Imágenes de páginas


8 ment in favor of scientific education will be productive of one excellent result, if it serves to direct the minds of the rising generation toward the methods of science, and the ways in which those methods must be applied to the study of societary laws rather than to the technicalities of science, or to its practical applications to the ordinary operations of industry.

The most superficial observer cannot fail to see that there is some want of the kind we are indicating to be filled. He sees statesmen, orators, newspapers, and magazines discussing the currency question by hundreds every day. He knows that their words fall dead upon the ear of the public, for the simple reason that the speakers and writers cannot convince the public that they have any real knowledge of the subject, or any clear understanding of the questions involved. In this way the entire ineffectiveness of the great mass of the arguments is quite clear to him. What he sees very dimly, or not at all, is that the deficiency arises from the want of any systematic logical method in the processes by which the disputants reach their conclusion, while the way in which such a method is to be mastered lies quite beyond his vision. If he sees the way, he certainly will not consider philosophic thought as a mere ornament.

From this point of view science presents itself as a system of national liberal education, to be maintained for the same reasons that we maintain the liberal education of the individual. Without it we shall suffer precisely as the individual suffers when he follows a profession of which he does not understand the first principles. We must look to the cultivation of science in its broadest fields to do for the future of the nation what a knowledge of mathematics does for the engineer, of chemistry for the physician, or of mechanics for the architect. Its function is not merely to furnish empirical rules for our guidance, but to shed the brightest possible light upon a difficult path, in which we are to make our way by our own best judgment. With it, the path may sometimes be hard to find; but without it, we must grope entirely in the dark.



The century which has elapsed since our independence was declared exactly covers the period for which the science of political economy has been a systematized branch of human learning and research. Before the publication of Adam Smith's “ Wealth of Nations” in 1776, we have, indeed, discussions of detached topics, and even attempts here and there to throw the whole into connected form; but, after all, the economist finds the foundations of the science, as it stands to-day, laid deep and solid for the first time by Adam Smith ; the great men who have since carried forward the work have declared themselves his followers, and in developing and extending the science have kept to the lines of discussion which he laid down with such vigor and insight a century ago.

The science which is thus coeval with our nation has been studied with zeal and with measurable success in most parts of the civilized world. New principles have been evolved, tested by the abundant experience of modern industry, and added to the body of ascertained truths. Unceasing discussion has enforced constant revision of the whole work, with increase of firmness and consistency as the issue of every threatened revolution. The field properly occupied by the science has been surveyed and its limits determined, even to the disappointment of over-ambitious economists or of a too expectant public. No other moral science has equally engaged the attention of public men, and no other, it is safe to say, has equally influenced public affairs, whether by the correct or the incorrect application of its principles. Nor has any nation had the monopoly of honors gained in this new pursuit. Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Mill have secured the leading position for England ; but France and Germany, and perhaps Italy, have made contributions of lasting importance to the subject, and have never been without their full proportion of active and judicious investigators. Notwithstanding the priority of England in some remarkable advances, the centre of interest in economic discussion has not always rested with her; it has at times been

in France; it is now, probably, in Germany. In short, the science has been made a common possession by the efforts of all.

