Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/March 1893/The Decrease of Rural Population
|THE DECREASE OF RURAL POPULATION.|
WHEN the Constitution of the United States was adopted, only one in every thirty of the people who ordained and established it were residents of cities or towns having eight thousand inhabitants or upward. There were but six such places in the entire country. San Francisco, situated sixteen hundred miles west of our then western boundary, and not founded until nearly sixty years after Washington was inaugurated, has now more than twice as many inhabitants as had all the cities of the United States together when the first census was taken. To-day we think and speak of such States as Kansas, North Carolina, Texas, and Arkansas as almost purely agricultural States. On such political questions as the tariff and the currency we expect to see their representatives take such positions as the farmers, whether rightly or wrongly, suppose will best promote their interests. Yet every one of the States just named, and indeed every State east of the Missouri River, with the single exception of Mississippi, has a larger proportionate urban population than had the country as a whole when Hamilton carried through Congress his measures to levy duties on imports for the "support of government, for the discharge of the debts of the United States, and the encouragement and protection of manufactures"; to make "provision for the debt of the United States," and "to incorporate the subscribers to the Bank of the United States." So great and far-reaching are the differences between the social, economic, and political conditions of city and country communities that there are few features of the eleventh census which are more deserving of close study than those which show how rapidly the United States is changing from an almost purely rural to what promises ere long to be a predominantly urban country.In making such a study the first thing to do is to determine where the necessarily arbitrary line between urban and rural shall be drawn. For the purpose of this article, all cities, towns, and villages which were separately returned by the census as having on June 1, 1890, 1,000 inhabitants or upward, are considered as urban communities. There were 3,715 such cities, towns, and villages; and when hereafter in this article mention is made of "urban population," the population of these places is intended, while the term "rural population" will be used to designate all the inhabitants residing outside of such cities, towns, and villages. Of course, this division is not only arbitrary, but to a certain extent, particularly in New England, it may be misleading as well. There are in the New England States 411 towns of between 1,000 and 2,000 inhabitants, and 209 of between 2,000 and 4,000 inhabitants each. Of the former class the majority were doubtless largely if not altogether rural communities, as were many of the latter; and considerable rural population is often included in New England towns with a still greater aggregate number of inhabitants. The impossibility of drawing as hard and fast a line between the rural and urban or semi-urban population in New England as may be done in the other portions of the country is of course due to the fact that while geographically the towns in New England correspond to the towns, townships, election, militia, or magisterial districts, hundreds, wards, precincts, beats, etc., into which the counties in the other parts of the country are divided, it is in New England very unusual to incorporate a village or borough within a town. When separate government is desired by a portion of a New England town, the more common practice is to set off the area asking for it as a new town. It is not possible to determine with mathematical precision the precise increase during the decade of the 3,715 places having each over 1,000 inhabitants in 1890. In a number of instances the territorial limits of cities and towns were not the same in 1890 as in 1880. Usually, of course, when changes have occurred there have been extensions of corporate boundaries. Among the smaller towns and villages there are many whose population in 1880 was not separately returned. In some instances the places did not exist in 1880, but more frequently their not being mentioned in the census was due to failure of the enumerators to separate their inhabitants from the persons residing in other portions of their census districts Both the circumstances last mentioned would operate to make the apparent increase in the population of the cities and towns greater than it actually was. On the other hand, many of the larger cities are surrounded by more or less extensive belts of territory outside of their corporate limits, the increase of the population of which belts is due entirely to the growth of the cities around which they lie. On the whole, therefore, it is believed that to compare the population as returned by the eleventh census of cities, towns, and villages of 1,000 inhabitants or upward in 1890 with the population of the same places as returned in 1880 will afford a practically accurate measure of the rate of growth of the city, town, and village population of the country as a whole. In particular States, however, one or the other of the above causes of error may so predominate as to exert an appreciably disturbing influence on the accuracy of the comparison. In local comparisons, therefore, proper allowance has been made whenever necessary for the operation of these causes. The increase of the rural and urban population, as above defined, during the decade has been:
|Percentage of increase||24·86||47·07||12·66|
In 1880 the 3,715 places which in 1890 had more than 1,000 inhabitants each, had but little more than half as many inhabitants as resided outside their limits, yet during the decade their absolute increase was more than twice as great as was that of the rest of the country, and relatively nearly four times as great. Striking as this difference is, it tells only a small part of the story; for such increase as there was, was confined almost entirely to the portions of the country hitherto altogether unsettled or but scantily peopled.
