previous next

Chapter 35: the situation.

from New York to San Francisco, from Chicago to New Orleans, every town and hamlet in America is suffering from panic; a loose, unscientific term, explaining nothing, and raising false hopes. A panic is supposed to be an accident. Accidents come and go, and, like the winds and waves, are treated as phenomena beyond control. What cannot be cured, we say, must be endured.

In what respects our personal good we act on wiser instincts. No one talks of gout as an accident, of surfeit as an accident. When Nature checks our excesses by a twinge of pain, we know that we have done wrong, and take her warning as a guide. Suppose this panic in America is no other than a natural pause and stop?

What are the secrets of American growth? People and Land. Up to this date there have been [356] unfailing supplies of settlers and homesteads; settlers apparently beyond number; homesteads apparently beyond limit. Europe sends the people, America gives the land. Are these two sources of supply inexhaustible?

First, take the People.

Since the War of Independence closed, Europe has poured. into America more than seven million souls. When the people were counted in 1870, five million five hundred thousand persons were returned as born on foreign soil, and nearly eleven millions confessed to having either father or mother born on foreign soil. One in seven was therefore a stranger by birth, nearly one in three a stranger by blood. No other foreign country has so many strangers on her soil.

Out of an aggregate approaching eight millions, who have come from all quarters of the globe into America, more than five millions have come from the British Islands and British America; nearly two millions and a half from Germany, including Prussia and Austria, but excluding Hungary and Poland. France and Sweden follow at a distance. Of the non-European nations, China has supplied the largest [357] number; after her come the West Indies and Mexico. But the supplies of settlers from Asia, Africa, Australia, and America (excluding men of English race) do not amount to one man in every dozen men. Thus, the planting of America has been mainly done by persons sailing from English and German ports.

Are these migrations from English and German ports likely to go forward on the same grand scale? No one dreams of such a thing. By many signs — some general and matter of record, others particular and matter of inference — we see an end of these enormous supplies of English and German settlers in America.

For forty years (1820-60) the rate of emigration from English ports rose from decade to decade.. In the first decade, one hundred and fifty-two thousand persons entered the Republic from these ports. In the next decade, the numbers swelled to nearly six hundred thousand. In the third decade, they reached seventeen hundred thousand. In the fourth decade, they rose to two millions and a half. Then came a check. For two years the numbers fell; not only on the old rate of increase, but in the [358] actual figures of the list. When war broke out, high bounties and good rations tempted many a poor fellow to come out; and while the Republic kept on spending a million of dollars every day on men and powder, swarms of the more jovial and reckless Irish flocked into New York. Yet, even under war excitement, the old number of arrivals at New York was never reached. The springs from which the increase came were drying up.

Nothing was then done, and nothing is now done, by English law, to check this movement of our people towards America. A right to emigrate is treated by our magistrates as one of the indefeasible rights of man. Science and policy have combined to favour emigration from our shores. Steam has made the passage cheap and swift. A better class of vessels and a closer system of inspection have reduced the perils of a voyage across the Atlantic to a bagatelle. Societies help the poor to get away. The last legal restraint on the free movement of English-born persons — the old law of nationality (once a Briton, always a Briton)--is abolished; so that Saxon and Celt may now become American citizens, and side with their adopted country against [359] their native land, without fear of being regarded as traitors. Yet, in spite of all that science, policy and charity can do, the movement slackens. More than one experienced skipper tells me the tide has turned. Shoals of emigrants are going back to Europe, and still greater shoals would go back if they had the means. From Portland to New Orleans our consulates are besieged by applicants for free passage, which our consuls have no moneys to provide. The St. George Societies, which exist in almost every city in America, keeping alive the good old English sentiment, are pestered day and night by persons eager to return. At every port of departure for Liverpool, men may be seen imploring leave to work their passage over the Atlantic. Almost every vessel has her steerage full.

Whether as many persons go back as come out, we cannot learn; for no report is published of the departing masses. But my eyes and ears inform me that the men who are seeking to get home again are men of all trades and districts, rural folk and urban folk-hedgers and ditchers, skilled mechanics, small farmers, Irish labourers, domestic servants, and bankers' clerks. Our Government does nothing [360] to promote this reflux of the tide. An emigrant, as such, receives no help in getting back; yet thousands and tens of thousands are now fighting their way home to Liverpool and Cork. Ten years ago you never met a Munster peasant or an Essex labourer who had been in America. America was a paradise from which no Munster peasant, no Essex labourer, ever dreamt of coming back. To-day there is another tale to tell. In every hamlet round Cork you find peasants who have tried Chicago and St. Louis. In the neighbourhood of Ongar and Brentwood you hear labourers talk of the Kansas crickets. They have trod the land of promise, and have slipt away to their ancient homes.

Germany appears to offer no richer crop of future settlers than the British Isles. Indeed, she offers less; for Prince von Bismarck is directing his attention to the cause of this Teutonic movement-so important to the Fatherland-and seeking to remove that cause.

