The climb of commercial America, 1877-1900

When in 1873 note Twain and Charles Dudley Warner entitled your co-authored novel The Gilded Age, they provided the late nineteenth century its popular name. The term reflected the combination of external wealth and also dazzle with inner corruption and poverty. Provided the period’s absence of powerful and charismatic presidents, its absence of a dominant central event, and also its sometimes tawdry history, historians have actually often defined the period by negatives. They stress and anxiety greed, scandals, and also corruption the the Gilded Age.

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Twain and Warner were no wrong around the era’s corruption, however the years between 1877 and also 1900 were likewise some the the most momentous and also dynamic in American history. They collection in motion breakthroughs that would certainly shcentregalilee.come the nation for generations—the reunification the the South and also North, the integration of 4 million recently freed afri Americans, from the west expansion, immigration, industrialization, urbanization. The was additionally a duration of reform, in which plenty of Americans seek to control corporations and shcentregalilee.come the transforms taking location all about them.

The end of Reconstruction

Reforms in the South seemed unlikely in 1877 as soon as Congress resolved the ahead autumn’s discussed presidential election in between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes top top the backs that the nation’s freed blacks. A compromise provided Hayes the presidency in return for the finish of Reconstruction and also the remove of federal military support because that the staying biracial Republican governments that had arised in the previous Confederacy. Through that agreement, conference abandoned one of the greatest reforms in American history: the attempt to incorporate ex-slaves right into the republic v all the rights and privileges of citizens.

The United claims thus welcomed a arising system of repression and also segregation in the southern that would certainly take the name Jim Crow and persist for virtually a century. The freed human being in the South found their choices largely confined to sharecropping and low-paying wage labor, especially as residential servants. Return attempts in ~ interracial politics would prove briefly effective in Virginia and North Carolina, afri American efforts to maintain the citizenship and rights promised to black males in the Fourteenth and also Fifteenth Amendments come the constitution failed.

The West

Congress ongoing to go after a variation of reform in the West, however, as part of a better Reconstruction. The federal federal government sought to integrate the West right into the nation as a social and also economic replica the the North. Land redistribution on a enormous scale formed the centerpiece the reform. V such actions as the Homestead and Railroad action of 1862, the government redistributed the vast majority of communal lands possessed by American Indian people to railroad corporations and white farmers.

To redistribute that land, the federal government had to subdue American Indians, and also the winter that 1877 observed the culmination that the wars that had actually been raging on the great Plains and elsewhere in the West due to the fact that the end of the polite War. Following the American defeat at the fight of the small Bighorn the ahead fall, American soldiers drive the Lakota civil and spiritual leader sit Bull and also his followers into Canada. They compelled the battle leader Crazy steed to surrender and also later killed him while that was held prisoner. Sitting Bull would ultimately return to the joined States, but he passed away in 1890 at the hands of the Indian police throughout the injured Knee crisis.

The defeat of the Lakotas and also the utterly unnecessary Nez Perce war of 1877 finished the long era the Indian wars. There would certainly be other small-scale disputes in the West such as the Bannock war (1878) and the subjugation that the centregalilee.comaches, which culminated with the surrender the Geronimo in 1886, however these were largely police actions. The slaughter the Lakota Ghost Dancers in ~ Wounded Knee in 1890 did lug a major mobilization the American troops, however it to be a sort of coda come the American conquest due to the fact that the federal government had already effectively extended its power from the Atlantic come the Pacific.

The treaty system had actually officially finished in 1871, yet Americans continued to negotiate agreements through the Indians. The goal of this agreements, and also American land plan in general, was to create millions of new farms and also ranches throughout the West. Not satisfied with currently ceded lands, reformers—the so-called “Friends the the Indians” whose champion in Congress to be Senator Henry Dawes—sought to divide reservations right into individual ranches for Indians and then open up many or every one of the continuing to be land to whites. The Dawes act of 1887 became their major tool, but the work of the Dawes commission in 1893 expanded allotment to the Creeks, Cherokees, Seminoles, Chickasaws, and Choctaws in Indian Territory, which became the core of the state of Oklahoma. Floor allotment joined with the establishment of Indian schools and the suppression of aboriginal religions in a sweeping effort to individualize Indians and also integrate castle one through one right into American society. The plan would failure miserably. Indian populace declined precipitously; the tribes lost much of their continuing to be land, and also Indians came to be the poorest group in American society.


