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CHAPTER VI.: observations on the countries in the neighbourhood of the river missouri. - William Godwin, Of Population. An Enquiry concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind 
Of Population. An Enquiry concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind, being an Answer to Mr. Malthus’s Essay on that Subject (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1820).
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observations on the countries in the neighbourhood of the river missouri.
There are doubtless other causes, which arrest, or which decrease population, more than have yet been adverted to. In this question, in the ark of which Mr. Malthus has set up an image, that he requires all people, nations and languages to bow down to and worship, but which is in reality one of the newest and most unconsidered in the whole circumnavigation of human curiosity, it may be of some use to us to look into unexplored paths, and to endeavour to obtain instruction from quarters which have hardly been resorted to.
A book has lately been published of the Travels of Captains Clarke and Lewis to the Source of the River Missouri, and across the American Continent to the Pacific Ocean. These men wandered through countries, which had hardly as yet been visited by any European. The citizens of the United States spreading themselves, as they seem impelled to do, over every quarter of the immense continent which has fallen to them as by inheritance, it became interesting to explore even this remote territory, and accordingly these officers were commissioned by the General Congress, to visit its tracts, and make report of what they saw. The book therefore which they have published, appears to be of singular authenticity.
These men, with their companions, wandered far and wide in the country they were appointed to survey. It appears to have exhibited a soil or-extraordinary fertility, copiously and even magnificently watered by the hands of nature, but almost naked of inhabitants. Again and again captain Clarke, the survivor of the two appointed discoverers, by whom their observations have been published, speaks of various nations of the North American natives, the Ottoes, the Pawnees, and many more, who were once powerful races of men, but are now reduced to a feeble remnant of two or three hundred soulsa . All these tribes, he observes, raise corna. And, which may appear more extraordinary, he found among them in different places the ruins of fortifications, constructed with regularity and art, the plan of one of which he has inserted in his book.
The outline of this story is by no means extraordinary; but it comes before us in a new shape. The cities and empires which have successively disappeared from the face of the earth form the counterpart of this. We visit the ruins of Balbec and Palmyra; we endeavour to trace the site of Babylon and Nineveh; and we do not feel that we are at a loss to account for the change that has taken place. We ascribe it to ruinous conquests, or to oppressive government. We may not always be right in this solution. We find marks of similar devastation on the banks of the Missouri; and we cannot impute it to desolating conquests, such as have frequently marked the history of Asia, or to bad government, of a nature like to that of which I have transcribed a specimen in the present state of Syria. It may be useful therefore to direct our attention specially to the banks of the Missouri.
It may tend somewhat to clear our ideas on the subject of population, if we divide the possible states of a country in this respect into three, increasing, decreasing, and stationary. There is every reason to believe that the aboriginal population of North America has long been decreasing, and is fast wearing out. It cannot have been always decreasing: that is an absurdity in terms. It once was stationary: before that, it is conformable to usual modes of reasoning on the subject, to suppose that it was on the increase.
Let us then assume a hypothetical period, when the numbers of the North American tribes began to diminish. This constitutes on many accounts a memorable era. Then first, according to Mr. Malthus, vice and misery may bo conceived to appear among them. Who brought them? What caravan, crossing the vast deserts of snow which surround the North Pole, had the merit of importing the precious cargo? This idea of fixing a limit and a beginning to a thing, is of vast service to enable us to comprehend the probability or improbability of any hypothesis respecting it.
One of Mr. Malthus's theories respecting population (and he would fain have us believe that all his theories are in unison and harmony) is, that in old countries the numbers of mankind are kept down by a want of the means of subsistence. It is not so in new countries. This last is the reason, as he tells us, why the population of the northern part of the United States has gone on, “doubling itself every twenty-five years for a century and a half successively.” The aboriginal inhabitants of the continent of North America were, I suppose, once a new people. They afterwards, it appears, changed their character, and became, according to Mr. Malthus's way of classing the inhabitants of the earth, an old people. When did this revolution take place?
The ideas we have usually been led to form of a race like the original tribes of North America, are that they are a wandering people, a nation of hunters. Hunting is certainly somewhat a precarious mode of providing the sustenance of human life; and we will suppose that, however plentiful the beasts used for food might be at first, a perseverance in the exercises of the chace may diminish their numbers. If this is the case, we might very naturally account for the decreasing population of a nation of hunters. But the nations on the banks of the Missouri all raise corn; their soil is peculiarly adapted for that purpose; and yet this tract of country is at this hour more thinly peopled than we almost any where read of.
