Robert Mackenzie.

America. A history

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For several years after the close of the war the industrial interests of America seemed to prosper exceedingly. Her foreign trade increased rapidly. The thriving people purchased freely of the costly luxuries imported from Europe, and the gains of merchants were liberal. New factories arose; villages swelled into towns; emigrants to the number of three hundred and fifty thousand annually hastened to exchange the poverty of Europe for the plenty of this land of promise; a million persons were added every year to the population. New railways were laid down at the rate of five to six thousand miles annually, involving an annual expenditure of thirty to forty million sterling. The confiding capitalists of Europe furnished the means requisite to sustain this perilously rapid increase. The census of 1870 reported that during ten years the wealth of the people had nearly doubled, and that their annual earnings now amounted to two thousand million sterling. It seemed as if, for the first time in history, a prolonged and costly war had been waged without pecuniary disadvantage to the combatants.

But the inevitable retribution was not abandoned; it was only delayed. Sept. 1873 A.D. While the currents of commercial activity still flowed with unwonted swiftness and smoothness, the failure of a large financial house in New York gave the signal for a panic, which speedily assumed an aspect of unprecedented severity. Business stood still; the exchanges were closed; the banks ceased to give out money; the payment of debts became impossible. In a short time the intensity of the excitement passed away, leaving a deep-seated depression, which continued for six years. It was now discovered that men had been deluding themselves with a merely visionary prosperity – that all values had been wildly inflated; and it became the sad and surprising experience of very many that their fancied wealth had, in part or wholly, disappeared. Factories were closed; artisans were unable to obtain employment; wages fell, step by step, till in many industries they had undergone reductions which were not less than forty per cent. All stocks and every description of property sank lamentably in value; railway companies and other borrowers of foreign capital discontinued payment of the promised interest; immigration almost ceased – for who would now seek a home in this afflicted and impoverished land?

America emerged from those miserable years with her vitality undiminished; with her financial position improved; with her industrial system organized, for the first time, upon a basis of rigorous economy; with the views of her people corrected, and their character braced by adversity. The operatives who were unable to find employment in the cities of the east had made their way westward, and were now contributing to the greatness of the nation by cultivating the soil. Personal extravagance ceased, and the imports of foreign commodities fell one-third. On the other hand, the exports increased largely.

America had for many years been accustomed to use an amount of foreign goods very much larger than she was able to pay for by her own surplus productions. In settlement of the excess, she endured a drain upon her store of the precious metals, or she neutralized it for the time by the loans which her people obtained abroad. Now all this was changed. America exported so largely of her manufactures and of the products of her soil, and restricted so carefully her purchase of foreign commodities, that now she has to receive from foreigners an annual balance which exceeds fifty million sterling. And during the painful years through which she passed, while nearly all European countries continued to add to their public indebtedness, America continued to reduce hers. Her debt, which at the close of the war amounted to six hundred million sterling, thirteen years later was only four hundred million.22
  The local indebtedness of America has increased largely since the war, and is now equal to one-half of the Federal debt. In many of the States the Constitution now prohibits the State Legislature from contracting debt excepting for war and other urgent purposes. There is a growing opinion that this wise restriction should be universally adopted.

And whereas at one period an amount equal to one-half of her present debt was owing to foreigners, it is now, to the extent of five-sixths, owing to her own citizens. Her currency, which had been long at a discount, rose in value, step by step, till it stood at par. After seventeen years of an inconvertible currency specie payments were resumed, without the slightest inconvenience to the commerce of the country.


America looked to England for sympathy when the rebellion began. England had often reproached her, often admonished her, in regard to the question of Slavery. The war which threatened her existence was a war waged by persons who desired to perpetuate slavery, and who feared the growing Northern dislike to the institution. The North expected the countenance of England in her time of trial. It was reasonable to expect that the deep abhorrence of slavery which had long ruled in the mind of the English people would suffice to decide that people against the effort to establish a great independent slave-empire.

Most unfortunately, that expectation was not wholly fulfilled. The working-men of England perceived, as by intuition, the merits of the dispute, and gave their sympathy unhesitatingly to the North. In the cotton-spinning districts grievous suffering was endured, because the Northern ships shut in the cotton of the South and deprived the mills of their accustomed supply. It was often urged that the English Government should take measures to raise the Northern blockade. Hunger persuades men to unwise and evil courses; but hunger itself could never persuade the men of Lancashire to take any part against the North. So genuine and so deep was their conviction that the Northern cause was right.

