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chapter 91: The Home of the Nation - Viscount James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, vol. 2 
The American Commonwealth, with an Introduction by Gary L. McDowell (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995). Vol. 2.
Part of: The American Commonwealth, 2 vols.
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The Home of the Nation
There are three points wherein the territories which constitute the United States present phenomena new in the annals of the world. They contain a huge people whose blood is becoming mixed in an unprecedented degree by the concurrent immigration of numerous European races. We find in them, besides the predominant white nation, ten millions of men belonging to a dark race, thousands of years behind in its intellectual development, but legally equal in political and civil rights. And thirdly, they furnish an instance to which no parallel can be found of a vast area, including regions very dissimilar in their natural features, occupied by a population nearly the whole of which speaks the same tongue, and all of which lives under the same institutions. Of these phenomena the first two, already more than once referred to, are dealt with in later chapters. The third suggests to us thoughts and questions which cannot pass unnoticed. No one can travel in the United States without asking himself whether this immense territory will remain united or be split up into a number of independent communities; whether, even if it remain united, diverse types of life and character will spring up within it; whether and how far climatic and industrial conditions will affect those types, carrying them farther from the prototypes of Europe. These questions, as well as other questions regarding the future local distribution of wealth and population, open fields of inquiry and speculation too wide to be here explored. Yet some pages may well be given to a rapid survey of the geographical conditions of the United States, and of the influence those conditions have exerted and may, so far as can be foreseen, continue to exert on the growth of the nation, its political and economical development. Beginning with a few observations first on the orography of the country and then upon its meteorology, we may consider how mountain ranges and climate have hitherto affected the movement of colonization and the main stream of political history. The chief natural sources of wealth may next be mentioned, and their possible effect indicated upon the development of population in particular areas, as well as upon the preservation of the permanent unity of the Republic.
One preliminary remark must not be omitted. The relation of geographical conditions to national growth changes, and with the upward progress of humanity the ways in which Nature moulds the fortunes of man are always varying. Man must in every stage be for many purposes dependent upon the circumstances of his physical environment. Yet the character of that dependence changes with his advance in civilization. At first he is helpless, and, therefore, passive. With what Nature gives in the way of food, clothing, and lodging he must be content. She is strong, he is weak; so she dictates his whole mode of life. Presently, always by slow degrees, but most quickly in those countries where she neither gives lavishly nor yet presses on him with a discouraging severity, he begins to learn how to make her obey him, drawing from her stores materials which his skill handles in such wise as to make him more and more independent of her. He defies the rigours of climate; he overcomes the obstacles which mountains, rivers, and forests place in the way of communications; he discovers the secrets of the physical forces and makes them his servants in the work of production. But the very multiplication of the means at his disposal for profiting by what Nature supplies brings him into ever closer and more complex relations with her. The variety of her resources, differing in different regions, prescribes the kind of industry for which each spot is fitted; and the competition of nations, growing always keener, forces each to maintain itself in the struggle by using to the utmost every facility for production or for the transportation of products. Thus certain physical conditions, whether of soil or of climate, of accessibility of inaccessibility, or perhaps of such available natural forces as waterpower, conditions of supreme importance in the earlier stages of man’s progress, are now of less relative moment, while others, formerly of small account, have received their full significance by our swiftly advancing knowledge of the secrets of Nature and mastery of her forces. It is this which makes the examination of the influence of physical environment on the progress of nations so intricate a matter; for while the environment remains, as a whole, constant, its several parts vary in their importance from one age to another.1 A certain severity of climate, for instance, which retarded the progress of savage man, has been found helpful to semi-civilized man, in stimulating him to exertion, and in maintaining a racial vigour greater than that of the inhabitants of those hotter regions where civilization first arose. And thus in considering how man’s lot and fate in the western continent have been affected by the circumstances of that continent, we must have regard not only to what he found on his arrival there, but to the resources which have been subsequently disclosed. Nor can this latter head be exhausted, because it is impossible to conjecture what still latent forces or capacities may be revealed in the onward march of science, and how such a revelation may affect the value of the resources now known to exist or hereafter to be explored.
It is only on a very few salient points of this large and complex subject that I shall touch in sketching the outlines of North American geography and noting some of the effects on the growth of the nation attributable to them.
