Timothy Flint, in remarking about the people of the pine woods of Louisiana, says: 42

Nothing can be easier than subsistence in the pine woods. There being little call for labor, the inhabitants labor little, and are content with indolence, health, and poverty.

One finds the pioneers of Missouri, far from being the romantic type, alluded to in the same derogatory terms as those in Arkansas. Coman writes: 43

The pioneers of the westward migration in Missouri, as the Arkansas, were mere "squatters," -- worn out trappers fain to eke out an existence for themselves and their half-breed families by desultory farming, luckless traders . . . refugees and renegades . . . . Such a man did not buy land, but put up a temporary shelter in a location where wood, water, and pasturage were abundant . . . . Since his only wealth was in horses, cattle, and swine, he lost nothing by chance of habitat.

* * *

One phase of American class history of utmost significance is the question of squatters' rights. It has frequently been intimated, or so stated outright, that the squatter sold his preemption rights for a tidy sum, moved further westward and became an owner in his own name. But it is know that, in general, the cries of speculators were always audible (the pocketbooks of economic royalists are always wired to a public address system); but the distant rumbling of a thousand dispossessed squatters was also heard, even if not quickly or effectively heeded. The squatters' plight in the early nineteenth century was in this respect similar to that of the sharecroppers in the twentieth.

Benton spent most of his life trying to modify those practices which assured the squatter of practically no rights. Not until 1821 was the system of credit sales abandoned, "but the practice of offering the land at austion was still maintained, with the result that men with ready money secured the more desirable tracts, and squatters were often ousted from holdings to which their labor have given augmented value." 44

Wertenbaker refers to the descendants of dispossessed squatters as "wretched people" who still exist "in the mountains of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky, exhibiting their ignorance, their disregard for law, their laziness and even in their dialect the lowness of their origin." 45 And it is also true that other descendants travelled on west to Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and, of late, to California. They were the poor who made up a part of the westward movement of peoples.

Squatting is an old, long, and painful phase of American history. It had troubled the proprietors in earliest times. Between 1745 and 1755, for instance, plots broke out in New Jersey; "large numbers of squatters" questioned the rules of law and order. 46

* * *

Tax burdens, also, served to keep the poor man down and to permit the speculators and men of capital to suffer fewer hindrances in the race for opportunity, at least in Tennessee. " . . . through the influence of the land speculators, all lands except town lots were taxed alike, so that the men who had obtained possession of the best tracts shifted to other shoulders much of their own proper burden." 47

* * *

Another aspect of the westward migration of the poor of the east is the now largely discredited theory that industrial labor, especially in times of unemployment, had unusual opportunities in the West. Even Turner's estimate of four hundred dollars necessary "to purchase eighty acres in Illinois," along with the minimum quantity of tools, plus the cost of making the trip, were beyond the resources of most of the wage earners of the cast. Even as late as 1855 labor from the New England states was conspicuously absent from the settlement of Iowa, as has been seen. Although the northern worker was not suffering from the competition of slaves, as were the poor whites of the South, neither were they earning such sums as would have allowed enough savings for migration. "IN 1849 . . . the average worker [in the industrial north] received $247 a year . . . . " 48

Next Page


42. Flint, op. cit., pp. 329 - 330.
43. Coman, op. cit. (3), pp. 39 - 40.
44. Ibid., p. 72.
45. Thomas J. Wertenbaker, Patrician and Plebeian in Virginia (Charlottesville, 1910) p. 179.
46. Evarts Boutell Greene, The Foundations of American Nationality (New York, 1922) p. 283.
47. Roosevelt, op. cit., p. 400.
48. Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker, The Fouding of American Civilization, The Middle Colonies (New York, 1938) p. 21.