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Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
"IF the visitor at St. Louis," writes the local handbook, "should chance to be benevolent, or literary, or educational, he will perhaps like to look at" a number of institutions, which I grieve to say I did not go to see. It is an unpleasing reflection that I did not fall under any one of the above three categories, and must rank among the vulgar herd, for whom the guide-book adds, by way of consolation, that, "let them seek pleasure as they will, here are the opportunities to find it."
I confess that I sought and found my pleasure wandering about the streets of St. Louis. The place itself was a constant marvel to me. I found myself there, between eleven and twelve hundred miles from New York. Travelling night and day by express trains, you reach St. Louis from the Atlantic in forty-five hours more than twice the time, and at about the same rate of travelling that you take in going express from Boulogne to Marseilles; and yet there are not two points in Europe separated by a couple of hundred miles, which
are not far more unlike each other than New York and St. Louis. It is the capital city of the great West, the frontier town between the prairie and the settled country. Westwards, the railways only reach as yet a distance of a hundred and odd miles. The great overland caravans for the Pacific Ocean start from here during their short summer season, which was to begin in the middle of May, about a week after my arrival, and to end in the middle of August. The Indians still come to the city at times to barter; and furs and peltries are stock articles of St. Louis commerce. Yet even in the far West, on the edge of the prairie land, I found myself in a vast city, as civilized and as luxurious as any city of the New World. The story of its growth reads fabulous. Thirty years ago it had about 6,000 inhabitants. Twenty years afterwards, it had upwards of 100,000; and to-day its numbers are supposed to be some 30,000 more. The city is worthy, indeed, of the river on which it stands. The praise is not a low one, for to my mind the rivers of America are the one grand feature about its scenery. Here, twelve hundred miles from the sea, the Mississippi is as noble a river as one could wish to see; and yet, for two thousand miles above St. Louis you can sail up the Missouri, the true parent stream of the Mississippi river.
When once you have seen the Mississippi, you understand the feeling of the Western States about the possession of the river. Union men and Secessionists,
Abolitionists and slaveowners, are all agreed on this one point, that come what may, or rule who may, the West must go with the Mississippi. You might as well ask Liverpool to allow the mouth of the Mersey to be held by a foreign power, as propose any arrangement or compromise to the West, by which the command of the Mississippi should pass from its hands. If the Father of Waters had poured into the Atlantic where the Potomac does, the Confederacy might have been a possibility; but the possession of the Mississippi has proved fatal to the existence of the South, as an isolated power.
The waters of the Western rivers were, at the time of my visit to St. Louis, higher than they had been for years, and for miles before you reached the Mississippi the railroad passed through flooded fields, and swamps expanded, for the time, into vast shallow lagoons. The river was full of great trunks of trees, torn up by the roots, and broken-down fences and dismembered rafts. The steamer ferry that carried you across landed you at the long quays, lined with stores and warehouses. There was not a sailing vessel on the wharves, as the current is too rapid for sailing craft to ascend the river; but, for a mile in length, the wharf was lined with the huge river-steamboats. Trade was slack when I was there, as it was everywhere along the Mississippi, but still there were boats enough coming and going constantly to make the scene a lively one. Up
the steep slope of the hillside, on the western bank, the city rises in long, broad streets, parallel to the quay and, when it has reached the hill's brow, stretches away far on the other side across the prairie of the "Champ des Noyers," which still bears the name given it by the early French settlers. There is no look left about St. Louis of a newly-settled city. The hotels are as handsome and as luxurious as in any of the elder States. The shop-windows are filled with all the evidences of an old civilization. In the book-stalls you see, not single copies, but whole piles of the last Blackwood's, and Edinburgh, and Westminster Reviews; rows upon rows, too, of handsomely bound library books, such as Humboldt's Cosmos, and Macaulay's and Prescott's Histories. There are numbers of foreign book stores, where, if you liked, you could have bought Varnhagen von Ense's "Correspondence," or "Les Miserables" of Victor Hugo. Eight or nine daily newspapers (three of them, by the way, German, and one French) are hawked about the streets. The street railroads stretch over the town in every direction, but yet there are crowds of handsome carriages standing about for hire. You may ride for miles and miles in the suburbs, through rows of handsome private dwelling houses, the occupiers of which in England (where, on the whole, living is cheaper than in America) could not possess less than 500l. to 1000l. a year. All the private houses are detached, two stories high, and built
of Dutch-looking brick. The door stands in the middle of the house, not on one side, and the windows are high, narrow, and numerous, as in our own houses of the ante-Pitt era. In all Western cities, the streets are so broad, and the houses so frequently detached, standing in their own plots of ground, that a Western city of one hundred thousand inhabitants covers perhaps three times the space it would in Europe. There may be poverty at St. Louis, but there is no poor, densely-populated quarter. In Missouri, the smokeless anthracite coal is not to be had, and therefore the great factories by the river-side cover the lower part of St. Louis with an English-looking haze of smoke; but the sun is so powerful, and the sky so blue, that not even factory smoke can make the place look dismal.
