Imágenes de páginas




HE administration of President Hayes marks a

transition from the period of which the Civil War and its resulting reconstruction of the South were the climax, to the period in which we now live. Historical periods and social movements can never be very accurately bounded by dates or particular events, nor is there ever a complete doffing of the old habit and donning of the new. Political and social conditions which have lost their significance, and influences which have spent their force, often continue to be talked about and to affect public thought and action after their real vitality has been dissipated, albeit the advent of a new time is more or less clearly apprehended. It was the peculiar distinction of Hayes's administration that it stood thus between the old and the new, between a closed past and an opening future. The great issues born of slavery, State rights, nullification, secession, and reconstruction were dead, save as narrow-minded leaders, for the sake of making political “capital" by vicious appeal to partisan prejudices, chose to keep alive the memory of them. Men no longer discussed the nature of the constitutional compact or the relative powers of the nation and the States. Only the Supreme Court, with the lawyer's desire to avoid change and make things hang together, busied itself with devising interpretations of the Constitution which would give an appearance of logical consistency to the acts of the federal government during and after the war. There was a solid South, but it was to be henceforth free from either Congressional or Executive interference. For more than twenty years the great problems of the country were to be, not political or sectional, but financial, industrial, coinmercial, social. The nation was to turn to new tasks of internal reorganization and development, demanding primarily expert knowledge and administrative skill, and affecting intimately the daily life of the people. Only at the end was the United States to fling precedent to the winds, and enter with youthful enthusiasm upon a fateful career of territorial expansion and imperialistic conduct.

There had been some striking marks of national progress in the past ten years. The census of 1870 showed a population of 38,558,371, a gain of over seven millions since 1860. The gain was, of course, less than it would have been but for the Civil War. Especially significant were the growth of the city population, the rapid filling up of the West, and the large though fuctuating volume of foreign immigration. The number of immigrants, aggregating 427,833 in 1854, had fallen as low as 89,207 in 1862; it rose unsteadily till 1873, when it was 459,803, and then declined till 1879, when it reached 138,469. Large as were these numbers, there was as yet no difficulty in providing for them, or, on the whole, in assimilating them, though before long there was to be questioning whether, in view of the large percentage of poor and ignorant arrivals, the power of assimilation was not being overstrained. The Union Pacific Railway was completed in May, 1869, and a veritable net-work of railroad lines was rapidly covering the country. The total miles built from 1869 to 1873, when the commercial panic checked construction, was about twenty thousand. The successful laying of an Atlantic cable gave telegraphic connection with Europe. The great Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia, in 1876, was a marvellous illustration of the industrial progress of the United States, and for the first time afforded opportunity for comparison between American methods and products and those of European countries. American invention in particular received a powerful stimulus. The total number of patents issued by the United States patent - office down to 1870 was 120,573; the number issued from 1871 to 1902 was 606,904, or more than five times as many as in the preceding eighty years, and nearly half the total number issued in the same period by all the other countries of the world.

On the other hand, when President Hayes took office, the country was still suffering from the industrial and financial depression which followed the great panic of 1873. The causes of the panic were to be found in the overproduction of manufactured goods, particularly iron, consequent upon the activity in railroad building; the disturbance of the world's market for grain due to the opening of the West and increased acreage abroad; the demand for specie with which to pay the foreign debt, and the general inflation of prices and credit.

The passage by Congress, January, 1875, of the act for the resumption of specie payment, did not greatly aid an early return to sound conditions, for a change in

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

business methods as well as in government policy was needed. A change for the better, however, took place by 1878, when the balance of foreign trade once more favored the United States—that is, the value of exports exceeded the value of imports. With this aid, the Secretary of the Treasury, John Sherman,, was able to carry to completion his policy of accumulating gold by the sale of bonds, and on January 1, 1879, specie payment was quietly resumed.

The financial question had long been one of the most serious issues before the country, and it was to go through various phases and be made the occasion of prolonged and heated discussion before even an approximate solution was reached. On the fundamental economic question involved there was diversity of opinion, not only among people at large, but also among authorities. With regard to the proper relative volumes of gold and silver there was, in particular, serious divergence of view. The great financial and business interests as a rule urged the maintenance of the gold standard, by which every dollar of currency issued under the authority of the United States was to be kept at a parity with gold. Opposed to them were the bimetallists, who insisted that both gold and silver could and ought to be used as standards of value. Those who advocated the gold standard pointed to the example of other countries -gold being the universal standard in international exchange and ridiculed the idea of a "double standard" as a contradiction in terms. The silver advocates, on the other hand, claimed with some plausibility that the world's annual production of gold was insufficient to meet the needs of business, and that in consequence there was taking place a decline in

the volume of money and a general rise of prices; and a wide-spread demand arose for the "free and unlimited coinage of silver." For this extreme course there was not sufficient support, but in February,

1878—less than a year before specie payment was • to be resumed the “Bland act'-so-called from its

chief promoter, Richard P. Bland, of Missouri, a representative in Congress-directed the resumption of the coinage of the standard silver dollar, which had been dropped from the list of coins in 1873, to an amount not less than two million nor more than four million dollars a month. President Hayes interposed his veto, but large majorities in each House passed the bill over the veto. The act remained in force until July 14, 1890, by which time 378,166,000 silver dollars had been coined. There was also much popular opposition to banks, and an act of May 31, 1878, forbade the further retirement of the legal - tender notes, whose place the national bank-notes would in part take.

It was the great misfortune of President Hayes to be, for the larger part of his term, without the support of his party in either House of Congress. This was partly due to his attitude towards the South, which alienated radical Republicans without winning the adherence of the Democrats, and partly to his lack of skill in dealing with men; but it was also due in large measure to the rise of financial issues in regard to which neither party, and especially the Republican party, was ready to take a definite stand. As a consequence, Hayes was interfered with as few Presidents have been. When the Forty-sixth Congress met, in March, 1879, there was a Democratic majority in each House. With the object of reducing the

« AnteriorContinuar »