The Tenth Decade of the United States



THE westernmost point of Alaska is but forty-five miles from the opposite shore of Bering’s Sea. The purchase of the great peninsula had brought us in sight of Asia. It had also given us a new coastline longer than our entire Atlantic seaboard. The Black Current of the Pacific, first revealed to science by an American ship-captain,starting in the Malay Archipelago, sweeping by the Philippines, Formosa, and Japan, now poured its warmth upon a shore of ours; and thither it brought signs and fragments of Asiatic life. Turning southward, and passing along the coast of California and northern Mexico, it circles back to Asia, bearing westward signs and fragments of American life. To that intercourse, older far than our civilization, older no doubt than the oldest civilization of either continent, our Asiatic trade offered but a faint comparison. When one considers that over half the human race fronts eastward across the Pacific, the wonder is, not that Seward and a few other Americans had come at last to take account of our westward outlook, but that the mass of Americans were still so densely unmindful of it. Our entire exchanges with the east coast of the Pacific, exports and imports, seldom ran above twenty million dollars a year. And this commerce, such as it was, did not yet pass through San Francisco, but went around Cape Horn; it was maintained, for the most part, by our easternmost communities — New York, and New England. There was, however, one sort of intercourse between America and the Orient more important than this small beginning of a trans-Pacific trade. It is not too much to say that the American navy, American diplomatists, American missionaries, and American teachers had done more than the representatives of all other western nations to bring about the rapprochement of Eastern and Western civilizations. But these things were for years as little regarded or regulated by government as the drift of the Black Current.

When the government of the United States did first begin to regulate the intercourse of Americans with the Orient, it began with the remoter peoples of Southern Asia. In 1833, Edmund Roberts of New Hampshire, a special commissioner, negotiated with the king of Siam the first treaty of amity and commerce that ever bound together the opposite shores of the Pacific. He made also a like agreement with the Sultan of Muscat, with whose dominions we had a not inconsiderable trade. But the negotiations with Annam, or Cochin China, failed, and at Canton, where Roberts touched both on his outward and his homeward journey, he was not allowed to anchor. His pioneer diplomacy ended at Macao, where he died of the plague; but his work endured. In 1862, a still more satisfactory treaty was made with Siam.

In Chinese waters our merchant flag had been known ever since 1784, when a New York merchantman, the Empress of China, brought to Canton the first cargo of American ginseng. The missionaries followed the merchants, and the school teachers were not far behind. But it was not until 1844, when Webster was Secretary of State, that Caleb Cushing negotiated the first treaty of amity and commerce with China, and established regular diplomatic relations between the two countries. In 1858, after the invasion of China by a joint expedition of the English and the French, the agreement of 1844 was renewed, strengthened, and broadened. For injuries to American citizens during the war China paid us a considerable indemnity; but it was found that our claims had been exaggerated, and after many years our government, of its own motion, paid back more than half of the amount. The war had also given us a chance to make plain our own policy with eastern Asia, which was, in essence, the same policy, the policy of non-interference and the “open door,” to which we have ever since adhered.

Lincoln, coming soon after into the presidency, had sent to China a man not less exceptionally fit for that mission than Adams was for his. Anson Burlingame, minister to Pekin since 1861, had seemed, when he withdrew from domestic politics, to be giving up a notable career; for he was an eloquent orator, and had played a brilliant part in the anti-slavery fight. First commissioned to Austria, he was recalled in obedience to a protest from the Austrian government, for he had been an ardent admirer of Kossuth, the Hungarian patriot. The mission to China was offered him by way of compensation. Discharging the ordinary duties of his post with tact and energy, he also went beyond them, and by an uncommon force and charm of personality won for himself a place and an influence such as none of his predecessors, — neither the adroit Cushing, nor Humphrey Marshall, the talented Kentuckian, nor William B. Reed, the jurist, —such, in all probability, as no other foreigner whatsoever, had ever exercised in China. In March, 1868, a mandarin of the first class, he crossed the Pacific at the head of an Imperial embassy to all the great powers of Christendom.

