Economic History of the United States

By Chester W. Wright | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII
POPULATION GROWTH AND THE PUBLIC DOMAIN

The Growth of Population. The growth of the population of the country continued during this period at about the same high rate as appears to have prevailed during the colonial period. The average rate of increase in each decade from 1790 to 1860 was about 35 per cent, a trifle lower in the decades between 1810 and 1840, a little above that during the other decades. In absolute figures this meant an increase in the total population from a little less than 4,000,000 in 1790 to some 9,600,000 in 1820 and over 31,400,000 in 1860. This rapid rate of growth, many times greater than that of the nations in western Europe (see the charts on pages 509 and 551), gave the United States by 1860 a total population greater than that of the United Kingdom and not far below that of France or Germany. This fact alone was of the greatest importance in altering the relative economic and political strength of the nation. The United States could then be reckoned among the great powers of the world, whereas in 1790 the nations of Europe could look down upon it as a young upstart, vigorous, and perhaps of great promise, but still weak, undeveloped, and untried.

Of the total population in 1860 nearly 4,500,000 were Negroes and almost 4,000,000 of this number were slaves. But the Negro element in the population increased more slowly than the white. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1808 the decennial rate of increase of this group was always below that of the white population; by the decade 1850-1860 it had fallen to 22 per cent. Though the birth rate was probably high the death rate was also very high. This group benefited less from the advances in medical science, sanitation, and hygiene which, by prolonging the average length of life, were factors in the increase of the whites. The greater increase among the whites was in part owing to the fact that the natural increase still remained fairly high; it was also in part a product of the steadily mounting number of immigrants, for in 1860 there were over 4,000,000 people of foreign birth, practically all whites, in the total population.

Immigration. After the return of peace in 1815 immigration to this country quickly revived. From 1821 government statistics of the movement are available and are shown in the charts on pages 553 and 555. As these indicate, there was little increase in the decade of the twenties

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