A Foreign Spectator IV

Nicholas Collin

August 10, 1787

Independent Gazetteer, 10 August 1787

Civil society becomes, in its natural progress, by degrees more happy. The faculties of human nature are unfolded and improved; consequently better enabled to pursue and attain the means of felicity, which lie in man himself and in external nature —the many wants of reciprocal assistance in these pursuits call forth the social affections —the very competition of interests, and clashing of passions, teach the necessity of good manners, and moral government. I say, a natural progress —because a civil society may set out in a wrong way; or in a prosperous career be retarded, misled, and entangled by the ignorance or ill designs of the guides, or the laziness, obstinacy, disorder of its members. The progress of civilization in the United States will, if properly conducted, gradually improve the dispositions necessary for civil government, and the federal in particular. The rapid encrease of population will soon multiply and draw closer the links of society. Idleness and a slovenly economy will then be corrected by a sense of real want, or at least the loss of great comforts. The labouring people must work more; yet will be much happier by a greater sobriety and frugality. Smaller portions of land must be improved with more assiduous, orderly, and ingenious industry. A competition in the several trades and manufactures will produce a greater emulation, in workmanship, and complaisance to customers. Commercial dealings will require more punctuality and exactness. In Europe the payment of a small sum to the very day is often indispensable, discharges his contracts, or carry on the branches of his business; and one disappointment creates many hundred, where national industry has formed extensive and intricate connexions —In America, the neglect of payment is not so pernicious; people expect to be disappointed by each other; they can easily find credit; and the great majority, depending on agriculture, or the most useful trades, cannot at the worst want necessaries. Hence, merchants, shopkeepers, tradesmen, and farmers are in accounts with each other for years: money-hunting is a common expression, and very proper, as many hunt for days, and cannot get a shilling.

The multiplicity of interests and connexions, that increases in every progressive society, and is in America quickened by a rapid population, will improve the general manners by a deeper and more frequent sense of the necessity, propriety, and advantage of an equitable, obliging, and decent conduct —men will from interest and examples learn to check rude and selfish passions; to yield, not only to the rights, but sometimes even the fancies of others; and will be easily reconciled to this self-denial, because they receive the same good treatment from others. The civil arts will in their progress visit the ruder parts of the country; procure ease and affluence, and thereby taste and means for education, reading, social pleasures, and for the genuine elegancies of human life, which improve the understanding, embellish the imagination, and refine the passions. The necessity of civil order encreases with the multiplicity and reciprocal connexion of civil affairs —The many objects of wealth and pleasure raise eager competitions, and excite the ill-disposed to acts of violence and fraud; they also produce inordinate gratifications in luxuries —Fortune and talents will claim an invidious distinction —moral prejudices and high principles of honor may sometimes raise warm contentions —Not only malice and selfishness of individuals, but in many cases their neglect, may destroy the property and lives of thousands —Local situation, wealth, &c. may expose a nation to foreign attacks —This and commercial affairs, may involve it in extensive connexions with other powers. All this will point out the necessity of legislation, police, public defence; of a general powerful government; which cannot be supported without a chearful obedience, personal services, and pecuniary contributions —Let us compare, in this respect, a peasant from a wilder part of the country with a citizen of Philadelphia. The first has every necessary of simple life within himself; he has no law-suits, fears no thieves and robbers; knows nothing of a foreign enemy —The latter finds a jail the most necessary building in the city; he must trust a great part of his property among strangers, for which a regular administration of justice is his only security —He sees the necessity of strict police, not only for conveniency, but health, life, and his dearest interests —a rude carter may drive over his children —unlucky boys may set his house on fire by their squibs —the stinking dock may cause a putrid fever, by which he may die or lose his wife. He knows, that in case of war, a frigate may burn the city, if the river is not fortified; and that the whole militia of Pennsylvania could not defend him without a federal power. The events of Massachusetts Bay confirm my assertions; the rebellion broke out in the remoter counties —Boston and other great-towns are loyal. In Europe, riots are more frequent in great towns, where a numerous and indigent populace is more corrupt than the poorest country people. In America the cities have yet but a small mob; the great body of people live in the country; and numbers have, from ignorance, rude manners, and a weak sense of social dependence, dispositions very unfavorable to civil, and especially federal, government. The civil corruption, so visible in many ancient states, and aggravated by the pens of some great political writers, has made it a very common opinion —that high civilization brings on political diseases, and final dissolution. But we should consider that a refined civilization is not principally an immense apparatus of wealth and luxury: such a corrupt national taste will indeed be fatal —that although every period of the political body, like that of the human frame, has its peculiar disorders; yet there is not such a corruption in human nature, that men by too near approach must infect each other —that the United States, whose constitution is young, and tainted with no mortal distemper, may hope by a genuine civilization to live forever. Human reason is a ray from the eternal MIND, and true goodness an image of his loveliest attribute. They can in conjunction plan the felicity of the greatest political systems; must they then be confined to narrow spheres? Must they be conquered by the night of ignorance and vice! No! the constellation of noble minds shall, we hope, shed a bright day over America till time is no more.

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