To Seward, nothing could have been more welcome than this initiative of China; and indeed the American people seem to have perceived, with an unexpected acuteness, the true proportions of their countryman’s enterprise. A new treaty was forthwith concluded and quickly ratified. It was meant to stimulate, and did at once stimulate, commerce between the two countries. It also secured to Americans in China complete religious freedom, and to the citizens of each country the right, of voluntary emigration into the other. As yet, there were scarcely fifty thousand Chinese, all told, in the United States, and it was not until, in the years immediately following the treaty, the rate of immigration quickly doubled and tripled, that the people of our Pacific coast began to take alarm. Meanwhile, the embassy had passed on to Europe; and to Clarendon, to Louis Napoleon, to Bismarck, and to the Czar, Burlingame presented, with a convincing eloquence, the case of China and of Western Asia. He was still, however, only at the outset of his labors when he died at St. Petersburg, early in 1870. His body was brought to Boston for a stately public funeral. At a memorial meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of the city of New York he was justly eulogized as the eloquent advocate of modern civilization, as a servant of mankind. True, the treaty with the United States was the only immediate and substantial result of the mission, which failed from the time of his death; and in a few years a reaction against foreign influences in China, and in America a growing hostility toward Chinese immigrants, threatened the permanency even of that agreement. Nevertheless, if Burlingame’s name be not forever associated with an epochal readjustment of the world’s civilizations, then few names have ever missed immortality more narrowly.

But the part which Americans were playing in this outreaching of European toward Asiatic life was even more remarkable in Japan than it was in China. In the whole history of American diplomacy there is no pleasanter chapter than the story of our mentorlike friendship with Japan. It was the American navy which, beginning with certain thankless expeditions to return to their own country Japanese sailors shipwrecked in other quarters of the Pacific, and to deliver from a hard exile American sailors driven on those inhospitable shores, ended by opening to the navies of the world two of the ports which for more than two centuries had been sealed to foreign merchantmen. Until Commodore Perry “gently coerced Japan into friendship with us,” and secured for us, by the treaty of 1854, the right to enter, for certain purposes, the harbors of Simoda and Hakodade, and to set up a consulate, two Dutch vessels, visiting once a year the little island of Deshima, where eleven Dutchmen, carefully walled in, were permitted to reside, had carried the entire foreign commerce of Japan. In the seven years following the treaty, Townsend Harris, first as consul-general, and then as minister resident, negotiated two other treaties of amity and commerce, each more liberal than its predecessor; he also contrived, without the support of any military or naval force whatever, to win respect for his own country and to foster a better feeling toward foreigners in general. A party readily amenable to foreign influences and receptive of foreign ideas was fast growing up, and in 1860, eight years before the Burlingame embassy from China, a Japanese embassy, the first ever sent to any foreign country, had visited the United States to exchange ratifications of the second Harris treaty. But the opposition in Japan to this new policy was also very strong. The persons and property of foreigners were at times unsafe. In 1861, the secretary of the United States legation was murdered; in 1863, the legation at Yedo was burned. A domestic revolution, long threatened, began in 1863, and foreign residents were in worse case than ever. The curious dual government of Japan, which had lasted seven centuries, was nearing its end. Adherents of the Mikado, the true emperor, rose against the authority of the Shogun, who, though in fact a vassal, had exercised the chief powers of government. It was the Shogun, not the Mikado, who had signed the treaties, and the question of foreign relations was thus associated with the domestic controversy. The Shogun, apparently desiring to conciliate the Mikado, ordered the departure of the foreigners. A prince of the Mikado’s party, seizing the forts at Shimonoseki, closed to commerce the narrow strait which connects the Japanese inland sea with the Pacific. Several of the powers joining in an expedition to destroy the forts and open the passage, the United States contributed the little chartered steamer Jamestown. An indemnity being collected, a share equal to the shares of the other powers was allotted to us. But again, as in the case of China after the Anglo-French invasion, we found that we were not entitled to the payment,and twenty years later the whole amount was voluntarily returned. Even while the disorder lasted, Seward constantly maintained an attitude of friendliness and patience. Before it ended, the Mikado had been brought to approve the treaties; and when, in 1868, the Shogun was finally overthrown and the Shogunate abolished, the imperial court, become once more the centre of all power in Japan, showed no disposition to undo what had been accomplished since Commodore Perry sailed into the Bay of Yedo.