The territory of the United States extends nearly 3,000 miles east and west from the Bay of Fundy to the mouth of the Columbia River, and 1,400 miles north and south from the Lake of the Woods to the Gulf of Mexico at Galveston. Compared with Europe, the physical structure of this area of 3,025,000 square miles2 (excluding Alaska) is not only larger in scale, but far simpler. Instead of the numerous peninsulas and islands of Europe, with the bold and lofty chains dividing its peoples from one another, we find no isles (except Long Island) of any size on the two coasts of the United States, only one large peninsula (that of Florida), and only two mountain systems. Not only the lakes and rivers, but the plains also, and the mountain ranges, are of enormous dimensions. The coast presents a smooth outline. No great inlets, such as the Mediterranean and the Baltic, pierce the land and cut off one district from another, furnishing natural boundaries behind which distinct nations may grow up.
This vast area may be divided into four regions—two of level country, two, speaking roughly, of mountain. Beginning from the Atlantic, we find a strip which on the coast is nearly level, and then rises gradually westwards into an undulating country. It varies in breadth from thirty or forty miles in the north to two hundred and fifty in the south, and has been called by geographers the Atlantic Plain and Slope. Behind this strip comes a range, or rather a mass of generally parallel ranges, of mountains. These are the Alleghenies, or so-called “Appalachian system,” in breadth from one hundred to two hundred miles, and with an average elevation of from two to four thousand feet, some few summits reaching six thousand. Beyond them, still further to the west, lies the vast basin of the Mississippi and its tributaries, 1,100 miles wide and 1,200 miles long. Its central part is an almost unbroken plain for hundreds of miles on each side the river, but this plain rises slowly westward in rolling undulations into a sort of plateau, which, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, has attained the height of 5,000 feet above the sea. The fourth region consists of the thousand miles that lie between the Mississippi basin and the Pacific. It includes three not entirely disconnected mountain ranges, the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada (continued northwards in the Cascade Range), and the much lower Coast Range (or rather series of roughly parallel ranges), which runs along the shore of the ocean. This region is generally mountainous, though within it there are some extensive plateaux and some wide valleys. Most of it is from 4,000 to 8,000 feet above the sea, with many summits exceeding 14,000, though none reaches 15,000. A considerable part of it, including the desert of Nevada, does not drain into the ocean, but sees its feeble streams received by lakes or swallowed up in the ground.
Before we consider how these natural divisions have influenced, and must continue to influence, American history, it is well to observe how materially they have affected the climate of the continent, which is itself a factor of prime historical importance. Two points deserve special notice. One is the great extent of temperate area which the continent presents. As North America is crossed by no mountain chains running east and west, corresponding to the Alps and Pyrenees in Europe, or to the Caucasus, Himalaya, and Altai in Asia, the cold winds of the north sweep down unchecked over the vast Mississippi plain, and give its central and southern parts, down to the Gulf of Mexico, winters cooler than the latitude seems to promise, or than one finds in the same latitudes in Europe. Nor ought the influence of the neighbouring seas to pass unregarded. Europe has, south of the narrow Mediterranean, a vast reservoir of heat in the Sahara: North America has the wide stretch of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, with no region both hot and arid beyond. Thus Tennessee and Arkansas, in the latitude of Andalusia and Damascus, have a winter like that of Edinburgh twenty degrees further to the north; and while the summer of Minnesota, in latitude 45°, is as hot as that of Bordeaux or Venice in the same latitude, the winter is far more severe. Only the lowlands along the Atlantic coast as far north as Cape Hatteras have a high winter as well as summer temperature, for they are warmed by the hot water of the Gulf Stream, just as the extreme northeastern coast is chilled by the Polar current which washes it. The hilly country behind these southern Atlantic lowlands—the western parts of the two Carolinas, northern Georgia and Alabama—belongs to the Appalachian system, and is high enough to have cool and in parts even severe winters.
The other point relates to the amount of moisture. The first two of our four regions enjoy an ample rainfall. So do the eastern and the central parts of the Mississippi basin. When, however, we reach the centre of the continent, some four hundred miles west of the Mississippi, the air grows dry, and the scanty showers are barely sufficient for the needs of agriculture. It is only by the help of irrigation that crops can be raised all along the east foot of the Rocky Mountains and in the valleys of the fourth region, until we cross the Sierra Nevada and come within two hundred miles of the Pacific. In much of this Rocky Mountain region, therefore, stock rearing, or “ranching,” as it is called, takes the place of tillage, though the recently invented methods of “dry farming” have enlarged the cultivable area. In some districts there is not enough moisture even to support grass. Between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada there lie vast deserts, the largest that which stretches westward from the Great Salt Lake,3 a desert of clay and stones rather than of sand, bearing only alkaline plants with low, prickly shrubs, and, apparently, destined to remain, save in some few spots where brooks descend from the mountains,4 eternally sterile and solitary. Lofty as these environing mountains are, they bear scarce any perpetual snow, and no glaciers at all south of the fortieth parallel of north latitude.5 The great peaks of Colorado lie little further south than the Pennine Alps, which they almost equal in height, but it is only in nooks and hollows turned away from the sun that snow lasts through the summer, so scanty is the winter snowfall and so rapidly does evaporation proceed in the dry air. That same general north and south direction of the American mountain ranges, which gives cool winters to the Southern states, cuts off the westborne rainclouds from the Pacific, and condemns one-half or more of our fourth region to aridity. On the other hand, northwestern California, with the western parts of Oregon and Washington, washed by the Japan current, enjoy both a moderate and a humid—in some places very humid—climate, which, along the Pacific coast north of latitude 43°, resembles that of southwestern England.
