|Clio’s Notes: America Comes of Age: 1865-1915
The Periods Noteworthy Trends
1. Americans continued to move west, subduing a continent and a people in the process.
2. America became one of the world’s greatest industrial nations by the turn of the century.
3. Industrialization spurred two other trends: immigration and urbanization, as people came from all over the world to take jobs in American factories.
4. America experienced growing pains during the period of industrialization. Laborers faced difficult working conditions. Poverty was common. Products were sometimes unsafe. The environment suffered. Politics were corrupted by some.
5. Reformers met the challenges of the industrial era. Called Progressives, they established many new laws that addressed turn of the century problems.
1865-77 Reconstruction Era
The period immediately after the Civil War is called the Reconstruction Era. During this time the North and South came back together and the nation was reconstructed. Many Northerners were intent on making the South more equal. During this time, African Americans there made some progress, but also lost ground. Between 1865-77 Northern troops occupied the South. The 11 former Confederate states were divided into five military districts ruled by Northern generals. Significantly, the Constitution was amended. The 13th Amendment abolished (ended) slavery, the 14th Amendment gave African Americans full rights as citizens, and the 15th Amendment gave African American males the right to vote. As a result, Southern states elected seven black Congressmen and all Southern legislatures elected former slaves. Meanwhile, the Freedman’s Bureau set up schools for blacks and helped former slaves secure official marriages and reunite with families.
Disagreement over Reconstruction resulted in the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, the first Reconstruction era president. Northern Republicans, sometimes called “Radical Republicans,” wanted to punish the South and make it tough on Southerners to rejoin the Union. Johnson, a Democrat from Tennessee, a former slave state, wanted to bring the South back in on more friendly terms. Republicans passed laws that Johnson broke, and he was impeached. The impeachment vote was decided by a single vote, and Johnson saved his job.
Blacks lost much of what they gained in Reconstruction. Old slave codes became black codes that became Jim Crow laws (laws that separated blacks from whites and discriminated against them). Blacks could not carry guns, could not testify against a white in a trial, could be arrested for being unemployed and forced to work on a chain gang, could not drink from white drinking fountains, or eat at white establishments. Race hate groups, such as the KKK, enforced white rule through violence. Hundreds of African Americans were lynched. In 1877 Northern troops left the South, and whites reasserted political and economic power that would not face serious challenge for nearly a century.
1865-1890 The West Expands and Experiences Growing Pains
Westward movement was a part of the American experience from colonial times. Americans believed in Manifest Destiny, the idea that the nation was destined by God to extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In the period after the Civil War, westward movement accelerated. A transcontinental railroad was completed. Native Americans were decimated or herded onto reservations through war and treaty making. Farmers and ranchers moved westward in droves, encouraged by the railroad, federal troops, and the Homestead Act which gave them “free” land if they improved it. One group moved westward because of religious persecution They were the Mormons, who moved to Utah after their leader Joseph Smith was assassinated.
Many farmers and ranchers experienced economic hardship. Constantly in debt and forced to pay high fees to transport crops by wealthy railroad companies, they began to organize for change. At first the reformers were called the Grangers. Later, a larger effort was called the Populist movement. By the 1890s the Populists had formed a powerful third party that wanted a better life for farmers, ranchers, and workers. The Populist platform included an 8 hour workday, currency reform (the silver standard) that would have made paying off debts easier, the direct election of Senators, public ownership of railroads and telegraphs, and civil service reform. In 1896 the Populists supported Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan who had adopted many of their ideas. Bryan gave a speech called the “Cross of Gold” speech in which he passionately argued for cheaper money through the silver standard. Bryan was defeated, and the Populists lost political power. However, many of their goals were achieved by a later group of reformers—the Progressives.
1890 to 1915: Late 19th Century Industrial Growth and the Progressive Movement
The late 19th century was marked by four big trends: innovation, industrialization, immigration and urbanization. These trends made the United States a world economic power. They also provided jobs and opportunity and made the U.S. a magnet for immigrants. Great wealth was won by some. At the same time, the nation experienced a host of problems associated with these trends: poverty, child labor, bad living and working conditions (especially in cities), political corruption, and environmental problems. As a result, a reform movement called the Progressive movement emerged to deal with these and other problems.