What had been accomplished was in truth little less than a complete facing outward of the Japanese people; and this was but the beginning of a marvelous change in Japanese life. The trade with the United States, which in 1860 amounted, imports and exports, to less than two hundred thousand dollars, was at the end of the decade thirty times as great; and it has continued steadily to grow. But it was the quickening intercourse through other channels than trade that soon gave to the friendship between America and Japan its peculiar, unexampled character. At the close of our Civil War, Japanese students began to resort to American colleges; and during the same years American teachers entered upon the task of transforming the educational system of Japan. Unlike the Byzantine scholars who heralded the renaissance in Italy, they found the decorative arts developed in the Island Kingdom to a stage which they had not yet reached in our own civilization; but the stimulus which they and other Americans have given to the mechanic arts, to the intellectual life, and to the national spirit of the Japanese is incalculable. Americans have trained the rulers of modern Japan. Missionaries, diplomatists, experts in military and naval affairs, members of the surgical and other professions, and men of business, all have had their part in the work of transformation; but it is probably the school teachers who have done the most to accomplish what neither the French nor the English in India, nor indeed any European people anywhere in Asia, ever accomplished before. Apparently, they have accomplished the actual diversion of an Asiatic civilization into that course of development which western civilizations follow. Nowhere else have European ideas ever penetrated beneath the surface of Asiatic life; and nowhere else, on any continent, has the mere example of America proved so potent as in Japan. But it may be juster to say that the apt Japanese have learned of us than to say that we have taught them. For neither, it must be added, has Western civilization, in any recent century, received from Asia an influence comparable to that which Japan has exercised in art, in literature, and even, in later years, in arms and in diplomacy. For America’s teaching of science and of liberty the little people have made no mean return. Not unworthy of comparison with the Ancient Greeks for their sense of beauty and the delicacy of the art with which they have expressed it, they have enlarged for Americans and Europeans the possibilities of æsthetic enjoyment.

It was the Japanese, also, who opened to diplomacy and trade a kingdom still more relentlessly hermit-like than their own. Korea had been obdurate to all advances ; so late as 1866, an American vessel,chartered by an English firm, attempt ing to ascend the Ta Tong River, was taken, burned, and her crew put to death. But in 1876 Japan, by a threat of war, secured from the Korean king a treaty of amity and commerce. Through the diplomatic intercourse thus established, the Koreans were brought, after untold centuries of reclusion, to a better knowledge and a better opinion of the foreign influences at work about them. In May, 1882, Commodore R. W. Shufeldt played at Chemulpo the part of Commodore Perry at Yedo. A treaty was signed. Three portswere opened to American commerce, an American mission was set up at Seoul, and a Korean embassy visited the United States. Five years later, Korea, having concluded in the mean time similar treaties with other of the powers, sent a permanent minister to Washington. China, claiming suzerainty over Korea, attempted first to prevent and then to control the mission; but the American State Department declined to acknowledge her right to interfere.