In northern Maine, in the Adirondacks in New York, in northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, in southern Florida, in the Dakotas and Texas, and in nearly all the States and Territories west of the Missouri, large areas of hitherto unsettled land received inhabitants. The settled area, by which phrase the Census Office means the area on which there is a population of at least two to the square mile, increased during the decade 377,715 square miles, or more than the entire settled area of the country at the beginning of this century, and nearly as much as the areas of France and Germany combined. Almost three millions of the entire four millions of increase in rural population was in the States west of the Mississippi, and the remainder was in the comparatively thinly settled States south and west of Virginia and in northern Michigan and Wisconsin. Speaking generally, it may be said that there was an absolute decrease in the rural population of all the more densely populated agricultural regions of the country.
The diminishing population of rural New England has long been the subject of melancholy comment. During the last decade no less than 935 of its 1,592 cities, towns, and plantations, whose population was separately returned both in 1880 and 1890, lost inhabitants. Of these 935 no less than 814 were towns or plantations which in 1880, and of course in 1890, had less than 2,000 inhabitants, or in other words were mostly rural places. The aggregate population of the 1,246 towns, plantations, and "gores" which in 1890 had each less than 2,000 inhabitants, in 1880 and 1890 compared as follows:
|Decrease in decade||72,230|
|Percentage of decrease||6·88|
Certainly in Massachusetts, in which State I have carefully examined the returns of the towns at every Federal census, and in some of the other New England States probably, this decrease of the population of the smallest and most purely rural towns—that is, of those which had in 1890 less than 1,000 inhabitants each—has been going on steadily ever since 1840, and they now have less population than they had ninety years ago. The next larger towns, still purely or nearly purely rural, but more favorably situated, being those which had in 1890 between 1,000 and 2,000 inhabitants each, increased steadily and with a reasonable degree of rapidity until 1850. During the decade between 1850 and 1860 there was a barely perceptible increase, and since 1860 the decrease has been continuous. In the aggregate all the towns having less than 2,000 inhabitants each, comprising as they do 179 of the 351 towns and cities in the State, had a larger population in 1820 than they have to-day.
In the early days of the century, railroads there were of course none. Even canals as yet existed principally on paper. The cost of land carriage was on the average probably at least twenty-five times as great as it now is. Articles whose bulk was large as compared with their value, as is generally the case with agricultural products, could not profitably be carried great distances overland. Under ordinary circumstances, if they could not be consumed or reach navigable water within a hundred and fifty miles or less of the place of their origin, they were practically valueless. Under such conditions the proximity of most of the New England country towns to the seacoast and to the commercial and manufacturing centers gave them an enormous geographical advantage, which went far to compensate for the comparative sterility of much of their soil. Now, however, when it costs less to bring a barrel of flour or a bushel of wheat from Nebraska or the Dakotas than it did eighty years ago to wagon like articles a hundred miles, those advantages which were once so great have become of little practical importance. Were the decrease of rural population confined only to New England and to such portions of the other older States as had a soil below the average of productiveness, the phenomenon would have a very obvious explanation. It could be said that when a farm in the valley of the Mississippi or the Missouri produces with equal labor and capital twice as much as a similar farm east of the Hudson, and when it costs comparatively only a small fraction of the market price at Boston or New York to transport the Western product to those cities, the Eastern farmer must abandon the unequal struggle. But while the generally harsh and forbidding character of much of the New England soil is doubtless one of the reasons why most of its country towns have to-day less population than they had when the election of Abraham Lincoln furnished the occasion for the long-contemplated secession of the cotton States; many of them less than when the embargo and the War of 1812 infuriated its Federalists almost to the point of armed resistance to the Washington government; and a few of them less than they had when the passage of the Stamp Act began the long struggle which was to terminate in the independence of America—it certainly is not the sole and is probably not the principal cause of this partial depopulation. The same thing is going on over extensive areas of the most fertile portions of the country. There are men still living who can remember when the "Genesee Country" filled the same place in popular imagination as a frontier wheat-producing district of marvelous fertility that is now occupied by the valley of the Red River of the North. Nor was it or is it only in one or a few great staples that the rich counties of central and western New York excelled. In all the products of the field, the orchard, the vineyard, the flock, and the dairy they occupied a high and in some the highest rank. Indeed, in the variety of its agricultural and pastoral productions New York is probably unsurpassed among the States, or surpassed by California alone. Yet with all these abounding resources for the support of a prosperous rural population, fifty of its fifty-five counties north of the Harlem have fewer inhabitants outside of their cities and towns than they had ten years ago. Of the five exceptions to the general rule of rural decrease, two, Westchester and Rockland, lie immediately north of New York city; two others, Franklin and Hamilton, include the most thinly settled portion of the Adirondack wilderness; and in the fifth, Schenectady, the increase during the decade has been just twelve, or at the rate of about one eighth of one per cent. The decrease of rural population has thus been as general in fertile New York as in sterile and rock-bound New England. The rural population of New York north of the Harlem in 1880 and 1890 compares as follows:
|Percentage of decrease||8·91|
When the nineteenth century began, western New York was almost entirely destitute of white inhabitants. Yet so rapid are the movements of population in the United States—in which, what sixty years ago was a mere hamlet clustering around the frontier Fort Dearborn, is now a mighty municipality with a population larger than had any of the historic capitals of Europe a century ago—that most Americans would consider all the region from the Niagara to the Hudson as a portion of the older settled sections of the country. In the decades immediately succeeding 1820 the New York canal system gave many portions of the State advantages not possessed in equal degree, if at all, by any other equally productive and extensive section of the then settled area of the land. The development of the railroad system of the country has made the canals of far less relative importance to-day than they were sixty years ago. The lessened value of its exceptional transportation facilities and its consequent nearness to the ocean and the world beyond, might be thought to explain the decrease of population of rural New York, were it not that regions which never enjoyed those facilities, which are a thousand miles from the Eastern seaboard, and which were not thoroughly settled until after the railroad system had reached a considerable stage of development, show a similar decrease. The nine southeastern counties of Minnesota cover an area of 5,682 square miles—that is, they are together about one sixth larger than Connecticut. Only forty years ago they were an unsettled wilderness, and yet every one of the nine has fewer rural inhabitants than it had ten years ago. Outside of the cities and towns these counties had, in 1880, 149,622 inhabitants, and in 1890 but 138,259, a decrease of 11,363, or at the rate of 7·60 per cent, a ratio of decrease but slightly less than in rural New York. This decrease becomes doubly significant in the light of the fact that a similar loss has taken place over a very wide area of which this corner of Minnesota forms only the northwestern extremity. From the time a traveler down the Mississippi leaves St. Paul until he reaches a point more than fifty miles south of St. Louis, or during the journey between places which are over five hundred miles from each other in an air line, and very much farther following the bends of the river, there will only be once, and that while traveling less than twenty miles, when either on one bank of the river or the other, and usually on both, he will not be passing counties which had less rural population according to the eleventh census than were credited to them by the tenth. The distance back from the river to which this area of decrease extends ranges at different points all the way from twenty miles or less to more than two hundred. If the counties which had less rural population in 1890 than in 1880 be distinctly colored upon a map, it will appear that the Mississippi, from the thirty-eighth to the forty-fifth parallel, is the center of a very large tract composed entirely of such counties. This tract, while very irregular in outline, is composed entirely of contiguous counties, as the word contiguous at all events is practically construed by the modern disciples of Elbridge Gerry. It extends over portions of the five States of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, and Wisconsin. It has an area of 81,020 square miles, or nearly a third more than that of all the New England States combined, and not ten per cent less than that of Great Britain. Of the 141 counties into which this tract is divided, no less than 138 have lost rural population since 1880; and the average increase in the three increasing counties, which form enclaves within it, has been less than three and three quarters per cent. The following is the result of a comparison of the rural population in 1880 and 1890 of the 141 counties as a whole:
|Rural population 1880||2,582,620|
|Rural population 1890||2,402,876|
The percentage of decrease of rural population in this rich, fertile, and comparatively lately settled section of the country is 6·96, or about one fifth less than in New York. The decrease is especially general in the counties immediately bordering on the Mississippi River. For example, every Mississippi River county in Iowa has lost rural population. Of the sixteen counties on the west bank from Dakota County, Minnesota, to Clark County, Missouri, inclusive, there is not one which had more rural inhabitants in 1890 than in 1880; and of the seventeen on the east bank, lying between the northern boundary of Crawford County, Wisconsin, and the southern boundary of Randolph County, Illinois, there was but one. Speaking generally, southern and eastern Iowa lost rural population during the decade, while northern and western Iowa, still in 1880 comparatively thinly settled, have gained, and in some sections largely. In the State as a whole, however, there has been a decrease of such population in no less than forty-three out of its ninety-nine counties. Such a showing in a trans-Mississippi State not yet half a century in the Union is one well calculated to arrest attention.