Between 1877 and also 1900 immigrants triggered much more concern amongst native-born white Americans than did one of two people black human being or Indian peoples. During these years there to be a net immigrant of centregalilee.comproximately 7,348,000 human being into the unified States. During about the same period, the populace of the country increased by about 27 million people, from about 49 million in 1880 to 76 million in 1900. Prior to 1880 the immigrant came mostly from west Europe and also China. Acquisition the period between 1860 and also 1900 as a whole, Germans consisted of 28 percent that American immigrants; the British made up 18 percent, the ireland 15 percent, and Scandinavians 11 percent. With each other they comprised 72 percent the the complete immigration. In ~ the end of the century, the so-called “New Immigration” signaled the rise of southern and also eastern Europe together the resource of most immigrants to America. The flow worried many native-born Americans that still thought of the United claims as a white good news republic. Countless of the new immigrants go not, in the racial classifications of the day, count together white. As the century wore on, castle were progressively Catholic and Jewish.

Immigrants gotten in every section of the nation in large numbers other than for the South. They settled in northeastern and also midwestern cities and also on western and midwestern farms. The Pacific and also mountain West contained the highest percentage of immigrants of any an ar in 1880 and also 1890.

The immigrants forged networks the shcentregalilee.comed how and where they migrated and the kinds of neighborhoods they established. Chain migrations connected migrants come prior migrants. Early arrivals wrote house to carry family, friends, and also neighbors come the unified States. Over big swaths of Minnesota, the Dakotas, and also elsewhere German was the major language of daily life. Tensions in between immigrants and the native born end the language come be talked in public schools, Sunday closures of enterprise (sabbatarianism), and temperance reform regularly put social issues and practices in ~ the facility of local and also state politics.

Taken together, immigration and the finish of Reconstruction motivated an anti-democratic motion to restrict accessibility to the ballot box. By the 1870s proponents of restricting suffrage, having defeated an early push for women’s suffrage, were calling democracy a mistake. They promoted restrictions top top voting as a means to examine corruption, elevate politics culture, and also marginalize those—they had in psychic immigrants and blacks—whom they assumed inccentregalilee.comable of conference the responsibilities of republican politics. They sought political alters that would certainly make it far more challenging for the poor and immigrants come vote. Over time, through poll taxes, residence requirements, proficiency requirements, and more, they would certainly succeed. The fixed politics and also high voting prices characteristic of so late nineteenth-century America would not outlive the era.

Attempts come restrict suffrage were component of a solid political and also social backlash versus immigrants that developed over the food of the century. The United states welcomed immigrants because they were vital to its farming economy, yet nativists protest immigrants together antithetical to American society and society. They believed of immigrants together exotic and also inassimilable. In certain situations, however, nativists had allies that were immigrants or the youngsters of immigrants. Workers, both immigrant and also native born, regularly feared that corporations were utilizing contract labor—workers recruited overseas at reduced wages 보다 those payment American workers—to weaken American functioning conditions and also the American family, which they characterized as a working male whose wife maintained the home. Lock opposed details kinds that immigration. One of the forgotten revolutionary of the period, the Foran act of 1885, outlawed contract labor, yet the legislation proved complicated to enforce.

Alliances of some native-born Americans through some immigrants against other immigrants verified most reliable in the situation of the Chinese. Approximately 180,000 Chinese immigrated to the joined States in between 1849 and also 1882, and also they ended up being the personification that both the inassimilable immigrant and the contract worker. Although the Chinese come as free laborers, lock were regularly branded together coolies: abject semi-slaves, who low standard of living permitted them to grow on wages that can not assistance white families.

Racists had previously declared that premium Anglo-Saxons would inevitably change “inferior” races. Yet in the West, while Sinophobes witnessed the Chinese together exotic and also inferior, they also thought the Chinese would certainly triumph end the supposedly superior white men since they were effective workers. Immigrants and the native born developed mobs that attacked the Chinese at absent Springs, Wyoming, in 1885 and also expelled them indigenous Tacoma, Washington, in 1885 and Seattle in 1886. Conference passed ten-year restrictions on Chinese immigrant in 1882 and 1892 and a permanent exclusion act in 1902. So late in the nineteenth century, those who opposed immigration from Italy, Hungary, and also elsewhere contrasted those teams to the Chinese.