Reserving for the moment a consideration of the wealth-producing capacities of the regions at whose physical structure and climate we have glanced, let us note how that structure and climate have affected the fortunes of the people.
Whoever examines the general lines of a nation’s growth will observe that its development has been guided and governed by three main factors. The first is the preexisting character and habits of the race out of which the nation grows. The second is the physical aspect of the land the nation is placed in, and the third embraces the international concomitants of its formation—that is to say, the pressure of other nations upon it, and the external political circumstances which have controlled its movement, checking it in one direction or making it spread in another. The first of these factors may, in the case of the American people, be assumed as known, for their character and habits were substantially English.6 To the second I will return presently. The third factor has been in the United States so unusually simple that one may dismiss it in a few sentences. In examining the origin of such nations as the German or French or Russian or Swiss or Spanish, one must constantly have regard to the hostile or friendly races or powers which acted on them; and these matters are, for the earlier periods of European history, often obscure. About America we know everything, and what we know may be concisely stated. The territory now covered by the United States was, from a political point of view, practically vacant when discovered in the end of the sixteenth century; for the aborigines, though their resistance was obstinate in places, and though that resistance did much to form the character of the Western pioneers, may be left out of account as a historical force. This territory was settled from three sides, east, south, and west, and by three European peoples. The Spaniards and French occupied points on the coast of the Gulf. The Spaniards took the shores of the Pacific. The English (reckoning among the English the cognate Dutchmen and Swedes) planted a series of communities along the Atlantic coast. Of these three independent colonizations, that on the Gulf was feeble, and passed by purchase to the Anglo-Americans in 1803 and 1819. That on the Pacific was still more feeble, and also passed, but by conquest, to the Anglo-Americans in 1848. Thus the occupation of the country has been from its eastern side alone (save that California received her immigrants by sea between 1847 and 1867), and the march of the people has been steadily westward and southwestward. They have spread where they would. Other powers have scarcely affected them. Canada, indeed, bounds them on the north, but not till about 1890 did they begin to settle in the rich wheat lands of her Northwest, while from 1860 onwards there has been a considerable immigration from eastern Canada into the bordering parts of the United States. Like the Spaniards in South America, like the British in Australia, like the Russians in Siberia, the Anglo-Americans have had a free field; and we may pass from the purely political or international factor in the development of the nation to consider how its history has been affected by those physical conditions which have been previously noted.
The English in America were, when they began their march, one people, though divided into a number of autonomous communities; and, to a people already advanced in civilization, the country was one country, as if destined by nature to retain one and undivided whatever nation might occupy it.
The first settlements were in the region described above as the Atlantic Plain and Slope. No natural boundary, whether of water or mountain or forest, divided the various communities. The frontier line which bounded each colony was an artificial line—a mere historical accident. So long as they remained near the coast, nature opposed no obstacle to their cooperation in war, nor to their free social and commercial intercourse in peace. When, however, they had advanced westwards as far as the Alleghenies, these mountains barred their progress, not so much in the North, where the valley of the Hudson and Mohawk gave an easy path inland, as in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Carolina. The dense, tangled, and often thorny underwood, even more than the high steep ridges, checked the westward movement of population, prevented the settlers from spreading out widely, as the Spaniards dispersed themselves over Central and South America, and helped, by inducing a comparatively dense population, to build up compact commonwealths on the Atlantic coast. So, too, the existence of this rough and, for a long time, almost impassable mountain belt, tended to cut off those who had crossed it into the western wilderness from their more polished parent stock, to throw them on their own resources in the struggle with the fierce aborigines of Kentucky and Ohio, and to give them that distinctive character of frontiersmen which was so marked a feature of American history during the first half of the nineteenth century, and has left deep traces on the Western men of today.
