Part 5 out of 6
to the transforming influence of land," free land; and such has been the
result, says Professor Turner, [Footnote: See his "Significance of the
Frontier in American History," in "Fifth Yearbook of the National Herbart
Society, 1899," also his "Significance of the Mississippi Valley in
American History," in "Mississippi Valley Historical Association
Proceedings, 1909-10."] that fundamentally "American democracy is the
outcome of the American people in dealing with the West," that is, the
people of this valley of the French pioneers.
The democratical man, as Socrates is made to define him in Plato's
"Republic," was one in whom the licentious and extravagant desires have
expelled the moderate appetites and love of decorum, which he inherited
from his oligarchical father. "Such a man," he adds, "lives a life of
enjoyment from day to day, guided by no regulating principle, but turning
from one pleasure to another, just as fancy takes him. All pleasures are
in his eyes equally good and equally deserving of cultivation. In short,
his motto is 'Liberty and Equality.'"
But the early "democratical man" of that valley, even if he came remotely
from such oligarchical sires as Socrates gives immediately to all
democratical men, reached his motto of "Liberty and Equality" through no
such sensual definition of life.
It is true that many of those first settlers migrated from places where
the opportunities seemed restricted or conventions irksome or privileges
unequal, but it was no "licentious or extravagant desire" or flitting from
pleasure to pleasure that filled that valley with sober, pale-faced, lean-
featured men and tired, gentle women who enjoyed the "liberty" not of a
choice of pleasurable indulgences but of interminable struggles, the
"equality" of being each on the same social, economic, and political
footing as his neighbor. The sequent democracy was derived of
neighborliness and good fellowship, the "natural issue of their interests,
their occupations, and their manner of life," and was not constructed of
any theory of an ideal state. Nor were they frightened by the arguments of
Socrates, who found in the "extravagant love of liberty" the preface to
tyranny. And they would not have been frightened even if they had been
familiar with his doctrine of democracy. They little dreamed that they
were exemplifying the doctrines of a French philosopher or refuting those
of a Greek thinker.
Those primitive democratic and individualistic conditions had not yet been
seriously changed when, in that bit of the valley which lies in the dim
background of my own memory, there had developed a form of government more
stern and uncaressing. But there was not a pauper in all the township for
its stigmatizing care. There was not an orphan who did not have a home;
there was not a person in prison; there was only one insane person, so far
as the public knew, and she was cared for in her own home. The National
Government was represented by the postmaster miles away; the State
government by the tax assessor, a neighbor who came only once a year, if
he came at all, to inquire about one's earthly belongings, which could not
then be concealed in any way; and the local government by the school-
teacher, who was usually a man incapacitated for able-bodied labor or an
The citizens made and mended the public roads, looked after the sick in a
neighborly way, bought their children's schoolbooks, and buried their own
dead. I can remember distinctly wondering what a "poor officer" was, for
there were no poor in that society where none was rich.
It was a community of high social consistency, promoted not by a
conscious, disinterested devotion to the common welfare but by the common,
eagerly interested pursuit of the same individual welfares, where there
was room enough for all.
It is well contended in a recent and most profound discussion of this
subject by Professor Turner (of whom I spoke as born on a portage) that
this homogeneity of feeling was the most promising and valuable
characteristic of that American democracy. [Footnote: See his
"Significance of the Mississippi Valley in American History."]
And it was, indeed, prolific of mighty consequences:
First of all, it made it possible for the United States to accept
Napoleon's proffer of Louisiana.
Second, it compelled the War of 1812 and so confirmed to the United States
the fruits of the purchase, demonstrating at the same time that the
"abiding-place" of the national spirit was in the west.
And, third, that spirit of nationalism took into its hands the reins of
action in the time when nationality was in peril. Before the end of the
Civil War the west was represented in the National Government by the
President, the Vice-President, the Chief Justice, the Speaker of the
House, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Postmaster-General, the
Attorney-General, the General of the Army, and the Admiral of the Navy.
And it furnished, as Turner adds in summary, the "national hero, the
flower of frontier training and ideals."
While the mere fact of office-holding does not indicate the place or
source of power, it is noteworthy that the Presidents since the war--to
the election of Wilson--Grant, Hayes, Garfield, McKinley, Harrison, and
Taft all came from this valley. Cleveland went over the edge of it, when a
young man, to Buffalo and left it only to become governor and President;
Arthur, who succeeded to the presidency through the death of President
Garfield, and President Roosevelt, who also came first to the presidency
through the death of a President and was afterward elected, were both
residents of New York, though the latter had a ranch in the far west and
seems rather to belong to that region than the place of his birth. Thus of
the elected Presidents there was not one who had not a middle-western
origin, experience, or association. The Chief Justices since the war have
been without exception western men, and so with few exceptions have been
the Speakers of the House. And practically all these Presidents, Chief
Justices, Speakers, were pioneers or sons of pioneers in that "Valley of
the New Democracy" or, at any rate, were nurtured of its natural
fellowships, its one-man-as-good-as-another institutions, and its
It is not mere geographical and numerical majorities that are connoted. It
is the dominancy of the social, democratic, national spirit of the valley
--the supremacy of the average, the useful man, his power and self-
sufficiency when standing squarely, firmly upon the earth. It was the
secret of the great wrestler Antaeus, the son of Terra, that he could not
be thrown even by Hercules so long as his feet touched the earth. How
intimately filial to the earth and neighborly the middle-west pioneers
were has been suggested. And it was the secret of their success that they
stood, every man in his own field, on his own feet, and wrestled with his
own arms in primitive strength and virtue and self-reliant ingenuity.
Democracy did not theorize much, and when it did it stumbled. If it had
indulged freely in the abstractions of its practices, it would doubtless
have suffered the fate of Antaeus, who was finally strangled in mid-air by
a giant who came over the mountains.
As it was, this valley civilization apotheosized the average man. Mr.
Herbert Croly, in his "Promise of American Life," makes this picture of
him: "In that country [the very valley of which I am writing] it was sheer
waste to spend much energy upon tasks which demanded skill, prolonged
experience, high technical standards, or exclusive devotion. The cheaply
and easily made instrument was the efficient instrument, because it was
adapted to a year or two of use, and then for supersession by a better
instrument; and for the service of such tools one man was as likely to be
good as another. No special equipment was required. The farmer was
required to be all kinds of a rough mechanic. The business man was
merchant, manufacturer, and storekeeper. Almost everybody was something of
a politician. The number of parts which a man of energy played in his time
was astonishingly large. Andrew Jackson was successively a lawyer, judge,
planter, merchant, general, politician, and statesman; and he played most
of these parts with conspicuous success. In such a society a man who
persisted in one job and who applied the most rigorous and exacting
standards to his work was out of place and was really inefficient. His
finished product did not serve its temporary purpose much better than did
the current careless and hasty product, and his higher standards and
peculiar ways constituted an implied criticism upon the easy methods of
his neighbors. He interfered with the rough good-fellowship which
naturally arises among a group of men who submit good-naturedly and
uncritically to current standards." [Footnote: Herbert Croly, "Promise of
American Life," pp. 63, 64.]
Is this what democracy, undefiled of aristocratic conditions and
traditions, has produced? it will be asked. Has pure individualism in a
virgin field wrought of its opportunity only this mediocre, all-round,
good-natured, profane, rough, energetic, ingenious efficiency? Is this
colorless, insipid "social consistency" the best wine that the valley can
offer of its early vintages?
I know those frontier Antaei, who, with their feet on the prairie ground,
faced every emergency with a piece of fence wire. They differed from their
European brothers in being more resourceful, more energetic, and more
hopeful. If it be true that "out of a million well-established Americans
taken indiscriminately from all occupations and conditions," when compared
to a corresponding assortment of Europeans, "a larger proportion of the
former will be leading alert, active, and useful lives," though they may
not be wiser or better men; that there will be a "smaller amount of social
wreckage" and a "larger amount of wholesome and profitable achievement,"
it may be safely said that, if the middle-west frontier Americans had been
under consideration, the proportion of alert achievement would have been
higher and the social wreckage smaller--partly because of the
encouragement of the economic opportunity, and partly because of the
encouragement of a casteless society.
I cannot lead away from those familiar days without speaking of other
companionships which that valley furnished beyond those intimated--
companionships which did not interfere with the rough frontier fellowships
that made democracy possible. For it was in these same fields that Horace
literally sat by the plough and sang of farm and city. It was there that
Livy told his old-world stories by lamplight or at the noon-hour. It was
there that Pythagoras explained his ancient theorem.
I cannot insist that these companionships and intimacies were typical, but
they were sufficiently numerous to disturb any generalizations as to the
sacrifices which that democracy demanded for the sake of "social
conditions" and economic regularity.
The advancing frontier soon spent itself in the arid desert. The pioneer
came to ride in an automobile. The people began to jostle one another in
following their common aspirations, where once there was freedom for the
energy, even the unscrupulous energy, of all. Time accentuated differences
till those who started together were millions of dollars apart. Failures
had no kinder fields for new trials. Democracy had now to govern not a
puritanical, industrious, sparsely settled Arcady but communities of
conflicting dynamic successes, static envies, and complaining despairs.
It met the new emergencies at first, one by one, with no other programme
than the most necessary restraints, encouragement of tariffs for the
dynamic, improved transportation for the static, and charity for the
despairful; but all with an optimism born of a belief in destined success.
To this has succeeded gradually a more or less clearly defined policy of
constructive individualism, under an increasingly democratic and less
representative control. The paternal absolutism of Louis XIV has evolved
into the paternal individualism of a people who are constantly struggling
in imperfect speech to make their will understood and by imperfect
machinery to get it done--and, as I believe, with increasingly
disinterested purpose. It is, however, I emphasize, the paternalism of a
highly individualized society.
I described in an earlier chapter a frontier community in that valley. See
what has come in its stead, in the city into which it has grown. The child
coming from the unknown, trailing clouds of glory, creeps into the
community as a vital statistic and becomes of immediate concern. From
obliging the nurse to take certain precautions at its birth, the State
follows the newcomer through life, sees that he is vaccinated, removes his
tonsils and adenoids, furnishes him with glasses if he has bad vision,
compels him to school, prepares him not only for citizenship but for a
trade or profession, prevents the adulteration of his food, inspects his
milk, filters his water, stands by grocer and butcher and weighs his bread
and meat for him, cleans the street for him, stations a policeman at his
door, transports his letters of business or affection, furnishes him with
seeds, gives augur of the weather, wind, and temperature, cares for him if
he is helpless, feeds him if he is starving, shelters him if he is
homeless, nurses him in sickness, says a word over him if he dies
friendless, buries him in its potter's field, and closes his account as a
vital statistic in the mortality column.
And there are many agencies of restraint or anxious care that stand in a
remoter circle, ready to come in when emergencies require. I have before
me a report of legislation in the States alone (that is, exclusive of
national and municipal legislation) for two years. I note here a few
characteristic and illustrative measures out of the thousands that have
been adopted. They relate to the following subjects:
Health of women and children at work; employer's liability; care of
epileptics, idiots, and insane; regulation of dentistry and chiropody;
control of crickets, grasshoppers, and rodents; exclusion of the boll-
weevil; the introduction of parasites; the quenching of fires; the burning
of debris in gardens; the destruction of predatory fish; the prohibition
of automatic guns for hunting game; against hazing in schools; instruction
as to tuberculosis and its prevention; the demonstration of the best
methods of producing plants, cut flowers, and vegetables under glass; the
establishment of trade-schools; the practice of embalming.
