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 25, 1878. (Received November 6.)
Sir: Referring to ray dispatch No. 54, of the 20th ultimo, I have the honor to inclose herewith a copy of an extract from the Times of October 24, containing a letter of Mr. Andrews, formerly United States minister-at Stockholm, concerning the advantages held out by the northwestern portion of the United States to British emigrants, which may perhaps be of interest in connection with the subject of my above-mentioned communication.
I have, &c.,
Land in the United States.
To the Editor of The Times:
Sir: As considerable importance has been assigned to the wheat-growing capacity of this part of the Northwest and the extensive “wheat-belt” beyond in recent addresses and articles by British statesmen and writers—notably in a speech by Mr. Bright—it may, perhaps, be useful to some of the readers of The Times to be informed of the way in which the wild or uncultivated lands of the United States in this wheat-producing region can be obtained on the cheapest terms with a view to immediate occupation and cultivation. The advantage of acquiring land under the homestead law of the United States is the cheapness by which it can be thus obtained. Under this law the land must be taken in contiguous “government subdivisions” of 40 acres each. The minimum quantity which a person can take is 40 acres, unless the tract [Page 479] happens to be fractional from adjoining a body of water that has been meandered in the public survey, in which case a smaller tract maybe taken. 40, 80, 120, or 160 acres may be taken at the person’s option. It is usual for a settler to take 160 acres for his homestead, because the cost of obtaining such a quantity is but a trifle more than for obtaining 40 or even 80 acres. The only money which a person has to pay in acquiring a homestead is $5 (£1 0s. 6½d.) to the government if the tract be 80 acres or less, or if it exceeds 80 acres $10 (£2 ls. l¼d.), and $4 (16s. 5¼d.) to the register and receiver of the land office ($2 to each) at the date of the “entry” of the homestead tract on the records of the office, and a like sum of $4 to those officers at the date of final proof, making in all for amaximum tract of 160 acres the sum of $18 (or £3 13s. 11¾d. English money). Beside, the register and receiver are allowed jointly to receive at the rate of 15 cents per 100 words for testimony reduced by them to writing, consisting of the homestead applicant’s own affidavit and the depositions of two witnesses showing his compliance with the homestead law. This is offered at the end of the five years’ occupancy, is called the “final proof,” and the fees which the land officers receive for such service amount to about $2.25 (9s. 3d). The whole amount of money, therefore, from first to last, that the homestead settler would be required to pay at the government office would be about $20.25 (£4 3s. 2d). I have said that a settler is allowed to take as a maximum quantity 160 acres. That constitutes a complete quarter section; but it sometimes occurs that a quarter section, like a smaller subdivision, is fractional, and exceeds by from 10 to 20 acres the usual quantity; and in every such case the settler gets the excess without any additional payment, except a few cents more in the way of commissions to each of the two land officers. There is another contingency which might add a little to the fees, requiring, by way of preface, a little explanation. After the public lands of the United States have been surveyed and offered at public sale to the highest bidder, all which remain unsold and which are unoccupied by lawful settlers are open to everybody, foreigner, as well as citizen, to purchase at “private entry” and in unlimited quantities at the minimum price of $1.25 an acre. But where grants of alternate sections have been made in aid of railroads, say, for a width of five or ten miles on each side of the railroad, it has been the practice of the government, as required by law, to raise the price of the remaining lands within such railroad limits to double the minimum price—namely, to $2.50 per acre. In case, then, a homestead should consist of these double-priced lands, the commissions to be paid the land officers would be $8 more for a 160–acre tract than are required where the homestead is on minimum priced land. It is owing partly to the smallness of the money consideration that the obtaining of land in this way is called the free homestead system; partly, also, no doubt, to the liberality with which its benefits are accorded to people. All foreigners, except the Chinese, who are not eligible to citizenship, can take the benefit of the homestead law. But, before a foreigner can proceed in the matter, he must have duly made his declaration of intention to become a citizen of the United States. Any single person who has arrived at the age of 21 years, and any head of a family, though under the age of 21 years, can take the benefit of the law; also, any woman who is the head of a family, or who, if single, is above the age of 21 years.
