The “soulless corporation” in Venice, England, France, and America: Cooper’s The Bravo (1831)

Lance Schachterle (Worcester Polytechnic Institute)

Presented at the No. 1 Cooper Panel of the 2011 Conference of the American Literature Association in Boston.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper Society Miscellaneous Papers No. 28, May, 2011.

Copyright © 2011, James Fenimore Cooper Society.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

Cooper spent only ten days (28 April to 7 May 1830) in Venice at the very end of the almost twenty months (beginning October 1828) he and his family devoted to Italy in their seven-year sojourn in Europe. But no other city so strongly affected his art, as Venice became the template for his dystopian political novel The Bravo, published in 1831. In addition to relying on historical sources, in portraying the Venetian oligarchy Cooper drew heavily upon his three-month stay in London in 1828, as analyzed in his 1837 Gleanings in Europe: England, and to a lesser extent, on his observations of political machinations occurring in Paris where he wrote the novel in 1830.

Yet despite these European influences, the author emphatically declared to Rufus Wilmot Griswold in a letter of 27 May-June? 1844 that The Bravo was “perhaps, in spirit, the most American book I ever wrote. 1 On the face of it, this declaration seems odd when applied to a novel taking place a half-century before the American Revolution with all the characters Italians representing different social classes in a still-largely feudal society.

Perhaps in stressing this American “spirit” of the novel in 1844, Cooper was still smarting from attacks a decade earlier, led by the American “Cassio,” Edward Sherman Gould II, that the novelist had abandoned concerns about his native land by enlisting in European political disputes during his seven years abroad from 1826 to 1833. 2

1. The “soulless corporation”

In this paper I argue that Cooper had deeper concerns than the “Cassio” disputes for asserting the American import of the novel, and that these concerns emerge from his recognition that the same “soulless corporation” (his epithet from the novel) that ruled 18ᵗʰ century Venice also ruled contemporary England and seized control of France in 1830. And I believe Cooper feared that the Whig-supported descendants of the early New Jersey corporation, the Society for Useful Manufactures sponsored by Alexander Hamilton, could similarly threaten the United States with oligarchic control. What disturbed Cooper most about the political system of Venice (“factitious” was his favored descriptor for it) was the masking of all personal political and moral responsibility for the actions of the individual members of its secretive councils. From his acknowledged source, the 1819 History of Venice by Count Pierre Daru, Cooper gathered the details of how the Venetian oligarchy (whose ranks were fixed in the fourteenth century) determined by secret lotteries the members of the ruling councils, rotating that membership but keeping its constituency secret from even the other great families of “the Golden Book.” 3 Perpetuating these secret ruling bodies for centuries by constantly replenishing their members guaranteed a virtual immortality for the ruling elite class as a whole while shielding them from any individual responsibility.

To Cooper a corporation which evaded accountability was amoral, or as he termed it in a polemical aside in the novel, “soulless”:

The advances of the human intellect, supported by the means of publicity, may temper the exercise of a similar irresponsible power, in our own age, but in no country has this substitution of a soulless corporation for an elective representation been made, in which a system of rule has not been established, that sets at nought the laws of natural justice and the rights of the citizen. Any pretension to the contrary, by placing profession in opposition to practice, is only adding hypocrisy to usurpation. 4

Clearly here Cooper is thinking of the United States as the best embodiment of a community governed by “an elective representation” “supported by the means of publicity” that can preserve “the laws of natural justice and the rights of the citizen.” To him “soulless corporations” threatened “the rights of the citizen” at every turn. Writing, for example, in a public letter in February 1827 about the indifference he found in Paris to the horrors of the Revolution and Napoleon, he remarked that “Nations may be like other Corporations, soulless; but the individual who had committed one such act of madness, would be kept in wholesome restraint for the rest of his life.” (italics Cooper’s; L&J, 1:195.)

