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BY DR. FRANKLIN B. HOUGH, LOWVILLE, N. Y.
Statistical summaries of the results of husbandry, carefully made at stated intervals, are necessary to intelligent legislation affecting this interest. They are essential to the proper administration of the laws by which it is protected, and are a trusty guide to the safe and economical operation of the various branches of trade and system of arranging the supply to the demand, so necessary to national prosperity and individual happiness.
Every human being, whatever may be his rank, condition, or employment, is personally interested in the questions: “What articles of food are being produced, and when, how, in what amount, and at what expense can they be obtained ?” “What is the capacity of a given district, to yield the bread of life? How may this yield be increased ? By what avenues does it reach our markets, and how may competition be able to extend the greatest benefits to the greatest numbers ?”
These inquiries of so vital and general interest, can only be answered by a generalization of facts, and the data upon which the calculations are based, to be safe and trustworthy must be procured fully, carefully and uniformly. To secure these three essential qualities, the elementary facts must be obtained under competent authority, by men properly selected and paid for the services, and the results must be condensed and made available under an intelligent supervision, having no local or pecuniary interests to favor, and no results to attain but the public good.
Instances are common, in which these data have been collected as arguments, to prove the necessity or probable value of proposed railroad on other improvements, or to serve certain personal or local interests, but objections arise against accepting results in which a particular interest is to be served, and we must look to the government of a country to provide for the statistical inquiries which shall represent its various interests, and equalize its protecting care.
It is now about forty years, since the first attempt was made to obtain Statistics of Agriculture in this State, by legal authority, and the origin of the measure may be credited to the influence of the State Board of Agriculture—the State Agricultural Society of that day. A circular issued by that body, in the summer of 1820, for obtaining local Statistics of Agriculture, through the agency of County Agricultural Societies, which had at that time been established throughout the State, led to the introduction of certain inquiries into the census of electors, taken the next year. The returns received at the office of the Secretary of State were communicated to the Legislature, and appear in the Journals of 1822.
No results are preserved of the inquiries of the State Board of Agriculture, except such as casually appeared in the journals of the day, and the carefully prepared and meritorious report on the agriculture of Albany county, published anonymously in pamphlet form, but known to have been prepared by Mr. John Preston. This early inquiry, through the medium of the society, was useful in calling attention to the subject and familiarizing the public mind with statistical inquiries.
The questions introduced in the census of 1821, were few and elementary, but these have been extended at each enumeration, until we have had eight several reports, embracing these statistics, under State and Federal authority; all more or less defective, but still, on the whole, progressive in value and detail, and affording nearly all that is officially known of our productive capabilities, and the amount and distribution of our agricultu ral wealth.
I have had occasion to study the details and operation of this system with great care, in connection with the State census of 1855, prepared under my supervision, and may be allowed to state my conviction, that statistics of the farm, should not be included in the census which our State Constitution requires us to take at intervals of ten years. That enumeration should be chiefly limited to personal statistics in their various applications and relations, as is done in the English census, and in that of nearly every Government of Continental Europe.
If relieved from the burden of Industrial Statistics, our State census might, if previously well arranged, take the status of our population in a single day, as the sun traces in a moment on the plate of the camera, the minutest details of an architectural group, affording the data for the study of the subject in all its relations and bearings. The expense thus saved, might be profitably applied to the collection of industrial statistics in their various branches, and under regulations which I will venture to suggest as not only practicable, but thorough and effectual.
We can scarcely hope to realize in our country, the exceedingly minute and elaborate details resulting from the cadastral survey of France, from which the government is able to determine with great precision, the amount of cereal grains and other crops to be expected front year to year, from every department within its territories. The capabilities of our soil, are so much above the ordinary demands for the support of our population, that the care of government could seldom or never be attracted to the necessity of making timely provision for meeting the wants of starving communities, as not unfrequently happens in the densely settled countries of Europe, yet it may be safely asserted, that sufficient benefits would be derived, to justify the expense of obtaining annually, or at most at intervals of five years, a careful statement of the products of agriculture, with sufficient details, to show the actual and relative quantities and values of grain and other crops raised, and the number and value of domestic animals kept by farmers.
The successful operation of inquiries of this kind, involves the following essential principles, all of which are necessary to full and valuable results.
1st. They must be made by sufficient legal authority, and with penal. ties for false answers, or refusal to answer the prescribed questions. Practically, the knowledge of this power, will, in nearly every case, carry with it a sense of obligation, that will secure compliance with the requirements of the law. In 1855, no prosecutions for refusing to answer the inquiries of the census marshals occured, and only one case was known in which any difficulties of this kind were reported.
2d. The farmers to whom the questions are addressed must feel assured that no scheme of taxation or assessment, is connected with them. In all enumeration hitherto made, in connection with our census, this has been distinctly announced in the instructions of the marshals; and it is hoped that no necessity may hereafter arise in which the census of agricultural products, shall assume the form of State assessment. This point, distinctly understood and believed, will do much towards securing full and uniform returns.
3d. Some persons not informed of the true nature and use of these ques. tions, have hesitated about exposing the details of their business to the inspection of neighbors or rivals. The returns should be regarded as confidential by the officer receiving them, and he should be able to assure those who offered this objection, that the facts given in by individuals, would appear only in the aggregate of towns and counties.
4th and last, but not least, the persons making the inquiries should be sufficiently paid for their services. The results of the efforts made during the last year by the State Agricultural Society are very incomplete, and one important reason, doubtless, is, that those who made the enumeration were not sufficiently paid. It is a universal truth that men will not work without pay, and it is a mistake to suppose that persons competent for the task, can be found in every town or school district, who will spend two or three days, or a week upon business of this kind, because appointed so to act, or because it is honorable to hold office. It is idle to prescribe it as a duty to be performed ex-officio by officers of societies, or in any way to impose it upon them, with an expectation of its being done, unless a proper compensation is allowed for the service.
