“Our Situations are Different”: Resituating Gentility and Loyalty in The Spy

Keat Murray (California University of Pennsylvania)

Presented at the 19ᵗʰ Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 2013.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 2013 Cooper Conference and Seminar (No. 19), The State University of New York College at Oneonta. Oneonta, New York. Steven Harthorn, editor. (pp. 36-42).

Copyright © 2013, James Fenimore Cooper Society and the College at Oneonta.

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

Critics have often linked the success of James Fenimore Cooper’s second novel, The Spy (1821), to the author’s remark that he had conceived it as “an American novel professedly” (“James Cooper to Andrew Thompson Goodrich, July 12, 1820” 49). To gauge how The Spy may have measured up to the author’s profession, critics have labored over the political interests and cultural productivity of Cooper’s fictional rendering of the Revolution, and in doing so, some have proposed that The Spy, like some of Cooper’s other books set in America, is aligned with the democratic politics of a growing American populace. James D. Wallace, for example, suggests that Cooper wrote The Spy with a strong “appeal to a wide audience” to boost its lucrative potential (106), hoping its democratic persuasions “would have attractions for the feeblest intellects, yet would not be rejected by the strongest” (108). With a “gallery of American types” (104), The Spy was “a democratic novel representing the culture of a new nation,” written for a broad-based readership to celebrate the elevated dignity of a common man in Harvey Birch (108). Donald Pease sees a similar leveling action in Birch and his literary successor, Natty Bumppo, whom Cooper “had thoroughly democratized” to identify a commoner with “the set of principles in the Declaration of Independence [and] the general interest of the American people” (xiv). Wayne Franklin also underscores The Spy’s democratic values as part of Cooper’s “radical experiment in reshaping American political memory” (Cooper 282). Franklin has twice offered his reading of The Spy’s democratic hero, first in his introduction to the 1997 reprinting of the 1849 edition and second in his biography of Cooper’s Early Years (2007). In these instances, Franklin contextualizes The Spy within debates about “the role of class distinctions in Revolutionary memory” (“Introduction” xxi) and on the ennobling portrait of Harvey Birch, who represents “the disinterested capacity of ordinary soldiers” (Cooper 284).

I agree that veins of Cooper’s Spy do dignify the common man, but I want to qualify this by rethinking Birch’s loyalties and, by extension, Cooper’s political convictions in the early 1820s, which remain rather ambiguous. Heinz Ickstadt makes the case that Cooper’s 1838 essay The American Democrat tries to reconcile the taut opposition between the American gentry and the masses with a laissez-faire form of Jacksonianism that was much less radical than the egalitarian movement welling up among the masses (24). At first glance, it might seem that the same is true in The Spy, with Cooper’s disdain for the intractable and destructive Skinners, but I posit that the book’s allegiances to a republican gentry trump the kind of reconciliation that Ickstadt sees. I want to suggest that Birch is — just as his covert duties dictate — an instrument for the authority of his genteel superior who had enlisted his services. Rather than “a parable of equality,” as Franklin calls it, The Spy fosters a readiness in egalitarian discourses to endorse an elite leadership by accommodating a cultural logic that recommends gentility as a requisite for virtuous leadership (“Introduction” xxiii). The Spy employs a white commoner to assist in re-inventing a culture of indwelling deference toward upper classes, a culture that John Cadwallader, Cooper’s narrator-self in Notions of the Americans (1828), reckons as “an aristocratical feeling ... among a people so thoroughly democratic” (63). At a time when a large portion of the populace was gravitating toward a democratic politics, Cooper’s early writings naturalize the merits of the genteel classes and rationalize a stratified social order from the top down, suggesting, as he writes in Notions of the Americans, that in America “Equal rights do not ... imply a broad, general, and unequivocal equality”; a genteel leadership is gifted with the foresight “to give[] political rights to all those who ... can use them without abuse” (246-47). 1 With this in mind, I argue that The Spy fortifies the authority of a “natural aristocracy” over a “popular impulse” that may threaten the rule of the polished, cultivated classes (American Democrat 409). 2 The Spy features a common man, namely Harvey Birch, whose craft and cunning are conscripted to preserve the honor and civic virtue of his superior; moreover, Birch’s covert activity serves what I call his superior’s “genteel privilege of dissimulation,” a privilege that George Washington exercises to honor a promise that binds him to a social peer, albeit one across a political divide.

