Progressive Era And Gilded Age Essay

The Importance Of The Gilded Age And The Progressive Era To The Development Of American Society

The Gilded age and the Progressive Era are time periods that played an important role in the development of the American society. The Gilded Age is a period of American history between 1870 and 1900. This term was coined by Mark Twain in the late 1800s. By this, he meant that this period was glittering on the surface but corrupt underneath ("Learn About the Gilded Age"). The Gilded Age is well known for its political scandals and extravagant displays of wealth. At the same time, this was an era of major achievements in the industry and economy, which significantly changed life of American people. The Gilded Age was followed by the Progressive Era which lasted from the 1890s to the 1920s. Progressive Era is well known for its economical, political, social reforms and technological inventions. In my opinion, The Gilded Age had a more significant impact upon the United States than the Progressive Era because it gave rise to new industries, created transportation and communication networks which provided the infrastructure for further development of technology in the Progressive Era.
One of the most important achievements of the Gilded Age was the creation of a network of railroads including the transcontinental railroad, which connected the United States from New York to California, facilitating transportation across the continent. During the Gilded Age the length of all the railroads combined increased threefold ("Second Industrial Revolution"). This was significant not only because it decreased travel time from the eastern to western parts of the U.S and vice versa down from months to weeks and allowed people to settle the central United States, but also opened new areas for commercial farming and gave an economic boost to steel, coal, and train manufacturers.
The Gilded age is often called the Second Industrial Revolution as economy shifted from textile, clothing and leather production to heavy industry ("Learn about the Gilded"). Development of the steel industry was boosted by discovery of the Bessemer process. ("Second Industrial Revolution") Henry Bessemer and William Kelly drastically reduced the cost and time needed in producing steel from pig-iron. They found out that that blasting air through molten iron produced high quality steel. Steel was widely used in construction of buildings, because it provided good support for skyscrapers and tall towers. Cornelius Vanderbilt, an American entrepreneur who built his wealth in shipping and railroads, was one of the first people who used steel instead of iron to make rails. One of the hallmarks of the Gilded Age is an increased mechanization, or use of machinery to replace manual labor. People were looking for cheaper and more efficient ways to create better products. By utilizing machines one could increase efficiency of the workers and save time. Among industries that benefited most from the mechanization of the country were coal and train industry, because these two industries were those...

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The history of the United States from 1865 until 1918 covers the Reconstruction Era, the Gilded Age, and the Progressive Era, and includes the rise of industrialization and the resulting surge of immigration in the United States. This article focuses on political, economic, and diplomatic history.

This period of rapid economic growth and soaring prosperity in the North and the West (but not in the South) saw the U.S. become the world's dominant economic, industrial, and agricultural power. The average annual income (after inflation) of non-farm workers grew by 75% from 1865 to 1900, and then grew another 33% by 1918.[1]

With a decisive victory in 1865 over Southern secessionists in the Civil War, the United States became a united and powerful nation with a strong national government. Reconstruction brought the end of legalized slavery plus citizenship for the former slaves, but their new-found political power was rolled back within a decade, and they became second-class citizens under a "Jim Crow" system of deeply pervasive segregation that would stand for the next 80–90 years. Politically, during the Third Party System and Fourth Party System the nation was mostly dominated by Republicans (except for two Democratic presidents). After 1900 and the assassination of President William McKinley, the Progressive Era brought political, business, and social reforms (e.g., new roles for and government expansion of education, higher status for women, a curtailment of corporate excesses, and modernization of many areas of government and society). The Progressives worked through new middle-class organizations to fight against the corruption and behind-the-scenes power of entrenched, state political party organizations and big-city "machines". They demanded—and won—women's right to vote, and the nationwide prohibition of alcohol 1920-1933.

In an unprecedented wave of European immigration, 27.5 million new arrivals between 1865 and 1918[2] provided the labor base necessary for the expansion of industry and agriculture, as well as the population base for most of fast-growing urban America.

By the late nineteenth century, the United States had become a leading global industrial power, building on new technologies (such as the telegraph and steel), an expanding railroad network, and abundant natural resources such as coal, timber, oil, and farmland, to usher in the Second Industrial Revolution.

