HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES
INDUSTRIAL CONDITIONS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT
THE industrial foundation for national solidarity was slight when the American government was born in 1789. The ruling classes of the different states had been drawn together by the common fear of a proletarian uprising and the common need for a central government to further a few immediate interests. A decade might easily bring such a divergence in these interests that the central government would disintegrate. The only thing that could prevent this would be the growth of a national industrial life.
The size of any industrial unit and of the political establishment based upon it depend upon the character and extent of the transportation system. The method of transporting goods determines the extent of the market. It is seldom that a political unit is larger than the circle of the market for the great staples of production. There have been exceptions to this rule, but they have usually been short-lived or had some peculiar explanation.
When Washington took the presidential chair, methods of transportation in the United States differed little from those which prevailed in Rome when she was mistress of the then known world. What advantage there might be in such a comparison was with the older civilization.
The commerce of Rome in the days of Caesar moved over roads whose very ruins are the wonder and admiration of modern engineers. American commerce at the close of the eighteenth century was painfully dragged over corduroy roads, through unbridged rivers and morasses of mud, that made a profitable interchange of heavy goods over long distances impossible.
The arrangements for the transmission of intelligence were little more effective than those for the carrying of merchandise. When independence was declared, there were only twenty-eight post offices in all the thirteen colonies. Fourteen years later, when Washington had occupied the presidential chair for a year and the new administrative machinery was fairly well installed, there were still but seventy-five. Yet the population was over three millions. A population of equal number to-day, if as widely dispersed, would have several thousand post offices to minister to its wants.
To maintain even these miserable accommodations, postal rates were so high as to be almost prohibitive for ordinary intercourse among the poorer classes of the population. The minimum charge for a single sheet of paper going less than thirty miles was six cents. Then the- rates rapidly increased until to send a single sheet more than four hundred and fifty miles cost twenty-five cents. Additional sheets increased the amount still further. Newspapers were taken only at the pleasure of the mail carriers. Consequently correspondence was largely confined to communications on public matters.
Only four cities had a population of over 10.000. Of these New York led with about 30,000, having but recently pushed into first place above Philadelphia with
28,000. Boston claimed 18,000, Charleston, South Carolina, 16,000, and Baltimore, 13,000.
Four fifths of the population were engaged in agriculture, or perhaps it would be more nearly correct to say that the group of diversified industries which were then included under the name of agriculture embraced four fifths of the industrial life of the time. But these farmers harvested their grain with sickles such as Ruth saw in the fields of Boaz. They threshed their grain with a flail, such as their Aryan ancestors brought from the plains of central Asia when they set forth on that long racial march toward the setting sun, of which the colonization of America was the latest, longest step. Although Jefferson was mathematically calculating a plow that would do its work with the least expenditure of energy, two generations were to come and go before plows constructed upon scientific principles were to appear on American farms. In the meantime, the fields were dug up with sharpened sticks pointed with iron, fashioned much after those of which present-day travelers to Egypt and India and central Russia send postal card photographs to friends at home.
Cattle, horses, hogs, and sheep were of a character that no modern farmer would permit to encumber his fields. Cattle were kept almost exclusively for their hides and meat, and as draft animals. Here and there in New England some butter and cheese were made. But the cow as a machine for the transformation of a "balanced ration" into a definite quantity of milk and cream at the least possible expense had scarcely been dreamed of. She must still be capable of foraging her food in the forest through the greater part of the year and of enduring the
rigors of a Northern winter without shelter. "Hollow horn," a disease caused by extreme cold, exposure, and insufficient feed, killed many animals yearly. Although Messenger, the father of the American Hamiltonian strain of trotting horses, was imported in 1786, and Justin Morgan, the sire of the once famous Morgan horses (a strain that great efforts are now being made to revive), was born in 1793, the horses of this time were few in number and generally miserable in character.
The hog of that day was compelled to live in an environment, one of whose
conditions of survival was to hunt his own food in the forest and dodge wild
animals while doing so, and then be able to stand a drive of several hundred
miles to a distant market.1 He bore little
1. Parkinson, who wrote of a tour made about this time, described the hogs that he saw in the following language (p. 290):
The real American hog is what is termed the wood-hog; they are long in the leg, narrow on the back, short in the body, flat on their sides, with a long snout, very rough in their hair, in make more like the fish called a perch than anything I can describe. You may as well think of stopping a crow as those hogs. They will go to a distance from a fence, take a run, and leap through the rails, three or four feet from the ground, turning themselves sidewise. These hogs suffer such hardship as no other animal could endure. It is customary to keep them in the woods all winter, as there are no threshing- or fold-yards; and they must live on the roots of trees, or something of that sort ; but they are poor beyond any creature that I ever saw. That is probably the cause why the American pork is so fine. I am not certain with American keeping and treatment if they are not the best; for I never saw any animal live without food, except this and I am pretty sure they nearly do that. When they are fed, the flesh may well be sweet; it is all young, though the pig be ten years olde and like pigs in general, they only act as a conveyance to carry corn to market.
