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My Dear Brother : You will perceive from the date of this letter that I am in the capital of gaiety, and such I have found it. This city is a striking contrast to any I have ever seen. If there are unhappy people here, I have not seen them. The streets are alive with people, and bands are playing in the gardens and palaces. Groups are gathered around singing-stalls, the cafes and restaurants are filled, and the broad pRomenades are encroached upon by persons sitting in front of the cafes, sipping coffee, etc. I have now been here eight days, and if I was to select a happy city, judging only from appearances, there could be no rival with Paris.
I know very well, from the history of the Parisians, that a sudden impulse would change them into tigers, and that the gayest spots have been the scenes of frightful cruelties, but surely they seem happy now. I have been constantly contrasting the people of Paris with the English : the conclusion is all in favor of the Parisians.
I was in Great Britain seven weeks ; went into England, Ireland, Scotland, and. Wales. I saw all I was allowed to see, without prejudice, with, a sincere desire to improve my limited time. As a matter of course, I could not give you reasons or ideas on facts gathered on the way. The mere journal of places, men, and sights seen would be a very poor guide-book. My conclusions are all against the British Government. . . . When Englishmen hereafter talk about their rights, I will know what they mean. They do enjoy a limited liberty of speech and of the press, and then you have said all. It is a government of the aristocracy, more exclusive, repelling, and narrow than I conceived of. The House of Commons is the only pretended representation of the people, and that is but a mere pretence. The representation is so glaringly unequal that it is a surprise to me that the people will submit to it. As the members are not paid, and none can vote without property, it is a mere representation of money and not of men. Every regulation of the government, the rules of caste, the combined insolence and obsequiousness of all classes with whom I came in contact, were so unpleasant to me that, while my visit there was a constant enjoyment and a school, I would not live under the British Government for any consideration. . . . Without this detail, this is my idea of the British Government, and if time and space united allowed, I could state the facts and observations that, little by little, led to this conclusion ; but I will leave that for some long talk when time is not so precious.
The cultivated scenery of England fully met my expectations. I can imagine nothing more beautiful than their hawthorn-hedge fields, their cattle and sheep, and indeed everything that depends on care and cultivation. The idea that all this stock and property belonged to a few, that the great mass of the people merely labored for others, and that the whole government was conducted and a system of laws passed simply to continue and intensify this state of things, and that the favored class had the possession of all the powers of government, securely hedged about, made me a rebel from the beginning.
I was present at the great debate in the House of Commons, when the ministry was overthrown upon questions utterly insignificant, and I could not but wish that I was a member of that body for ten years, with full power to introduce and discuss several measures of reform, to bring to the people of England equal representation, based upon men and not upon property or boroughs, a law against entailment, and a law of descent and distribution, which would divide property among children equally. The discussion of such radical measures could not but convince intelligent men. But what then ? Neither the intelligence nor population of England is represented in Parliament, and a favored class have never yielded power except to revolution or the fear of it.
The French government is much more tolerable. Louis Napoleon is emperor by usurpation, but I really think that the government is not only for the good, but is the choice of the people and others. There is the greatest personal liberty and equality here, and the institutions tend to advance equality and give a fair chance to merit. It is true that through the press people cannot discuss p'olitics, except on one side. In private life, and indeed in the saloons and public places, there seems no restraint. The administration of the law seems well conducted. Taxes, as compared with England, are light, and the Frenchman has no restraint, either by caste or law, from doing what he wishes, except that he must iiot write against the government. His equality with his neighbor is recognized. There is more freedom, if I might say so, more mixing of all classes of people here, and on terms of kindliness and equality, than you will find even in America. The blouses, the uniforms, and the black coats all sit and eat and chat together. On the whole, they have much more claim to be a " free people " than the English, and hereafter I will know how to appreciate an English account of French tyranny.
But enough of this. I received two of your letters with great pleasure. Through friends and the papers to be found here, in many places, I am kept well advised of the American matters.
My travels have given me a fund of information that I could get in no other way. I think I will never regret the trip. I leave Paris to-morrow for Milan and the seat of war ; thence we visit Switzerland and the Rhine, returning here in time to take the boat leaving Havre August 3d for New York. I regret to return so soon, but business demands it.
I will be on the field of Magenta and Montebello, and if possible, on the present theatre of action. Eemember me to all, and believe me to remain
Affectionately your brother,
- The Sherman Letters Correspondence Between General and Senator Sherman from 1837 to 1891, Book by Rachel Sherman Thorndike, 1894, digitized by the Internet Archive