There were also two very important wars. The U.S. easily defeated Spain in 1898, which unexpectedly brought a small empire. Cuba quickly was given independence, as well as the Philippines (in 1946). Puerto Rico (and some smaller islands) became permanent U.S. possessions, as did Alaska (added by purchase in 1867); the independent Republic of Hawaii was illegally taken as a territory in 1898.

The United States tried and failed to broker a peace settlement for World War I, then entered the war after Germany launched a submarine campaign against U.S. merchant ships that were supplying Germany's enemy countries. The publicly stated goals were to uphold American honor, crush German militarism, and reshape the postwar world. After a slow mobilization, the U.S. helped bring about a decisive Allied Forces victory, after supplying badly needed financing, food, and millions of fresh and eager soldiers.

Reconstruction Era[edit]

Main article: Reconstruction Era

Reconstruction was the period from 1863 to 1877, in which the federal government temporarily took control—one by one—of the Southern states of the Confederacy. Before his assassination in April 1865, President Abraham Lincoln had announced moderate plans for reconstruction to re-integrate the former Confederates as fast as possible. Lincoln set up the Freedmen's Bureau in March 1865, to aid former slaves in finding education, health care, and employment. The final abolition of slavery was achieved by the Thirteenth Amendment, ratified in December 1865.[4] However, Lincoln was opposed by the Radical Republicans within his own party who feared that the former Confederates would never truly give up on slavery and Confederate nationalism, and would always try to reinstate them behind-the-scenes. As a result, the Radical Republicans tried to impose legal restrictions that would strip most ex-rebels' rights to vote and hold elected office. The Radicals were opposed by Lincoln's Vice President and successor, Tennessee Democrat Andrew Johnson. However, the Radicals won the critical elections of 1866, winning enough seats in Congress to override President Johnson's vetoes of such legislation. They even successfully impeached President Johnson (in the House of Representatives), and almost removed him from office (in the Senate) in 1868. Meanwhile, they gave the South's "freedmen" new constitutional and federal legal protections.

The Radicals' reconstruction plans took effect in 1867 under the supervision of the U.S. Army, allowing a Republican coalition of Freedmen, Scalawags (sympathetic local whites), and Carpetbaggers (recent arrivals from the North), to take control of Southern state governments. They ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, giving enormous new powers to the federal courts to deal with justice at the state level. These state governments borrowed heavily to build railroads and public schools, increasing taxation rates. The backlash of increasingly fierce opposition to these policies drove most of the Scalawags out of the Republican Party and into the Democratic Party. President Ulysses S. Grant enforced civil rights protections for African-Americans that were being challenged in South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1870 giving African-Americans the right to vote in American elections.

U.S. Representative Stevens was one of the major policymakers regarding Reconstruction, and obtained a House vote of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson. Hans Trefousse, his leading biographer, concludes that Stevens "was one of the most influential representatives ever to serve in Congress. [He dominated] the House with his wit, knowledge of parliamentary law, and sheer willpower, even though he was often unable to prevail."[5]

Reconstruction ended at different times in each state, the last in 1877, when Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the contentious presidential election of 1876 over his opponent, Samuel J. Tilden. To deal with disputed electoral votes, Congress set up an Electoral Commission. It awarded the disputed votes to Hayes. The white South accepted the "Compromise of 1877" knowing that Hayes proposed to end Army control over the remaining three state governments in Republican hands. White Northerners accepted that the Civil War was over and that Southern whites posed no threat to the nation.[6][7]

The end of Reconstruction marked the end of the brief period of civil rights and civil liberties for African Americans in the South, where most lived. Reconstruction caused permanent resentment, distrust, and cynicism among white Southerners toward the federal government, and helped create the "Solid South," which typically voted for the (then-)socially conservative Democrats for all local, state, and national offices. White supremacists created a segregated society through "Jim Crow Laws" that made blacks second-class citizens with very little political power or public voice.[8] The white elites (called the "Redeemers"—the southern wing of the "Bourbon Democrats") were in firm political and economic control of the south until the rise of the Populist movement in the 1890s. Local law enforcement was weak in rural areas, allowing outraged mobs to use lynching to redress alleged-but-often-unproven crimes charged to blacks.[9]

Historians' interpretations of the Radical Republicans have dramatically shifted over the years, from the pre-1950 view of them as tools of big business motivated by partisanship and hatred of the white South, to the perspective of the neoabolitionists of the 1950s and afterwards, who applauded their efforts to give equal rights to the freed slaves.[10]

