Art. IV. — Basin of the Mississippi: And Its Business Site Briefly Considered.
WHOEVER is conversant with the elements that combine to make a vast city must be strongly impressed with the natural advantages of the site of Cairo, at the junction of the Ohio and the Mississippi, (Lat. about 36° N., long. about 12° W. of Washington.)
To one familiar with the geography of the old world or the new, it is well known that many of the largest cities are located in the interior — in many cases far inland — yet possessing easy natural water communications with the sea, and many business points.
Whoever has given his personal attention to the site of Cairo, whether upon the ground itself or by studying the map of the basin of the Mississippi, has not failed to perceive there is no point in this basin so strongly marked by nature as this for a great city, nor one whose influence could be so readily wafted to remote points and thence reflected back by the same navigable channels to Cairo as a central mart of immense business.
Enterprising minds have been active in studying all the bearings of this site in reference to the agricultural, commercial and manufacturing interests the north — west and the south — west States. It may be doubted if any one who has given careful attention to this subject, has not come to the opinion that the trade of a very large number of the valleys of these States already begins loudly to call for a city at Cairo, to come forth with business facilities upon a scale commensurate in plan with the future increase of this trade.
What are these valleys? Some of the principal may be mentioned. Those drained into the Ohio are the Tennessee, 850
Almost all these rivers are navigated by steam-power, and the waters of all (and many more not here named) come together at Cairo, and are thence led off by the lower Mississippi to the gulf of Mexico.
Taking the portions of the western rivers that are navigated by steam, and applying these portions end to end, we should have a continuous navigable river more than 12,000 miles in extent.
Now it happens that there is no point above Cairo in ascending the lower Mississippi to which steamers of the largest class can reach at all times in all seasons, either from want of sufficient depth of water in midsummer, or from ice in winter. Cairo may therefore be said to be at the head of perpetual navigation in the great basin of the Mississippi; and it naturally becomes a point where the navigation of the western rivers requires a change of boats, which must make it a stopping place of immense traffic.
In the North American continent, a dividing ridge extends from the N. E. extremity of the Alleghany mountains, nearly due west to the southern
698extremity of Lake Michigan; thence N. W. to near the western extremity of Lake Superior; thence W. N. W. to the Rocky Mountains. The elevation of this ridge is only about 1,500 feet above the level of the sea It is the water shed of the four great hydrographical basins east of the Rocky Mountains — the basin of McKenzie River flowing over 2,000 miles into the Arctic ocean; the basin of the Saskatchawaw flowing even from the base of the Rocky Mountains 1,700 miles into Lake Winnepeg and Hud. son's Bay; the basin of the great lakes and the St. Lawrence; and the basin of the Mississippi, flowing over 3,000 miles into the gulf of Mexico.
The McKenzie and Saskatchawaw belong to the vast region of rocky and broken surface within the frozen soil. These two valleys, therefore, are of little value for the abodes of civilization. The St. Lawrence remains, during its whole course, in the cold temperate zone. The upper portion of this basin — the valley of the lakes — is of immense value; and the only drawbacks are a division of it between two different governments, and the coldness of its climate. The Mississippi above flows south through the warm temperate regions, to seek a better climate under the more genial sky of the gulf.
The Missouri-Mississippi, with its 3,500 miles of navigation, is longer than the Amazon by 500 miles. The area drained by the Amazon contains about 2,000,000 square miles — double that of the basin of the Obi, in Asia, which is the largest, though one of the least valuable in the old world. The basin of the Misssisippi is over 1,000,000 square miles — double that of the great rivers of China, and three times the size of that of the Ganges or of the Indus.
The rise of the Mississippi basin from the shore of the Atlantic as we go north for an extent of thousands of miles is so very regular, so gradual, so insensible, that the eye is scarcely able to perceive it, and we infer its existence only by the flow of the rivers. To ascertain it positively we must resort to the instruments of the inquirer, which will indicate a fall of only a few inches to the mile.
The value of the basin, of which Cairo may be made the center of business, does not depend upon size alone. Other circumstances connected with its physical geography should be taken into the estimate. Its adaptation as an instrument of development for the civilized societies who form themselves in it should be carefully considered. In its adaptation we perceive enough to allow us to affirm that it corresponds admirably to the epoch of emancipation, of social equality, and of universal exchanges. From all parts of Europe a superabundant population lands upon our shores; we. open our arms and welcome them; everywhere our harbors are easy of access; the climate salubrious. The children of all nations come to unite themselves in the vast spaces of the west, presenting to the world for the first time a cosmopolitan nation. The west is the instrument which this new society finds at her disposal. She seizes it vigorously and wields it with an ever increasing success. An abundance of lands rich in vegetation, minerals and raw materials, promises recompense to labor and assures to it dignity and independence.