Before we proceed further, a brief explication of the “genteel privilege of dissimulation” will inform Cooper’s portrait of Washington and the social relations presented in Cooper’s early fictions. 3 As much as veracity, fidelity, and honor were said to distinguish the “true gentleman” from lesser men in the early republic, so too did his social and political agency rest on his covert perspicacity and functionality as a prudent manager of truth. Indeed, while numerous periodicals of the time abhor dishonesty in a “gentleman” and cite probity as a principal quality of a “true gentleman,” the dissembling gentleman was not completely reprehensible in a young republic that applauded {37} the “honorable treachery” of patriots who rebelled against the British (O’Toole vii). Moreover, social historians confirm that deception was, in fact, an essential tool in a gentleman’s social repertoire, especially when it was employed to preserve privacy or promote the common good. Concealing and modifying the truth for honorable ends was an accepted practice among European and American gentlemen, to the extent that artful dissimulation demonstrated that one possessed the political acumen necessary to be a virtuous guardian of the public good. 4

In The Social History of Truth, Steven Shapin finds that complete openness on the part of a gentleman was not advisable and could be detrimental to his social agency. While a gentleman’s civic virtue was predicated on virtues in accordance with his reputation as “a man of his word,” he also carefully negotiated perceptions of “truth” (Shapin 68). A gentleman must practice prudent secrecy as “a partly closed book” if he wanted to flourish in society (106). Though he was not advised to lie outright for the irreversible injury it might do to his honor as a truth-teller, he could dissimulate — or, lead others to believe something other than the truth — to advance his authority and the interests of the public good. Joanne Freeman’s Affairs of Honor, a study of American gentleman leaders in the early republic, concurs with Shapin that genteel culture often justified dishonest acts as virtuous dissembling, so long as the acts were committed to secure the public good, to preserve a gentleman’s reputation from undue slander, or to fortify genteel class authority and solidarity. It was in a gentleman’s best interest, Freeman says, to be adept in strategies such as concealment, persuasion, indirection, and dissimulation to construct and protect his reputation while he went about his business (24-25, 44-52). Among the American elite, such strategies were deemed extenuations of an “honor code” that served the greater common good by keeping private matters out of the public arena, and in turn, this form of discretionary secrecy cemented the conflation of a “natural” social hierarchy and “honor culture” which had long functioned as an “engine of aristocratic privilege” (57). In this way, elites could call up republican civic virtues to justify, or altogether dismiss, violations of an “honor code” as private indiscretions that, if exposed, would do greater damage than good to the welfare of the public and its prosperity. A “source of stability” for generations of American and British gentlemen, “honor culture” presented elites as unswervingly truthful, selfless superintendents of the social and moral order (xv). Given the multiple facets of a gentleman’s reputation — rank, credit, fame, credibility, character, polite manners, and civic virtue, he was wise to present himself as a committed republican and a trustworthy agent of the common good (xix-xxi). Lest a crack in his honor be exploited by rivals vying for political advantage subalterns trying to unseat elite authorities, the prudent gentleman carefully managed indiscretions by (re)presenting the stain in a different light or concealing it from public detection. While dissimulation involves a performative disguise or false (re)presentation, it was often justified as a virtuous strategy for preserving privacy and maintaining a reputation of civic virtue. John Adams, for example, asserts in his diary that “constant Dissimulation” is “the first Maxim of worldly Wisdom,” saying that this kind of “Concealment, Secrecy, and Reserve” is “not only lawful but commendable,” even to the point that it is “so far from being immoral and unlawfull, that [it] is a Duty and Virtue” (42-43). Adams testifies that the better a gentleman concealed his dissembling, the more control he exerted over his virtuous persona and the better he managed his political agency in public arenas. 5 And perhaps more than any other early American novelist, Cooper populates his works with dissimulating gentlemen, albeit for a variety of purposes, in central characters such as the Earl of Pendennys, Edward Effingham, John Paul Jones, Lionel Lincoln, Duncan Heyward, and The Spy’s George Washington.