I introduce this brief but suggestive list as intimating how far a
democratic people have gone in doing for themselves what Louis XIV at
Versailles in the "fulness of power" and out of "certain knowledge" did
for the trustful habitants of Montreal, who were "ignorant of their true
And, of course, with that increased paternalism has come of necessity an
army of public servants--governors and policemen, street cleaners and
judges, teachers and factory inspectors, till, as I have estimated, in
some communities one adult in every thirty is a paid servant of the
Such paternalism is not peculiar to that valley. I remember, years ago,
when I was following the legislation of an eastern State, that a bill was
introduced fixing the depth of a strawberry box, and another obliging the
vender of huckleberries to put on the boxes a label in letters of certain
height indicating that they were picked in a certain way. And this
paternalism is even more marked in the old-age pension provision in
England, where the "mother of parliaments," as one has expressed it, has
been put on the level of the newest western State in its parental
But nowhere else than in this valley, doubtless, is that paternalism so
thoroughly informed of the individualistic spirit. Chesterton said of
democracy that it "is not founded on pity for the common man.... It does
not champion man because man is miserable, but because man is so sublime."
It "does not object so much to the ordinary man being a slave as to his
not being a king." Indeed, democracy is ever dreaming of "a nation of
kings." [Footnote: G. K. Chesterton, "Heretics," p. 268.] And that
characteristic is truer of the democracy that came stark out of the
forests and out of the furrows than of the democracy which sprang from
protest against and fear of single kings.
The constitution east of the mountains was made in fear of a system which
permitted an immediate and complete expression of the will of the people.
The movement in American democracy which is most conspicuous is the effort
to get that will accurately and immediately expressed--that is, a movement
toward what might be called more democracy--toward a direct control of
"politics" by the people--and that movement has had its rise and strength
in the Mississippi Valley and beyond.
But who are the people who are to control? Only those who are living and
of electoral age and other qualification? I recall again Bismarck's
definition: "They are the invisible multitude of spirits--the nation of
yesterday and to-morrow." And that invisible multitude of yesterday and
to-morrow, whose mouths are stopped with dust or who have not yet found
human embodiment, must find voice in the multitude of to-day--the
multitude that inherits the yesterdays and has in it the only promise of
There may be some question there as to its being always the voice of God,
but no one thinks of any other (except to add to it that of the woman).
The "certain knowledge" and the "fulness of power" of Louis XIV have
become the endowments of the average man--and the average man is one-half
or two-thirds of all the voting men of the community or nation, plus one.
But that average man, forgetful of the multitude of yesterday and
ungrateful, has none the less wrought into his very fibre and spirit the
uncompromising individualism, the unconventional neighborliness, and the
frontier fellowships of yesterday. It is of that that he is consciously or
unconsciously instructed at every turn. And he is now beginning to think
more and more of the invisible multitude, the nation of tomorrow.
It is deplored that the so-called individuality developed in that valley
is "simply an unusual amount of individual energy, successfully spent in
popular and remunerative occupations," that there is "not the remotest
conception of the individuality which may reside in the gallant and
exclusive devotion to some disinterested and perhaps unpopular moral,
intellectual, or technical purpose," as has such illustrious exhibition in
France, for example. This is, we are told, one of the sacrifices to social
consistency which menaces the fulness and intensity of American national
life. And the most serious problem is to make a nation of independent
kings who shall not exercise their independencies "perversely or
Men have been always prone to make vocational pursuits the basis of social
classification. In the Scripture record of man he had not been seven
generations in the first inhabited valley of earth before his descendants
were divided into cattlemen, musicians, and mechanics. For the record runs
that Lamech had three sons, Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal--Jabal who became the
father of those who live in tents and have cattle, Jubal the father of
those that handle the harp and the organ, and Tubal the father of those
who work in brass and iron. And we do not have to turn many pages to
discover the social distinctions that grew out of the vocational. The
first question of that western valley is, "Who is he?" and the answer is
one which will tell you his occupation. No one who has not an occupation
of some regularity and recognized practical usefulness is, as Mr. Croly
intimates, likely to have much recognition.
On the other hand, within the limits of approved occupations, there is,
except in great centres, no marked social stratification based on
vocation, as in old-world life and that of the new world more intimately
touched by the old. The man is recognized for his worth.
In the midst of that valley is a college town, [Footnote: Galesburg, Ill.]
planted by a company of migrants from an older State seventy-five years
ago who bought a township of land, founded a college, [Footnote: Knox
College.] and built their homes about on the wild prairie. It has now
twenty thousand inhabitants and is an important railroad as well as
educational centre. It was nearly fifty years old when I entered it as a
student. That I studied Greek did not keep me from knowing well a
carpenter; that in spare hours I learned a manual trade and put into type
my translation of "Prometheus Bound" did not bar me from the homes of the
richest or the most cultured. Once, when a student, because of some little
victory, I was received by the mayor and a committee of citizens, but the
men at the engines in the shops and on the engines in the yards blew their
whistles. When I went back to that college as its president it was not
remembered against me that I had sawed wood or driven a plough. I knew all
the conductors and most of the engineers on the railroads. I knew every
merchant and nearly every mechanic, as well as every lawyer, judge, and
doctor. Men had, to be sure, their preferential associations, but these
were personal and not determined of vocation or class. A recent mayor of
this city of two colleges was a cigar maker and, I was assured by a
professor of theology in a local university, the best mayor it has had in
years, and he died driving a smallpox patient to a pest-house. I received
when in Paris, by the same mail as I recall, a resolution of felicitation
from a Protestant body of which I was a member in that town, and a letter
of like felicitation from the Catholic parish priest of that same city. I
do not know how better to illustrate, to those who are working at the
problem of democracy in other valleys, how democracy has wrought for
itself in that valley of neighborliness and resourcefulness and plenty, in
the wake of the monarchical, paternalistic affection of France.
WASHINGTON: THE UNION OF THE EASTERN AND THE WESTERN WATERS
We have followed the French explorers and priests as pioneers through the
valleys of the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi to the
gulf and the Rocky Mountains. But there remains one further conquest, a
conquest of their adventurous imaginations only, for none of their
adventurous or pious feet ever travelled over the valley lying south of
the St. Lawrence watershed and east of the Alleghanies, though they were
probably the first of white men to see those peaks rising in the north of
what is now New England, known as the White Mountains.
Standing on the summit of one of the White Mountains a few summers ago, I
was shown a dim little indentation of the sky at the northwest which I was
told was Mont Real. And since seeing that I have imagined Jacques Cartier
in 1535 looking off to the southeast, when his disappointed vision of the
west had tired his eyes, and catching first sight of these dim
indentations of his sky, the White Mountains, which the colonists from
England did not see until a century later and then only from their ocean
But whether the master pilot from the white-bastioned St. Malo saw them or
not, we have record that Champlain in his exploration of the Atlantic
coast did discern their peaks upon his horizon; and so we may think of the
French as the discoverers not merely of the northern and western valleys,
of the Adirondacks, in whose shadows Champlain and Brule and Father Jogues
fought with the Iroquois and suffered torture, and of the snow-capped
Rockies at whose feet Chevalier de la Vérendrye was obliged to turn back,
but also of the tops of the white hills near the Atlantic coast, which I
have often seen lighted at sunrise while the lower slopes and valleys were
in darkness or shadow--hills touched by the French, as by that rising sun,
only at their tops and by the trails of their eyes.
For the moment those mountains stand upon the horizon as the symbol of the
only part of North America east of the Rockies which the French pioneers
did not possess before others by the trails of their feet or the paths of
their boats. Verrazano of Dieppe had sailed along the Atlantic shore
front, but so, perhaps, had Cabot. Ribaut had been "put to the knife" in
Florida, but it was the knife of a Spaniard whose compatriots had been
there before Ribaut. Étienne Brûlé had wandered all the way from Canada
into Pennsylvania along the sources and upper waters of the Atlantic
streams, but the colonists of other nations were sitting huddled at the
mouths of the streams. And Father Jogues had endured the torturing portage
from the shores of Lake George to the Mohawk, but the Dutch were by that
time there to succor him from the Iroquois. Only with their eyes had the
French beheld first of Europe the America of the eastern waters, whose
inhabitants, when they came to put on uniform and fight for its
independence, called themselves "Continentals," as if their little hem of
the garment were the continent.
One wonders--if to little purpose--what would have been the consequence if
De Monts, whom Champlain accompanied to America in 1604, had planted his
little colony at some place farther south in his continental grant made by
Henry IV, stretching, as it did, all the way from what is now Philadelphia
to the St. Lawrence--if, for example, he had anchored off the Island of
Manhattan, as well he might have done, five years before Hudson came up
the harbor in the _Half Moon_, had settled there instead of on the sterile
island of Ste. Croix in the Bay of Fundy, where, amid the "sand, the
sedge, and the matted whortleberry bushes," the commissioners to fix the
boundaries between the United States and Canada discovered in 1793--nearly
two centuries later--the foundations of the "Habitation de l'isle Ste.
Croix" that the French had built in the gloom of the cedars. Or if, when
the scurvy-stricken colony left that barren site, they had followed
Champlain to the mouth of the Charles, la rivière du Guast--the site of
Cambridge or Boston--or even to the Bay St. Louis--which is remembered in
Champlain's journal as the place where the friendly Indians showed him
their fish-hooks made of barbed bone lashed to wood, but which has become
better known as Plymouth Bay where the Pilgrims landed fifteen years
later--there instead of Port Royal, where even Lescarbot's "Ordre de Bon-
Temps" could not overcome the evil reports in France concerning a
"churlish wilderness"! Or if Champlain, instead of seeking later the Rock
of Quebec--whose rugged charms he could not forget even in the presence of
the site of Boston or in the streets of Paris--had laid the foundations of
his faith and his courage on the Susquehanna, for example! In any one of
these contingencies there might have been a more prosperous Acadia. New
England might conceivably have become Nouvelle France, and New York City
might be bearing to-day the name of a seventeenth-century French prince.
An idle conjecture, but it does, I think, help us to appreciate the happy
destiny (or by whatever name the sequence of events may be called) not
that kept France out of that narrow Atlantic-coast strip but that put her
in a position to become the power that should in a very true sense force
the jealous, many-minded colonies of that strip into a union, make
possible the erection of that feeble union into a nascent nation, give it,
though under certain compulsion, territory to become a world-power, and
finally furnish it, if grudgingly, with a great western, overmountain
domain in which to develop a democratic and a nationalistic spirit strong
enough to hold a continent-wide people in one republic. These services,
intended and unintended, negative and positive, grudging and voluntary,
performed, however, all in unsurpassed sacrifice and valiance not only of
the explorers and priests but of the exiled soldiers, intimate how, out of
all the misery of finding the northern water gate and keeping it and
following the northern waterway and fortifying it, came the harvests--even
if France did not gather them into her own granaries--of those who "sow by
We might not have had some of the institutions we do have if Champlain or
Poutrincourt had anticipated the English Pilgrims at Plymouth, but we
might still be a colony or a cluster of republics, even with all that we
have got by way of those and other English migrants, except for these
hardy men who kept battling with the ice and snow and water and famine at
But what I wish to emphasize here--and I am much indebted to the young
western historian Mr. Hulbert, for this view--is that France, struggling
to keep the empire of her adventure and faith in the northern and western
valleys of America, gave to the world George Washington. She made him, all
unconsciously to be sure, first in war. She saved him, consciously, from
the fate of an unsuccessful rebel. And she made it possible for him to be
first in peace. These are all defensible theses, however much or little
credit France may deserve in her purposes toward him.
Up in those same White Mountains there rises one that bears his name,
taller than the rest. It stands in a presidential range that has no
rivalling peak. A singular felicity in the naming of the neighboring
mountains has given the name Lafayette to the most picturesque of all.
There are well-known and much-travelled trails to the austere peak of
Mount Washington. There is even a railroad now. Doubtless no mountain in
America is known in its contour to more people, though there are many of
loftier height and of more inviting slopes.