In the South itself the interpretation of the tumultuous 1860s differed sharply by race. Americans often interpreted great events in religious terms. Historian Wilson Fallin contrasts the interpretation of Civil War and Reconstruction in white versus black using Baptist sermons in Alabama. White preachers expressed the view that:

God had chastised them and given them a special mission – to maintain orthodoxy, strict Biblicism, personal piety, and traditional race relations. Slavery, they insisted, had not been sinful. Rather, emancipation was a historical tragedy and the end of Reconstruction was a clear sign of God's favor.

In sharp contrast, Black preachers interpreted the Civil War, emancipation and Reconstruction as:

God's gift of freedom. They appreciated opportunities to exercise their independence, to worship in their own way, to affirm their worth and dignity, and to proclaim the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Most of all, they could form their own churches, associations, and conventions. These institutions offered self-help and racial uplift, and provided places where the gospel of liberation could be proclaimed. As a result, black preachers continued to insist that God would protect and help them; God would be their rock in a stormy land.[11]

Historians in the 21st century typically consider Reconstruction to be a failure, but they "disagree on what caused Reconstruction to fail, focusing on whether it went too far, too fast or did not go far enough."[12]

However, historian Mark Summers in 2014 sees a positive outcome:

if we see Reconstruction's purpose as making sure that the main goals of the war would be filled, of a Union held together forever, of a North and South able to work together, of slavery extirpated, and sectional rivalries confined, of a permanent banishment of the fear of vaunting appeals to state sovereignty, backed by armed force, then Reconstruction looks like what in that respect it was, a lasting and unappreciated success.[13]

The West[edit]

Main article: American Frontier

In 1869, the First Transcontinental Railroad opened up the far west mining and ranching regions. Travel from New York to San Francisco now took six days instead of six months.[14] After the Civil War, many from the East Coast and Europe were lured west by reports from relatives and by extensive advertising campaigns promising "the Best Prairie Lands", "Low Prices", "Large Discounts For Cash", and "Better Terms Than Ever!". The new railroads provided the opportunity for migrants to go out and take a look, with special family tickets, the cost of which could be applied to land purchases offered by the railroads. Farming the plains was indeed more difficult than back east. Water management was more critical, lightning fires were more prevalent, the weather was more extreme, rainfall was less predictable. The fearful stayed home. The actual migrants looked beyond fears of the unknown. Their chief motivation to move west was to find a better economic life than the one they had. Farmers sought larger, cheaper and more fertile land; merchants and tradesmen sought new customers and new leadership opportunities. Laborers wanted higher paying work and better conditions. With the Homestead Act providing free land to citizens and the railroads selling cheap lands to European farmers, the settlement of the Great Plains was swiftly accomplished, and the frontier had virtually ended by 1890.[15]

American Indian assimilation[edit]

Expansion into the plains and mountains by miners, ranchers and settlers led to conflict with some of the regional Indian tribes. The government insisted the Indians either move into the general society and become assimilated, or remain on assigned reservations, and used force to keep them there. The violence petered out in the 1880s and practically ceased after 1890.[16] By 1880 the buffalo herds, a foundation for the hunting economy, had disappeared.

Indians had the choice of living on reservations, but some tribes refused to live there. Here food, supplies, education and medical care was provided by the federal government, or living on their own in society and earning wages, typically as a cowboy on a ranch, or manual worker in town. Reformers wanted to give as many Indians as possible the opportunity to own and operate their own farms and ranches, and the issue was how to give individual Indians land owned by the tribe. To assimilate the Indians into American society, reformers set up training programs and schools, such as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, that produced many prominent Indian leaders. The anti-assimilation traditionalists on the reservations, however, resisted integration. The reformers decided the solution was to allow Indians still on reservations to own land as individuals.

