The influence which America exerts upon the currents of European history must continue to increase in power. Her population, reinforced as it is by emigration from less happily circumstanced countries, grows more rapidly than any European population. Her artisans are better educated than those of any other country, and they are therefore more effective for industrial purposes. They are free from the burden of military service, which in Continental Europe absorbs those years of a young man’s life when the hands gain expertness and the mind forms habits of industry. In the capacity of mechanical invention – the breath of life to an industrial nation – they are manifestly superior to Europe. The competition of this intelligent, ingenious, rapidly increasing people, fired by an ambition to become great as a manufacturing nation, cannot fail to influence directly and powerfully the industrial future of the European nations.
As the population and the wealth of America increase, the testimony which her example bears in favour of individual right and absolute freedom of thought will become more conspicuous and influential. The rebuke which her attitude of universal peace and her inconsiderable military expenditure administer to the diseased suspicions and measureless waste of Europe will become more emphatic, perhaps even in some degree more effective, than it has yet proved to be. Thus far, the teaching of America in regard to the maintenance of huge armies in time of peace has been rejected as inapplicable to the existing circumstances of Europe. But it may fairly be hoped that in course of years the industrial competition of a great people who have freed themselves from heavy burdens which their competitors still bear will enforce upon Europe economies of which neither governments nor people are as yet sufficiently educated to perceive the necessity.
America has still something to learn from the riper experience and more patient thinking of England. But it has been her privilege to teach to England and the world one of the grandest of lessons. She has asserted the political rights of the masses. She has proved to us that it is safe and wise to trust the people. She has taught that the government of the people should be “by the people and for the people.”
Let our last word here be a thankful acknowledgment of the inestimable service which she has thus rendered to mankind.
The reconstruction of the Union was completed during General Grant’s term of office. The Presidentship of his successor, Mr.
The Census of 1880 showed the population of the United States to be upwards of fifty million. The increase during the previous ten years had been eleven million and a half, or at the extraordinary rate of more than a million a year.
During Mr. Hayes’ Presidentship, two questions became prominent, and sharply divided political parties. These were, the resumption of cash payments, and the reform of the Civil Service.
1878 A.D. The Currency Controversy is remarkable for having brought the President into conflict with Congress. The Bland Silver Bill, making the silver dollar a legal tender, was passed by large majorities both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. President Hayes had no faith in the doctrine of bi-metallism, and he vetoed the Bill. The Bill was re-passed in both Houses by a two-thirds majority, and became law in spite of the presidential veto. The conflict subjected the Constitution to a severe strain. But the crisis passed quietly, showing how well-grounded is the faith of the Americans in the fitness of their Constitution to meet all exigencies.
The demand for a reform in the Civil Service had been growing for years. The revelations of electoral corruption filled men of independent spirit with shame and confusion. The evil practices were not confined to a particular party. Republicans and Democrats were equally unscrupulous. It was proved by strict inquiry that in two States the majority for President Hayes himself had been obtained by fraudulent means. The constitutional custom which makes every office in the Civil Service, from the highest to the lowest, change hands whenever power is transferred from one party to another, was felt to be the root of the evil.
1881 A.D. When President James Garfield assumed office in March 1881, he announced his intention of dealing firmly and earnestly with the question of administrative reform. Garfield’s election to the dignity of President was unexpected. The chief Republican candidates were General Grant, who had previously held the office for two terms, Secretary Sherman, and Senator Blaine. In the Republican convention held at Chicago for the selection of a candidate, General Garfield acted as manager of the party which supported Sherman. When he was first proposed he declined to become a candidate. It was only when Sherman’s success was seen to be impossible, and when all the parties opposed to Grant coalesced in favour of Garfield, that his name came to the front. He was ultimately chosen unanimously as the Republican candidate, on the ground that he divided the party the least. In the election itself, which was mainly determined by the vote of New York State, Garfield defeated his Democratic opponent General Hancock by 219 votes to 185.
Comparatively little was known about the new President before he was elected. Even in America his selection was a surprise. The chief fact that was known about him was that he had risen, like Abraham Lincoln, from the humblest origin. He had been born in a log-hut in the forest of Ohio. He had begun life on the tow-path as a driver of mules which dragged a canal boat between Cleveland and Pittsburg. By his own energy alone he had risen. He had been a professor, a preacher, a successful soldier, a practical lawyer, a bold and ready party leader. Throughout life he had been noted for fearless honesty. In his public career, no taint of corruption was found attaching to any part of his conduct. The man who should undertake to reform the abuses in the official system of America must himself have clean hands, and Garfield’s hands were clean.
