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Social Development

( Originally Published 1918 )

The American type. In the preceding pages we have spoken of an " American type " as if it were a definite, permanent thing. There is no permanent national type; the character of no nation or people is changeless. Every living being, and every people, must adapt itself to conditions of life if it is to live ; and life conditions do not remain the same age after age. Even climate changes somewhat, and many of the conditions of environment, such as the presence of forests or wild animals, have been altered greatly by man himself. No doubt if Washington or Franklin could return to earth, he would find the type of American of the twentieth century very different from that of the eighteenth.

How was it formed ? However, there are elements in the environment, and in race character, which do not change very rapidly or much ; if the same race continues to live in much the same environment, it is likely to retain most of its characteristics. There are also cases where different races come to occupy, one after another, the same environment, with the result of becoming similar ; and at least one case, that of the Jews, where the same race has retained its characteristics, although it has scattered widely over most earthly environments. Also it is true of races, as of persons, that " as the sapling is bent, so is the tree inclined " ; it is of great importance to a person how his childhood was passed, and to a nation how it began. For the experience of earlier stages of development is likely to leave an impress which only a long time and great difference of life conditions can remove. We wish, in this place, to indicate some of the important factors which have contributed to form what we call the American type — the one to which we hope that our immigrants will approach as they live on among us. As we are writing about industry chiefly, we shall give most attention to the industrial side of the American type, although there are many elements of a social and political nature that must be mentioned, since they deeply affect industrial life.

Frontier society. The early settlers came, as civilized men, into an undeveloped region of the temperate zone. They founded a temperate frontier society. This is a very significant fact, for it draws in its train many marked social consequences. Here is a place where climate has exerted a great influence over the life of man. For if two frontier societies, composed of the same national stock, one of which lies in the tropics and the other in the temperate zone, be set over against one another for comparison, a contrast due almost wholly to difference of climate is immediately evident. It is perhaps well to touch upon that contrast, first of all, for it will assist us to understand the differences between the South and the North of our country; for while our South is not tropical in the strict sense, yet it extends to the borders of that belt and comes somewhat under its influences. But we shall bring out this contrast by first describing briefly, and principally for the light it sheds upon the temperate frontier society, the outstanding characteristics of the frontier society or colony of the tropics.

The tropical type of frontier society. The effect of the tropical climate upon the white man is enervating, where it is not worse. It is harder upon women, and especially upon children, than upon men ; and so the tropics are but thinly populated by the white race, and most of the whites are males. This means that the white race cannot keep up its numbers in these regions. If the men who stay there for years marry, they are likely to take native wives and produce a race of half-breeds. The permanent element in the population is the acclimated native ; or, in the case of the tropical regions of America, the American native plus another tropical native — the negro — who has been brought in to do the labor which the white man cannot perform. This 'makes a set of differences in the population, which divides into classes, with the aristocrats at the top and the slaves at the bottom ; the population is not of the same kind, or homogeneous, throughout.

Economic dependence. If the tropics had had no natural re-sources, or if these had been the same as those of the temperate zone, the white man would not have been interested in them. But in the warmer regions there can be produced certain things which are in great demand in northern latitudes, — cotton, sugar, spices, rubber, — and precious metals were to be gotten there. Cotton and sugar, however, cannot very well be raised on the small scale ; and the demand was such that the tropical colony generally confined itself to raising one staple crop. If that crop succeeded, there was wealth ; if it failed, destitution and dependence upon out-side help. All the eggs, so to speak, were in one basket. And the methods of production were wasteful, for the white man, or his chartered company, was after immediate profits. The settler did not expect to stay long, and if he could make his pile, cared little for what he might leave behind him. He cared nothing for the country ; it was not to be his home. A one-crop country must necessarily be a dependent one economically.

Political dependence. And it was likewise politically dependent. The natives and half-breeds were the permanent element in the population and far outnumbered the whites ; and they were generally so treated by their masters that they hated them cordially. The few white aristocrats and owners at the top of the social scale had to depend all the time upon the support of the mother-country, and had no desire or impulse to break away and form an independent state. So the tropical colonies have, as a whole, remained politically dependent upon some northern power and have not grown into modern independent states. They have remained in a protected relation, as " protectorates " or crown colonies, ad-ministered by a governor sent out from the mother-country ; and even in those cases where they are nominally independent they are not stable states like the United States and Canada.

The temperate frontier society. In striking contrast with such conditions are those typical of a colony founded in the temperate zone. Of all such societies which have at length become great nations, no other has attained such prominence as has the United States ; it is the most outstanding example of the developed frontier society of its type. Consequently, as we pass now to the frontier society of the temperate zone what we shall have to say will be almost wholly with reference to our own country — the foregoing sketch of the conditions of a tropical colony having been introduced chiefly with the idea of causing the contrasting conditions of our own country, in its earlier stages, to stand out more clearly. Particularly to be noted is the influence of these conditions in forming and molding the "American type " to which we have several times referred.