But among the aristocratic and middle classes of England it was different. Their sympathy was in large measure given to the South. They were misled by certain newspapers, in which they erringly trusted. They were misled by their admiration of a brave people struggling against an enemy of overwhelming strength. They were misled by an unworthy jealousy of the greatness of America. Thus unhappily influenced, they gave their good wishes to the defenders of the slave-system. The North felt deeply the unlooked-for repulse; and a painful alienation of feeling resulted.

A variety of circumstances occurred which strengthened this feeling. A few weeks after the fall of Fort Sumpter, England, having in view that there had been set up in the South a new Government which was exercising the functions of a Government, whether rightfully or otherwise, acknowledged in haste the undoubted fact, and recognized the South as a belligerent power. This the North highly resented; asserting that the action of the South was merely a rebellion, with which foreign countries had nothing to do. A few months later the British mail-steamer Trent was stopped by a rash American captain, and two gentlemen, commissioners to England from the rebel Government, were made prisoners. The captives were released, but the indignity offered to the British flag awakened a strong sentiment of indignation which did not soon pass away. Yet further: there was built in a Liverpool dockyard a steam-ship which it was understood was destined to serve the Confederacy by destroying the merchant shipping of the North. The American Ambassador requested the British Government to detain the vessel. So hesitating was the action of Government, that the vessel sailed before the order for her detention was issued. For two years the Alabama, and some other ships also fitted in English ports, scoured the seas, burning and sinking American ships, and inflicting enormous loss upon American commerce. These circumstances increased the bitter feeling which prevailed.

The American Government held that England had failed to perform the duty imposed upon her by international law, and had therefore made herself responsible for the depredations of the Alabama. English lawyers of eminence expressed the same unacceptable opinion; and a few years after the war closed the English Government wisely determined to seek the settlement of the question. 1869 A.D. There was arranged by the Foreign Secretary and the American Minister a treaty, in terms of which the subject was disposed of by a reference to the arbitration of impartial persons. This treaty was sent to Washington for confirmation, according to the judicious American rule that treaties with foreign powers must receive the sanction of the Senate. But American feeling was not yet prepared for any adjustment of differences which had wounded the nation so deeply. It was not that the terms of the proposed settlement were objected to; it was rather that no immediate settlement was desired. The American people chose that the question should, for the time, remain an open question. Their irritation had not yet subsided, and many of them solaced their angry minds with the purpose that, when England was again involved in some one of those European embarrassments which habitually beset her, this matter of the Alabama should be pressed to a settlement. The Senate gave effect to the general wish by withholding sanction from the treaty, and President Grant instructed his minister at the English Court to abstain from further negotiation.

1871 A.D. But the passage of a little time calmed the irritation of the not implacable Americans. England renewed her proposal to refer the dispute to arbitration, coupling the offer with an expression of regret that injuries so grave had been inflicted upon the shipping of America. She further consented that the arbitrators should guide themselves by a definition of neutral duties so framed that, in effect, it condemned her conduct, and made an adverse decision inevitable. America accepted the proposal, and a dispute which at an earlier period would have brought upon two nations the miseries of a great war was found to come easily within the scope of a peaceful arbitration. The transaction is of high importance, for it is the largest advance which has yet been made towards the settlement of national differences by reason rather than by brute force.

The arbitrators were five persons, named by the Queen, the President, the King of Italy, the President of Switzerland, and the Emperor of Brazil. Their deliberations were conducted in the tranquil city of Geneva, remote from the influence of the disputants. America presented a statement of her wrongs, and of the compensation to which she deemed herself entitled. Her case was stated with much ability, and it produced numerous and painful evidences that the neutrality with which England regarded the conflict had been a neutrality very full of sympathy with the slave-holders. But the claim tabled was extravagantly large. America argued that England should indemnify her for the expenses of the war-ships which were employed to pursue the piratical cruisers. She argued that, since her ship-owners had been compelled to sell their ships to foreigners, England should bear the losses arising from these enforced sales. Above all, she alleged that the prolongation of the war after the battle of Gettysburg was traceable to the influence of the pirate-ships; and she made the huge demand that England should refund to her the cost of nearly two years of fighting. The arbitrators gave judgment that England was responsible for the property destroyed by the Alabama and the other cruisers, and ordained that she should repair the wrong by a payment of three million sterling. The claim for losses arising indirectly out of these unhappy transactions was rejected.

