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Salomon de Rothschild Tours America (1861)

New Orleans

New Orleans, April 2, '61.

Herrmann, the MagicianHer[r]mann, the famous prestidigitator, who was one of the passengers [on the steamboat going from New York to New Orleans], did a few tricks for them. This Her[r]mann is a topnotch man, with extraordinary talent in his profession. His extreme munificence has gotten for him the honorary distinctions of sovereigns and the most flattering testimonials of private individuals. He is covered with decorations and medals.

An Israelite by birth, he has remained strongly attached to his faith. Now that he has established his entire family and donated more than 800,000 francs for the poor in the various countries he has been through, he is going to retire in Hamburg with a fortune of 1,000,000 francs....

New Orleans, April 5, '61.

The entry into New Orleans is very striking, with all those huge, three-decked ships lined up side by side. They look like bucentaurs, or like ancient Spanish galleys. They are veritable strong, floating chateaux, and beside them ordinary ships look like pygmies.

New Orleans is a very French city which has preserved the customs of the mother country. Despite the Anglo-Saxon element which is beginning to become dominant, the old French city [still exists]. I asked what language I should speak in the city, and was told: "French on the right of Canal Street, English on the left."...

The Creole women are very beautiful and extremely nice. They have the most beautiful eyes and the prettiest feet in the world. They are generally unlearned, except those who have been brought up in Europe. Their conversation never rises above the commonplace. At the races, where they got together last week, they were in full dress and occupied a platform similar to the one in Chantilly. There were about two or three hundred of them there, each more beautiful than the other and all belonging to society. I never in my life saw a more perfect and beautiful sight.

I was admirably received...Mr. J. M. Call, a rich planter whom I met at New Port, made it his business to do me the honors of his city and his state. The other day he took me to his plantation eighty miles north of New Orleans, and he invited several people to accompany us...

Mr. J. M. Call's plantation is well-kept and well-directed. He owns 250 negroes, and I confess frankly that they seem better fed and in better health and happier than many of our countrymen, and especially better than the free negroes.

There is a complete difference between these and the Cuban slaves, just as there is between a stupid peasant from the mountains and the intelligent workman of the cities. I cannot deny that the negroes are punished when they do not behave well, but at the same time the greatest care is taken of their health, and even of their well-being. Each settlement has its hospital and its doctor. The negroes do not work on Sundays, and often they are taken, as a reward, in carts to the neighboring city, where they can dance and have as much fun as they want. Consequently, a negro prefers to receive twenty-five lashes than to be kept in on Sunday.

The slavery question in the United States is not understood in Europe. It is even less understood in the Northern states, where political passions and hereditary prejudices obscure still more the judgments in this regard. I myself at New York did not conceive an exact idea of the state of affairs, and it is only through being here that I have been able to arrive at an impartial realization of the situation.

The South could not do otherwise than separate. The invading element of the North would annihilate and ruin it, and it would perhaps not have the strength and the resources that it now has. Therefore it cannot go back on its decision, and whatever the national administration does, the Southern states will defend their independence at the cost of their last cent and of their last drop of blood.

Therefore the European states should indeed intercede in order to avoid bloodshed which would be useless and very detrimental to their commerce. I am here in the center of the news, arriving at each moment and generally contradictory.

We are expecting the bombardment of Charlestown [S.C.]. But what interest there is in seeing this new government being formed! Men are enlisting en masse, but money is lacking...

New Orleans, April 20, '61.

The political news is so important and occupies the minds of all to such an extent that there remains little inclination to bother with minor news and with tittle-tattle. Everyone still continues to be very nice toward me and tries to show me that the South is not inhabited by savages. And, indeed, in all my travels thus far I have found nothing that is so much like Paris.

It is true that the numerous Creole families which came here at different times to seek their fortune, or to escape from political or religious persecution, have preserved those old traditions, which, unfortunately, tend to disappear from our country as the days go by.

Life on the plantations amidst the negroes is the life of a country gentleman, the greatest comfort without the slightest luxury.

The houses in New Orleans are for the most part small, but elegant and comfortable, and very good for receptions.

The chief feature of the social make-up of the country is the horse races. The season lasts a week, but there is only one race a day, and these have little interest because of the small number of horses involved. Yet the race track is the meeting place for all the ladies in the city, and I can't describe to you what a pretty view they offer. The quadrupeds, therefore, aren't the heroes of the day, but rather it is the bipeds to whom much more attention is paid.

Since the race track belongs to a private society, like our Jockey Club in Paris, the members don't admit anyone but "gentlemen," and they have a large, beautiful gallery reserved exclusively for themselves and the "invited guests." This gallery leads into another one where all the ladies assemble. Beneath this last gallery there is a large hall where, at all hours, a magnificent lunch is served for the ladies, paid for by the members of the society, who are very gallant, as you see.

The great rage in the Confederate States and in the United States is to organize fairs. The ladies devote themselves to this project with an ardor worthy of our most indefatigable alms collectors. If you don't go there, they maltreat you; if you do go there, you are "taken for a ride"' but I must admit that the women merchants are quite pretty, and that they have everything they need to rob you. Some of them sell, others work the lotteries, and the prettiest are at the refreshment or the supper table. I saw one of these ladies asking twenty-five piasters for a chicken wing! In this way they do a good business for their cause...

What is astonishing here, or rather, what is not astonishing, is the high position occupied by our coreligionists, or rather by those who were born into the faith and who, having married Christian women, and without converting, have forgotten the practices of their fathers.

Judah P. Benjamin, the Attorney General of the Confederate States, is perhaps the greatest mind on this continent. H.M. Hyams, the lieutenant governor of Louisiana, Moyse, the Secretary of the Interior, etc. And what is odd, all these men have a Jewish heart and take an interest in me, because I represent the greatest Jewish house in the world.

Hyams, for example, who is a topnotch man and on whose shoulders rests all the work of the state of Louisiana, comes to see me almost daily, or asks me to come to see him, and gives me a course, so to speak, in American and Southern politics. He has read to me a very large number of chapters from books written twenty years ago, to help me understand the present problem, giving me the pros and the cons, and having me read all the statistics that his position permits him to have, and giving me all possible information on the question of the tariffs, which is now the principal question of the moment. Thanks to him and to several other obliging persons, I can flatter myself that I know the American problem more deeply than any foreigner or than a large number of natives...