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Category: Expansion and Conflict, by William E. Dodd
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Partisan opposition Partisan opposition to Franklin Pierce had almost disappeared  before the day of his inauguration in 1853. Charles Sumner, to be sure, was in the Senate, but he was a silent member, and Massachusetts inclined to follow Edward Everett rather than Sumner. William H. Seward still spoke for the anti-slavery Whigs in Congress, and Salmon P. Chase maintained a precarious hold on Ohio.

There was a handful of Free-Soilers in the House of Representatives who were ready to make trouble for the new Administration, and resistance to the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law now and then broke out in riots in certain neighborhoods of New England and in the Western Reserve. But the opposition was everywhere declining until Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous novel, _Uncle Tom's Cabin_, with its exaggerated emphasis upon the cruelties of the slavery system, began to stir the consciences of men. Even so there was no substantial evidence that any great political upheaval or party change would occur within the next fifteen or twenty years. The people were contented with their country, and the growth of the population gave evidence of a great future.

When Jackson came to the Presidency there were about 12,500,000 people in the country; in 1850 the number had grown to 23,000,000, and in 1860 there were 31,000,000. The Census Bureau estimated that the population of 1900 would be 100,000,000 if the growth of the Pierce period was maintained. Not only was the normal native increase phenomenal, but foreigners poured into "the land of the free" in unprecedented numbers. In 1850 there were 2,800,000 foreign-born people in the United States; in 1860 there were 5,400,000, and this tide of immigration was of a very high social and economic character. The German element was large, industrious, and liberty-loving, many of them being refugees from the political persecutions of 1832-33 and 1848-50. The English, Scotch, and Irish composed most of the remainder, and these were already familiar with the ideals and political habits of the country and therefore readily assimilable. By far the greater part of this rich contribution to American life fell to the cities of the East and the open country of the Northwest, where good land was abundant and available at low prices.

If we compare the distribution of the population of 1850-60 with that of 1830, we shall see how well the sectional balance, on which so much depended, was maintained. In 1830, the East[7] had a population of 6,000,000 in a total of almost 13,000,000. This had increased only 500,000 in 1850; but between 1850 and 1860 the increase was nearly 2,000,000. The South had a population of 6,000,000 in 1830; in 1850, 8,900,000, and in 1860 this had grown to 11,400,000. The Northwest had, however, grown faster than either of the other sections, for her increase, including California and Oregon, had been from 4,800,000 in 1850 to 8,260,000 in 1860; that is, the growth of the East during the last decade of _ante-bellum_ history was 21 per cent, that of the South, 28 per cent, and that of the Northwest, 77 per cent.

[Footnote 7: See chap. _III_ of this volume.]

Keeping in mind the sectional conditions of 1830 as set forth in the third chapter of this volume, we shall come to a better understanding of the Civil War if the prosperity of the different parts of the Union be closely analyzed. The people of the United States were poor indeed in 1830 as compared with 1850-60. Between 1815 and 1846 the receipts of the Federal Treasury fluctuated violently; but from that date to 1860, except for two years of panic, the Federal Treasury was always full and there was generally an annual surplus of from $5,000,000 to $10,000,000. During the Jacksonian era the prices of staple commodities fluctuated as much as fifty per cent in single years. Cotton was twenty cents a pound during all of the twenties; it was as low as seven cents when nullification was the critical issue; but from 1850 to 1860 cotton sold at ten or twelve cents. Corn was in most places twenty-five cents a bushel during Jackson's and Van Buren's Administrations; between 1850 and 1860 it rose in price steadily and was almost everywhere readily marketable at fifty cents a bushel. In the era just preceding the war prices were steadily rising, and the demand for American produce, cotton, corn, tobacco, wheat, and sugar, was always greater than the supply.