Examining Wayne Franklin’s reading of The Spy lays the groundwork for my argument that Harvey Birch functions more as an agent of a dissembling gentleman and a defender of genteel authority than a representative of a greater democratic order. One gap in Franklin’s reading overlooks Cooper’s preface for the first edition in 1821, using instead the preface Cooper prepared for the 1831 edition and then amended for the 1849 printing. 6 Along these lines, Lance Schachterle urges scholars to pay close attention to “Cooper’s evolving opinions” about the audiences The Spy “commanded,” opinions that Schachterle traces in various prefaces Cooper wrote for various editions of The Spy over the course of three decades (185). 7 Accordingly, Cooper’s prefaces for the 1821 and 1849 editions recommend different readings in regard to Birch and the politics of honor and loyalty. The preface of the 1821 edition complicates Franklin’s view of The Spy as “a parable of American equality” that interrogates class distinctions in the United States (“Introduction” xxiii). The 1821 preface does not valorize American commoners but amplifies the genteel aspect of the book in contrast to the “savage” and “brutal passion” of the title character of Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly (1799) (Cooper vi-vii). 8 The 1821 preface does not link genteel manners to common populations in the States, nor does it represent American commoners as an especially patriotic crowd. Not until the 1831 preface did Cooper script the book with heavy-handed patriotism, stating in retrospect that he “chose Patriotism for his theme” (6), and not until the 1849 preface did Cooper locate “Patriotism ... uppermost in the heart” of the “common spy” who served “in common” with the genteel leadership of the Revolution. 9 So, it is Cooper’s 1849 preface that advances Franklin’s {38} transformative democratic reading of the “honorable ... thoughts and practices of [American] multitudes whose time had formerly been engrossed by the most vulgar concerns of life” (Cooper “Introduction” 3).

While Franklin’s identification of Harvey Birch as “the first great commoner in American literature” (Cooper 285) might well be true, I question his point that Birch’s heroism and civic virtue are pronounced in “a parable of American equality.” I posit that Birch’s patriotic fervor proceeds from his loyalty to elite gentlemen and his deference to genteel codes of honorable conduct and class solidarity. Rather than identify Birch with commoners, Cooper dislocates the trader from the lower ranks, making him the exceptional underclass man, in comparison to the Skinners and Cow-boys who populate the book. Purportedly on the American side, the Skinners’ real motivations are initially shrouded in the “semblance of patriotism” (157). 10 The novel’s aversion for the Skinners operating “under the guise of patriotism” (289) is reiterated in their acts of “brutal insensibility” (129), avarice (181), destruction (181), “savage” demeanor (213), vengeance (215), and defection (380). These backwoods rogues bark allegiance to their superior officers and the patriot cause insofar as it gratifies their immediate self-interests: “their mouths are filled with liberty and equality [while their] hearts are overflowing with cupidity and gall” (289). Birch, by contrast, is “beyond the abilities of his class” (307) and is known by Washington and readers of The Spy as a trustworthy, loyal man who, like his commander, succeeds in masking his identity for noble purposes. 11 He valiantly endures persecution, suffering, and hatred, without once betraying his loyalty to Washington, knowing full well that he is despised by his countrymen and that he will “descend into the grave, branded as a foe to liberty” (399). If the novel dignifies the common trader, it does so by attaching him to the dissembling gentleman he serves; Birch supports Washington’s privilege to conceal and modify the truth for honorable ends.

