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Salomon de Rothschild Tours America (1861)

With Buchanan and Lincoln Into the New Year

New York, January 7, '61.

...Here New Year's Day, far from being a family celebration, is literally the festival of people who are unimportant and even unknown. The ladies start getting dressed up at 8:00 a.m. in evening clothes to receive their visitors. The young men begin their rounds of yearly compliments at 10:00 a.m., and, in one gulp, they take in all the dinners, dances, suppers, etc., of the New Year. So, for the most part, all they do is walk in and walk out; there are some of them who have a list of 150 to 200 visits to make.

For my part, I had a frightening number of visits to make, but at 6:30 p.m. I stopped at the fortieth! Among this number, I went to see two persons that I didn't know at all.

In each house there is a buffet copiously stocked, and certain people visit only the different buffets...The barroom proprietors also serve free drinks to their regular customers and, as a result, in the evening the streets of New York present a slightly bacchic and eccentric spectacle.

I was personally very well treated by the fair sex, for I received a rather large quantity of embroidered, knit, and crocheted articles...

Politics is still as it was. the statesmen keep pace so little with conditions that they commit error after error and make a mess of everything each time there is a glimmering of hope for a settlement. Yesterday they were about to appeal to the people, with the hope that everything would be settled; but today reinforcements were sent to Major Anderson [at Fort Sumter] and the dispute is becoming exasperated. From one moment to the next I expect the first cannon shot, which will be the signal for civil war.

Since the government is and considers itself to be powerless to control the storm, President Buchanan conceived of a day of fasting and public prayer. We're back in the days of Esther and Mordecai! So therefore, on January 4th, everything was closed except the churches (my faithful Pierre having naturally made his arrangements for my breakfast the day before, for despite my strong desire to see the Union saved, I can't actually sacrifice for it my stomach and my desire for nourishment).

The churches and temples overflowed with penitents. Each "reverend" gave a topical sermon from his own point of view. But the most remarkable sermon was that of Rabbi Raphael of the German congregation [Morris J. Raphall of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun]. The Unionist [fusion party] leaders found it so beautiful that they allocated funds to print and distribute hundreds of thousands of copies of it in all the states of the Union, in order to enlighten the people as to their duties and their true interests. I am not at all so enthusiastic, for he says that the bible authorizes slavery. Forsooth! the Bible shows us Abraham and Jacob with a number of wives, not to mention [King Solomon] my "namesake".

New York, January 21, '61.

I won't talk at great length about American politics today, for I am too profoundly disgusted with the lack of patriotism and astonished by the complete worthlessness of all these demagogues. No one wants to sacrifice any of his ideas or pretensions. I believe that it is all up with the Union of the states; any compromise will come too late.

Georgia seceded the day before yesterday. Louisiana is going to follow suit within two weeks, and then the border states will be forced to make common cause with the secessionists. The Southern states will then be able to form a powerful confederation. As for Lincoln, the future President, he is entirely below his position, and the Republicans themselves regret having nominated him. He refuses all compromises and thinks only of repression by force of arms. He has the external appearance of a peasant and all he does is tell tavern anecdotes. The other day I saw one of his partisans who had gone to see him at Springfield [Illinois], to chat with him about the current situation. He found him seated, in shirt sleeves, his feet on the mantelpiece, his hat on his head, amusing himself by making huge semicircles with tobacco juice that he squeezed out of his quid.

After a conversation that threw no light on Mr. Lincoln's views, the visitor, who is one of the Republican chiefs, went off, greatly disappointed in the future President. Here nullities give no umbrage; the greatest claim to public favors is to be unknown...