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Constitution, and the history and understanding of the Constitution itself, the schools should teach the territorial history of the country since the establishment of the present form of government.
The Constitution nowhere provides for any increase in the territory of the United States. It does not appar to have entered the minds of the founders of the republic that there could be any desire or attempt to increase the vast territory secured to us by the treaty of 1783. It will be remembered that by that treaty the United States extended from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River. It embraced a territory of nearly 900,000 square miles. It was nearly seven times as large as Great Britain. It was more than seven times as large as all Italy. It was four times as large as France or Austria, Spain or Turkey in Europe, and three times the extent of the present combined German Empire.
But in 1803 we purchased from France the great province of Louisiana, extending from the gulf to the British possessions, and from the Mississippi with western boundaries undefined. This purchase is one of the most remarkable events in our national history.
At first President Jefferson only contemplated the purchase of the little island of New Orleans for commercial purposes, and to be able to control the east bank of the Mississippi to its mouth.
It is very generally supposed that the purchase of this whole territory was planned by the great foresight and executed by the distinguished sagacity of Mr. Jefferson. On the contrary, the facts show that the President not only never planned the purchase of this great province, but had no idea it could be effected if desired, and he considered it a serious question whether it were even desirable.
Indeed, after the treaty, ceding the entire province to the United States, had been signed by our ministers to France, Mr. Livingston and Mr. Monroe, it is said that the President proposed to reject the treaty, and for a considerable time refused to sign it. He thought the Constitution gave no power to acquire additional territory, and as it was not needed, it might be a mistake to accept it.
We must therefore look to the sagacity, the foresight, and the distinguished diplomatic skill of Mr. Livingston and Mr. Monroe, rather than of Mr. Jefferson, by which we obtained, at a moderate price, all that broad territory west of the Mississippi extending to the Rocky Mountains and perhaps to the Pacific.
However, it was not long before Mr. Jefferson sanctioned and defended the purchase, and by so doing was thrown entirely over to the Republican party.
The contest over the purchase, between the two political parties, was a long and bitter one, but good sense finally prevailed, and the whole country from that day to this has been lavish of its praises, none too lavish, however, of the wisdom of Livingston and Monroe.
When Napoleon signed the treaty, he is said to have exclaimed, “ This accession of territory strengthens forever the United States. I have this day given to England a maritime rival that will sooner or later humble her pride.” One historian asserts that he long before had said, “ Whatever nation shall hold the valley of the Mississippi will eventually be the most powerful nation on earth.”
And Mr. Livingston is reported to have remarked
upon the consummation of the treaty, “I consider that from this day the United States takes rank with the first powers of Europe, and now we have entirely escaped from the power of England.”
We had territory enough before, and one of Mr. Jefferson's favorite projects was that now we could settle all the Indians west of the Mississippi, and compact the entire white population on the east of that river. So little did our most sagacious men really comprehend the rapid growth to which such bold acts as this purchase stimulated the nation.
It will readily appear, from what has been said, that the purchase of Louisiana was the turning-point in the history of this nation. Had we not secured this great tract, we should probably never have crossed the great river, unless by bloody conquest.
The acquisition of Florida was a question of method and of time. It was effected in 1819, though the treaty was not finally ratified till 1821.
Our country now reaches the height of the Rocky Mountains, and it was the theory of some of our statesmen that “the Rocky Mountains will probably form the western boundaries of the United States.
“ Here will be situated the temple of the god Terminus, and the population, instead of ascending and flowing over the mountains to the ocean, will roll its last and highest surf at their feet. Still to trace the confines of this empire is to enter upon that sea, which a great poet has described, where there is perpetual darkness, and no navigator has before sailed; not because its bounds and limits are not well marked out, but there is, neither among ourselves nor in the history of the people that have gone before us, any one trace or circumstance that will assist us in designating its development with the least precision. The progress of the population has already been an Arabian Night."*
The annexation of Texas in 1845, the settlement of the vexed boundary line of Oregon in 1846, the purchase of Northern Mexico in 1848, and the acquisition of Alaska in 1867, have formed a fitting series of accessions of territory to the beginning so auspiciously inaugurated in 1803.
Our territory to day consists of about 3,600,000 square miles, or more than four times the original territory east of the Mississippi.
This vast country may be divided into four parts of nearly equal extent:
1. The territory east of the Mississippi.
But have we any proper conception of the extent of this vast area ?
Suppose it was all peopled with only the density of Massachusetts or Rhode Island, it would hold a population of 600,000,000, or one half the present entire number of our race upon the globe.
One fact that has been established by our experience thus far is this: That the stability of a republic is not threatened by degrees of longitude. A popular government can be maintained among 40,000,000 people, spread over nearly 4,000,000 square miles, as well as among 3,000,000 people, covering less than a million square miles.
* Diplomacy of the United States, Vol. II. p. 120.
From what has thus far been said, it may be apparent that the history of our country, so far as it relates to the government, is of great inportance, and should be studied by the young in all high schools and academies, and also by the older pupils in ungraded and grammar schools; that the principal provisions of the United States Constitution, the State constitutions, and general business laws growing out of the Constitution and the form of government, such as the principles of free trade and protective tariff, custom-houses and duties, the post-office department, the executive, the mode of his election, his duties and powers, the judicial department, the distribution of the courts and their powers, the members of Congress, their election, their qualifications, their duties, etc., commerce, trade, banks, money, legal tender, “greenbacks,” government bonds, coupons, and the like; all these are of primary importance to be taught in the above-mentioned grades of schools.
In addition it is equally necessary that the young understand the facts concerning the growth of the country since the establishment of the present form of government, the increase of our territory, population, manufactures, discoveries, inventions, etc.
All this knowledge can be acquired quite as readily by the young, and comprehended quite as clearly, as the technical principles of English grammar, or the valueless minutiæ of geography or ordinary history as usually studied.
Should this study be introduced into our public and private schools, it would be hazarding little to say that it would do more towards the permanence of the government, to secure its perpetuity, and to promote the