When population began to fill the Mississippi basin the essential physical unity of the country became more significant. It suggested to Jefferson, and it led Congress to approve, the purchase of Louisiana from Napoleon, for those who had begun to occupy the valleys of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers felt that they could not afford to be cut off from the sea to which these highways of commerce led. Once the stream of migration across, and around the southern extremity of, the Alleghenies had begun to flow steadily, the settlers spread out in all directions over the vast plain, like water over a marble floor. The men of the Carolinas and Georgia filled Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas; the men of Virginia and Kentucky filled southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri; the men of New England, New York, and Ohio filled Michigan, northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. From the source to the mouth of the Mississippi there was nothing to break them up or keep them apart. Every Western state, except where it takes a river as a convenient boundary, is bounded by straight lines, because every state is an artificial creation. The people were one, and the wide featureless plain was also one. It has been cut into those huge plots we call states, not because there were physical or racial differences requiring divisions, but merely because political reasons made a federal seem preferable to a unitary system. As the size of the plain showed that the nation would be large, so did the character of the plain promise that it would remain united. When presently steamers came to ply upon the rivers, each part of the vast level was linked more closely to the others; and when the network of railways spread itself out from the East to the Mississippi, the Alleghenies practically disappeared. They were no longer a barrier to communication. Towns sprang up in their valleys; and now the three regions, which have been described as naturally distinct, the Atlantic slope, the Alleghenies, and the Mississippi basin, have become, economically and socially as well as politically, one country, though the dwellers in the wilder parts of the broad mountain belt still lag far behind their neighbours of the eastern and western lowlands.
When, however, the swelling tide of emigration reached the arid lands at the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains, its course was for a time stayed. This fourth region of mountain and desert, lying between the prairies of the Mississippi affluents and the Pacific Ocean, was, except its coast line, a practically unknown land till its cession by Mexico in 1846, and the inner and higher parts of it remained unexplored for some twenty years longer. As it was mostly dry and rugged, there was little to tempt settlers, for vast tracts of good land remained untouched in the central Mississippi plain. Many years might have passed before it began to fill up, but for the unexpected finding of gold in California. This event at once drew in thousands of settlers; and fresh swarms followed as other mines, principally of silver, began to be discovered in the inland mountain ranges; till at last for the difficult and dangerous wagon tract there was substituted a railway, completed in 1869, over mountains and through deserts from the Missouri to the Pacific. Had the Americans of 1850 possessed no more scientific resources than their grandfathers in 1790, the valleys of the Pacific coast, accessible only by sea round Cape Horn, or across the Isthmus of Panama, would have remained isolated from the rest of the country, with a tendency to form a character and habits of their own, and possibly disposed to aim at political independence. This, however, the telegraph and the railways have prevented. Yet the Rocky Mountains have not, like the Alleghenies, disappeared. The populous parts of California, Oregon, and Washington still find that range and the deserts a far more effective barrier than are the lower and narrower ridges on the eastern side of the continent. The fourth region remains a distinct section of the United States, both geographically and to some extent in its social and industrial aspects. All this was to be expected. What need not have happened, and might even have been thought unlikely, was the easy acquisition by the Anglo-Americans of California, Oregon, and Washington, regions far removed from the dominions which the Republic already possessed. Had the competition for unappropriated temperate regions been half as keen in 1840 as it was fifty years later for tropical Africa (a less attractive possession) between Germany, France, and Britain, some European power might have pounced upon these territories. They might then have become and remained a foreign country to the United States, and have had few and comparatively slight relations with the Mississippi basin. It is not nature, but the historical accident which left them in the hands of a feeble power like Mexico, that has made them now, and, so far as can be foreseen, for a long future, members of the great federation.
In the southeast as well as in the west of the North American continent, climate has been a prime factor in determining the industrial and political history of the nation. South of the thirty-fifth parallel of latitude, although the winters are cool enough to be reinvigorative, and to enable a race drawn from Northern Europe to thrive and multiply,7 the summers, are, in the lowest grounds, too hot for such a race to sustain hard open-air work, or to resist the malaria of the marshy coast lands. Thus when very soon after the settlement of Virginia, and for nearly two centuries afterwards, natives of the tropics were imported from Africa and set to till the fields, this practice was defended on the ground of necessity, though the districts in which white people cannot work have now been shown to be very few indeed. By this African labour large crops of tobacco, cotton, rice, and sugar were raised, and large profits made; so that, while in the Northeastern states slavery presently died out, and the Negroes themselves declined in numbers, all the wealth and prosperity of the South came to depend upon slave labour, and slavery became intertwined with the pecuniary interests as well as the social habits of the ruling class. Thus a peculiar form of civilization grew up, so dissimilar from that of the Northern half of the country, that not even the large measure of state independence secured under the federal Constitution could enable the two sections to live together under the same government. Civil war followed, and for a time it seemed as if the nation were to be permanently rent in twain. Physical differences—differences of climate, and of all those industrial and social conditions that were due to climate—were at the bottom of the strife. Yet Nature herself fought for imperilled unity. Had the seceding states been divided from the Northern states by any natural barrier, such as a mountain range running from east to west across the continent, the operations of the invading armies would have been incomparably more difficult. As it was, the path into the south lay open, and the great south-flowing rivers of the West helped the invader. Had there not existed, in the Allegheny Mountains, a broad belt of elevated land, thrusting into the revolted territory a wedge of white population which, as it did not own slaves (for in the mountains there were scarce any), did not sympathize with secession, and for the most part actively opposed it, the chances of the Southern Confederates would have been far greater. The Alleghenies interrupted the cooperation of their Eastern and Western armies, and furnished recruits as well as adherents to the North; and it need hardly be added that the climatic conditions of the South made its white population so much smaller, and on the whole so much poorer, than that of the North, that exhaustion came far sooner. He who sees the South even today, when it has in many places gained vastly since the war, is surprised not that it succumbed, but that it was able so long to resist.