The Dawes Act of 1887 was an effort to integrate Indians into the mainstream; the majority accepted integration and were absorbed into American society, leaving a trace of Indian ancestry in millions of American families. Those who refused to assimilate remained in poverty on the reservations, supported by Federal food, medicine and schooling. In 1934, U.S. policy was reversed again by the Indian Reorganization Act which attempted to protect tribal and communal life on the reservations.[17]


Main article: History of agriculture in the United States § Railroad Age: 1860–1910

A dramatic expansion in farming took place.[18] The number of farms tripled from 2.0 million in 1860 to 6.0 million in 1905. The number of people living on farms grew from about 10 million in 1860 to 22 million in 1880 to 31 million in 1905. The value of farms soared from $8.0 billion in 1860 to $30 billion in 1906.[19]

The federal government issued 160-acre (65 ha) tracts virtually free to settlers under the Homestead Act of 1862. Even larger numbers purchased lands at very low interest from the new railroads, which were trying to create markets. The railroads advertised heavily in Europe and brought over, at low fares, hundreds of thousands of farmers from Germany, Scandinavia and Britain.[20]

Despite their remarkable progress and general prosperity, 19th-century U.S. farmers experienced recurring cycles of hardship, caused primarily by falling world prices for cotton and wheat.[21]

Along with the mechanical improvements which greatly increased yield per unit area, the amount of land under cultivation grew rapidly throughout the second half of the century, as the railroads opened up new areas of the West for settlement. The wheat farmers enjoyed abundant output and good years from 1876 to 1881 when bad European harvests kept the world price high. They then suffered from a slump in the 1880s when conditions in Europe improved. The farther west the settlers went, the more dependent they became on the monopolistic railroads to move their goods to market, and the more inclined they were to protest, as in the Populist movement of the 1890s. Wheat farmers blamed local grain elevator owners (who purchased their crop), railroads and eastern bankers for the low prices.[22]

The first organized effort to address general agricultural problems was the Grange movement that reached out to farmers. It grew to 20,000 chapters and 1.5 million members. The Granges set up their own marketing systems, stores, processing plants, factories and cooperatives. Most went bankrupt. The movement also enjoyed some political success during the 1870s. A few Midwestern states passed "Granger Laws", limiting railroad and warehouse fees.[23]

Family life[edit]

Few single men attempted to operate a farm; farmers clearly understood the need for a hard-working wife, and numerous children, to handle the many chores, including child-rearing, feeding and clothing the family, managing the housework, and feeding the hired hands.[24] During the early years of settlement, farm women played an integral role in assuring family survival by working outdoors. After a generation or so, women increasingly left the fields, thus redefining their roles within the family. New conveniences such as sewing and washing machines encouraged women to turn to domestic roles. This was further supported by the scientific housekeeping movement, promoted across the land by the media and government extension agents, as well as county fairs which featured achievements in home cookery and canning, advice columns for women in the farm papers, and home economics courses in the schools.[25]

Although the eastern image of farm life on the prairies emphasizes the isolation of the lonely farmer and farm life, in reality rural folk created a rich social life for themselves. For example, many joined a local branch of the Grange; a majority had ties to local churches. It was popular to organize activities that combined practical work, abundant food, and simple entertainment such as barn raisings, corn huskings, and quilting bees,.[26] One could keep busy with scheduled Grange meetings, church services, and school functions. The womenfolk organized shared meals and potluck events, as well as extended visits between families.[27]

Childhood on the American frontier is contested territory. One group of scholars argues the rural environment was salubrious for it allowed children to break loose from urban hierarchies of age and gender, promoted family interdependence, and in the end produced children who were more self-reliant, mobile, adaptable, responsible, independent and more in touch with nature than their urban or eastern counterparts.[28][29] However other historians offer a grim portrait of loneliness, privation, abuse, and demanding physical labor from an early age.[30][31]


Main article: United States technological and industrial history

From 1865 to about 1913, the U.S. grew to become the world's leading industrial nation. Land and labor, the diversity of climate, the ample presence of railroads (as well as navigable rivers), and the natural resources all fostered the cheap extraction of energy, fast transport, and the availability of capital that powered this Second Industrial Revolution.[32] The average annual income (after inflation) of non-farm workers grew by 75% from 1865 to 1900, and then grew another 33% by 1918.[33]

Where the First Industrial Revolution shifted production from artisans to factories, the Second Industrial Revolution pioneered an expansion in organization, coordination, and the scale of industry, spurred on by technology and transportation advancements. Railroads opened the West, creating farms, towns, and markets where none had existed. The First Transcontinental Railroad, built by nationally oriented entrepreneurs with British money and Irish and Chinese labor, provided access to previously remote expanses of land. Railway construction boosted opportunities for capital, credit, and would-be farmers.[34]

New technologies in iron and steel manufacturing, such as the Bessemer process and open-hearth furnace, combined with similar innovations in chemistry and other sciences to vastly improve productivity. New communication tools, such as the telegraph and telephone allowed corporate managers to coordinate across great distances. Innovations also occurred in how work was organized, typified by Frederick Winslow Taylor's ideas of scientific management.[35]

To finance the larger-scale enterprises required during this era, the corporation emerged as the dominant form of business organization. Corporations expanded by merging, creating single firms out of competing firms known as "trusts" (a form of monopoly). High tariffs sheltered U.S. factories and workers from foreign competition, especially in the woolen industry. Federal railroad land grants enriched investors, farmers and railroad workers, and created hundreds of towns and cities.[36] Business often went to court to stop labor from organizing into unions or from organizing strikes.[37]

Powerful industrialists, such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Jay Gould, known collectively by their critics as "robber barons", held great wealth and power, so much so that in 1888 Rutherford B. Hayes noted in his diary that the United States ceased being a government for the people and had been replaced by a "government of the corporation, by the corporation, and for the corporation."[38] In a context of cutthroat competition for wealth accumulation, the skilled labor of artisans gave way to well-paid skilled workers and engineers, as the nation deepened its technological base. Meanwhile, a steady stream of immigrants encouraged the availability of cheap labor, especially in mining and manufacturing.[39]

Labor and management[edit]

In the fast-growing industrial sector, wages were about double the level in Europe, but the work was harder with less leisure. Economic depressions swept the nation in 1873–75 and 1893–97, with low prices for farm goods and heavy unemployment in factories and mines.[40] Full prosperity returned in 1897 and continued (with minor dips) to 1920.[41]

The pool of unskilled labor was constantly growing, as unprecedented numbers of immigrants—27.5 million between 1865 and 1918[2] —entered the U.S. Most were young men eager for work. The rapid growth of engineering and the need to master the new technology created a heavy demand for engineers, technicians, and skilled workers. Before 1874, when Massachusetts passed the nation's first legislation limiting the number of hours women and child factory workers could perform to 10 hours a day, virtually no labor legislation existed in the country. Child labor reached a peak around 1900 and then declined (except in Southern textile mills) as compulsory education laws kept children in school. It was finally ended in the 1930s.[42]

Labor organization[edit]

Main articles: Labor history of the United States and American Federation of Labor

The first major effort to organize workers' groups on a nationwide basis appeared with The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor in 1869. Originally a secret, ritualistic society organized by Philadelphia garment workers, it was open to all workers, including African Americans, women, and farmers. The Knights grew slowly until they succeeded in facing down the great railroad baron, Jay Gould, in an 1885 strike. Within a year, they added 500,000 workers to their rolls, far more than the thin leadership structure of the Knights could handle.[43]

The Knights of Labor soon fell into decline, and their place in the labor movement was gradually taken by the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Rather than open its membership to all, the AFL, under former cigar-makers union official Samuel Gompers, focused on skilled workers. His objectives were "pure and simple": increasing wages, reducing hours, and improving working conditions. As such, Gompers helped turn the labor movement away from the socialist views earlier labor leaders had espoused. The AFL would gradually become a respected organization in the U.S., although it would have nothing to do with unskilled laborers.[44]

In times of economic depression, layoffs and wage cuts angered the workers, leading to violent labor conflicts in 1877 and 1894. In the Great Railroad Strike in 1877, railroad workers across the nation went on strike in response to a 10-percent pay cut. Attempts to break the strike led to bloody uprisings in several cities. The Haymarket Riot took place in 1886, when an anarchist allegedly threw a bomb at police dispersing a strike rally at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago.[45] At its peak, the Knights claimed 700,000 members. By 1890, membership had plummeted to fewer than 100,000, then faded away.[46] The killing of policemen greatly embarrassed the Knights of Labor, which was not involved with the bomb but which took much of the blame.[47]

In the riots of 1892 at Carnegie's steel works in Homestead, Pennsylvania, a group of 300 Pinkerton detectives, whom the company had hired to break a bitter strike by the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers, were fired upon by strikers and 10 were killed. As a result, the National Guard was called in to guard the plant; non-union workers were hired and the strike broken. The Homestead plant completely barred unions until 1937.[48]

