I. Our country.

  • Increase of population and wealth.

The United States of America, whose independence, won on the battle-fields of the Revolution, was tardily and reluctantly conceded by Great Britain on the 30th of November, 1782, contained at that time a population of a little less than Three Millions, of whom half a million were slaves. This population was mainly settled upon and around the bays, harbors, and inlets, which irregularly indent the western shore of the Atlantic Ocean, for a distance of about a thousand miles, from the mouth of the Penobscot to that of the Altamaha. The extent of the settlements inland from the coast may have averaged a hundred miles, although there were many points at which the primitive forest still looked off upon the broad expanse of the ocean. Nominally, and as distinguished from those of other civilized nations, the territories of the Confederation stretched westward to the Mississippi, and northward, as now, to the Great Lakes, giving a total area of a little more than eight hundred thousand square miles. At several inviting localities, the “clearings” were pushed two or three hundred miles westward, to the bases and more fertile valleys of the eastern slope of the Alleghanies; and there were three or four settlements quite beyond that formidable but not impassable barrier, mainly in that portion of Virginia which is now the State of Kentucky. But, in the absence of steam, of canals, and even of tolerable highways, and with the mouth of the Mississippi held and sealed by a jealous and not very friendly foreign power, the fertile valleys of the Illinois, the Wabash, and even of the Ohio itself, were scarcely habitable for civilized communities. No staple that their pioneer population would be likely, for many years, to produce, could be sold on the sea-board for the cost of its transportation, even from the site whereon Cincinnati has since been founded and built, much less from that of Indianapolis or Chicago. The delicate, costly fabrics of Europe, and even of Asia, could be transferred to the newest and most inland settlement for a small fraction of the price at which they would there be eagerly bought; but when the few [18] coins which the settlers had taken with them in their journey of emigration had been exhausted, there was nothing left wherewith to pay for these costly luxuries; and debt, embarrassment, bankruptcy, were the inevitable results. A people clothed in skins, living on the products of the chase and the spontaneous abundance of nature, might maintain existence and a rude social organization amid the forests and on the prairies of the Great Valley; any other must have experienced striking alternations of factitious prosperity and universal distress; seeing its villages and commercial depots rise, flourish, and decay, after the manner of Jonah's gourd, and its rural population constantly hunted by debt and disaster to new and still newer locations. The Great West of to-day owes its unequaled growth and progress, its population, productiveness, and wealth, primarily, to the framers of the Federal Constitution, by which its development was rendered possible; but more immediately and palpably to the sagacity and statesmanship of Jefferson, the purchaser of Louisiana; to the genius of Fitch and Fulton, the projector and achiever, respectively, of steam-navigation; to De Witt Clinton, the early, unswerving, and successful champion of artificial inland navigation; and to Henry Clay, the eminent, eloquent, and effective champion of the diversification of our National Industry through the Protection of Home Manufactures.

The difficulties which surrounded the infancy and impeded the growth of the thirteen original or Atlantic States, were less formidable, but kindred, and not less real. Our fathers emerged from their arduous, protracted, desolating Revolutionary struggle, rich, indeed, in hope, but poor in worldly goods. Their country had, for seven years, been traversed and wasted by contending armies, almost from end to end. Cities and villages had been laid in ashes. Habitations had been deserted and left to decay. Farms, stripped of their fences, and deserted by their owners, had for years produced only weeds. Camp fevers, with the hardships and privations of war, had destroyed many more than the sword; and all alike had been subtracted from tie most effective and valuable part of a population, always, as yet, quite inadequate. Cripples and invalids, melancholy mementoes of the yet recent struggle, abounded in every village and township. Habits of industry had been unsettled and destroyed by the anxieties and uncertainties of war. The gold and silver of anterevolutionary days had crossed the ocean in exchange for arms and munitions. The Continental paper, which for a time more than supplied (in volume) its place, had become utterly worthless. In the absence of a tariff, which the Confederate Congress lacked power to impose, our ports, immediately after peace, were glutted with foreign luxuries — gewgaws which our people were eager enough to buy, but for which they soon found themselves utterly unable to pay. They were almost exclusively an agricultural people, and their products, save only Tobacco and Indigo, were not wanted by the Old World, and found but a very restricted and inconsiderable market even in the West Indies, whose trade was closely monopolized by the nations to which they respectively belonged. [19] Indian Corn and Potatoes, the two principal edibles for which the poor of the Old World are largely indebted to America, were consumed to a very limited extent, and not at all imported, by the people of the eastern hemisphere. The wheat-producing capacity of our soil, at first unsurpassed, was soon exhausted by the unskillful and thriftless cultivation of the Eighteenth Century. Though one-third of the labor of the country was probably devoted to the cutting of timber, the axe-helve was but a pudding-stick; while the plow was a rude structure of wood, clumsily pointed and shielded with iron. A thousand bushels of corn (maize) are now grown on our western prairies at a cost of fewer days' labor than were required for the production of a hundred in New York or New England eighty years ago. And, though the settlements of that day were nearly all within a hundred miles of tidewater, the cost of transporting bulky staples, for even that distance, over the execrable roads that then existed, was about equal to the present charge for transportation from Illinois to New York. Industry was paralyzed by the absence or uncertainty of markets. Idleness tempted to dissipation, of which the tumult and excitement of civil war had long been the school. Unquestionably, the moral condition of our people had sadly deteriorated through the course of the Revolution. Intemperance had extended its ravages; profanity and licentiousness had overspread the land; a coarse and scoffing infidelity had become fashionable, even in high quarters; and the letters of Washington1 and his compatriots bear testimony to the wide-spread prevalence of venality and corruption, even while the great issue of independence or subjugation was still undecided.