So the outlines of the life of Washington are known more widely than those
of any other American. The trails to the height of his achievement and
genius have doubtless been learned in the histories of France. And asking
my readers to travel over one of those well-worn trails again, I can offer
no better reason than that I may on the way call attention to objects and
outlooks that should be of special interest to the eyes of a company of
men and women whose geographical or racial ancestors gave us him in giving
us the west.
Washington was born a British colonist. His great-grandfather settled in
Virginia at about the time that La Salle was making his way up the St.
Lawrence to the seigniory of St. Sulpice above the Lachine Rapids. His
father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were frontiersmen, farmers, or
planters. He had himself the discipline of the plantation, but he learned
surveying and had also the sterner experiences of its frontier practice.
Then came his appointment at nineteen as an adjutant-general of colonial
militia in Virginia and with that office the still sterner disciplines
beyond the frontier, where France was tutor, without which tuition he
would doubtless have become and remained a successful colonial Virginia
planter and general of militia.
I have estimated that all the young men in America of approximately
Washington's age at that time could probably have been gathered into the
Roman colosseum back of the Pantheon; at any rate, into an American
university stadium. They could have been reached by the voice of one man.
(Which will intimate how small America was--one-fourth the size of Paris
when he was born, one-half the size of Paris when he became a major of
They were practically all country-born. There were, indeed, no great
cities in which to be born. New York was little more than a town with only
eight or nine thousand inhabitants; and Boston, the largest city at that
time, had but thirteen thousand in the year 1732. They were men, as
Kipling says of the colonials in the Boer War, who could "shoot and ride."
And Washington was a strong athletic youth of fiery passions, which, given
free rein, would have made him a successful Indian chief. (Indeed, the
Indians admired him and called him Ha-no-da-ga-ne-ars--"the destroyer of
cities"--and at last admitted him, as a supreme tribute, to their Indian
paradise, the only white man found worthy of such canonization.) But,
rugged, country-born men though they were, it was in no such neighborly
democracy as Lincoln knew that they were bred. Washington had his slaves,
his coat of arms, and the occupations and leisures and pleasures, so far
as the frontier would permit, of an English gentleman. And it is no such
slouchy, shabbily dressed figure as Lincoln's that Washington presents. I
saw a few years ago a letter in Washington's own hand, in which he gave
directions to the tailor as to the number of buttons that his coat should
have, the shape of its lapel, and the fit of its collar. He was most
insistent upon the conventions, though if such an assembly had been held,
as I have suggested, of the young men from the eastern waters, there would
have been no such uniformity of costume as now makes an audience of men in
America, or in Europe, so monotonously black and white.
These young men did not dress alike; they did not spell alike.
Washington's letters show that he did not even spell consistently with
himself. And that first man of the eastern waters to follow the French in
establishing a settlement on the western waters, Daniel Boone, left this
memorial of his orthography on a tree in Kentucky: "C-I-L-L-E-D A B-A-R."
They did not dress alike, they did not spell alike, they did not think
alike. It was a great, and it must have seemed a hopeless, motley of men
who were all unconsciously to lay the foundations of a new national
They were all of immigrant ancestors, and most of them of most recent
immigrant ancestry, or of foreign birth. Though much more homogeneous in
their lineage than the present immigration, they had not the unifying
agencies that now keep Maine and Florida within a few minutes of each
other by telephone or a few hours by rail.
But there were in all, immigrants and sons of immigrants, hardly more in
number than now enter that same land as aliens in one or two years. I
spoke a few years ago at a dinner of the descendants of the _Mayflower_
and was told that they numbered in all the country, as I recall, about
three thousand--three thousand descendants in three hundred years of a
hundred colonists, half of whom perished in the first winter; which leads
one to wonder what the land of the _Mayflower_ and the nation of George
Washington will be in three hundred years, when the descendants of each
shipload of immigrants of to-day will have increased in like ratio. From a
single steerage passenger cargo, of the _Lusitania_ or _Mauretania_, let
us say, we shall have twenty, thirty, or forty thousand Lusitanians or
Mauretanians as descendants; and from a single year's immigration thirty
millions. The descendants of the colonial ships will be lost in this
mighty new progeny of the ships of Europe and will numerically be as
negligible as the North American Indian is in our census today.
But to come back to Washington: the appointment of the stripling as
adjutant-general with rank of major was two years after the humpbacked
Governor Galissonnière had sent Celoron down the Ohio on that historic
voyage of plate-planting, the news of which had finally reached the ears
of the governor of Virginia, who with many planters of Virginia
(Washington's family included) had a prospective interest in lands along
that same river. Then came the word through Indian and trader (the only
long-distance telephones of that time) that forts were beginning to grow
where the plates had been planted.
It was then that the young farmer, surveyor, soldier, just come of age,
was chosen to carry a message to the commander of the nearest French fort
in the valley--Fort Le Boeuf, which I have already described--about
fifteen miles from Lake Erie on the slight elevation from which the waters
begin to flow toward the Mississippi. The commander was Legardeur de St.
Pierre, a one-eyed veteran of wars, but recently come from an expedition
out across the valley toward the Rockies.
Parkman has made this picture of the momentous meeting of France and
America in the western wilderness, which in its peopling has kept only a
single tree of those forests, a tree pointed out to me as the Washington
tree, though it, too, may have come with the migrants:
"The surrounding forests had dropped their leaves, and in gray and patient
desolation bided the coming winter. Chill rains drizzled over the gloomy
'clearing,' and drenched the palisades and log-built barracks, raw from
the axe. Buried in the wilderness, the military exiles [Legardeur and his
garrison] resigned themselves as they might to months of monotonous
solitude; when, just after sunset on the eleventh of December, a tall
youth [and he was only an inch shorter than Lincoln, six feet three
inches] came out of the forest on horseback, attended by a companion much
older and rougher than himself, and followed by several Indians and four
or five white men with packhorses. Officers from the fort went out to meet
the strangers; and, wading through mud and sodden snow, they entered at
the gate. On the next day the young leader of the party, with the help of
an interpreter, for he spoke no French [a deficiency which he laments with
greatest regret later in life], had an interview with the commandant and
gave him a letter from Governor Dinwiddie. St. Pierre and the officer next
in rank, who knew a little English, took it to another room to study it at
their ease; and in it, all unconsciously, they read a name destined to
stand one of the noblest in the annals of mankind, for it introduced Major
George Washington, Adjutant-General of the Virginia Militia." [Footnote:
Parkman, "Montcalm and Wolfe," 1:136-7.]
At the end of three days the young British colonial officer of militia
started on his perilous journey homeward, having been most hospitably
entertained by the one-eyed veteran, bearing on his person a letter which
St. Pierre and his officer had been the three days in preparing. The
brave, courteous, soldierly lines of the frontier deserve to be heard to-
day both in France and America:
"I am here by Virtue of the Orders of my General; and I entreat you, Sir,
not to doubt, one Moment, but that I am determined to conform myself to
them with all the Exactness and Resolution which can be expected from the
best Officer.... I don't know that in the Progress of this Campaign [of
repossession] anything passed which can be reputed an Act of Hostility or
is contrary to the Treaties which subsist between the two Crowns.... Had
you been pleased, Sir, to have descended to particularize the Facts which
occasioned your Complaints I should have had the Honor of answering you in
the fullest, and, I am persuaded, most satisfactory Manner."
In the spring the two hundred canoes which Washington saw moored by the
Rivière aux Boeufs carried the builders of Fort Duquesne and a garrison
for it down La Belle Rivière, and a little later is heard the volley of
the Virginia backwoodsmen up on the Laurel ridges a little way back from
Duquesne, the volley which began the strife that armed the civilized
world--the backwoodsmen commanded by the Virginia youth, George
It is in that lonely ravine up among the ridges which I have described in
an earlier chapter that the union of the eastern and western waters began.
And there should be a monument beside Jumonville's to keep succeeding
generations mindful of the mighty consequence of what happened then.
This fray of the mountains was one of the most portentous of events in
American history. It was not only the grappling of two European peoples
and two systems of government out upon the edges of the civilized world--
the stone-age men assisting on both sides--a fray in which Legardeur de
St. Pierre, Coulon de Jumonville, and de Villiers, his avenging brother,
were France, and Washington was England. It was the beginning of the
making of a new nation, of which that tall youth, who found the whizzing
of bullets a "charming sound," was to be the very cornerstone.
He was here having his first tuition of war. De Villiers let him march
back from Fort Necessity unharmed, when he might, perhaps, have ended the
career of this young major in the great meadows where they fought "through
the gray veil of mists and rain." Washington was taught by France, in
these years of border warfare--for he went four times over the mountains--
he was spared by France in the end to help take from France the title of
the west, or so it seemed when, in 1763, the war which his command had
begun was ended in the surrender of that vast domain to England. But we
know now that the struggle had other issue.
The steep path of the years when the colonies were taught their first
lessons of federation by their common fear of the French and their allies,
led by the tall young man who emerged from the woods back of Fort Le Boeuf
and later assisted by the moral and pecuniary sympathy of France, by the
presence of her ships along their menaced coasts, by the counsels of her
admirals and generals, and by the marching and fighting of her soldiers
side by side with theirs, you know. It is a path so marked by memorials as
to need no spoken word. Only one vista in this trail of gloom with
overhanging clouded sky need detain us a moment. It lets us see Benjamin
Franklin rejoicing in Paris after the news of the surrender of Burgoyne at
Saratoga in 1777. We see Beaumarchais rushing away from Franklin's
lodgings in Passy to spread the good news, and in such mad haste that he
upset his carriage and dislocated his arm. And when we next look out from
the path we see the British soldiers passing in surrender between two
lines drawn up at Yorktown, the American soldiers on one side with
Washington at their head, and on the other the French soldiers under Count
Washington and Legardeur de St. Pierre at Fort Le Boeuf, Washington and
Rochambeau at Yorktown! You have been told again and again that except for
the France of Rochambeau the War of Independence would probably have
failed and that the colonies would have remained English colonies. But let
us remember that except for the France of Legardeur de St. Pierre there
would probably not have been, as Parkman says, a "revolution"; and by the
France of Legardeur I mean the spirit of France that had illustration in
his lonely, exiled watching of the regions won by her pioneers.
The French man-of-war _Triumph_ brought to Philadelphia in May of 1783 the
treaty of Paris. In the December following General Washington said
farewell to his officers and returned to Mount Vernon, his estate on the
Potomac. There he was busied through the next few months in putting his
private affairs in order, in superintending the reparation of his
plantation, and in receiving those who came to him for counsel or to
express their gratitude. It was as a level bit of the mountain trail from
which the traveller catches glimpses of a peaceful valley. And that is all
that the traveller usually sees.
But there is a farther view. From that level path one can see over the
Alleghanies the great valley so familiar to our eyes from other points of
view, stretching toward the Mississippi.
In the autumn of 1784 (eight months after his farewell to the army)
Washington leaves his home, as it appears, to visit some lands which he
had acquired as one result of his earlier and martial trips out beyond the
Laurel Hills. He had title to forty thousand acres beyond the mountains.
He had even purchased the site of this first battle in the meadows, where
he had built Fort Necessity and where he was himself captured by the
French, but from which he was permitted to go back over the mountains with
his flags flying and his drums beating. A "charming field of encounter" he
called the place in his youthful exuberance before the battle in 1753.
