CHAPTER XVII. OUR COUNTRY IN 1789

THE STATES. - When Washington became President, the thirteen original states of the Union [1] were in many respects very unlike the same states in our day. In some the executive was called president; in others governor. In some he had a veto; in others he had not. In some there was no senate. To be a voter in those days a man had to have an estate worth a certain sum of money, [2] or a specified annual income, or own a certain number of acres. [3]

Moreover, to be eligible as governor or a member of a state legislature a man had to own more property than was needed to qualify him to vote. In many states it was further required that officeholders should be Protestants, or at least Christians, or should believe in the existence of God.

The adoption of the Constitution made necessary certain acts of legislation by the states. They could issue no more bills of credit; provision therefore had to be made for the redemption of those outstanding. They could lay no duties on imports; such as had laid import duties had to repeal their laws and abolish their customhouses. All lighthouses, beacons, buoys, maintained by individual states were surrendered to the United States, and in other ways the states had to adjust themselves to the new government.

THE NATIONAL DEBT. - Each of the states was in debt for money and supplies used in the war; and over the whole country hung a great debt contracted by the old Congress. Part of this national debt was represented by bills of credit, loan-office certificates, lottery certificates, and many other sorts of promises to pay, which had become almost worthless. This was strictly true of the bills of credit or paper money issued in great quantities by the Continental Congress. [4] Besides this domestic debt owed to the people at home, there was a foreign debt, for Congress had borrowed a little money from Spain and a great deal from France and Holland. On this debt interest was due, for Congress had not been able to pay even that.

THE MONEY OF THE COUNTRY. - The Continental bills having long ceased to circulate, the currency of the country consisted of paper money issued by individual states, and the gold, silver, and copper coins of foreign countries. These passed by such names as the Joe or Johannes, the doubloon, pistole, moidore, guinea, crown, dollar, shilling, sixpence, pistareen, penny. A common coin was the Spanish milled dollar, which passed at different ratings in different parts of the country. [5] Congress in 1786 adopted the dollar as a unit, divided it into the half, quarter, dime, half dime, cent, and half cent, and ordered some coppers to be minted; but very few were made by the contractor.

POPULATION. - Just how many people dwelt in our country before 1790 can only be guessed at. In that year they were counted for the first time, and it was then ascertained that they numbered 3,929,000 (in the thirteen states) of whom 700,000 were slaves. All save about 200,000 dwelt along the seaboard, east of the mountains; and nearly half were between Chesapeake Bay and Florida.

The most populous state was Virginia; after her, next in order were Massachusetts (including Maine), Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and New York.

The most populous city was Philadelphia, after which came New York, Boston, Charleston, and Baltimore.

LIFE IN THE CITIES. - What passed for thriving cities in those days were collections of a thousand or two houses, very few of which made any pretension to architectural beauty, ranged along narrow streets, none of which were sewered, and few of which were paved or lighted even on nights when the moon did not shine. During daylight a few constables kept order. At night small parties of men called the night watch walked the streets. Each citizen was required to serve his turn on the watch or find a substitute or pay a fine. He had to be a fireman and keep in his house near the front door a certain number of leather fire buckets with which at the clanging of the courthouse or market bell he would run to the burning building and take his place in the line which passed the full buckets from the nearest pump to the engine, or in the line which passed the empty buckets from the engine back to the pump. Water for household use or for putting out fires came from private wells or from the town pumps. There were no city water works.

Lack of good and abundant water, lack of proper drainage, ignorance of the laws of health, filthy, unpaved streets, spread diseases of the worst sort. Smallpox was common. Yellow fever in the great cities was of almost annual occurrence, and often raged with the violence of a plague.

LACK OF CONVENIENCES. - Few appliances which increase comfort, or promote health, or save time or labor, were in use. Not even in the homes of the rich were there cook stoves or furnaces or open grates for burning anthracite coal, or a bath room, or a gas jet. Lamps and candles afforded light by night. The warming pan, the foot stove (p. 97), and the four- posted bedstead (p. 76), with curtains to be drawn when the nights were cold, were still essentials. The boy was fortunate who did not have to break the ice in his water pail morning after morning in winter. Clocks and watches were luxuries for the rich. The sundial was yet in use, and when the flight of time was to be noted in hours or parts, people resorted to the hour glass. Many a minister used one on Sundays to time his preaching by, and many a housewife to time her cooking. [6]