The novel punctuates the disconnection between Birch and the underclasses in a dramatic scene in which he narrowly averts execution in his pose as a British spy and witnesses the execution of a Skinner at the hands of the Cow-boys. Birch’s association with the underclass is severed by his deliverance from execution, which Sir Henry Clinton grants in a note testifying that Birch is a British spy. Permitted to leave the barn unharmed, Birch hides in a nearby bush where he “yield[s] to an unconquerable desire to witness the termination of this extraordinary scene” (383). There Birch struggles to detach himself from the sympathy he feels for a man of “the vulgar herd” (108), a man who, in fact, had torched Birch’s home and ransomed him as a traitor. 12 Unlike the executioners who “rode steadily on their route, as if nothing had occurred” (384), Birch sympathizes with the desperate man shrieking for help as the noose tightens around his neck. So while Birch “continued gazing on this scene with a kind of infatuation” for the condemned man who “swings in his place” (383), he feels pangs of conscience knowing that his was not the “hideous cor[p]se” “convulsively shuddering” at the end of the rope (384). Birch rushes away with “his hands to his ears” (384) and suffers a lengthy period of guilt lasting “many weeks before his memory ceased to dwell on the horrid event” (384). When the condemned man’s “cries for mercy” no longer rack Birch’s brain (384), his dissociation from the underclass is complete and his attachment to gentlemen is all the stronger for Sir Henry Clinton’s note, which Washington had arranged as part of his ruse. In turn, any degree of dignity that is assignable to Birch stems from his loyal attachment to his superior, not to the common soldier.

Although Birch secretly operates for an American commander, his allegiances do not rest entirely with the Revolution. The burden he bears as a secret agent requires him to cloak himself as a Loyalist spy and to act as if the American rebels (especially Lawton and the Skinners) are “the enemy” (171). So, in this way, Birch’s allegiances are not directly tied to the patriots but to Washington and the gentlemanly code of conduct to which the general resolutely adheres and which binds him to a Loyalist gentleman. In short, Washington’s loyalties to a Loyalist gentleman become Birch’s, and in enacting those loyalties, he is always an agent for Washington’s honor — not an equal. It can be said, in fact, that the loyalty that binds Birch to Washington is the most steadfast in the novel, as Birch never strays from serving Washington’s honor, even when his duty to his commander calls him to foil American plans to capture a British gentleman.

How the circumstances of the novel evolve to that point that Birch’s allegiances to his American commander will extend to a British gentleman is set up in the first four chapters when Washington in cognito solemnly promises the Wharton family to protect the Loyalist Henry Wharton, who is secretly visiting his family in the Neutral Ground. When Washington, disguised as a “solitary traveler” (9), is invited to stay in the Wharton home, which exudes “an air altogether superior to the common farmhouses of the country” (12), his genteel nature is evident to the gentry who inhabit the house. Washington is right at home among “the best society” (13), and his “whole appearance was so impressive and so decidedly that of a gentleman” that the Whartons know they are in the presence of one whose “impressive dignity ... so conspicuously denotes the empire of reason” (13, 16). Yet the radiance of his gentlemanly {39} person does not betray his artifice, for the opacity of his disguise deflects the Whartons’ suspicions and their “endeavour[s] to pierce the disguise of the guest’s political feelings” (17). All that evening, however, Washington peers through Henry Wharton’s disguise and sees the British captain and son of the estate patriarch for who he is. But like a good gentleman, Washington vows to honor his promise to his genteel hosts, apart from their opposing political loyalties. In fact, his promise remains inviolable even after Wharton unwittingly insults him incognito, marking the unmitigated “cruelty of Washington!” (48). Washington maintains “the air of benevolence and sincerity” befitting his character (49) and repeats his vow within earshot of his loyal subaltern, Harvey Birch, promising “to prove [his] gratitude” for the Whartons’ hospitality and stating that “your son is safer from my knowledge of his visit than he would be without it” (53). 13 With this implicit command left to the spy, Washington leaves and is “lost behind the hill” (53), not to return for three hundred pages. 14