"Much Hay may be cut here When the ground is laid down in Grass; and the
upland, East of the Meadow is good for grain," he wrote in his
unsentimental diary, September 12, 1784. For over the mountains he went
again on what was thought but a trip of personal business. But on the
third day of the journey, September 3d, he writes, incidentally, as
explaining his desire to talk with certain men: "one object of my journey
being to obtain information of the nearest and best communication between
the Eastern and Western Waters." And as he advances this becomes the
Here are a few extracts from that diary still preserved in his own hand
which give the intimation of a prescience that should in itself hold for
him a grateful place in the memory of the west and of a concern about
little things that should bring him a bit nearer to our human selves:
_September 6_. "Remained at Bath all day and was showed the Model of a
Boat constructed by the ingenious Mr. (James) Rumsey for ascending rapid
currents by mechanism.... Having hired three Pack horses to give my own
_September 11._ "This is a pretty considerable water and, as it is said to
have no fall in it, may, I conceive, be improved into a valuable
_September 12._ "Crossing the Mountains, I found tedious and fatieguing
[_sic_].... In passing over the Mountains I met numbers of Persons and
Pack horses ... from most of whom I made enquiries of the nature of the
_September 13._ "I visited my Mill" [a mill which he had had built before
_September 15._ "This being the day appointed for the Sale of my moiety of
the Co-partnership Stock many People were gathered (more out of curiosity
I believe than from other motives). My Mill I could obtain no bid for...."
_September 19._ "Being Sunday, and the People living on my Land,
apparently very religious" [these were Scotch-Irish who had squatted on a
rich piece of land patented by Washington], "it was thought best to
postpone going among them till to-morrow...."
_September 20._ "I told them I had no inclination to sell; however, after
hearing a good deal of their hardships, their Religious principles (which
had brought them together as a society of Ceceders [_sic_]) and
unwillingness to seperate [_sic_] or remove; I told them I would make them
a last offer...."
_September 22._ "Note--In my equipage Trunk and the Canteens--were Madeira
and Port Wine--Cherry bounce--Oyl, Mustard--Vinegar--and Spices of all
sorts--Tea, and Sugar in the Camp Kettles (a whole loaf of white sugar
broke up about 7 lbs. weight).... My fishing lines are in the
_September 23._ "An Apology made to me from the Court of Fayette (thro'
Mr. Smith) for not addressing me."
The Cheat at the Mouth is about 125 y'ds wide--the Monongahela near d'ble
that--the colour of the two Waters is very differ't, that of Cheat is dark
(occasioned as is conjectured by the Laurel, among which it rises, and
through which it runs) the other is clear, & there appears a repugnancy in
both to mix, as there is a plain line of division betw'n the two for some
distance below the fork; which holds, I am told near a Mile.--the Cheat
keeps to the right shore as it descends, & the other the left.
_September 25._ "At the crossing of this Creek McCulloch's path, which
owes its origen [_sic_] to Buffaloes.... At the entrance of the above
glades I lodged this night, with no other shelter or cover than my cloak &
was unlucky enough to have a heavy shower of Rain."
_September 26._ "We had an uncomfortable travel to one Charles Friends,
about 10 miles; where we could get nothing for our horses, and only boiled
Corn for ourselves."
_October 1._ "I had a good deal of conversation with this Gentleman on the
Waters, and trade of the Western Country."
_October 4._ "I breakfasted by Candlelight, and Mounted my horse soon
after daybreak. I arrived at Colchester, 30 Miles, to Dinner; and reached
home before Sun down." [Footnote: A. B. Hulbert, "Washington and the
West," pp. 32-85.]
In this revelation of Washington out of the laconic misspelled entries of
his diary we have not only a most human portrait but an intimation of his
practical far-seeing statesmanship. He looms even a larger figure as he
rides through the fog of the Youghiogheny, for there he appears as the
prophet of the eastern and western waters. In his vision the New France
and the New England are to be indissolubly bound into a New America. He
had written Chevalier de Chastellux from Princeton, October 12, 1783,
after a return from the Mohawk Valley, that he could not but be struck by
the immense extent and importance "of the vast inland navigation of these
United States," that should bring that great western valley into
communication with the east, and that he would not rest contented until he
had explored that western country and traversed those lines which have
given bounds to a new empire. And as he comes back over the Alleghanies
from this journey of six hundred and eighty miles on the same horses he
writes: "No well-informed mind need be told how necessary it is to apply
the cement of interest to bind all parts together by one indissoluble
band." And the indissoluble band is the smooth road and the navigable
stream or canal. [Footnote: A. B. Hulbert, "Washington and the West," p.
England and France had both restrained western migration, and the young
provincial republic was doubtless of no mind to encourage it, so far as it
then knew its mind. But Washington had a larger, wiser view than any other
except Franklin, and even Franklin was not ardent for the canals.
Washington was thinking, some will say, of the trade that would come over
those paths; and so he was, but it was not primarily for his own
advantage, not for the trade's sake, but for the sake of the weak little
confederation of States for which he had ventured all he was and had.
He was (as my old professor of history in Johns Hopkins was the first to
point out [Footnote: Herbert B. Adams, "Washington's Interests in Western
Lands," in _Johns Hopkins University Studies._ Third series, No. I,
1885.]) the first to suggest the parcelling of the western country into
"free, convenient, and independent governments," and here he appears the
first not to speculate about but to seek out by fording streams and
climbing mountains a practical way to a "more perfect union," and not
merely for those jealous States lying along the Atlantic and within reach
of its commerce, but for all the territory and people of their new
And singularly enough this very journey led not only to the establishment
of those paths between the east and west, the national road, the canals
reaching toward the sources of the rivers, and ultimately the trans-
Alleghany railroad, but to the making of that unmatched document, the
Constitution of the United States. And in this wise:
Washington called the attention of Virginia and Maryland to the importance
of opening a communication between the Potomac and James and the western
waters. He writes to Lafayette of being at the meeting of the Maryland
Assembly in that interest. [Footnote: John Pickell, "New Chapter in the
Early Life of Washington in Connection with the Narrative History of the
Potomac Company, 1856," pp. 133-4.] These two States appointed
commissioners to confer concerning this and other matters. Their
recommendations resulted in the calling of a more widely representative
convention, and this in turn in the convening of a body to revise the
entire federal system.
So this peaceful journey of the warrior over the mountains to the great
meadows and down into the tangled ravines of West Virginia became not only
the prophecy of the indissoluble bond between the east and west; it became
the first step in that movement which led the original States themselves
into that more perfect union.
The sequence, which did not occur to me until I read recently the diary of
that trans-Alleghany journey, gives Washington a new, if a homelier,
Napoleon the Great has spoken his praise of Washington as a general. Many
of our own historians agree that it is very doubtful if without Washington
the struggle for independence would have succeeded. Other men were
important. He was indispensable. This intimates the occasion we have for
gratitude that the commander of the French let him march out of Fort
Necessity in 1754.
The world has for a century been repeating the eulogies that have outlived
the invective of his day--and that are only now becoming humanized by the
new school of historians who will not sacrifice facts to glowing periods.
Washington is now more of a human being and less of a god than the
Washington whom Lincoln found in Weems's "Life."
Yet with all the humanizing is he the austere, rugged, inaccessible
mountain, its fiery passions hidden, its head above the forests. And so
will he stand in history the justest of men, a man of highest purity of
purpose and of greatest practical wisdom; but, if as a mountain, then as
one that hides somewhere in its slopes such a path as we have learned to
know in our journeys over this course, a portage path between two great
valleys which its summit has blessed, for he was as a portage path between
the eastern and western waters, between the institutions of New England
and the fleur-de-lis fields of Nouvelle France.
I have visited the unmarked field where Fort Le Boeuf once stood, by
French Creek, the field where "the most momentous and far-reaching
question ever brought to issue on this [American] continent" [Footnote:
Parkman, "Montcalm and Wolfe," 1:4.] was put by the stripling Washington
to the veteran Legardeur de St. Pierre.
I have, in my worship of the great general, followed through the rain and
sleet of a winter's night and in the mud of a country road his famous
march from the crossing of the Delaware to Trenton, made in that December
night of 1776 when the struggle seemed most hopeless.
And I have been in the place in which--as to at least one historian--he
seems to me the most of a man and the most of a prophet, even the most of
a god, out in the glades and passes, the rains and fogs, of the
Alleghanies, fording the streams and following the paths of buffalo and
deer in an attempt to find a way between the east and west.
On the wonderful background which the passing life of that valley has
filled with dim epic figures that are now but the incarnations of European
longings, as rich in color as that which lies more consciously back of
Greece and Rome or in the fields of Gaul (the splendors of the court of
Versailles shining through the sombre forests and into the huts of the
simple habitants)--on this I have depicted the rather shadowy suggestions
of a matter-of-fact, drab democracy which is usually made to obscure all
that background with its smoke. But if I have made your eyes see what I
have tried to show, the colors and figures of the background still show
I have now to put against that wonderful background, dim as it is, the new
habitants. I suggested earlier the emergence of their gaunt figures from
the forests and the processional of their ships of the prairies through
the tall grass that seemed as the sea itself.
I had in my thought to speak of these new inhabitants as workers, but that
word has in it too much of the suggestion of endless, hopeless, playless
labor. Yet they are workers all-or nearly all. There are some tramps,
vagrants, idlers, to be sure, the spray of that restless sea. But when a
man of great wealth wishes to give up systematic work he generally goes
out of the valley or begins a migratory life, as do the wild birds of the
But these busy, ever-working people of the valley are better characterized
by other names, and they may be divided into three overlapping classes:
I. The precursors, those that run before, the explorers, the discoverers,
the inventors, the prophets.
II. The producers, those, literally, who lead forth: the dukes, marshals,
generals of democracy, bringers forth of things from the ground, the
waters, by brain and muscle; and the transporters of the things brought
forth to the places of need.
III. The poets, that is, in the old pristine Greek sense, the makers, the
creators, in the generic sense, and not merely in the specific sense of
makers of verses.
If you object to my terminology as exalting too much the common man, as
putting sacred things to profane use, as demeaning prophecy and nobility
and poesy, I shall answer that it is because of the narrowing definitions
of convention that only the makers of verses, and not all of those, are
poets, that only men of certain birth or ancestry or favor are dukes, and
that prophets have entirely disappeared. And I bring to my support the
more liberal lexicography of science, whose spectroscopy now admits the
humblest elements into the society of the stars; whose microscopy, as
Maeterlinck has helped us to become aware, has permitted the flowers to
share the aspirations of animal intelligence; whose chemistry has gathered
the elements into a social democracy in which no permanent aristocracy
seems now to be possible, except that of service to man; whose physics has
divided the atom and yet exalted it to a place which would lead Lucretius,
were he writing now, to include it in Natura Deorum instead of Natura
The son of Sirach, in his Book of Wisdom, has described the man who did
the work of the world in ancient times; for "how shall he become wise,"
begins this essay, "that holdeth the plough, that glorieth in the shaft of
the goad, that driveth oxen, and is occupied in their labors, and whose
discourse is of the stock of bulls? He will set his heart upon turning his
furrows, his wakefulness is to give his heifers their fodder. So is every
artificer and work-master that passeth his time by night as by day, they
that cut gravings of signets; and his diligence is to make great variety;
he will set his heart to preserve likeness in his portraiture, and will be
wakeful to finish his work. So is the smith, sitting by the anvil, and
considering the un-wrought iron; the vapor of the fire will waste his
flesh, and in the heat of the furnace will he wrestle with his work; the
noise of the hammer will be ever in his ears, and his eyes are upon the
pattern of the vessel; he will set his heart upon perfecting his works,
and he will be wakeful to adorn them perfectly. So is the potter sitting
at his work, and turning the wheel about with his feet, who is always
anxiously set at his work, and all his handiwork is by number; he will
fashion the clay with his arm, and will bend its strength in front of his
feet; he will apply his heart to finish the glazing, and he will be
wakeful to make clean the furnace. All these put their trust in their
hands; and each becometh wise in his own work. Without these shall not a
city be inhabited, and men shall not sojourn or walk up or down therein.