Two years later, wage cuts at the Pullman Palace Car Company, just outside Chicago, led to a strike, which, with the support of the American Railway Union, soon brought the nation's railway industry to a halt. The shutdown of rail traffic meant the virtual shutdown of the entire national economy, and President Grover Cleveland acted vigorously. He secured injunctions in federal court, which Eugene Debs and the other strike leaders ignored. Cleveland then sent in the Army to stop the rioting and get the trains moving. The strike collapsed, as did the ARU.[49][50]

The most militant working class organization of the 1905–1920 era was the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), formed largely in response to abysmal labor conditions (in 1904, the year before its founding, 27,000 workers were killed on the job[51]) and discrimination against women, minorities, and unskilled laborers by other unions, particularly the AFL.[52] The "Wobblies," as they were commonly known, gained particular prominence from their incendiary and revolutionary rhetoric. Openly calling for class warfare, direct action, workplace democracy and "One Big Union" for all workers regardless of sex, race or skills,[53] the Wobblies gained many adherents after they won a difficult 1912 textile strike (commonly known as the "Bread and Roses" strike) in Lawrence, Massachusetts. They proved ineffective in managing peaceful labor relations and members dropped away. But according to historian Howard Zinn, "the IWW became a threat to the capitalist class, exactly when capitalist growth was enormous and profits huge."[54] The IWW strongly opposed the 1917–18 war effort and faced a campaign of repression from the federal government.[55][56] More than a few Wobblies, such as Frank Little, were beaten or lynched by mobs or died in American jails.[57] The union exists to this day and has been involved in various labor disputes throughout the 2000s.[58][59]

Gilded Age[edit]

Main article: Gilded Age

The "Gilded Age" that was enjoyed by the topmost percentiles of American society after the recovery from the Panic of 1873 floated on the surface of the newly industrialized economy of the Second Industrial Revolution. It was further fueled by a period of wealth transfer that catalyzed dramatic social changes. It created for the first time a class of the super-rich "captains of industry", the "robber barons" whose network of business, social and family connections ruled a largely White Anglo-Saxon Protestant social world that possessed clearly defined boundaries. The term "Gilded Age" was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their 1873 book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, employing the ironic difference between a "gilded" and a Golden Age.[60]

With the end of Reconstruction, there were few major political issues at stake and the 1880 presidential election was the quietest in a long time. James Garfield, the Republican candidate, won a very close election, but a few months into his administration was shot by a disgruntled public office seeker. Garfield was succeeded by his VP Chester Arthur.

Reformers, especially the "Mugwumps" complained that powerful parties made for corruption during the Gilded Age or "Third Party System". Voter enthusiasm and turnout during the period 1872–1892 was very high, often reaching practically all men. The major issues involved modernization, money, railroads, corruption, and prohibition. National elections, and many state elections, were very close. The 1884 presidential election saw a mudslinging campaign in which Republican James G. Blaine was defeated by Democrat Grover Cleveland, a reformer.[61] During Cleveland's presidency, he pushed to have congress cut tariff duties. He also expanded civil services and vetoed many private pension bills. Many people were worried that these issues would hurt his chances in the 1888 election. When they expressed these concerns to Cleveland, he said "What is the use of being elected or reelected, unless you stand for something?"

The dominant social class of the Northeast possessed the confidence to proclaim an "American Renaissance", which could be identified in the rush of new public institutions that marked the period—hospitals, museums, colleges, opera houses, libraries, orchestras— and by the Beaux-Arts architectural idiom in which they splendidly stood forth, after Chicago hosted the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.[62]

Social history[edit]

Urbanization (the rapid growth of cities) went hand in hand with industrialization (the growth of factories and railroads), as well as expansion of farming. The rapid growth was made possible by high levels of immigration.[63][64]


From 1865 through 1918 an unprecedented and diverse stream of immigrants arrived in the United States, 27.5 million in total. In all, 24.4 million (89%) came from Europe, including 2.9 million from Britain, 2.2 million from Ireland, 2.1 million from Scandinavia, 3.8 million from Germany, 4.1 million from Italy, 7.8 million from Russia and other parts of eastern and central Europe. Another 1.7 million came from Canada.[65] Most came through the port of New York City, and from 1892, through the immigration station on Ellis Island, but various ethnic groups settled in different locations. New York and other large cities of the East Coast became home to large Jewish, Irish, and Italian populations, while many Germans and Central Europeans moved to the Midwest, obtaining jobs in industry and mining. At the same time, about one million French Canadians migrated from Quebec to New England.[66]

Immigrants were pushed out of their homelands by poverty or religious threats, and pulled to America by jobs, farmland and kin connections. They found economic opportunity at factories, mines and construction sites, and found farm opportunities in the Plains states.

