James Fenimore Cooper and the City

Thomas Bender * (University of California, Davis)

Published in New York History, Vol. LI, No. 3 (April 1970), pp. 287-305.

Copyright © 1970, New York State Historical Association, and placed online with its kind permission.

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

AMERICAN intellectual and urban historians have for too long attributed the pervading hostility toward the city in nineteenth century America simply to romanticism or agrarianism. While these influences were real and important in shaping the American response toward the city, their very convenience as explanatory devices has discouraged analysis of the dimensions of the confrontation between American thinkers and the emergent city. It is necessary to recognize that attitudes toward the city are determined by the contemporary social situation as well as by ideology — by the manner in which concrete conditions within and outside the city are perceived and related to fundamental social values. 1 The changing attitudes of James Fenimore Cooper toward the city, from hostility to accommodation, are a case study of this important relationship.

By assuming that Cooper had a romantic hostility toward the city, many historians have overlooked his revealing analysis of the quality of urban life during the second quarter of the {288} nineteenth century. 2 Recently, Douglas T. Miller has argued that in New York State, during the Jacksonian period, the landed gentry declined and was replaced by an urban aristocracy at mid-century. 3 Relying entirely upon The American Democrat (1838), Miller asserts that Cooper could neither accept nor understand this new order and staunchly defended the agrarian order to the last. 4 In this paper I shall attempt to show that Cooper did recognize the changes Miller describes and, in fact, adjusted himself to them.

Noting that Cooper changed his attitude toward the city late in life, some scholars have considered the change as abandonment of his earlier agrarian social philosophy. They suggest that by accepting the city he was betraying the fundamentals of a social philosophy that envisioned the agrarian life as the only source of virtue. 5 Actually, Cooper remained consistent to a deeper social value — leadership by a moral and intellectual elite, or a natural aristocracy. In the introduction to his unfinished history of Manhattan, written in 1851, Cooper specifically posed and answered the question of urban morality:

It has long been a subject of investigation among moralists, whether the existence of towns like those of London, Paris, New York, etc., is or is not favorable to the development of the better qualities of the human character. As for ourselves, we do not believe any more in the superior innocence and virtue of a rural population than in that of the largest capitals. ... If there be incentives to wrong-doing in the crowded population of a capital town, there are many incentives to refinement, public virtue, and even piety, that are not to be met with elsewhere. 6

{289} [Jarvis portrait of Cooper] {290} Why does one who had called New York City a “social bivouac” in 1838, praise the city as a superior environment in 1851? Cooper evaluated a society by the quality of its leaders and its ability to accommodate change in a just and orderly manner. The measure of Cooper’s ideal social order is not geographical, and its location in the city or the country is in a sense accidental. Because of a series of social changes within the city and outside of it, a conception of New York City as the locus of social stability and disinterested leadership was crystallizing in Cooper’s mind at the time of his death in 1851.

Throughout his writing career, Cooper was preoccupied with the interconnected problems of social stability and adequate democratic leadership. Like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams before him, Cooper turned to the concept of leadership by a natural aristocracy. In their remarkable correspondence, carried on in retirement, Jefferson and Adams agreed upon the necessity of leadership by a natural aristocracy, but they could not agree upon the social location from which the natural aristocrat might be drawn. Jefferson looked to the agrarian order for the elevation of the aristoi. Adams, with characteristic skepticism, questioned this optimistic assumption and suggested that urban wealth might be more likely to win political power in nineteenth century America. 7 Cooper similarly addressed himself to the problem. His writing was a protracted attempt to show that nature had provided for certain “gentlemen” whose function it was to furnish the moral substructure of society. These men would bring order to social change, and thereby insure a just and free society. He wrote in The American Democrat that the gentleman serves as the repository of the “principles of a country” and the “guardian of the liberties of his fellow citizens.” 8 Until about 1846, Cooper felt assured, as had Jefferson, that our institutions would cause the elevation of the landed to guardianship. After the Anti-Rent War, however, Cooper recognized that this would not happen. He then turned to the doctrine that the guardians of American society might rightfully be drawn from an urban elite.

