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ing to obtain a farm. He who is looking exclusively for upland and meadow, all ready for the plough or scythe, will be startled should he be told that he can do better by buying a swamp. The reader himself will probably be staggered by the proposition. It is a new one, truly, but will justify examination and analysis.
More than fifty years ago, Mr. Ricardo communicated to the world his discovery of how men came to pay rent, and others to exact it. His work was accepted by political economists as a text-book ; his views were assented to without dispute; and for forty years no one ventured to doubt their correctness. His theory was a very simple one. He laid it down as law, that in the commencement of cultivation, when population is small and land abundant, the best soils, such as yield the largest returns, are the only ones cultivated; that as population increases, land becomes less abundant, creating a necessity for cultivating a less productive quality, when, as population again increases, resort is had to still more inferior land, then to a third, and afterward to a fourth class of soils.
These propositions, with the theories established on them, were for many years accepted throughout Europe, as well as in this country, as undeniable. But our distinguished political economist, Mr. Henry C. Carey, in his “Past, Present, and Future,” published in 1848, has demonstrated their entire falsity. The foundation thus knocked away, the fabric of theory which Ricardo had reared upon it fell to the ground. Mr. Carey proved that the facts were exactly the reverse--that the land which man cultivates in the beginning is of the poorer qualities, and that that which he last brings under tillage is invariably the best.
Take our own country as an illustration, because all can judge from facts that are occurring everywhere around them. Here, the settler invariably begins by occupying the high and thin lands, which require little clearing and no drainage. Such yield him but moderate returns for his labor. But in time, as population and wealth increase, he travels down the hills, clearing up as he goes, until the bottom has been reached. There the hill terminates, and there the meadow or the swamp begins. It contains the rich deposits which for centuries have been washing from the hilltop and the hillside, the loss of which had thinned the poorer soil into which he first struck his spade.
Every reader knows that no settler begins his clearing either in swamp or meadow, yet every one is aware that in such spots the richest land is to be found. He knows, moreover, that lowlands are the last to be reclaimed. To bring them into tillage requires money, skill, and time,-courage, also, may be mentioned as an indispensable auxiliary,--the courage to undertake a task which a succession of owners had carefully avoided. Ditching is familiar to most of us, and can be cheaply done; but thorough underdraining was comparatively unknown among us until within a few years; and it is only by resorting to it that the lowland can be effectually reclaimed. In a primitive condition of society, therefore, with money scarce and land abundant, the richer soils are neglected for the poorer.
. The early settlers, throughout New England, established themselves on the higher lands along the river courses, leaving to their more wealthy successors the task of clearing up and draining the swamps. New York and New Jersey were settled on the same plan; the higher grounds were first occupied, while vast meadows of extreme richness were neglected, because they required drainage. New Jersey contains multitudes of abandoned clearings, made by the first settlers on the poorer soils, but long since deserted for the richer ones. Maryland abounds with evidences of the poverty of the soils first occupied, and of the richness of the meadowfarms subsequently brought under tillage. In Pennsylvania, the oldest habitations were always the most distant from the rivers. The rule prevails throughout the South and West. The higher and drier lands, in Mississippi, were peopled first; the rich bottom lands of her great river were subsequently reclaimed by ditches, and the vast embankment which now keeps out the annual overflow. Throughout South America the same extraordinary uniformity of practice has prevailed. In England, over the European continent, and wherever man has found a foothold, no departure from it can be discovered. The law laid down by Mr. Carey may thus be regarded as incontrovertible---the poorer lands of a country are settled first, the richer ones are settled last.
It remains for me to apply it to the subject in hand. I have intimated that a man desirous of obtaining upland and meadow, ready for the plough and the scythe, would be incredulous if told that he could do better by purchasing a swamp. Unless he comprehended the foregoing law, or had seen it illustrated, or had had it clearly explained to him, it is natural that he should be confounded at the proposition. It would seem to him like asking for bread and receiving a stone. But his object is not only to get a farm, but to get the best one, and at the lowest price.
Now, we know that the best land is always to be found in the swamp.
There grows the heaviest timber, there vegetation shoots up with the rankest luxuriance, there the dark mould, which we call soil, is uniformly the deepest. It has been accumulating there for ages. Rains have washed down upon it the rich soil of the surrounding hills, for centuries before the white man had trodden them. The forests that covered them have showered upon it their annual wealth of leaves; and winds have blown to it, from other woods, additional stores of foliage. Decay of the living and the dead has been going on without interruption. The original depression has become filled, many feet in depth, with a deposit so rich that the owner sometimes spreads it over his grounds, half suspecting it to be manure. It is, in fact, a mass of fertilizing matter of uncounted value. No intelligent man can doubt it.
But the owner is ignorant or neglectful. He considers it only as a swamp.
In his family it has had
no other name. His boys hunt in it for skunks or rabbits, or for birds or honeycombs. It is known through the neighborhood as the swamp. It is good only for an occasional load of rails, perhaps a load of wood. Though assessed as waste land, yet it does not yield the annual taxes. Such it is considered by all who know it; and such, while in this condition, it really is. In vain has the owner endeavored to dispose of it at a low price; it is too well known, and too little valued by those who do not understand the capabilities of ground thus situated, to tempt them to buy.
Yet this swamp may contain ten acres or a hundred, and be so located that a single ditch cut through the centre will render it comparatively dry. Cross drains on both sides of and emptying into the central ditch, composed of wood or tile, if sunk at intervals of thirty feet apart, will render it firm enough for the plough. By covering them they become underdrains. The main ditch itself may in some cases be covered also, leaving the ground, when cleared, without break or obstruction. It needs no manure, for nature has there concentrated an untold wealth of her choicest fertilizers. Who can doubt that fifty acres of a swamp like this, bought at a nominal price, and thus treated, will yield to the beginner a speedier and richer return than thrice the quantity of upland whose salable value consists in the single fact of its being upland instead of swamp?
From my own personal experience, I can speak of the value of these swamp lands which are so