EFFECT OF LIFE IN THE WEST ON CHARACTER.
“From some cause or other,” says the “Congregational Quarterly,” “there is a quickening, energizing, expanding effect produced in the West on the general manhood of those who come there from the East. What is it? Can it be pointed out or defined? It is the theory of some, we know, that these phenomena can be accounted for on the principle that only the most active and enterprising go from home ; as it is their expanding manhood that carries them there. But this is a mere begging of the question ; for it is a part of the phenomena themselves that there is no perceptible difference, in this respect, between those who go and those who stay at home till after they have gone.”
Here is clearly stated a fact, observable to all who go West, that our people in those regions are really “smarter” than those on the “Atlantic border;” but the reason of this is very bunglingly put, and very unsatisfactorily accounted for. A volume might be written, by the proper person, upon the ideas suggested above. There cannot be a doubt but that the citizens of the new States are naturally of more comprehensive ideas and superior natural ability, mentally and physically, when compared to the people living on the Northern Atlantic seaboard. We have our own ideas, which, if given, would involve an argument too long for our columns. We must, therefore, content ourselves with saying that in New England and New York the populations are brought in too close contact with European influences to have any originality of character. We here become more or less copyists, and insensibly affected by outside and un-American influences, until we reach a degree of commonplace that is almost insufferable. It is undoubtedly true that many of the most enterprising “pull up stakes” and seek their fortunes in the West. This fact alone indicates a degree of administrative character that presumes a superior man ; but it is also true that necessity drives from our Northern shores many apparently desperate and broken-down individuals, who, once among the free airs of the prairies, recover their self-possession, soon obtain an individuality, and are as often astonished themselves as are their friends that they should, to use a homely phrase, be of some account in the world. The whole machinery of Northern life is quite as degrading as that of our English fathers, while we have no established aristocracy to keep up the elements of the true man. We forget, in the metropolis, that the English nobleman is, after all, an enlightened frontiersman, for his manly amusements, the fox hunt, the deer and the steeple-chase, are all of a kind common to our American frontiersmen, from among whom we have, since our national existence, found our best and most useful statesmen—in fact, in government the South and West have monopolised the entire management of it, as perfectly as have the aristocracy of England maintained a supremacy over their subordinate people. Commerce, strictly followed, cramps the intellect, and finally turns men and God into cent. per cents. In the North we hear of nothing that is independent of gain, but in the West there are different sentiments encouraged. Less care is paid to artificial life, more self-reliance is demanded, and insensibly the thoughts are enlarged. The people of the West may lose something in the sickly sentimentalities of imitative and miserable corrupt civilization ; they may not always speak conventionally correct, they may not have the exact cut to the coat, but that they are not high-toned, independent human beings, and superior to the great mass of extreme Northern men, it is impossible for the intelligent and philosophic observer to deny.
Source: New York Spirit of the Times 31.4 (2 March 1861): 49. University of Virginia Alderman Library.
Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.
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