This prosperity was unequally distributed, as always. The East had developed her manufactures beyond all expectation, and the great mill belt stretched from southeastern Maine to New York City, its center of gravity, thence to Philadelphia and Baltimore, and from these cities westward to Pittsburg. Another belt ancillary to this began in western Massachusetts and extended along the Erie Canal to Buffalo, thence to Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago. In these areas, or in the industrial belt as it may be termed, there lived about 4,000,000 mill operatives, whose annual output of wool, iron, and cotton manufactures alone was worth in 1860 $330,393,000 as compared to the $58,000,000 of 1830. Perhaps the meaning of these figures may become clearer if we note that the total investments in these industries was considerably less than the yearly product. Nor was the East less prosperous in other lines. Her tonnage had increased from a little more than 500,000 in 1830 to nearly 5,000,000 in 1860. The freight and passenger ships, built of iron, and encouraged by liberal subsidies from the Federal Government, employed 12,000 sailors and paid their owners $70,000,000 a year. They carried the manufactures of the East to the Southern plantations, to South America, and to the Far East. This great fleet of commercial vessels was owned almost exclusively in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, and its owners were at the end of the decade about to wrest from Great Britain her monopoly of the carrying trade of the world.

[Illustration: The Industrial Belt of 1860]

In spite of the efforts of President Jackson and of the purposes of the sub-treasury system, the concentration of capital in the Eastern towns and cities continued. Only New York, instead of Philadelphia, was the new center. The merchants of that city imported three fourths of the European goods consumed in the country, and they in turn exported nearly all of the great crops with which the balance of trade was maintained. New York was also a distributing center for the manufactures of the East which were sent to the South, the West, or the outside world. Thus the exchanges of all the sections were made there, and before 1860 its banks, with a capital of $130,000,000 and specie reserves of only $20,000,000, did a business of $7,000,000,000 a year. And while New York became the American London, the whole of the East was likewise securing the lion's share of the banking profits of the country. Although the assessed wealth of the section counted only one fourth of the total $16,000,000,000 for the country in 1860, the East had nearly two thirds of the banking capital; and the money in circulation there was $16.5 _per capita_ as against $6.6 for the country as a whole.[8] Industry, commerce, shipping, and banking concentrated in the narrow area of less than 200,000 square miles, earned yearly returns equal as a rule to the total of the capital invested. Money changed hands rapidly, credits did the work of capital, and the rapid growth of population added large unearned increments to the fortunes of those who owned land or had established themselves in trade.

[Footnote 8: This comparison is based on the Census Reports for 1860. It does not vary materially from the estimates given for 1860 in Executive Documents of the Senate, no. 38, 52d Cong., 2d Sess.]

[Illustration: Railroads in Operation 1850]

[Illustration: Railroads in Operation 1860]

Naturally this concentration of industry and the economic resources of the country in the East led to the rapid extension of railways into the West and South. The New York Central, the Erie, the Pennsylvania, and the Baltimore and Ohio systems had already been founded, and they made connections in 1850-53 with the canals and railways of the Middle West. The Illinois Central, which connected the lower South with Chicago, was affiliated by means of interlocking directorates with the New York Central before 1856. John M. Forbes, the Boston capitalist, was president of the Michigan Central during the decade, and laying the foundations of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. Commodore Vanderbilt was organizing his steamboat and railroad properties and expanding the area of his activities till it reached, before 1860, the rich grain belt of the West, the cotton lands of the South, the Far Eastern trade _via_ his Panama Railroad and Pacific steamers, and the great markets of Europe. During the decade under consideration the capitalists of the East built 4000 miles of railway east of Pittsburg, 7500 miles in the Northwest, and 5000 miles in the South. But the work was not all done at the expense of the capitalists. The Federal Government donated 20,000,000 acres of the most valuable lands in the country to the companies which built the roads; States, counties, and towns in the West and South voted many millions for the same purpose; and European capitalists loaned $450,000,000 secured by first mortgage bonds on the vast properties.

Thus the industrial belt of the East was reaching out toward Chicago, St. Louis, and New Orleans and beyond for a commerce that was already richer than the gold mines of California; and New York, Boston, Philadelphia, the canal towns, and Pittsburg were becoming centers of wealth and economic power which attracted the attention of the world. Great merchants, like the Lawrences of Boston and the Astors of New York, became the objects of emulation everywhere, and they in turn set the fashion of giving liberally of their means to the cause of education or the founding of hospitals, which has been a distinctive feature of the social history of the last thirty years.