{291} The disinterested gentleman, according to Cooper, was the product of specific social circumstances. The vital elements of this social setting are social stability and stratification. When he discussed the three stages of society in Home as Found (1838), Cooper was describing the social milieu of the natural aristocrat. Every “new country,” he explained, must pass through three stages of development. The first of these is the frontier stage. In this stage society finds itself experiencing the innocent and carefree pleasures of childhood. Equality, selflessness, and happiness manifest themselves as men “are embarked on enterprise of common hazards.” In this stage “the gentleman, even while he may maintain his character and station, maintains them with ... good-fellowship and familiarity.” Social distinctions are muted. Hence, the uncultivated, but good, Natty Bumppo can display the noble qualities of a gentleman.

Life on the frontier, however, involves some evils that are best met through the formation of the social compact. Therewith, society enters the second stage of social growth. “This is perhaps the least inviting condition of society that belongs to any country that can claim to be free. ... ” Then it is that the “struggles for place” begin. Sadly, the dominant element in the struggle is the “influence of mere money.” Because in America opportunities for making money are so great, men feel that by abandoning principles and pursuing their self-interest they can overtake their superiors. The bulk of American society during the Jacksonian era, according to Cooper, was at this unhappy stage.

The third stage of society is marked by an elite that has so solidly established itself it cannot be dislodged. Because of its financial and social security, this elite can provide disinterested social leadership. Once an elite is established, the vicious struggle for place ceases because the elite’s invulnerability discourages challengers. When social mobility is thus restricted in this final stage, society will then “come within the control of more general and regular laws.” 9

Finality in this progression refers to sequence, not perfection. Cooper was too well aware of the moral imperfections of {292} man to expect him to achieve perfection in society. Further, this highest stage of society is not easily attained. The Crater (1847) shows that the third stage does not always follow the second. But it is clear Cooper believed that, if attained, the final stage provided a framework that would minimize the ill effects of man’s natural limitations.

What effect this theory had upon Cooper’s social criticism and his attitude toward the city will be the subject of the remainder of this paper.

From 1833, when he returned from Europe, until around 1846, Cooper was an agrarian and a spokesman for the nostalgic side of the Jacksonian persuasion. 10 During this period Cooper felt that virtue was more likely to reside with the landed proprietor as opposed to the man of commercial wealth. He wrote that “social station, in the main, is a con{293}sequence of property. 11 He went so far as to say that “property is the base of all civilization.” 12 He did not, however, seem to believe that there was any inherent moral superiority directly involved in landed wealth. Rather, the security provided by landed wealth seemed to encourage a style of life conducive to the exercise of moral rectitude. The financial security provided by land elevated the gentleman above pecuniary ambitions, and allowed him to act in a disinterested manner. Land also provided social security. The landed gentry was beyond the challenge of the upwardly mobile nouveaux riches. The gentry’s invulnerable position would, Cooper thought, subdue the ambition of lesser men and tend to restrict disruptive social mobility. Such an elite could lend stability and morality to a fragmented and turbulent Jacksonian America.

Cooper never asserted that commercial wealth is intrinsically evil. It is not, however, secure. Cooper explained that it is subject to the “constant vicissitudes arising out of the fluctuations of trade.” 13 While not being immoral in itself, commercial wealth, especially when newly acquired, seems to have impressed Cooper as a threat to the morality of imperfect man. He wrote in 1838 that “a great majority of our merchants are unformed men, placed in a situation of unusual temptation to discover the lower qualities. ... ” 14 The uncertainties of trade too severely tempted men to pursue selfish interests at the sacrifice of principle.

Before the decade of the forties, rural New York had seemed to provide an effective antidote to urban disorder. The Jacksonian years, however, had brought changes to the New York countryside. In the Littlepage Manuscripts 15 Cooper contrasted the stable society for which he longed, with the selfish and chaotic society he found in rural New York during the mid-1840’s. The story revolves around the experiences of the Littlepage and Newcome families. The Littlepage family has great landed wealth and is financially and socially secure. It {294} represents a principle of order for society. In contrast is the Newcome family, whose name signifies the acquisitive Yankee and social climber. Its members will abandon principle to achieve their own selfish, envy-inspired ends. Cooper felt that if their type prevailed, the process of change already at work in society would eventually lead to chaos. 16 The result would be the destruction of liberty.

