Law-suits. --Arbitration. --Commercial Morality, --Greek Frigates. --Tricks of Trade. --Heroism of a black Boy. --Stagecoach Law. --Schoolboy claimed as Property. --Sympathy of African race. --Bordentown. --American Honesty .-Philadelphia. --Baltimore. --Whites purchased by Blacks. --Expatriation.
IT has been said, that there are more law-suits in the United States than in England. There are some reasons why there should be less; --at least, in New York and other northern States. By the laws of the former, disputes upon money matters may be settled by arbitration; the parties agreeing as to the mode of decision, --which may be put upon record, and become as binding as the judgement of a judicial court. The chamber of commerce, by reference to arbitrators chosen for the express purpose, and paid for their services by stated fees, or so much remuneration per day, (generally two dollars,) adjusts any difference that may arise among its members. The merchants have thus a choice of judges; and may bring disputed claims before a lay or a legal tribunal; the former being empowered, if the parties agree to comply with the necessary forms, to settle the matter in dispute as definitively as the latter, and much more expeditiously and cheaply. This mode of adjudication is usually employed by the insurance offices, when any doubt arises with regard to their liability.
There is little ground for the assumption, that litigation has been encouraged by making justice less costly and more accessible; or that the cheapness of law has increased the consumption. There is no doubt that its high price has had a contrary effect, and promoted fraud by checking the inclination to prosecute. The costs of suit in New York above fifty dollars, fall on the losing party. Though this rule does not obtain in the lower courts, which have exclusive jurisdiction in causes involving sums below fifty dollars, yet, as either party can plead in person, and the decision is regulated rather by principles of equity than by legal technicalities, unjust or vexatious claims, with the view of saddling an opponent, though triumphant, with costs, are not likely to occur; --so that the low price of admission to the temple of justice holds out little inducement for any but those who really stand in need of her protection, to enter.
By the Revised Statutes of New York, arbitrators are sworn faithfully and fairly to examine and make a just award; and witnesses may be compelled to appear before them sub poena &c.
"Whenever any submission to arbitration shall be revoked by a party thereto, before the publication of an award, the party so revoking shall be liable to an action by the adverse party, to recover all the costs, expenses, and damages which he may have incurred, in preparing for such arbitration. But neither party shall have power to revoke powers of the arbitrators, after the cause shall have been finally submitted to them, upon hearing of the parties, for their decision."I wish I were equally convinced that the imputations thrown upon the national character, as somewhat lax in matters of commercial faith, were unjust; and that the standard of feeling in money transactions were higher than I have reason to think it is. I was frequently advised by the Americans to be cautious in my pecuniary dealings with their countrymen. Every Englishman I conversed with on the subject told me that he had met with repeated instances of the same friendly warning. The universality, with which the necessity of a prudent circumspection is inculcated, appears to every foreigner as something unusual and worthy of notice; --hints of a similar kind being rarely given or received in Europe. It would be thought a strange proceeding in an English merchant to place a French gentleman in a clergyman's house as a single boarder at 400l. a year; and still more that two or three of the most respectable members of the mercantile class in London should recommend and sanction such a proceeding. Yet this was done in New York, where the humble and retired manner in which the clergy live makes such a charge the more glaringly unjust. The comforts and expenditure of the establishment could not have borne a fair proportion to the sum demanded; --as the master of the house borrowed 500 dollars of his guest, and did not return the loan, without any interest, for upwards of two years.
--Rev. Stat. New York, II. 541.