With the extinction of slavery, the political unity of the country was secured, and the purpose of nature to make it the domain of a single people might seem to have been fulfilled. Before we inquire whether this result will be a permanent one, so far as physical causes are concerned, another set of physical conditions deserves to be considered, those conditions, namely, of earth and sky, which determine the abundance of useful products, that is to say, of wealth, and therethrough, of population also.
The chief natural sources of wealth are fertile soils, mineral deposits, and standing timber.8 Of these three the last is now practically confined to three districts—the hills of Maine, the Alleghenies, and the ranges of the Pacific coast, especially in Washington, with a few spots in the Rockies, and the Sierra Nevada. Elsewhere, though there is a great deal of wooded country, the cutting and exporting of timber, or, as it is called beyond the Atlantic, “lumber,” is not (except perhaps in Michigan) an important industry which employs or enriches many persons. It is, moreover, one which constantly declines, for the forests perish daily before fires and the axe far more swiftly than nature can renew them.
As no nation possesses so large an area of land available for the sustenance of man, so also none of the greatest nations can boast that out of its whole domain, so large a proportion of land is fit for tillage or for stock-rearing. If we except the stony parts of New England and eastern New York, where the soil is thinly spread over crystalline rocks, and the sandy districts which cover a considerable area in Virginia and North Carolina, nearly the whole of the more level tracts between the Atlantic and the Rocky Mountains is good agricultural land, while in some districts, especially on the upper Mississippi, this land has proved remarkably rich. Which soils will in the long run turn out most fertile, cannot yet be predicted. The prairie lands of the Northwest have needed least labour and have given the largest returns to their first cultivators; but it is doubtful whether this superiority will be maintained when protracted tillage has made artificial aids necessary, as has already happened in not a few places. Some of the soils in the Eastern and Southern states are said to improve with cultivation, being rich in mineral constituents. Not less rich than the Mississippi prairies, but far smaller in area, are the arable tracts of the Pacific slope, where, in Washington especially, the loam formed by the decomposition of the trappean rocks is eminently productive. In the inner parts of the Rocky Mountain region and between the Rockies and the Pacific coast, lie many plains and valleys of great natural fertility, but dependent, so deficient is the rainfall, upon an artificial supply of water. The construction of irrigation works, and the sinking of artesian wells has, since 1890, brought large areas under cultivation, the discovery of dry farming methods promises to make available others where irrigation cannot be employed, and it is probable that much more may still be done to reclaim tracts which were not long ago deemed hopelessly sterile. The Mormon settlements on the east and to the south of Great Salt Lake wre the first considerable districts to be thus reclaimed by patient industry.
In estimating mineral resources, it is well to distinguish between mines of gold, silver, copper, and lead on the one hand, and those of coal and iron on the other. The former are numerous, and have given vast wealth to a few lucky speculators. In some parts of the Rockies and the ranges linking them to the Sierra Nevada, the traveller saw, even as early as 1881, silver mining claims staked out on every hill. But these mines are uncertain in their yield; and the value of silver is subject to great fluctuations. The growth of electrical industries has of late years enhanced the importance of copper, also a metal the price of which oscillates violently. Coal and iron present a surer, if less glittering gain, and they are needed for the support of many gigantic undertakings. Now, while gold, silver, and lead are chiefly found in the Rocky Mountain and Sierra Nevada system, copper mainly in the West and on Lake Superior, the greatest coal and iron districts9 are in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and along the line of the Alleghenies southwards into Alabama. It is chiefly in the neighbourhood of coal deposits that manufactures develop, yet not exclusively, for the waterpower available along the foot of the New England hills led to the establishment of many factories there, which still remain and flourish under changed conditions, receiving their coal, however, largely by sea from Nova Scotia. Mineral oils, first largely exploited in Pennsylvania, and then in Ohio, have been discovered in many other regions, and most recently in Texas, Oklahoma, and California.
