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Salomon de Rothschild Tours America (1861)

Gossip Political and Social

With respect to democracy, the day before yesterday someone took me to the Tammany Hall Democratic ball. When I was led into the hall where the commissioners were gathering strength in a huge punch bowl, I began to deal out handshakes, right and left, to the cobbler and to the corner grocer. Then all these gentlemen, two abreast and giving each other their arms to counterbalance the effects of the rum, marched forward, with a band at their head, and following a pole surmounted by a more or less Phrygian cap, though altered by silk and gold galloons. They explained to me that this cap represented the victory won by General [Andrew] Jackson over the English at New Orleans. Enmeshed in this procession, I advanced triumphantly in the middle of two rows of ladies. What figures and what clothes! Why, in addition to all that, they were pretty!

After several topical speeches, the dances began. But you might have thought they were done by apes...For a while this strange spectacle amused me quite a bit, but since I had forgotten my Eau de Cologne, I escaped...

Yesterday there were more very heated debates in the House of Representatives. When one member couldn't find words sufficiently expressive, he pulled out a revolver from his pocket. His opponent immediately provided himself with a Bowie knife. The women, thrilled by this incident, crowded into the upper galleries, crying: "Let me see the fight." But the attendants separated the fiery orators, who afterwards apologized to one another. I shall soon send you [Hinton Rowan] Helper's brochure [The Impending Crisis], which is causing a great stir right now and which is a resume of Republican doctrine...

New York, January 16, 1860

...In the South, exasperation has reached its peak. Some Irishmen and Americans of the Northern states who had formed an unseasonable opinion on the question of slavery were flogged in the public square, then covered with tar and feathers, and were sent back to the North dressed in this simple but embarrassing costume. Such excesses are certainly very regrettable, but one has to admit that the Republicans are to blame. The violence of their invectives and the counsels of revolt given to the blacks would naturally lead to reprisals on the part of a passionate and inconsiderate populace.

I think, however, that the good sense of the nation will prevail and will prevent disunion and conflict, but people are counting much more on financial interests to quiet the trouble. The large manufacturers are afraid that if the South secedes, it may refuse its cotton to the North and establish its own industrial plants. I have already written you all my thoughts on America, but I can add that the more I see of things, the less I am swayed in favor of this form of government...

Universal suffrage confers authority upon persons unworthy of it and who often lack the aptitude necessary for public affairs. these persons, in order to retain the favor of the multitude, often support dangerous ideas and appoint to subordinate offices those who can be useful to them for their re-election...

This system is carried so far that even in New York the city authorities use the enormous taxes imposed on the inhabitants, not for the beautification or for the maintenance of the city, but to encourage the support of the party, and you will be astonished when you realize that the taxes amount to the sum of $8,000,000 (40,000,000 francs)...

New York, February 6, 1860

...You complain about the filthiness of Paris. What would you say of New York, in comparison with which Tetuan is a waxed ballroom? You should see New York! It snows every day, but the sun is given the task of melting the snow and making it disappear. The result: slush, three feet deep.

As far as the mayor goes, he was named by the city contractors. He is their representative, to the great fury of the property owners who pay $8,000,000 in taxes and enrich the scoundrels. I laugh heartily when I think of the benefits of equality and find that one has to pay dearly and suffer not a little in order to bear the glorious title of American citizen...