They shall not be sought for in the council of the people, and in the
assembly they shall not mount on high; they shall not sit on the seat of
the judge, and they shall not understand the covenant of judgment; neither
shall they declare instruction and judgment, and where parables are they
shall not be found. But they will maintain the fabric of the world; and in
the handiwork of their craft is their prayer."
The wisdom of the scribe, however, he said, "cometh by opportunity of
leisure." That wisdom the west, as I have already intimated, has not yet
learned. Such a scene as I witnessed a little time ago in the amphitheatre
of the Sorbonne, a scene typical of what occurs many times a day there, is
not yet to be seen in the valley. I saw that hall filled in the early
afternoon with an audience markedly masculine, listening to a lecture on
early Greek life, interspersed with readings from the Homeric epics. I
cannot visualize, much as I could wish to, a like scene in the Mississippi
Valley, except in the atmosphere of a woman's club, or at an assembly on
the shore of the lake Chautauqua, which I have described in the narrative
of the "sowing of the leaden plates," where men and women are for a little
time shut away from their normal occupations in a fenced or walled town;
or in a university where attendance upon the lecture is required for a
degree. I cannot visualize it even with such a charming and amphionic
lecturer as the great scholar who gave the lecture on Greece [Footnote:
Dean Croiset.] to which I have referred.
It is that want, in the valley, of appreciation of the value of leisure
and of its wisdoms, it is that worship of what the son of Sirach called
the "wisdom of business," or busyness, it is that disposition not to
listen to the voices of the invisible multitude of spirits of the past
(who after all help to constitute a nation no less than the multitude of
spirits of the present, and of the future), it is that inability to credit
disinterested, materially unproductive, purposes and pursuits, and fit
them into the philosophy of a perfectibility based on material prosperity
--it is all of these that intimate the shortcomings of that life of the
Valley of Hurry.
I saw another great and, as it seemed, non-university audience in the same
amphitheatre in Paris listening just after midday to a lecture on
Montesquieu, and I had not sufficient imagination to picture such an
audience as near the Stock Exchange of Chicago as the Sorbonne is to the
Bourse--in that western city where men take hardly time at that hour of
day to eat, much less to philosophize. They will not pause to hear
Montesquieu remind them that "democracy is virtue" or to hear Homer speak
of virtue as the ancients conceived it.'
But, on the other hand, and there is another side, they will give up
private business, eating, and all to stop a patent dishonesty, to improve
the mail service, to discuss the smoke nuisance that happens to be choking
their throats, or get rid of the beggar at the door, or to go to a ball
They do not there in any great number appreciate the wonderful,
indefatigable, disinterested efforts of scholars, artists, poets, in the
narrower sense--the wisdoms of seeming idleness or leisure. On the other
hand, I am sure that the poetry and prophecy of those who (again in the
language of the son of Sirach) are "building the fabric of the world" are
not appreciated either in Paris or Chicago, partly because of convention
and inadequate representation in the old world, and because of the smoke
and noise and the thought of the "unwrought iron" in the new world.
Of the geographical precursors of that valley I have spoken. But there are
others who have enlarged the boundaries and increased the size of acres
discovered by the first precursors. Let me without fatiguing statistics
give intimation of what I mean in one or two illustrations of the
successors of the coureurs de bois, the runners before, the later prophets
of the valley.
Out of a trough up in the Alleghany Mountains--one of those troughs
occupied by the sinewy Scotch-Irish pioneers who first, after the French,
as you will recall, crept down into the great valley--there journeyed one
day, a century after Céloron, a young man on horseback. He rode as many
miles as La Salle went on foot in that memorable heart-breaking journey
from Fort Crèvecoeur to Fort Frontenac. He rode through the territory
which La Salle had so appealingly described to Louis XIV, now yellow with
ripe wheat. Men and women, children and grandmothers, were toiling day and
night with scythes and sickles to harvest it by hand, but could not gather
it all, and tons were left to rot under the "hoofs of cattle." [Footnote:
"He saw hogs and cattle turned into fields of ripe wheat, for lack of
laborers to gather it in. The fertile soil had given Illinois five million
bushels of wheat, and it was too much. It was more than the sickle and the
scythe could cut. Men toiled and sweltered to save the yellow affluence
from destruction. They worked by day and by night; and their wives and
children worked. But the tragic aspect of the grain crop is this--it must
be gathered quickly or it breaks down and decays. It will not wait. The
harvest season lasts from four to ten days only. And whoever cannot snatch
his grain from the field during this short period must lose it."--H. N.
Casson, "Cyrus Hall McCormick," pp. 65, 66.]
This precursor came with a sword, beaten not into a ploughshare but into a
something quite as indispensable, a sickle--a vibrating sickle driven by
horses, that would in a day do the work of a dozen, twenty, thirty, forty
men, women, children, and grandmothers. In his eastern home he had, like
La Salle, suffered from creditors, from jeering neighbors who thought him
visionary, if not crazed, and from fearful laborers who broke his
machines; but there in that golden western valley he found sympathy, and,
on the Chicago portage, a site for the making of his sickles, fitted into
machines called harvesters--there where the French precursor's boat and
sword were found not long ago. Seventeen years later, on his imperial
farm, Napoleon III (whose royal ancestors had given the very site for the
factory) fastened the cross of the Legion of Honor upon the breast of this
There were others who went with him or followed him into that richer
valley, adding the self-rake to the sickle, then putting a platform on the
harvester so that the men who bound the sheaves had no longer to walk and
bend over the grain on the ground, as they had done since before the days
of Ruth and Naomi, then devising an iron arm to take the place of one of
flesh, and finally putting a piece of twine in the hand of that iron arm
and making it do the work of the binder. I cannot help wondering what
Tonty of the iron hand would have said could he have seen that half-human
machine cutting the wheat, and with its iron hand tying it in bundles,
there in the fields of Aramoni, just back of the Rock St. Louis.
But I do not need to idealize or emphasize to men of France the service of
this particular precursor, who was for years considering the unwrought
iron, making experiment after experiment before he came down into that
golden valley, literally to multiply its acres a hundredfold; for the
French Academy of Science declared that he had "done more for the cause of
agriculture than any other living man," and a late President of the French
Republic is quoted as saying that without this harvester "France would
starve." The King of Spain, the Emperor of Germany, the Czar of Russia,
the Sultan of Turkey, and the Shah of Persia have added their tributes to
those of the President of the French Republic, and all the nations of the
earth are literally bringing their glory and their honor into that city of
the portage strip, which, in a sense, has leading across and out of it
paths to all the other golden valleys of the earth, for we are told that
the sickles are reaping the fields of "Argentina in January, Upper Egypt
in February, East India in March, Mexico in April, China in May, Spain in
June, Iowa in July, Canada in August, Sweden in September, Norway in
October, South Africa in November, and Burma in December."
When in France, walking one afternoon from Orange to Avignon, the first
object I saw as I entered that charming city of the palace of the Pope was
a sign advertising the McCormick harvester.
I do not mean to intimate that all the sickles, that is, harvesters, are
made on that portage strip, for if all the factories and coal lands
(twenty thousand acres) and timber lands (one hundred thousand acres) and
ore lands (with their forty million tons of ore) and railway tracks that
unite to make these harvesters were brought together around that portage
strip there would be no place for the city itself; but through one
building on that strip the myriad paths do run, connecting all the
tillable, grain-growing valleys of this planet; and yet a recent, most
observing English critic, Mr. Wells, saw as he left that city only a
"great industrial desolation" netted by railroads. He smelled an
unwholesome reek from the stock-yards, and saw a bituminous reek that
outdoes London, with vast chimneys right and left, "huge blackened grain-
elevators, flame-crowned furnaces, and gauntly ugly and filthy factory
buildings, monstrous mounds of refuse, desolate, empty lots, littered with
rusty cans, old iron, and indescribable rubbish. Interspersed with these
are groups of dirty, disreputable, insanitary-looking wooden houses."
[Footnote: H. G. Wells, "Future in America," p. 59.] Nothing but these in
a place whose very smoke was a sign of what had made it possible for the
nations of the earth even to subsist at all in any such numbers, or if at
all, on anything better than black bread.
And, after all, this precursor, this runner before, was but one of
hundreds of later Champlains, Nicolets, and La Salles, in the wake of
whose visions came the producers, those who led forth the corn and wheat
from the furrows, the trees from the forests, the coal from the ground,
the iron from the hills, the steel from the retorts, the fire from the
wells, the water from the mountains, electricity from the clouds and the
cataract--dukes, field-marshals, generals, demigods whom no myth has
enhaloed or poetry immortalized.
Prometheus, bringing fire to mortals, did in a more primitive way what
they have done who have led forth the oil of the rocks (petroleum) to
light the lamps of the earth. Orpheus, who sang so entrancingly that
mortals forgot their punishments and followed him, and Amphion, who drew
the stones into their places in the walls by his music, performed no more
of a miracle than a lad who tips a Bessemer converter. Hercules is
remembered as a hero of the garden of the Hesperides for all time, whereas
he probably but imported oranges from Spain to the eastern Mediterranean,
and is hardly to be mentioned by the side of such a Mississippi Valley
transporter and importer as Mr. Hill.
But let us follow more particularly the producers of the fields, whom we
call the farmers there, the men whom the son of Sirach had in mind when he
said in the ancient days: "How shall he become wise that holdeth the
plough, that glorieth in the shaft of the goad, ... and whose discourse is
of the stock of bulls?" It was a farmer's son who invented the harvester,
and four-fifths of the men (whom the writer, to whom I am indebted for
many of these facts about the farmer, calls "harvester kings")--along with
the plough kings and wagon kings of whom democracy has been dreaming-were
farmers' sons. The plough, the self-binder, the thresher were all invented
on the farm.
The son of Sirach said: "They shall not be sought for in the council of
the people, and in the assembly they shall not mount on high"; but
fourteen of the first twenty-six Presidents were farmers' sons, and that
statistic gives but merest suggestion of the farmer's part in all the
councils of the people.
Here are a few significant, graphic facts which would furnish interesting
material for a new edition of Virgil's "Georgics" and "Bucolics" or lead
Horace to revise his verses on rural life.
There are practically five times as many farmers (under the early man-
power definition of the farmer) as the census shows, for the farmer now
works with the old-time power of five men.
Six per cent of the human race (and the larger part of that six per cent
is in the Mississippi Valley) produces, one-fifth of the wheat of the
world, two-thirds of the cotton, and three fourths of the corn (and this
takes no account of its reapers and mowers that gather the crops in other
It would cost three hundred million dollars more to harvest the world's
wheat by hand, if it were possible, than it costs now by the aid of the
harvester and reaper. [Footnote: H. N. Casson, "Romance of the Reaper," p.
Some years ago in a trial made in Germany in the presence of the Emperor
and his ministers, it was shown that a Mississippi Valley harvester driven
by one man could do more in one day than forty Polish women with old-
fashioned sickles. [Footnote: H. N. Casson, "Romance of the Reaper," pp.
The precursor of the harvester saw grandmothers and mothers in the fields
working day and night to cut and gather the harvest, but he could not now
(except among the new immigrant farmers) see that spectacle. I cannot
recall that, until I met that old-world population coming over the
mountains as I made my first journey east out of that valley, over twenty
years ago, I ever saw a woman at work in the fields.
The gallantry of that primitive pioneer life kept her in the cabin, which
was the castle, and, while her labor was doubtless not less than her
husband's, it had the sanctity of its seclusion and its maternal
ministries to life. In the new industrialism that has invited the
daughters of the Polish women harvesters into the factories yonder there
is this constant and increasing concern which is insisting upon a living
wage, wholesome sanitary environment, and on shorter hours of labor for
women and children--this purpose that will ultimately bring skies and
sunsets without exposure or back-breaking labor.