Of all the slave-cities I had seen, St. Louis was the only one where I could not observe the outward effects of the "peculiar institution." It is true that the number of slaves in the city is small, that it is almost surrounded by Free States, and that the German population is immensely large; still, to admit the truth, St. Louis is, in spite of slavery, one of the most prosperous cities I have travelled through in the States. The Attorney General, Mr. Bates, a citizen of Missouri, told me, and I have no doubt with truth, that the result of the existence of slavery had been to check the rapidity of the growth of St. Louis, as new emigrants always settled in a Free in preference to a Slave State, but
though an Abolitionist himself, he said he was glad of the result, for otherwise the State would have been altogether overrun by foreign emigrants. Certainly there is already a foreign look about St. Louis. The climate, in the first place, is too hot even at an early period of the year for men to bustle about as they do in Northern cities. The shops thrown open to the air, the people sitting about the door-steps beneath the shade, and the closed lattice shutters of the houses are signs of the South. But, more than this, the actual proportion of foreigners is very large. In the names of the suburbs, such as the Carondelet, there are traces of French settlers; but the German emigration has swallowed up every other. In the streets one hears more German spoken than English. In talking to the class of persons, waiters, servants, shopmen, and porters, whom a traveller chiefly comes across, it is quite as well to speak in German as in English. Bock bier, lager bier, and mai-wein, are advertised for sale at every turning. Americans drink freely, and Germans drink copiously; and when the joint thirstiness of Americans and Germans is developed by a southern sun, it is astonishing the quantity of liquor that can be consumed. I should think, without exaggeration, that one-tenth of all the shops in St. Louis must be establishments where, in some form or other, liquor is drunk on the premises. I know, in the main street, I counted that, out of a line of fifty houses I took at hazard,
twenty were bar-rooms, or wine stores, or lager saloons. German habits, too, have been imported into the city. Even in the lower American theatres, the audience smoke and drink beer, handed them by German waitresses. There are public "lust gartens" about the town, where German bands play at night, and where whole families, fathers, mothers, and children, come and sit for hours, to drink beer and listen to the music. Let me add, that having been in several of these places of entertainment, the audience was, for all I could see, as well behaved, though not so quiet, as it would have been in Germany. At one of these summer theatres, by the way, there was a troop of nigger minstrels, who sung a patriotic song, of which the chorus was, "The Union for ever, and freedom for all." Considering that Missouri is a Slave State, and the singers were, or were believed to be, negroes, there was a sort of bathos about the performance which it required an American education not to appreciate. I recollect, when Father Prout was in Rome, acting as correspondent of an English newspaper, he was invited to an American dinner, in honour of Washington's birthday. He was said to have been annoyed at finding he was expected to give an account of the festivities; at any rate, he closed his report with the following incident, which the other guests did not happen to remember: "The chairman then proposed the toast of the evening ‘Hail, Columbia, the land of freedom!’
and called upon the Vice to acknowledge the toast by singing a nigger melody." The story was ben trovato, but here it was more than verified. It is a curious illustration of popular feeling, that the great comic song of the evening was one sung by a negro, and called, "What shall a poor nigger do?" One verse I recollect was loudly cheered, and ran as follows:
And dere's de dam' 'Bolitionists,
But neiders on 'em right;
For dey spoil de Union, bof on em,
And set de country in a fight,
Den what shall a poor nigger do?"
It is possible the negro minstrels, in spite of their colour, were artificially black. One curious circumstance I noted also, that the leader of the theatrical orchestra, most of whom were Germans, was an undoubted and indubitable negro a thing which would not be tolerated in the Northern States.
