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The United States of America

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Since the closing period of the eighteenth century an experiment of the deepest interest to mankind had been in progress on the western shores of the Atlantic. Three million British subjects, dissatisfied with the rule of the parent country, had undertaken to govern themselves. They entertained no purposes of aggression, and being troubled with no fear of their neighbours, they did not waste the national resources by the maintenance of fleet? and armies. Having the development of a continent with its boundless resources to occupy them, they elected a career of peaceful industry. Europe still lay at the feet of a few great families; still squandered her substance in the maintenance of enormous multitudes of armed men; still baffled the industry of her toiling millions by the constant employment of these armed multitudes in devastating wars, flowing out of the ambition or self-will or offended pride of monarchs. The Americans were so bold as to undertake the conduct of their affairs on principles directly the reverse of those by which the world in all preceding ages had been guided.

The first twelve years of the century were spent by America in profound tranquillity. She looked from afar with a serene neutrality upon the furious efforts which the European nations were making to compass the ruin of each other. She had not yet regained her old love and reverence for England; for her grievances were recent and her suffering had been deep. But Washington had urged a policy of peace with all the world, especially with England, and his wise counsels still bore fruit in the peaceful dispositions of the American people. The great European frenzy had nearly burned itself out, and America was still free from its influence.

But in process of time England and France, eagerly bent upon mutual harm, adopted measures by which the lucrative traffic heretofore enjoyed by the Americans was destroyed. American, produce could no longer reach European markets; American ships lay in unprofitable idleness; grass grew upon the untrodden wharves of New York and Philadelphia. Moreover, the high-handed British enforced a hateful claim to search American ships and take away any sailors whom it might please them to suspect of being British subjects.

These grievances might have been peacefully redressed. Indeed, England withdrew the regulations which were injurious to American commerce, and proposed that the right of search should be dealt with in the way of friendly negotiation. But America was too angry to be reasonable. She was almost without an army. It was said of her, almost truly, that she had no fleet strong enough to lay siege to a British sloop-of-war. But she was resolute to try her strength in battle with England - a power which had a million men under arms, and commanded the sea with a fleet of a thousand armed ships.

The Americans invaded Canada, but fared so badly in that undertaking that twice their incursions were closed by a surrender of all the troops engaged. At sea an unexpected gleam of good fortune brought compensation for these discouragements. Numerous engagements between single ships occurred, and in many of these, especially at the beginning of the war, the Americans were victorious. The British devised an attack upon Washington. That city is fifty miles from the sea-coast; the force which could be sent against it was only three thousand five hundred men. But the Americans failed to protect their capital even from an invasion so little formidable as this. After routing with ease a superior American force, the British quietly entered the city; and as the Americans refused to ransom their public buildings, all these were most ungenerously destroyed. At New Orleans the Americans were able to exact a terrible revenge. Six thousand veterans, under Sir Edward Pakenham, fresh from the triumphs of the Peninsula, were rowed on shore from the English ships and advanced against the city. General Jackson had made for himself a strong position, with a deep wide ditch, crowned by a strong earthen wall running in front. The British pushed on under a murderous fire of grape-shot and musketry till they reached the American works. But there it was found that fascines to enable them to pass the ditch had been omitted in the preparations for the assault. The Americans, shooting in safety from their impregnable defences, inflicted fearful slaughter. The discomfited British retired, having lost in this wretched enterprise two thousand men. The American loss in killed and wounded was fourteen.

When all these things had been done and endured, there was found to exist on both sides a disposition which made it easy to restore peace. The American people were wearied of the sufferings which this senseless war entailed. England had never wished for the war, and was willing to close it; moreover, she might still need her troops to expend on the bloodier battle-grounds of the Old World. A treaty of peace was concluded. The countries had fought for two years and a half about the right of search, but no mention was made of the grievance in which the war originated in the treaty by which it was terminated.

For the next fifty years the history of America is a record of peaceful industrial progress, without parallel in the annals of the human family. In the year 1860 the Americans made their decennial enumeration of the people and their possessions. The industrial greatness which the census revealed was an astonishment, not only to the rest of the world, but to America herself. The slow growth of the old European countries seemed absolute stagnation beside this swift multiplication of men, and of beasts, and of wealth in every form.

The three million colonists who had thrown off the British voke had now increased to nearly thirty-two million. This great population was assisted in its toils by six million horses and two million working oxen. It owned eight million cows, fifteen million other cattle, twenty-two million sheep, and thirty-three million hogs. The products of the soil were enormous. The cotton crop of that year was close upon one million tons. Under the impulse of an insatiable European demand, it had more than doubled within the last ten years. The grain crop was twelve hundred million bushels. The tobacco crop had more than doubled in ten years, and was now five hundred million pounds. There were five thousand miles of canals, and thirty thousand miles of railroads, - twenty-two thousand of which were the creation of the preceding ten years. The textile manufactures of the country had reached the annual value of forty million sterling. America had provided for the education of her children by erecting one hundred and thirteen thousand schools and colleges, and employing one hundred and fifty thousand teachers. Her educational institutions enjoyed revenues amounting to nearly seven million sterling, and were attended by five and a half million pupils. Religious instruction was given in fifty-four thousand churches, in which there was accommodation for nineteen million hearers. The daily history of the world was supplied by four thousand newspapers, which circulated annually one thousand million copies.

The thirteen states had increased to thirty-four. The territory of the Union had been prodigiously enlarged. Louisiana had been purchased from Napoleon. Florida had been ceded by Spain. Texas and California had been acquired from Mexico by the sword. Time after time tribes of vagrant Indians yielded up their lands and enrolled themselves subjects of the great republic. The American people owned two thousand million acres of land, but as yet they had been able to make use of no more than one-fifth of this enormous heritage. The remainder lay unoccupied, - a vast reserve of wealth against the time when the nation should have need of it.