The Littlepage trilogy is Cooper’s response to the Anti-Rent War in rural New York. Since the seventeenth century, much of the agricultural land in New York had been held in large estates. The land was worked by tenants holding lifetime leases. During the 1840’s the tenants began effectively to resist this semi-feudal arrangement, and, by 1845, the movement had sufficient political potency to elicit concessions {295} from both major parties. The mid-century success of the Anti-Rent War marked the death of the manorial gentry. 17

The Littlepage Manuscripts represent Cooper’s opposition to this chain of events, His stance was essentially moral. Cooper was shocked by the spectacle of simple majorities overpowering the natural leaders of society. He was distressed by the principle, implicit in the Anti-Rent movement, that the appetite of the masses has precedence over what Cooper considered long- standing and just social institutions. 18 “As to anti-rentism, in my judgment it is to be the test of the institutions. If men find that by making political combinations they {296} can wipe out indebtedness, adieu to every thing like liberty or government.” 19 Cooper was protesting on the basis of beliefs he had expressed as early as 1838. In The American Democrat he had written:

In a democracy, the publick has no power that is not expressly conceded by the institutions, and ... this power, moreover, is only to be used under the forms prescribed by the constitution. All beyond this is oppression. ... 21

He feared that self-interest was perverting America’s democratic institutions and undermining the quality of national life.

In The Redskins, while praising “liberalized landlords,” Cooper had written that “a landed gentry is precisely what is most needed for the higher order of civilization.” 21 Yet during the decade after 1839, and the death of Stephen Van Rensselaer, the “Good Patroon,” the era of the liberalized landlord came to a close. For a frightful moment Cooper visualized the prospect of the country’s destiny passing out of the hands of the disinterested Littlepages into those of the selfish Newcomes. In a letter of 1848, he wrote:

There is a growing and most dangerous disposition in the people to take from those who have, and to give to those who have not; and this without any other motive than that basest of all human passions — envy. How far this downward tendency will go, I do not pretend to say; but I think it quite clear that, unless arrested, it must lead to revolution and bloodshed. ... Another such half century will, in my judgment, bring the whole country under the bayonet. 22

Then he awoke to the stabilizing potential of New York City’s commercial elite.

Cooper had always described the natural aristocrat in agrarian terms, but there was no necessary connection between his democratic gentleman and the land. The essential characteristic was a disinterestedness that was born not of the land, but of social and economic security. 23 The landed gentry {297} was no longer secure. This class could neither command social prestige in New York, nor the political power to protect its property rights. In New York City, however, a class of solid commercial men was emerging that was able to define itself as the social and economic elite of the city. Cooper decided to entrust these men with the task of protecting America from the Newcomes.

When Cooper turned toward the city at mid-century, it was not as a stranger. He knew New York City well. 24 From 1822, until he left for Europe in 1826, Cooper lived in New York and apparently enjoyed himself immensely. He was the leader of a small intellectual circle called “Bread and Cheese,” and he had many friends in the city. Although Cooper felt that New York had less social stability than Boston and Philadelphia, he found a sufficient number of long-established and secure families exerting leadership in New York. 25 He considered New York to be a youthful and energetic city with a promising future. In Notions of the Americans (1828), written in Europe, Cooper told his readers of the city’s “growing prosperity, and its probable grandeur.” His generally favorable account showed disappointment only in respect to the lack of permanent buildings and quays. Yet, he made it clear that permanent and substantial structures would be only a matter of time. 26 New York, he urged, had not yet attained the highest levels achieved by European capitals, but neither was it the site of misery so common in them.

In 1833, Cooper returned from Europe to find that New York’s solid Knickerbocker society had given way to a chaotically mobile nouveau society. It was because New York City was a chaotic, second-class urban environment that Cooper proceeded to attack it in Homeward Bound (1838), Home as Found (1838), and Autobiography of a Pocket Handkerchief (1843); not merely because it was urban. Cooper never condemned the city as the antithesis of the country; he condemned the chaos the city often represented in its adolescence. He noted that this “greedy rapacity for money, and the vulgar and indiscriminate expenditure ... is {298} the usual attendant of suddenly acquired wealth. 27 He always recognized the possibility of maturity bringing order and stability to the city.