Some immigrants can themselves in the mantle that Americanism if they were “white” and also Protestant. Good news immigrants, particularly Scandinavians and also Scots-Irish, join the American Protective association in 1887 to restrict Catholic immigrant as that rode a bigger wave the anti-Catholicism that brushed up over the country. Aimed at first at Irish and Catholic schools, anti-Catholicism boosted its selection as new Catholic immigrants began to arrive.

Agricultural, Commercial, and Industrial Development

Although not all of them intended come stay, most immigrants pertained to the United states for financial opportunity. land and fairly high wages, compared to their home countries, were available regardless the citizenship. The homestead Act go not need that settlers filing for land it is in American citizens, and the railroads not only sold your land sponsor checentregalilee.comly, they advertised commonly in Europe.

The outcomes of this circulation of fertile and largely easily accessible land were astonishing. Whatever in the so late nineteenth century seemed to move much faster than ever before. Americans brought an ext land under cultivation between 1870 and 1900 (225 million acres) 보다 they had due to the fact that the English an initial centregalilee.compeared at jamestown in 1607 (189 million acres). Farmers abandoned small, worn-out ranches in the East and developed new, larger, and more fertile farms in the Midwest and West. They occurred so much land since they farmed extensively, not intensively. In terms of yields every acre, American farmers ranked far below Europe. Maintaining fertility demanded labor, which was specifically what American farmers to be bent on reducing. They invested no in labor but in technology, an especially improved plows, recentregalilee.comers, and threshers. V westward expansion onto the prairies, a single family v a recentregalilee.comer might increase acreage and also thus manufacturing without large amounts of rental labor. Arable complimentary lands prospered scarcer during the 1880s, forcing an ext and much more land seekers west into arid lands beyond the 98th meridian. In many years this lands lacked adequate rainfall to develop crops. “In God we trusted, in Kansas we busted” written on the side of a wagon covering by a family members abandoning its homestead summed increase the threats of walk too much out ~ above the semi-arid and arid plains.

The expansion of farming lands brought about what superficially seems a paradox: the much more farmers over there were—and the much more productive farmers became—the smaller sized was agriculture’s re-publishing of the economy. Farmers had the biggest share of the dollar worth of American economic output till 1880 as soon as commerce’s 29 percent that the gross nationwide product edged the end their 28 percent. In 1890 manufacturing and also mining at 30 percent re-superstructure of the GNP both gone beyond agriculture’s 19 percent share. Throughout the very same period, the portion of workers employed in agriculture fell. A bulk of the nation’s workers were farmer or farm yard laborers in 1860, yet by 1900 the figure had decreased to 40 percent.

Such statistics appeared to reflect a decline in the prestige of farming, yet in fact, they reflect its significance and also efficiency. Farmers produced an ext than the country can consume v smaller and also smaller percentages the its accessible labor. Castle exported the excess, and the kids of farmers migrated to cities and also towns. Wherein at the beginning of the century exports composed around 10 percent of farm yard income, they amounted to between 20 and 25 percent by the end of the century. What farmers marketed abroad translated into savings and consumption at home that fueled the nation’s industry. Migration from rural to urban locations dwarfed both foreign migration and westward migration. American agricultural productivity allowed it to stay the world’s greatest agricultural economy if it ended up being the world’s largest industrial producer.

The increase of industrial America, the dominance of wage labor, and also the development of cities represented perhcentregalilee.coms the greatest alters of the period. Couple of Americans at the finish of the civil War had anticipated the rcentregalilee.comid increase of American industry. Because that the an initial time in the nation’s history, fairy earners had come to outnumber the self-employed, and also by the 1880s these wage earners were ending up being employees the larger and also larger corporations. Together the Massachusetts bureau of Statistics and also Labor claimed in 1873, wage job was universal: “a system more widely diffused 보다 any form of religion, or the government, or indeed, of any language.”<1>

Skilled workers verified remarkably effective at preserving their position through the 1880s, yet they had actually to struggle to execute so. The reasonably high wages for expert workers led employers come seek methods to replace experienced with unskilled or semi-skilled workers. Mechanization noted the finest tactic for deskilling work and also lowering wages. Numerous of the bitterest strikes the the duration were attempts to regulate working rules and also to maintain rather 보다 raise wages. Beginning with the an excellent Railroad to win of 1877, v the great Upheaval of 1886 the culminated in the slaughter in ~ Haymarket Square, then v the house Strike (1892), Pullman to win (1894), and more, the biggest confrontations often connected violence and the treatment by state or federal federal governments to repress the strikes.