General Garfield’s election was held to be a great triumph for the Republican party, but especially for that section of it which advocated Civil Service reform. He had made no secret of his opinions on that subject. In the outline of his political creed which he issued soon after his selection as Republican candidate he expressed his agreement with those who urged the necessity of “placing the Civil Service on a better basis.” The remedy to which he pointed was that “Congress should devise a method that will determine the tenure of office.” In his inaugural address on assuming office, he intimated his intention of taking steps to apply this remedy. Two objects, he said, must be aimed at. The one was to protect the executive against “the waste of time and the obstruction to public business caused by the inordinate pressure for place.” The other was to protect the holders of office “against intrigue and wrong.” To effect both objects, he would “at the proper time ask Congress to fix the tenure of the minor offices of several executive departments, and prescribe grounds upon which removals shall be made.” Further, he announced his purpose “to demand rigid economy in all expenditures of the Government, and to require honest and faithful service of all the executive officers, remembering that their offices were created, not for the benefit of the incumbents or their supporters, but for the service of the Government.”
These declarations did not give unmixed satisfaction to the Republican party. The anti-reform section of it, which still holds by President Jackson’s maxim, “The spoils to the victors,” regarded them as in some sense a declaration of war. It is certain that to the hopes of place-hunters they were a serious blow. For his honest desire to rid the public offices of these pests, and at the same time to purify the Government, the President was made to pay a terrible penalty. Within the railway station at Washington he was shot in the back by a man named Charles Guiteau, who for several days had been importuning the authorities at White House for place.
The useless and utterly wanton crime sent a thrill of horror through America, through England, through the civilized world. The shot did not at once prove fatal; but that only made the cruelty of the deed the more intense. For eleven weeks through the heat of summer (July 2 till September 19) the President’s life trembled in the balance. He bore his sufferings with marvellous patience and fortitude. The calamity brought out the manly strength and the simple beauty of his character with the brilliancy of sunset.
“In the reproof of chance
Lies the true proof of men.”
Seldom if ever before has there been so striking an instance of misfortune raising a good man to world-wide renown. Hardly less beautiful than the President’s cheerful endurance was the heroic devotion of his wife. “It is no exaggeration to say,” said Mr. James Russell Lowell, the American Minister in London, “that the recent profoundly-touching spectacle of womanly devotedness, in its simplicity, its constancy, and its dignity, has moved the heart of mankind in a manner without any precedent in living memory.”
During the whole of these “eleven agonizing weeks” the bed of the dying President was the centre of interest to men and women of all ranks in both hemispheres. “The whole civilized world,” said Mr. Lowell, “gathered about it; and in the breathless suspense of anxious solicitude listened to the difficult breathing, counted the fluttering pulse, was cheered by the momentary rally, and saddened by the inevitable relapse.”
At length the end came with startling suddenness. It was followed by a universal wail. All humanity mourned, as if it had lost a brother. The sentiment pervaded all classes, from crowned heads to humble peasants. The Queen of England was foremost in her offers of sympathy, not only with the sorrowing widow and mother, but also with the bereaved nation; and stanch Republicans were fain to acknowledge “how true a woman’s heart may beat under the royal purple.” The English Court was ordered to go into mourning, as for one of royal blood and ancient lineage. The act was as graceful and as wise as it was unprecedented. The head of the young Republic was, by the spontaneous act of the head of the ancient Kingdom, recognized in his due place as one of the community of monarchs and princes. A hundred years ago, who could have anticipated such an event?
It would be a mistake to suppose that the death of President Garfield created the warm feelings of sympathy between England and America which the event revealed. It is true, however, that the event opened at once the hearts and the eyes of both peoples, and brought to light the depth and the strength of their brotherhood, in a way that nothing else could have done. The brotherly feelings on the part of England were heartily and even touchingly reciprocated in America. After the coffin of the deceased President had been closed, only one wreath was allowed to rest on it; and that was the wreath sent by the Queen of England. To the world this was a token of peace and good-will firmly established between England and America – of the oneness of the English-speaking race, in their common homage to President and to Queen. If the result shall be to strengthen permanently the bond between the kindred peoples – to root out jealousies and smooth over asperities, to produce generosity in the midst of rivalry and co-operation in good works – President Garfield will not have died in vain.