Both supporters and enemies of the corporation have been around for centuries. In The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge trace legal agreements to pool resources for exploiting land ownership as far back in time to Sumerians of 3000 B.C., and point out that several American colonies were organized and settled by British government-chartered corporations that sold shares openly and limited liability. But their incorporated impersonality raised concerns as early as that inscribed by the great English jurist Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634): “they [corporations] cannot commit treason, nor be outlawed or excommunicated, for they have no souls.” After the spectacular collapse in 1720 of two great colonial speculations, one English (the South Sea Bubble) and one French (the Mississippi Company), the lord chancellor Edward Thurlow (1731-1806) wrote more even bluntly: “Corporations have neither bodies to be punished, nor souls to be condemned, they therefore do as they like.” 5

2. The Venetian State-Corporation

Among the earliest European corporations to endure for centuries were those of Venice. As early as the 11ᵗʰ century “colleganze“ began to accept members from outside their immediate families as ever-larger capital was required for ever-expanding trade ventures. By the end of the 12ᵗʰ century Venetian families began to form collectives both for trading ventures and to manipulate the public debt. Building upon such early corporations, Venice’s Mediterranean empire flourished until the Atlantic maritime nations found new routes to the Orient in the late 15ᵗʰ century. 6

In both the original Preface of 1831 and the new one he wrote for the Bentley Standard Novels revision of 1834, Cooper acknowledged that his source for the political fabric of The Bravo was Daru’s 1819 History of Venice. “The idea of ‘The Bravo’ was obtained from a set of state maxims that prevailed in Venice, and which were exposed by the archives of that ruthless government falling into the hands of the French, at the conquest of the republic during the wars of the great revolution.” 7 Characteristically, in the text of the novel Cooper in lengthy editorial asides reinforced the thrust of the plot, which condemns the innocent fisherman Antonio and the hero Jacopo to deaths ordered by the Senate in the interests of political expediency. Repeatedly Cooper condemned the Venetian councils for their secret and self-serving decrees, reminding the reader in language resembling the condemnations of the British jurists Coke and Thurlow that corporations, while having legal standing, could “do as they like” because they had neither bodies nor souls subject to these legal or moral laws applied to individuals.

In addition to the passage already quoted referring to “soulless corporations,” three more illustrations make this point. In the 1834 preface (The Bravo, 3) Cooper states that the objective of the novel was:

to expose the irresponsible nature of an aristocratical form of government, wherein the odium of the basest acts is made to rest on a soulless corporation, which, to repeat an idea of the work itself ... [is not] subject to the human impulses of the majority, as is the case in a democracy.

At 76: 30-33, Cooper describes the villainous Senator Gradenego as:

A senator, he stood in relation to the state as a director of a monied institution is proverbially placed in respect to his corporation; an agent of its collective measures, removed from the responsibilities of the man.

And finally at 128.39-129.4, Venice:

partakes, and it always has partaken, though necessarily tempered by circumstances and the opinions of different ages, of the selfishness of all corporations, in which the responsibility of the individual, while his acts are professedly submitted to the temporizing expedients of a collective interest, is lost in the sub-division of numbers.

Cooper summarized his political warning in the second paragraph of his original Preface (The Bravo, 1): “The author has endeavoured to give his countrymen, in this book, a picture of the social system of one of the soi-disant [pretended] republics of the other hemisphere.”

A significant part of the pretence Cooper saw in Venice — and described in his analysis of England, France, and, potentially, America — was the appointment of a figurehead leader of the state. In Venice, London, and Paris, an oligarchy had wrestled real control from the earlier absolute monarchs, 8 and one of the reasons, I believe, Cooper argued so vehemently that The Bravo was “in spirit, the most American book I ever wrote,” was his fear financial interests in the Congress sought to rob the President of his constitutional authority. Thus in The Bravo the reigning Doge is depicted as always on his guard against the senators who, unknown even to him, really make the state’s decisions. And the Doge’s humane solicitude for the fate of Gelsomina and Jacopo is rendered impotent at the novel’s brutal climax when he is unable to make the sign for clemency from the Ducal Palace.

3. The British Parliament, Inc.

Probably more so than any other American writer of his generation, Cooper regarded England and America as joined by a common ocean but separated by a common language and culture. During his three-month residency in London (28 February to 28 May 1828), which he drew upon for his 1837 travel book Gleanings in Europe: England, he wrote candidly of his quick acceptance among the liberal Whig aristocracy while at the same time often recording his taking offence at being complemented for speaking such proper English. And to the end of his career — though with growing suspicion — he maintained a friendly correspondence with his English publisher Richard Bentley, who honored old ties by accepting each new peremptory demand from Cooper to publish a new title on the author’s terms; thus his income from his British sales likely exceeded that from his native land.

