The Coal and Iron of America

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XII (8) start of chapter

The amazing vastness of the land or territory of the United States may be indicated by a single fact in reference to her mines, which, in addition to her agricultural resources, offer an immense field for human labour. Her coal lands alone cover an area of two hundred thousand square miles; while the combined coal fields of Europe cover but 16,000 square miles—that is, the coal fields of the United States are more than twelve times more extensive in area than all the coal fields of Europe! Iron, that metal more really precious than gold, is found in the neighbourhood of coal. With respect to this valuable mineral, America maintains her supremacy of vast-ness; and any one who travels some hundred miles from the splendid city of St. Louis may behold a huge mountain of solid iron, rising many hundred feet above the plain, and presenting a striking feature in the landscape.

It is not at all necessary that an Irish immigrant should go West, whatever and how great the inducements it offers to the enterprising. There is land to be had, under certain circumstances and conditions, in almost every State in the Union. And there is no State in which the Irish peasant who is living from hand to mouth in one of the great cities as a day-labourer, may not improve his condition by betaking himself to his natural and legitimate avocation—the cultivation of the soil. Nor is the vast region of the South unfavourable to the laborious and energetic Irishman. On the contrary, there is no portion of the American continent in which he would receive a more cordial welcome, or meet with more favourable terms. This would not have been so before the war, or the abolition of slavery, and the upset of the land system which was based upon the compulsory labour of the negro. Before the war, the land was held in mass by large proprietors, and, whatever its quantity, there was no dividing or selling it—that is willingly; for when land was brought to the hammer, the convenience of the purchaser had to be consulted. But there was no voluntary division of the soil, no cutting-it up into parcels, to be occupied by small proprietors.

Now, the state of things is totally different. Too much land in the hands of one individual may now be as embarrassing in the South as in the North, especially when it is liable to taxation. The policy of the South is to increase and strengthen the, white population, so as not to be, as the South yet is, too much dependent on the negro; and the planter who, ten years ago, would not sever a single acre from his estate of 2,000, or 10,000, or 20,000 acres, will now readily divide, if not all, at least a considerable portion of it, into saleable quantities, to suit the convenience of purchasers. He will do more than divide; he will sell on fair terms, and he will afford a fair time to pay—he will, in fact, do all in his power to promote the growth of the white population, while yielding to the necessity of the times, which compels him to part with what has become rather burdensome and embarrassing to himself.

This is a subject on which I could not venture to write without the fullest authority; but I have spoken with hundreds of Southerners of rank and position, men identified with the South by the strongest ties of birth, property, and patriotism; and I know, from unreserved interchange of opinion with them, that the general feeling of the enlightened and the politic is in favour of inducing European settlers to come to the South, and come on easy terms. 'The experience of the past year (1866),' said a well-informed Southern gentleman to me, 'leads most of our people to see the absolute necessity of dividing and sub-dividing the large plantations.' I heard almost the same words used in several of the Southern States, as well by owners of large estates as by persons extensively engaged in the sale and management of property.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America