The return of peace, though it arrested the calamities, the miseries, and the desolations of war, was far from ushering in that halcyon state of universal prosperity and happiness which had been fondly and sanguinely anticipated. Thousands were suddenly deprived by it of their accustomed employment and means of subsistence, and were unable at once to replace them. Those accepted though precarious avenues to fame and fortune, in which they had found at least competence, were instantly closed, and no new ones seemed to open before them. In the absence of aught that could, with justice, be termed a currency, Trade and Business were even more depressed than Industry. Commerce and Navigation, unfettered by legislative restriction, ought to have been, or ought soon to have become, most flourishing, if the dicta of the world's accepted political economists had been sound; but the facts were deplorably at variance with their inculcations. Trade, emancipated from the vexatious trammels of the custom-house marker and gauger, fell tangled and prostrate in the toils of the usurer and the sheriff. The common people, writhing under the intolerable pressure of debt, for which no means of payment existed, were continually prompting [20] their legislators to authorize and direct those baseless issues of irredeemable paper money, by which a temporary relief is achieved, at the cost of more pervading and less curable disorders. In the year 1786, the legislature of New Hampshire, then sitting at Exeter, was surrounded, evidently by preconcert, by a gathering of angry and desperate men, intent on overawing it into an authorization of such an issue. In 1786, the famous Shays's Insurrection occurred in western Massachusetts, wherein fifteen hundred men, stung to madness by the snow-shower of writs to which they could not respond, and executions which they had no means of satisfying, undertook to relieve themselves from intolerable infestation, and save their families from being turned into the highways, by dispersing the courts and arresting the enforcement of legal process altogether. That the sea-board cities, depending entirely on foreign commerce, neither manufacturing themselves, nor having any other than foreign fabrics to dispose of, should participate in the general suffering, and earnestly scan the political and social horizon in quest of sources and conditions of comprehensive and enduring relief, was inevitable. And thus industrial paralysis, commercial embarrassment, and political disorder, combined to overbear inveterate prejudice, sectional jealousy, and the ambition of local magnates, in creating that more perfect Union, whereof the foundations were laid and the pillars erected by Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, Madison, and their compeers, in the Convention which framed the Federal Constitution.