Cooper supposed that the instability and excessive mobility he disliked in New York City resulted from the speculation mania centered at Wall Street, In Home as Found Mr, Effingham took Sir George Templemore to the financial center. As they walked into a brokerage house, Effingham told Sir George, “You have never witnessed a scene like that which I am about to introduce you to. ... This is the focus of what Aristabulus Bragg calls the town trade.” There Sir George discovered that he could choose between a wide variety of farms, streets, or towns which, according to the broker, might appreciate by six thousand percent in five years. The two observers walked into the sales room and viewed men frantically and recklessly gambling their means of subsistence on the imaginary estimate of the auctioneer. Sir George and Effingham were shocked and displeased. “All principles are swallowed up in the absorbing desire for gain. ... ” 28 More disturbing to Cooper: “The desire to grow suddenly rich has seized on all classes.” 29

Cooper believed that speculation fostered inordinately high aspirations on the part of all classes. The selfish struggle of the second stage of society is intensified in proportion to the number of people who think they might acquire sufficient wealth to displace the elite. With the whole population holding aspirations far above their proper station, Cooper feared that nothing could result but social chaos. So distressed was he that he devoted a whole novel, Autobiography of a Pocket Handkerchief, to the subject of the evils of selfishly attempting to achieve higher place.

The plot of the Autobiography suggests that New York City of the early 1840’s provided Cooper with a specific symbol for the universal evils embodied in the selfish struggle for social status. 31 The city symbolizes social mobility, which can {299} serve only to raise levels of aspiration and cause social disorder. This may prolong the second, and most unhappy, stage of society. The Autobiography is a plea for order in the city, just as the later Littlepage Manuscripts are a plea for order in rural New York.

New York City, in its adolescence during the Jacksonian years, seemed to breed the very chaos Cooper was seeking to exorcise from ante-bellum America. But in 1848, Cooper noted that in New York City he saw signs “of an improving taste.” 31 By mid-century New York City had matured considerably. Social changes had occurred in New York that reversed the images of the locus of stability in Cooper’s mind. The rural elite had been disestablished, and an urban elite had established itself as the steward of social stability and order.

{300} Cooper was able to embrace the New York commercial elite because he had never condemned commerce per se. Rather, he had always made a distinction between “real merchants” and “mere factors.” Cooper argued that the distressing moral abuses often found in conjunction with commerce are not necessarily concomitant with commercial life. Surrendering to temptation, unprincipled behavior, and pursuit of selfish interests characterizes the mere factor, not the real merchant. The “real merchant is a man of a high pursuit, and has need of great general knowledge, much firmness of character, and of farsighted views to succeed in his objects.” 32 Such a man might pass as a natural aristocrat. Before mid-century, however, Cooper did not recognize any real merchants in New York City.

Around 1850, Cooper apparently perceived that the commercial monopoly solidifying in New York City might nourish an influential class of real merchants. 33 When trade is consolidated in the hands of a small, talented elite, then, he believed, the elite could provide disinterested and unchallenged leadership in society. In Homeward Bound (1838), while discussing the shortcomings of New York City’s society, Cooper asserted that no commercial town can have a society of high quality. Then he immediately provided an exception to his rule. In Florence, he said, trade was a monopoly in the hands of the Medici, and “the Medici were merchants, a class of men altogether different from mere factors.” 34 In his last days Cooper came to believe that the “associated wealth” of New York City might produce a new class of real merchants like the Medici.

During the 1830’s the race for success gave a speculative and morally bankrupt tone to New York’s commercial classes. During the late 1840’s, however, the successful men on the make of the 1830’s were consolidating their wealth and social position. They had made it; they now wanted to stabilize society. 35 Historians of mid-century New York maintain that {301} commercial wealth gave rise to a new plutocratic elite clearly set off from the remainder of society. An elite of real merchants was gaining power and honor in New York on the basis of their vast wealth. 36

The commercial elite of the city seemed capable of the disinterested style of life that was the essential characteristic of Cooper’s democratic gentleman. Cooper had earlier assumed that such a style of life was possible only for a landed gentry. At mid-century, however, he was persuaded that the tremendous wealth of the New York merchants gave them sufficient security to enable them to serve, plausibly, in the role of democratic gentlemen. The monopolistic nature of New York’s commercial wealth, he believed, encouraged a disinterested style of life. In 1851 he wrote:

The man who is accustomed to deal in large sums is usually raised above the more sordid vices of covetousness and avarice in detail. There are rich misers, certainly, but they are exceptions. We do not believe that the merchant is one tittle more mercenary than the husbandman in his motives, while he is certainly more liberal of his gains.” 37

Cooper had found another natural aristocrat.