While most immigrants were welcomed, Asians were not. Many Chinese had been brought to the west coast to construct railroads, but unlike European immigrants, they were seen as being part of an entirely alien culture. After intense anti-Chinese agitation in California and the west, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. An informal agreement in 1907, the Gentlemen's Agreement, stopped Japanese immigration.[67]

Some immigrants stayed temporarily in the U.S. then returned home, often with savings that made them relatively prosperous. Most, however, permanently left their native lands and stayed in hope of finding a better life in the New World. This desire for freedom and prosperity led to the famous term, the American Dream.


The Third Great Awakening was a period of renewal in evangelical Protestantism from the late 1850s to the 1900s.[68] It affected pietistic Protestant denominations and had a strong sense of social activism.[69] It gathered strength from the postmillennial theology that the Second Coming of Christ would come after mankind had reformed the entire earth. A major component was the Social Gospel Movement, which applied Christianity to social issues and gained its force from the Awakening, as did the worldwide missionary movement. New groupings emerged, such as the Holiness movement and Nazarene movements, and Christian Science.[70]

At the same time, the Catholic Church grew rapidly, with a base in the German, Irish, Polish, and Italian immigrant communities, and a leadership drawn from the Irish. The Catholics were largely working class and concentrated in the industrial cities and mining towns, where they built churches, parochial schools, and charitable institutions, as well as colleges.[71]

The Jewish community grew rapidly, especially from the new arrivals from Eastern Europe who settled chiefly in New York City. They avoided the Reform synagogues of the older German Jews and instead formed Orthodox and Conservative synagogues.[72]

Nadir of race relations[edit]

Main article: Nadir of American race relations

Starting in the end of the 1870s, African Americans lost many of the civil rights obtained during Reconstruction and became increasingly subject to racial discrimination. Increased racist violence, including lynchings and race riots, lead to a strong deterioration of living conditions of African Americans in the Southern states. Jim Crow laws were established after the Compromise of 1877. Many decided to flee for the Midwest as early as 1879, an exile which was intensified during the Great Migration that began before World War I.[73]

In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively upheld the Jim Crow system of racial segregation by its "separate but equal" doctrine.

D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915), the first great American film, made heroes of the KKK in Reconstruction.[74]


By 1880, the Granger movement began to decline and was replaced by the Farmers' Alliance. From the beginning, the Farmers' Alliance were political organizations with elaborate economic programs. According to one early platform, its purpose was to "unite the farmers of America for their protection against class legislation and the encroachments of concentrated capital." Their program also called for the regulation—if not the outright nationalization—of the railroads; currency inflation to provide debt relief; the lowering of the tariff; and the establishment of government-owned storehouses and low-interest lending facilities. These were known as the Ocala Demands.[75]

During the late 1880s, a series of droughts devastated the West. Western Kansas lost half its population during a four-year span. By 1890, the level of agrarian distress was at an all-time high. Mary Elizabeth Lease, a noted populist writer and agitator, told farmers that they needed to "raise less corn and more hell". Working with sympathetic Democrats in the South and small third parties in the West, the Farmer's Alliance made a push for political power. From these elements, a new political party, known as the Populist Party

Reconstruction gave black farmers, businessmen and soldiers the right to vote for the first time in 1867, as celebrated by Harper's Weekly on its front cover, Nov. 16, 1867.[3]
Map of the United States, 1870–80. Orange indicates statehood, light blue territories, and green unorganized territories
Grange poster hailing the yeoman farmer, 1873.
The Sunday magazine of the New York World appealed to Immigrants with this 1906 cover page celebrating their arrival at Ellis Island
The mob-style lynching of Will James, Cairo, Illinois, 1909.
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