‘Western America is one of the most interesting subjects of study the modern world has seen,’ James Bryce, the greatest of British Americanists, wrote in 1888. ‘There has been nothing in the past resembling its growth, and probably there will be nothing in the future.’ He listed its mighty attributes:
a vast territory, wonderfully rich in natural resources of many kinds; a temperate and healthy climate, fit for European labour; a soil generally, and in many places marvellously, fertile; in some regions mountains full of minerals, in others trackless forests where every tree is over two hundred feet high.
But it was the human achievement that really commanded his interest. The West, Bryce thought, presented the spectacle of a ‘virtually unoccupied territory thrown open to a vigorous race, with all the appliances and contrivances of modern science at its command’, a phenomenon ‘absolutely without precedent in history,