In the meantime, Birch labors to preserve his commander’s hon putting his own life, liberty, and property at risk. After providing Washington with military intelligence, Birch’s duties radically shift in Chapter Seven when Henry Wharton is captured by the Americans, and it becomes Birch’s duty to make real Washington’s vow to Wharton. Washington can do nothing to pardon the British captive, lest he compromise his honor as American commander-in-chief, and so from that point on, Birch must stealthily traverse the Neutral Ground at his own peril to accomplish what an American gentleman had promised a Loyalist counterpart. Deemed a traitor to the patriots, Birch is pursued by his countrymen, and each time he is captured, he must escape to avoid execution and stay his course. At one point, in fact, he invites a sentence of execution by swallowing his only safeguard against death, a note from Washington, so as not to implicate the commander (199). 15 Seconds before he ingests the note, readers see Birch “tremble[]” for the first time (198), as Cooper suspends Birch’s moment of crisis to hold him fast to the fate that his loyalty to Washington writes for him. With “violent emotions ... contending in his bosom” (198), Birch destroys the note, declaring that the secret “dies with me” as he proceeds to the gallows “with a manner of incomprehensible dignity” (199). Birch is willing to sacrifice his life and honor to deny the historical record any evidence that the American commanding general had vowed to preserve the enemy.

The scene in which Birch declines Washington’s monetary reward for his patriotic service augments the novel’s articulation of the permanent ascendancy of America’s gentry over “her lowest citizens” (399). In this way, The Spy does not phrase Birch’s honor and patriotism in discourses of equality but subordinates him to the service of Washington’s honor and nobility. The penultimate chapter is much more committed to delineating Washington’s elite status and Birch’s servitude than to writing “a parable of equality.” If the novel does not elsewhere construct patriotism as the deference of commoners to their gentleman leaders, it does so in the final meeting between Washington and Birch by playing out the peddler’s obeisance to the rule of a privileged class in an artful deflection of the general’s treachery.

Several details in the scene refute the interpretation that Birch’s refusal of one hundred doubloons puts his noble service on par with Washington’s. That Washington calls the award a “duty” binds the offer to his station as a gentleman and a commanding general (397) rather than one of personal conviction to his unjustly maligned countryman. After Birch initially declines the reward, Washington reasons that Birch will need the money for subsistence as the “prime of [his] days is already past” (398). When Birch declines again, saying that he will continue peddling, Washington replies that the money will be essential to Birch when peddling fails to meet all of the “risks and cares” of old age (398). Washington then reveals the basic inducement for offering the doubloons. Rather than an award for Birch’s past service and rather than an award that will terminate Birch’s obligations, the doubloons really extend his period of service to the young country, which Washington imagines as one governed by gentlemen and operating for their interests. Accepting the money would bind the peddler to an indefinite period of secrecy, assuring Washington and the elites to whom he is accountable that the peddler shall never want for money and will not feel compelled to exploit his covert service for personal gain. Apparently, Washington fears that Birch’s loyalty wavers, and he needs creditable evidence that Birch will not betray the “esteemed” gentlemen who lead the country: “I have told you that the characters of men who are much esteemed in life depend on your secrecy; what pledge can I give them of your fidelity?” (398). Rejecting the doubloons is, says Birch, evidence enough of his loyalty, as submitting to superiors in this way means a life of tottering on the brink of poverty and existing on the margins as a social and political outcast.

The scene reiterates Birch’s willing subordination to Washington in other ways. The peddler several times assumes a submissive posture, bowing his head and lowering his eyes while the general asserts the advantage of his status and the leadership’s exclusive knowledge of the nation’s condition: “There are many motives which might {40} govern me, that to you are unknown. Our situations are different; I am known as the leader of armies — but you must descend into the grave with the reputation of a foe to your native land” (398). While men like Birch are expected to act “with a strong attachment” to the nation and its ruling class without understanding exactly why they sacrifice themselves (397), privileged men alone are privy to the circumstances and politics of war and accordingly direct the nation’s obeisant “lowest citizens.” So too does Washington enjoy the fruits of Birch’s service without the obligation of publicly crediting him for his noble conduct. The most he will do is acknowledge his “secret friend” (400) privately but says if pressed publicly he will dismiss as absurd any suggestion that he colluded with the lowly British spy, lest he defame himself and compromise his power.

