Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 1, 1879
to Mr. Evarts.
London, October 11, 1879. (Received October 22.)
Sir: I have the honor to inclose herewith a copy of an editorial from the London Times of October 8, 1879, upon American agriculture.
I have, &c.,
Editorial from the London Times of Wednesday, October 8, 1879.
Our special correspondent at New York sends us an account of American farming as he has seen it on the road between New York and Boston. Of farming, indeed, in the ordinary sense of the word, he has not much to say. The progress of corn-growing in the Western States of the Union, and the facilities given for the transport of grain by rail and by water carriage, have had the effect we might look for from them on the regions by the Atlantic seaboard. Corn has been well-nigh driven out of the field, and its place has been taken by produce of some other kind, better suited to the country, less threatened by the tremendous competition of the West, and, in the near neighborhood of large centers of demand, more likely to be remunerative. The American, we are told, has an instinctive aversion to the pursuit of an unprofitable calling. Where he cannot, therefore, grow corn to advantage, he turns his land and his labor to account in some other way. In New England he tries dairy farming, and keeps New Haven, and Hartford, and Boston supplied with butter and milk. Round and; about New York vegetable-growing and fruit-growing are the chief country industries. Long Island, for sixty miles from the city, is covered with market gardens very highly farmed. Up the Hudson River, and inland for seventy miles or more, the same state of things is to be found. For corn, and for butchers’ meat, the East is content to be dependent on the West. For fruit, and for vegetables, it can rely on its own resources. Florida, far away to the south, sends up its strawberries in April. Maine, to the far north, keeps back its strawberries until July. New York, happily placed between if two such friendly fires, enjoys the advantage of all climates. For all that can be grown near and far, there is a full and constant demand. The taste for good vegetables and fruit has increased enormously in America during the past ten years. New York has as much of both as it could wish. Boston is somewhat less well furnished; but, even so, Boston rejoices in a profusion which Londoners will hear of with some envy. Grapes, peaches, melons, and pears were abundant and cheap at the date of our correspondent’s letter. Fruit was on sale everywhere; and with half a bushel of peaches to be bought for a couple of shillings, the laboring classes were among the most forward to avail themselves of the chance offered them. The report from Boston is that the quantity, quality, and variety of the fruit and vegetables are astonishing; while New York is stated to be better furnished still. Quantity, quality, and variety may all be found in London, but at a price which prohibits the enjoyment of them to all but the tolerably well-to-do classes. The taste exists widely enough, as the trucks; and street barrows which minister to it show. But half a bushel of peaches for a couple of shillings would be looked at with suspicion by the most hardy of the well-seasoned customers who venture to buy their fruit in the streets. They must pay a higher price than this for any poor stuff which they purchase with the hope of eating it afterwards.
As between the English and the American consumer there is thus no question which of the two is the better off. New York and Boston, too, are shown in our correspondent’s letter as the very paradise of vegetarians. His purpose, however, is not merely to dangle before our eyes the vision of an abundance which we are not permitted to share. It is to the producer that he is addressing himself. Go and do likewise is the lesson to which his remarks lead up. He qualifies it, indeed, by the admission that English farmers cannot hope to do all that American farmers are doing. The climate is not equally favorable to them, and there is a further hint that they are not equally capable of doing the best that circumstances allow. But, granting that they are willing to learn and to do the best they can, let us see what they are bidden to look for as the reward of their obedience. It is to this that they will be likely to look first. To increase the health and advance the sobriety of the British public are noble objects; but as stimulants to hard work they must take a secondary place. We could wish, from this point of view, that rewards of successful farming industry in the eastern States of America were greater than our correspondent’s letter describes them to [Page 467] be. Of market gardening we are not told much. In Long Island, men who have ten acres of their own can hope to pay expenses, to keep themselves and their families, and to clear their hundred a year afterwards. English market gardeners, who have to pay rent for their land, would have, on this computation, little or nothing over at the year’s end. Ten pounds an acre is no high rent for land suitable for market gardening; and ten pounds an acre would exactly slice off the whole profit which the American freeholder enjoys. Of