Whether the prohibition laws, which have been in force during the greater part of the decade, have been unfavorable to the growth of this State or not, it is certain that their existence has not been the chief cause of the decrease just mentioned, for, if in prohibition Iowa 43 out of 99 counties have a diminished rural population, in Illinois, in which prohibition does not exist, the same fate has overtaken 60 out of its 102 counties, a still larger proportion of the whole. And Illinois is the principal farming State in the Union. Almost all the northwestern part of the last-named State has fewer rural inhabitants than in 1880. In some of its northern and central portions, the area in which there has been a decrease of rural population in the decade extends entirely across the State, from the Mississippi River to the Indiana border. If the southern boundary of Iroquois County, Illinois, lay five miles south, or the northern boundary of Warren County, Indiana, the same distance north of its actual position, the great Mississippi area of decrease would form an unbroken continuation of a still larger contiguous territory of decreasing counties, extending from the eastern border of Illinois to Cape Cod, and from Alabama into the Maritime Provinces of the Canadian Dominion. The portion of this territory lying within the United States extends into fifteen States, covers an area of 174,500 square miles, or over a third more than that of the British Isles, and comprises 289 counties. Of these counties 276 have less rural population than they had in 1880. Of the thirteen increasing counties lying within the lines of this territory and surrounded by the decreasing counties, two are in the Adirondacks; eight of them comprise the suburbs of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, Dayton, and Columbus; and in the remaining three the increase during the decade has been but thirty-two, or at the rate of less than one sixteenth of one per cent.
Taking the entire area together, the rural population in 1890 and 1880 compares as follows:
|Percentage of decrease||6·05|
This tract, beginning in the province of New Brunswick, extends over all New England, except the northern portion of Maine and New Hampshire and the northeastern county of Vermont; over large portions of Ontario and Quebec; over all New York north of the counties of Rockland and Westchester; over north-western New Jersey, and large areas of northeastern and north-western and a small part of southwestern Pennsylvania; over the greater part of Ohio, except its northwestern and some of its eastern and southern counties; over a couple of West Virginia counties lying on the Ohio border; over all southeastern and much of central Indiana; over a number of the Ohio River counties of Kentucky, and thence over a long and in places comparatively narrow strip of central Kentucky and Tennessee into northern Alabama, in which State it includes four counties; finally coming to an end some thirty miles south of the Tennessee River. The New England States, with New York and the adjacent counties of Canada, form the compact portion of this tract. From the southern boundary of New York it stretches out in two arms, one to the east and the other to the west of the Alleghanies. The eastern arm is much the shorter of the two, and without a break reaches only to the southern boundary of Carbon County, Pennsylvania, on the one side, and to the Atlantic coast in Burlington County, New Jersey, on the other. The break here is, however, very short, it being not over five or six miles to the point at which another area of counties with decreasing rural population begins and extends down over Berks and Chester Counties, Pennsylvania, Salem County, New Jersey, the two northernmost of the three Delaware counties, and the three most northerly of the counties of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, comprising in all eight counties and some four thousand square miles of territory. This southern extension of the region of decrease last mentioned, both in Pennsylvania and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, very nearly approaches the northern prolongations of still another district in which the rural population was less in 1890 than in 1880. The principal portion of this district lies in Virginia, in which State it comprises forty-five counties. On the south it extends into one of the border counties of North Carolina, and on the north stretches over southern and western Maryland up into central Pennsylvania. It has an area of 24,092 square miles, divided among sixty counties, of which Henrico County, Virginia, containing the city of Richmond, is the only one which has not less rural population than it had ten years ago. In Virginia, with two exceptions, all the decreasing counties lie east of the summits of the Blue Ridge range, and these decreasing counties include nearly the entire Piedmont and midland section of the State. Some—but by no means all—of the tide-water counties lying on or near the Chesapeake Bay, owing probably to the growth of the oyster and trucking industries, have gained population. The rate of decrease in this group of decreasing counties has been somewhat less than in most of the others. The rural population in 1880 and 1890 of the area referred to compares as follows:
|Percentage of decrease||4·98|