But throughout his travel books and private correspondence, he regarded England as a most cleverly-manipulated oligarchy, often fearful and jealous of its democratic former colony and eager for its collapse into disunity. Parliament was in effect a re-embodiment of the Venetian Senate, and the king, like the doge, a useful figurehead. In a long analysis of the struggles in 1831 to pass a reform bill, Cooper wrote from Paris to his Yale tutor Benjamin Silliman that “England [is] in truth more of a monied Corporation than a government‐a sort of another East India Company, on a grand scale ... .” (10 June 1831; L&J, 2:95). And in a public letter of 1 October 1832 defending his role in the finance controversies, Cooper observed the drift of all Europeans countries was to manipulate politics to favor the rich over the poor, for “[g]overnments, in this quarter of the world, are in fact degenerating into stock-jobbing companies, in which the mass are treated as so many producers to enable the few to get good securities for their money” (L&J, 2: 345-46).

Two long “letters” in England to William Jay, numbers X and XII, analyze and compare the American Congress to the British Parliament. His main point is that Parliament, like the Venetian Senate, draws its members in both houses from the monied classes whose dominance it makes paramount:

If the two houses of parliament were composed of men of different interests, or of different social elements, there would still be something like an apparent balance in the composition of the state; but they are not ... .In point of fact then, the peers of England and the commons of England are merely modifications of the same social castes. 9

Pre-Reform England is like Medieval Venice; it owes its dominant place as “the mart of the world” to its competitive advantages of military conquest abroad (England, 257). Like the Venetian Doge, “the English monarchy, as a monarchy and as it now exists, is a pure mystification ... .” (England, 300). Even though Cooper wrote England after the first Reform Bill finally passed in 1832, he sees little hope that the country from which his antecedents emigrated will soon allow in government the diversity of opinion and interests that enables democracy in America through the broad base of support thus created.

4. The Corporation Seizes Control in Paris in 1830

Upon his arrival in Paris in July 1826, Cooper eventually responded to the friendly overtures of the Marquis de Lafayette, whose triumphant return to New York in 1824 he helped to celebrate and who eventually convinced him to write Notions of the Americans (published 1828) to defend American principles against European ignorance and animosity. Lafayette also drew Cooper into the disputes over the relative expenses of monarchic and democratic governments in 1830. 10

As he discloses in his travel volume Gleanings in Europe: The Rhine (1836), upon hearing of the uprising in Paris in July 1830 against the increasingly-dictatorial King Charles X, Cooper left his family in Dresden to return to Paris and observe events that he hoped would release a democratic surge throughout Europe. But Cooper recorded that Lafayette rejected a republic with himself at the head, because according to the aging democrat “the governments of Europe would have united to put us down” and “by the aid of the propagande and the general disaffection, there would have been a foe at home, that certainly would have prevailed against us“(Rhine, 69).

Instead, Lafayette backed the new government of Louis-Phillippe, who — at first — presented himself as a Citizen King bound by respect for the populace and republican principles. For his support, Lafayette received the rank of head of the National Guards, only to have that position revoked after Louis-Phillippe and his doctrinaire party (defined below by Cooper) were firmly in control by the end of 1830. Cooper’s conclusion: “I never had any faith in a republican king from the commencement, but this near view of the personal intercourse between the parties [the travel letter records several conversations with Lafayette] served to persuade me that General La Fayette had been the dupe of his own good faith and kind feelings” (Rhine, 13; see also his footnote on 48).

As in Venice and London, business interests in Paris wanted a figurehead king who would provide a friendly face to a regime dedicated to making money. Or as Cooper put it in The Rhine (3), France had become “a country, in which the pursuit of money is the sole and engrossing concern of life.” When the new regime was established, Cooper recorded a sea-change in society:

I think, under the new régime, which is purely a money-power system, directed by a mind whose ambition is wealth, that one really meets here more of that swagger of stocks and lucky speculations, in the world, than was formerly the case (Rhine, 28).

Cooper recognized that the “capitalists, in particular, and more especially those who were engaged in pursuits that were likely to be deranged by political convulsions” held the real power in France, hiding themselves behind whomever they put on the throne. Their model was England and its oligarchy secure in Parliament: “Those who were for swallowing the English system whole, were called the doctrinaires ... .” (Rhine, 67; Cooper’s italics). And while he protested in A Letter to His Countrymen that The Bravo “was thoroughly American, in all that belonged to it,” he almost immediately added that “[t]here is no doubt that the tendency of the Bravo is directly opposed to the intentions of the French government party ... .” 11 Finally, letters to close friends Charles Wilkes (27 April 1831) and William Branford Shubrick (1 May 1831) indicate he saw that the French doctinaires were moving France towards an aristocracy of wealth as in England — and as in the novel he was finishing in the summer of 1831. As he wrote Shubrick, “[t]he people in power, in France, have completely cheated the people out of their liberty, and are aiming now at an Aristocracy. They will keep a King as a cloak; but the English system is their aim ... .” (L&J, 2:77-78). The Rhine editors Redekopf and Geracht summarize Cooper’s recognition that in Paris in 1830:

