spectral existence amid our noisy realities, pleasantly indifferent to what we think of him or his classic scheme of life, since, happen what may, old Harvard and Yale will abide, all these, and yet other phenomena, exist to confirm the fact, that nothing on earth is so enduring as a fixed conceit of human self-sufficiency. Most of these people are useful citizens in their own sphere of labor, and, even when goaded into chronic irritation by the annoyances of our barbarism, a picturesque feature in our Western human scenery. Many of them would occupy positions of high respectability in an old civilization. But here they are never at home; and their despairing existence is the most melancholy feature of Western life. We can look on the wreck of a thousand brave souls who believe in the destiny of the New World more fervently for every failure of their own to grasp its prizes, with enthusiasm, compared to the feeling with which we contemplate this class of strong men and women, slowly dying of spiritual scurvy, amid boundless opportunities which they have not the heart to touch.

The Germanic and British peoples, and their American descendants, are the great emigrating races of the modern world. So great is their breadth and versatility of nature, that they can at once furnish the noblest conservatism to sustain great empires at home, and send forth every variety of the radical character to found new civilizations in virgin lands. Out of this progressive region of the European and older American life has come the vast majority of our Western people. Few of this great number can abide in such a land without being greatly changed. Every State and locality has impressed its own features for a time upon the Western district it has colonized. But, underneath all these local influences, the general type of Western character is slowly developing. It is not an exclusive type of character, content to remain under the ban of provincialism. Indeed, it is the beginning of the distinctively American character; and will never rest content till it has reconstructed the South-west to

the Gulf, overflowed the Alleghanies, and borne back the new life of the mighty West towards the rising sun.

The first great emigration under the auspices of the new American republic was from New England to Central and Western New York. The New York of the Revolution was the valleys of the Hudson and the Mohawk; and there an order of society had been established as aristocratic as Virginia itself. The country was chiefly parcelled out among its Dutch, English, North-Irish, and Scotch landholders, while great masses of tenantry were little in advance of the present poor whites of the South. As a consequence, New York was full of Tories during the war; and many a blatant copperhead of Manhattan and the Catskills, during the last six years, has only voiced the principles of his tory or cowboy grandfather. Such a country as Eastern New York, at the beginning of this century, was no home for the eager youth of Yankeeland, whose faces were set toward the great West. The Albany Dutchman smoked his pipe with placid wonderment on the stoop of his Pearl Street gable-ender, as he beheld the mysterious procession of emigrant wagons creeping towards Schenectady; and to-day, in Albany, the valley of the Mohawk goes by the name "Out-West." The Yankees struck Central New York at Utica, and flowed on in a resistless torrent, till they filled the whole inviting region to the Pennsylvania and Canadian borders on the south and north, and the Lakes upon the west.

Western New York is New England amplified and mollified by the rich and varied life of the greatest American State. It is more decided in its progressive American tendency than any portion of New England, save Maine, Vermont, and Eastern Massachusetts: indeed, Connecticut has been kept in an enfeebled, half-neutral condition, by this prodigious drain upon her youthful radical population. While the people of Western New York are lacking in the fine literary culture and English style of refinement so much prized in Boston, they have a weight of manly and womanly character, a breadth of thought and feeling, especially in public affairs, and a swinging onward movement almost un

known east of the Hudson. It is the grandest people in these United States, and has sent forth, and is still sending, more men of mark to the West than all other portions of the Union. With one hand it holds the chief American city from rushing to swift perdition, and with the other it grasps. the new West. Here, on the first camping-ground of the Western emigrant, was struck the key-note of our new American order of character and social affairs.

From Western New York the tide of Western emigration skirted Lake Erie, throwing out an affluent down the western slopes of the Pennsylvania and Virginia Mountains, greatly changing Pennsylvania and Western Virginia. Here it is largely mingled with Scotch, Irish, Southern, and Pennsylvania elements. It has marched irresistibly along a path, almost identical with the fortieth parallel of latitude, to the Pacific, and there turned the flank of slavery and barbarism in California and Kansas, each of which was in succession the political Five-Forks of the slave power. In this way, Northern Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, were largely peopled. Though blended somewhat through all these regions with a scattering emigration from the South, and in certain localities almost a new Ireland or Germany, the Northern radical element has always been the foundation of society in this region.

From Eastport to St. Paul, one general type of the American character prevails, above the fortieth parallel of latitude. The inhabitants of this region, though in different states of progress and culture, represent all the essential attributes of that grand middle-class of Great Britain, to which free society owes its greatest debt of gratitude. It is the most intellectual people in the world; though its intellect has so far been chiefly occupied in regions of industrial, political, and social life. It bears within its latent deeps the new literature, philosophy, science, art, and religion of the republic. It is laying broad foundations for the education of the whole people, and its University of Michigan excites the admiration of Harvard itself; while its magnificent foundation of Cornell University, at Ithaca, awakens great hopes of

something new in our university life; and in Oberlin, Antioch, Galesburg, and other rising colleges, it is solving the problem of the united university education of the sexes. From this region went forth the early movement against slavery, and its vote was united for Fremont in 1856. In religion it occupies the liberal wing of every American Church. Out of it came the theological and philanthropic agitation which divided every great American Protestant Church, save the Episcopal, before 1860.

Every good idea moves through our human life dogged by a black shadow; and it is not strange that this most progressive, intellectual, and energetic order of Northern society should be exposed to all the dangers of radicalism in its most extreme and varied forms. This region of our country has given birth to a multitude of excitable and unbalanced spirits, who have published their opinions in perfect freedom during the last twenty-five years. The system of popular lectures, the press, the convention, have given every facility to this class of agitators; and the lively interest of the masses of the people has always secured a large hearing to every public teacher who did not add to his radical extravagance the conservative grace of stupidity. The prolonged agitations in the churches have also bred destructive fanaticisms and desolating scepticisms, which have alarmed many good men for the existence of the Church itself. The political life of this district is never stagnant; for every month some new monster makes the sea of popular opinion "boil like a pot of ointment." Business is perpetually sounding the deeps and scaling the heights of speculation. And even the family is assailed by strange theories of marriage, which threaten to dissolve society itself. There is no doubt that the charge of the whole world is true, that this portion of America is the battle-ground of all possible and impossible theories of human affairs.

But the enemies of the radical North, in their estimate of its tendencies, fail to discover the grand, distinctive characteristic of this remarkable people, its deep faith in the spiritual and moral side of human life.

[ocr errors]

There never was a

« PreviousContinue »