A person having made entry of his homestead tract at the land office of the district in which the land is situated, is required, in order to hold it, to commence improvements upon it in good faith as soon as he reasonably can, and to reside upon it. He is not permitted to leave it for more than six months at a time; but there is no specified value of improvements required to be made. Everything depends on the circumstances and facts showing the party’s good faith. If he is poor and can improve his condition by working out for wages, he can safely be absent from his homestead the greater part of the time, but, as before stated, not more than six months at a time. After five years’ occupation of the homestead—five years from date of entry—he can go to the land office with two witnesses, make his final proof, pay the fees that have been mentioned, and will then receive a certificate from the receiver of the land office, which is evidence of his absolute title in fee simple to the land. In due time this certificate can be exchanged for a patent, which is a more formal certificate of title on parchment, and containing the great seal of the United States.
Whether a settler obtains an ordinary or a first-rate tract of land depends on his enterprise. If he will go a little farther upon the frontier than those who have preceded him, he has a wider field for selection. For those who will make careful search there are yet in all our frontier States and Territories very many excellent tracts whether of wood-land or prairie, that are open to homestead settlement and not many-miles distant from railroads. Besides the lands belonging to the United States there are in Minnesota several million acres of good land belonging to the different railroad companies, and which they are ready to sell at an average price of about $5 (£1 0s. 6½d.) per acre. If one buys railroad land, he can naturally accommodate himself better in respect of being near older settlements.
The general appearance of the Northwest is attractive. The surface is moderately undulating, watered by an abundance of clear streams and lakes, which are generally [Page 480] skirted with a variety of hard-wood trees, and in many places presents a landscape decidedly park-like and handsome. The thickness of the soil, which is a black loam, with bluish tinge, varies from a few inches to several feet, the lightest resting upon gravel and the richest upon clay. A strip of country some miles wide, bordering on Lake Superior, has a strong, red-clay soil. For 100 miles southwest from Lake Superior is a continuous and splendid forest of alternate bodies of pine and hard-wood trees. The principal bodies of pine forest in Minnesota are on the headwaters of the Mississippi.
Assuming that a person is in possession of 160 acres of prairie land, which, in its original state, is ready for the breaking plough, and purposes cultivating 100 acres in wheat, what expense must he incur in order to proceed with his work to the best advantage? The breaking is usually done in the months of May and June, and would cost $2.50 per acre, or say £50 for breaking the 100 acres. As the seed cannot be put in till the following spring, no further expense will be required the first year unless it be in the erection of buildings. The next year, then, he will need to buy a harrow, costing $14 (£2 17s. 6d.), a pair of horses for $250 (£51 7s. 5d.), a pair of harnesses, $28 (£5 15s. 1d); 125 bushels of seed wheat, $125 (£25 13s, 8d.); a roller, $12.50 (£2 12s.); a seed-sowing machine, $65 (£13 7s. 1d.)—which will sow ten acres a day; a harvester machine, $150 (£30 16s. 5d.)—which, with two men to ride and bind, will cut ten acres a day; a double wagon, $60 (£12 6s. 7d.); a cross plow, $18 (£3 13s. 11d.); and buildings, $1,000, or say £200, making altogether £398 9s. 8d. There will, of course, be some additional items for labor, subsistence, and for a few small tools. If the land has been taken under the homestead law, the outlay for that, as we have seen, will have been but a trifle. The crop should yield at least 15 bushels to the acre, and it might reach 25 bushels to the acre. The yield seems to depend about as much on the care in cultivating as upon the soil. I happened to hear lately of a farm in the valley of the Red River of the North which yields this year 47 bushels of wheat per acre. On the other hand, the reports are that in townships only a few miles from here, in a neighboring county of average fertility, the yield is only from seven to eleven bushels per acre. Wheat has this year been affected by blight, though not so seriously as last year.
In case, however, one practices a diversified agriculture, which has advantages over exclusive wheat raising, crops of hemp, maize, potatoes, and the like could be grown on land the same season it is broken. The abundance of natural meadows renders the dairy, stock-raising, also wool-growing (peculiarly favored by the dryness of the atmosphere) profitable branches of agriculture. Hop-raising, bee-keeping, &c., are also remunerative. Thirty years ago it was doubted if apples could be grown in this State; but now several years’ experience in the growing of apples shows that a number of good varieties can be produced in abundance. The market here has for a couple of weeks been supplied with large, juicy, and delicate-flavored apples grown in this immediate vicinity the present season, and which have steadily maintained the very high price of $2 a bushel, they being much preferred to any brought from a distance at this time of the year.