On my way to a provincial university in the north of France not long ago,
I saw a peasant mother standing in the misty morning at the mouth of a
small thresher, feeding into it the sheaves handed her by her husband, the
horse in a treadmill furnishing the power. When I passed in the misty
morning of the next day she was still feeding the yellow sheaves into the
thresher; and I thought how much better that was than the flail.
On a farm in the northwest, a hundred miles square, as long ago as 1893,
three hundred self-binders were reaping the wheat at the cost of less than
a cent a bushel--with practically no human labor beyond driving,
[Footnote: H. N. Casson, "Romance of the Reaper," p. 178.] and there are
seven thousand harvesting machines made each week [Footnote: H. N. Casson,
"Cyrus Hall McCormick," p. 196.] by the one great harvester company alone.
The time needed to handle an acre of wheat has been reduced by the use of
machinery from sixty-one hours to three; of an acre of hay from twenty-one
to four; of oats from sixty-six to seven; of potatoes from one hundred and
nine to thirty-eight--which is significant in its promise of the wisdoms
of leisure. [Footnote: H. N. Casson, "Romance of the Reaper," p. 179.]
But machinery has also increased the size of the farm. In France and
Germany, I am told, the average farm is but five acres in size, and in
England nine; while in the United States it is one hundred and thirty-
eight acres, and in the States west of the Mississippi two hundred and
And the product? One harvest, in the picturesque words of Mr. Casson,
would buy Belgium, two would buy Italy, three would buy Austria-Hungary,
and five, at a spot-cash price, would take Russia from the Czar. Seven
bushels of wheat for every man, woman, and child of the ninety or more
millions in America and a thousand million dollars' worth of food to other
nations! That is the sum of the product--of what has been led forth in a
But the leader forth, the producer, the man who set his heart upon
"turning his furrows," whose "wakefulness was to give heifers their
fodder," he has himself risen. He has, as I said of the farmers of Aramoni
(the sons of the first settlers who are still turning up occasionally a
flint arrow-head in the fields)--he has his daily paper, his daily mail,
his telephone. He "pays his taxes with a week's earnings." He ploughs,
plants, sows, cultivates, reaps by machinery. The poet Gray could find
only with difficulty in that valley a footsore ploughman homeward wending
his weary way, and Millet would in vain look for a sower, a man with a
hoe, a woman reaper with a sickle, a man with a scythe or cradle. The new-
world peasant is not only maintaining more than his per-capita share of
the "fabric of the world" but he is taking his place in the councils of
What is most promising now is that these followers of the old pioneers of
France in that valley are beginning to add to their acres new dominions,
discovered by the new pioneers of France, such as the chemists Lavoisier
and Berthelot, forerunners of the modern schools of agricultural chemistry
and physical chemistry. One hundred years after La Salle completed the
waterway journey to the gulf through that valley, Lavoisier made a
discovery of the composition of water itself that has been of immense
benefit, I am told, to the farmer of that valley and of other valleys. And
then came Berthelot with his teaching of how to put together again, to
synthetize, what man has waste-fully dissipated. France's men of the lens
and the retort have become precursors where France's men of the boat and
the sword went first, and have opened paths to even richer fields than
those in which the harvesters have reaped.
There are as many agricultural colleges in the United States as there are
States; there are at least fifty agricultural experiment stations, and
there is ever new provision for scientific agricultural research.
Here is a partial catalogue of the enactments and appropriations of the
legislature in the valley States for two years only:
LAWS AND APPROPRIATIONS SHOWING WORK DONE IN AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT AND
EXTENSION WORK BY CERTAIN OF THE STATES, 1911-14.
1912.--$27,000, experiments with fertilizers, combating boll-weevil,
plant breeding, horticultural investigations, agricultural
1913.--Same as for 1912.
1911-12.--$5,500, experiments with potatoes.
5,000, experiments with alfalfa, grain, etc.
3,500, dry farming.
1913.--$47,500, experimental work in dry farming, dairying, etc.
1913-l4.--County commissioners, on petition of one hundred taxpayers, to
appoint county agriculturist; salary paid by county and expenses
by county, State, and United States.
1913.--Authorized counties to appropriate $5,000 annually for soil and
See "American Year Book, 1913," p. 466.
1913.--$500, cross-breeding of fruits and edible nuts. Authorizing
establishment of county corporations for improvement of
40,000, experiment station.
10,000, veterinary investigation.
17,000, experimental farm.
40,000, agricultural extension.
See "American Year Book, 1913," p. 465.
1913-14.--$55,000, experiment station.
15,000, production and dissemination of improved seeds.
102,500, for six branch stations, two of which are new.
125,000, pumping-plants at experiment station.
1912.--Police juries of several parishes authorized to appropriate not to
exceed $1,000 annually in aid of farmers' co-operative
demonstration work; also to acquire and establish experimental
1912.--Authorizing and regulating county agricultural departments for
advice and assistance to farmers.
1913.--$60,000, maintenance of county agricultural agents;
counties each to pay $1,000.
1913-14.--$25,000, county farm advisers.
20,000, soil experiments.
30,000, agricultural investigations.
5,000, promotion of corn growing.
12,000, soil survey.
50,000, hog-cholera serum work.
2,500, orchard demonstration.
10,000, agricultural laboratories.
12,000, animal husbandry.
1912.--$20,000, demonstration of dry-land farming.
1913.--County commissioners may, upon vote of 51 per cent of electors,
appropriate $100 per month for agricultural instructor, remainder
of salary to be paid by State and United States.
1911-12.--$100,000, establishment of school of agriculture.
3,000, agricultural botanical work.
1913-14.--$3,000, agricultural botanical work. County to employ farm
demonstrator on petition of 10 per cent of farm-land
1,250 (maximum), annually to each accredited high school
teaching agriculture, manual training, and home
85,000, for fireproof building for agronomy, horticulture,
botany, and entomology.
1913.--$229,200, aggregate of station appropriation.
1913.--Counties authorized to appropriate $500 annually for farmers'
See "American Year Book, 1913," pp. 465-6.
1911.--Authorizing county commissioners' courts to establish experimental
1913.--Railroads may own and operate experimental farms.
1913.--Beginning January 1, 1914, $10,000, county agricultural
representatives, agricultural development, etc.
1912.--$4,000, agriculture and soil-culture experiments.
1913.--$4,000, experiments along lines of agriculture and soil culture.
5,000, purchase and maintenance of experimental farm.
1914-15.--$5,000, dry-farm experiments.
See "American Year Book, 1913," p. 466.
And nearly every State availed itself by specific act of certain
appropriations under a federal grant. In addition to all this,
appropriations are generally made for the holding of farmers' institutes
at which instruction is given by experts and farmers exchange experiences.
The agricultural colleges have a total of over one hundred thousand
graduates, men and women, and it is they, and those who follow in
increasing numbers, who are to cultivate the valley of Lavoisier and
Berthelot even as the pioneers and producers of the past have cultivated
for the world the valley of Marquette and La Salle.
It is not all as bright and promising as this rather generalized picture
may seem to indicate. There are still isolations, there are bad crops in
unfavorable places and untoward seasons. There are human failures. It is
an intimation of the darker side that President Roosevelt appointed a
commission [Footnote: Commission on Country Life.] a few years ago to see
what could be done for the ignorances, the lonesomenesses, the monotonies
of country life in America, and to prevent the migration to cities, even
as Louis XIV. But all that I have described is there--aggressively,
blusteringly, optimistically there--and is going most confidently on. It
is for the most part a temperate life. All through that valley there has
swept a movement, moral, economic, or both, which has closed saloons and
prevented the sale of intoxicating drink of any sort in States or
communities all the way from the lakes to the gulf.
But, singularly enough, there is promise of a new age of alcohol, I am
told. Farmers can distil a variety of alcohol from potatoes at a cost of
ten cents a gallon and use it in gasolene engines most profitably, which
leads one who has written most informingly and hopefully of the American
farmer to foreshadow the day when the farmer "will grow his own power and
know how to harness for his own use the omnipotence of the soil" and get
its fruits most beneficially distributed.
That there is a strong utilitarian spirit possessing all the valley I do
not deny. But I often wonder whether we are not conventionally astigmatic
to much of the beauty and moral value of such utilitarian life and its
disciplines. There is intimation of this in a recent statement of a
western economist to the effect that there was as great cultural value in
developing the lines of a perfect milk cow as in studying a Venus de Milo,
and in growing a perfect ear of corn as in representing it by means of
color or expressing the rhythm of its growth in metered words. But, I
believe that there is as much beauty and poetry there as among the isles
of Greece, if only it were interpreted by the disinterested spirit and
skill of the artist, the scholar, and the poet.
If we turn for a moment to the precursors who have led the way to the
valley that lies beneath, the valley of the strata of coal and iron, with
its subterranean streams of precious metal, its currents of gold and
silver, and its lakes of oil and gas, and from these precursors to the
producers and transporters who have led these elements forth to the uses
of man, we shall find a like story--another chapter of democracy's
dreaming of kings.
The same author whom I have quoted liberally above has written what he
calls "The Romance of Steel" in that valley. It begins with an Englishman
of French ancestry, Bessemer, and one Kelly, an Irish-American, born on
the old Fort Duquesne point. They had discovered and developed, each
without the knowledge of the other, the pneumatic process of treating
iron--that is, of refining it with air and making steel. Bessemer's name
became associated with the process. But the industry has made Kelly's
birthplace, the site of the old French fort, its capital (with another of
those poetic fitnesses that multiply as we put the present against the
France not only gave to Pittsburgh her site but the crucibles in which her
fortunes lay. Bessemer was the son of a French artist living in London in
poverty. Young Bessemer had invented many devices, when Napoleon III, one
day in a conversation, complained to him that the metal used in making
cannon was of poor quality and expensive. He began experiments in London
at the Emperor's suggestion and later sent the Emperor a toy cannon of his
own making. It was in this experimenting, as I infer, that the idea struck
him of making malleable iron by introducing air into the fluid metal. But
his first experiments were not particularly encouraging, and when he read
a paper on the process of manufacturing steel without fuel before the
British Association for the Advancement of Science, it is said that every
British steelmaker roared with laughter at the "crazy Frenchman" and that
it was voted not to mention his silly paper in the minutes of the
association. [Footnote: "On the 13th of August, 1856, the author had the
honor of reading a paper before the mechanical section of the British
Association at Cheltenham. This paper, entitled 'The Manufacture of
Malleable Iron and Steel without Fuel,' was the first account that
appeared shadowing forth the important manufacture now generally known as
the Bessemer process.
"It was only through the earnest solicitation of Mr. George Rennie, the
then president of the mechanical section of this association, that the
invention was, at that early stage of its development, thus prominently
brought forward; and when the author reflects on the amount of labor and
expenditure of time and money that were found to be still necessary before
any commercial results from the working of the process were obtained, he
has no doubt whatever but that, if the paper at Cheltenham had not then
been read, the important system of manufacture to which it gave rise would
to this hour have been wholly unknown."
Henry Bessemer, "On the Manufacture of Cast Steel: Its Progress and
Employment as a Substitute for Wrought Iron." British Association for the
Advancement of Science, Report, 1865. Mechanical Science Section, pp. 165-
To-day, on the same authority, "there are more than a hundred Bessemer
converters in the United States," and they "breathe iron into steel at the
rate of eighteen billion pounds a year"--"two and a quarter millions of
pounds every hour of the day and night."