In our progress toward closer relations with Eastern Asia the islands of the Pacific would, no doubt, at an earlier period in the development of sailing vessels, have served us somewhat as the fewer islands of the Atlantic served Europeans in their movement upon America. In the palmy days of the navy under sail, however, there was no great need of half-way stations. But with the gradual substitution of steam engines for sails as a motive power on the seas, the need of coaling stations has given to many of these islands a fresh importance. Even before the day of steamships, the Sandwich or Hawaiian Islands,partly on account of their resources, partly because they were in the path of the Black Current, close to the direct line from San Francisco to Australasia and from Panama to China and Japan, and also a convenient half-way station for our Pacific whalers, attracted from our Department of State an exceptional attention. So early as 1842, Webster, being already much drawn to the whole subject of our future in the Pacific, had taken the occasion of the visit of an Hawaiian embassy practically to extend over the islands the principle of the Monroe Doctrine. Both he and President Tyler announced that we could not permit them to be colonized or annexed by any power other than ourselves. We held our ground in 1851, when France was suspected of designs upon them; it is thought, indeed, that but for the death of King Kamehameha III, we should ourselves have annexed them three years later. From the end of the war until 1875, when a treaty was finally negotiated, reciprocity with Hawaii was constantly advocated. The agitation was promoted by resident Americans who had made sugar-raising the principal industry of the islands. Seward, as usual, was for annexation. A curiously polyglot community, the Hawaiians were so early subjected to so many foreign influences that they did not offer to Americans the opportunity to be, as in Japan, the pioneers of all Western civilization. But in the religious, the educational, and particularly in the industrial development of the little archipelago Americans played, nevertheless, the leading role. Richard Henry Dana, who in 1859, in the course of a world-tour, visited Hawaii, attributed the redemption of the natives from savagery mainly to the American Board of Foreign Missions. It was, he declared, the missionaries of that board who had taught the whole Hawaiian people, whom they found half-naked savages, “to read and to write, to cipher and to sew.” In the Samoan Islands also, when interest and philanthropy demanded it, we found a foothold. In 1872 we secured the port of PagoPago for a coaling station.

In all these early steps, our seamen, our statesmen, and our diplomatists had indeed done well. They had made a remarkable demonstration of the wisdom and efficiency of peaceful methods in dealing with strange peoples and strange civilizations. They had served our true interests, widened our influence, and promoted the world’s welfare, without injustice or rapacity, and without war. But we did not yet, in any but a strained sense, look out upon the Pacific and face across to Asia. Between the great mass of the American people and the Pacific coast there were two thousand miles of still unoccupied plains and mountains. Western civilization could never pervade Cathay via the pony express; and if its pioneers followed the route around the Horn, then America had little or no advantage over Europe in the race. What had chiefly inspired the first advocates of a railway across the continent was, in fact, the dream of a vast Asiatic commerce, not unlike the earlier dream of Columbus ; and while Seward was now and then stealing time from his important business with Europe to smooth with his diplomacy our path across the ocean and open for us the gates of the East, two bands of men,living in two cities of canvas, marching every day to their work to the tap of the drum, and moving slowly, day by day, the one westward from the Missouri, the other eastward from the coast, were doing that which no diplomacy could do, that without which Seward’s dream could come no truer than the dream of Columbus. They were making a way, a practical and material highway, for an advance of our civilization westward to the Pacific.

At the end of the year 1865 the Union Pacific had progressed but forty miles into the interior of Nebraska. The Central Pacific, though much of the material used by its builders had to be brought around the Horn, was a few miles longer, and had begun to climb the gradual slope of the coast range. To both roads the government, besides its grant of twenty square miles of land for every mile of track, had promised aid in the form of loans which were to vary with the estimated cost of different stretches. Both were to have, up to the time when they should reach the mountains, an advance of sixteen thousand dollars for every mile constructed; for every one of the three hundred miles considered to be most mountainous and difficult, they were to have three times as much; and for every mile from slope to slope of the Rocky and the Sierra Nevada ranges, twice as much. To secure its loans, the government held a second mortgage on the property of the roads. They were bound to apply every year five per cent of their net earnings to the payment of the bonds; and one half of all sums due to them for services rendered to the government, which should have the preference over other patrons, must also go to discharge their debt. In order that the interests of the government might be constantly guarded, five of the directors of the Union Pacific were appointed by the President.

With the gifts and loans of the government, and with a considerable power of contracting loans on their own account, the two companies were, it would seem, sufficiently aided and encouraged; but it was not until the second and third year that they threw themselves into their task with a full assurance of extraordinary profits. By that time it was clear that the cost of construction had been overestimated. The work itself proved to be not nearly so difficult as the prospectors had thought that it would be. Coal was discovered near the line of the Union Pacific. It began to appear also that the operation as well as the construction of the roads might prove profitable. In April, 1866, the Union Pacific, five hundred and forty-eight miles from the Missouri, entered a pass through the Black Hills which General Dodge, the chief of construction, had first found in an exploring tour when he was pursued by Indians and his life depended on his finding it. In July, 1867, the Central touched the crest of the Sierra Nevadas. Once over the mountain walls, both roads quickened the rate of their progress to the point of junction.