Post Civil War industrialization was encouraged by four factors: a capitalist economy that rewarded innovation, laissez faire governmental policies, a wealth of untapped natural resources, and new business forms.
New inventions led the way. These included the telegraph, telephone, phonograph, transcontinental railroad, the Bessemer Process (a cheaper and better way to make steel), motion pictures, practical electricity, the light bulb, the internal combustion engine, the automobile, the airplane, the typewriter, the assembly line, the elevator, and the street car.
Government took mainly a “hands off” or laissez faire approach. Business regulations were few and taxes on profits were low. Environmental regulations were nearly non-existent.
Workers were taken advantage of in this era. Wages were low. Hours were long. Work was unsafe. Some workers joined labor unions. Major unions like the Knights of Labor, American Federation of Labor, and the International Workers of the World, were not supported by government. Indeed, the police and sometimes members of the military helped to put down strikes.
In this pro-business environment, some people got rich. Andrew Carnegie made his fortune in steel, John D. Rockefeller in oil, J.P.Morgan in finance, and Cornelius Vanderbilt in railroads. Some called these businessmen “robber barons.” They argued these wealthy businessmen took advantage of laborers, the environment, and the public—because they could. Their wealth gave the era a common name—the Gilded Age—a time when gold glittered at the top of the economic heap but didn’t reach very far below.
To create large businesses, businessmen created new business forms—such as trusts and cartels. Trusts and cartels are formed when businesses come together (often under a single director or board of directors) to control price and production. John D. Rockefeller was able to control 90% of the oil industry through the Standard Oil Trust. Businesses also grew big through two other key strategies: vertical integration and horizontal integration. In vertical integration businesses acquired all of the steps in the production process—from raw material, to production and distribution. In horizontal integration businesses sought to control all businesses in a single industry (like Rockefeller did with Standard Oil).
Industrialization created many new jobs. Many of these jobs were taken by millions of immigrants who moved to the United States between 1880 and 1914. A large percentage of the new immigrants came from Southern and Eastern Europe. Both push and pull factors caused immigrants to fill American cities. The primary pull factor was the availability of jobs in factories. Push factors included religious persecution (especially of Russian Jews), wars, political instability, and poverty.
Recent immigrants, and many Americans who moved off of farms and into cities during this era, experienced hardship. Living conditions were awful in crowded cities that housed most industrial workers. Hours were long, pay was low, and working conditions were dangerous.
Immigrants often moved into ethnic enclaves, neighborhoods made up of others that shared their ethnicity. One could find shops, newspapers, churches, and neighbors that looked and sounded just like those back home.
Cities were often ruled by political machines. In return for votes, the machines provided political favors. These favors took the form of jobs, housing, and protection. Often the machines were organized along ethnic lines.
Immigrants were not always greeted with open arms. Some native born Americans wanted to turn immigrants from all over the world into “true blue Americans.” They had a vision for a “melting pot.” The Americanization movement was initiated to teach immigrants the English language, the importance of voting, how to stay clean and raise children. The movement was adopted by schools and some organizations such as the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association). Some argue the paranoia and anti-immigrant fears involved in the Americanization movement led to the immigration quotas of the 1920s that limited the entry of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe and other “undesirable” places.
Immigrants were aided in their transition by settlement houses in some cities. The most famous settlement house was in Chicago. It was run by Jane Addams and was called Hull House. It provided free concerts, a playground, language lessons, sewing and other classes to immigrants. Hundreds of settlement houses were established, and the women who ran them pushed for reforms to help the working poor.
The problems of immigrants were not the only ones that emerged in the late 19th century. Crusading journalists and academics called muckrakers uncovered others. Jacob Riis took photographs of urban slums and published them in How the Other Half Lives. Upton Sinclair wrote an expose of the meat packing industry called The Jungle. He discovered unsafe working conditions and unsanitary factory practices that delivered rotten meat to American kitchens. Lincoln Steffens wrote The Shame of Cities, a book that revealed the abuses of urban political machines. Ida Tarbell wrote A History of the Standard Oil Company. In it she critically analyzed the methods used by John D. Rockefeller in building his oil empire.