But I shall perhaps be told by some, “War is the cause of this thinness of population; the nations in the vicinity of the Missouri are savages; and they occupy their time in cutting one another's throats.” The speculators who are contented to assign this as the cause of the phenomenon, undoubtedly are persons who see a very little way. When did this spirit of warfare and murder begin? The inhabitants of this part of the world at one time probably went on increasing their numbers. At another time it may be they remained stationary in this respect. I suppose no one will be infatuated enough to believe, that from the very beginning of their existence they have gone on incessantly decreasing. We must therefore suppose that they were once a civilized and humane people, and then degenerated into cut-throats and cannibals.
This hypothesis therefore, that the thinness of the population is to be accounted for by their wars, is entirely a gratuitous assumption. We have not the shadow of evidence of any change of character in the Aborigines of North America. We meet with a difficulty which we know not how to solve; and we invent this idea at random to account for it. Such a mode of proceeding bears no resemblance to reasoning, and is wholly unworthy of an answer.
It has already been observed, that, if a paucity of the means of subsistence is the cause that thins the ranks of mankind, it follows, as a corollary from this principle, that, when the agency of this cause has exerted itself to a given degree, the pressure should cease, and the former state of things return. It is somewhat of the same nature as the law of elasticity; want, severe necessity, according to Mr. Malthus, keeps down the propagation of mankind: but, when that want is removed, and every facility is afforded for procuring the means of subsistence, the principle of population ought to renew its strength like the eagle, and rejoice like a strong man to run his race. It is true, that in Europe every part and portion of the soil is allotted; the rich proprietor disposes of his land as he pleases. This is probably a reason why England and Europe have a very small number of inhabitants compared with that which the soil would maintain. But on the banks of the Missouri it is otherwise. There is no great landholder there, to say in every instance to his unfortunate neighbour, “This field is mine; and, whether I make an inadequate, or a perverse, or no use of it, you must not attempt to derive the smallest sustenance from it.” The survey of the banks of the Missouri, is of itself a sufficient answer to this part of the Essay on Population.
Thus far I think I have proceeded with a reasonable degree of certainty. The facts observed by captains Clarke and Lewis on the banks of the Missouri will hardly be disputed. Their total discordance with the theories of Mr. Malthus is sufficiently evident. It happens in this, as in many other subjects, that while we confine ourselves to negatives, we tread on tolerably firm ground. When we endeavour positively to assign causes to account for the phenomena, we then begin to be bewildered. I will not therefore trifle far with my readers under this head. I will nakedly set down a cause which occurs to my mind.
May it not be, that races of men have a perpetual tendency to wear out? It is generally believed, both of men and animals, that a breed is materially improved by crossing, and by consequence that, where a breed is not crossed, it has a constant tendency to decline. May not the qualities of the present race of Europeans, such as we find them, be materially owing to the invasions of the Celts and the Cimbri, the Goths and Vandals, the Danes, the Saxons, and the Normans? Perhaps, when Daniel Defoe wrote his True-Born Englishman, and thought he was composing a satire, he was very unintentionally unfolding the causes which render the natives of this island in my opinion superior, in stamina of character, in constancy of action, in intellect, in humanity, and in morals, to the people of any other country now existing on earth.
If this be a true view of the case (and I state it only as a thing by no means impossible), it would be enough to lead a deep and searching mind, to consider the existence of the human species collectively, as in some degree precarious. If particular races of men wear out, why, in the vast revolution of ages, supposing the earth to last so long, may not the whole wear out? We have strong reason to believe that several kinds of animals, heretofore inhabitants of this globe, have become extinct. What is it that should for ever render man superior to the empire of mutability? Looking at the subject from this point of view, one might be almost tempted to say of the species, as of one individual, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor wisdom, nor knowledge, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
But, whether the cause here mentioned for the disappearance of nations and races of men be a real cause or otherwise, I think I have a right to conclude from the contents of this Chapter, that is, from what is related respecting the Aborigines of North America, compared with a variety of similar facts recorded in the pages of ancient history, that there are other causes, which arrest, or which decrease from time to time the population of countries, more than have yet been adverted to.