So little satisfied was our unsuspecting countryman (from whom I had the anecdote) with the bargain made for him by his munificent friends, that, after three or four months had expired, he quitted the house; having compromised the affair by paying down 1000 dollars --half of what he had agreed to pay for the whole year-and one quarter of what the Governor of the State receives for his salary. None of his Episcopalian brethren stood higher in public estimation than this reverend rector. If public opinion were not anything but rigid on these matters, the Recorder would hardly, in open court, have officially palliated a fraudulent transaction which was brought before him while I was at New York. The party implicated was clearly convicted of having sold goods by misrepresenting their quality. It was urged in his favor, by the charitable judge, that no imputation could be laid upon his character; as such little manoeuvres were commonly practised in trade. The jury thought otherwise; and the defendant, like the Spartan youth, detected in theft, would learn prudence from the sentence, if he did not learn justice from the punishment. If the practice or maxims of commercial integrity were drawn from strict moral principles, could such an affair as that of the Greek frigates have taken place? --or, if it had taken place, would it have been permitted or countenanced ? In the case alluded to, ten per cent. was charged by the commission merchants on the whole expenditure, --five per cent. for disbursements, and the remainder for responsibility: 50,000 dollars were demanded for the use of the ship-yards: 10,000 were paid to Captain Chauncey for superintending the work: 45,000 for, the arbitrators, to whom the disputed claims were ultimately submitted, --being upwards of 78 dollars per diem for each --nearly ten times as much as the National Representatives in Congress receive for their services. The arbitrators called these mercantile houses, "diplomatic agents in a very difficult and delicate affair with our (the United States') government"; --though it does not appear, nor is it probable, that the general government had anything to do with the business, except sharing the spoils, by purchasing one of the vessels at half its value ; --Contostaulos, who had been dispatched to New York on the subject by the Greek Government, having been obliged to sell one of the frigates to raise money for the purchase of the other. It was "Tros, Rutulusve" ;with the federal administration. The whole transaction was of such a nature, as to be little creditable to a community that could tolerate such proceedings.
Among other instances of loose morality which came to my knowledge, were two that occurred to an Englishman, with whom I was well acquainted. He had written to Washington about some goods he had imported; and, not having received any answer, applied to the comptroller of the customs, who recommended him to a lawyer, that the necessary papers might be prepared, --naming at the same time a professional man, as a proper person to be employed. It came out afterwards, that the comptroller had, at that moment, in his possession, a letter from Washington, granting the prayer of the very petition he suggested. The lawyer he had recommended was his partner, or connected in business with him. The other had unfortunately procured the documents in question, and had paid for them, when he discovered the fraud that had been practised upon him. A similar case occurred to another Englishman of my acquaintance. These, however, may be considered instances of individual conduct. The other implied a more general feeling. The former of the two just mentioned was conversing one day with an American on the subject of a factory he had just set up; when a suggestion was made to him that he should extend his views by engaging in a joint-stock company. "We can manage this matter easily among ourselves," --said he. "We can have a committee of our own, and arrange it so as to keep every thing in our own hands. If we succeed, we can declare a low dividend, and so buy in shares for ourselves as they fall; --if things do not go on well, we can pursue an opposite course, and adjudge high dividends, so as to raise our stock in the market, and keep ourselves afloat." Now this sort of hint from a man who was nearly a stranger, evinces an extraordinary indifference to character; unless that sense of honor is wanting in society, which, however inoperative any where, is so far admitted every where else, that few would dare to propose its violation even to an intimate friend.
I was once asked, with a sarcastic smile, by an American lady of Hibernian descent, if I had met with any interesting blacks in the course of my tour. The winter I passed in New York furnished what this woman, with all her contempt for a race more persecuted and less fortunate than that from which she herself sprang, would acknowledge to be most painfully interesting. During the frost, some ice, on which several boys were skating, in the outskirts of the city, gave way; and several of them were drowned. During the confusion and terror, occasioned by this accident, a colored boy, whose courage and hardihood were well known, was called upon to render assistance. He immediately threw himself into the water with his skates on, and succeeded in saving two lads; but, while exerting himself to rescue a third, he was drawn under the ice, and unable to extricate himself. No one would risk his life for him. Soon after, the details of this melancholy event appeared in one of the newspapers, (the New York American,) with an offer to receive subscriptions for the mother, who was left, with a sick husband and a young family, deprived of the support which she had derived from her son's industry. As reference was made to a medical man in Park Place, I called upon him, and received a very favorable account both of the boy and his poor mother, who was employed to wash for him. I immediately proceeded to her house, and found that she had three children left; --the eldest about ten years of age, and the youngest an infant at the breast. In addition to these, she had undertaken the care of a little girl, five years old, the daughter of a deceased friend, whose husband had deserted his child, and refused to pay anything towards her support. "I consider her as my child," said the generous woman; "and, while I have a crust left, she shall share it with my children." I made inquiries about the boy she had just lost, and was told, what I had heard in Park Place, that his conduct had always been most exemplary; --that he had carried to her every cent he could save from his earnings, and had often expressed a wish that he might obtain sufficient to save her from working so hard; --her business sometimes keeping her up nearly all night.
