Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/645

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THE DECREASE OF RURAL POPULATION.

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:

1880 1,894,795
1890 1,725,913
Decrease 168,882
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