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The growth of wealth since 1850 — Difficulty of exact comparisons Statistics of the Department of Commerce and Labor - Our industrial advance- Railroad expansion - Growth in exports and imports cation of savings banks Temporary setback to National prosperity The problem of economic distribution The concentration of wealth Its National and State control.
The increase in the gross amount of wealth in the United States in the generation following the close of the Civil War and the average annual accumulations per capita furnish conclusive evidence of a wonderful National growth. Save for the break between 1860 and 1865, there was a steadily accelerated economic growth since 1850. Such fluctuations as did occur were generally slight; on the whole, the record was one of extraordinary advance. Since 1865 the
average annual per capita additions to our wealth were never less than $30. Computed for various census esti
In addition to the authorities already cited, the following should be consulted: M. G. Mulhall, Dictionary of Statistics (London, 1884) and Industries and Wealth of Nations (London, 1896); Hunt's Merchants' Magazine and Commerical Review (63 vols., New York, 1839-1870); James Curtis Ballagh (ed.), Economic History, 1865– 1909, vol. vi. of The South in the Building of the Nation (12 vols., Richmond, 1909); H. A. Hilary (ed.), Why the Solid South? or Reconstruction and Its Results (Baltimore, 1890); United States Census reports, 1870-1880-1890-1500-1910); E. L. Bogart, Economic History of the United
mates, they were: 1860 to 1870, $22.56; 1870 to 1880, $39.65; 1880 to 1890, $34.69; 1890 to 1900, $30.42; 1900 to 1904, $57.42.
It is impossible to make exact comparisons of the wealth statistics as reported by the different census bureaus, because the various methods employed preclude any uniformity in results. To a certain extent this applies to nearly every census, but it is especially true of those of 1850, 1860, and 1870. In discussing this matter, Carroll D. Wright, the Commissioner of Labor in charge of this branch of the census work for 1890, said: "These admitted differences of method pursued in reaching the figures of true valuation for the several census periods, and the temporary character of the Census office, of themselves preclude any attempt of one census to revise the figures of a previous one; and the figures as published, if not so accurate as desired, can be accepted with safety as showing in a general way a continuous increase in the wealth of the nation, the exact propor
tions of which cannot be measured."*
The most reliable figures are undoubtedly given out by the United States (New York, 1907); C. M. Depew (ed.), One Hundred Years of American Commerce (2 vols., New York, 1895); P. A. Bruce, Rise of the New South (Philadelphia, 1906); The Manufacturers' Record (Baltimore, 1890-1909); E. E. Sparkes, The Expansion of the American People, Social and Territorial (Chicago, 1900); William G. Moody, Land and Labor in the United States (New York, 1883); Francis A. Walker, Discussions in Statistics and Economics (2 vols., New York, 1899).
* Report on Wealth, Debt and Taxation of the Eleventh Census, 1890, pt. ii., p. 11.
States Bureau of Statistics, Department of Commerce and Labor. Some of these afford a good general view of the wealth of the people of the United States in various forms at different dates. In 1850 the total wealth was $7,135,780,000; in 1880, $42,642,000,000; in 1900, $88,517,306,775; in 1904, $107,104,211,917. In 1850 the wealth per capita was $307.67; in 1880, $850.20; in 1900, $1,164.79; in 1910, $1,319.11. The value of farm products was $2,212,540,927 in 1880, $3,764,177,706 in 1900, and $8,760,000,000 in 1910. The value of manufactured products was $1,019,106,616 in 1850, $5,359,579,191 in 1880, $13,014,287,498 in 1900, and $14,802,147,087 in 1910.
The wealth of the country, measured by its productivity and accumulations, grew with such amazing rapidity in the quarter of a century preceding 1912 that the United States attained to a position where it was not only practically independent of the rest of the world in all the essential requirements of living, but was able even to help supply the needs of the other nations. Agricultural crops increased steadily in size and value, with only here and there an exception. The bulk of agriculture at the end of this period was larger than ever before. Coal production, which in 1899 exceeded that of Great Britain, increased actually and relatively in comparison with its closest rival during the following decade. In the same way the production of pig-iron and steel increased until the amounts surpassed the com
bined output of Great Britain and Germany. In other industries the advance was equally marvelous-in many instances over 100 per cent. in ten years.
Railroad mileage increased until at the opening of the century it was 193,345 miles-40 per cent. of the world's total. In 1910 it had grown to 239,991 miles. The gross receipts of the operating roads in 1910 exceeded $2,800,000,000. Our exports, which from 1891 to 1895 (both inclusive) increased 20 per cent., gained over 50 per cent. in the ensuing six years. In 1911 the total of domestic exports had risen to $2,013,549,025. In addition, we exported $87,259,611 of gold and silver. During the same period our imports increased but still lagged behind the exports in amount, as they had done almost every year since 1874. In 1911 they were in gross, free and dutiable, $1,527,226,105-a decrease of almost 2 per cent. from the preceding year. Moreover, a large proportion of our imports in this period was of raw or partially manufactured materials, instead of wholly manufactured goods, as in previous years.
