Introduction to The Redskins (1846)

Susan Fenimore Cooper

Introductions to novels by her father, with significant biographic and literary information, were written by Susan Fenimore Cooper as prefaces to excerpts from 25 Cooper novels in Pages and Pictures from the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper, with Notes by Susan Fenimore Cooper (New York: W.A. Townsend and Co., 1861). She also wrote introductions to 15 (not all the same) novels published between 1876-1884 as the Household Edition of the Works of J. Fenimore Cooper (New York and Cambridge: Houghton, Mifflin and Co. [Hurd and Mifflin]).

These introductions are collected for the first time on the Cooper Society website. Lengthy quotations have been reproduced in indented form, but retaining the quotation marks of the original, and their sources have been indicated in [square brackets].

Topics Covered: Cooper’s views on the anti-rent question [quotations]; no pecuniary interest in the issue; anti-rent in Otsego county; jurists’ approval of Cooper’s treatment of the issue.

Pages and Pictures, pp. 366-367

Contents: THE REDSKINS. — Anti-rent — The author’s views of the subject — Jurists’ opinions of this series — Extract, Sunday at Ravenshurst after the Incendiary Fire.

[366] IN “The Redskins” we have the third and last work of the anti-rent series, in which the crisis is reached, and the cupidity and lawless spirit of the disorderly faction appear in their true light. “You well know that I am no advocate for any government but that which is founded on popular right, protected from popular abuses, — were words which Mr. Fenimore Cooper had written many years earlier. And now, in the hour of danger, to aid in protecting these rights of the people, against their abuse by the evil-minded among themselves, he held to be a high duty of every honest, and generous, and intelligent citizen. “As democrats, we protest most solemnly against such barefaced frauds, such palpable cupidity and covetousness being termed any thing but what they are. Democracy is a lofty and noble sentiment. It is just,and treats all men alike. It is not the friend of a canting legislation, but meaning right, dare act directly. There is no greater delusion than to suppose that true democracy has any thing in common with injustice or roguery. Nor is it any apology to anti-rentism, in any of its aspects, to say that leasehold tenures are inexpedient. The most expedient thing in existence is to do right. Were there no other objection to the anti-rent movement than its corrupting influence, that alone should set every wise man in the community firmly against it.”

[367] Mr. Cooper’s pecuniary interest in the question was very slight, indeed; but his was the far-seeing eye which in every illegal public act sees the danger which threatens eventually every family hearth-stone in the country. Acts of public violence, which may become justifiable under other forms of government, he considered as absolutely inexcusable in a democracy, without even the most feeble shadow of reason to support them. During those anti-rent disturbances, there was a degree of ferment in Otsego county, but no open defiance of law. There were two or three small pieces of artillery, kept in a very dilapidated arsenal on the lake-shore, and used hitherto solely for rejoicing and political victories; these were removed for a time from the village, by orders from Albany, lest they should be seized by the anti-renters of the adjoining county of Delaware. Ammunition also passed through the valley on the way to Delhi. But beyond these few preliminary steps of caution, the good people of Otsego escaped all overt acts of disturbance. The victory which the honest supporters of the laws gained over the rebellious faction in Delaware county, which was placed for a time under martial law, will be remembered by the reader. The spirit of violence and insubordination was subdued. That it may, in every outbreak, be met and controlled with firmness, with wisdom, with upright impartiality and justice, must be the heartfelt wish of every honest citizen of the republic.

The legal knowledge and skill shown by Mr. Cooper in this series of works has been declared remarkable by distinguished jurists of the country. He was partial to legal reading, and often studied some questions of that nature with deep interest, and without any other object than the pleasure of the investigation itself.

Excerpt: “Redskins” [James Fenimore Cooper, The Redskins [1846] (New York: W.A. Townsend and Co., 1860), Chapter 24, pp. 417-421]