Population. If the white man moves from Europe to a new country of approximately the same temperate climate as that to which he is accustomed, the change is regularly beneficial to him in a physical way. It stimulates him ; there is no enervation like that of the hot lands. There is nothing in the change, either, that is deadly to the women and children ; in fact, the rate of increase of a European population regularly rises when it has moved to the new land. And although the hardships of the frontier put something of a curb on the migration of women and children, and although there is always a preponderance of males in such regions, still colonization in the temperate zone is largely by families rather than by male individuals. It is the more so because the intention of the immigrants is permanent settlement rather than transitory fortune-making.

Labor. In this climate, also, the white man was able to work as he could not in the tropics ; far from injuring him, work was a good thing for him. Nature did not drop gifts into his lap, — to live he had to bestir himself, — but she rewarded effort with generosity. There was no need of an acclimatized labor force ; and although negro slavery was tried out in the North, it was found that slave labor could not compete with free labor, and the experiment was not carried far. Meanwhile the free labor poured in with the stream of immigration and settlement.

Resourcefulness. This free population, however, was obliged to become adaptable and resourceful, for there was not much aid from without. There was little in this country that represented a desired novelty in Europe — no one of those tropical products, such as spices, sugar, coffee, for which a large demand existed. The Spaniards, who were after such products, and also precious metals, paid hardly any attention to America north of the Gulf of Mexico. The fur and tobacco trades, involving concentration on single products, were nearest like the enterprises which were characteristic of the warmer lands. In general, where the tropical colonies have set their fortune on raising a few luxuries on the large plantation scale, remaining almost dependent upon the mother-country for necessities, the temperate colonies have been destined to raise a variety of necessities, on the small scale, and so have, by providing for their own needs, become independent of outside aid. The eggs were in several baskets. Our forefathers produced few things that were not produced in England, and, on the whole, received little help in working out their fate. But this meant that they had to be alert and adaptable to conditions if they were going to get on ; they had to be full of resource and do things for themselves somehow. The boy who is helped over every difficulty by his father develops little energy and resource-fulness ; but when a boy is thrown on his own powers, he often shows astonishing ability to take care of himself.

The Yankee. So it was with the colonists ; the " Yankee " got so he could turn his hand to anything, and his inventiveness and resourcefulness in meeting the many dangers and needs of existence in a rough environment have made him a proverb. The stamp set upon him has come to be a sort of national tradition. Our history has been full of alert and clever action, in good causes and in questionable ones ; and in respect to mechanical invention applicable to industrial development we are equal or superior to other nations. It belongs to the American type to show such qualities ; and they were first developed by the colonists, especially those of the northern section of the Thirteen Colonies, in their effort to cope with their life conditions.

Democracy. But now there was another set of elements that entered to mold the national type. Our country was the first of a number of powerful modern democracies. But democracy does not simply happen. Let us see what there was in the beginnings of our history that made for equality, freedom, and independence.

Equality among the settlers. There was no great fortune to be made by settling in temperate North America ; it attracted no Pizarro. It was no place for men with great wealth, for there was no big enterprise, except the fur trade, to invest it in. And it was also no place for lazy paupers or plundering ruffians. We have seen that the earliest settlers came here because they wanted to live and believe as they wished — in respect to politics and religion, for example. In other words, the early immigration to this country was that of people on about the same level of wealth and social standing — pretty much alike, and each thinking himself about as good as the next man. There were exceptions ; but the stream of immigration was, as a stream, composed of similar elements.

Equality due to conditions of life. And when the settlers got here, the conditions they met with helped along the feeling of similarity and equality, and speedily leveled any pretensions of superiority resting on birth and social condition. There was no need for any man to remain inferior to any other man ; and so it was impossible for any man to maintain superiority over others, unless such dominance rested upon real qualities that were daily tested out, before all men, in the life of the community. The landlord could have no such position as he had in England, where there were more men and less land ; if a man did not want to pay rent for land, he could move on into the country, clear some land, and be his own landlord ; if he was not paid wages that made him virtually his employer's equal, he could become his own master easily enough. The easy reversibility of the positions of employer and employed is illustrated by the story of the employer who hired a man and paid him in corn and sheep. Presently he told his employee that he could hire him no longer, as he had already paid him nearly all the property he had. " Very well," replied the workman, " you can now work for me and earn it all back."