When we come to inquire what part our own country has taken, and what contribution it has made in building up this science, we are struck at the outset by the fact that the growth of the United States has been a circumstance of prime importance in the economic history of the world during the century. It must be placed in the same rank with the brilliant succession of discoveries in the industrial arts, or with the extensive improvement of government and social organization, as one of the half-dozen great influences which have changed the face of the civilized world. Without entering into the details of a comparison, to which every reader is likely to have his attention sufficiently drawn during the present year, we may here note a few of the facts which have given to the development of this country so great an influence upon that of the rest of the world. Beginning with the statement of mere area, the organized States of the Union now occupy a territory larger than the whole of Europe, outside of the Russian Empire. The improved land of these States, measuring 295,000 square miles in 1870, cannot be much less than the total improved surface of England and Ireland, France and Prussia, together. Of this vast field of production, we may fairly say that the whole has been brought into the circle of international exchanges and added to the available resources of mankind within this century, so insignificant were its relations with the rest of the world a hundred years ago. Moreover, the products to which this territory is adapted by nature are such as have a singularly direct and important bearing on the welfare of other countries. How great an industrial revolution has been wrought by cotton, and what the nineteenth century would be without that fibre, of which we produce more than half of all that comes to the markets of Europe and America, it would be hard to say ; but the memory of our civil war is still fresh enough to tell us what universal disaster must follow the interruption of our supply, and what a chain of consequences, involving the wellbeing, the peace, the institutions, and even liberty of millions of men, have followed from the addition of the cotton-plant to the agricultural products of the South. Of different but hardly inferior significance in the economy of the world is our supply of gold. The astonishing expansion of industry and commerce for which the close of the wars of Napoleon seems to have given the signal, which has stimulated and been stimulated by our growth, is one of the great phenomena in the history of mankind. This expansion, however, must have been checked at the most critical period, had not fresh discoveries of gold supplied the enlarged medium of exchange required by the new scale of transactions; and of this series of discoveries, the second in importance in recorded history, California made one of the chief and also the earliest. From that time the United States have continued to be the first in importance of the sources of gold; and were this our only economic relation to the rest of the world, the influence of our rise as a nation upon the general well-being must be admitted to be direct and powerful in an extraordinary degree.

Tobacco, one of our earliest staples for export, has become not only an article of great moment in the revenue systems of several leading nations, but stands in a peculiar relation as one of the few luxuries which enter largely into the consumption of the poorer classes of all countries, thus acquiring, as it were, a social importance far beyond its simple pecuniary value. And of tobacco, the United States are now the leading source of supply for England, France, and Germany. To turn from this to petroleum, one of our newest staple articles of export, and now the third or fourth in importance on our list, it may be doubted whether to the majority even the ludicrous incidents of the discovery do not continue to be more familiar than the reflection that by the timely introduction of a cheap and excellent artificial light an immense boon was conferred upon a large part of the civilized world.

And last among those economically important natural products to which we shall refer are the cereals. Our capacity for the supply of these, although of secondary importance in the markets of other countries, has made it possible for us to sustain an increase of population which, for years, has been cited as the standard example of maximum natural growth. This abundance of cheap food has also made it for our interest, simul


taneously with this rapid natural increase of numbers, to invite from the Old World an immigration on a scale so vast as to constitute in itself an economic phenomenon of no mean order, the result being the relief of the older countries from a serious, if not dangerous, pressure of numbers, by the transfer to our shores of more than nine millions of people, or a number equal to the whole population of Great Britain at the date of our independence. And the population thus established upon our soil, whether native born or of immediate foreign extraction, has proved to be no inert mass, but, from the start, has been active and resolute to a fault, in improving all material advantages and in pushing its way to a place among the great powers of the modern world. Mineral resources of remarkable variety, and of extent not even yet fully measured, together with fortunate conditions of physical geography, have seconded these efforts and have often enabled us to enter into sharp competition with the longer-established industries of Europe. To excellent natural facilities for communication has been added a railway system of 75,000 miles, being little less than half the railway mileage of the world, and going far to neutralize the disadvantage of great distances, which, in some directions, threatened to hamper our growth. A mercantile marine, which even in its present depressed condition is not far short of the greatest on the ocean, and is of nearly double the magnitude of its next competitor, helps in part to connect this vast internal network with the general commercial system of the world. So great, however, is the volume of our exchanges with other countries, that scarcely one third of it is transported by our own shipping. With the mother-country, especially, our commerce has grown, until it overshadows that of


other nation with whom she carries on a trade either of export or of import. What a growth this has been is shown by the fact that the steam-tonnage now annually cleared for New York alone from the United Kingdom exceeds the total tonnage of ships annually cleared for all parts of the world down to the close of our Revolution.

In the process of development indicated by these few leading facts, the United States, by a natural and steady though rapid movement, have taken among commercial nations a place not

« AnteriorContinuar »