CHAPTER III. ECONOMIC FOUNDATIONS OF THE NEW ERA
With the close of Grant's administration, the main immediate problems connected with political reconstruction came to an end. During the war, however, important economic and social developments had been taking place throughout the United States which were destined to take on greater and greater significance. The reconstruction problem looked backward to the war; the new developments looked forward to a new America. Reconstruction affected fewer and fewer people as time went on; the later changes ultimately transformed the daily life of every individual in the nation. Not only did they determine the means by which he earned his livelihood, but the comforts which he enjoyed, the conditions of rural or urban life which surrounded him, the ease with which he visited other portions of the country or obtained information concerning them, the number and variety of the foreign products that could be brought to him, the political problems upon which he thought and voted, and the attitude of the government toward his class in society. Most of these changes were distinguishable during the twenty-five years following the war and could be stated in brief and definite terms.
From the standpoint of population, the growth of the country before 1890, although not so rapid as it had been before the war, was both constant and important. Between 1870 and 1890 the numbers of people increased from nearly thirty-nine millions to nearly sixty-three millions, the rate each decade being not far from twenty-five per cent. Six states added more than a million each to their population - New York and Pennsylvania in the Northeast; Ohio, Illinois and Kansas in the Middle West; and Texas in the South. No fewer than seventeen others expanded by half a million or more - ten of the seventeen being in the valley drained by the Mississippi River system.
Detailed study of particular sections of the country discloses a continuous shifting of population which indicates changes in the economic life of the people. In northern New England, the numbers increased slowly. Both Maine and New Hampshire lost from 1860 to 1870; nearly half of Maine's counties and nearly two-thirds of Vermont's lost population between 1880 and 1890; the people were abandoning the rural districts to flock to the cities or migrate to the West. Shipbuilding fell off in Maine; the dairy interests languished in Vermont, less wheat was being planted and the farmers, no longer growing wool, were selling their flocks. Most of the growth was to be found in the industrial counties. The traditional New England thrift, however, was not lost with the migration of the people, for savings bank deposits were increasing, and the state of Vermont was free from debt in 1880, and all its counties in 1890. The South, between 1870 and 1890, increased in numbers a little less rapidly than the country as a whole. On the Atlantic Coast the greatest relative expansion was in Florida; in the western South, in Texas. The increase was almost wholly native, as immigration did not flow into that section.
The great expansion of the Middle West, from Ohio to Kansas, was based upon the public land policy of the federal government. Substantially all this region had once been in the possession of the United States, which had early adopted the system of laying out townships six miles on a side, with subdivisions one mile square, (containing 640 acres), called sections. An important feature of the policy had been the encouragement of education and of transportation through the gift of large grants of the public land. Moreover, settlement had been stimulated by the disposal of land to purchasers at extremely liberal figures. In 1862 the famous Homestead Act had inaugurated a still more generous policy. Under this law the citizen might settle upon a quarter-section and receive a title after five years of actual occupation, with no charge other than a slight fee. Millions of acres were taken up in this way both by natives and by immigrants. 1,300,000 people poured into Illinois between 1870 and 1890; over 1,000,000 into Kansas, and nearly that number into Nebraska; in the Dakotas a young man of college age in 1890 might have remembered almost the entire significant portion of the history of his state and have been one of the oldest inhabitants. The frontier of settlement advanced from the western edge of Missouri into mid-Kansas, and almost met the growing population of the Far West, whose economic possibilities had already attracted attention.
The discovery of gold-dust in a mill-race in California had drawn the "Forty-niners" to
... lands of gold
That lay toward the sun.