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In 1890 the superintendent of the census made the following significant statement:
Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it cannot, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports.
This brief official statement, as Professor Turner well says, “marks the closing of a great historic movement.” In our day the era of unlimited free land suitable for cultivation has already passed, and with the disappearance of free land, the old freedom for the individual, the old equality of opportunity, which have hitherto been the guaranties of American democracy, are things of which one can no longer speak with the same confidence. The abnormal price of the best farm land, which now, in the states of Iowa and Illinois, sells for from $250 to $425 per acre, is slowly but surely creating a permanent class of tenant farmers, while the abnormal concentration of industrial power is not only creating a permanent class of wage-earners, but is placing the control of the production and the distribution of wealth in the hands of the few. Political democracy we have; but the old economic democracy is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. To achieve, under these changed conditions and by new methods, the economic freedom without which political freedom is of little use is the task of the coming years.
DEMOCRACY AND SLAVERY
HEN Jefferson wrote the Declaration of
Independence, proclaiming as a universal truth that “all men are created equal,' negro slavery was a legalized institution throughout the thirteen states. The contrast between the actual fact and the proclaimed truth was flagrant and irreconcilable. Jefferson and his associates were entirely aware of the fact. It was commonly believed at the time that slavery was a moral as well as an economic evil, but the leading men of the day looked forward to the early disappearance of the evil. Jefferson and Washington and many others, although themselves the owners of slaves, were sincerely interested in the movement for gradual emancipation; and they hoped and expected that the institution would not outlast the century of which the dominant spirit was a passionate concern for human freedom. They would have been amazed and disheartened could they have known that within fifty years negro slavery would be the foundation of the economic and social life of the Southern States, that it would threaten the very existence of the federal Union, compromise the future of free government, and end at last in a desperate and sanguinary civil war.
The rapid and unforeseen development of slavery in the South was due to one of those slight changes in the mechanics of industry which so often exercise a profound influence upon the course of history. In 1793 Eli Whitney invented the cotton-gin, a simple device for separating the seed from the fiber which, by enabling one man to do the work of three hundred, so greatly increased the profit of cotton culture that cotton soon became one of the chief of American products. For the raising of cotton, negro slaves were thought to be peculiarly suited; and wherever cotton could be raised negro slavery became every year more intrenched, was every year more complacently excused by its beneficiaries as an economic necessity, and at last defended as a social and moral blessing. But cotton could be raised only in the South. It was, therefore, only in the South, where slaves were profitable, that slavery increased and was defended, while in the North, where
slaves were unprofitable, slavery disappeared and was denounced as an evil.
By 1820 far-sighted men could see that slavery, whether right or wrong,
prove a serious problem because it threatened to divide the Union into two parts-North and South—with very different economic interests and institutions and with antagonistic moral and social ideas. As these differences became more pronounced, the divergence would perhaps create two nations instead of one, and in that case each group or nation would think that its own interests could not be adequately guaranteed unless it had at least an equal power in the common federal government. And in fact for many years it was the tacit understanding that the equal influence of the two sections should be preserved in that branch of the federal government—the Senate -in which every state had the same number of representatives.
It happened that the division between slave and free states was sufficiently even, so that for some years the balance could be deliberately preserved by the admission of an equal number of free and slave states from the Western territories. So long as slavery was not regarded too seriously little friction arose in carrying out this policy. But in 1820, in connection with the admission of the state of