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THE EFFECT OF THE PHYSIOGRAPHY OF NORTH AMERICA UPON MEN OF EUROPEAN ORIGIN1
In their organic life the continents of America have always stood somewhat apart from those of the Old World. This isolation is marked in every stage of their geological history. In each geological period they have many forms that never found their way to the other lands, and we fail to find there many species that are abundant in the continents of the Old World.
The same causes that kept the animal and vegetable life of the Americas distinct from Europe and Asia have served to keep those continents apart from the human history of the Old World. Something more than the relations that are patent on a map are necessary to a proper understanding of the longcontinued isolation of these continents.
In the first place, we may notice the fact that from the Old World the most approachable side of these continents lies on the west. Not only are the lands of the New and Old World there brought into close relations with each other, but the ocean streams of the North Pacific flow toward America. Moreover, the North Pacific is a sea of a calmer temper than the North Atlantic, and the chance farers over its surface would be
1 By Nathaniel S. Shaler. Reprinted from Winsor's Narrative and Critical History of America, Vol. IV, by arrangement with the publishers, Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston.
more likely to survive its perils. In the North Atlantic, over which alone the Aryan peoples could well have found their way to America, we have a wide sea, which is not only the stormiest in the world, but its currents set strongly against western-going ships, and the prevailing winds blow from the west. If it had been intended that America should long remain unknown to the seafaring peoples of Semitic or Aryan race, it would not have been easy, within the compass of earthly conditions, to accomplish it in a more effective manner than it has been done by the present geography.
The result is that man, who doubtless originated in the Old World, early found his way to America by the Pacific; and all the so-called indigenous races known to us in the Americas seem to have closer relations to the peoples living in northern Asia than to those of any other country. It is pretty clear that none of the aboriginal American peoples have found their way to these continents by way of the Atlantic.
Although the access to the continent of North America is much more easily had upon its western side, and though all the early settlements were probably made that way, the configuration of the land is such that it is not possible to get easy access to the heart of the continent from the Pacific shore; so that though the Atlantic ocean was most forbidding and difficult as a way to America, once passed, it gave the freest and best access to the body of the continent. In the west the Cordilleras are a formidable bar to those who seek to enter the continent from the Pacific. None but a modern civilization would ever have forced its barriers of mountains and deserts. An ancient civilization, if it had penetrated America from the west, would have recoiled from the labor of traversing this mountain system, that combines the difficulties of the Alps and the Sahara. If . European emigration had found such a mountain system on the eastern face of the continent, the history of America would
1 It is likely that some part of the Aryan folk found their way to the Pacific shore in Korea and elsewhere; but the Aryan migrations setting to the east must have been uncommon, and the chance of Caucasian blood reaching America by this route small.
have been very different. Scarcely any other continent offers such easy ingress as does this continent to those who come to it from the Atlantic side. The valleys of the St. Lawrence, the Hudson, the Mississippi, in a fashion, also, of the Susquehanna and the James, break through or pass around the low coast mountains, and afford free ways into the whole of the interior that is attractive to European peoples. No part of the Alleghenian system presents any insuperable obstacles to those who seek to penetrate the inner lands. The whole of its surface is fit for human uses; there are neither deserts of sand nor of snow. The ax alone would open ways readily passable to men and horses. So that when the early settlers had passed the sea, all their formidable geographical difficulties were at an end, with but little further toil the wide land lay open to them. I propose in the subsequent pages to give a sketch of the physical conditions of this continent, with reference to the transplanted civilization that has developed upon its soil. It will be impossible, within the limits of this essay, to do more than indicate these conditions in a very general way, for the details of the subject would constitute a work in itself. It will be most profitable for us first to glance at the general relations of climate and soil that are found in North America, so far as these features bear upon the history of the immigration it has received from Europe.
The climate of North America south of the Laurentian mountains and east of the Rocky mountains is much more like that of Europe than of any we find in the other continents. Although there are many points of difference, these variations lie well within the climatic range of Europe itself. On the south Mexico may well be compared to Italy and Spain; in the southern parts of the Mississippi valley we have conditions in general comparable to those of Lombardy and central France; and in the northern portions of that area and along the sea border we can find fair parallels for the conditions of Great Britain, Germany, or Scandinavia. As is well known, the range of temperature during the year varies much more in America than in Europe, but these variations in themselves are of small