But there was a deadly taint on the industrial greatness of America. In her Southern states four million negroes were still held in slavery. In her Southern cities men and women were still sold by auction to the highest bidder. Slave-dealing was still followed as a trade in her capital. The breeding of slaves for Southern markets was still a source of gain in some of the border states. The cotton, the rice, the tobacco which formed so large a portion of her wealth were still raised by the enforced toil of the slave. A code of slave laws, the most wicked which the world has ever seen, guaranteed the subjection of the victims. As judicially expounded, this law gave to the black man no rights at all which the white man was under any obligation, to respect.

At the period of the revolution, and for many years after, American feeling was adverse to slavery. The British parliament had continued to give every possible encouragement to the importation of slaves, in defiance of American remonstrance. So highly was this resented that, in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, one of the charges brought against the king was his perverse support of the slave-trade. The wisest and best of the Americans - "Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton - regarded slavery with horror. Nearly all Americans acknowledged the evils of the system, and desired its extinction.

But in process of years slavery became a source of vast profit to the slave-owner. Hitherto the grower of cotton had been vexatiously baffled by the difficulty of clearing away from the fibre the seeds which clung to it. So toilsome and, in consequence, so costly was the work that a man could not in a day prepare more than one pound of cotton for the spinner. But when the steam-engine and the spinning-frame came fully into use, there arose in England an urgent demand for copious supplies of cotton. An ingenious New England mechanic invented a machine which performed, at trifling cost, the indispensable task of removing the cotton seeds. Henceforth the growing of cotton became one of the most lucrative employments to which human labour could be applied. It was wealth to own a little plantation and a few slaves. England was insatiable in her craving for cotton. Unoccupied lands stretched far and wide around every man's holding. Every negro added to the planter's stock added directly and immediately to his wealth.

The men of the South became passionately attached to this gainful iniquity. They would listen to no remonstrance; they would permit no discussion. The enthusiast who within the limits of a Southern state ventured to condemn slavery did so at peril of his life, and hundreds of persons suffered death or mutilation for their untimely boldness. Gradually, as the gains of slave-owning swelled out, new sanctions enfolded the system of labour which yielded results so pleasant. Southern religion consecrated the traffic in human beings. The church taught that slavery was of divine appointment. The slave who fled from his owner was guilty of aggravated theft. The man who sought to overthrow slavery was a profane person fighting against God.

In the early days of the colonies slavery prevailed in the North. Even famous New England divines accepted thankfully, and with unharmed conscience, the gift of a negro servant. But in the North slavery scarcely survived the revolution. Slave labour, void of intelligence and cheerful energy, as it ever must be, is profitable only where genial conditions of soil and climate make production easy and leave room for a thriftless husbandry. These conditions did not exist in the North.

But although the Northern states had ceased to employ slaves, they did not cease to approve of the continued use of slave labour in the South. They participated in the gains of slavery. The cotton-planter borrowed money at high interest from the Northern capitalist. He bought his goods in Northern markets. He sent his cotton to the North for sale. The Northern merchants made money at his hands, and were in no haste to overthrow the peculiar institution with which their own personal relations were so agreeable.

At length there came an awakening of the Northern conscience on the subject of slavery. Like many of the great movements of opinion in America, it burst forth with startling suddenness. On the 1st January 1831 a journeyman printer, William Lloyd Garrison, published in Boston the first number of a paper devoted to the abolition of slavery. Little had hitherto been publicly spoken on the subject, but now the air was full of voices. An Anti-Slavery Society was formed, whose original membership numbered only twelve persons. In three years there were two hundred anti-slavery societies. In seven years more there were two thousand. The abolitionists applied themselves with a fiery energy to the propagation of their beliefs. They were devoured by a zeal which knew no bounds and permitted no respite. The slave-owners, joyfully reaping lar«e and easy gains from the labour of their bondmen, met with a deep, remorseless, murderous hatred the enthusiasts who sought the ruin of their institutions. Their allies in the North lent them willing and appropriate support. In Boston a mob of well-dressed citizens forcibly suppressed a meeting of female abolitionists. Philadelphia disgraced herself by riots in winch the tie which bound the states to each other made it easy to fall back upon this solution of the difficulty.

From the very foundation of the American government there had been a conflict of opinion regarding the rights of the states which composed the Union. One party, fearing the evils which spring from the weakness of the governing power, sought protection from these in the close union of states under a strong government. Another party, impressed by the unhappy condition of the over-governed nations of the Old World, feared the creation of a government which might grow into a despotism. The aim of the one was to vest the largest possible measure of power in a central government; the aim of the other was to limit the powers accorded to the central government, and give the widest possible scope to the sovereignty of the individual states. These two sets of opinions continued to exist and to conflict irreconcilably. In the North the belief prevailed that America was a nation formed by the voluntary junction of states, and made indissoluble by their agreement that it should be so. In the South, on the other hand, it was maintained that each individual state retained her sovereign right to withdraw, at pleasure, from the Union.

Believing thus in their right, and holding that the Northern antipathy to slavery created a sufficient occasion for its exercise, the slave-owners entered promptly on the dark and bloody path of secession. South Carolina, always the least loyal of the states to the Union, led the way. Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida followed her at once; Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas joined the revolted sisterhood a few months later. Eleven states, stretching over an area of a million square miles, and inhabited by six million whites and over three million negroes, thus declared that their connection with the Union had ceased, and formed themselves into a new association. Moreover, they intimated that they were prepared to maintain by arms what they had done. The task which lay before the North was to bring these men and their territory forcibly back into the Union.

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