The town, moreover, is crowded, like a Bavarian or Papal one, with the offices of the State lottery. It shows the practical working of the American Constitution, when you consider that the United States Government has no more power to hinder every State in the Union from establishing lotteries than we have to require Belgium to suppress the gaming tables at Spa; and it shows too, the wise action of the State Governments, that in only three out of the thirty-six States, and these all
Border Slave States Kentucky, Delaware, and Missouri are lotteries permitted by the local laws. The system is even more iniquitous for the players than the Papal one, a thing which beforehand I thought impossible. There are 78 numbers, of which 13 are drawn. It is easy enough to see that the chances of your guessing one, two, or three of the numbers drawn are within a fraction, 6, 30, and 273 to 1; yet, if you do happen to win, you only get once, twice and a half, and twenty-five times your stake respectively, and from these winnings 15 per cent. is deducted for commission. The lottery is drawn twice a day, instead of once a week, as it is in Rome; and you can stake any amount you please, from a shilling upwards. From the number of offices about, the business must be a thriving one; and this fact may possibly account for the State taxes being very light in Missouri, and for there also being a great deal of poverty.
As yet the manufacturing element of St. Louis is little developed. There are great beds of iron ore in the State, and coal-mines are within easy access by river. Had it not been for the political troubles, large iron factories would have been set up in the city before now, but for the moment all the progress has been suspended. Still, in few years' time, St. Louis will probably be the great iron manufacturing city of the West and South, if not of the whole Union. For the present, its great trade is as a depôt of agricultural produce. In 1860,
the last year during which the river was open, the shipments from St. Louis by the New Orleans boats alone, not to mention the shipments by railroad, were
I have only taken the six principal articles of export out of a list of some four-and-twenty. St. Louis, too, is the starting-point and depôt of the Prairie carrying trade, in which over three millions sterling are said to be invested annually. In 1860, there were employed on this trade, during its short season, 11,691 men, 844 horses, 7,374 mules, 67,930 oxen, and 6,922 waggons, to transport about 18,000 tons of freight. The greater portion of the freight is conveyed to, and the means of transport supplied at, St. Louis.
Political feeling, as far as I could learn, has run extremely high in Missouri. Ever since the war broke out, the State has been a battle-field between North and South, and has suffered fearfully. Up to the present day, the Southern part of the State is more or less in the hands of the Confederates, and has been successively devastated by rival bands of guerillas. Amongst the native settlers, the Secession party is very strong, as in all Slave States. The chief St. Louis paper the
Missouri Republican was in favour of neutrality and compromise till after the fall of Fort Sumter. In May last, though a staunch advocate of the Union, it obviously disliked the Abolitionists far more than it did the Secessionists, and kept hinting constantly its desire for such a compromise as would bring the South back with its institutions unimpaired. It deprecated strongly bitter language being used towards the Southerners, and threw doubts (and I believe with truth) on the Northern stories of the atrocities committed by the Confederate soldiery. On the other hand, the party represented by the Republican was not the most powerful numerically, though the most influential one. The Germans, who command the elections in St. Louis, are Black Republicans, followers of Fremont and Carl Schurz and Sigel. Their Abolitionism is not dictated by moral feelings, like that of the New England States, but is founded rather on a practical conviction that slavery is a vicious system of labour, than on any absolute regard for the negro. To do them justice, however, they have much less antipathy to the coloured race than the native Americans, and are to a man opposed to the legislation which seeks to exclude free negroes from the State. Moreover, though their Union feeling is very strong, their reverence for the Constitution is small, and their respect for State rights still less. I remarked that even the native Republican papers were shocked at the irreverence which their German colleagues spoke
of the Constitution, and implored them not to broach the heresy, that if the Constitution did not work it must be changed forthwith. It was easy to see how this different "stand-point" to use a German word was beginning to work practically in electoral matters. In August, the election for members of Congress was to come on in Missouri, and, in May, the electoral campaign was beginning. Mr. Blair, the brother of the Postmaster-General, who was supposed to represent President Lincoln's views in Congress, was offering himself for re-election, and the native Republican party were supporting him strongly. He is, and has been for years, an Abolitionist, and, still more, the staunchest of constitutional Union men. The Germans, however, were dissatisfied with him. They stated, and not without reason, that his Abolitionism was of no practical service, as he was not willing to interfere with the States or with their rights of deciding the question of slavery; and that the scheme of deportation, of which he was supposed to be the chief advocate with the President, was not only impracticable, but unjust, both to the taxpayer and the negro. Mr. Blair had written a letter to the Germans of St. Louis to try and justify his opinions, but, up to that time, without effect.
Till early in last year, St. Louis had been under military, not martial law, and Secession partisans were supposed to be very active, if not numerous. In all the bar-rooms you could still see notices, that the license had been granted
by the Provost Marshal, subject to the holder taking an oath that he was, and would be, faithful to the Union for ever, and that any breach of the oath might be punished by death. At the same time, the evidences of a strong Union feeling were numerous, and St. Louis was the only Slave State city I visited where the Federal flag was frequently hung out of private dwellings.
Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=dicey2.html