An analysis of these figures goes far toward demonstrating the selfsufficiency of the United States and their practical independence of the rest of the world. The domestic supply of raw materials was ample for present and future needs, even should the foreign supply be cut off. Fully 90 per cent. of the manufactures of the country were kept for home use. In
wheat and cotton a large surplus was annually sent to foreign markets, but most of the other cereals were consumed at home. Dairy products were almost entirely consumed for home needs. Domestic industry, the interstate or the inter-sectional exchange of products and money, far exceeded in amount and value that which fed the foreign market. The vast accumulation of wealth from all sources remained at home for the most part, greatly enriching the Nation. Much has been written about the millions spent abroad by traveling Americans and the millions taken away or sent away by a transitory foreign population, but these losses have had little economic effect upon the great total of National wealth.
The savings of the people constitute another factor in measuring the growing prosperity and the accumulating wealth of the country. Before the close of the Civil War savings banks existed principally in the Eastern and Middle States. In 1888 such banks existed in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan. The deposits in these banks constituted a considerable portion of the savings of the people of those States, although some had gone into life insurance, building and loan associations, real estate and industrial enterprises. In 1873-1874 the savings banks deposits in the entire United States were $759,946,000, while in
1888 they had risen to about $1,500,000,000-an increase of nearly 100 per cent. and a proportionate addition to the tangible wealth of the country.
In 1890-1900, however, occurred the one serious break in this period's prosperity. In the preceding decade there was a great settlement movement to the West and Southwest which congested somewhat existing conditions. Land by the millions of acres was taken up and mortgages given for purchase price and working capital, resulting in an agricultural depression which spelt ruin to the farmers of Kansas, Nebraska and other States in that section. But the tide changed quickly and in the years following 1897, with good crops and higher prices, the farmers regained their losses. Mortgages were paid off and that part of the country again attained a condition of economic solvency. The incident is interesting and important from many points of view. It showed to what extent the prosperity of the country always depends upon its agriculture, notwithstanding its development in other directions, and demonstrated once more the the wonderful wealth obtainable from that source. At the close of the first decade of the Twentieth century no section of the country was more prosperous than the Southwest.
At the beginning of the Twentieth century questions pertaining to the equitable distribution of wealth came into greater prominence than those re
lating to its accumulation. A century had fully demonstrated the country's almost inexhaustible natural resources and the capacity, energy and enterprise of her people. There was no longer any uncertainty as to the wealth-producing power of the country or any reasonable doubt as to the permanency of its economic progress.
With the period of initiative, enterprise and energetic exploitation of opportunities nearly over and the fruit of this intense National activity fully ripened, it was natural that the economic questions of distribution rather than of production should have come to engage the minds of the people, especially of those who studied economic and sociological conditions. In regard to the general subject of wealth, this was one of the most striking manifestations of the period. The conclusions have been almost as various as the investigators and commentators have been numerous. Some facts, however, seem to stand out prominently. Vast wealth had become concentrated in the hands of comparatively few individuals, families and business combinations; and yet the great middle class has secured more of the common accumulation than is generally believed. Beyond this the subject has infinite ramifications. This is not the place to enter upon a discussion of a subject of such magnitude, even if space permitted. As a vital part of the history of the period, however, it is essential to record at least the agitation and discussion which
formed so large a part of the intellectual life of the period, affected legislation, and exercised profound influence on business.
In the opening years of the Twentieth century National thought was largely concerned with the subject of government control of wealth and its production. Periodical literature treated of this more than of any other single topic. National and State legislation favored a more comprehensive and more effective government control of business. It were not too much to say that in the two decades ending with 1910 more than one half the legislation of the country bore directly or indirectly upon this matter. The merest reference to some of the measures to this end will serve to indicate the importance this question assumed in our National life. The socalled "anti-trust" laws, State and National, were numbered by the score. Municipal control of ownership of public utilities was established in many commonwealths and municipalities. To the National Interstate Commerce Commission were given powers that made its members virtual dictators of the railroad business of the country. In 1910 Congress created a Commerce Court, with jurisdiction, as its title indicates the only important addition to the Federal judiciary since the establishment of the District and
Circuit courts, inferior only to the Supreme Court itself. Most of the business that came before the Supreme Court was of this nature and the decisions of that body, almost without exception, favored government supervision and regulation of the business activities of the country. Inheritance taxes were placed on the statute books of nearly every State and early in 1912 the proposal to
amend the constitution so as to authorize a Federal income-tax was so popular that it was ratified by many State legislatures. *
* C. B. Spahr, An Essay on the Present Distribution of Wealth in the United States (New York, 1896); Statistical Abstract (Bureau of Statistics, Washington, 1865-1910); R. R. Bowker, Reader's Guide in Economic, Social and Political Science (New York, 1891); H. Gannett, Building of a Nation; Growth, Present Condition and Resources of the United States (New York, 1895); J. J. Lalor (ed.), Cyclopedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States (3 vols. Chicago, 1881-84); Sir S. Morton Peto, Resources and Prospects of America (London, 1866); Census reports, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910; T. D. Woolsey (ed.), The First Century of the Republic (New York, 1876); Hunt's Merchants' Magazine and Commercial Review (New York, 1840-70); David A. Wells, Recent Economic Changes (New York, 1891); J. A. Collins, The Distribution of Wealth in the United States (Senate Doc. 75, 55th Congress, 2d session); Wealth, Debt and Taxation (Eleventh and Twelfth Census reports, 1890 and 1900); M. G. Mulhall, Dictionary of Statistics (London, 1884); L. B. Ruggles, The United States of America (New York, 1880); L. H. Bailey, Agricultural Cyclopedia of America (4 vols., New York, 1907).