What that point should be was for a time in doubt. The Mormons of Utah, who desired that it should be their own principal settlement, went so far as to boycott the Union Pacific, refusing either to serve or to patronize it, when they learned that its engineers had decided in favor of a route to the northward of the Great Salt Lake. But the Central’s engineers also acknowledged the superiority of that route ; and both roads, though at first either would have welcomed any lengthening of the other at its own expense, were soon fairly racing for the middle ground. Notwithstanding the many hardships and dangers of the work, — the long distances that men, material, and supplies must be transported, the aridity of the desert, the bands of Sioux hovering about the camps, — the builders were moving now with a surprising swiftness. In less than a year from June 1, 1868, the Union Pacific had lengthened five hundred and fifty-five miles, the Central about five hundred miles. The whole country was by this time aroused to the picturesqueness and to the great importance of the enterprise. Correspondents of the newspaper press accompanied the two construction gangs, and at the close of every day’s work telegraphed back, from the end of the wires, how many miles of track had been laid. In April, 1869, the grading gangs met, and actually passed each other by, so that the two roadbeds ran side by side. But on May 10, at Promontory Point in Utah, the tracks were joined. Chinese coolies, clustered about the engine from the West, brought into the occasion a significant suggestion of the Orient. When the last spike was driven, there were still five years left of the time allowed by Congress. The task, prosaic as it seems from its sameness in immediate aspect with other similar undertakings, now familiar to us all, is in its complete significance comparable only with the digging of the Suez Canal or the long-planned severance of the two Americas. The discovery that immense profits were to be got from it had led to practices which, when they were fully revealed, marred the country’s pride in the achievement ; but if we consider merely the men who did the work, and the doubts that clouded its beginning, it remains scarcely less memorable as an exhibition of resourceful energy than it is for its results.

But the chief immediate consequence was imitation. In the discussions of the proposed transcontinental railway which were so common in the fifties, five different routes had been seriously considered. Within a very few years from the completion of the compromise central line, all the others were in a fair way to be built. The northernmost, or forty - eighth parallel route, with an eastern terminus on the Great Lakes, which had been the especial favorite of Asa Whitney, most devoted and persistent of all the early enthusiasts, had been surveyed in 1853; one of the engineers had been a retired but still youthful army officer named McClellan. A charter was granted in 1864, but work was not begun until the summer of 1870, and it was not until 1883,after many complications and many disappointments, that the Northern Pacific was completed. The second, or forty-second parallel route, was the route of the Union Pacific. The third, or thirty-eighth parallel route, was occupied partly by the Kansas Pacific, chartered along with the Union Pacific, and authorized to connect with it by way of Denver. This road was begun at Wyandotte in 1863, and completed to Denver in 1870. The fourth, or thirty-fifth parallel route, was occupied by the Atchison, Topeka,and Santa Fe. Begun at Topeka in 1868, it followed, for the most part, the old Santa Fe caravan route through the Colorado Mountains and over the alkali plains of New Mexico. It was years before the builders came in sight of the Rockies, and years more before the road contrived, through its control of other lines, to make a junction with the California Southern and reach the coast. Finally, the southernmost of all the routes, close to the thirty-second parallel, was occupied in part by the Texas Pacific, in part by the Southern Pacific. Both were begun in 1871, After some years of working at cross-purposes, they connected in 1881 and made a single line; but the Southern Pacific, the western half, was also extended on a still more southerly route across Texas to New Orleans.

As each of these trunk lines progressed, a network of branches, some of them scarcely less important than the trunk, was flung out on either side. In ten years from the meeting of the rails at Promontory Point, the West was for the most part accessible to immigration and to industry. Again, as when Columbus found a pathway over the Atlantic, it was not so much Asia as the intervening lands that stood revealed.