A coalition of bourgeois merchants, manufacturers, and financiers had ... seized control of the monarchy and the Chamber of Deputies and ... began to establish an aristocracy on the British model rather than the popularly-based monarchy Lafayette had projected. Led by Casimir-Pórier and Guizot, this implacably antirepublican faction sought to crush all republican aspiration and functioned, as de Tocqueville remarked, like “a limited company in industry which undertakes all its operations with a view to the profit to be extracted from them by the shareholders.” (Rhine, xix. Cooper characterized Casimir-Pórier as “a manufacturer [whose] spinning jennies were very closely connected with his political faith” (40)).

Ironically here it is de Tocqueville, with whose views in Democracy in America Cooper often dissented, who recognized that the ascendant doctrinaire party was “a limited company in industry” seeking only profit — that is, a soulless corporation.

5. The Oligarchic Threat in America: Will America Escape “mental dependence” on England?

Cooper’s correspondence in the early 1830’s, as well as his volume-long defense of the political implications of The Bravo, the 1834 A Letter to His Countrymen, discloses his anxiety that the novel be understood as applying as much to American readers as to Europeans. He was especially concerned that the subtitle, “A Venetian Tale,” in the first appearance of The Bravo (London: Colburn and Bentley) not limit the application of the moral of the story to Venice alone. 12 I believe there is some evidence he feared that the old oligarchy of Venice, reincarnated in contemporary England, might spread to America.

Repeatedly in England Cooper appealed for the end of American “mental dependence” on England (See England, 1, 126, 206, 233). As an author, he believed his American sales had been reduced by the subservient reprintings of unfavorable British reviews — the arch-Tory John Croker’s 35-page savage personal attack on England had been widely published at home. (England, xxxi) But he also feared that commercial interests in America were gathering strength to form an oligarchy in Congress, a set he characterized as “the wine-discussing, trade-talking, dollar-dollar set that has made an inroad upon society in our commercial towns, not half of whom are educated, or indeed Americans ... .” (England, 95).

This “trade-talking, dollar-dollar set that has made an inroad upon society in our commercial towns” (whose New York representatives Cooper satirized in his 1843 novella The Autobiography of a Pocket Handkerchief) were of course politically American Whigs, the party which the socially-conservative Cooper opposed and whose journalists so mercilessly attacked him after his return to America in 1833. 13 Valuing the contributions to American society of the landed gentry-though increasingly doubting its ability and willingness to govern-Cooper resented the boosterism and aggressive tactics of the rising wealthy Whig business interests. 14

Pauline Maier’s “The Revolutionary Origins of the American Corporation” points out that as a result of the 1720 South Sea Bubble British merchants preferred partnerships to corporations until well into the 19ᵗʰ century, while in America — especially in Massachusetts — state legislatures granted hundreds of corporate charters for government, religious, charitable, educational, and business groups. 15 But Maier shows that for all these groups, many Americans opposed corporations for the same reasons Coke and Thurlow had — they viewed them as sequestering wealth and power from the democratic masses and evading personal legal and moral responsibilities. New Yorkers, perhaps because unlike in New England a few large landowners could still amass significant investment capital, were especially suspicious of corporations. The New York Constitution of 1821 permitted corporations but enacted unusually tight restrictions on their creation (a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of the legislature was required), limited the duration of their existence, and narrowly defined their activities and the property (Maier, 75-76). Though I find no record in Cooper’s correspondence that he was aware of the comparative liberality of Massachusetts in issuing corporate charters, this policy might well have added to his well-known distaste for New Englanders generally as hard-nosed business types (and often hypocritical demagogues) bent on making their fortunes, often at the expense of New Yorkers.

Yet if Cooper was aware of the politics of chartering banks in New York he would have reason to worry about creating an oligarchy there to match that of Venice or London. Ronald E. Seavoy’s The Origins of the American Business Corporation, 1784-1855 makes clear that starting in the 1780’s New York banks were chartered in part to make money available to the state, that is, to the elected politicians currently in office. Banking corporations, state finances, and political parties created and shared a common cookie jar, which the politicians dipped into with increasing frequency after Martin van Buren turned the Democrat-Republicans into a more disciplined party after 1815.