Yet it would not be just to close this hasty and casual glance at our country, under the old federation, without noting some features which tend to relieve the darkness of the picture. The abundance and excellence of the timber, which still covered at least two-thirds of the area of the then States, enabled the common people to supply themselves with habitations, which, however rude and uncomely, were more substantial and comfortable than those possessed by the masses of any other country on earth. The luxuriant and omnipresent forests were likewise tie sources of cheap and ample supplies of fuel, whereby the severity of our northern winters was mitigated, and the warm, bright fireside of even tile humblest family, in the long winter evenings of our latitude, rendered centers of cheer and enjoyment. Social intercourse was more general. less formal, more hearty, more valued, than at present. Friendships were warmer and deeper. Relationship, by blood or by marriage, was more profoundly regarded. Men were not ashamed to own that they loved their cousins better than their other neighbors, and their neighbors better than tile rest of mankind. To spend a month, in the dead of winter, in a visit to the dear old homestead, and in interchanges of affectionate greetings with brothers and sisters, married and settled at distances of twenty to fifty miles apart, was not deemed an absolute waste of time, nor even an experiment on fraternal civility and hospitality. And, though cultivation was far less effective than now, it must not be inferred that food was scanty or hunger predominant. The. woods were alive with game, and nearly every boy and man between [21] fifteen and sixty years of age was a hunter. The larger and smaller rivers, as yet unobstructed by the dams and wheels of the cotton-spinner and power-loom weaver, abounded in excellent fish, and at seasons fairly swarmed with them. The potato, usually planted in the vegetable mold left by recently exterminated forests, yielded its edible tubers with a bounteous profusion unknown to the husbandry of our day. Hills the most granitic and apparently sterile, from which the wood was burned one season, would, the next year, produce any grain in ample measure, and at a moderate cost of labor and care. Almost every farmer's house was a hive, wherein the “great wheel” and the “little wheel” --the former kept in motion by the hands and feet of all the daughters ten years old and upward, the latter plied by their not less industrious mother — hummed and whirled from morning till night. In the back room, or some convenient appendage, the loom responded day by day to the movements of the busy shuttle, whereby the fleeces of the farmer's flock and the flax of his field were slowly but steadily converted into substantial though homely cloth, sufficient for the annual wear of the family, and often with something over to exchange at the neighboring merchant's for his groceries and wares. A few bushels of corn, a few sheep, a fattened steer, with, perhaps, a few saw-logs, or loads of hoop-poles, made up the annual surplus of the husbandman's products, helping to square accounts with the blacksmith, the wheelwright, the minister, and the lawyer, if the farmer were so unfortunate as to have any dealings with the latter personage. His life, during peace, was passed in a narrower round than ours, and may well seem to us tame, limited, monotonous; but the sun which warmed him was identical with ours; the breezes which refreshed him were like those we gladly welcome; and, while his road to mill and to meeting was longer and rougher than those we daily traverse, he doubtless passed them unvexed by apprehensions of a snorting locomotive, at least as contented as we, and with small suspicion of his ill-fortune in having been born in the Eighteenth instead of the Nineteenth Century.2

The illusion that the times that were are better than those that are, has probably pervaded all ages. Yet a passionately earnest assertion, which many of us have heard from the lips of the old men of thirty to fifty years ago, that the days of their youth were sweeter and happier than those we have known, will doubtless justify [22] us in believing that they were by no means intolerable. It is not to assume that the men by whose valor and virtue American independence was achieved, and who lived to enjoy, for half a century thereafter, the gratitude of their country, and the honest pride of their children, saw wealth as fairly distributed, and the labor of freemen as adequately rewarded, as those of almost any other country or of any previous generation.

