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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/191

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185
PRESENT POLITICS

is modern. If the Americans of the first years of the nineteenth century could have called forth an institution like the present Wall Street they would have regarded it as the greatest of blessings. As it was, one of the great accumulating agencies was the national government through its taxing power, especially in the form of customs duties. Besides and resting upon this was the public credit made strong by a ready and vigorous policy of paying public debts. The commonwealths shared this credit in a reflected form because leaders did not discriminate sharply between bonds of the states and obligations of the nation. Under such conditions of need for capital to develop the country economically and to bind it together politically, with an agency for supplying the want subject to popular will, it was inevitable that the people look to the government for aid in the construction of the desired public improvements.

Another resource of well-nigh unlimited extent lay in the hand of the federal government. When the British Crown granted charters to many of the colonies that later became parts of the original union, there was no exact knowledge of the lay of the land or the size of the interior of the continent. The terms of the grants were incompatible. The territories given overspread each other so that a division of the land among the independent states which came out of the revolutionary struggle was impossible. The problem was solved by turning over to the national government practically the whole of the area in question. The nation found itself in possession of a domain imperial in scope and possibilities.

With public credit and public land subject to the control of a people full of energy and ambition there could be but one result; their use with a lavish hand in furthering the interests of those who were developing the country's resources. Constitutional provisions, the reflection of current theory, limited the functions of government and we evolved a one-sided individualism whose chief tenet was state control in public benefactions to subjects and laissez faire in private use and enjoyment. Every citizen became an actual or potential beneficiary in the distribution of land and the extension of credit. The easy terms of the land laws threw open the widest opportunity for the acquisition of a farm to any one who cared to take it.

In order to bring these lands within range of the markets good transportation was necessary. The failure of the schemes for this purpose in most of the states in the thirties left a free field to corporate enterprise and every effort was made to encourage the construction of the means of carriage by private companies. The federal government gave lands to the states to be passed on to the railroad organizations as a stimulus. Other lands were given direct. The national credit was granted to new enterprises and second-mortgage bonds taken as security. Immense amounts