The last two groups are apparently detached extensions of the eastern arm of the great northeastern decreasing district. The western arm of this district has a general southwest and northeast direction, roughly parallel to the trend of the Appalachian system and to the west of it. As before stated, a western offshoot or projection from this arm crosses the entire State of Indiana, and comes within five miles or less of connecting it with the great area of decreasing counties which has the Mississippi River for its center. In northwestern Ohio and northern central Indiana there is a tract in which the population outside of the cities, towns, and villages has increased during the last ten years. Many if not most of these counties lie in the region in which natural gas has been so extensively made available during the last ten years; but whatever be the cause, the rural or extra-urban population of this tract has increased, and it separates the great northeastern area of decreasing counties from a much smaller, but still an important and well-defined one, comprising twenty-five counties in southern Michigan, six in northern Indiana, and the northwesternmost county of Ohio. This tract, which therefore includes thirty-three counties in all, and covers an area of 18,373 square miles, or about equal to the combined area of Vermont and New Hampshire, is quite regular in its outline. It includes, with the exception of a couple of counties on the Lake Michigan shore, practically all the counties of the southern half of the lower peninsula. The counties in the immediate vicinity of Chicago, and which have gained, perhaps, as a result of the enormous growth of that city, separate this area of decrease central in southern Michigan from that of which the Mississippi River is the center.
The rural population of this area in Michigan, northern Indiana, and northwestern Ohio at the tenth and eleventh censuses compares as follows:
|Percentage of decrease||5·89|
There are some clusters or groups of decreasing counties scattered over the cotton States. Thus, in northern Mississippi and southwestern Tennessee there is a group of some eight counties, each of which has lost rural population. This group is very nearly connected through northern Alabama with the great decreasing group of the Eastern and Central States. There is another group on the Mississippi and Big Black Rivers in Mississippi and Louisiana, several in central Georgia and Alabama, and a well-defined one in that part of Florida which adjoins south-western Georgia. Compared, however, with the Northern and border States, the decrease in the far Southern States is by no means noteworthy.
There are in the far West counties which show the usual fluctuations of frontier communities, in which a too rapid boom is not infrequently followed by a period of depression in which emigrants are more numerous than immigrants. The decay of the mining industries of Nevada and the adjacent portions of California and Utah has caused a relatively very heavy decrease in the population of this region, a decrease which has been felt by the cities as well, though usually not to so great an extent as by the more isolated mining camps and the farming settlements dependent upon the mines for a market for their products. But with the exception of a few of the older counties of Kansas, in which the same influences have apparently been in operation as in the Central and Eastern States, there has of course been in the trans-Missouri States no decrease of rural population in the proper sense of the term.
East of the Missouri and north of the cotton States, nearly all the well-settled agricultural neighborhoods have fewer inhabitants than they had ten years ago. It is possible to travel from the Bay of Fundy to the southern bend of the Tennessee River, a distance of fifteen hundred miles, and not pass through a single county in which the rural population is not less than it was ten years ago; or go all the way from Boston to western Iowa, except for the space of about five miles, through counties with less rural population than they had in 1880.
The better adapted for farming a community east of the Missouri may be, the greater the apparent probability that it lost rural population during the last ten years. As a rule, in the older States it was only the mountain sections, and other regions containing mineral wealth or resources other than purely agricultural ones, which showed a gain of extra-urban population. Districts situated near great cities, and well adapted for early vegetables and fruits, have in some instances gained, but, as a rule, communities which depend upon farming as distinguished from trucking have fewer inhabitants than they had in 1880.
In that great section of country comprising New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virgina east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan south of the forty-third parallel, Illinois, Wisconsin south of the forty-fourth parallel, Iowa east of the ninety-fourth meridian, and the southeast corner of Minnesota, there are some 726 counties, and of these no less than 450 have lost population since the tenth census was taken. Each of the New England States, New York, Maryland, Ohio, and Illinois had fewer rural inhabitants than it had in 1880. Pennsylvania is the only one of the older Northern States to show any substantial increase of extra-urban population, the gain during the decade being at the rate of about 7·29 per cent. In this State the growth has doubtless been due to other causes than the increase of classes directly dependent upon agriculture.