In the interior the communications opened by nature herself, and being every day rendered still more accessible by art, respond to this need of locomotion, and facilitate this life of exchange and of social intercourse so characteristic of the age.
Our position in the middle of the ocean, between the two extremes of the
699old world — Europe and Asia — must inevitably place in the hands of America the best part of the Commerce of the old world. Who does not see the vast power of such a lever? And who can deny that it is confided to the new world to disseminate, broad as the world itself, the principles of civilization, self-government and truth?
Such being the obvious destiny to which nature herself seems to invite the communities who spread themselves over the broad plains of our continent, it becomes a question of physical geography to ascertain the most feasible localities the country affords for the accomplishment of such high, ends. In what precedes some of the geographical features have been touched upon with a view of bringing into a general comparison with each other the four great hydrographic basins east of the Rocky Mountains. And this comparison demonstrates the superiority of the Mississippi to consist in size, climate, fertility of soil, natural channels of communication, centrality of position as regards the Commerce of the old world as well as the new, its sloping towards the south, instead of the north or east, and its accessibility, in reference to the Atlantic, at all seasons.
The area of that portion of the basin immediately north and east of Cairo, amounts to 400,000 square miles (without including any below the junction of the Ohio with the Mississippi.) The natural products of this amount of soil must seek market by a descending trade along the rivers whose waters all meet at Cairo. Then, there is the up-trade of what would naturally arise from the products of 600,000 square miles of the basin, south of Cairo, which ascends the lower Mississippi. Cairo stands as a natural business mart between the geographical divisions of the north half and south half of the Mississippi basin. No one who has traversed with an eye of intelligent observation the numerous valleys composing the basin, doubts of its capacity to sustain as dense a population per acre as Belgium; which would give to the division above Cairo a population of 128,000,000, and to the division below, 217,000,000, supposing both division equally populated. The center of population of the United States, in the year 1783, was on the right bank of the Susquehanna (town of Wrightsville, Pa.) It was a question of debate whether this or Washington should be honored with the Capitol. In 1840 the center of population had moved westward very considerable and slightly southward to near Cincinnati, Ohio. The westward motion, at the rate of 7 9/10 miles per year, and the southern at the rate of 88/100 of a mile per annum. At this rate continued, the center of population will reach the meridian of Cairo in 1872, and the southern motion would bring it near the same place at the same time. It is not probable the center of population east of the Rocky Mountains will ever pass much west of the Mississippi. It is not hazarding much to say the center of government of this growing people will be not very far remote from the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi. The fertile and already immensely productive valleys composing the Mississippi basin must have a point whence their products can be sent out at all seasons, maugre ice and low water. Who will deny Cairo the natural claim for such a business point on a grand scale?
But independent of all relation Cairo has by nature to the business of these valleys, it would become a large city from its connection with the business of the State of Illinois (a connection foreseen by its sagacious projectors, but not realized until lately.) It is now made the southern terminus of the great central railroad of 650 miles in length through the very middle of
700the State of Illinois to Peru, which is at the head of navigation on the Illinois River, which head of navigation is in connection with the head of Lake Michigan by the existing canal. Likewise from below Peru to Chicago there is to be another connection by a branch of the Central Railroad. There is also to be a branch of the Central Railroad from Peru to Galena III. Not only is Cairo made the southern terminus of this great railroad scheme, but it is the northern terminus of the railway running south through the State of Kentucky, across Tennessee, and down through the heart of Alabama to the sea at Mobile city, which is the southern terminus.
The United States Government, under the influence of high views, and being convinced of the national benefits that would result by putting these extensive lines in operation, has stepped in and lent its powerful aid to those works, by donating on the most liberal scale sufficient of the public domain to complete them all in a few years. Cairo comes in the middle of this iron chain; that is, to unite the northern and southern internal Commerce, extending from the head of the St. Lawrence and Great Lake basin to Mobile.
In a political point of view these projected railways will have more influence towards cementing the bond of union between the north and the south than any other project ever conceived of by Congress. Whether this motive entered into the views of Congress in lending its patronage I know not; but the works once in operation, it requires no great prescience to perceive that demagogues and agitators may as well abandon all idea of making the people of the North and of the South believe in the possibility of a political disunion. Cairo would neither be a northern nor a southern city; it would be the central mart where exchanges from the North, South, East and West would take place; and by this commingling of commercial interests a good influence would radiate thence in the four directions to the remotest parts of the republic.