With their companion open-hearth converters and attendant furnaces and
mills, they not only hold the site of the old fort but make a circle of
glowing fortresses around the valley--in Buffalo, in Birmingham, Alabama,
and in the "red crags" of the Rockies at Pueblo, beneath Pike's Peak. And
within ten years a whole new city, [Footnote: Gary, Indiana.] not far from
Chicago, on Lake Michigan, has been made to order. A river was turned from
its course, a town was moved, and an entirely new city was constructed
with homes for nearly twenty thousand workmen near a square mile of
furnaces and mills.
The attention of the world has been centred upon the millionaires whom
this mighty trade has made. The very book which I have quoted so literally
carries as its luring subtitle, "The Story of a Thousand Millionaires." "A
huge, exclusive preoccupation with dollar-getting," says H. G. Wells. But
an occupation that finds the red earth and the white earth, carries it
hundreds of miles to where the coal is stored or the gas is ready to be
lighted, assembles the labor from Europe, and converts that red earth,
with almost human possibilities, into rails and locomotives (that have
together made a republic such as the United States possible), into forty-
story buildings and watch-springs, into bridges and mariners' needles,
into battle-ships and lancets, into almost every conceivable instrument of
human use, can hardly be rightfully called a preoccupation with dollar-
getting, though it has brought the perplexing problem that has so much
disturbed the hopes of democracy, dreaming of such masterful children,
producers, and poets, yet dreading the very inequalities that their
There comes constantly the question as to how all this initiative which
has been so titanic is to be reconciled with the general good--a world-
wide and insistent problem, which will be more serious there when the
neighborliness is not so intimate. But the new neighborly element will be
found, we must believe, as an element has been found for the strengthening
I was told by a chemist, when visiting the mills in Pittsburgh, that every
steelmaker knows that a little titanium mixed with the molten iron after
its boiling in air multiplies its tensile strength immeasurably, though no
one knows just why it is so. Perhaps, in the plans for the new cities of
Pittsburgh and Chicago, we have sign of the social titanium that will
increase the tensile strength of democracy in the places where the stress
and strain are greatest.
But my concern just now is that the reader shall see how the valley first
explored by the French has given and is giving bread to the world, and has
postponed the dread augury of the Malthusian doctrine; how the larger
valley of the explorers of the lens and crucible, Lavoisier and Berthelot,
is opening into infinite distances; and how the under valley, when
breathed upon by the air, has given its wealth to the over valley--and
through this all to realize that France's geographical descendants are out
of those three valleys evoking, making, a new world.
For they are a people of makers--of new-age poets, not mere workers
glorying in the shafts of their goads, wakeful to adorn their work and
keep clean the furnace, and making their "craft their prayer" (an
impossibility in these days of the high division of labor) but rough,
noisy, grimy, braggart creators, caring not for the straightness of the
furrow unless it produces more, the beauty of the goad unless it promotes
speed, the cleanliness of the furnace unless it increases the output, or
the craft itself; but only of the product, the thing led forth, and its
value to the world. If so much is said of the dollar, it is because the
dollar is the kilowatt, the measure of the product. And while we have not
yet found the ideal way of distributing what has been led forth, do not
let that fact obscure the world service of these new-world Prometheans,
who have carried the fire to a mortal use which even the gods of Greece
could not have imagined and have turned the air itself into fuel to feed
A young man, born son of a stone-mason in that valley, who has been
successively a student, clerk, lawyer, solicitor-general of a great
railroad, its president, and later the head of an industry that is
carrying electricity over the world, said to me not long ago that he was
building a trolley-line in Rome. It seemed a profanation. But if the
titular function of the official who holds the highest spiritual office
there was once the care of bridges (Pontifex Maximus), will the higher
utilization of those bridges not be some day made as poetic, as spiritual,
as high a function of state and society?
I see that son of the stone-mason, with blanched face and set jaw, facing
and quelling a body of strikers threatening to tear up the tracks along
the Chicago River, as brave as Horatius at the bridge across the Tiber.
There is a vivid picture of democracy's greatest problem in that valley.
Then I see him flinging almost in a day a new bridge across the Tiber.
There is a companion picture, a gleam of democracy's poesy.
One writing of the habitants of one of those smoky valley cities said:
"They are not below poetry but above it." Rather are they making it--
rough, virile, formless, rhymeless. It reminds me of some of Walt
Whitman's verses that at first seem but catalogues of homely objects on
his horizon but that by and by are singing, in some rough rhythm, a song
that stirs one's blood.
Oil of rocks, led from cisterns in the valley, that Bonnecamp found so
dark and gloomy on the Céloron journey, to the lamp of the academician and
the peasant; wheat from millions of age-long fallow acres to keep the
world from fear of hunger; flour from the grinding of the mills of the
saint to whom La Salle prayed; wagons, sewing-machines, ploughs,
harvesters from the places of the portages; bridges, steel rails, cars,
ready-made structures of twenty stories from the places of the forts;
unheard-of fruits from the trees of the new garden of the Hesperides
(under the magic of such as Burbank); flowers from wildernesses! Would
Whitman were come back to put all together into a song of the valley that
should acquaint our ears with that rugged music-that rugged music wakened
by the plash of the paddle and the swirl of the water in the wake of the
Frenchman's canoe! As he is not, I can only wish that you who have read
these chapters may have intimation of it, as not long ago in New York,
standing before a rough, unsightly, entirely isolate frame in a university
corridor--where there were heard normally only the noises of closing doors
and shuffling feet--I put a receiver to my ears and heard, in the midst of
these nearer, every-day noises, some distant cello whose vibrations were
but waiting in the air to be heard. Some said there was but the slamming
of doors, but I had evidence of my own ears that the music was there. I
have not imagined this song of the valley, nor have I improvised it. Its
vibrations which I myself feel are but transmitted as best an imperfect,
detached frame in the midst of other sounds and interests can.
THE THOUGHT OF TO-MORROW
The clearing in the forest for the log schoolhouse where Lincoln got his
only formal schooling illustrates the beginning of the field of public
provision for culture, a territory then made up in that valley largely of
the white acres set apart from the domain of Louis XIV for the maintenance
of public schools. I can tell you out of my own experience how meagre that
provision was. Out on the open prairie a frame building--the successor of
the log cabin--was built. I think the ground on which it stood had never
been ploughed. I remember hearing, as if yesterday, a farmer's boy
reciting in it one day what we thought a piece of lasting eloquence: "Not
many generations ago where you now sit encircled by all the embellishments
of life, the wild fox dug his hole unscared and the Indian hunter pursued
the panting deer; here lived and learned another race of beings"--little
realizing that, except in the encircling embellishments, we were sitting
on such a site, and that we were the "new race of beings" and much nearer
to the stone-age man than were they who built the ancient wall just back
of the Pantheon in Paris.
The thought of the nation for to-morrow was tangibly represented only by
that hut twenty feet square, with its few nourishing acres, most
primitively furnished, a teacher of no training in the art of teaching, a
few tons of coal in a shed, a box of crayons, and perhaps a map. The
master made his own fires and swept unaided, or with the aid of his
pupils, the floor. When, years later, in a larger building on the same
site I came to be master of the same school, and gathered for work at
night the farmers' sons who could not leave the fields by day, except in
winter, I even paid the expense of the light. Now, if not on that site,
certainly on thousands of others, in schools springing from such
beginnings, the community provides not only chalk and electric light, but
pencils, paper, books, lenses, compasses, lathes, libraries, gymnastic
apparatus, pianos, and even food, if not free, at any rate at cost, in
addition to trained teachers, trained in public normal schools, and
janitors, and automatic ventilators to insure pure air, and thermostats to
preserve an even temperature. The public has become father, mother,
physician, and guild master as well as teacher of the new generation.
The public has even become the nurse, for in most of the large cities the
kindergarten has become transformed into a public institution which takes
the child from the home, sometimes almost from the cradle, but more often
from the street, at the age of four, five, or six years, and keeps it
until it is ready for the tuitions of the elementary grades. In St. Louis,
just across and up the river from Fort Chartres, where the initial
municipal experiment was made, there are now more than two hundred and
eighty-three such schools.
It has, moreover, gone beyond these serious maternal employments. The
strenuous civilization of the west has insisted that every man shall work.
But now that it has succeeded in this, it is not only beginning to insist
that he shall not work too much--the maximum hours of labor in many
employments being fixed by law--but he is being taught how to play wisely.
One of the most stirring books that I have read recently, "The Spirit of
Play and the City Streets," is an appeal written by Miss Addams, of
Chicago, whose noble work has been for years among the people who live
close by Marquette's portage hut--an appeal for the recognition of the
play instincts and their conversion into a greater permanent human
happiness. There are statistics which intimate that the per-hour
efficiency of men in some parts of America, whose number of hours of labor
has been lessened, has also been diminished--diminished because of their
imprudent use of their leisure, of their play time. So the thought of
social experts is turning to teaching children to play wisely, they whose
ancestors were compelled to leave off playing.
I speak of this here to intimate how far in its thought of the man of the
future, the nation of to-morrow, that valley has travelled-first of all in
its elementary training, and within much less than a half century, from
chalk to grand pianos, and from inexpensive tuitions in reading, writing,
and arithmetic to the dearer tuitions in singing, basket-weaving, cooking,
sewing, carpentering, drawing, and the trained teaching of the old
elementary subjects, with the addition of history, algebra, physiology,
Latin, and modern languages.
When the State of Iowa was admitted into the Union, in 1846, there were
100 log schoolhouses in use, valued each at $125. The latest statistics I
have at hand show that in 1912 the average value of the 13,870 school
properties in the State was $2,170, that the average expenditure for each
pupil was $28.86, and for each inhabitant $6.58, and that of the 507,109
pupils enrolled in the State only six per cent were in private schools--
the average for the States of the west varying from less than one per cent
to sixteen per cent.
The elementary school followed the frontier at even pace. It was usually
the first public building of every community, large or small. That
everybody saw it for what it was, I cannot maintain; but that it was the
symbol of the nation of to-morrow, borne daily before the people of the
present is certain. The westerners carried rails in the Lincoln campaign,
in their pride of his humble birth and vocation; they carried miniature
log cabins in another campaign in exaltation of another frontier hero.
They pictured ploughs and axes on the shields of their commonwealths. But
if one were to seek a symbol for the democracy of that valley, one could
find none more appropriate than the image of a frontier schoolhouse. It is
the most poetical thing of all that western landscape, when it is seen for
what it is, though it is not always architecturally imposing. A signal-
box, says an English essayist, such as one sees along the railroads, is
only called a signal-box, but it is the house of life and death, a place
"where men in an agony of vigilance light blood-red and sea-green fires to
keep other men from death." A post-box is only called a post-box; it is a
sanctuary of human words, a place to which "friends and lovers commit
their messages, conscious that when they have done so they are sacred, and
not to be touched not only by others but even by themselves." [Footnote:
G. K. Chesterton, on Mr. Rudyard Kipling, in his "Heretics," p. 41.] And
so a schoolhouse is only called a schoolhouse, but it is a place where the
invisible spirits of the past meet in the present the nascent spirits of
the future--the meetinghouse of the nation of yesterday and to-morrow. And
I would show that image of the schoolhouse upon a field of white, as
suggesting those white acres consecrated of the domain of Louis XIV to the
children of the west.
Some years ago, when walking across the island of Porto Rico in the West
Indies, just after its occupation and annexation by the United States, I
met in the interior mountains one morning a man carrying upon his
shoulders a basket filled with flowers, as it seemed to me at a distance.
As he approached, however, I saw that he was bearing the dead body of his
child, with flowers about it, to burial in consecrated ground miles away.
The first task of the new government there, as in the western States, was
to make fields consecrated for the living child, to set apart sites for
schoolhouses--the place for the common school.
