United States economic history: Warnings at the turn of the twentieth century

"It is true we are a great people, but we are not independent of the rest of the world. It is true we have a country with unparalleled natural facilities for manufactures and agricultural pursuits, with an ingenious people utilizing machinery in every possible direction, with a territory so vast as to include soil and climate adapted to all the forms of food demanded by man and beast, and with mines to yield many sorts of ores as well as the coal for their reduction. But with these blessings - blessings in abundance - there may be a limit to our industrial advance. Under normal conditions two causes can arrest our progress; viz., scarcity of labor and a loss of our agricultural exports. With the immigration we have had in such abundant measure, together with our increase in native population, it would seem impossible that labor should ever be scarce. In quantity, perhaps, this may be true; but for the manufactories some skill is required, and intelligence above the ordinary is needed. Then, for each additional five or six families whose heads are engaged in the shops or factories, one farmer must start his plough for their support, or else our exports must be diminished by a corresponding amount. This farmer must take up new lands, less productive than those now formed, or else a subdivision of lands now under cultivation must take place. Both these steps have been taken. The size of farms has decreased from 199 acres in 1860 to 137 in 1890, and the number of farms has increased a great many fold in this period."

Recent calculations show that the capital invested in farming is not less than $16,000,000. The farm animals of the United States are valued at $2,300,000. The unreclaimed and unwatered lands of Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma comprise about five hundred million acres. Our average annual exports of agricultural products are worth about $664,000,000.

The commercial consequences of the Spanish-American war cannot yet be grasped, even in imagination. With the West Indies virtually knocking at our door, and the East Indies now within touch, it is not possible for American trade to suppress the instinct of expansion, subject to the controlling conditions which the higher patriotism shall ultimately establish. Our export business is not confined to manufactured goods, or food-stuffs, or raw materials. We export men also. American missionaries have prepared the way for many a coming army of civilizing agents, teachers of industries and arts, ingenious devisers of railways, canals, and other necessities of development among primitive peoples. American capitalists have been scouring the wide world for places and interests in which to embark their money. American diplomatists and consuls have been educating foreigners to understand us and accept our co-operation in lifting their lands to a higher social and commercial plane. All these agencies are now conspiring to open the great door of the Eastern Hemisphere to our trade and to keep it open for ever. Our unlooked-for hold on the Philippines formed the first stepping-stone to the Chinese wall which we, with other powers, are going to surmount. With the origin and lamentable features of the complicated quarrel between the allied powers and the rulers of China, we have no concern in this place. Its bearings on our commercial future are pertinent to the topic in hand.

The official statistics of the Chinese Government show the value of the total imports from the United States in 1898, the latest year for which reports have been received, equal to $12,016,318. This, however, does not include all of the United States merchandise entering China, since our exports to Hong-Kong are equal to about one-half of those exported direct to China, and, presumably, a very large proportion of the exports to HongKong is destined ultimately for Chinese markets. During the early years of the decade ending with 1899, exports to Hong-Kong were larger than those to China direct; but the Chinese ports have been steadily gaining upon Hong-Kong, and in the fiscal year 1899, the shipments from the United States to ports of China were double the amount of shipments to Hong-Kong, being, for China, $14,493,440, and to Hong-Kong, $7,732,525. It appears, therefore, that the total value of goods entering China from the United States is now about $20,000,000 annually, while our imports in 1899 from China and Hong-Kong combined amounted to $21,098,542.

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