When the claims of sufferers by the piratical vessels were investigated it was found that the arbitrators had over-estimated them. The American Government, having satisfied every authenticated demand, found itself still in possession of about one million of the English money. It was the wish of many Americans that this sum should be restored to England, but Congress did not rise to the height of this generosity.

When the Alabama dispute was closed, there remained no cause of alienation between the two countries. All good men on both sides of the Atlantic desire earnestly that England and America should be fast friends. It was possible for England, by bestowing upon the North that sympathy which we now recognize to have been due, to have bound the two countries inalienably to each other. Unhappily the opportunity was missed, and a needless estrangement was caused. But this was not destined to endure, and it has long ago passed wholly away. England and America now understand each other as they have never done before. The constant intercourse of their citizens is a bond of union already so strong that no folly of Governments could break it. It may fairly be hoped that the irritations which arose during the war have been succeeded by an enduring concord between the two great sections of the Anglo-Saxon family.


The chosen career of the American people is a career of peaceful industry. Wisely shunning the glories and calamities of war, they have devoted themselves to the worthier labour of developing the resources of the continent which is their magnificent heritage. During four years they had been obliged to give their energies to a war, on the successful issue of which the national existence depended. When those sad years were over, and the conflict ceased, they turned with renewed vigour to their accustomed pursuits.

The industrial greatness of America is still, in large measure, agricultural. Nearly one-half of her people live by the cultivation of the soil. Upwards of three-fourths of the commodities which she sells to foreigners are agricultural products. The total value of the crops which she gathered in 1878 was not less than ?400,000,000. The strangers who help to build up her power are drawn to her shores by the hope of obtaining easy possession of fertile land. Her progress in the manufacturing arts has been very rapid, but it cannot rival the giant growth of her agriculture.

The agricultural system of America is eminently favourable to cheap production. Unoccupied lands are the property of the nation, and are made over to cultivators on easy terms, and in many cases gratuitously. A rent-paying farmer is practically unknown; the farmer owns the land which he tills. His farm has cost him little, and as the invariable improvement in value cancels even that, it may be said that it has cost him nothing. The average farm of the Western States is one hundred and sixty acres. It is cultivated almost without outlay of money. The farmer and his family perform the work of the farm, with the help of a neighbour at the great eras of sowing and reaping. This help is requited in kind, and therefore costs nothing in money. The rich, deep, virgin soil asks for no manure during many years. The sole burden upon the farm is the maintenance of the farmer and his family, and of the four oxen or mules which share his toils. His local taxation is trivial. His national taxation is less than one-half of that which the English farmer bears.33
  State and county taxation in the west ranges from five to twenty-five cents per acre – 2?d. to 12?d. National taxation is in America 20s., and in Britain 47s. 2d., for each of the population.

The evil of distance from the great markets of the world is neutralized by the low charge for which his grain is carried on railway or canal.44
  Wheat is now carried from Chicago to New York by lake and canal for 2s. 6d. per quarter, and by rail for 4s. From the northern parts of Minnesota carriage to New York is 8s. per quarter.

His husbandry is careless, insomuch that two acres of land in the valley of the Mississippi yield no more than one acre yields in England.55
  The American average is fourteen bushels of wheat per acre; the English average is twenty-eight bushels; the Scotch average, under high farming, is thirty-four bushels.

But if his agriculture is rude it is constantly improving; and, meanwhile, it is so inexpensive that he can send its products to England, four thousand miles away, and undersell the farmer there. A vast revolution, whose results we as yet imperfectly appreciate, is in progress around us. The antiquated, semi-feudal land-system of England totters to its fall, unable to sustain itself in presence of the more free and natural system of the West.