Like England, Germany made her supreme effort of emigration in one decade, after which her movements seemed to dwindle of themselves. In the first ten years of the same period (1820-60), Germany, including [361] Prussia and Austria, sent out less than eight thousand souls; in the second ten years she sent out a hundred and fifty thousand souls; in the third ten years she sent out four hundred and thirty thousand souls; and in the fourth ten years she sent out nine hundred and fifty thousand souls. Then came her check. During the next three years her contributions fell. The civil war called new forces into play ; and for a time the German emigration swelled. Yet, here again, even under the temptation of high bounties and big rations, the figures of 1853 and 1854 were never reached. The springs' appeared to be drying up.

The new Germany is not old Germany, and Prussia, as her leader, is not looking on this movement of her people with the old Austrian helplessness. Bismarck has no mind to see his men of strong limbs and active brains transferred to other soils. Too many, he perceives, are gone. “Tell me,” said a great Pomeranian landowner to Bancroft, the historian, “about your country; for next to my own province, I am more concerned about it than any other part of the earth; since out of every hundred persons born on my estate, twenty-five are now in America.” That Pomeranian [362] district is not far from Varzin, where the German Chancellor lives. Yet Prussia has not fed the tide of emigration much ; her contribution for the whole forty years (1820-60)being less than a hundred thousand souls. The floods have come from Hessen, Baden, and the badly-governed duchies, where Fritz and Karl had each a prince of his own to rule over him. These things are gone, and with them some of the pests which drove brave men and true patriots from their native land.

Bismarck, as the American Minister in Berlin reports, is looking at this question with a statesman's eye. He sees the people moving, but he also sees that they are stirred by causes not to be removed by passports and police.

“ We have no right to interfere with a man's liberty to seek his bread elsewhere. A strong desire has seized the minds of many persons to seek a new home, where they can get more food and better shelter for themselves. We may regret, we cannot condemn, this wish. The right to a free change of domicile is sacred, and we cannot say the principle is wrong because a man chooses to exchange his domicile on the Rhine for a domicile on the [363] Missouri.” Yet the Prince is not a man to leave such things alone. He deals with emigration as with other matters.

“ We must begin,” his Home Minister lately said in Parliament, “by passing laws which will make the people's homesteads more like home. We must improve our mills, our roads, our railways, our canals. We must build better cottages, open up industries, and set up savings-banks. We want to stop emigration, and we shall do so, not by limiting the right of free movement, but by a whole system of measures for raising the condition of our labouring classes.”

Under such a system Germany is not likely to send out many more millions to America.

Next take the Land.

If we can trust the facts and figures in General Hazen's Reports, the supply of land is no more inexhaustible than the supply of settlers. Old and venerable fictions, such as Irving painted and Bryant sang, are swept away by engineers and surveyors. When Louisiana was purchased from France, the district then acquired by the Republic was described as practically boundless. No one knew how far it ran [364] out west, hardly how far it ran up north; yet every acre of that region is now owned, and under such cultivation as suits a poor and swampy soil. So, when Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas were incorporated. No one had drawn a line about Kansas and Nebraska. These regions were supposed to offer homes to any number of inhabitants, thirty millions each at least,with a farm for every family. In these four states the land is already taken up; at least such land as anybody cares to fence and register. The greater part of Kansas and Nebraska, and enormous sections of Dakota and Colorado, are unfit for settlement. Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah are mountain plateaus, high and barren for the greater part, suited, as a rule, for nothing more than cattle-runs, conducted on a large scale, too vast for anyone but a great capitalist to occupy. On the Pacific Slope, from Washington to Upper California, no “ wild land,” remains, and not a great deal of available public land. According to Hazen's Reports, the same rule holds good in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Near the Mississippi, the lands are damp enough; but as you march towards the Pacific they become high and arid. Water and wood are scarce, the [365] winter is severe. A valley here and there is fertile, and oases in the desert may be found, as at St. George on the Rio Virgen, but the country as a whole is parched and bleak. In Utah and Colorado nature is less forbidding, but the surface of land fit for ordinary industry is small ; while to the north of these regions the soil is poor, the rainfall light, the herbage scanty, and the cold severe.

General Hazen's conclusion is that the Republic has very little land, of the kind that tempts good settlers to remove, now left within her frontiers. If this officer is right in his facts-and high authorities tell me he is right — the end of an exceptional state of things is nigh. America must lean in future on her own staff and stand by her own strength; expecting no more help from Europe than England expects from Germany, or Italy expects from France.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Hazen (3)
Bismarck (3)
St. George Societies (1)
Saxon (1)
Irving (1)
Fritz (1)
Bryant (1)
Bancroft (1)
Baden (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1860 AD (3)
1820 AD (3)
1870 AD (1)
1854 AD (1)
1853 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: