To the historians in succeeding generations these accounts will be invaluable, for they will give information about the cities as they were in the year 1880, which is not likely to be embodied in any other permanent form. It has been shown how large a proportion of the local histories of America have been found wanting in these things. It is not to be expected that the immediate future will see any decided reformation. Then it is clear of how great value to the “future historian of recent events,” to quote one of Daniel Webster’s phrases, will be such work as this that has been undertaken by the National government. It will be of so great value because, as we can say with little exaggeration, the history of the cities is the history of the nation. The city to-day plays a most important part in national affairs. It is, indeed, and for aught we can see must continue to be, the Hamlet of the play. Few people realize this. Few people know that over one fifth of the population of the land is gathered in the large towns and cities. At the beginning of the century the ratio of the urban population to the rural was only as one to fifteen. No reason is apparent why the increase in the ratio should not be equally steady and rapid for many generations. That this same change has taken place in all civilized portions of the world is, in truth, most significant. In England the progress of the cities has been in the same direction, and, as nearly as can be judged, in the same ratio as that of wealth, learning, and happiness.
Call to mind what Macaulay said, nearly half a century ago, in chapter iii of his History of England: “Great as has been the change in the rural life of England since the Revolution (1688), the change which has come to pass in the cities is still more amazing. At present, a sixth part of the kingdom is crowded into provincial towns of more than thirty thousand inhabitants. In the reign of Charles II, no provincial town in the kingdom contained thirty thousand inhabitants, and only four provincial towns contained so many as ten thousand inhabitants.” Since this was written, the change, if not so marvelous, has been equally important.
As to our own country, the change can in no way be shown more clearly than by the following table, which will be published in the Census Report:—
[Transcriber’s note—This table has been transposed to make it fit. For each year, Pop. is the Aggregate Population of all cities in that size range; % is the percentage of the total Population of the United States.]