What has been the result of these conditions, and what do they promise?
First: An agricultural population in the Mississippi basin already great, and capable of reaching dimensions from which imagination recoils, for though the number of persons to the square mile will be less than in Bengal or Egypt, where the peasants’ standard of comfort is incomparably lower than that of the American farmer, it may be as dense as in the most prosperous agricultural districts of Europe.
Secondly: An industrial population now almost equalling the agricultural,10 concentrated chiefly in the Northeastern states and along the skirts of the Alleghenies, and in large cities springing up here and there where (as at Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis, and St. Louis) commerce plants its centres of exchange and distribution. This industrial population grows far more swiftly than the agricultural, and the aggregate value of manufactured products increases faster from census to census than does that of the products of the soil.
Thirdly: A similar but very much smaller agricultural and industrial population along the Pacific, five-sixths of it within eighty miles of the coast.
Fourthly: Between the Mississippi basin and this well-peopled Pacific shore a wide and very thinly inhabited tract, sometimes quite arid, and therefore a wilderness, sometimes showing grass-bearing hills with sheep or cattle, and a few ranchmen upon the hill slopes, more rarely valleys which irrigation has taught to wave with crops. And here and there through this tract, redeeming it from solitude, there will lie scattered mining towns, many of them quick to rise and almost as quick to vanish, but others destined, if placed in the centre of a mining district, to maintain a more permanent importance.
Thus the enormous preponderance of population will be on the eastern side of the continental watershed. It was so in 1910—five millions on the Pacific side out of a total continental population of nearly ninety-two millions—it is likely to remain so. The face of the nation will be turned eastward; and, to borrow a phrase of Lowell’s, the front door of their house will open upon the Atlantic, the back door upon the Pacific. Faint and few, so far as we can now predict, though far greater than at this moment, and likely to increase rapidly after the opening of the Panama Canal, will be the relations maintained with Eastern Asia and Australia across the vast expanse of that ocean compared with those that must exist with Europe, to which not only literature and social interests, but commerce also, will bind America by ties growing always closer and more numerous.
That the inhabitants of this territory will remain one nation is the conclusion to which, as already observed, the geography of the continent points. Considerations of an industrial and commercial kind enforce this forecast. The United States, with nearly all the vegetable staples of the temperate zone, and many that may be called subtropical, has within its borders a greater variety of products, mineral as well as vegetable, than any other country, and therefore a wider basis for internal interchange of commodities. Free Trade with other countries, desirable as it may be, is of less consequence where a vast home trade, stretching across a whole continent, has its freedom secured by the Constitution. The advantages of such freedom to the wheat and maize growers of the West, to the cotton and rice and sugar planters of the Gulf States, to the orange growers of Florida and the vine and fruit growers of California, to the cattle men of the West and the horse breeders of Kentucky and Idaho, to the lumbermen of Maine and Washington, to the coal and iron men of Pennsylvania and the Allegheny states, to the factories of New England, both employers and workmen, as well as to the consuming populations of the great cities, are so obvious as to constitute an immense security against separatist tendencies. Such advantages, coupled with the social and political forces discussed in other chapters, are now amply sufficient to hold the Pacific states to the Union, despite the obstacles which nature has interposed. In earlier stages of society these obstacles might well have proved insurmountable. Had communication been as difficult in the middle of the nineteenth century as it was in the sixteenth, the inhabitants of the Pacific coast might have formed a distinct nationality and grown into independent states; while in the inner recesses of the wide mountain land other and probably smaller communities would have sprung up, less advanced in culture, and each developing a type of its own. But the age we live in favours aggregation.The assimilative power of language, institutions, and ideas, as well as of economic and industrial forces, is enormous, especially when this influence proceeds from so vast a body as that of the American people east of the Rocky Mountains, compared to which the dwellers on the western slope are still but few. The failure of the Mormon attempt to found a state is an instance to show how vain is the effort to escape from these influences; for even without an exertion of the military power of the United States, they must soon, by the natural process of colonization, have been absorbed into its mass. There is, accordingly, no such reason to expect detachment now as there might have been had neither railroads nor telegraphs existed, and California been accessible only round Cape Horn or across the Isthmus. Now seven great trunk lines cross the continent; and though much of the territory which lies between the populous margin of the Pacific and the cities of Colorado, Nebraska, and Dakota is and must remain wild and barren, many settlements, mining, pastoral, and even agricultural, have begun to spring up in this intervening space, and the unpeopled gaps are narrowing day by day. Especially along the line of the more northerly railroads, population, though it must always be sparse, may become practically continuous. A close observer can, however, detect some differences in character between Californians and the Americans of the Eastern and Mississippi states; and it is possible, though perhaps hardly probable, that when immigration has ceased, and the Pacific coasts and valleys are peopled by the great grandchildren of Californians and Oregonians, this difference may become more marked, and a Pacific variety of the American species be discernible.