Americans disagreed over what to do about the problems the muckrakers identified. Social Darwinists argued that competition would naturally weed out the weak. They wanted the government to take a laissez faire approach—the less regulation the better. Social Darwinists included businessmen but also members of the clergy like Dwight L. Moody and Billy Sunday. Pitted against the Social Darwinists was a group associated with the Social Gospel. The Social Gospel movement also included clergy members, but these clergymen argued that the church and society had an obligation to help the less fortunate.
Other groups of reformers emerged from the labor movement. Radicals like Eugene Debs wanted socialism—a system where the workers control the means of industry. Socialists argued that poor living and working conditions could best be changed by a complete reorganization of economic and political power. Put the workers in charge.
The Progressive Movement
Out of a national discussion of the problems of the late 19th century, emerged a national reform movement—the Progressive Movement. Progressives were mostly middle or upper class whites who were concerned with the problems of the working class. They included members of both political parties. Progressive presidents include Republican presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, as well as Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
Roosevelt called for a Square Deal. He attacked what he called “bad trusts” and came to be known as a “Trust Buster” for breaking up the Northern Securities Trust. Roosevelt took a strong interest in the environment. At the encouragement of two men he worked to protect the environment. One of these men was John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, an advocate of leaving the environment alone (a preservationist). The other man was Gifford Pinchot, the first director of the Department of Forestry. He was a conservationist who wanted to use or improve the environment. Roosevelt set aside new national parks, set up national forests covering over 100 million acres, and took steps to improve the American West through irrigation. Roosevelt also took the side of laborers in a coal strike in 1903.
In 1908, Roosevelt handed the presidency to fellow Republican William Howard Taft. Taft disappointed Roosevelt. He was far more cautious and supported higher tariffs, something Roosevelt felt hurt American consumers by raising prices.
In the 1912 election, Taft, Roosevelt, and Democrat Woodrow Wilson competed for the office of president. Roosevelt had formed a third party, the Bull Moose Party. In the end, he and Taft divided the Republican vote and Wilson won. Wilson pushed a progressive agenda similar to Roosevelt’s. He offered Americans a New Freedom. During his administration the Clayton Ant-trust Act and the 19th Amendment were passed.
The Progressive Movement had many local and state movers and shakers as well. Noteworthy among these are governors Hiram Johnson of California, Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin (he came up with the Wisconsin Plan), and Theodore Roosevelt of New York. Reform minded mayors also took over for political machines in many cities. These local reformers and the reforms they back resulted in many national reforms.
The Progressives succeeded in promoting a number of national reforms, including the following: child labor laws, worker’s compensation (employers pay for worker injuries), the 8 hour work day, safer working conditions, the Meat Inspection Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, the income tax (16th Amendment), the direct election of senators (17th Amendment), the initiative (citizen sponsored laws), referendum (citizens striking down existing laws), recall (citizens voting out bad political leaders), city commission and city council forms of municipal government (to take power out of the hands of the political machined and place it in the hands of elected officials), women’s suffrage—right the vote (19th Amendment), enlargement of the National Parks system, the creation of the National Forest system, the graduated federal income tax, and the federal reserve bank (placed the banking system under the control of the government).
As much as the Progressives accomplished, they fell short in one major area—racial equality. Jim Crow and lynchings were firmly entrenched throughout much of the country. Blacks did try to advance their own cause, but the mostly white Progressives did not help much. African American leaders disagreed about the best way to move forward. One leader, Booker T. Washington, argued in a speech, the Atlanta Compromise, that blacks should “cast their buckets” down where they were and not fight whites. He said blacks should stay out of politics and move up the economic ladder by gaining job skills through vocational training. Washington’s ideas were criticized by W.E.B. Dubois. Dubois argued that the “Talented Tenth,” college educated blacks, should help the race gain economic and political power. Dubois helped to found the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).