The general tendency to a loss of rural population is manifest in regions which differ in the character of their soil as widely as does a rocky and sterile hill town in New England from a rich prairie county in Illinois or Iowa, and whose climatic conditions are as unlike as are those of the Mississippi in the latitude of St. Paul and of the James at Richmond, Virginia, or as those of Vermont and Alabama. In some of the districts in which the loss is marked, hay and rye are the staple crops, in others wheat, in others maize, and in others tobacco. In the decreasing districts the average density of settlement, exclusive of the population of the cities and towns, varied in 1880 all the way from twenty-six to the square mile in Minnesota to nearly or quite sixty in New Jersey. The average density in the great Mississippi region of decrease was in 1880, 31 to the square mile, and in 1890, 29; in the Virginia group it was in 1880, 39, and in 1890, 37; in the Michigan group it was in 1880, 42, and in 1890, 39; and in the eastern group it was in 1880, 45, and in 1890, 42.
While probably every census has revealed more or less marked decreases in particular neighborhoods, at no previous census did so large a portion of the country show a loss of its rural population. Still, while the area over which the decrease extends is comparatively large, the tendency to a loss of rural population is by no means a new one. There are counties as far west as Illinois, which have been losing rural population for the last twenty years. As already stated, there are Massachusetts towns which have less population than they had at the close of the last great French War. There are Virginia counties which have fewer inhabitants than they had one hundred years ago. It is a curious circumstance that among these counties is Caroline, best known to persons who are not Virginians by its association with the name of the mover of the Resolutions of 1798. Colonel Taylor, who labored no less earnestly for the improvement of agriculture than for the maintenance of the strictest construction of the Constitution, seems by the result to have had even less success in the former than in the latter object of his desire. In the adjoining State of Maryland, the county of Charles, lying on the Potomac, a few miles below Mount Vernon, has to-day twenty-five per cent fewer inhabitants than it had when the proprietor of Mount Vernon was inaugurated first President of the United States.
While the country regions have been losing population or gaining it but slowly, the cities, towns, and villages have, as a rule, grown rapidly, except in Nevada. While individual cities have differed widely in their respective rates of increase, if the cities of the country be classified according to size, it will be found that large cities and small towns are alike growing rapidly, and that the difference in the rate of their growth is not very great. To this statement New England is an apparent though not a real exception. In the New England States the towns with between 1,000 and 2,000 inhabitants each in 1890, have actually lost population during the decade, while those with between 2,000 and 4,000 inhabitants have gained but little, and those with between 4,000 and 8,000 very much less than have places of a like grade in other portions of the country. The explanation, of course, is that, as before stated, these towns correspond to the townships and other local subdivisions in other States, and, as such, nearly all of them contain more or less rural population, while many of the less populous are purely rural. An accurate idea of the relative rates of growth of the different grades of places can therefore be obtained only by excluding the cities and towns of the New Eng-land States from the comparison. In the following table, the cities, towns, and villages of the country are classified according to the number of their inhabitants in 1890; the number of each class in 1890 is given, together with the aggregate population in 1890 and 1880 of the cities which in 1890 were in each class, the increase during the decade, and the percentage of that increase. In the column to the extreme right is given the percentage of increase of each class of cities, exclusive of those in the New England States:
|Cities having a Population
in 1890 of—
|Number.||Per cent.||Per cent
|Total cities and villages.||3,715||26,142,025||17,775,076||8,366,949||47·07||53·73|
From the above table it appears that, as a rule, the cities which now have a quarter of a million or more inhabitants have not increased during the decade as rapidly as those having a smaller population. The difference would have been even much more marked than it is, if it had not been for the wonderful growth of Chicago. The ten cities, outside of New England, with more than a quarter of a million inhabitants each, have gained at the rate of 40"28 per cent during the decade, while the rate of increase in the 2,881 cities, towns, and villages having in 1890 from 1,000 to 250,000 inhabitants each, averaged 60.19 per cent, or nearly one half greater. Among the various classes of cities included in these 2,881 places, there was during the decade no important difference in the rapidity of growth perceptible, although, on the whole, the places with from 20,000 to 250,000 grew slightly, but only slightly, more rapidly than those having less than 20,000. Although the smaller cities considered together have grown as rapidly as have the larger, the difference among the respective rates of growth, of the cities of the same class are likely to be greater in the smaller cities than in the larger. Among the smaller places, and especially among those with less than 4,000 inhabitants, instances of an actual decrease in population during the decade are not unusual. The contrary is true for the larger cities. During the decade, every one of the 101 cities which in 1880 had upward of 20,000 inhabitants, gained in population more or less rapidly. Of the 82 cities which in 1880 had between 12,000 and 20,000 inhabitants each, only three, and of the 110 having in 1880 from 8,000 to 12,000 inhabitants only six, have less population than they had ten years ago. But out of the 333 places which in 1880 had a population of from 4,000 to 8,000 each, no less than 40 suffered during the decade a net loss of inhabitants, and among the still smaller places the proportion of those whose population decreased was still greater. Taking all the cities together, however, their increase was so great and so general that only in the Dakotas, Idaho, Arizona, and Louisiana does the rural population constitute a larger percentage of the entire population than it did in 1880. In all but the last of these the total population in 1880 was very small, and during the decade the greater portion of the immigrants to them have not sought the cities.