“He was no common man,” said Mr. Lowell, in his graceful and eloquent panegyric, “who could call forth, and justly call forth, an emotion so universal, an interest so sincere and so human.” And that is no common country which can produce such a man, and give him the opportunity of achieving greatness. Garfield’s career teaches many lessons; but it shows nothing more clearly than the great possibilities which his country opens up to honesty and persevering labour. “The poor lad who at thirteen could not read, dies at fifty the tenant of an office second in dignity to none on earth; and the world mourns his loss as that of a personal relative.”
“The soil out of which such men as he were made is good to be born on, good to live on, good to die for and to be buried in.”
The peace and naturalness with which Vice-President Arthur at once succeeded to the presidential functions, without shock to the political system and without detriment to the national honour, justifies the pride of the Americans in the stability of their institutions.
The dazzling success which had crowned the efforts of Columbus awakened in Europe an eager desire to make fresh discoveries. Henry VII. of England had consented to equip Columbus for his voyage; but the consent was withheld too long, and given only when it was too late. Lamenting now the great mischance by which the glory and the profit of these marvellous discoveries passed away from him, Henry lost no time in seeking to possess himself of such advantage as Spain had not yet appropriated. There was living then in Bristol a Venetian merchant named John Cabot. This man and his son Sebastian shared their great countryman’s love of maritime adventure. 1496 A.D. Under the patronage of the King, who claimed one-fifth of the gains of their enterprise, they fitted out, at their own charge, a fleet of six ships, and sailed westward into the ocean whose terrors Columbus had so effectually tamed. They struck a northerly course, and reached Newfoundland. 1497 A.D. Still bending northwards, they coasted Labrador, hoping as Columbus did to gain an easy passage to the East. They pierced deeper into the unknown north than any European had done before. But day by day, as they sailed and searched, the cold became more intense; the floating masses of ice became more frequent and more threatening; the wished-for opening which was to conduct them to Cathay did not reveal itself. Cabot, repulsed by unendurable cold, turned and sought the more genial south. He steered his course between the island of Newfoundland and the mainland, and explored with care the gulf afterwards called by the name of St. Lawrence. Still moving southwards, he passed bleak and desolate coasts which to-day are the home of powerful communities, the seat of great and famous cities. He had looked at the vast sea-board which stretches from Labrador to Florida. He had taken no formal possession; his foot had scarcely touched American soil. But when he reported to Henry what he had seen, the King at once claimed the whole as an English possession.
Many years passed before the claim of England was heard of any more. The stormy life of Henry came to its close. His son, around whose throne there surged the disturbing influences of the Reformation, and who was obliged in this anxious time to readjust the ecclesiastical relations of himself and of his people, had no thought to spare for those distant and unknown regions. The fierce Mary was absorbed in the congenial employment of trampling out Protestantism by the slaughter of its followers. The America upon which John Cabot – now an almost forgotten name – had looked fourscore years before, was nearly as much forgotten as its discoverer. But during the more tranquil reign of Elizabeth there began that search for a north-west route to the East which Europe has prosecuted from that time till now with marvellous persistence and intrepidity. 1576 A.D. Martin Frobisher, going forth on this quest, pierced further into the north than any previous explorer had done. He looked again upon the bleak, ice-bound coasts of Labrador and of southern Greenland. 1583 A.D. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, acting under the Queen’s authority, visited Newfoundland, and planted there an inconsiderable and unenduring settlement. Another generation passed before England began to concern herself about the shadowy and well-nigh forgotten claim which she had founded upon the discoveries of John Cabot. It was indeed a shadowy claim; but, even with so slender a basis of right, the power and determination of England proved ultimately sufficient to establish and maintain it against the world. The Pope had long ago bestowed upon the Kings of Spain and Portugal the whole of the New World, with all its “cities and fortifications;” but England gave no heed to the enormous pretension which even France refused to acknowledge.1212
Francis I. said that he “would fain see the article in Adam’s will which bequeathed the vast inheritance” to the Kings of Spain and Portugal.
