During her visit Fanny visited New York, Pennsylvania, Canada, Maryland, Washington D.C., and points between. Her 28 letters covered a wide range of topics but tended to focus on politics and history. Fanny was fascinated by the American Revolution and the government that war spawned. Fanny's letters contain little of the cultural shock that many Europeans commented upon when visiting the United States. She quickly became a fan of what she perceived as a nation of honest, hard-working, intelligent, and politically astute people. She had come to study a nation "consecrated to freedom" and was so impressed that she determined to spread the good news to Europe. Accordingly she recovered her letters and with some revisions had them published as Views of Society and Manners in America. The book represents a somewhat different view of America in the eyes of a European. Her visit to Joseph Bonaparte It makes a wonderful companion to many of the other visitor accounts we've featured in this blog.
Fanny's anecdotes serve as a wonderful offset to other travelers' tales of odd characters and horrid conditions. In Philadelphia Fanny decided to test what American's do when asked directions by a foreigner. The first person gave detailed directions and offered to walk out of his way with her to make sure she arrived. The second person (a servant girl) left a large basket of food on a corner and walked Fanny to the next corner to better help her get to the proper destination. (Fanny marveled that the basket was left untouched.) The third person searched among his coat pockets and produced a city map which he gave to Fanny.
In Fanny's mind the United States was a work in progress in terms of slavery. While once slavery as an institution was practiced throughout the nation by the time her book was published 12 states out of 22 were free of the plague of slavery. She seemed content that eventually all the state legislatures would shed slavery themselves. The presence of slavery in the land of the free often was such a glaring contradiction that many European writers discounted the fledgling nation.
Her views about Native American are highly paternalistic and are based more upon what others told her than her own observations. She envisioned the role of the U.S. government as one of assimilation of tribesmen into civilization. "The savage is not brought within the pale of civilized life in a day, nor a year, nor a generation, ages are required to mold him by imperceptible degrees..." Her racist prejudices have full play in her writings. "Industry and temperance are virtues of calculation, and the savage is unused to calculate." She envisions a world where the Native American populations will continue to decrease "to a cypher." She was for gathering information about native cultures but more as an artifice of preserving a romantic story than in saving the cultures. "Europeans in general may peruse with little curiosity the legends of a people with whom they or their ancestors were never placed in contact, but with Americans they must ever possess a national interest, the romance of which will gradually increase with their increasing antiquity."
The following excerpt is from her 22nd letter which deals with the American free press.
"The Americans are certainly a calm, rational, civil, and well-behaved people, not given to quarrel or to call each other names, and yet if you were to look at their newspapers you would think them a parcel of Hessian soldiers. An unrestricted press appears to be the safety valve of their free Constitution, and they seem to understand this, for they no more regard all the noise and sputter that it occasions than the roaring of the vapor on board their steamboats."
Fanny sent the following closing message, "An awful responsibility has devolved on the American nation; the liberties of mankind are entrusted to their guardianship; the honor of freedom is identified with the honor of their republic; the agents of tyranny are active in one hemisphere; many the children of liberty be equally active in the other! May they return with fresh ardor to the glorious work which they formerly encountered with so much success-in one word, may they realize the conviction lately expressed to me by their venerable President that 'the day is not very far distant when a slave will not be found in America'."
Frances' account of her visit sometimes is a bit ponderous and might force one to resort to a French dictionary but for students of the period is worth reading.