By the early 1830’s the Whigs increasingly tried to counter the financial dominance of their opponents, in a period Seavoy characterized as “of exceedingly rapid industrial and commercial growth, especially in New York City,” where steam-driven manufacturing and canal-based commerce had dramatically increased the number of entrepreneurs and thus the demand for capital. Seavoy’s concludes that: “The politicians tended to give charters to themselves or friends, as a means of getting rich quickly, without regard to efficiently serving the needs of commerce.” 16 In other words, they acted like the Senators of Cooper’s The Bravo.

Perhaps Cooper responded to this greed in his most cogent forewarning that America might follow Venice and England into oligarchy in at a most-odd place: as a four-page-long fine-print footnote in the travel book Gleanings in Europe: Switzerland. That Cooper, writing for publication in 1836, would digress in Switzerland to launch such a warning shows his willingness to let his polemical political views trump his sense of esthetic balance in a book largely devoted to picturesque Alpine scenery. 17

Cooper begins with four dense paragraphs describing the history of how Parliament wrested power from the Crown, to the point that in his view, the current reigning monarch has virtually no say in running the state. “Let us now look at America” begins the eight paragraphs in which he applies British history and practice to America. Here he assesses how the ideal balance of the executive, legislature and judiciary — all, unlike in England owing their office to a broad electorate — is threatened by the desire of the legislature to expand its power over the other two branches. 18

Cooper was deeply disturbed by the Senate’s condemnation in 1833-34 of Jackson for removing Federal funds from the Second Bank of the United States. Publically he disclosed no views on the economic issues behind Jackson’s feud with the Whigs over a cornerstone of their vision for building American prosperity. 19 His concern is with the attack on the executive branch. For him, Jackson’s election represented the will of all the people (not just those who voted for him), and for his political enemies to try to thwart him borders on tyranny:

The veto is given to the Executive, therefore, that, as a representative of the entire constituency, he may check the greatest power of the state in the exercise of its authority. The fact that he is only one man, and that Congress is composed of many men, gives additional grounds for sustaining him in the discharge of a duty so delicate, since, it is notorious, that in a really free state, there is far more to be apprehended from bodies of men, than from individuals. Our own history abounds with instances of the Executives shrinking from the responsibility of doing their duties, on the one hand, and of legislative innovations on the other. (Switzerland, 128)

Admittedly in this passage Cooper does not brand the Whig opposition to Jackson as oligarchs. But only if he believed that to be the case would his repeated assertions between his 1834 A Letter to His Countrymen and the 1844 statement to Griswold make sense that “in spirit, [The Bravo was] the most American book I ever wrote.” In A Letter to His Countrymen (278), he stated that “I knew that there existed at home a large party of doctrinaires,” clearly referring to those French oligarchs he had analyzed in The Rhine. And he wrote at even greater length there about his fear that the Senate’s recent condemnation of Jackson threatened an attempt by Congress to ape Parliament by making the president a figurehead (325-338).

6. Conclusion

Probably the Cassio controversy had sharpened his defense of The Bravo as applying to America as well as Venice, France, and England. But from the beginning Cooper had viewed the book as broadly polemical. In both the original 1831 preface and the 1834 “Preface to the Present Edition in ‘The Standard Novels’” Cooper wrote only of his political intentions for the novel; these prefaces mention neither characters nor plot and the name “Venice” appears only in passing. And the later Preface (3), written after the great political upheavals of 1830-1832, states baldly “It is scarcely necessary after this [his analysis of the oligarchic seizure of power under Louis-Phillippe] to add that the drift of the book is political.”