Meanwhile, disregarding the dormant claims of England, France had made some progress in establishing herself upon the new continent. She too had in her service a mariner on whose visit to the West a claim was founded. Thirty years after Cabot’s first voyage, John Verazzani – an Italian, like most of the explorers – sailed from North Carolina to Newfoundland; scenting, or believing that he scented, far out at sea the fragrance of southern forests; welcomed by the simple natives of Virginia and Maryland, who had not yet learned to dread the terrible strangers who brought destruction to their race; visiting the Bay of New York, and finding it thronged with the rude and slender canoes of the natives; looking with unpleased eye upon the rugged shores of Massachusetts and Maine, and not turning eastward till he had passed for many miles along the coast of Newfoundland. When Verazzani reported what he had done, France assumed, too hastily as the event proved, that the regions thus explored were rightfully hers.
But her claim obtained a more substantial support than the hasty visit of Verazzani was able to bestow upon it. 1534 A.D. Ten years later, Jacques Cartier, a famous sea-captain, sailed on a bright and warm July day into the gulf which lies between Newfoundland and the mainland. He saw a great river flowing into the gulf with a width of estuary not less than one hundred miles. It was the day of St. Lawrence, and he opened a new prospect of immortality for that saint by giving his name to river and to gulf. He erected a large cross, thirty feet high, on which were imprinted the insignia of France; and thus he took formal possession of the country in the King’s name. He sailed for many days up the river, between silent and pathless forests; past great chasms down which there rolled the waters of tributary streams; under the gloomy shadow of huge precipices; past fertile meadow-lands and sheltered islands where the wild vine flourished. The Indians in their canoes swarmed around the ships, giving the strangers welcome, receiving hospitable entertainment of bread and wine. At length they came where a vast rocky promontory, three hundred feet in height, stretched far into the river. Here the chief had his home; here, on a site worthy to bear the capital of a great State, arose Quebec; here, in later days, England and France fought for supremacy, and it was decided by the sword that the Anglo-Saxon race was to guide the destinies of the American continent.
Cartier learned from the Indians that, much higher up the river, there was a large city, the capital of a great country; and the enterprising Frenchman lost no time in making his way thither. Standing in the midst of fields of Indian corn, he found a circular enclosure, strongly palisaded, within which were fifty large huts, each the abode of several families. This was Hochelaga, in reality the capital of an extensive territory. Hochelaga was soon swept away; and in its place, a century later, Jesuit enthusiasts established a centre of missionary operations under the protection of the Holy Virgin. It too passed away, to be succeeded by the city of Montreal, the seat of government of an Anglo-Saxon nation.
The natives entertained Cartier hospitably, and were displeased that he would not remain longer among them. He returned to Quebec to winter there. Great hardships overtook him. The winter was unusually severe; his men were unprovided with suitable food and clothing. Many died; all were grievously weakened by exposure and insufficient nourishment; and when their condition was at the lowest, Cartier was led to suspect that the natives meditated treachery. So soon as the warmth of spring thawed the frozen river, Cartier sailed for France, lawlessly bearing with him, as a present to the King, the chief and three natives of meaner rank.
The results of Carrier’s visits disappointed France. A country which lies buried under deep snow for half the year had no attractions for men accustomed to the short and ordinarily mild winters of France. The King expected gold and silver mines and precious stones; but Cartier brought home only a few savages and his own diminished and diseased band of followers. There were some, however, to whom the lucrative trade in furs was an object of desire; there were others, in that season of high-wrought religious zeal, who were powerfully moved to bear the Cross among the heathens of the West. Under the influence of these motives, feeble efforts at colonization were from time to time made. The fishermen of Normandy and Brittany resorted to the shores of Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and plied their calling there with success such as had not rewarded their efforts in European waters. The persecuted Calvinists sought to give effect to a proposal made by Admiral Coligny, and find rest from the malignity of their enemies among the forests of Canada. But the French have little aptitude for colonizing. Down far beyond the close of the century France had failed to establish any permanent footing on the American continent. A few mean huts at Quebec, at Montreal, and at two or three other points, were all that remained to represent the efforts and the sufferings of nearly a hundred years. There is evidence that in the year 1629 “a single vessel” was expected to take on board “all the French” in Canada; and the vessels of those days were not large.