The Drift to the Cities

IT is safe to lake into consideration our losses as well as our gains. The thirteenth census tells of a decade of growth in the United States. In 1900 the population was less than seventy-six millions; in 1910 it is nearly ninety-two millions, an increase of about sixteen millions. In the list of 225 cities having over 25,000 inhabitants, all but three show an increase of population, and among the 1172 smaller cities having over 2500 inhabitants, the story is much the same. Among the forty-eight states there is only one, Iowa, which does not rejoice in an increase.

But some communities have not grown. In Massachusetts, with 25 large cities and 172 smaller ones and with an increase amounting to 20 per cent, there is Barnstable County that has been steadily declining for half a century, having had a population in 1860 of about 36,000, while now it has but 27,000. In Maine, there has been a good increase, especially in some of the cities; but Waldo County on the Penobscot once had a population of over 47,000, while now it numbers less than half of that; and Lincoln County, which had a population in 1860 of nearly 28,000, now has but little over 18,000.

The most surprising lapses, however, arc in the great states of the Mississippi Valley whose prosperity has been almost proverbial. In Missouri, with such growing centres as St. Louis and Kansas City, which together show an increase of 196,000, we find 71 counties out of 100 in which the population has declined, with an aggregate loss of 132,000; and with an increase in urban territory of 255,000 there has been a decrease in the rural parts of 68,000. Iowa has 71 counties out of 99 which have lost an aggregate of 108,000; yet most of her 77 cities have gained, and the increase in urban territory is about 113,000 while the decrease in the rural parts is 120,000. Indiana has 57 counties out of 92 which have lost; her urban territory has gained 267,000, but there has been a falling off in the rural parts of 83,000. Illinois has 50 counties out of her 97 which show a loss; in her urban territory the increase has reached the enormous number of 810,000, but the gain in the rural territory has been only 6,455. Wisconsin, adjacent to Illinois and Iowa, makes a little better showing, yet 21 counties have lost in this state over against 50 which have made a gain; the population in her urban territory has grown 193,000, while that in the rural has increased by 71,594.

Not to pursue this record of particular states any further, it is enough to say that among the 2941 counties in all the states, we find 798 in which the population was less in 1910 than it had been ten years before. If we compare with this the record of the previous decade, we find that between 1890 and 1900 there were 378 counties in which there was a decline; and going back to the tenth census we find that between 1870 and 1880 the number was little over a hundred. This is interesting in connection with the fact that the increase of population in urban territory throughout the country in this decade was over eleven million and in the rural less than five million. It all points to a widespread movement from the farm to the town and the metropolis.

It was to be expected that a decline would appear in the products of the farm. The following are examples of this. The corn crop of 1910 was less than that of t.en years before by 114,000,000 bushels. The wheat crop was greater on account, of the better yield, but the number of acres on which it was grown was less by over 8,000,000. The apple crop was smaller by 27,876,000 bushels, and fewer small fruits were grown by 30,653,000 quarts.

The right way of estimating a country’s products, however, is in their proportion to the number of people. As our population has increased about sixteen million, the amount needs to be much greater to afford each individual an equal quantity for maintenance. The fair way of reckoning, then, is by the amount produced for every thousand inhabitants. Proceeding thus, we find that in 1910 for every thousand inhabitants wheat was grown on 212 fewer acres than in 1900, with a product of 1236 fewer bushels, but with a valuation greater by $2283; 30.6 per cent less land, 14.3 per cent less production, but 46.9 per cent greater value. Corn was grown on 178 fewer acres for every thousand inhabitants, with a product of 7337 bushels less, but with a value $4743 greater; 14.7 per cent less land, 20.9 per cent less product, 43.5 per cent greater value. Taking all cereals toget her, for every thousand inhabitants, the acreage in 1910 was 341 less, the product 9310 fewer bushels, but with a value $9460 greater than in 1900; 14 per cent less land, 16 per cent less product, 48.9 per cent greater value, For orchard fruits, including apples, pears, peaches, oranges, and the like, the number of trees of bearing age, for every thousand inhabitants, in 1910 as compared with 1900, was 1586 less, the product 446 bushels less, the value $430 more; 32.6 per cent fewer trees, 16.1 per cent less fruit, 39 per cent greater value. For all crops, for every thousand inhabitants, the acreage in 1910 was less than in 1900 by 342 acres, while the value of the product was estimated to be $20,202 greater; 9.18 percent less land under cultivation and a product cost ing 51.2 per cent more.