The occupation of these lands was the principal material change, the most widely significant fact, in the life of the American people from the end of the war to the end of the century. That the railroads alone made it possible to occupy them so quickly is apparent when we contrast these years, in reference to the movement of population, with any fifty years before the railroads came. It was also proved that railroads need not wait for population, cities,industries; all these will follow, if the country will sustain them. Very soon, in fact, these western lines began themselves to colonize the wastes, bringing in settlers not merely from the older states, but from Europe, and employing methods and machinery not unlike those of the various companies and associations which first colonized our eastern shores. The land department of the Santa Fe, for example, brought over from Russia and established in Kansas eight thousand German Mennonites. The government, beginning with its bounties to the Union and the Central Pacific, and giving away to railroads, in the years 1864-1880, one hundred and twenty-eight millions of acres of public lands beyond the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers, — a region three times as great as the area of New England, — took, perhaps, the quickest method to people the West and to develop its resources,

A marvelous transformation followed. The year of the meeting of the rails at Promontory Point was very near the culmination in America of that ancient industry which always foreruns agriculture. The long trail of the cowboys, beginning in southern Texas, had stretched gradually northward, until, when the Civil War began, the rancheros of the southwest were marketing their herds in northern cities. With the close of the war, the northward movement set in again. In 1866, a quarter of a million cattle crossed the Red River; in 1871, six hundred thousand. Year by year the cowboys passed on to pastures and to markets farther north until they had crossed every one of the five transcontinental routes and even entered the British provinces. But as one by one the railroads were thrust out westward into the plains, and their branch lines forked out northward and southward, they gradually robbed the cowboy of his occupation. The most picturesque of distinctively American types grew rarer and rarer. The mustang gave place to the locomotive; the herdsman of the fenceless plains to the stockbreeder and the farmer. Still more prosaic figures followed, until all the principal industries, save only such as depend on a seacoast, had their representatives where, within the decade, only the cowboy and his cattle had shared the plains with the Indian and the buffalo. Between 1860 and 1870, the centre of population for the whole country moved forty - two miles westward. The population of the entire region between the Mississippi and the Rockies rose from 4,161,000 to 6,322,000; the territory of Nebraska had become a state in 1867. Meanwhile, in the Pacific States, the total rose to 717,000. In both regions, the years immediately following brought a still more rapid increase. And again, as before the war, the movement had its parallel to the southward. Texas was gaining population rapidly; but the emigration into Texas from the older southern states was probably due quite as much to political as to purely economic causes.

The movement of industries was even more striking. Of the total wheat crop of 1859, the states and territories west of the Mississippi contributed less than one sixth; ten years later they contributed nearly a third. Their total production of cereals rose from 226,000,000 to 370,000,000 bushels; their acreage, from 22,150000 to 38,483,000. This, however, was merely a beginning; and the increase of production was but one of two extremely important changes in the conditions of American agriculture. The other was the rapid cheapening of transportation, which opened for the western farmer the markets not merely of our eastern states but of Europe as well. Reducing the cost of hauling a bushel of wheat from Chicago to the Atlantic seaboard from thirtyeight cents in 1858 to twenty-seven cents in 1868, and then to seventeen and one half cents in 1878, was scarcely less important a change than making two blades of wheat to grow where one had grown before. The two changes, coming together, and coming at a time when the prices of food stuffs were extraordinarily high, profoundly affected national and international finance. The United States, by doubling their entire railroad mileage within eight years from Lee’s surrender, and by adding one third to the acreage of cereals, fairly leaped to a foremost place among the exporting countries of the world.

The opening of the West quickly engaged a great part of the energy released from warfare. It attracted from Europe an ever-growing stream of emigrants and millions of capital. Both through the actual increase of our wealth and through the favorable effect on international exchanges, it lightened beyond measure the burden of the great war debt and made far easier the task of currency reform. It was comparable even to the triumph of the Union cause as a source of the strength, the confidence, the assurance, with which we could now face backward across the Atlantic and forward across the Pacific, which had at last become our real boundary.

But the politicians, unlike the diplomatists and the men of business, were still, during these early years of peace, facing southward. While the American people quietly completed their occupation of the Continent, Congress, the courts, the president, were still at work in that warwasted field.

  1. Copyright, 1905, by WILLIAM GARROTT BROWN.