Birch’s chief purpose in The Spy is to realize Washington’s promise to a genteel Loyalist family, thereby fulfilling the general’s duty to preserve the “lives,” “fortunes,” and solidarity of his genteel social brethren (397). One gentleman’s promise to another gentleman, regardless of national or political affiliation, trumps a gentleman’s obligation to advocate in public for his firmly attached subordinate, even when the loyal subaltern, who is “trusted more than all,” must live out his days in infamy for the good name of his superior (397). Reduced to its basic terms, Washington’s honor requires the sacrifice of Birch’s. Washington’s reputation as a noble leader is built, in part, on his buried treachery and his demand that his most loyal subordinate absorb his offense and, in effect, be the traitor in his place. And perhaps the greatest power of Washington’s deflection of treachery comes when the subordinate accepts the brand of traitor as a confirmation of high honor and national trust. 16 While both men keep their dissembling a secret, only Washington sees the benefits; Birch lives in infamy and is consoled only by the private knowledge that he is indeed a “secret friend” of Washington’s and a patriot of the highest order.

Works Cited

  • Adams, John. “1770 Aug. 20 Monday.” John Adams Diary 15, 30 January 1768, 10 August 1769-22 August 1770. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. 42-43. Web.
  • Cooper, James Fenimore. The American Democrat. 1838. The American Democrat and Other Political Writings. Eds. Bradley J. Birzer and John Willson. Washington: Regnery, 2000. 361-494. Print.
  • ------. “James Cooper to Andrew Thompson Goodrich, July 12, 1820.” The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, Volume I: 1800-1830. Ed. James Franklin Beard. Cambridge: Belknap, 1960. 48-49. Print.
  • ------. Notions of the Americans. 1828. The American Democrat and Other Political Writings. Eds. Bradley J. Birzer and John Willson. Washington: Regnery, 2000. 1-266. Print.
  • ------. The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground By the Author of “Precaution.” New York: Wiley & Halsted, 1821. Print.
  • ------. The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground. 1821; 1849 edition. New York: Penguin, 1997.
  • Franklin, Wayne. “Introduction.” The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground. 1821. New York: Penguin, 1997. vii-xxxi. Print.
  • ------. James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.
  • Freeman, Joanne. Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. Print.
  • Ickstadt, Heinz. “Instructing the American Democrat: Cooper and the Concept of Popular Fiction in Jacksonian America.” Robert Clark, ed., J ames Fenimore Cooper: New Critical Essays. London & New York: Vision and Barnes & Noble, 1985. 15-37. Print.
  • O’Toole, G.J.A. Honorable Treachery: A History of U.S. Intelligence, Espionage, and Covert Action From the American Revolution to the CIA . New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991. Print.
  • Pease, Donald E., ed. “Introduction.” The Deerslayer. 1841. New York: Penguin, 1987. vii-xxv. Print.
  • Schachterle, Lance. “Cooper’s Spy and the Possibility of American Fiction.” Studies in the Humanities 18.2 (Dec 1991): 180-99. Print.
  • Shapin, Steven. A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. Print.
  • Wallace, James D. Early Cooper and His Audience. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. Print.


1 In Notions of the Americans, Cooper also notes that it is the republican responsibility of gentleman leaders to relegate equality prudently, making sure only “to make all equal, who can bear equality” (247). Remarks of this political temper appear in various places in Notions of the Americans, A Letter to His Countrymen, and The American Democrat, especially in places where Cooper describes the fortunate elements of aristocracy in American democracy. For example, Vol. I Letter 3 in Notions of the Americans mentions the natural disinterestedness of those placed “above the level of his fellow-creatures” (23). See also Vol. I, Letter 10 in Notions. In The American Democrat, Cooper dedicates entire sections to classifying the advantages and disadvantages of a monarchy, an aristocracy, and a democracy. The worst of the three is the monarchy, and the best social and political order is a combination of the aristocracy and democracy, which can be found in America, where the advantages of the two are heightened and the disadvantages lessened.

2 Cooper’s early fictions attribute Jacksonian politics to roguish groups like the Skinners and virtually negate the possibilities of a Jacksonian future by dispossessing Leatherstocking of his hut and sending him into the distant wilderness. For writings on the “natural aristocracy,” see correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson: “John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, Sept. 2, 1813,” The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams , ed. Lester J. Cappon (Chapel Hill, 1959); “Adams to Jefferson, Nov. 15, 1813,” “Jefferson to Adams, Oct. 28, 1813,” Thomas Jefferson: Writings, ed. Merrill Peterson (New York, 1984), 1304-10.

