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THE COLONY BUILDERS
By William E. Smythe
Volume 14, Number 01, October 1899, Page 19 - 23
Beginning with the November number, the Age will publish as a regular feature a department under this bead. It will deal with the subject of home-making for the masses in the unsettled regions of the world, particularly with tho problem of developing homes, farms, and institutions in the reclaimed valleys of the West. The department is specially designed to servo the needs of those who would like to improve their condition by settling in such colonies as may be well located and wisely planned. It will also prove of interest and value to the managers of irrigation enterprises, but it aims to so much more than a directory for settlers, or a chapter of suggestions for managers.
One of the most striking economic facts of the time is that there is throughout the world surplus land, surplus people, and surplus capital, millions of acres need men; millions of men need acres; millions of dollars need profitable employment. Those who control the land do not command the labor; those who control the labor do net possess the capital. The result is suffering and discontent, which threaten grave social and political consequences in course of lime.
The evils resulting from these conditions are worldwide. They are felt in every town and city of every country. The remedy is colonization. This alone will absorb and utilize the surplus land and other natural resources, the surplus men and surplus dollars. But colonization is itself a problem, and a problem of tho most difficult and complicated kind. No other work touches human natures at more points, or deals with interests more delicate and precious. Nothing involves more chances of failure, more possibilities of bitter disappointment. Nothing calls for more knowledge of all the factors to be dealt with, nothing demands more devoted and unselfish leadership. Sound industry and social plans are essential, but hardly more so than a certain indefinable quality of direction and management, which may be spoken of as the personal equation in the colonists and their leaders. This quality is not conceived with the commercial aspect of the matter, but belongs to its higher atmosphere,to its ethics rather than its economics.
There is and ever must be, however, a strong commercial side to the work of colony-building. Colonies cannot be made without capital. Capital cannot be had without security and profits. Security and profits cannot be assured without responsible and able management.
To the settlers' side, too, there is a strong commercial aspect. Land, water, industry, and capital do not alone and of themselves assure success. It depends much upon what is produced and how the product is handled. It depends on how the supplies are purchased. It depends on how labor is directed. It depends on the industrial polity, which must be such as to provide the certainty of a living and the hope of an independence.
It is upon these broad lines that this department will be conducted. It will aim to outline a practicable program for the conquest of waste places by waste labor and waste capital throughout the earth. It will deal not with theories, but with practice. It will bring all its plans to the test of actual experience in this and other countries. It will seek to deduce lessons from failures in the field of colonization as well as to find light in the many instances of success. It will describe conditions in different localities with perfect candor, speaking of their drawbacks as well as advantages.
Some of the practical questions to be discussed are these: How much capital is required to establish a family on an irrigated farm? What is the best size of the farm unit? What scheme of production should be recommended in different localities? What is the best way to dispose of the product? What economics can be effected in tho purchase of supplies? Are people from the cities well suited to make homes on small farms? Is any form of superintendence feasible as a means of preventing mistakes and assisting settlers to prosper?
Questions of equal importance are: How can homes be had by people having no capital, save their ability to perform productive labor? How can people of means invest their money safely and profitably to be used by others? How can people of regular income set apart a portion of it each month and year and so provide homes brought to a complete state of production at the end of a certain period? How can investors who never intend to be resident settlers invest in a colony and share its profits?
Some of the larger economic questions are: In planning the industrial organization how much should be undertaken in co-operation and how much left to individual enterprise? What measure of control should be exercised over settlers who operate entirely or mostly on borrowed capital, and how long should they work under such control? By what method should states, industries, and other enterprises closely related to colony development be conducted? What social scheme is calculated to conduce to the contentment and prosperity of the settlers? Is Socialism feasible at the present time in new colonies of small membership?
Many widely-scattered colonial efforts will be drawn upon for experiences. Among them are the labor colonies of Holland, Germany, and Australia; the communities founded in the Forties under the Forties' teachings; the Morman settlements in Utah; the famous places in Southern California, and many others. The co-operative industries of Europe, especially of Ireland, will be examined for valuable lessons. In a word, the best thought and experience of the world in relation to the improvement of social and industrial conditions for tho masses will be made use of in planning methods and institutions for the conquest of surplus land by surplus men and money.
The various valleys in the seventeen states and territories west of the Missouri River will be discussed in the light of their availability for enlightened colonization effort. All sorts of questions pertinent to this subject are invited and will be answered fully and carefully.
In announcing an undertaking as important as the study and account of colonization proposed in this department of "The Colony Builders", it seems quite impossible to avoid a personal word, since the value of the work depends entirely upon the writer's fitness to perform it.