Such was the history of Susannah Peterson and her heroic boy. It was told in the most simple and natural manner; without any display of grief, or the slightest attempt to exhibit feeling or excite commiseration. There was an expression of dejection however, in the countenance that could not be mistaken; and an effort to suppress the workings of a mother's heart, that I never saw so striking in any one. Every thing, in the furniture of the room, the decent behavior of the children, and the general deportment of the parent, bespoke full as much propriety and respectability as I ever met with in the same class of life, whatever might be the occupation or complexion. Mrs. Peterson was a member of one of the numerous societies for mutual assistance, which exist among the colored inhabitants of New York. That, to which she belonged, is called "The Benevolent Daughters of Zion," and contains about 200 members. The entrance money is one dollar, and the subscription money one shilling (about sixpence of our money) per month. The benefits to be derived from it are an allowance of twelve shillings a week for six weeks during sickness; with any addition after that period that the state of the funds may admit of; --and, in case of death, the payment of funeral expenses (generally ten dollars). There is another society, to which she once subscribed,-- "The Benevolent Assistant Society." The entrance to this is two shillings, and the subscription four cents monthly.
These contributions, with occasional donations, enable the society to assist poor persons who do not belong to it, as well as its own members, when in distress. Mrs. Peterson's brother, who is known in England as the African Roscius, had occasionally sent her remittances of money, and had expressed, in one of his letters from this country, an intention to provide for her unfortunate boy's education.
It would hardly be credited, that attempts could be made to send this excellent woman, --in bad health herself, with an infirm husband, and a young family, to the pestilential, climate of Africa. Yet the fact, cruel as it is, is too true. A person, under the pretence of employing her to wash for him, had been two or three times at her house, with the object of persuading her to emigrate to Liberia; where he assured her she would meet with every comfort she could desire. Just at this time, the disgraceful manner in which the affairs of the colony had been conducted, had transpired at the annual meeting of the Colonization Society at Washington, when it came out that the Society was in debt to the amount of 40,000 dollars; and no authentic account could be given by the managers, of the situation of the settlement, with respect to numbers, morals, health, or, indeed, any details which an ordinary share of attention or honesty might easily have obtained. Such was the wretched prospect exhibited to all present, that it was resolved not to send out any emigrants during the ensuing year, and to use every effort for replenishing the exhausted exchequer.
I had frequent opportunities of seeing Mrs. Peterson; and my respect for her character increased with my acquaintance. When I settled a little account I had with her for washing and other work, I had some difficulty in prevailing upon her to take what was strictly her due; such was her gratitude for the few services I was enabled, with the assistance of my friends, to render her. Three months had elapsed since the death of young Peterson, and not one of the relatives of either of the boys, whose lives he had saved at the cost of his own, had been near his bereaved mother; and the subscription did not amount to 70 dollars. This, at least, was all she had received. Two English ladies, who had been with her six or eight weeks before, had informed her that they had collected 20 dollars for her. When we consider that the population of the place amounts to more than 250,000, including Brooklyn, it is little to its credit that the gratitude it felt for the preservation of two of its citizens could find no better way to exhibit itself, than by a paltry donation to the self devoted preserver's afflicted parent of a sum scarcely exceeding one fourth of what he might have been sold for, when living, in the slave market at New Orleans.
On the very day that this generous act was performed by a poor lad of color, another example of humanity was given by a man belonging to the same "degraded caste." This case did not excite the same attention, though it well deserved commemoration and recompense. The latter it had, in the shape of five dollars, from the father of the boy who had been rescued from a watery grave. The name of the man who thus distinguished himself was Jones. He declined receiving any remuneration; and the money was given to another colored man, (Austin,) who had carried the child home with him, put him into his own bed, and restored him to life from the state of exhaustion in which he was when taken out of the water. Several white men were standing near, when the accident occurred; but none of them ventured to quit dry land: Two months elapsed before the father of the boy visited the man to whom he was indebted for the life of his son.
It is remarkable that the prejudice against these people increases as its injustice becomes more apparent; one of them, on his way to Philadelphia, about the same time, suffered so much by exposure to the cold on board the steam-boat, that he was detained at that city some days by severe illness. He was not permitted, though an invalid, to go into the cabin. Seven or eight persons, who knew him to be a highly respectable man, petitioned the captain to grant him this slight indulgence in vain. Another case, almost as bad, occurred near New York. A man had taken his place by the Newark stage and had got inside, with the permission of the driver; but was compelled, after crossing the ferry, to get out and walk nine miles from Jersey city to Newark, which he did not reach till some time after dark. On his refusal to alight, he was dragged out by force. I was acquainted with the man, and can vouch for his respectability, and for the truth of this story. I need not say what was his pedigree. The matter was carried into a court of justice; when the judge put a leading question, "Whether a stage proprietor or driver has or has not a right to order his passengers to sit in or on any part of the stage, to suit his own convenience." After a delay of four days, a verdict was given for the defendant. Thus, it appears, a stage coachman in America can "turn out" any one from his "place," at his own will and pleasure; and "the man wot drives" the Andrew Jackson, is more despotic than Andrew Jackson himself.
A short time after this, a boy of color, only seven years of age, was taken by force, in open day, from a public school in the city, on a charge of being a fugitive slave. As soon as the outrage was known, --for what, after all that has been said about the rights of property, was this seizure of a child, but an outrage upon humanity? --a meeting of this ill-treated race, consisting of seventy or eighty men, was held; and a subscription was raised to defray the expenses, which the maintenance and legal defence of this poor child would occasion. In the mean time, such was the sensation produced among the children, both of this school and of others, that penny subscriptions were entered into, by the scholars of both sexes. I was at the Anti-slavery Society's office, when the contributions were paid in. There were two or three deputations from the schools with their bags of copper; one containing two dollars and three shillings; another thirteen shillings: --four dollars were obtained from the school-mates of the poor little fellow.
A man who had presided at the meeting alluded to, and who witnessed the sympathy exhibited by these innocent victims of a prejudice, from which he had himself suffered, and which falls on the young and the old indiscriminately, was so much affected, that he could not refrain from tears --a weakness, of which he said he felt himself ashamed, but which I assured him, did him the highest honor. The whole scene, connected as it was with feelings and practices for which the people, among whom it took place, ought to hang down their heads with shame, was one of the most interesting I ever saw.
One of the boys, who had come with the contributions of his school, had one of the finest heads and most intelligent countenances to be seen on human shoulders. The complexion was African, but the features were European. He was the brother of a boy, whom I had examined --with others of the same race some months before, in Latin: --on which occasion they all acquitted themselves beyond what the shortness of the time, in which they had been engaged in the study of language, could have warranted any one to expect. Some essays, which they had composed in English, were read by them at the same time. A few of them were particularly well written; and all of them as deserving of praise as any compositions by persons of the same age. I should add, that it was by mere chance that I was present during the recitations. It may be remarked here, that the sum advanced, on ,the spur of the moment, by a few Pariahs, in a small district to redeem an infant brother from bondage, was about one third of what was obtained from the most populous and wealthy city in the Union, after the delay of several months, to relieve a poor woman, whose son had saved the lives of two of its favored inhabitants, and sacrificed his own in trying to preserve that of a third.
The boy, whom I examined, was very diligent and industrious. He would rise, in the depth of winter, at four or five o'clock in the morning, to read, before the business of the day, which began with him at an early hour.
On the 4th of April, having a few days before taken leave of my English friends, who were then on their way back to London, I left New York at six A.M. by steam-boat, for Philadelphia, and arrived there at half past two. The distance is eighty-five miles. At Amboy, twenty-three miles from the city, the passengers left the boat, and proceeded (thirty-four miles) by the rail-road, through an uninteresting country, to Bordentown, (New Jersey,) where we again embarked for Philadelphia, twenty-eight miles further. The accommodations and arrangements on board were extremely good. The luggage had been previously placed on cars made for the purpose; so that on entering and quitting the State of New Jersey, we were not detained five minutes; each passenger being directed by a ticket he received when paying his fare, to his proper car on the rail-road, while the luggage was removed by a crane from the vessel to the road, and, on arriving at the end, from the road to the vessel, without difficulty or delay.
We passed by the chateau of Count de Survilliers, the ex-king of Spain. The former house was burnt down about fourteen or fifteen years ago; when the inhabitants of the neighbourhood not only assisted in extinguishing the flames, but exhibited a degree of honesty that deserves to be recorded. The following is extracted from a letter written by the proprietor to W. Snowden, judge and justice of the peace at Bordentown. "All the furniture, statues, pictures, money, plate, gold, jewels, linen, books, and in short everything that was not consumed, has been most scrupulously delivered into the hands of the people of my house. In the night of the fire, and during the next day, there were brought to me by laboring men, drawers, in which I have found the proper quantity of pieces of money, and medals of gold and valuable jewels, which might have been taken away with impunity."
I staid but one night at Philadelphia; and reached Baltimore, partly by steam-boat and partly by railroad, the next day. I was anxious to get on to Washington; and had no opportunity of seeing anything of Baltimore.
On the evening of my arrival I called on Mr. Levington, the colored preacher whom I had heard at Boston. He was living in a wretched hovel: his room, however, was better furnished and more comfortable than the external appearance of his dwelling indicated. It is disgraceful to the Episcopal Church, that one of her most praiseworthy and disinterested ministers should be so ill provided for. In his way home from the East, he had preached at Peter Williams's church, and obtained sixty-five dollars forty cents from his auditors; while from Christ Church (Boston) he had received but thirty-five. As the gallery on that occasion was nearly filled with persons of color, some deduction must be made from the "white " contributions; and it may fairly be said, that the "degraded race" to which he belongs are twice as rich or twice as generous as the supercilious whites. After all the trouble and anxiety he had undergone, during an absence of six months, he had not cleared 600 dollars. He had paid over the proceeds to the creditors of his church; and the remaining 600 due were to be received by them in instalments. The testimonials he had brought back with him from the clergy in New York and New England had in some measure compensated the incomplete result of his mission, by conciliating the public favor, and inducing one of his clerical brethren to promise him the assistance of an annual sermon in aid of his exertions to liquidate what remained of the debt. One testimony to his worth might well have been spared; Elliott Cresson (the well-known agent of the Colonization Society) offered to provide for his wife and children, and arrange the affairs of his church, if he would go to Liberia. But he was too shrewd to accept a proposal which he knew was never made to any one from a generous motive. When those who are likely to do honor to themselves and their race are uniformly selected as fit objects of expatriation, --when solicitations and entreaties and inducements of all sorts are held out, not to the reprobate and ignorant, but the honest and well-educated, to quit the country, --suspicion is naturally excited that a preconcerted scheme, of a very extensive co-operation, has been brought into action, with views and objects directly the reverse of those professed by its artful agents.
The next day being Sunday, I went to Mr. Levington's church, the congregation at which was very small, but very decent in their dress and demeanor: the rest of his flock having been kept away by the weather, which was very boisterous; the wind and the rain seeming to vie with each other in violence. The service was performed with propriety and devotion; and the responses made with decorum and regularity. Most part of these people at Baltimore are of the Methodist persuasion; and the opposition their preachers make to Episcopacy, renders it a matter of no small difficulty to find occupiers for the new pews in the new church, in spite of the attraction of comfortable seats and a handsome building.
There are a good many free blacks in Baltimore, the merchants of which prefer them to the whites as porters and carmen. So well known are they for their superior honesty and civility, that the storekeepers and tradesmen are used, as I have been informed by more than one reputable person, to tell their customers that they will not be answerable for any goods they may send out, when entrusted to white people. No such proviso is made in the case of a colored porter. Some of them possess property, and the whole class is sufficiently numerous to have excited the jealousy of the whites, who endeavored, some years back, to procure a law for excluding them from some of the most lucrative employments in the city. The attempt failed; for the citizens had the good sense to see that they would be sure to suffer by the monopoly which concession would have granted to the claimants. A very singular fact is mentioned in a work published in 1818, by a person (M. de Fiirstenwather) who was sent from Germany, to make inquiries into the condition of the emigrants from that country to the United States: "There arrived," he says, "this summer a ship from Amsterdam, addressed to Mr. Graff --one of the richest merchants in this place. A greater part of the passengers had not paid their freight. Two families were bought by free negroes, of which there is a large number in Maryland. This disgusted the Germans in Baltimore to the degree, that they, and among them Mr. Graff himself, though consignee of the ship, without whose knowledge the thing had taken place, immediately rebought them, and formed an association to prevent the recurrence of any such degrading abuse."
In the session of 1830-31, the legislature of Maryland passed an act of expatriation against the free blacks. 20,000 dollars were voted for the purpose; and a power of raising ten times that sum, by loan, if necessary, was granted. Compulsion was to be used in the case of those who refused to quit the State. Such wanton cruelty is almost without an example in the annals of human tyranny; which in other times, and in other places, has at least endeavored to conceal its crimes under some sort of cover --some plea of religious or political expediency. Another act, of the same date, prohibits, under the severest penalties, the introduction of any free negro or mulatto from other States. An infringement of this law, the penalties of which have fallen so severely on Levington, by depriving him of the pupils he might have otherwise had, is visited with a fine of fifty dollars for every week of its continuance; and, in default of payment, subjects the offender to be sold for a length of time necessary to pay the mulct: --that is, in fact, to perpetual slavery: for who is to protect him against a further sale, and a removal to the remote regions of the south for life?