For some reason the cities and towns of Louisiana have grown very slowly during the decade, but even in this State the proportion of urban to the total population has fallen but one tenth of one per cent.
Although four of the five States and Territories in which the urban population constituted in 1890 a less proportion of the aggregate number of inhabitants than in 1880 lie wholly or partially west of the Missouri, in some of the trans-Missouri States the growth of the cities has been phenomenally rapid. Thus, in Washington the urban population in 1880 was but 14,474, while in 1890 it was 152,033, or more than ten times as great. In 1880 Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane Falls had but 4,981 inhabitants, and ten years later 98,765, or nearly twenty times as many. It is significant of the altered conditions of modern life that a larger proportion of the population of Washington—the serious settlement of which dates back but a little over forty years, which spreads over more than eight times the area of Massachusetts, and which is not yet a manufacturing State—resides in cities of over 8,000 inhabitants, than was the case in Massachusetts as late as 1840, nearly two centuries and a quarter after the Plymouth landing, and when it had long been the principal manufacturing State in the Union.
In the three Pacific States as a whole very nearly one half of the entire population reside in cities, the urban population numbering 901,644, as against a rural population of 969,643. In this, as in some other respects, the conditions of life in California suggest resemblances to those existing in the Australian colonies. Australia, together with New Zealand and Tasmania, had in 1891 a population slightly less than that of the United States in 1790. This population is scattered over an area several times more extensive than was that of this country before Napoleon sold us Louisiana; and yet in Australia a larger proportion of the entire population resides in cities of 8,000 inhabitants or upward than is the case in the United States even to-day.
The ratio of urban to rural population is increasing rapidly over almost all the civilized world. In many countries large areas have recently experienced an absolute loss of rural inhabitants. The census of 1891 shows that the population of the urban sanitary districts of England increased since 1881 about fifteen per cent, as against an increase in the rural districts of less than four per cent. Some of the more purely rural counties of England show an actual decrease of aggregate population, as do no less than nine of the twelve counties of "Wales and sixteen out of the thirty-three counties of Scotland. In the last-mentioned country the rural population of the entire kingdom is a fraction less than it was ten years ago. In Ireland the contrast is still greater. Out of its thirty-two counties there are only two which have not less population than in 1881. These two are Dublin and Antrim, containing the cities of Dublin and Belfast respectively. The sixteen Irish cities and towns with 10,000 inhabitants or over have increased on the average at the rate of something over six per cent, while the rest of the country has suffered a loss of nearly twelve per cent. In France the increase of total population in the five years from 1886 to 1891 was but 124,289, while the gain in the population of the fifty-six cities having over 30,000 inhabitants was 340,396. Outside of these cities there was an actual decrease of 216,107. In Germany two thirds of the total increase of population between 1885 and 1890 was in the 150 places having over 20,000 inhabitants each, although these places contain not more than one fifth of the entire population of the empire.
Something over a century ago Jefferson, in his Notes on Virginia, arguing against the establishment of manufactures in this country, declared that, "generally speaking, the proportion which the aggregate of the other classes of citizens bears in any State to that of its husbandmen is the proportion of its unsound to its healthy parts, and is a good enough barometer whereby to measure its degree of corruption." Popular feeling almost everywhere seems to view with something of Jefferson's apprehension that change in the proportion of urban to rural population now so rapidly going on. In almost all countries those who desire to change existing systems of taxation try to enlist in their behalf this popular feeling by ascribing the decline of rural population to the operation of the fiscal machinery they dislike. Thus, in free-trade England, "fair-traders" assert that some scheme of retaliatory duties is required to arrest the depopulation of the rural districts. In France an extremely protective tariff has recently been adopted, largely at the demand of the agricultural classes. In the United States, on the other hand, those who are opposed to protective taxes are equally positive in their assertions that such taxes are the principal cause of the decrease of population in so many fertile sections. Doubtless, like other local conditions, tariff changes may help or hinder the operation of the general causes which are at work the world over. Those causes, however, were not set in motion by legislation, and could not be permanently checked by it, unless it should take so drastic a form as to be fatal to the material welfare of the whole community.
