CHAPTER I. BACKGROUNDS
Governmental policy, seeking national power, conflicting trade and industrial interests, are the favourite themes of those historians who regard nations as determined in their relations solely by economic causes - by what is called "enlightened self-interest." But governments, no matter how arbitrary, and still more if in a measure resting on representation, react both consciously and unconsciously to a public opinion not obviously based upon either national or commercial rivalry. Sometimes, indeed, governmental attitude runs absolutely counter to popular attitude in international affairs. In such a case, the historical estimate, if based solely on evidences of governmental action, is a false one and may do great injustice to the essential friendliness of a people.
How then, did the British people, of all classes, regard America before 1860, and in what manner did that regard affect the British Government? Here, it is necessary to seek British opinion on, and its reaction to, American institutions, ideals, and practices. Such public opinion can be found in quantity sufficient to base an estimate only in travellers' books, in reviews, and in newspapers of the period. When all these are brought together it is found that while there was an almost universal British criticism of American social customs and habits of life, due to that insularity of mental attitude characteristic of every nation, making it prefer its own customs and criticize those of its neighbours, summed up in the phrase "dislike of foreigners" - it is found that British opinion was centred upon two main threads; first America as a place for emigration and, second, American political ideals and institutions.
British emigration to America, a governmentally favoured colonization process before the American revolution, lost that favour after 1783, though not at first definitely opposed. But emigration still continued and at no time, save during the war of 1812, was it absolutely stopped. Its exact amount is unascertainable, for neither Government kept adequate statistics before 1820. With the end of the Napoleonic wars there came great distress in England from which the man of energy sought escape. He turned naturally to America, being familiar, by hearsay at least, with stories of the ease of gaining a livelihood there, and influenced by the knowledge that in the United States he would find people of his own blood and speech. The bulk of this earlier emigration to America resulted from economic causes. When, in 1825, one energetic Member of Parliament, Wilmot Horton, induced the Government to appoint a committee to investigate the whole subject, the result was a mass of testimony, secured from returned emigrants or from their letters home, in which there constantly appeared one main argument influencing the labourer type of emigrant; he got good wages, and he was supplied, as a farm hand, with good food. Repeatedly he testifies that he had "three meat meals a day," whereas in England he had ordinarily received but one such meal a week.
Mere good living was the chief inducement for the labourer type of emigrant, and the knowledge of such living created for this type remaining in England a sort of halo of industrial prosperity surrounding America. But there was a second testimony brought out by Horton's Committee, less general, yet to be picked up here and there as evidence of another argument for emigration to America. The labourer did not dilate upon political equality, nor boast of a share in government, indeed generally had no such share, but he did boast to his fellows at home of the social equality, though not thus expressing it, which was all about him. He was a common farm hand, yet he "sat down to meals" with his employer and family, and worked in the fields side by side with his "master." This, too, was an astounding difference to the mind of the British labourer. Probably for him it created a clearer, if not altogether universal and true picture of the meaning of American democracy than would have volumes of writing upon political institutions. Gradually there was established in the lower orders of British society a visualization of America as a haven of physical well-being and personal social happiness.
This British labouring class had for long, however, no medium of expression in print. Here existed, then, an unexpressed public opinion of America, of much latent influence, but for the moment largely negligible as affecting other classes or the Government. A more important emigrating class in its influence on opinion at home, though not a large class, was composed about equally of small farmers and small merchants facing ruin in the agricultural and trading crises that followed the end of the European war. The British travellers' books from 1810 to 1820 are generally written by men of this class, or by agents sent out from co-operative groups planning emigration. Generally they were discontented with political conditions at home, commonly opposed to a petrified social order, and attracted to the United States by its lure of prosperity and content. The books are, in brief, a superior type of emigrant guide for a superior type of emigrant, examining and emphasizing industrial opportunity.