Independence. Now this sort of a situation made people very independent and gave them a feeling of the equality of men. It is still to be seen in less developed parts of the country and among populations that have remained more true to the colonial type, where servants are " help," and you do not get things done for you very readily, although the people are not wealthy and are eager to earn, unless you put it on the grounds of asking a favor. Furthermore, there was an even wider feeling of independence that came from the self-sufficiency of the communities. Producing, as they did, a variety of necessities rather than a single article of export, such as sugar, these communities were not economically dependent ; they could live on their own supplies with-out support from outside. Nor did they need constant protection from the mother-country against the natives or the slaves, as colonies in the tropics are likely to need it, owing to the fact that the native and slave element is always preponderant in numbers. And this independence in the economic and social fields had the inevitable effect of making the population feel politically self-sufficient. Political freedom and individualism characterized the temperate colonies ; and all of them have gradually worked them-selves out into political independence. They have all become independent states ; and the strongest of them is the United States, which led off in declaring its independence of outside control. And no one should be deceived into believing that Canada, Australia, and other temperate sections of the British Empire are the less independent in reality because they still acknowledge a nominal bond with Great Britain.

Prosperity. Something of the effect of frontier conditions in a favorable region upon determining the type of population can be seen from preceding paragraphs ; our beginnings in this country certainly had a strongly molding effect upon American society. The founders of our nation were a fine racial stock, to begin with; then they were set down amidst conditions which conspired to make and keep them adaptable, resourceful, ambitious, self-reliant, and independent. They prized industry and talent ; and they especially prized education. A man with an alert and well-stocked mind had a chance in this country that he could not well complain of ; a far better one than could be gained by accident of birth. What wonder, then, that Americans have developed an unparalleled national prosperity, beginning with such richness of natural re-sources, a population of high quality, and a social organization so favorable to the display of the best qualities of the people !

Persistence of the frontier. However, it is possible to make a good beginning and then to fall away from it and wander off on other paths. It was one of the great advantages of this country that it long had with it the frontier influences which we have sketched. These influences on national life were not lost, because we had the frontier always with us. Once the states of the Atlantic seaboard were our frontier ; then it was western Pennsylvania and New York and the rest of the strip west of the Appalachians ; presently it was the states just east of the Mississippi ; then those just west of this river ; then the Far and Farther West. Always the frontier moved westward, but it never ceased to show such conditions as have been outlined, and to react, through the influence of its life, upon the life of the nation. We had an immensity of land for the population to move into ; the pressure of population on land could not be-come heavy, for there was always an outlet and a relief. The country was always underpopulated.

Men at a premium. But where there is much land and few men there is a demand for men, and men are at a premium ; and when men are in demand, that means that there are high rewards for their services and efforts — good profits, high wages, considerate treatment. This gives the men self-respect, independence, and other valuable qualities, just as enslavement demeans them and makes them cringing. Prosperity may even make them conceited, self-assertive, overconfident, and contemptuous of others ; material success may make them blind to things of a less material value. The American type has doubt-less impressed foreigners as boisterous, raw, and bumptious ; but it has been strong and wholesome, with capacity for growth and improvement. Industrially it has astonished the world with its performances. And, on the whole, it has pulled together, showing itself capable of preserving its integrity despite the huge influx of aliens ; in fact, it has impressed itself upon these foreign elements in such manner as to draw them into the nation as real parts of it. In general, there has come out of the melting pot a pretty consistent product.

The passing of the frontier. This country is still partially frontier ; it is still underpopulated, having only some thirty-odd to the square mile, as compared with older countries, where this figure runs into the hundreds. However, it is filling up, and the frontier character of the society is vanishing. As the land loads up with population the conditions of life cannot help becoming more and more like those of older countries —men will be less in demand because there will be more of them in proportion to the land ; and so there will no longer be in existence those frontier advantages of which we have spoken — equality of opportunity, freedom of individual action, and so on. If the American type is not to be altered, we shall have to give some effort to pre-serving it ; here is a case of conservation of natural resources which has escaped the attention of some conservationists.

American social life. In the last two chapters we have doubtless appeared, at times, to be getting rather far away from American industrial development. But the development of the industries in a society is not a thing by itself, apart from all others ; it is intimately linked up with all other parts of the social life. The human element must be reckoned with, and also the manner in which the human element has developed in the mutual relations of men with one another, as they live on together in the community and the nation. Industrial and political development are always more or less interconnected ; it could even be shown that the type of a people's family or religious life influences to a considerable degree its type of industrial life. In these last two chapters we have tried to introduce enough, but not too much, concerning the influence of factors that are not directly industrial, in order to give the student a broader outlook upon the nature of industrial development than he could get from mere facts and figures of a strictly industrial order. We are now the better fitted to understand the meaning of the facts and figures having to do with the several most important of our national industries, and with our trade.

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