Immigration languished during the earlier years of the war. The distracted condition of the country, and the fears in regard to its future so widely entertained in Europe, formed sufficient reason why men who were in search of a home should avoid America. But when success crowned the efforts of the North, her old attractiveness to the emigrating class resumed its power. It came then to be pressed upon the public mind that the progress of the West was frustrated by want of adequate communication. There was no railway beyond the Missouri river. From that point westward to the Pacific communication depended upon a rude system of stage-coaches, or the waggon of an adventurous pioneer. It was a journey of nearly two thousand miles, across an unpeopled wilderness. The hardship was extreme, and the dangers not inconsiderable; for the way was beset by hostile Indians, and the traveller must be in constant readiness to fight. This vast region, composed mainly of rich prairie land, was practically closed against progress. The resources of the country, as it seemed, could not be developed excepting near the margins of the continent, or by the borders of her great navigable rivers.

It was now determined to construct a railway which should connect the Atlantic with the Pacific, and open for the use of man the vast intervening expanse of fertile soil. Stimulated by liberal grants of national land, two companies began to build – one eastward from San Francisco, the other westward from the Missouri. As the extent of land given was in strict proportion to the length of line laid down, each of the companies pushed its operations to the utmost. The work was done in haste, and, as many then thought, slightly; but experience has proved its sufficiency. 1869 A.D. In due time the lines met; the last rail was laid down, not without emotion, such as befitted the completion of a work so great. By the help of electricity the blows of the hammer which drove home the last spike were made audible in the chief cities of the east. The union of east and west was now complete, and many millions of acres of rich land, hitherto inaccessible, were added to the heritage of man. The savage occupants of these lands were remorselessly pushed aside. The Indians had been dangerously hostile to the workmen who constructed the railway, and they showed some disposition to offer unpleasant interruption to the trains which ran upon it. They were now gathered up and placed in certain “reservations,” which it was well understood would be reserved for Indians only till white men had need of them. When the railroad was newly opened, travellers could occasionally look out from the windows upon a vast plain dark with innumerable multitudes of buffaloes plodding sullenly on their customary migrations. Herds of antelopes were seen fleeing before this new invader of their quiet lives. The prairie-dog, sitting upon his mound of earth, watched with curious eye the unwonted disturbance. All wild creatures were now wantonly slain, or driven far away. A steady tide of emigration flowed to the west. In the neighbourhood of the railway, the little wooden farm-house became frequent; beside stopping-places, villages arose, and swelled out into little towns; the towns of the olden time increased rapidly and prospered. The settlers planted trees of quick growth, and gradually, as the line of settlement stretched westward, the monotony of those dreary plains was brightened with groves, and dwellings, and cultivated fields.

Iowa, Indiana, Illinois ceased to be regarded as belonging to the west, and took rank as old and fully settled central States. Beyond the Missouri a new career opened for Kansas and Nebraska. Down to the beginning of the war these States had been claimed and fought for by the slave-power. Day by day now the railway brought long trains laden with immigrants – Russian Mennonites fleeing from persecution in Church and despotism in State; Germans escaping from military conscription; Englishmen and Irishmen leaving lands where the ownership of the soil was impossible excepting to a few.

Texas – once the refuge of men seeking exemption from the restraints which criminal law imposes – even Texas prospered, and under the genial influence of prosperity became respectable. Her population has risen in eight years from eight hundred thousand to two million. Much of her vast area66
  Equal to three times the area of Great Britain.

still lies untilled; but much of it has been reclaimed for the use of man. Her railways still traverse dreary forests, and great, unpeopled plains; but they also carry the traveller past many smiling villages, and many thriving cities where a prosperous commerce is maintained, where schools and churches abound. They reveal to him well-appointed farm-buildings; fields rich with bountiful crops; jungles where the peach, the orange, the banana, the pomegranate grow luxuriantly under the fostering heat of a semi-tropical sun; vast areas roamed over by myriads of slight, active-looking Texan cattle, the rearing of which yields wealth to the people. In many of the Texan cities two contrasted types of civilization – the old Mexican and the young American – live peaceably side by side. The palace-car meets the ox-team and the donkey with his panniers. The blanketed Indian, the Mexican in poncho and sombrero, the American in his faultless broadcloth, mingle harmoniously in the streets. Handsome mansions such as abound in the suburbs of eastern cities are near neighbours to antique Mexican dwellings, built of adobe, with loopholed battlements, and walls which show still the bullet-marks of forgotten strifes.

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