dairy-farming the statistics are more fully given, and they are even less attractive. With hard work, hard living, and constant thrift, the New England dairy farmer has not been doing well. The most energetic of the young men are not satisfied with the prospect which their fathers’ business offers them. Some betake themselves to the West and to grain-growing; others to town life and manufactures. We have, in short, a reproduction in the western hemisphere of many of the essential features of English life. In England, too, the towns are found competing with the country districts and drawing off the best and most promising hands. The vast Western States, which have their attraction for the cramped and competition-driven inhabitant of the eastern seaboard, are looked to with no less hope by some English cultivators who find it difficult to make a living at home. The distance is greater and the plunge a somewhat more desperate one; but the trial is, nevertheless, made, and will be made still more frequently if the returns of farming continue to be what they have been during the past few years. In other ways, too, our correspondent’s letter shows us points in common between England and America. The sketch it gives of market gardening in New York, developed and maintained by help of the fertilizing matter which the vegetable vans bring back with them on their return journey; the successful men who go to market with their own produce; the market itself, with its varied stores of all sorts of vegetables—all these are just as truly English as American subjects. The chief difference seems to be in the greater distance from town to which American market gardening has extended. On the American scale all England would not more than serve for this one use. As grain crops fail to be remunerative, the experiment remains of growing vegetables further and further away from the markets in which they are to be sold. But the market gardener in this country will have to create the taste by which he is to live. The supply already is as great as the effectual demand, and, with a large increase of supply, the demand must, be raised too if market gardening is to continue the profitable affair it has been.
There are other lessons which America may teach us, besides the advantage of producing milk and butter and vegetables in the place of corn. This we shall learn in due course, as it seems likely to be of service to us. Cultivation which ceases to pay expenses and to yield a fair profit over will be abandoned in favor of some other form of industry, either in this country or abroad. Market gardening and dairy farming will obtain their just share of recruits, with some danger of a diminished rate of profits both to new and to old lands. But from the machinery for saving labor which has been adopted in America we may take lessons with more certainty that they will be of value to us. America can send us corn at a low price, not only because she can grow corn more easily than England can, but scarcely less because she has learned to economize both time and labor at every stage in the transmission of it. The letter, we published lately from our correspondent gives some important instances to this effect. A vessel which has been loaded with corn at New York in a single day takes ten or twelve days to unload when she arrives at an English port. The loading has been done by machinery. The unloading is done by hand work, at a considerably greater cost, and with a delay which stands, of course, for so much extra expense in ship hire, or, in other words, in freightage. The exportation of corn has been made a great commercial business in America, and this to an extent with which there is nothing in this country to correspond. Railways and merchants lay themselves out for it, and do their utmost to facilitate it. A keen appreciation of novelty, a readiness to adopt improved processes, and the extensive application of machinery, are, our correspondent says, important elements in the industrial successes of the United States. We are no strangers in England to the application of machinery to the industrial arts. But the supremacy we claim in this matter might be maintained more certainly if it were aided by the mental habits our correspondent finds in Americans, and which are, perhaps, not equally conspicuous in ourselves. Englishmen of all classes go well in a groove; but change they dislike of all things. The result is that they are sometimes unpleasantly made aware that they live in a changeful world, and that they are bound under heavy penalties to suit themselves to its ever-varying conditions. An instinctive aversion to the pursuit of an unprofitable calling may be a less distinctively American feeling than our correspondent appears to fancy it. Englishmen as little as Americans love to carry on business at a loss. But in the capacity for accommodating himself to circumstances the American may be granted to excel. The Englishman may at least learn to follow at his own pace where he is not willing to take the lead. He may thus retain his dislike for novelty in the abstract, and surrender it where novelty comes to him with its first shine worn off it, and where there is already precedent to be urged for it.