With such a decrease in crops, particularly those required for feeding animals, it was inevitable that there should be a falling off in the amount of live stock on farms. The census enumeration tells us that in this decade the number of neat cattle decreased 5,916,000; of swine 4,682,000; of sheep, 9,056,000. The proportions to population are as follows: For every thousand inhabitants the number of cattle on farms decreased 219, while their value increased $2.38 per head; the number of swine decreased 195, and their value increased $3.17 per head; the number of sheep decreased 238, and their value increased $1.67 per head.

It is argued in explanation that the enumeration for the census of 1900 was made on June 1, while that of 1910 was on April 15, in the midst of the bearing season, when the numbers would naturally be lower than at the end of that season. But we do not find any such decrease in the number of horses, mules or goats; rather a large increase. Again, it is said that the passing away of the great cattle-ranges of t he west ern plains is the cause of the decrease. But this does not explain why a dozen of the older Northern states show, every one, a falling off in the number of cattle on their farms, amounting in all to nearly two million head, with a corresponding decrease in their number of swine and sheep. The plainer explanation is the decline of rural population in so many counties and the decrease in those products of the farm which are necessary to the feeding of these animals.

So the rising prices of beef, pork, and mutton are directly traceable to the decline of our rural population. It is the same, of course, with the rising prices of cereals, fruits, and all the other products of the farm. This touches other people besides those within the boundaries of the United States. Heretofore large quantities of bread-stuffs, meats, and fruit have been exported to other countries and have borne an important part in their sustenance. Of necessity there is a decrease in these exports. Higher prices must then follow in all the countries with which we have commercial relations, and wherever there is want of food we may expect the want to be aggravated. This is involved in our world-wide relationships at the present time.

There is a more serious consequence, however, than scarcity ol food; it is lowering of character. Governor Eberhart of Minnesota tells of a visit he made to Minneapolis in a harvest emergency, for laborers to gather wheat.1 The farmers were at their wits’ ends to save their crops. It was said that the city was full of the unemployed who were looking everywhere for jobs. He found them, as he says, ‘seated on the park benches in all sections of the city and overflowing to the curb stones. Work, it seemed, could not be found. Some of the men were on the verge of starvation, and the charitable organizations of the city were taxed to their utmost capacity to provide for them.' It looked as if his task would be an easy one and he could take back as many men as he wished. He picked out his men and told them he wanted their help. They were eager for t he chance and said they could do anything. He spoke of t he service he had in mind in the country and on the farms, when instantly their faces fell and they were as glum as they had been before. Their answer was: ‘We don’t want to go to the country, boss. We don’t want to live on a farm. There’s nothin’ for us there,— no life, no entertainment, no lights,—nothin’ but monotony and work. We’d rather stay in the city and starve than go to the country an’ have nothin’ to do but work. No, sir, we slay right here.’ And stay they did. He could n’t get one of them to go with him, and the farmers had to harvest their wheat as best they could while the city held in its grasp, unemployed, enough men to garner all the crops of the state.

We cannot suppose that Minneapolis was any worse than other cities in this particular. It is likely that a proposal of this sort would have been received by the unemployed in any one of a thousand American cities in much the same way. And that is the worst of it, for it means an essentially wrong attitude of mind in multitudes of people. Willingness to lie idle rather than to undertake anything they do not quite like, to hang on charity rather than to go where they are wanted and can be of use, with callous incapacity for hearing any call of duty or feeling any thrill of interest at a summons for help in an hour of somebody’s crying necessity. That is the kind of men that our cities make, or too many such.