Under what authority, and by whose appointment should it be done? Evidently in a manner as free as possible from political patronage and preference, and by those who have a local knowledge of the men in every town or school district, best qualified for the work. If the marshals were appointed by the supervisors of town, we should have a system proximately effectual, and with certain modifications for the cities, perhaps, such as would operate with success. The supervisor is in every case a man selected for his supposed familiarity with the affairs of his town. He may be a partisan, but no party will hazard its local reputation by placing in office one whom they cannot trust to supervise the assessment of property, and the care of the domestic affairs of the town and county, in which every one has a direct personal interest in having well done. The appointments would possibly be of a political character, but there is reason to believe that those selected would be competent and faithful.
It would be safe to try the experiment. If the result did not meet expectations, another mode presents itself, which, in some cases, would be most effectual. Unfortunately, a want of uniformity in the interest represented would not at present guarantee an equal amount of efficiency in every part of the state.
We have, in every county where agriculture has an interest, a county or other local society, organized and conducted with the express object of promoting its welfare. Most of these societies receive money from the state annually, and must comply with certain conditions, to entitle them to a share in the appropriations made for their henefit.
The officers of these agricultural societies might be safely trusted with the selection of proper persons for making the inquiries, and with receiving and transmitting their returns to the county clerks. Their certificate of faithful performance should be the voucher upon which the supervisors, at their annual session, should audit their accounts, for payment by the county treasurer.
The expense should be borne by counties, rather than by towns, as the interests of most counties are so essentially identified with agriculture that they could scarcely be separated.
The blanks should be issued by the State Society, and returned to it for condensation and publication. All experidnce tends to prove that, in no other way than by a central office, can extended inquiries of this kind be classified and condensed, uniformly and correctly. Aside from the liability to error from mistakes in adding columns of figures, there are always constructive rulings of doubtful cases arising, which should be decided upon uniform principles, in which, even if erroneous, the results will be comparable, and therefore valuable.
As a beginning, the enumeration might be made at intervals of five years. If found to be easy of application, or of great practical results, the time might be reduced by subsequent legislation to intervals of three, two or one year.
There is one statement of a general character that should be answered by the enumerator himself, at the close of his labors, and which has heretofore been almost entirely omitted in our census tables. Blanks should be provided for noting the average price of farm labor, by the day and month, and the medium and extreme prices of the various products of husbandry during the year to which the inquiries refer. The differences between prices of different localities would, in most cases, represent the relative cheapness of transportation to the great markets.
Let us consider some of the benefits that might reasonably be anticipated, in a business light, from official publications of the kind we have been considering
The purchasers of produce, by studying the tables, would readily select those regions offering the greatest quantities of commodities in which they dealt, and the farmers would derive the benefits resulting from a competition among those wishing to purchase.
The location of railrcads, or the establishment of manufactories, would often be determined by the abundance and permanence of supplies sent annually from a given district. The tendency of statistics of this kind would be to equalize the inequalities of prices, and to induce capitalists to invest money in localities promising the greatest facilities and best returns.
Another benefit would be the determination of what constitutes the most profitable subjects of tillage, or what crops are best adapted to a given region. If, in one section, the yield per acre of some grain be, on the average, much less than in another, the prices being uniform, it is fair to infer that the profits must be unequal, and it is reasonable to suppose that some other
crop may be found better adapted to the soil and climate. The habit of observation, and the enlarged and liberal views which discussions of this kind excite are of the highest benefit. We habitually associate a familiarity as to the resources of one's town, county or state, with intelligence, enterprise and thrift. The aggregate of these qualities, when prevalent, implies national prosperity and power.
The districts for enumeration should be small, and in most cases, school districts would be sufficient. But here an exceptional rule would be necessary, in cases where one school district extends into two or more. adjacent towns, in which case care should be taken that the statistics of each town are kept separate, and that no portions are omitted or twice taken. The small parts of districts should be annexed to those adjacent, for purposes of enumeration, where they embrace less than half the area of ordinary districts; but where greater than half, they should, for this purpose be regarded as a district.
There are two methods for ascertaining the compensation due for collecting statistics for the census. One of these, is a per diem allowance within certain limits; and the other is a fixed sum per square mile for the territory embraced. There are fewer objections against the former than the latter, and yet there are difficulties attending both, arising from the wide difference in the amount of labor required, and the variable character of the products. In one district pasturage alone might be reported, and the results might be obtained in a day. In another, a wide and diversified range of inquiries, might demand several days of careful inquiry.
The time embraced, should be the calendar year, and the time when the inquiries are made should be as near after the close of the year as practicable. Probably the month of January would be preferable. In the winter months, the farmers may usually be found at home, instead of at labor in distant fields, and the products of the last harvest and the last last year's operations are then known with sufficient accuracy for the purposes of this inquiry.
There are two classes of results to be attained by enumerations of this kind: absolute and relative. The former is expressed by the actual quantities produced, the latter by the relation which these quantities bear to the amount and prices of land, and labor required in producing them, and the relative expense of bringing them into market, or otherwise rendering them avajlable. No enumeration will satisfy the demands of economical science, which does not contain the elements from which these results can be derived. The simpler the record can be made, the more accurate and reliable will be the returns, and the more satisfactory the generalizations from them.
To illustrate this by the personal census, in the inquiry about ages. The earlier blanks afforded columns for entering the number under 5, from 5 to 10, and so on at intervals of five years to the end of life, and with separate columns for the two sexes. The blanks extended across several pages,