3 For a more complete explication of the “genteel privilege of dissimulation,” see Keat Murray, “John Heckewelder’s ‘Pieces of Secrecy’: Dissimulation and Class in the Writings of a Moravian Missionary.” Journal of the Early Republic 32.1 (Spring 2012): 83-118.

4 To survey the broad discussion about the character of the “gentleman” in the early republic, see “Rev. Dr. Dwight, “A Valedictory Address To the Young Gentlemen, who commenced Bachelors of Arts, at Yale College, July 26, 1776,” American Magazine, 1.2 (Jan. 1788), 99-103; “Introduction to Moral Tales,” The Children’s Magazine: Calculated for the Use of Families and Schools (January 1789): 29; “A Description of a Certain Personage Commonly Called a Gentleman,” New York Weekly Museum, 39 (Feb. 7, 1789), 2; “On Inspiring a Sense of Honour,” New Hampshire Magazine, 1.2 (July 1793) 92; On the Character of a Gentleman,” New England Quarterly, 2.3 (Oct.-Dec. 1802), 182-89; “A Fine Gentleman,” Philadelphia Repository and Weekly Register, 2.41 (Oct. 9, 1802), 41; “The Fine Gentleman,” The Juvenile Port-Folio, and Literary Miscellany 2.42 (October 22, 1814): 166; “Letters from an Englishman in the United States,” The Port-Folio, 13.1 (Jan. 1822), 66-68; “Abraham, The First Gentleman,” Western Luminary 6.1 (July 8, 1829): 1; “Honor, as a Principle of Conduct,” New York Evangelist, 5.47 (Nov. 22, 1834), 1; “Gentleman,” The Ladies’ Companion, A Monthly Magazine; Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts (May 1836): 36.

5 Creating a politically efficacious persona rests, at least partially, on the pragmatic value of dissimulation, a truth John Adams avers when he cautions about the “Damage, Danger and Confusion” that “Enemies” and “indiscreet friends” would wreak if certain information were publicly divulged. For prominent men whose conduct was scrutinized, adeptness in managing a public persona through the selective disclosure and concealment of personal history was invaluable for securing and maintaining social prestige and political capital. In an environment in which one’s private indiscretions could be publicly exploited by rivals for political gain, acts of dissimulation for protecting privacy and preserving political viability were {41} indispensable. So, while the code of honor demanded that gentlemen “condemn political intrigue” among their peers, it is clear, as Joanne Freeman observes, that “none avoided it” in managing their personal reputations and public affairs (50). Indeed, “honor culture” was the practical “grammar of political combat” that played out in writings by Adams, Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, William Maclay, and others, as they competed for power and prestige on the national stage (201). The honor code was not only the heart of genteel social culture but also the “governing logic and weapon” for shaping a national history that was favorable to the genteel classes and the reputations of gentlemen who authored primary historical records and annals (xviii). Quotations from the writings of John Adams in this note are from John Adams, “1770 Aug. 20 Monday.” John Adams Diary 15, 30 January 1768, 10 August 1769-22 August 1770, Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society, 42-43. Material in this note from Freeman’s Affairs of Honor is located on xviii, xxii-xxiii, 24, 42, 50, and 201. For more discussion on Adams, Cooper, gentility, and related topics, see Jeffrey Insko, “The Logic of Left Alone: The Pioneers and the Conditions of U.S. Privacy,” American Literature, 81.4 (Dec. 2009), 659-85. This note and the paragraphs that explicate “the genteel privilege of dissimulation” are revised from Keat Murray, “John Heckewelder’s ‘Pieces of Secrecy’: Dissimulation and Class in the Writings of a Moravian Missionary.”

