CHAPTER VII. WESTERN COMMERCE AND IDEALS (1820-1830)

By 1820 the west had developed the beginnings of many of the cities which have since ruled over the region. Buffalo and Detroit were hardly more than villages until the close of this period. They waited for the rise of steam navigation on the Great Lakes and for the opening of the prairies. Cleveland, also, was but a hamlet during most of the decade; but by 1830 the construction of the canal connecting the Cuyahoga with the Scioto increased its prosperity, and its harbor began to profit by its natural advantages. [Footnote: Whittlesey, Early Hist. of Cleveland, 456; Kennedy, Hist. of Cleveland, chap. viii.] Chicago and Milwaukee were mere fur-trading stations in the Indian country. Pittsburgh, at the head of the Ohio, was losing its old pre-eminence as the gateway to the west, but was finding recompense in the development of its manufactures. By 1830 its population was about twelve thousand. [Footnote: Thurston, Pittsburg and Allegheny in the Centennial Year, 61.] Foundries, rolling-mills, nail-factories, steam-engine shops, and distilleries were busily at work, and the city, dingy with the smoke of soft coal, was already dubbed the "young Manchester" or the "Birmingham" of America. By 1830 Wheeling had intercepted much of the overland trade and travel to the Ohio, profiting by the old National Road and the wagon trade from Baltimore. [Footnote: Martin, Gazetteer of Va., 407.]

Cincinnati was rapidly rising to the position of the "Queen City of the West." Situated where the river reached with a great bend towards the interior of the northwest, in the rich farming country between the two Miamis, and opposite the Licking River, it was the commercial center of a vast and fertile region of Ohio and Kentucky; [Footnote: Melish, Information to Emigrants, 108.] and by 1830, with a population of nearly twenty-five thousand souls, it was the largest city of the west, with the exception of New Orleans. The center of steamboat-building, it also received extensive imports of goods from the east and exported the surplus crops of Ohio and adjacent parts of Kentucky. Its principal industry, however, was pork-packing, from which it won the name of "Porkopolis" [Footnote: Drake and Mansfield, Cincinnati in 1826, p. 70; Winter in the West, I., 115.] Louisville, at the falls of the Ohio, was an important place of trans-shipment, and the export center for large quantities of tobacco. There were considerable manufactures of rope and bagging, products of the Kentucky hemp-fields; and new cotton and woolen factories were struggling for existence. [Footnote: Durrett, Centenary of Louisville (Filson Club, Publications, No. 8), 50-101; Louisville Directory, 1832, p. 131.] St. Louis occupied a unique position, as the entrepot of the important fur-trade of the upper Mississippi and the vast water system of the Missouri, as well as the outfitting-point for the Missouri settlements. It was the capital of the far west, and the commercial center for Illinois. Its population at the close of the decade was about six thousand.

Only a few villages lay along the Mississippi below St. Louis until the traveler reached New Orleans, the emporium of the whole Mississippi Valley. As yet the direct effect of the Erie Canal was chiefly limited to the state of New York. The great bulk of western exports passed down the tributaries of the Mississippi to this city, which was, therefore, the center of foreign exports for the valley, as well as the port from which the coastwise trade in the products of the whole interior departed. In 1830 its population was nearly fifty thousand.

The rise of an agricultural surplus was transforming the west and preparing a new influence in the nation. It was this surplus and the demand for markets that developed the cities just mentioned. As they grew, the price of land in their neighborhood increased; roads radiated into the surrounding country; and farmers, whose crops had been almost worthless from the lack of transportation facilities, now found it possible to market their surplus at a small profit. While the west was thus learning the advantages of a home market, the extension of cotton and sugar cultivation in the south and southwest gave it a new and valuable market. More and more, the planters came to rely upon the northwest for their food supplies and for the mules and horses for their fields. Cotton became the engrossing interest of the plantation belt, and, while the full effects of this differentiation of industry did not appear in the decade of this volume, the beginnings were already visible. [Footnote: Callender, "Early Transportation and Banking Enterprises of the States," in Quarterly Journal of Econ., XVII., 3-54.] In 1835, Pitkin [Footnote: Pitkin, Statistical View (1835), 534.] reckoned the value of the domestic and foreign exports of the interior as far in excess of the whole exports of the United States in 1790. Within forty years the development of the interior had brought about the economic independence of the United States.