Most modern critics of the novel have recognized its political import, even calling it the first dystopian novel. Allan M. Axelrad, for example, has written very effectively about the novel as a “proximate anti-utopia,” analyzing at length how the Venetian Senate anticipates the totalitarian power of some 20ᵗʰ century states depicted in some 20ᵗʰ century fiction. 21 But this declared political tenor disturbed some early readers and reviewers even more than its European setting. While — perhaps surprisingly — many American reviews fully appreciated how The Bravo warned Americans against the threat of European oligarchies, others protested against any political implications taking away from the romance. Sarah Josepha Hale’s Ladies’ Magazine (Boston and Philadelphia, January, 1832; 5:42-45) praised the intertwining of plot and politics to “show this picture of ruthless despotism more distinctly” by contrasting it with “glimpses of light from our own blessed Freedom,” adding that The Bravo is a triumph in the “new field of political novel writing.” But The American Monthly Review, for example, warned potential purchasers about reading the book “for amusement and excitement merely and not for instruction.“(February 1832, 1:147-53). And as late as 1835, The New-England Magazine opined that “[i]t is the unhappiest idea possible, to suppose that politics can be associated, in any effective way, with romance or fiction. One is the reality, the other the ideality of life.” (italics in original; August 1835, 136-37). 21

Since Cooper protested throughout his correspondence that he never regarded reviews, he probably was unaware of these positive and negative criticisms. Mere reviewers could not alter his stated goal in A Letter to His Countrymen (276) — to represent in The Bravo the first of “a series of tales, in which American opinion should be brought to bear on European facts.” And at least one contemporary reviewer, in the Ladies’ Magazine, had recognized the significance of The Bravo in introducing “the new field of political novel writing.” To the modern reader, who might recognize in The Bravo an antecedent to 1984, Cooper can be appreciated for yet another innovation in fiction — the dystopian novel where those in power are a “soulless corporation” whose secret police reach into the private lives of all citizens. 22

Works Cited

  • Axelrad, Allan M. History and Utopia: A Study of the World View of James Fenimore Cooper. Norwood, PA: Norwood Editions, 1978.
  • Bewley, Marius. “Fenimore Cooper and the Economic Age.” American Literature: 26 (1954), 166-95.
  • Cooper, James Fenimore. The American Democrat. Reprint of 1931 Knopf edition. Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1981.
  • ------. The Bravo. A Venetian Story. Historical Introduction by Kay Seymour House. Explanatory Notes by Anna Scannavini. Text established by Lance Schachterle and James A. Sappenfield. New York: AMS Press, forthcoming.
  • ------. Gleanings in Europe: England. Historical Introduction and Explanatory Notes by Donald A. Ringe and Kenneth Staggs. Text established by James P. Elliott, Kenneth W. Staggs, and Robert D. Madison. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982.
  • ------. Gleanings in Europe: France. Historical Introduction and Explanatory Notes by Thomas Philbrick. Text established by Thomas Philbrick and Constance Ayers Denne. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.
  • ------. Gleanings in Europe: Italy. Historical Introduction and Explanatory Notes by John Conron and Constance Ayers Denne. Text established by Constance Ayers Denne. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981.
  • ------. Gleanings in Europe: The Rhine. Historical Introduction by Ernest Redekopf and Maurice Gerarcht. Text established and Explanatory Notes prepared by Thomas Philbrick and Maurice Gerarcht. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.
  • ------. Gleanings in Europe: Switzerland. Historical Introduction and Explanatory Notes by Robert E. Spiller and James F. Beard. Text established by Kenneth W. Staggs and James P. Elliott. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980.
  • ------. The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper. Ed. by James Franklin Beard. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 6 vols. 1960-68.
  • Franklin, Wayne. James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.
  • Maier, Pauline. “The Revolutionary Origins of the American Corporation.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 50:1 (1993), 51-84.
  • McNeill, William H. Venice: The Hinge of Empire , 1081-1797. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.
  • Micklethwait, John and Adrian Wooldridge. The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea. New York: The Modern Library, 2003.
  • Plant, Margaret. Venice Fragile City, 1797-1997. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
  • Schachterle, Lance. “The Themes of Land and Leadership in ‘The Littlepage Manuscripts.’” Literature in the Early American Republic: Annual Studies on Cooper and His Contemporaries. Ed. by Matthew Wynn Sivils and Jeffrey Walker. New York: AMS Press, 1 (2009), 89-131.
  • Seavoy, Ronald E. The Origins of the American Business Corporation, 1784-1855: Broadening the Concept of Public Service during Industrialization . Westwood, CT: Greenwood, 1982.
  • Waples. Dorothy. The Whig Myth of James Fenimore Cooper. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1938.


1 Cooper’s italics; The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James Franklin Beard, 6 vols. (Cambridge: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1960-68), 4:461; hereafter cited as L&J.

2 For an up to date discussion of these issues, see the Historical Introduction to The Bravo by Kay Seymour House, in the Cooper Edition text edited by Lance Schachterle and James A. Sappenfield. (New York: AMS Press, forthcoming). Citations to The Bravo will be to this Cooper Edition text.

