In "Rip Van Winkle," Nicholas Vedder is continually smoking a pipe, and he expresses his approval or disapproval through his smoking. When discontented, his breathing is sharper and more violent, and he is known "to smoke his pipe vehemently, and to send forth, frequent, and angry puffs." When contented, however, his breathing is more relaxed, and "he would inhale the smoke slowly and tranquilly." In this manner, he can continually make his opinions known, even while largely keeping silent.
These details are important, because "Rip Van Winkle" is a story that is about the transition from colonialism to independence and the sharp divide between these two epochs of American history (a divide over which the character of Rip Van Winkle is essentially suspended, having missed that transition in his lengthy sleep). This transition is defined through the marked contrast within Rip's village, which has essentially been awakened by the Revolution and animated by the energies of independence, a transition that is equally expressed in the transformation of Nicholas Vedder's inn to the far more active and argumentative Union Hotel.
Vedder's inn is a place marked by tranquil passivity, with its patrons largely acquiescing to the opinions of Nicholas Vedder himself, who is described as a "great man" and "patriarch" wielding authority in the village. The world to which Rip returns is one that has no place for these submissive attitudes but demands active participation from its residents: that they actively engage in politics while thinking and forming opinions for themselves.