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Land And Its People

( Originally Published 1915 )

Physical Nature and Social Development. — In the last chapter reference was made to the influence of physical nature on the origin of society. It is still more influential on social development. Everywhere we find man's possibilities limited by the conditions of his physical environment. It would almost seem as if man sprang out of the soil, so great is his dependence upon it. Always the lines of his development are determined in part by the nature of his contact with the soil, and his social progress is measured by his effective mastery of the forces of nature. For early man at least the character of social life is determined primarily by the manner in which the group attaches itself to the land. The compactly organized Oriental tribe that wanders in the desert is very different from the Teutonic village community, and the manorial group very different from the community settled in the United States on small independent farms. The prevalence of great estates means a peas-ant population and possibly a race of serfs.

Just what influence physical environment has upon intellectual and social development is a matter of controversy. Some, for example, Montesquieu and von Treitschke, have thought that climate and the topography of the country affect a people directly. The former thought frankness was produced by cold climates, the latter that the difference in artistic temperament between Switzerland and other Alpine regions and the more level regions of Swabia, Franconia, and Thuringia was due to the paralyzing effect of majestic mountains upon the minds of men. Buckle, Spencer, Ellen Semple, Giddings, and others have seen that the problem is not so simple.'

The Conflict with Nature. — Everywhere and at all times man appears to be in conflict with nature. He struggles against the wild animals of the forest, exterminating or subduing them; he seeks to avoid the winter's cold or summer's heat ; he wrests from the forest, the stream, and the soil his means of subsistence. He turns the forces of nature from his destruction to his salvation. Water power and wind, steam and electricity finally become his servants. On the other hand, he is attacked by parasites and germs of disease. The deadly microbe causes his perpetual warfare for its extermination. Two theories prevail among philosophers, one that nature is niggardly and harsh; the other that she is bounteous and generous. There is truth in both. By his intelligence man arranges his life in conformity with the regularities of nature and by his effort he forces nature to yield her treasures. Nature is bounteous in the supply of all man's needs if only by intelligent effort he compels her to open her treasure house. Certainly the medial statement is true, that all man's wants are supplied from nature through intelligent and well-directed effort.

Character of the Land and the Development of Society. — By " land " is meant land, air, and water -- the physical environment. Climate, soil, and humidity determine whether there shall be any society at all. Nine tenths of the globe's surface is not suitable for man's occupation. Parts of it are water, other parts are too high in altitude, some lack water, others have an impossible climate, and still others lack the plant food which we call fertility of soil.

One has but to reflect in order to appreciate how important are the influences of the physiography upon man and his social development. Oceans and mountain ranges have great influence upon climate. One ocean current makes Labrador, with the same latitude as England, uninhabitable, while another has made it possible for England to be an important seat of Western civilization. The contour of a coast together with an ocean current and the effects of ocean tides may make a harbor of one place while destroying the entrance to another. Mountain barriers, on the one hand, and rivers, the natural highways, on the other, determine the direction in which an inflowing tide of immigrants shall go. Witness the directions taken by the barbarian invasions of Europe. Moreover, it is probable that those invasions were started partly by physical causes, the drying up of the central plateaus of Asia.' Coast lines much indented by the sea, thus offering harbors and abundant opportunities for man to reach the interior easily, have much to do with social development. Minor features of topography, such as lakes, waterfalls, mountain passes, caρons,. and fertile plains, have determined where settlements of men should occur. Valleys, like rivers, are natural highways of communication. One has only to look at a map of our own country to see how important has been the influence exerted upon American society by the physical factors.2

Moreover, the primary and secondary sources of subsistence, as Giddings, following Buckle, calls them, have much to do in determining where human settlement shall occur and, to a degree the character of the society man creates .3 Out of these physical conditions grew man's economic relations, his social attachments, and many of his interests and animosities, forces so important to human society.

Man Touches Nature at an Increasing Number of Points. — In primitive society life was simple and the wants of man were supplied from a few sources of nature. But as civilization advanced man continually came in contact with nature at an increasing number of points. Thus, in primitive life when man obtained his subsistence from roots and berries, his shelter from. rocks and caves, and his clothing from rushes and leaves, his command of the resources of nature was very slight. During all this period he was at the mercy of the elements. Subsequently when he had learned to hunt and to domesticate animals, and when the women had learned to keep a fire, other great steps forward were taken, but when he obtained a permanent relation to the soil and developed agriculture, he added to the momentum of his progress a thousand-fold. In the history of the race man has advanced the practical arts of civilization exactly in proportion as he multiplied the number of points of contact with nature, and utilized the possibilities of this contact for his advantage. The use of the streams and the seas for transportation, of the winds for propelling ships, of water power for turning machinery, of steam power in its numerous and extensive offices, of electricity in all of its varied services, of the commercial value of minerals, and of new articles of food made him independent. These things give evidence of the fact that man's progress is due to the utilization of all the forces and materials of nature. The story of civilization has been one of more and more complete understanding of nature, of man's adaptation to nature, and therefore the more perfect subjection of her powers for man's benefit.

Attachment to the Soil. — Beginning with a very loose attachment to the soil, man has come to an ownership of the soil in fee simple. At first the primitive man owned no land. It was merely the hunting ground of the group ; each individual member of the group took from it what he wanted. There was only group ownership and for the wandering, pastoral Bedouin tribes that was so loose that it was often disputed. The group was here to-day and there to-morrow. Ownership focused now about a well-watered old glacial delta in a rapidly drying-up plateau, as in the case of the long-buried cities so recently brought to light in Eastern Turkestan,' now about a spring in a desert, as in the Arabia of the Nomads, and again about a clearing in the forest or a tun or hill easily defended. The pastoral or tillable land about this center was the group's possession so long as they could hold it by force. That was the beginning of a closer attachment to the soil. Feudal agrarian relations grew up partly on the basis of pastoral feudalism and partly on the newly developed emphasis upon cultivation of the soil.

Through his permanent attachment to the soil man was enabled to develop a distinct and separate class of social services. It aided the tendency already strong towards the segregation of families into separate permanent homes and thus developed family life, which furnished the strongest element in social order. The close proximity of more people than could possibly be supported by pastoral industry taught respect for mutual rights and established duties, for higher socialization takes place only when people are brought into close personal relationship. Under such circumstances custom changes into law ; powers of government become differentiated and established ; the division of labor in industry prevails ; and society is divided into inter-dependent groups, each having a common relationship with the general social body. But so important is this attachment to the soil in determining the character of civilization that its history would reveal the fundamental characteristics of social life. Thus the tribal method of occupation, the village community, the feudal system, the manorial system, and the owner-ship of land in fee simple, are so many different economic bases of social relationships.

The Various Uses of Land. — In man's choice of land the three chief considerations are position, fertility, and mineral products. The first has reference to situation and also to sheer standing room. The relation of the population to the soil and its distribution give rise to many distinct social phenomena. It would seem at first thought that there would be ample room for the millions that inhabit the globe, but their distribution and the means of support afforded by natural features and resources cause the population to arrange itself in various centers, pressing more and more together on certain small territories until at length such cities as New York and Chicago are formed. This crowding of the population into congested groups has a vast influence in the development of social relationships. Villages in fertile valleys, the great cities of manufacture and trade, and the mining towns that spring up in a single night are made by people attracted by the lure of commonly appreciated advantages there to be found. The result of this is increased land values rising in some instances to enormous figures. Thus the land on lower Broadway in New York sells for hundreds of dollars per square foot simply because there is demand for it by many people for commercial and social purposes. On the other hand, in the Far West hundreds of acres may be bought for the price of a single foot on Broadway.

Because man may obtain from the soil the means whereby he may satisfy his wants, he seeks to possess it. Grain, vegetables, and live stock for food, trees and forests for houses and furniture and various mechanical uses are all yielded from the riches of the soil. Likewise man obtains from beneath the soil gold and silver, iron and coal, and all the minerals for mechanical services. Thus a general human demand for the products of certain soils causes the aggregation of population and brings all types of society into accord with the uses made of the soil and its products. Every increase in population which causes an increase in demand for the products of the land augments the value of land and often leads to changes in the uses to which it is put.

Increase of Population. — In primitive society tribes were obliged to go, where the food supply existed, and consequently when a tribe exhausted the food supply there was division, colonization, or migration. The increase in the food supply by the use of a new variety of food frequently changed conditions so that it was not necessary to migrate. The same effect was produced by the discovery of processes by which some natural product hitherto not fit for food could be used for food. Such a discovery was the use of fire by primitive man in the preparation of food. By that means not only was food made more palatable and more easily digested, as in the case of meats, thus releasing energy for social purposes, but it increased the food value of many products, such as the starchy foods, and rendered edible others which up until then had been almost, if not entirely, worthless as food.' Moreover, with the adoption of agriculture food supplies were increased. Domestication of animals leading gradually to breeding for a definite purpose was another step which increased the food supply and made certain semi-desert parts of the earth's surface available for human habitation. The development of transportation and the practice of exchanging the products of one part of the world for those of another part have further increased the ability of the world to support a larger population. New inventions, furthermore, in agriculture, stock breeding, and in manufacture, new methods of organization both on farm and in factory, have further increased the available food supply. These, and many similar facts, also explain the concentration of ever larger aggregations of people in one small area, as in New York and London, because each draws its sustenance from a large territory. If the population of New York City was limited for its food supply to the territory within one hundred miles, most of its people would starve within a few months.

The Efforts to Satisfy Wants the Basis of Society. — Many different theories have been advanced regarding the basis of society. Some have tried to establish kinship or blood relationship as the foundation. Others have insisted that the race idea, which is only an extension of this, is the formal basis of society. Again, others have held that religion is the great motive resulting in the establishment of huge social bodies. Some others have held that conflict is the cause of social development, and still others that social contact is the basis of society. It must be apparent, however, that man is moved in social matters by two sets of factors, physical conditions either limiting or stimulating his organism, and emotional impulses arising from within his own organism, stimulated and given direction by the environing physical and social influences. Two great physical instincts man possesses in common with all animals, the hunger and the sex instincts. The physical environment plays an important part in giving direction to his activities. He has been forced here and there by physical influences and through their operation he has found himself associated with his fellows who were influenced in a similar manner. For ex-ample, the storm causes people to seek the same shelter, the stream draws them to the same spot, and they meet on the best hunting ground. In seeking to satisfy hunger and to avoid the discomforts of inclement weather, primitive men were forced together, sometimes into companies. The sex instinct and the desire for companionship operated powerfully upon primitive men to cause them to congregate together. Where they should gather depended largely upon physical conditions. Without forgetting that sometimes a land poor in food supplies forced men to separate into small groups, watercourses, teeming lakes and rivers, game-filled forests, and plains strewn with herds of animals good for food were attractions which often caused primitive men to converge. Mountain barriers, deserts, and broad seas determined bounds beyond which even hunted men could not go. Ever acting with the impulse of hunger were the social instincts, — the attraction of the novel in sex and the mysterious but alluring adventure of establishing companionship with the unknown stranger more or less like himself. Aggregations were thus easily formed, impelled by such instincts, and by the favoring influence of climate and soil, mountain, stream, and ocean.

The Survival of the Social Group. — The character of the group, however, is always dependent to a considerable degree upon the nature of the country within which it has been formed. The ultimate determinant of the composition of a group of people is the physical characteristics of the place where people congregate and form in social groups of a permanent character. In their bearing upon the nature of the social groups naturally nurtured by them the various physical environments may be divided into four different kinds, as pointed out by Giddings, viz., a poorly endowed region isolated by natural barriers, one poorly endowed but easy of access and egress, a richly endowed but isolated region and one richly endowed and readily accessible.' In the first the population will be formed by the natural birth rate rather than by immigration and therefore will be relatively homogeneous in blood. Whether it increases will depend on the relation of the birth rate to the death rate. In the second kind of country the vigorous, alert spirits will emigrate, but there will be few immigrants. The population, again, will be homogeneous in blood. In both cases there will be little or no group conflict, the result of intermixture. The tendency in the population in the first case will be inbreeding, but with a slower deterioration than in the latter ; in the latter rather rapid degeneration both in stock and in culture will occur. Examples of the first may be seen in Greenland, Central Thibet, and Central Australia, and of the latter in many of the New England rural districts whence the former inhabitants emigrated to better lands. In the third kind of environment, such as is exemplified in the Hawaiian Islands and Central Africa, one finds again a genetic group of one blood, but large in numbers. It is a variety of this kind of environment which has furnished the migrations of history. Let such an environment change its character by reason of either a gradual desiccation or of a sudden failure of crops, and the sturdier and more restless elements of the population will surge forth in search of better habitats. The fourth kind of environment, typified by such regions as the Nile valley, the Shenendoah valley of Virginia, and the fertile fields of our own Gulf States, or better still the great Mississippi valley, attracts people from everywhere. This makes for a highly mixed population, made up of the strongest and most venturesome spirits from all parts of the world.

After the social group had been fully formed so that it had a permanent identity and its numbers had increased sufficiently to crowd its habitat, it began its career of struggle for the soil with other groups. If the group represented a vigorous racial stock and was successful in locating under favorable circumstances, it had many opportunities for survival. The larger and stronger group was, by its vigor and foresight, sure to locate in the best territory. However, if through accident a strong racial stock was forced to remain for a period of time under less favorable circumstances, the opportunities for success were much decreased. On the other hand, if a race lacking in vigor of body or in intellect should locate in the most fertile district and with the most favorable environment, the opportunities for survival would be even less than that of the vigorous race which settled under unfavorable circumstances, because the well-directed effort of man is the prime factor in his survival. Hence, where a race of low vitality locates on a barren soil or is thrust back on poor hunting grounds its chance for survival is very small. The history of races shows how thousands of these groups are thrust aside by stronger races and perish, leaving no record of civilization. The results of land occupation, therefore, will depend largely on the size and activity of the social group which settles upon it. If the group be strong and vigorous, it moves more rapidly in subduing nature and bringing to its support her various bounties.

The Natural Races. Everywhere we find in contrast the so-called natural races and the civilized races. By natural races we mean those which have not reached any high degree of civilization, although some of them may have the capacity for progress. Wherever races have developed and become civilized they have met in their migrations these natural races. Whether in Europe, Asia, or Africa, the migrations of the stronger tribes have encountered a population of lower grade. The American continent was covered with these natural races which had not yet entered the pale of civilization when the Europeans landed there. Some of them, like the Peruvians, the Aztecs, the Pueblos, the Cliff Dwellers, and the Mound Builders, have left some records of the beginnings of culture,' Art and industry, religion and government had been developed to a considerable extent, but a great majority of the living tribes of the New World were either stationary or degenerating at the time of their first contact with European races. They occupied intermittently nearly all the land areas of America. They used them mostly for hunting purposes, so that their land tenure was of a very primitive sort, usually consisting of nothing more than temporary occupancy. Tribal ownership prevailed with the exception that in some small villages a family had the right, for the time being, to the soil on which it built its wigwam or hut. However, the beginnings of a settled agriculture were made among some of them, and the evolution of political organization was developing when the coming of the whites stopped the process of evolution. For example, the Iroquois, and probably some of the other American Indians, had developed a gentile confederacy of tribes .2 They were undergoing the transformations through which the Greek tribes had gone in the prehistoric period. Had they been permitted to continue their development without interruption by the whites, it is probable that they would have developed, after a time, a civilization of a high type. The achievements of some of the Central and South American tribes in architecture certainly point in that direction.

During a long period the tribes continued to migrate or kept changing their locations. However, there was not so much real migration as is generally supposed, because the tribes had two methods of occupation. One was the territory where their villages, pasture lands, and permanent hunting grounds were located, and the other was the territory claimed by them for hunting purposes. At different seasons of the year they were found going from their villages to these hunting grounds and back. It was out of contention over these less permanent abodes that most of the Indian wars originated. In the migrations of tribes, often when the stronger invaded the territory of the weaker, the former settled down in tribal ownership of the soil, which it held for the good of all. This is true even among semi-civilized groups like the early Greeks, the Romans, or the Teutons, in their migrations.

Habitable Land Areas. — The lands of the world are considered either habitable or uninhabitable, but these are really relative terms, for the habitability of land areas depends upon the stage of civilization and the standard of life prevailing in the various countries of the world. There are unoccupied territories that could be made to support a meager population. Many low tribes lead a miserable existence on certain barren soils or on inferior hunting grounds. Some of the arid land west of the Mississippi River, generally considered uninhabitable, has been subdued and utilized through the science and indomitable efforts of a civilized race. The territory of New England sup-ports a high civilization largely on account of the character and energy of the people who brought with them the arts and industries of a civilized life. Many of the mountain ranges and their approaches will not permit a thickly settled population and, indeed, in some instances, practically forbid the permanent habitation of man. On the other hand, the fertile valleys of the Mississippi and of other great rivers permit a gradually increasing population of great density. Mankind is constantly searching out such fertile spots and developing all their resources to support a large population.

The Settlement of Tribes. — The Indian tribes of North America had spread over nearly the whole territory. The great Algonquin tribe occupied nearly the whole of British America and extended into the boundaries of the United States, covering the New England states and the northern Mississippi valley ; the Iroquois tribes occupied New York and a part of North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia. On the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains was the great Siouan tribe, and the southwestern part of the United States was occupied by the Shoshonean tribe. The Athapascans occupied the north-western part of North America and a part of the territory in the extreme southwest of the United States.

Other tribes were located on different territories of the United States, a large number of them clustering along the Pacific coast. They all showed the effects of migrations and wars in the struggle for territory. While they occupied large areas their centers of population were along the streams and in the fertile valleys, following, like civilized man, the sources of food supply and the natural lines of travel. Very few of this vast body of natives could be considered sedentary. Most of them were located in Arizona and New Mexico. Possibly also a few of the Iroquois tribe and some of the ancient Mound Builders in the southern part of the United States occupied permanent habitations. When the Europeans came to America their migrations followed the same natural routes as those followed by the natives. Their most densely populated groups were located in the districts most densely populated by the Indians. The streams were followed, the valleys occupied, and subsequently the great plains.

In view, however, of the extensive migrations by individuals which have occurred in the last one hundred years among civilized nations one is tempted to say that the movements of the American Indian tribes or even the historic migrations of the Aryans in comparison were but pigmy affairs, and that these primitive peoples were relatively settled in their life as compared with modern peoples. Nevertheless, there is a great difference between the two migrations. The migrations of the Indians and of the peoples in Europe in historic times were group affairs, while modern migration is predominantly an individual matter. When comparing individuals, one can say that there is more movement to-day than at any previous time. When, however, we think of groups, we must say that the tribes of American Indians, of Arabian Bedouins, and of Aryan peoples were less settled on the land than are our modern peoples with their highly organized governments which give permanence to a population even when the individual constituents of that population are constantly and swiftly changing. The wit of man in the face of the loosening of the former immemorial bond of kinship has caught at the device of substituting for it settlement within a given geographic area combined with a sharpening of the consciousness of political unity. An absolute prerequisite of political stability is attachment of the social group to a definite territory.

Growth of Population in Relation to Land Areas. — The extent and character of the land has always been a controlling influence in the development of population, not only on ac-count of the limitations of the food supply, but also on account of the union of various tribes and groups into a more compact and integrated body. Here, as elsewhere, the impelling forces of nature have a vast influence in advancing social union. If, for example, the land is broken by mountains and valleys so that people in the different valleys are kept apart from each other, social integration will be retarded. In fact, differentiation will set in. The language will vary in the different valleys in course of time, customs will become different, modes of thought and codes of conduct will grow up, varying within degrees in each of the isolated groups from those prevailing in the others. Good examples of such social variation are to be seen among the inhabitants of the various valleys of the German and Swiss Alps and of the Kentucky mountains.

But especially has population been limited by land areas when there was no room for expansion, for then it must be limited in its resources for supporting life. When the food supply, with the method of utilization in vogue, would support no larger population, either new methods of increasing the food supply were found, or the standard of living was lowered, or else the population expanded beyond its earlier boundaries. Colonization has usually grown out of the pressure of population upon food supply furnished by the area occupied in comparison with the real or reputed possible supply to be found elsewhere. The Greeks colonized when there was an overcrowding of the population, the barbarians of the North invaded the Roman territory when their own territory would not well support them with their existing mode of life. The great modern movement of elements in the populations of various countries of Europe offers a modern instance. On the other hand, the intensive agriculture of the Nile Valley in ancient times and of the valleys of Indian and Chinese rivers to-day has made it possible for a small area to support an enormous population. Often, however, as in the case of the Chinese and the inhabitants of India, a lowering of the standard of living and intensive farming have been the double alternative to emigration.

Various Forms of Land Tenure. — The history of land tenure reveals various prominent influences in social development. When the tribe settles down upon the soil and owns it and controls it without any individual ownership of the land, there is always a limitation placed upon man's individual effort. There is a tendency for all to hold the property in common and likewise a tendency toward democracy so far as property is concerned. It also develops a, closely integrated social group that wields absolute authority. Forms and customs prevail and are perpetuated because of the dominance of tradition as a method of social control. In the old village life we find a little variation because permanent ownership of the home or house lot exists for the family and the small family group develops its independent life more truly than where tribal ownership prevails in its entirety. In both forms, however, community cultivation of the soil is involved. Under this system there is no incentive to the cultivator to do more than " skin " the land, for no one knows whether in next year's allotment he will have the same piece to cultivate as he had last year? Before great progress in agriculture can be made some form of land tenure by which the land can be held and cultivated by the same individual year after year must arise. Two forms of such tenure did arise, tenancy for years and ownership in fee simple. The old Roman laws developed from land holding gave character to the entire Roman policy. The basis of feudal society rested upon the system of feudal land tenure. The great farms and estates of England and Scotland were conducive to the development of aristocratic government, while the small, individual holdings of America, if persisted in, would insure democracy forever.

Land tenure has usually been of a communal nature among primitive tribes, but the individual system early developed out of it. Wherever individual possession has been recognized, there has always existed a great diversity in the size of the holdings. Large and small holdings have existed side by side, although in most instances the tendency has been to increase the large holdings- and to develop a landed aristocracy.


GIDDINGS, F. H. Elements of Sociology, Chap. II.

BUCKLE, THOMAS HENRY. History of Civilization in England, Chap. II, or

CARVER, T. N. Sociology and Social Progress, Chap. X.

DEGREEF, GUILLAUME. Introduction ΰ la Sociologie, Part I, chap. III. LAVELEYE, EMILE DE. Primitive Property.

THACKERY, S. W. The Land and the Community, Chaps. I, II, and III. WALKER, FRANCIS A. The Land Question.

THOMAS, W. H. Source Book for Social Origins, pp. 47-54.


1. Trace the origin and growth of the various settlements in your county, showing what physical and geographic features had to do with the establishment of the various villages and cities of the county.

2. Why was Virginia settled before Ohio?

3. What were the geographical features which determined the location of the railroad in your city or village?

4. Show how a "backwoods community" of which you may know has been made different by physical conditions so far as the character of the people is concerned.

5. Account for the backwardness of the Kentucky mountaineers on the basis of the influence of physical conditions.

6. Point out specific ways in which the White Man who dispossessed the Red Man was more closely attached to the soil.

7. What physical reason is there which helps to make land in New York City worth thousands of dollars per front foot, while land on a fertile prairie of the Central West is worth only a hundred dollars per acre?

8. Show what physical conditions predetermined America to be a country of a very composite population — a very " melting pot" of the nations.

9. Show that the physical factors alone are inadequate to explain social phenomena, by indicating the reasons why the White Man is able to sustain a very much larger population in the United States than was the Indian.

10. Why does individual tenure of land make for the betterment of a country rather than the communal tenure of Europe in the Middle Ages?

11. Take a city block and a rural square mile and compare them as to the proportion of the occupants who live in rented places in each and the pro-portion who own the places they occupy.

12. Compare the results as to exhaustion of the soil and careful farming in the modern rental tenure of farms with the same points in the communal tenure of land on a manor in Medieval Europe.

Outlines Of Sociology:
Social Life In General

Definition And Scope Of Sociology

Purpose And Method Of Sociology

Social Origins

Land And Its People

Social Activities

Social Organization

Organization And Life Of The Family

Disorganization Of The Modern Family

Origin And Development Of The State

Read More Articles About: Outlines Of Sociology

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