Older readers of The Irrigation Age, familiar with its pages during the period of my editorship, 1891 - 1895, will recall many editorial allusions to the need of the most enlightened efforts in colony making upon our arid lands. Perhaps they will remember an article called "The Republic of Irrigation", in which I appealed with passionate earnestness to certain distinguished Americans to help us in forming institutions which should make arid America the scone of the highest civilization in the Twentieth Century, and the place where social equality and industrial and intellectual independence should best be realized by the common man. At that time I saw but dimly the outlines of what I have now come to believe is the greatest problem of our time - the problem of giving the masses of our fellowmen ready access to the land and other idle natural resources, and of so guiding their efforts that they and their children may be really and forever free, in the full economic sense of the word. I felt that there must necessarily exist some true relation between the surplus people in old countries and large towns, and surplus lands, waters, forests, and mines which abound in the greater portion of our own and of other continents. I was impressed with the idea that the solution when found, would apply as well to the social congestion of London and Paris as to that of Chicago and New York, and as well to the utilization of tho natural wealth of Australia and Africa as to that of Idaho, California, and the other great western States.
Originally I had no design of personally becoming an organizer and founder of colonies. Always interested in sociology - in human society - I found the history and progress of western settlement a most fascinating study. When living in Chicago I found that there was in our great cities a vast number of people who earnestly desired to make homes in the West if the way could but be opened. Finally I concluded that the only method by which the idea could be advanced was by making an actual colony, and decided to mark my last year as head of the National Irrigation Congress by founding a settlement. Hence, the Plymouth Colony of Idaho, of which more will be said in future numbers.
The Plymouth campaign taught me that, if colonization was to be developed on a sound basis, there must be a permanent organization, and that this, if successful, would almost inevitably combine many irrigation projects, since there are a hundred unanswerable arguments in favor of organizing the western emigration movement of the future upon a great scale. Hence, the Associated Colonies, incorporated in New York in the Spring of 1897, under my presidency. The work of this company has taken me constantly back and forth across the continent, and called for frequent addresses from Boston to Los Angeles. It took me to Europe last year and gave me a brief but fruitful opportunity to see co-operation in its triumphant progress as the regenerator of agriculture where the industry had formerly sunk well-nigh to hopelessness. I found the greatest American magazines - such as The Century, The Review of Reviews, Atlantic Monthly, Forum, and North American Review - ready to offer me a platform to present the claims of our cause. Some of my literary work has been translated and republished in France, Germany, and Austria, and resulted in correspondence with eminent social scientists and reformers, who have encouraged mo by saying that the ideas of colony-building presented are sound and feasible and adapted to tho improvement of their own as well as of our country. During the past summer I have completed the final revision of a book dealing with the whole subject, and hope that through this medium the message will reach the widest publicity.
The work in which I am immediately engaged, as tho practical part of the general movement, is the making of Standish Colony, in Honey Lake Valley, among the mountains of Northern California. Having determined that at this stage of the work I can do no bettor service than personally to conduct the initial settlements, at least during that part of the year that maybe spared from the eastern field, I have built my house in the midst of the sage brush and propose to share the experiences of pioneer days with my friends, the colonists. At Standish we are applying all the plans of settlement that will be advocated in this department, so that it must, at least, be granted that I possess the courage of my convictions and am willing to bring my ideas to the test of actual experience. I shall speak frankly of Standish and the Associated Colonies in these pages, giving all other colonies and irrigation enterprises the benefit of anything learned of our trials and progress.
I ask the reader's pardon for intruding so much of a personal nature upon his attention, but when I consult a doctor I want to know that he has had opportunities both of education and practice, and those who may look to these pages for guidance in home-making, or for ideas of social progress, have a right to know that the person who edits this department has at least some claim to authority on this subject. For ten years I have been thinking of nothing but irrigation and the social problems growing out of it, and for five years been practically engaged in planning and organizing colonies. It has become my life-work. I feel that it is my mission, and that the presentation of it is my message. Like all work that partakes of the nature of construction or reform, it has been attended by many difficulties and hardships. It has not yet reached the point of acceptance and of triumph - not, perhaps, by many hard years. Yet no salary or position could tempt me from the work to which I have set my hand. I believe profoundly in its usefulness and its ultimate success - aye, in its very necessity as an imperative condition of the peaceful progress of human society everywhere. And in future numbers of The Age, I shall try to give good reasons for my faith.
Standish, California. Sept. 25, 1869.
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