Though there is generally a good demand for farm labor, harvest hands getting as high wages as $3 a day and board, and though an industrious and frugal settler, beginning with no other capital than his hands and his health, could manage by working out part of the time to improve and acquire a homestead, yet the poor who come from country life in Europe to settle on the public land of the frontier, may expect some privations. It is likely they will miss many objects, associations, and comforts, which were attractive in their native spot and which seem all the dearer when once they have been abandoned. But those who come from Northern Europe will find some compensating circumstances in the new and larger vegetable kingdom which opens around them. In the little inclosure surrounding the rude cabin of a poor homestead settler may be seen, the first summer of his settlement, vines yielding the watermelon, the mush and nutmeg melon; also the tropical-looking and rustling maize, which, planted the 1st of May, yields its ears for the table by the 1st of August, and which our well-known Dr. Warren, of Boston, esteemed in its season, when boiled, wholesome for breakfast and dinner; and among the little flower-beds which the thoughtful housewife has arranged, and which lend charm to the lowliest cot, may be seen in perfection those Oriental plants, the costly saffron and the luxuriant castor bean.
The European who settles in the Northwest can very soon acquire as independent a standing politically, and, if he is well behaved, socially, as if his ancestors had come over in the Mayflower. Such a person, being a male and 21 years of age, and having resided in the United States one year, and in this State four months, can enjoy the privilege of voting at any public election in this State, provided he has duly declared his intention to become a citizen of the United States. He thus becomes also eligible to any office in the State from constable up to governor. He exercises his political privileges with perfect freedom and security, and without the slightest manifestations of jealously or ill-will on the part of any native American. Two or three foreigners usually hold State offices in this and other of our Northwestern States; quite a number [Page 481] are returned to every legislature, and they are largely represented in the well-paid county offices of trust. The United States granted to Minnesota when she was organized as as Territory two sections of land, being 1,280 acres, in every township, in aid of common schools. These lands are sold at auction from time to time, but not under five dollars per acre; and the permanent fund arising from them thus far amounts to $4,000,000, and will eventually amount to $12,000,000. The interest from this fund is annually allotted to the different districts in proportion to the number of children therein of school age. The school fund has hitherto been faithfully administered, and common schools sustained principally by local taxation are, as a rule, well maintained. There are in this young State three well-equipped normal schools for the training of teachers, a State university also well-sustained, and a flourishing college. There is one State superintendent of public schools and a superintendent for every county.
“Which is the shortest route to Liverpool?” has for some time been a leading question among the occupants of this northwestern wheat belt, and its agitation has acquired new impulse from the recent sale of the railway from Saint Paul and Minneapolis to Duluth, on Lake Superior, to parties who are interested in having it combine rather than compete with the Chicago route. Meetings have lately been held here by influential citizens to induence public opinion in favor of opening an all-rail route to the seaboard. The unfavorable discriminations and fluctuations of freight charges which are alleged against the Chicago railways are well calculated to foster this agitation. The proposed all-rail route to the Atlantic, which is most favored here, would in a direct line traverse the territory bordering the south shore of Lake Superior, crossing the “Sault” St. Mary, thence through Ontario in the direction of Montreal. The most available. Atlantic terminus of such a route in the United States would probably be Boston, by the way of Ogdensburg and over the Adirondack Plateau, it being a little shorter than to New York. Portland has also been favorably mentioned as a terminus. This proposed outlet via Sault St. Mary would give the wheat producers of Central and Northern Minnesota and Dakota and the region beyond, a considerably shorter transit to Liverpool than they now have. That portion of it west of Sault St. Mary, in Michigan, would run through a country of pine and hard-wood forests, and of medium fertility, while the territory it would traverse in Ontario is considered as having fair agricultural promise. If any such outlet for the Northwest shall be opened, it would be desirable that it be under government control.
I am, &c.,
United States Minister Resident at Stockholm, 1869–1877.