The United States of America: A Study of the American Commonwealth, Its Natural Resources, People, Industries, Manufactures, Commerce, and Its Work in Literature, Science, Education, and Self-Government

By Nathaniel Southgate Shaler | Go to book overview

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

CHAPTER I. OUR CONTINENT AND THE REASONS FOR ITS FITNESS TO BE THE HOME OF A GREAT PEOPLE.

ALTHOUGH the principal object of this work is to set before the reader the existing conditions of the United States, it will be necessary for us at the outset to consider the general physical characteristics of this great land in which our people have wrought their history. Whatever be the nature or capacities of a people, however fortunate they may have been in the inheritances from their forefathers in other countries, their fate is in a great measure determined by the nature of the fields in which they come finally to dwell. We all recognize more or less clearly how our individual lives are shaped, how all our activities are ordered by the circumstances of the soil, climate, or under-earth resources of the region in which our lot is cast; success or failure may be determined by those features of our environment. That which is true of the individual is true also of peoples or states. Thus the Northmen who settled in France in their time grew to be the most powerful folk of northern Europe; they became the conquerors of Britain and the rulers of other lands. Their kindred from the same Scandinavian country, who in the same period found their way to Iceland, have been hindered in their development by the stern climate and the sterile soil of their arctic dwelling place. Though the energy and talents of the Icelanders have enabled them to survive the trials of their position, they have a scanty population, and are without influence in the affairs of the outer world. From these and other instances which are evident in every stage in the history of men it is clear that, while no peculiarities of soil, climate, or earth resources can of themselves make a people great, these conditions have much to do

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