That the common school has not in itself brought millennial conditions to
the valley we are aware, even as universal man suffrage has not brought
the full fruits of democracy. French philosophers and American patriots
alike have expected too much perhaps of an imperfect human nature. But
they have made their high demand of the only institution that can give in
full measure what is sought in a democracy.
First, it teaches the child the way and the means by which the race has
come out of barbarism and something of the rigor of the disciplines by
which civilization has been learned.
Second, it gives this teaching to the whole nation of to-morrow. There are
over ten million children in the public schools of that valley alone in
America, and, as I stated above, less than eight per cent in the private
schools; in the State of Indiana, where Lincoln had his slight schooling,
less than three per cent are in private schools-that is, practically the
entire people of the coming generation will have had some tuition of the
common school, some equality of fitting.
Third, as is to be inferred from the second fact, children of rich and
poor, of banker and mechanic, doctor and tradesman, come together, and in
a perfectly natural companionship, though in the great cities, where there
is less homogeneity, this mingling is somewhat disturbed by social
stratification and the great masses of immigrants.
So is the motto of the French Republic written the length and breadth of
that valley, though it may never actually be seen upon a lintel or door-
post: the "liberty" of access to the knowledges which are to assist in
making men as free as they can be; an elevating "equality" such as a State
can give to men of unequal endowments, capacities, and ambitions; and a
"fraternity" which is unconscious of else than real differences.
I gave intimation in an earlier chapter of the cosmopolitan quality of the
human material gathered into those houses of prophecy. There is separation
of Caucasian from African in the south, and there is more or less
unwilling association of Caucasian and Oriental in places of the far west
on the Pacific slope, but except for these and for individual instances
where, for example, the social extremes are brought together, these
minglings are but microcosms of the State itself. The schools are not in
that valley, in any sense, places provided by wealth for poverty, by one
class for another--charity schools; they are the natural meeting-houses of
democracy, with as little atmosphere of pauper or class schools as the
highways, on which even the President must obey the custom which controls
And let me say in passing: there is no body of men and women in America
more useful to the State, more high-minded, more patriotic, than the army
of public school-teachers--our great soldiery of peace.
They are a body six times the size of our standing army--more than a half-
million in number (547,289)--recruited from the best stock we have and
animated by higher purposes, more unselfish motives than any other half-
million public or private vocationalists of America. The total expenditure
for the common schools is but four and a half times the appropriation for
the standing army, though the number of teachers is six times (which
intimates how little we pay our public school-teachers relatively--
seventy-eight dollars per month to men, fifty-eight dollars to women
teachers). These men and women, who take the place of father, mother,
adviser, and nurse in the new industrial and social order--receive about
one and a quarter cents a day per inhabitant, man, woman, and child--a
little more than two sous per day.
It is this two-sous-per-day army that is our hope of to-morrow. It is
primarily upon its efficient valor that the future of democracy depends.
For it is they, rather than the parents, especially in the great cities
and in communities of large foreign elements, who have its making in their
hands. Without them the nation of to-morrow would be defenseless. She
would have to increase her standing army of soldiers, and even then, with
the multitudes of individual ignorances, malices, selfishnesses growing in
her own valleys and being disembarked by millions at her ports, she would
be powerless to defend her ideals.
One whom I have already quoted as speaking so disparagingly of Chicago
said that the most touching sight he saw in America was the marching of
the phalanxes of the nation of to-morrow past one of the generals or
colonels of that standing army of teachers. It was not in Chicago, but it
might have been. This particular phalanx had not been in America long.
They were singing "Sweet Land of Liberty" as they marched, swishing their
flags, and then they paused and repeated in broken speech:
"Flag of our great republic, inspirer in battle, guardian of our homes,
whose stars and stripes stand for bravery, purity, truth, and union, we
salute thee! We, the natives of distant lands who find rest under thy
folds, do pledge our hearts, our lives, and our sacred honor to love and
protect thee, our country, and the liberty of the American people
forever." [Footnote: H. G. Wells, "Future in America," p. 205.] A little
florid, you may say. "But think," said the English visitor, even as he
passed out into the filthy street, "think of the promise of it! Think of
the flower of belief that may spring from this warm sowing!"
And what gives most promise now is that this tuition has assumed a more
positive interest in the nation of to-morrow. The pioneer school was a
place of discipline, a place of fraternity, and it had the cooperation of
the home discipline and of the discipline of the primitive industrial life
in which the boy joined even during his school years. But that tuition was
in a sense as unsocialized as was the democracy of that day. It was
assumed that this meagre training would equip the boy with all the tools
of citizenship. Being able to read, write, and cipher, his own instincts
and interests would somehow procure good government and happiness.
Whatever patriotic stimulus his school gave him, as I recall out of my
experience, was through a history which engendered a feeling of hostility
toward England. That is being succeeded by a positive programme that
thinks very definitely of the boy's fullest development and of his social
spiritualization. The schoolhouse has become, or is in the way of
becoming, the civic centre of the nation.
But on top of the eight years' training of the elementary school, which
was considered at first the full measure of the obligation of the
community, the State in that region came to build additional years of
discipline--the high schools, first to equip young men for colleges or
universities and then to fit them for the meeting of the more highly
complex and specialized problems of life. These schools multiplied in the
upper Mississippi Valley at an extraordinary rate after the elementary
schools had prepared the way. In the northern part of that valley alone
sixteen hundred were established between 1860 and 1902. And there is
hardly a community of five thousand inhabitants that has not its fully
organized and well-equipped high or secondary school; while even towns of
a thousand inhabitants or less have made such provision.
Near the site of the village of the Illinois Indians, the village where
Père Marquette went from hut to hut in his ministries just before his
death journey; where La Salle gathered about his rock-built castle his red
allies to the number of thousands and attempted to build up what La Barre,
in his letter to Louis XIV, characterized as an imaginary kingdom for
himself--there is a beautiful river city, bearing the Indian name of
"Ottawa," and in the midst of it a large building that was for me the
capital of an imaginary kingdom, my one-time world, though it is called a
township high school. I speak of it because it is typical of the
instruction and influence that have come out of the long past, and that
are looking into the long future, in thousands of the towns and cities
that have each about them as many aspiring men, women, and youth as La
Salle had savage souls about his solitary castle in the wilderness.
These are the new Rocks St. Louis, these the eagles' nests of the new
Nouvelle France--I have visited scores of them--at Peoria, that was Fort
Crèvecoeur; at Joliet, where is now one of the best-equipped schools in
the valley; at Marquette, upon Lake Superior; at Chicago, where I spoke
one day to four thousand high-school boys and girls, for in most of these
schools the boys and girls are taught together. The valley has one of
these schools every few miles, where are gathered for the higher, sterner
disciplines of democracy those who wish to prepare themselves for its
Their courses are four years in length, and, though varying widely, have
each a core of mathematics, English, foreign languages, and either science
or manual training or commerce. In some large cities the schools are
differentiated as general, manual training, and commercial. But the States
of that valley have not stopped here. With the encouragement of national
grants--again from the great domain of Louis XIV--they have established
universities with colleges of liberal arts and sciences, and schools of
agriculture, forestry, mining, engineering, pharmacy, veterinary surgery,
commerce, law, medicine, and philosophy. There is not a State in all that
valley that has not its university in name and in most instances in fact.
They admit both men and women and there is no fee, or only a nominal fee,
to residents of the State. These are the great strategic centres and
strongholds of the new democracy. A little way back from Cadillac's fort
on the Detroit River is one, the oldest, the University of Michigan--
founded in 1837--with 5,805 students. A few years ago I addressed there,
at commencement, over eight hundred candidates for degrees and diplomas in
law, medicine, pharmacy, liberal arts and science.
A little way from the Fox-Wisconsin portage is another, the University of
Wisconsin, with 5,970 students. A few years ago I sat in that beautiful
seat of learning among men from all parts of the world offering their
congratulations at its jubilee. And they sat in silk gowns only less
ornate than Nicolet's when he came over the rim of the basin to treat with
the Winnebagoes--whom he had supposed to be Chinese mandarins. I heard,
too, the graduates receive their degrees on theses ranging from the poetry
of a lesser Greek poet to the "pancreas of a cat." I spent a month in its
library at a later time and found it superior for my purposes to any other
No higher institution of learning in America is more strongly possessed by
the spirit of the ministry of scholarship directly to the people. It needs
sorely advice of the arts that centre in Paris, as most of those
universities do. It needs advice not of industry but of the indefatigable
disinterestedness of the French.
Behind the Falls of St. Anthony in the Mississippi River, first described
and named by Father Hennepin, is the University of Minnesota, with 6,642
students. The principal deity of the Sioux was supposed to live under
these falls, and Hennepin, the priest of Artois, speaks in his journal of
hearing one of the Indians at the portage around the falls, in loud and
lamenting voice haranguing the spirit to whom he had just hung a robe of
beaver-skin among the branches of a tree. The buildings that are and are
planned to be on this site would tell better than a chapter of description
what a single State has done and is purposing at this portage of St.
Anthony of Padua, where hardly more than a lifetime ago the savage was
sacrificing beaver-skins to the god of the Mississippi. There are many
great laboratories and academic buildings upon that high shore at present,
but a score more are in prospect for this mighty democratic university of
letters and science, law and medicine, that will house in other centuries
perhaps not merely the appeased spirit of the Mississippi but such
learning as is in Paris or was in Padua, whose saint is still remembered
by the falls; for the university has the necessary means. When the Église
of the Sorbonne, which Richelieu had consecrated, was being built, the
French priests out along the shores of Superior were preparing the way for
this new-world university. Certain lands in that iron region which they
first explored were given by the nation as dowry to the university. These
were not thought to be valuable, as at the time of the grant the most
valuable timber and farming land had been sold. Fifteen years ago, more or
less, a train-load of iron ore was brought down from that region to
Allouez, a town on the lake named in memory of the priest of St. Esprit--
and now the lands of the university are valued at from thirty to fifty
millions of dollars. [Footnote: "Forty Years at the University of
Minnesota," p. 243.]
One might follow the River Colbert all the way down the valley and trace
its branches to the mountains on either side, and find in every State some
such fortress: in Iowa a university with 2,255 students; in Illinois one
with 4,330; and so on to the banks of the river in Texas where La Salle
died--and there learn that the most extensive of all in its equipment may
some day rise. These, besides the scores of institutions of private
foundation, but compelled to the same public spirit as the State
universities, tell with what thought of to-morrow the geographical
descendants of France are doing their tasks of to-day, where Allouez and
Marquette, Hennepin and Du Lhut, Radisson and Groseilliers, and the Sieur
de la Salle wandered and suffered and died but yesterday,
Their paths have opened and multiplied not only into streets of cities and
highways and railroads but into curricula of the world's wisdoms, gathered
from Paris and Oxford and Edinburgh and Berlin and Bologna and Prague and
Salamanca, even as their students are being gathered from all peoples.
Perrot spoke truer than he knew when he said to the savages of Wisconsin,
"I am but the dawn of the day"; and the Indian chief who first of human
beings welcomed Europeans the other side of the Mississippi River spoke in
prophecy when he said that the earth had grown more beautiful with their
The common school, the high school, the college and university--the common
school compulsory for every child; the high school open to every boy and
girl, without regard to race, creed, or riches; the university accessible
to every young man and woman who has the ambition, the endurance, to make
his way or her way to the frontiers of the spirit and endure their
hardships! For I think of these universities as the free lands that were
out upon the borders of that valley, except that this frontier of the mind
will never, never find its limit. There will always be a frontier beyond,
for new settlers, new squatters, of the telescope which makes the universe
smaller, of the microscope which enlarges it, of the written word, the
spoken word, the unknown quantities, the philosophies of life. Do we not