When two members of the Legislature disgraced the halls at Washington, by descending into the political arena with pistols and bowie-knives, and there entering into deadly conflict, were they not two Western members? Now, what do these occurrences prove? Certainly not that all Westerns are bloodthirsty, for many of them are the most kind, quiet, and amiable men I have ever met; but, when taken in connexion with the free use of the bowie-knife, they afford strong evidence that there is a general and extraordinary recklessness of human life; and surely, common sense and experience would both endorse the assertion, that habituating men to bloody disputes or fatal accidents has a tendency to harden both actors and spectators into utter indifference. And what is the whole of the Western river navigation but one daily—I might almost say, continual—scene of accidents and loss of life, tending to nourish those very feelings which it is the duty of every government to use all possible means to allay and humanize?
The heartless apathy with which all classes of society, with scarce individual exceptions, speak of these events is quite revolting to a stranger, and a manifest proof of the injurious moral effect of familiarizing people with such horrors. The bowie-knife, the revolver, and the river accidents, mutually act and react upon each other, and no moral improvement can reasonably be expected until some great change be effected. Government can interfere with the accidents;—deadly weapons are, to a certain extent, still necessary for self-protection. Let us hope, then, that something will ore long be done to prevent disasters pregnant with so many evils to the community, and reflecting so strongly on the United States as a nation.[S] Having gone off at a tangent, like a boomerang, I had better, like the same weapon, return whence I started—in military language, “as you was.”
[Footnote P: On the Mississippi a cord contains one definite quantity, being a pile 1 feet high, 4 feet broad, and 8 feet long, and does not vary in size in the same absurd manner as it does in various parts of England: the price paid is from eight to thirteen shillings, increasing as you descend the river.]
[Footnote Q: A committee of the United States calculated that, in 1846, the losses on the Mississippi amounted to 500,000l.; and as commerce has increased enormously, while precautions have remained all but stagnant, I think it may be fairly estimated, that the annual losses at the present day amount to at least 750,000l.]
[Footnote R: Vide chapter on “Watery Highways.”]
[Footnote S: Since writing the above, some more stringent regulations as to inspection have appeared, similar to those advocated in the text; but they contain nothing respecting loading, steering, &c. In fact, they are general laws, having 110 especial bearing on Western waters.]