[Illustration: The Black Belt of 1860]

The planters, on the other hand, had spread their system over the lower South in a remarkable manner since 1830. From eastern Virginia their patriarchal establishments had been pushed westward and southwestward until in 1860 the black belt reached to the Rio Grande. Tobacco, cotton, and sugar were still their great staples, and the annual returns from these were not less than $300,000,000; while the growth of their output between 1850 and 1860 was more than one hundred per cent. The number of slaves who worked the plantations had increased between 1830 and 1860 from 2,000,000 to nearly 4,000,000 souls, thus suggesting the comparison with the workers in the mills of the East. The exports of the black belt composed more than two thirds of the total exports of the country; but they were largely billed through Eastern ports, and most of the imports of the South came through New York, where a second toll was taken from the products of the plantation.

But the ratio of annual returns to the total investments was very unlike that of the East. In the South the assessed value of real estate and personal property, including slaves, in 1860 was $5,370,000,000, while the returns for the best years were somewhat over $300,000,000: that is, their investment was $1,000,000,000 greater than that of the East and their income not more than a third as great. Perhaps the banking statistics of the planter section will enable us to get a better view of their dependence upon the East. The South had in 1860 a banking capital of $89,131,000, a bank-note circulation of $68,344,000, and money on deposit, $56,342,000. Thus an annual return of $300,000,000 brought deposits of only $56,000,000; and the _per capita_ circulation was only $10. New York City alone had twice as much money on deposit as all the Southern States, though the personal property valuation of the whole State of New York, with a population four times as great, was only $320,000,000 as against $240,000,000 for Virginia.

Although the system of agriculture in the South had not greatly improved since 1830, the annual crops sold for about four times as much as they had brought when Jackson was President. In spite of the "red gullies" and the waste lands, the owners of plantations were the wealthy men of the time. The Hairstons of Virginia and the Aikens of South Carolina were counted as the peers of the Astors of New York. But a Southern man worth $4,000,000 or $5,000,000 would not receive an annual income of more than $100,000 unless he happened to be in the midst of a new cotton region. Still the hold of the planters on the state and county governments of the South was, as we have seen in a former chapter, even more secure than it had been in 1830, and Southern public opinion was almost always the opinion of the planters. Yet there was great uneasiness in the South as to the future, and public officials, railway magnates, and newspaper men gathered in annual conventions to devise ways and means of increasing the power of the South and of competing with the East in the race for economic supremacy.

[Illustration: The Cotton Belt of 1860]

[Illustration: Tobacco Areas in 1860]

These conventions discussed scientific agriculture, the proper size of a plantation, and the duties of "Christian masters to their servants"; they outlined plans for connecting Southern ports with the Northwest, for opening a direct trade with Europe, and for annexing territory which might increase the area of the staple producing States. They supported Narciso Lopez and John A. Quitman in their filibustering expeditions against Cuba, and they heralded William Walker, who sought to make Nicaragua an American slave State in 1854-59, as a statesman and "man of destiny." The reopening of the African slave trade was the subject of long and earnest debate, and Southern delegations in Congress were urged to exert themselves to secure a repeal of the law against the slave trade in order that the South might have some means of increasing its laboring population to counterbalance the advantages which the East and Northwest derived from immigration. A paramount purpose of these gatherings was to solidify the South and to harmonize the interests of the border States with those of the lower South. In the background of all this, and especially after the struggle over the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in 1854, there was the ever-recurring probability of secession from the Union.

What added to the anxieties of Southern leaders was the extraordinary growth and expansion of the Northwest. In 1830 it had been the East that most feared the development of the Mississippi Valley; now it was the South that took pains to hedge and limit the opportunities of the newer States. And there was reason for the masterful politicians of the cotton country to watch the Northwestern frontier. Michigan had become a State in 1837, Iowa and Wisconsin in 1846, and Minnesota was to enter the Union in 1858. There were four Territories, Kansas, Nebraska, Oregon, and Washington, that might be admitted at any time. California was growing powerful, and she was already lost to slavery if not to the South. And a free State was likely to be formed in Colorado. Seven thriving Northwestern States and five promising Territories gave every assurance that the seat of political influence was about to be shifted to the upper Mississippi Valley. Moreover, the economic changes that were taking place in that region were such as might have alarmed conservative men both South and East.

The removal of the Indians from Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois had paralleled the similar removal from the lower South. But during the fifties, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota succeeded in pushing the natives into the arid Nebraska Territory. And now as the great "American Desert" proved to be desirable country for the pioneers, it was proposed to shift the Northwestern Indians into the Southern hinterland, now known as Oklahoma, and thus to bar the way of the planter civilization to New Mexico and California.