We have so far been proceeding on the assumption that the inhabitants of the United States will be in the future what they have been during the last three generations. It must, however be admitted that two agents are at work which may create differences between those who occupy different parts of the country greater than any which now exist. One of these is immigration from Europe, whereof I will only say that reasons have been given in a later chapter for doubting whether it will substantially alter the people in any section of the country, so strong is the assimilative power which the existing population exerts on the newcomers.11 Large as it has been, it has nowhere yet affected the English spoken; and one may indeed note that though there are marked differences of pronunciation there are, as respects the words, hardly any dialectic variations over the vast area of the Union. The other is climate. Now climatic influences seem to work but slowly on a national type already moulded and, so to speak, hammered into a definite shape by many centuries. The English race is, after all, a very recent arrival in America. Few, indeed, of the progenitors of the present dwellers in the South have been settled there for two centuries; that is to say, the present generation is at most only the sixth on which the climate has had time to tell. It is therefore quite possible that, when five or six more centuries have passed, the lowlanders of the Gulf states may, under the enervating heat of their summers, together with the desistance from physical exertion which that heat compels, have become different from what they now are; though the comparative coolness and consequent reinvigorative powers of the winters, and the infiltration into their population of newcomers from the hardier North, will be influences working in the contrary direction.12 The moral and social sentiments predominant in a nation, and the atmosphere of ideas it breathes, tend, as education is more and more diffused, and the movements of travel to and fro become constantly brisker, to be more and more powerful forces in producing similarity of character, and similarity of character tells on the man’s whole life and constitution.
A like question has been raised regarding the whole people of the United States as compared with the European stocks whence they sprung. The climate of their new country is one of greater extremes of heat and cold, and its air more generally stimulative, than are the climate and air of the British Isles, or even of Germany and Scandinavia. That this climate should, given sufficient time, modify the physical type of a race, and therewith even its intellectual type, seems only natural. Arctic winters and scanty nutriment have, in nine centuries, markedly reduced the stature of the Norwegians who inhabit Iceland, a country which has received practically no admixture of foreign blood, while the stern conditions of their lonely life have given them mental and moral habits distinguishable from those of the natives of modern Norway. But the problem is an obscure one, for many elements besides climate enter into it; and history supplies so few cases in point, that the length of time required to modify a physical type already settled for centuries is matter for mere conjecture. There have been many instances of races from cold or damp countries settling in warmer or dryer ones; but in all of these there has been also a mixture of blood, which makes it hard to say how much is to be attributed to climatic influences alone. What can be stated positively is, that the English race has not hitherto degenerated physically in its new home; in some districts it may even seem to have improved. The tables of life-insurance companies show that the average of life is as long as in Western Europe. People walk less and climb mountains less than they do in England, but quite as much physical strength and agility are put forth in games, and these are pursued with as much ardour. It was noted in the War of Secession that the percentage of recoveries from wounds was larger than in European wars, and the soldiers in both armies stood well the test of the long marches through rough and sometimes unhealthy regions to which they were exposed, those, perhaps, faring best who were of the purest American stock, i.e., who came from the districts least affected by recent immigration.13 It has, however, already been remarked that the time during which physical conditions have been able to work on the Anglo-American race is much too short to enable any but provisional conclusions to be formed; and for the same reason it is premature to speculate upon the changes in character and intellectual tastes which either the natural scenery of the American continent, and in particular its vast central plain, or the occupations and economic environment of the people, with their increasing tendency to prefer urban to rural life, may in the course of ages produce. The science of ethnographic sociology is still only in its infancy, and the working of the causes it examines is so subtle that centuries of experience may be needed before it becomes possible to determine definite laws of national growth.
Let us sum up the points in which physical conditions seem to have influenced the development of the American people, by trying to give a short answer to the question, What kind of a home has Nature given to the nation?
She has furnished it with resources for production, that is, with potential wealth, ampler and more varied than can be found in any other country—an immense area of fertile soil, sunshine and moisture fit for all the growths of the temperate, and even a few of the torrid, zone, a store of minerals so large as to seem inexhaustible.
She has given it a climate in which the foremost races of mankind can thrive and (save in a very few districts) labour, an air in most regions not only salubrious, but more stimulating than that of their ancient European seats.