For further information on agricultural conditions at this time see H. E. Alvord, "Dairy Development in the United States " in Report of Bureau of Animal Industry for 1899, p. 245 et seq.; Captain Williamson, "Description of the Settlement of the Genesee Country in the State of New York" (1799), pp. 32-41; W. Faux, "Memorable Days in America" (1823), pp. 72-73, 113, 139, 143; Dodge, "West Virginia," p. 43; William H. Smith, "History of the State of Indiana," Vol. II, pp. 661-662; Henry Adams, "History of the United States," Vol. I, pp. 16-17.
resemblance to the highly perfected pork-producing machine of the modern fat stock show.
Considerable effort had been made to improve the breed of sheep because of the pressing need of a domestic supply of wool for weaving. Laws forbidding the slaughter of sheep for mutton had been passed in several states, and premiums were quite generally offered to encourage sheep breeding. The first Merinos were imported in 1793, and frequent importations from Spain followed in spite of the efforts of Spain to prevent such action.
Southern industry still rested primarily upon the tobacco crop, which was less profitable than it had once been. Exhaustive methods of exploiting the soil in its production were driving the plantations farther and farther from the seaboard and the river banks. Cotton was still ginned by hand, although Eli Whitney was working on the model of the first cotton gin. Hand ginning was so expensive that cotton raising was not profitable. We are not, therefore, much surprised to learn that there was a strong abolition sentiment in Maryland and Virginia, where the slaves on the wornout tobacco plantations were no longer earning their "keep," and where they could be bought for from one to two hundred dollars. The rice industry, too, was just ready for a transformation. The first machine for winnowing rice was invented in 1749. A machine for hulling and another for threshing it from the straw were invented just as the eighteenth century was closing.
Manufacturing was still almost entirely in the household stage. Evidences of a coming change were, however, apparent in many directions. The woolen industry, that had led the industrial revolution just then in progress in England, was the first to enter upon the factory stage on this side the Atlantic. England was well aware of the advantage which the newly invented machinery was giving her manufacturers in the markets of the world, and was seeking in every way to maintain her monopoly. Heavy penalties were directed against those who should seek to export any of the new machinery, and several attempts to evade these prohibitions failed. In 1790 Samuel Slater, who had worked in the Arkwright mills in England, came to the United States, and as he had stowed away the plans only in his head, he was not stopped at the customhouse. He built a complete factory the next year in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
At the very beginning industrial evolution in the United States showed one peculiarity that was to distinguish it from that of European countries. It was unhampered by traditions and feudal institutions and customs, and struck out boldly in new and characteristic paths. In England the woolen industry had always been divided into several processes, each carried on under a different roof, and this division was kept up even after the factory system was introduced. Carding and combing was one industry, spinning another, and weaving, dyeing, and finishing were each separated from all the others. Each of these had its own building, owner, industrial organization, purchasing and marketing facilities. From the very beginning all this was swept aside in the United States, and all these processes were made a part
of one act of production under one roof and one management.1
Iron and steel were still produced largely as they had been for centuries. But the new "puddling" method had just been introduced ; power was being used to drive the blowers, and everywhere there were signs of a coming change. One of the great "household" industries of New England was the manufacture of nails. Each family had its own little anvil, forge, and simple tools. The iron was distributed at regular intervals, and the completed product purchased by those who, a little later, were to gather these workers together in great factories tending giant machines, each of which would produce more nails than a whole community of household workers.
The shoe trade was already concentrating around Boston. But shoes were still made with lapstone, awl, and waxed end.
Superficially industry was sleeping, as it had slept for centuries. A closer study revealed the first movements that heralded a new awakening.
Fitch's steamboat was making regular trips up and down the Delaware in 1790. His neighbors looked upon him as a half-insane crank. He was to share the fate of a multitude of those who have lightened the labor of the world. He died in poverty, the butt of ridicule, while another man and generation reaped fame and wealth from his ideas.
The great industry of the time was shipbuilding and commerce. New England ships were turning watery
1. "The New England States," Vol. I. Monograph by S. D. N. North, "New England Woolen Manufacturers," p. 202.
furrows in every ocean highway and harbor. Her merchants were already the most-powerful in the world, and were accumulating the capital which, invested in the machinery just then being conceived by the minds of inventors, was destined during the next generation to change the whole social structure.
It was the germinal period of capitalism. The beginnings of the greatest of all social transformations were appearing, but were attracting little attention.