6 A special note is in order to explain that the 1831 preface was used again for the 1849 edition, save Cooper’s addition of two paragraphs. Because the 1849 edition was the last printed during Cooper’s life, it is mistaken for a definitive edition, having been the last one Cooper himself oversaw. Both Schachterle’s textual history and Franklin’s “Note on the Text” of the 1997 reprinting make this distinction. For my present case, the differences between the 1831 and its successor in 1849 are of no consequence because my explication does not work with revisions made to the 1831 preface when Cooper amended it for the 1840 reprinting. It is fitting for Franklin to cite the 1849 preface because he edits the 1997 reprinting of the 1849 edition of The Spy, but I want to pursue the point that Schachterle’s textual history makes in regard to the various prefaces and novelistic texts Cooper offered readers in 1821 and in subsequent editions of The Spy. For the most complete treatment of matters related to the textual history and authorial revisions of The Spy, see the Cooper Edition’s The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground, New York: AMS Press, 2000.

7 See Lance Schachterle, “Cooper’s Spy and the Possibility of American Fiction” Studies in the Humanities 18.2 (Dec 1991) 180-99. Here Schachterle closely reads the prefatory material that introduced several different editions of Cooper’s The Spy, arguing that Cooper’s “opinion of the kind of audience Spy commanded — and created” was an “evolving opinion” that can be traced to the prefaces he wrote for successive editions (185).

8 It can be further argued that the 1821 preface heightens the book’s genteel aspect by elevating its social and ideological import far above the aesthetic prejudices that white women readers bring to the book, a population that is, according to Cooper, “a bundle of sensibilities ... which exist chiefly in the fancy” (ix). If anything, Cooper’s preface in conjunction with the prefatory letter to James Aitchison attempts to identify American gentility in terms different from their counterparts in Europe. The letter to Aitchison employs staples of gentlemanly discourse to express the writer’s confidence that one gentleman — i.e. Aitchison — will justly judge the literary work of his “assured friend” (iv). The writer notes Aitchison’s candor and justice, saying that he knows Aitchison’s “national partiality” for Britain will not in any way color his valuation of his friend’s literary project. Also, Cooper is careful to avoid humility to the point of deprecating himself and his literary project by mocking The Spy’s black servant, Caesar Thompson, who foolishly presumes himself above “heathenish” places (viii).

9 Because the 1849 text is the edition readily available in print today, all of my citations from the text of The Spy are from the 1849 version reprinted by Penguin in 1997. If any part of the excerpt quoted was revised from the original 1821 text, I will indicate this change in my explication or notes.

10 This page number corresponds with the 1821 printing. The 1849 edition capitalizes “Patriotism” (129), though the modification is a compositor’s revision rather than an authorial one by Cooper.

11 Earlier in Chapter III, Cooper lays out some biographical details about his patriot spy named Harvey Birch, saying that he was a native of an eastern colony, that his family “had known better fortunes in the land of their nativity” (33), and that Harvey’s manners “in no way distinguished [him] from men of his class” (33). Rather it was his “acuteness and the mystery which enveloped his movements” that marked Harvey’s distinctions above those of his social station in the colonies (33).

12 The doomed Skinner was one of several Skinners who burned Birch’s home and ransomed him; he did not act alone. After Harvey Birch was branded a trait American Captain John Lawton (136), his paternal home was burned to the ground, and his property rights were nullified for his ostensible Loyalism. Later, Harvey was captured by Major Dunwoodie and declared “a condemned traitor” (197) who must die the next morning.

13 Later in Chapter XXVII, Frances Wharton’s recitation of this statement by Harper nudges Dunwoodie to the recognition that Harper and Washington are one in the same, though he does not reveal his revelation to others. He simply “exclaims with delight — ‘We are safe! — we are safe!’” in reference to the family’s desperation to save Henry Wharton from execution.

14 {42} We next see Washington-as-Harper in Chapter XXX when Frances Wharton seeks and finds Harper’s “singularly constructed hiding-place” strategically positioned against angular rocks in the hills (356). There she makes her plea for Harper to save her brother.

15 In the 1821 edition, Volume I ends with this chapter at the moment Harvey Birch is sentenced to the gallows.

16 Washington concludes that he “fearlessly entrust(s)” Birch with a truth so important that only they share (399).