She has made communication easy by huge natural watercourses, and by the general openness and smoothness of so much of the continent as lies east of the Rocky Mountains.
In laying out a vast central and almost unbroken plain, she has destined the largest and richest region of the country to be the home of one nation, and one only. That the lands which lie east of this region between the Alleghenies and the Atlantic, and those which lie west of it between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific, are also occupied by that one nation is due to the fact that before the colonization of the central region had gone far, means of communication were invented which made the Alleghenies cease to be a barrier, and that before the Pacific coast had been thickly settled, the rest of the country was already so great in population, wealth, and power that its attraction was as irresistible as the Moon finds the attraction of the Earth to be.
Severing its home by a wide ocean from the old world of Europe on the east, and by a still wider one from the half old, half new, world of Asia and Australasia on the west, she has made the nation sovereign of its own fortunes. It need fear no attacks nor even any pressure from the military and naval powers of the eastern hemisphere, and it has little temptation to dissipate its strength in contests with them. It has no doubt a strong neighbour on the North, but a friendly one, linked by many ties of interest as well as kinship, and not likely ever to become threatening. It had on the South neighbours who might have been dangerous, but fortune favoured it by making one of them hopelessly weak, and obliging the other, strong as she was, to quit possession at a critical moment. Thus is it left to itself as no great state has ever yet been in the world; thus its citizens enjoy an opportunity never before granted to a nation, of making their country what they will to have it.
These are unequalled advantages. They contain the elements of immense defensive strength, of immense material prosperity. They disclose an unrivalled field for the development of an industrial civilization. Nevertheless, students of history, knowing how unpredictable is the action of what we call moral causes, that is to say, of emotional and intellectual influences as contrasted with those rooted in physical and economic facts, will not venture to base upon the most careful survey of the physical conditions of America any bolder prophecy than this, that not only will the state be powerful and the wealth of its citizens prodigious, but that the nation will probably remain one in its government, and still more probably one in speech, in character, and in ideas.
 Navigable rivers, for instance, were at one time the main channels of commerce, so that towns were founded and prospered in respect of the advantages they gave. The extension of railways diminished their importance, and many great cities now owe their growth to their having become centres where trunk lines meet. The discovery of means of cheaply transmitting electric power has given to flowing water a new commercial value, which however is greatest where the streams are too rapid for navigation.
 The area of China, the country with which the United States is most fit to be compared, since India and the Russian Empire are inhabited by many diverse races, speaking wholly diverse tongues, is estimated at 1,336,000 square miles; and the population, the estimates of which range from 280,000,000 to 350,000,000, may possibly be, in a.d. 2000, equalled by that of the United States.
 Similar but smaller deserts occur in Idaho and southeastern Oregon, and also in the extreme southwest. Part of the desert of Southern California is, like part of the Sahara and the valley of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, beneath the level of the ocean.
 In Central Colorado, when snow falls, it does not melt but disappears by evaporation, so dry is the air. Sir J. D. Hooker has (in his Himalayan Journals) noted the same phenomenon in Tibet.
 There is a small glacier on Mount Shasta.
 There were doubtless other influences, especially Dutch; and the Scoto-Irish element differed somewhat from the English. But these are, after all, relatively small, not ten per cent, so to speak, of the whole. Far more important than the diverse elements of blood were the conditions of colonial, and especially of frontier, life which moulded the young nation, repeating in the period between 1780 and 1820 many of the phenomena which had accompanied the first settlements of the seventeenth century.
 New Orleans is in the same latitude as Delhi, whence the children of Europeans have to be sent home in order that they may grow up in health.
 I omit the fisheries, because their commercial importance is confined to three districts, the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts, the rivers of Washington and parts of Alaska, and the seal-bearing Pribyloff Isles. The sea fisheries of the Pacific coast (Washington, Oregon, and California) are still not fully developed.
 There are other smaller coal districts, including one in Washington, on the shores of Puget Sound.
 The population inhabiting cities of 8,000 people and upwards was in 1910 still only 38.74 per cent of the total population (though in the North Atlantic division it reached 68.35 per cent). But a large part of those engaged in mining or manufactures may be found in places below that limit of population.
 See Chapter 92.
 The malarial fevers might tell in the same direction, but science has done so much to diminish their prevalence that this deleterious influence counts for less today than it did through last century. Of the Negroes, the race more naturally fitted for these Gulf lowlands, I shall speak in a later chapter.
 Some valuable remarks on this subject will be found in Professor N. S. Shaler’s interesting book, Nature and Man in America, from which I take these facts regarding life insurance and the experience of the Civil War.