Eighty years had not passed since the acknowledgment of our independence, when the returns of the Eighth Decennial Census afforded us the means of measuring our country's growth and physical progress during nearly its whole national history. The retrospect and the prospect might well minister to the pride (though that were needless) of a patriotic apostle of “manifest destiny.” During those eighty years, or within the memory of many still living, the area of our country had been expanded, by successive and, in good part, peaceful acquisitions, from Eight Hundred Thousand to about Three Millions of square miles. Its population, excluding the Aboriginal savages, had increased from Three to more than Thirty Millions. Of its two thousand millions of acres of dry land, about five hundred millions had been divided into farms; leaving three-fourths of its surface as yet unimproved, though but in part unappropriated. Its farms were officially estimated as worth six thousand six hundred and fifty millions of dollars, and were doubtless actually worth not less than Ten Thousand Millions of dollars. On these farms were over eleven hundred millions' worth of live stock, and nearly two hundred and fifty millions' worth of implements and machinery. The value of animals annually slaughtered was returned at over two hundred millions of dollars. The annual product of Wheat was more than one hundred and seventy millions of bushels, with an equal quantity of Oats, and more than eight hundred millions of busels of Indian Corn. Of Tobacco, our annual product was more than four hundred millions of pounds; and of Rice, nearly two millions. Of Wool, our annual clip was over sixty millions of pounds, and our consumption probably double that amount. Of ginned Cotton, ready for market, our product was about one million of tuns, or more than Five Millions of bales of four hundred pounds each. Four hundred and sixty millions of pounds of Butter, and one hundred and five millions of pounds of Cheese, were likewise returned as our aggregate product for the year 1859. We made in that year three hundred and forty millions of pounds of Sugar, and more than twenty-five millions of gallons of Molasses. And, beside consuming all this, with twenty-five millions of pounds of home-made Honey, we imported from abroad to the value of over thirty-six millions of dollars. We dragged from our forests, not including fuel, Timber valued at more than Ninety-three Millions of dollars. We made Flour to the value of Two Hundred Millions. We manufactured over fifty-five millions' worth of Cotton into fabrics, worth one hundred and fifteen millions of dollars, beside importing largely from abroad. We fabricated over eighty millions of pounds of Wool, costing forty millions [23] of dollars, into sixty-eight millions' worth of goods, though importing nearly all our finer woolen fabrics. We produced sixty-three millions' worth of Leather; eight hundred and seventy-five thousand tuns of Pig Iron, worth twenty millions of dollars; four hundred thousand tuns of Wrought Iron, worth twenty-one millions; and Agricultural Implements to the value of seventeen millions. The grand total of Manufactures, returned by this Census, amounted in value to One Thousand Nine Hundred Millions--an increase of forty-five per cent. within ten years. Our Exports, for the year ending in 1860, amounted to a little more than Four Hundred Millions of dollars, whereof all but Twenty-seven Millions were of domestic production. Our Imports were a little over Three Hundred and Sixty Millions. Of Gold and Silver, we exported, in that year, nearly fifty-seven millions of dollars, and imported about eight millions and a half; indicating that ours had become one of the great gold-producing countries on earth, if not the very greatest. The number of ocean voyages terminating in our ports during the year ending June 30, 1861, was Twenty-two Thousand, less forty; their aggregate tunnage a little more than seven millions two hundred and forty thousand--more than two-thirds of it American. About fifty thousand churches, with forty thousand clergymen; two hundred and thirty-nine Colleges, having one thousand six hundred and seventy-eight teachers and twenty-seven thousand eight hundred and twenty-one pupils; six thousand and eighty-five Academies and Private Schools, with twelve thousand two hundred and sixty teachers and two hundred and sixty-three thousand and ninety-six pupils; eighty thousand nine hundred and seventy-eight Common Schools, with three millions three hundred and fifty-four thousand and eleven pupils; three hundred and eighty-six Daily Newspapers, circulating in the aggregate one million four hundred and seventy-eight thousand four hundred and thirty-five copies; one hundred and forty-six Tri-Weekly and Semi-Weekly, and three thousand one hundred and fifty-three Weekly journals, circulating seven millions five hundred and sixty-four thousand three hundred and four-teen copies; with nineteen Quarterlies, five hundred and twenty-one Literary, and two hundred and seventy-one Religious periodicals, mainly issued weekly, sufficiently attest that our progress had not been purely physical, but intellectual and moral as well.

The temptation to increase these citations from the Census is one hard to resist. Yet any multiplication of details would tend rather to confuse than to deepen their impression on the mind of the general reader. Let it suffice, then, in conclusion, that the Real and Personal Estate of our people, which in 1850 was returned as of the aggregate value of a little over Seven Thousand Millions of dollars, was, in 1860, returned as worth over Sixteen Thousand Millions--an increase in ten years of more than one hundred and twenty-five per cent. It is quite probable that both these aggregates are largely under the truth; but, conceding their accuracy, it is perfectly safe to assume that Fifteen of the Sixteen [24] Thousand Millions of property returned in 1860 had been created and thrift of our people during the world by the industry, enterprise, and added to the wealth of the eighty preceding years.

1 “That spirit of freedom, which, at the commencement of this contest, would have gladly sacrificed every thing to the attainment of its object, has long since subsided, and every selfish passion has taken its place. It is not the public, but private interest, which influences the generality of mankind, nor can the Americans any longer boast of an exception.” --Washington's Letter to Henry Laurens, July 10 (1782).

“Shoddy,” it seems, dates away back of 1861.

2 “Vagabonds, without visible property or vocation, are placed in workhouses, where they are well clothed, fed, lodged, and made to labor. Nearly the same method of providing for the poor prevails through all the States; and, from Savannah to Portsmouth, you will seldom meet a beggar. In the larger towns, indeed, they sometimes present themselves. These are usually foreigners who have never obtained a settlement in any parish. I never saw a native American begging in the streets or highways. A subsistence is easily gained here: and if, by misfortunes, they are thrown on the charities of the world, those provided by their own country are so comfortable and so certain, that they never think of relinquishing them to become strolling beggars. Their situation, too, when sick, in the family of a good farmer, where every member is anxious to do them kind offices, where they are visited by all the neighbors, who bring them little rarities which their sickly appetites may crave, and who take by rotation the nightly watch over them, when their condition requires it, is, without comparison, better than in a general hospital, where the sick, the dying and the dead, are crammed together in the same rooms, and often in the same beds.” --Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, p. 196.

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