Now he had to give the urban elite legitimacy as a natural aristocracy and outline for it a functional role in society. The problem of legitimacy was easily solved because the elite was the offspring of the city’s commerce, and Cooper had always insisted that the commercial success of New York was the work of Providence, not a product of artificial aids of man or government. 38 The role of the urban elite was that performed earlier by the landed gentry — suppressing the struggle for place {302} and bringing order and justice to society. The great breadth of the gulf between the commercial elite and the remainder of society would dispel any inordinately high aspirations in the general population. Even the most selfish would not be tempted to challenge the firmly entrenched commercial monopolists. With these aspirations subdued, the struggle for place would cease, and order and justice could obtain in society.

The commercial elite easily fitted into the functional scheme earlier designed for the landed gentry, but would it have the absolute invulnerability that the landed gentry ultimately lacked? Perhaps this elite would fall before numbers as had the landlords. Referring specifically to the defeat of the landed gentry at the hands of the Anti-Renters, Cooper declared that, unlike property, personality or commercial wealth is not vulnerable to demagogic onslaught. Although he continued to fear that the bayonet might eventually prevail in America, he earnestly desired that the inherent strengths of the urban elite would enable it to maintain itself. Hopefully, stability would be achieved without drastic measures. “Even political despotism in this age,” Cooper wrote, “would necessarily respect the ordinary rights of commerce, and quite probably ... a vigilant and efficient government might rather have a tendency to build up than to check the progress of capital in any country.” 39

When Cooper began writing, stability marked rural New York, and chaos appeared to reign in New York City. Cooper {303} gave his allegiance to the disinterested gentry that the rural stability seemed to nourish. After witnessing the mid-century collapse of the rural gentry, Cooper was anxiously looking about for another natural aristocracy. When he looked to New York City now, unlike in the 1830’s when he found New York’s earlier social elite — represented by Mrs. Hawker in Home as Found — ignored and unhonored, he discovered a group of “real merchants” possessing power and honor on the basis of their vast wealth. These “real merchants” wanted an orderly and stable society, and they had the power and prestige to command it. The merchant princes seemed capable of providing moral leadership for American society. Cooper was ready to call upon a disinterested urban elite to lead America to the third, and highest, stage of society. 41

As social conditions changed within and outside the city, Cooper’s consistent dedication to social stability and disinterested leadership found expression in an advocacy of the city and its elite. The evidence that I have presented of Cooper’s shift of allegiance, from the country gentry to the urban commercial elite, suggests that he can be understood better as a proponent of an eighteenth century ideal of an ordered so{304}ciety under the leadership of a natural aristocracy than as a seeker of an agrarian arcadia. The tendency of previous Cooper scholars to label him a “Jeffersonian agrarian’” gives us only half the man. 41 He had as much, if not more, in common with John Adams. Further, considering him an agrarian hinders our understanding of his later social thought and makes his acceptance of the city seem more like resignation than strategy. Cooper may have mourned the passing of the landed gentry, but he did not let the black garb of mourning hinder his search for a new social group to supply disinterested leaders for America.

This study of the interplay of Cooper’s ideological commitment and changing social conditions in America opens a dimension of Cooper’s thought previously overlooked. But I think that the implications of this type of analysis go beyond Cooper to larger issues in the study of intellectual history, urbanization, and American civilization in general.

The essentially pragmatic approach to ideas used in this analysis of Cooper’s response to the city seems to provide an escape from the fruitless debate that could be stimulated by Morton White’s assertion that Americans are historically anti-urban and Charles N. Glaab’s counterstatement that there is a strong pro-urban strain in American culture. 42 No more evidence need be brought forward by either side to make it amply clear that the historical American attitude toward the city has been mixed. It is now time to go beyond this debate to the process whereby ideas about the place of the city in America and about life in the city were defined. How did new ideas emerge? How did they change over time? The text for such a version of intellectual history could well be these words of William James:

The individual has a stock of old opinions already, but he meets a new {305} experience that puts them to a strain. Somebody contradicts them, or in a reflective moment he discovers that they contradict each other; or he hears of facts with which they are incompatible; or desires arise in him which they cease to satisfy. The result is an inward trouble to which his mind till then had been a stranger, and from which he seeks escape by modifying his previous mass of opinions. He saves as much of it as he can, for in this matter of belief we are all extreme conservatives. ... This new idea is then adopted as the true one. 43

The emergent city in all its dimensions provided that “new experience” for previously rural-minded Americans. Nineteenth century American thinkers embarked on a quest to give intellectual coherence and meaning to their experiences in an increasingly urban environment. This quest, so important then and now, particularly lends itself to such a Jamesian type of analysis. And if this study of Cooper is any guide, this approach will enable the scholar to gain valuable insights into the values and assumptions that, although often implicit and unstated, are of crucial importance to the intellectual history of any culture.


1 Frank Freidel is suggestive on this point. See his “Boosters, Intellectuals, and the American City,” in The Historian and the City, eds. Oscar Handlin and John Burchard (Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press, 1963), pp. 115-20.

2 See for example Morton White and Lucia White, The Intellectual Versus the City (New York: Mentor Books, 1964), pp. 201, 226. An important exception to this approach to Cooper is American Skyline by Christopher Tunnard and Henry Hope Reed (New York: Mentor Books, 1956) which relies heavily upon Cooper’s architectural criticism.

3 Douglas T. Miller, Jacksonian Aristocracy: Class and Democracy in New York, 1830-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. x.

4 Ibid., pp. 69-70.

5 James Grossman, James Fenimore Cooper (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1949), pp. 8-9, 254; and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Age of Jackson (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1945), p. 380.

6 James Fenimore Cooper, New York, with an introduction by Dixon Ryan Fox (New York: William Farquhar Payson, 1930), pp. 56-7. This was written in 1851. Its publishing history is complex. See Fox’s introduction and James F. Beard, Jr., “The First History of Greater New York,” The New-York Historical Society Quarterly, XXXVII (April, 1953), 109-45.

7 See Lester J. Cappon (ed.), The Adams-Jefferson Letters, 2 vols., (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1959), II, 358-400. For a stimulating discussion of antebellum attempts at defining leadership roles, see William R. Taylor, Cavalier and Yankee (Garden City, N. Y.: Anchor Book, 1963).

8 James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat (New York: Vintage Book, 1956), pp. 89-90.

9 James Fenimore Cooper, Home as Found (New York: Capricorn Book, 1961), pp. 162-6. On this general point, see Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land (New York: Vintage Book, 1950), pp. 64-76, 246-60; and Smith’s introduction to James Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1950), pp. v-xx.

10 The best discussion of Cooper’s social thought during this period is Marvin Meyers, The Jacksonian Persuasion (New York: Vintage Book, 1960), pp. 57-100.

11 The American Democrat, p. 75.

12 Ibid., p. 133.

13 Ibid., p. 166.

14 Cooper to Horatio Greenough, 31 June 1838 [1 July?], The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James Franklin Beard, 6 vols., (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960-68), III, 329. Hereafter cited as Beard, Letters.

15 The Littlepage Manuscripts: Satanstoe (1845), The Chainbearer (1845), and The Redskins (1846).

16 For the basis of my interpretation of the trilogy, see James Fenimore Cooper, Satanstoe (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, n.d.), p. 316. See also Donald A. Ringe, “Cooper’s Littlepage Novels: Change and Stability in American Society,” American Literature, XXXII (November, 1960), 280-90.

17 Miller, pp. 62-70.

18 Cooper’s idea of justice is a subject that would repay investigation. In The American Democrat he wrote that “great general principles seldom escape working injustice in particular things.” (p. 46) When we turn to his novels an interesting pattern seems to emerge. From Natty in The Pioneers (1823) through the Anti-Renters in the Littlepage Manuscripts I get the impression that certain social groups are required to bear all the particular injustices while the aristocrat is required to bear none. In The Redskins Hugh Littlepage even refuses to talk with Anti-Renters, who he admits are right regarding the point at issue, because he will not negotiate under duress.

19 Cooper to Kate, Mary, and Lucy Hosmer, 1 January 1847, in Beard, Letters, V, 184. See also James Fenimore Cooper, The Redskins (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, n.d.), pp. 105-6, 473.

20 The American Democrat, p. 145. Italics his.

21 The Redskins, p. 433.

22 Cooper to Thomas Warren Field, 4 November 1848, in Beard, Letters, V, 388.

23 The Redskins, p. 431.

24 See James F. Beard, Jr., “The First History of Greater New York,” and Beard’s commentary in Letters, VI, 203-6.

25 Robert E. Spiller, Fenimore Cooper: Critic of His Times (New York: Russell & Russell, 1963), pp. 76-96; James Fenimore Cooper, Notions of the Americans (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1963), I, 110.

26 Ibid., I, 110, 129-30.

27 Cooper to Horatio Greenough, 9 August 1836, in Beard, Letters, III, 233.

28 Home as Found, pp. 90-109.

29 Ibid., p. 105.

30 James Fenimore Cooper, Autobiography of a Pocket-Handkerchief (Evanston, Ill.: The Golden Booke Press, 1897). The first eight chapters portray these evils in international and essentially universal terms. The final nine chapters particularize and castigate the evils, using the example of New York society.

31 Cooper’s “Journal,” 1 April 1848, in Beard, Letters, V, 332. See also James Fenimore Cooper, The Ways of the Hour [1850] (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, n.d.), p. 1.

32 The American Democrat, p. 168.

33 As late as January, 1846, before completing the Littlepage Manuscripts, in a letter to his English publisher concerning The Redskins, Cooper declared that the merchant class had little influence. (Cooper to Richard Bentley, 7 January 1846, in Beard, Letters, V, 115.)

34 James Fenimore Cooper, Homeward Bound (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea, & Blanchard, 1838), I, 61.

35 It is in this context that one can best appreciate the phenomenal success of Hunt’s Merchants’ Magazine established at New York by Freeman Hunt in 1839. Hunt’s objective, frankly stated in the first number, was to raise the public image of the merchant class by making the same distinction Cooper had made between the “mere factor” and the “real merchant.” (Hunt’s Merchants’ Magazine, I [July, 1839], 2.) There was a regular flow of articles such as the one by George Putnam, Cooper’s intended publisher for New York [Towns of Manhattan], which admonished the young aspiring merchant to “set a higher value upon principles than upon petty gain.” (Hunt’s Merchants’ Magazine, VIII [April, 1843], 308). Whatever their intentions, the moral themes of the merchant rhetoric seemed to correspond to views long expressed by Cooper. Men should seek social position and the good opinion of the community, but not at the sacrifice of principles or in such a way as to threaten the order and stability of society.

36 Miller, pp. 179-84; Robert G. Albion, The Rise of New York Port, 1815-1860 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939), Chap. III.

37 New York, p. 17.

38 Ibid, pp. 5-6.

39 Ibid., p. 52.

40 Ibid., p. 61.

41 Vernon L. Parrington stimulated interest in Cooper’s social ideas with his Main Currents in American Thought (3 vols.; New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1927-30), II, 204-29. Parrington placed Cooper in an agrarian framework which has served as the touchstone for subsequent Cooper scholarship. Even Marvin Meyers, whose interpretation is most like my own, considers Parrington’s interpretation of Cooper’s social ideas the most convincing and refers to Cooper as an “agrarian conservative.” (pp. 58n, 98n.)

42 See White and White, passim; Charles N. Glaab, “The Historian and the American Urban Tradition,” Wisconsin Magazine of History, XLVI (Autumn, 1963), 13-25; and Charles N. Glaab and A. Theodore Brown, A History of Urban America (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1967), Chap. 3.

43 William James, Pragmatism (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1921), pp. 59-60. See Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., review of American Intellectual History and Historians, by Robert A. Skotheim, in History and Theory, VII (1968), 217-24.

* Cooper’s early hostility toward the city gradually changed. Mr. Bender — a Ph. D candidate in history at the University of California, Davis — relates this change to Cooper’s search for a natural aristocracy. An earlier version of this paper was presented to the American Studies Section of the Rocky Mountain Social Science Association in Lubbock, Texas, May 2, 1969.