An equally important factor in the development of the Northwest was the invention and manufacture of grain-planting and harvesting machinery by Cyrus McCormick and others about 1845. This enabled the farmers to increase their operations very much as the Whitney gin had done for the cotton farmers of 1800. Still the transportation of wheat and corn is so difficult that no great revolution would have been possible but for the simultaneous building of thousands of miles of railways which opened to grain production the vast prairie lands remote from the rivers. The manufacture of farm implements and the building of railroads made the Northwest a staple-producing area of greater importance than the South had been, though this was recognized by only a few men before the beginning of the Civil War.

[Illustration: Wheat Areas in 1860]

The value of the wheat and corn crops of the Northwest increased from $80,000,000 in 1850 to $225,000,000 in 1860. In addition to this the Northwest produced pork in great quantities for the cotton plantations, and fresh meats for the industrial cities of the East. The railways, of which mention has already been made, thus brought the isolated farmers of the Western interior into close contact with the markets of the world, and the Northwest was fast becoming the food-producing region of the country and at the same time exporting grain worth at least $50,000,000 a year. In New York, Pennsylvania, and other Eastern States the corn and wheat output steadily declined between 1850 and 1860, while the up-country of the South failed to produce the foodstuffs needed by the planters. Thus the manufacturing and the older staple-producing States came to rely on the Northwest for a large part of their provisions.

Western farmers were now well-to-do. They deserted their log cabins and built frame houses; they bought large quantities of the finer goods of the East. Pianos made in Germany and silks from France found their way to Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. Villages became towns and towns grew rapidly into cities. Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Chicago imitated the ways and manners of Boston and New York. It was a busy, ambitious life that animated the West and produced industrial leaders like Cyrus McCormick, William B. Ogden, and John Y. Scammon, and politicians like Stephen A. Douglas, Salmon P. Chase, and the Dodges of Iowa and Wisconsin.

But in this busy region with its self-sufficing agriculture, the actual surplus capital, as in the South, found its way to Eastern cities. With a population of nearly 8,000,000 and foreign exports of more than $50,000,000, the Northwest still had only $10,425,000 on deposit in her banks and $27,000,000 invested in banking enterprises. Her _per capita_ circulation was only $4. Here as in the South the amount of specie in the banks was twice as great in proportion to population and the volume of business transacted as in the East. The debts of the Northwest to the East and to Europe cannot well be estimated, but they were enormous. States, counties, and corporations owed hundreds of millions, and when the interest on these obligations was paid at the end of each year, the remaining net increase was small indeed. The West had been badly in debt during the Jackson period; it was still in debt.

While the growing Northwest owed more to the rest of the world than it was likely to pay in half a century, its leaders saw that it must continue to expand its area and improve its economic life. Undoubtedly the one leader who best understood the needs of his region was Stephen A. Douglas, Senator from Illinois and perpetual candidate for the office of President of the United States. Young, active, and ardently patriotic, Douglas had been among the first to see during the Polk Presidency that the old Western policy of internal improvements and freer lands for all who might come must be changed. The West, even the Northwest, was firmly attached to the Democratic party; but the center of that great organization was the South. The leaders of that section looked more and more to free trade as a national policy. If they succeeded, as there was every reason to expect they would succeed, there would be no more easy money for the building of canals and roadways. Moreover, the South was now jealous of the expanding Northwest, and her leaders were growing more hostile toward the idea of free lands for the Northwestern settlers.

Douglas and his friends in both houses of Congress worked out a new policy during the years 1845 to 1850. It was to induce the Federal Government to give large tracts of public land to the Northwestern States on condition that they be given again by the States to railroad corporations as aids to the building of new lines. The roads would sell their lands at good prices, the Government would sell its remaining lands at high prices after the building of the roads, and the farmers would cheerfully pay these higher prices if markets for wheat and corn could be created. The leaders of the lower South were interested in this new American system, for there was government land in their States and they needed railroads quite as much as the Northwesterners. Capitalists of the East and Europe would be enlisted because the great tracts of rich land would be security for money they might lend at high rates to the roads. Finally, the increasing armies of immigrants gave assurance that the railroad lands could be sold easily.

The outcome was the building of the Illinois Central, the Mobile and Ohio, and other shorter lines in each of the Western and Northwestern States during the decade of 1850-60. The railroad lands sold as high as $8 or $10 an acre, and the government lands advanced in value accordingly, though the Federal Treasury did not profit to the full extent of these promises. The growth and expansion of the Northwest described above was due largely to this policy of Douglas. Chicago bankers loaned all the money they had and borrowed all they could borrow for the building of railroads. The thriving young city, always the pet of Senator Douglas, increased its business in marvelous manner during the decade. It soon distanced St. Louis in the race for wealth and population, and before 1854 conceived of the scheme of building a great railway, long ago proposed by Asa Whitney, of Michigan, to the Pacific. This road was to connect with the Illinois Central in Iowa, thread its way through the Indian lands in Nebraska, and finally bring San Francisco and the Far East into touch with the commercial center of the Middle West. It was a magnificent undertaking, not unlike that of the Erie Canal, which had made New York the Emporium of the East; it was even more daring for a section already in debt to the limit of its ability to pay. But these ambitious Northwestern men and politicians had already won the support of the railway men of New York and Boston, and their agents still borrowed money with ease in London and Liverpool. And with States like Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa doubling their population each decade, and hence increasing their land values three or fourfold, even the impossible became possible. The most ambitious section of the Union during the Pierce Administration was the Northwest, and it need not surprise us to learn that Douglas, her mouthpiece, was the most ambitious leader of his party.

As compared with all former standards, the country of 1850-60 was exceedingly prosperous. A series of good crop years, the low tariff of the United States, and the free-trade policy of England stimulated the unprecedented commercial activity. The financial system was more stable than it had ever been before, and the inter-sectional trade was assuming proportions never dreamed of in the earlier days of the Republic. The manufactures of the East, which approximated $800,000,000 in value each year, were sold to the South in exchange for bills on Liverpool or London, or to the West in return for its grain and other foodstuffs. The banks and railroads brought all sections closer together, especially the East and the West; while the expanding merchant marine promised soon to give the United States the mastery of international commerce.

Thus the East had learned to prosper without a high tariff, and the South was voting for large subsidies to Eastern shipping. The West had found a way to develop her resources in spite of Southern and Eastern jealousy, and the laws of commerce were daily weakening the influence of state rights and sectional dislike. A new era had begun. Big business interests and great railway schemes had developed the corporation in its modern connotation; large harvests and a most enterprising industry were producing the capital for a new economic era; and all the social tendencies seemed to be working out a national life which was no longer parochial. It was the business of politics so to guide and regulate the varying activities of the people that sectional hatreds should pass away and that the resources of the country should not be squandered. Such was the task of Franklin Pierce, the new leader, who had not known personally the fears and dislikes of earlier days. But a country so rich and prosperous as the United States in 1850-60 had other interests, a social and intellectual life which must engage our attention before we take up the political evolution of the period.

Bibliographical Note

James Ford Rhodes's _History of the United Slates_, vols. _I_ and _II_, already mentioned, remains the best treatment of the period of 1850-60. T. C. Smith's _Parties and Slavery_, in _American Nation_ series (1906), and McMaster's _History of the United States_, vol. _VIII_, are very valuable. T. P. Kettell's _Southern Wealth and Northern Profits_ (New York, 1860), is a suggestive study in sectionalism not too well known to scholars. But the _Census Reports_ of 1850 and 1860; J. E. B. DeBow's _Industrial Resources of the South and West_ (1857); and U.S. Senate _Executive Documents_, no. 38, part 1, 52d Cong., 1st Sess., supply the needful statistics on population, crops, manufactures, and finance. Freeman Hunt's _Lives of American Merchants_, 2 vols. (New York, 1858), gives some interesting information about leading _ante-bellum_ merchants and manufacturers. And the volumes of _Hunt's Merchant's Magazine_, 1839-60, _DeBow's Review_, 1846-60, and the _American Banker's Magazine_ for the same period are storehouses of the economic history of the time, K. Coman's _Industrial History of the United States_ (1910); E. L. Bogart's _The Economic History of the United States_ (1908); and Horace White's _Money and Banking Illustrated by American History_ (1911), are the best special works in their several lines.

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