Godwin, William. Of Population. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, Paternoster Row, 1820.
OF THE POPULATION OF THE UNITED STATES OF NORTH AMERICA
OF THE TOPOGRAPHY AND POLITICAL CONDITION OF THE UNITED STATES
HAVING examined sufficiently the fundamental principle of our subject, and enquired into the facts which belong to it, as far as the other portions of the globe are concerned, it is time that we should proceed to the consideration of North America.
It is from this country that Mr. Malthus has drawn his portentous and calamitous doctrine of the geometrical ratio. He says "In the northern states of America the population has been found to double itself, for above a century and a half successively, in less than twenty five years;" and he adds, This "has been repeatedly ascertained to be from procreation only."
Astonished at assertions so bold, for which I could perceive so very slender foundation, I wrote to Mr Malthus, requesting him to state to me the precise authority on which his assertions were built. My Letter and his Answer are inserted in the First Chapter of the Second Book.
It will be obvious that the second assertion is the only one with which our question is con
cerned. The first may perhaps demand some comment incidentally, but that only as it is connected with the second.
I knew however, when I wrote to Mr. Malthus, that it would be idle and almost ludicrous, to ask for his proofs for the second. I was in hopes they would in some measure be brought to light in our investigation of the proofs of the first.
The first observation then that forces itself upon our attention, is the impossibility of bringing any proof of the second assertion. And yet this, and this only, this little line, is all the ground that Mr. Malthus's system has to stand on. Every thing in the Essay on Population depends upon an original begging the question. Presumptions and probabilities, it might be supposed, would attend on the proposition: proofs there could be none.
To render Mr. Malthus's doctrine sound and complete, it would be necessary that the United States of America should be posited alone upon some island in the vast sea, and surrounded by inaccessible rocks, so that no vessel, not so much as a cock-boat, could make good a landing. How Mr. Malthus would have obtained his intelligence from this island, I would leave it to him to settle.
Next to such an island, the best country in which to try the experiment of the procreative power, would be such a country as China or
Japan, where it is understood to be death for any stranger to attempt a settlement The United States is no such country. It is said, that they have not solemnly renounced all ideas of hospitality; and that a stranger may meditate a settlement there, without risking the loss of life or limb.
Well then: There can be no proof that the increasing numbers of the inhabitants of the United States came from procreation only.
If however we cannot have for the scene of our experiment such an island, or such a country, as I have described, it is to be hoped that at least the trial will be made upon a country seldom visited by voyagers, and almost never by any man with the intention of taking up his residence in it, a country that has an ill name over the rest of the globe, whose manners and superstitions are contemplated with horror, a country without activity or enterprise, where no man can hope to make his fortune, and the labourer must not expect by the sweat of his brow to earn the means of supplying the most indispensible wants of existence.
The United States of North America are the very reverse of all this. Let us take down the map, and look at the territory. It is one immense line of coast, presenting more multiplied commodiousness's for taking land—bays, harbours, navigable rivers, and creeks—than any other country on the face of the earth. If the
government of the United States, like those of China and Japan, had taken every precaution to prevent strangers from settling within their borders, it would have been in vain. The oldest inhabitants of the territory, a century or two back, were Europeans, speaking European languages. They have not yet acquired a physiognomy, a distinct character or set of manners, by which a native of North America can be distinguished from the emigrants settled in his vicinity.
But the government of the United States pursues no such train of policy. They know that they possess an immeasurable tract of country, and that that country, whatever we may talk of its population, is very poorly inhabited. They have very naturally the desire to become a mighty empire. Without imputing to them any vicious ambition, they might, from mere virtue, and benevolence of soul, wish to see the vast tracts, above, below, and around them on every side, adorned with a healthy, an industrious, a civilized, and a happy race of people. Their government is free; their institutions are liberal; and what they most obviously want is greater multitudes of men to partake these blessings. They are not converts to Mr. Malthus's philosophy; or at least not such converts, as to be disposed to make it their rule of action for the territory over which they preside. They are
not exactly prepared to trust for the future population of their domain, to "procreation only."
Long has the coast of North America been looked to by the discontented, the unhappy, and the destitute of every kingdom of Europe, as the land of promise, the last retreat of independence, the happy soil, on which they might dwell and be at peace. How could it be otherwise? Here every man, without let or molestation, may worship God according to his conscience. Here there are no legal infliction of torture, no Bastilles and dungeons, no sanguinary laws. This is the sacred asylum of liberty. Here land, by hundreds and thousands of acres, may be had for almost nothing. Here the wages of labour are high.
There are but two or three reasons, that prevent the whole lower and worst provided cast of the inhabitants of Europe, from passing over to the United States almost in a body.
First, the strange and nameless love which a great majority of mankind feel for the spot of earth on which they were born. To see it no more, to meet no more the old familiar faces, never to behold again the trees and the hedge-rows, the church, the hamlet, the chimney-corner and the oaken-board, which have been our daily acquaintance through life, is a divorce hardly less severe than that of soul and body. In this respect man is for the most part a vegetable,
with a slight shade of difference, and clings to his native soil with almost equal pertinacity.
A second reason why our poor do not generally remove to America, is that those to whom removal would be in a manner the necessary of existence, do not possess the means of accomplishing it. Without the possession of a little sum of money, they may look a thousand times with eager aspirations upon the waves of the Atlantic, but they can never ascend the bark that should waft them over.