3 Anna Scannavini discusses the history of Venetian governance in her “Explanatory Notes” to the Cooper Edition text; see also William H. McNeill, Venice: The Hinge of Europe, 1081-1797.

4 Italics mine. The Bravo, edited by Lance Schachterle and James A. Sappenfield. New York: AMS Press, forthcoming, 131.9-16.

5 . The Company, 3, 17ff, 33.

6 McNeill. Venice: The Hinge of Europe, 1081-1797, 14-45. Venice was not alone in using corporations to concentrate capital; the Florentines invented the modern “compagnia” (literally, “breaking bread together”), and the Medici intertwined governance, banking, and commodity-trading. See The Company, 8-10.

7 . The Bravo, 3. What Cooper did not know is that Daru wrote his history in part to justify Napoleon’s extinction of the Venetian Republic in 1797. Margaret Plant’s Venice Fragile City 1797-1997 discusses both the impact of Daru’s partisan interpretation of the Venetian records on Byron, Cooper, and later writers, and the stubborn defence of the Serenissima by those challenging Daru’s slant. Among the earliest defenders was Count Domenico Tiepolo’s two-volume rebuttal of 1828. John Ruskin in the early 1850’s lamented to his father that “a seaman like Cooper” perpetuated Daru’s slanders. See Plant, 87-97.

8 In his 1836 travel book Gleanings in Europe: The Rhine (16), Cooper linked England, France, Venice, and Genoa as oligarchies masking as limited monarchies through the selection of a figurehead king or doge. This text is cited hereafter as Rhine.

9 . Gleanings in Europe: England. Cooper’s italics; 137. Hereafter this text is cited as England.

10 For details of these events, see the Historical Introduction by Kay Seymour House to The Bravo and the Historical Introduction to Gleanings in Europe: The Rhine by Ernest Redekopf and Maurice Geracht (Albany: State University Press of New York, 1986).

11 . A Letter to His Countrymen, 278, 279. Cooper’s italics.

12 For a discussion of Cooper’s waffling over the subtitle of the novel, see the Textual Commentary to the Cooper Edition of the novel. Cooper’s narrative voice occasionally takes pains to remind his American readers that at present they enjoy liberties suppressed by the Venetian oligarchy; see his references to “our own liberal system” (CE 129), “grateful that we have been born in a land” of religious tolerance (CE 201), and “in a country like this” (209).

13 The still-standard account of Whig attacks on Cooper is by Dorothy Waples, The Whig Myth of James Fenimore Cooper.

14 The third of his “Littlepage Manuscripts,” The Redskins, shows the collapse into self-indulgence of the landed gentry; see my “Themes of Land and Leadership in ‘The Littlepage Manuscripts.” For a cogent review of Cooper’s economic views, see Marius Bewley’s “Fenimore Cooper and the Economic Age.”

15 I draw in this section upon “The Revolutionary Origins of the American Corporation,” cited as “Maier.”

16 . The Origins of the American Business Corporation, 1784-1855, 136. Most of Seavoy’s study is devoted to New York.

17 . Gleanings in Europe: Switzerland, 124-29.

18 Cooper admired the strong leadership of Andrew Jackson, and his familiar sobriquet “King” Andrew in personal letters does not, I think, suggest that Jackson for Cooper will become a figurehead like the reigning Kings of England during Jackson’s presidency (1829-1837), George IV and William IV.

19 In private Cooper indicated he agreed for the most part with Jackson’s reasoning as expressed in the president’s statement on his veto. See Cooper’s letter to John Ellis Wool, most likely written in October or November 1832. L&J, 6:324.

20 See the fifth chapter of his History and Utopia: A Study of the World View of James Fenimore Cooper.

21 Kay Seymour House, “Historical Introduction” to the CE text.

22 I recognize Cooper’s personal financial dealings with corporations are complex. While he satirized speculators in the Home as Found (1838) and The Autobiography of a Pocket Handkerchief (1843), he himself invested in a Michigan land speculation late in his life. The first volume of Wayne Franklin’s magisterial biography analyzes in detail how Cooper’s financial dealings with Robert Sedgwick destroyed his faith in the 1820’s in informal dealings among supposed gentlemen (James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years, 487-90); I look forward to Franklin’s treatment of Cooper’s own investment strategies in the 1840’s.