People flock to the cities for the advantages there offered, and find disadvantages. Parents sell their wholesome country homes because of their children, and go where there are grand churches, superior schools, and attractive libraries, to find themselves in close proximity to drinking saloons, dancehalls, gambling dens, and indescribable allurements to vice. Is that better for their boys and girls, or is the new atmosphere heavy with influences that are a peril? There are fifty churches in a city and a thousand saloons. The churches are open one day and two or three evenings in each week. The saloons are open every week-day all day long and far into the night. Boys and young men are not attracted to the churches. The saloons hold out all sorts of attractions to beguile them within their doors. What wonder that so many city boys grow up with disordered appetites and depraved tastes! A gentleman was recently heard to say, ‘As I go along the street the sight of cigars in the store windows makes me want to smoke and I step in and buy when otherwise I should not think of it.' This gentleman is an eminent Scholar, a principal of a boys’ school, an advocate of reforms, and influential in church and society. If the temptation of the store windows was too much for him, can we expect his pupils to be proof against it?

Do we understand the extent to which these artificial appetites are being cultivated and what this means? With a lessening of the food-supply there comes a more constant resort, to st imulants and narcotics. The hungry go for solace to drink and tobacco, sometimes to more powerful drugs. We can easily imagine that those loungers whom Governor Eberhart saw in the parks of Minneapolis were, most of them, habituated to these indulgences. But these practices grow in prevalence among all classes of people. They are not so common in the country, but are most rife in all our centres of population. And abundant provision is made for them. The prices of flour and meat may advance, but somehow the cost of whiskey and tobacco is kept within the reach of even the very poor. Cigarettes to-day do not cost more than half what they did ten years ago, and three or four times as many of them are used.2

Some products of the farm have not decreased during this decade. Barley, which goes largely to breweries and distilleries, was grown on 3,228,000 more acres in 1910 than in 1900, the product was greater by 53,709,000 bushels, and the valuat ion by $50,826,000. Tobacco was grown on 193,451 acres more, its product was greater by 187,652,000 pounds, and its valuation by $47,315,000. We find too that while exports of breadstuff’s and meats have declined, it has not been so with tobacco; on the contrary, t he export of leaf tobacco increased within ihe ten years including 1912 some 79,000,000 pounds.

Our Internal Revenue receipts offer a measure of the amount, of these products. The taxes derived from distilled and malt liquors and from tobacco, as reported by the United States Commissioner, in 1912 amounted to $290,250,000. This was considerably more than the entire congressional appropriations for the army and navy; and in sixteen months these taxes pour into the treasury more than the estimated cost of the Panama Canal. These taxes have nearly doubled within twenty years, indicating how rapidly these habits of cultivating and indulging artificial appetites have been spreading throughout our country.

In a highly organized community there is a possibility that children will grow up to be like the parts of a machine fitting snugly into their little places and moving there with hardly a thought of what their life means; making of custom a slavery; bowing in craven fealty to a boss, to a business, a sect, an order, a party, any sort of fashionable convention, with never a sentiment of devotion to any burning truth or any grand cause, and with scarcely any recognition of those responsibilities which give to life its dignity and splendor. Many great human qualities come to their best in a life of comparative isolation. A big tree, an oak or elm, standing out in an open field, has a toughness of fibre, a spread of boughs and roundness of shape that are never seen in a tree that stands in the woods. So people get individuality by being much alone. They become self-reliant by relying on themselves. They gain clear opinions by thinking things over, and thinking them out to their necessary conclusions. They acquire inflexibility of purpose by facing obstacles and conquering them. The pioneers of our country and the fathers of the republic were such men. The projectors of greal undertakings carried through triumphantly have acquired their power in this way. The couniry is the natural nursery of such qualities. People are wanted on the farms to raise corn and grow stock for the markets; but they are wanted there far more for the training of manhood and womanhood in moral worth, in religious sensibility, in all the traits of a strong, upright personality. In the future as never heretofore, our cities with their multiplying wealth and lavish luxury are likely to need the country for that steady renewal of their better life which shall keep them from relaxing into sensuality and sinking into decay.

  1. ‘What I am Trying to Do.’ By ADOLPH O. EBERHART. The World’s Work, April, 1913, p. 671. — THE AUTHOR.
  2. The number of cigarettes on which revenue tax was paid for the year ended June 30, 1906, was 3,793,359,903; for the half-year ended December 31, 1912, it was 7,121.012,610, equivalent to over fourteen billion a year. This is the increase in seven years. —THE AUTHOR.