That the urban shall grow more rapidly than the rural population is, under present conditions, an economic necessity. The generally low prices of agricultural products during the last few years unite with most other available data to show that the supply of such products is increasing at least as fast as and probably faster than the increase in aggregate population. In this country, although the census of 1890 showed an increase of but twelve per cent in the rural population, and of less than twenty-five per cent in the aggregate population, the average production of wheat for the decade preceding the census of 1890 was forty-four per cent greater than that for the decade preceding the census of 1880; that of corn forty-three per cent greater, and of oats eighty-five per cent greater. In the cotton belt, the only agricultural portion of the older States in which there has been any considerable increase of rural population, we see in the great overproduction of cotton for several years in succession what would necessarily happen in other staple products if as large a proportion of the population as formerly attempted to earn their living by tilling the soil.
In a neighborhood in which all the tillable land was taken up thirty years or more ago, as is the case in all or nearly all the counties of the older States in which the rural population has diminished, there are general causes at work to bring about the result. The constant and steady improvement in agricultural machinery enables fewer hands than were required thirty years ago to cultivate the land with equal efficiency. To employ the same number of men as formerly, closer cultivation would be necessary. Perhaps, because such closer cultivation will not pay when its products have to be sold in competition with the more easily raised crops of the trans-Mississippi or trans-Missouri States, or perhaps because the conservatism which is so marked a trait of agricultural populations makes it exceedingly difficult to bring about any radical change in agricultural methods, higher farming has not made much progress. It must also be remembered that both in Europe and the United States the birth-rate is diminishing. One of the results of this diminution is that the children constitute a smaller proportion of the entire population than formerly, and consequently a total population of the same aggregate number contains more workers.
Another cause of decrease in the aggregate population of rural communities, and one perhaps as potent as either of those already mentioned, is the ever-increasing competition of factory-made goods with the products of the handicrafts. There must be fewer and fewer country tailors, shoemakers, blacksmiths, carpenters, and other artisans who can earn their living in competition with the machine-made goods which the steadily decreasing cost of railroad transportation enables the great factories in the manufacturing cities and towns to send into every neighborhood and sell more cheaply than the isolated mechanic working with his own hands or with simple and inexpensive machinery possibly can. Those who are forced to give up the attempt to earn their bread by working at their trade in their old homes among their neighbors must seek employment in the cities. The whole tendency of the factory system, combined with the cheapening of transportation rates, is to draw away from the country districts almost all the population not directly engaged in tilling the soil. The social and intellectual attractions of city life, especially for the brighter and more active-minded of the country youth, are unquestionably powerful factors in building up the cities at the expense of the country districts. The two last-named causes—namely, the diminution of the number of rural handicraftsmen in all localities easily accessible by railroad from large cities, and the attractiveness of city life to portions of the country population, when city life is brought within the range of their observation—are doubtless chiefly responsible for the fact that the decrease of the rural population has been most general in precisely those portions of the country in which cities and towns are most numerous and in which the railroad facilities are the best.
In this country it is possible that the actual decrease in rural population during the decade was not so great as the census would indicate. To properly fill up the schedules of the eleventh census required so much work upon the part of the enumerators that the fees allowed them in country districts were in many, if not in most cases, utterly inadequate to give them a reasonable compensation for their work. Baltimore County, Maryland, is a very thickly settled agricultural region, and yet in this county a number of intelligent and industrious enumerators working from ten to twelve hours a day were not able to average a daily wage of more than two dollars each, out of which they had to provide a team and to pay its expenses and their own while away from their homes. Under such conditions it is not impossible that some of the less conscientious enumerators may have slighted remote corners of their districts. As the complaint of the inadequacy of the pay was quite general, and entirely justifiable, it is possible that there were considerable omissions in many rural neighborhoods.