The history of our nation reaffirms the blessing of people. In 1621 the pilgrims gathered for the first Thanksgiving, giving thanks to God for their bountiful harvest. They also prayed for more people to share it with them.
Industrious Men and Fertile Women
As the Plymouth colony wrote to England: “By the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty. The country wanteth only industrious men to employ, for it would grieve your hearts if you had seen so many miles together by goodly rivers uninhabited.” (1)
More immigrants came, and more babies were born, and the uninhabited river valleys were gradually peopled. By 1750, the population of the American colonies was over a million, with 400,000 in Greater New England, 390,000 in Greater Virginia, 230,000 in Greater Pennsylvania, and 100,000 in Greater Carolina. These new population centers, in Paul Johnson's words, served as “the main engines of demographic increase, attracting thousands of immigrants every year but also ensuring high domestic birth-rates with a large proportion of children born reaching adulthood, in a healthy, well-fed, well-housed family system.” (2)
An eight-child family was the American norm, wrote Benjamin Franklin. With the American birthrate double that of old Europe, “our People must at least be doubled every 20 Years.” This doubling was a very good thing, according to Franklin, for “notwithstanding this Increase, so vast is the Territory, that it will require many Ages to settle it fully” and “many Thousand labouring People” more will need to be imported. (3)
New immigrants came, and native-born Americans multiplied, and a new nation was born.
Augmented Strength and Vigor
Still, America's vast empty spaces beckoned. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson stated in his inaugural address that America has “room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation.” By 1832, the number of immigrants entering our country each year passed 50,000.
By the time of the Civil War, America's population had reached 40 million. In his Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863, Abraham Lincoln expressed hopes for a continued increase of our nation's human numbers and its freedoms “Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.” (4)
By 1950, America had reached 158 million people. A half century later, our numbers had nearly doubled again, reaching 283 million in 2000.
Throughout this time, the naysayers decried continued population growth. There were too many Americans, wrote Lincoln and Alice Day in their 1964 book by the same name. They warned of the danger to “diet, housing, work, play, security, freedom, and personal liberty” of a growing population: “How much will we have to sacrifice,” they asked rhetorically, “materially, ethically, politically, aesthetically…before population growth is halted?” (5)
Be Fruitful and Multiply!
The Days predicted that we would be eating stale crusts of bread by now, if not actually starving. Instead, we have thrown a banquet the likes of which the world has never seen. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 61% of American adults are overweight. (6) We eat so well that we have to take drugs to unclog our arteries. We live in houses the rest of the world regards as mansions. Computers serve as our personal secretaries, and cars and planes take us wherever we want to go, quickly and cheaply. Thanks to the Internet, we enjoy almost unlimited access to news and information.
By nearly every measure of well-being, from infant mortality and life expectancy to educational level and caloric intake, Americans are better off than ever before. The economy continues to expand, productivity is up, and pollution is declining.
Those like Negative Population Growth (NPG), who claim that America is overpopulated, have been reduced to making essentially silly arguments about the dangers of “sprawl” (whatever that is), and whining about such things as the time lost commuting to work (Hint: Build more roads).
This Thanksgiving, we wish to invite even the population controllers to the banquet table. We invite them to see the cornucopia that is America for what it is: the end result of the efforts of tens of millions of God-fearing Americans to better themselves and their families. America is not now, or ever likely to be, overpopulated.
So, as at the first Thanksgiving, we at PRI say: Be fruitful and multiply!
1. Letter from Edward Winslow, Plymouth in New England, December 11, 1621.
2. Paul Johnson, “A History of the American People,” 1997, p. 90.
3. Benjamin Franklin, OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING THE INCREASE OF MANKIND, PEOPLING OF COUNTRIES, ETC. Written in Pennsylvania, 1751.
4. Abraham Lincoln, Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1863.
5. Lincoln and Alice Day, “Too Many Americans,” 1964, p. 7.
6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press release, “Overweight and Obesity Threaten U.S. Health Gains,” 13 December 2001.
Steve Mosher is the president of Population Research Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to debunking the myth that the world is overpopulated.