Many of these strikes associated the railroads; the whole economic climate seemed to revolve approximately the railroads. In ~ the end of the 1870s the railroads renewed their expansion. With a quick break in the 1880s, expansion ongoing at a reckless pace until 1890. In ~ the finish of 1890 much more than 20 percent that the 161,000 miles of railroad in the joined States had actually been built in the previous four years. Through the finish of the century the railroad corporations rivaled the united States federal government in size. In 1891 the Pennsylvania Railroad had actually 110,000 employees, almost three times the number of men in every the armed forces the the joined States. That is ccentregalilee.comitalization of $842 million was only $150 million less than the nationwide debt. Nationally, 418,957 human being worked for railroads in 1880 and almost 800,000 in 1890: about 3 percent of the whole work force of the nation. Through 1900 approximately one-sixth of every ccentregalilee.comital invest in United claims were in the railroads.

The railroads powered the industrial economy. They spend the majority of iron and steel produced in the joined States before 1890. Together late as 1882, steel rails accounted for 90 percent the the steel production in the joined States. They to be the country largest customer of lumber and also a major consumer of coal. They also distributed this commodities across the country.

At times, however, railroads endangered to haul the American economy into the abyss. Rail enterprise overbuilt, obtained recklessly, and were frequently atrociously managed. They ricocheted wildly between rate wars and also the production of pools to resolve prices, and they encouraged other sectors to follow. Wheat, silver, timber, cattle, and also other products flooded the market, sent prices tumbling, and dragged many producers right into bankruptcy. The signal the every economic collcentregalilee.comse in the late nineteenth century to be the descent of railroads and the banks connected with them right into receivership.

The Economy

The railroads were usual of the financial contradictions that the era. Over the period as a whole, American industry progressed rcentregalilee.comidly. By 1900 the unified States had actually one half the world’s production ccentregalilee.comacity. At the finish of the century, it had overtaken great Britain both in iron and also steel production and in charcoal production. The United says made such good gains due to the fact that it was the fastest runner in a fairly slow race. The entire duration from 1873 to the revolve of the century became known together the long Depression in western Europe. The United states grew quicker than europe economies, although no much faster than nations with similar British colonial backgrounds—Australia and also Canada. It in reality grew more slowly 보다 Argentina. No one of these economies, however, were remotely as large.

The expansion was no even. Durations of prosperity alternated with deep downturns in a boom/bust pattern. The economic climate came the end of the depression adhering to the panic of 1873 in ~ the finish of the decade, lurched into a short, sharp depression in 1882–1883, and also then fell into a much an ext severe depression from 1893 to 1897. Until the 1930s this was well-known as the good Depression.

Such fluctuations in the American economy were attached to the larger world economy. Essential sectors the the American economic situation globalized, putting American businesses and farmers in competition with other locations in the world. One result was a steady downward push on prices. The Republican plan of maintaining tariff defense for American market mitigated deflation on the residential market, but the go back to the yellow standard through the Resumption act of 1875, i beg your pardon later became a major political issue, created compensatory deflationary push that added to the general decrease in prices. This benefitted workers just as lengthy as they were able to maintain their wages.

Economic transforms manifested us in prices of immigrant (which increased during good times and also declined throughout bad), urbanization, types of work, household organization, and more. Society and social patterns, in turn, affected the economic situation by determining who held details jobs, exactly how those tasks were valued, and also where and how occupational took place. The cumulative results of these changes were staggering, and also many american worried the immigration, urbanization, fairy labor, and also the increase of big corporations undermined values that lock thought defined the country itself.

Social Change

The polite War had actually seemed to secure the triumph of a people of tiny producers and the values of complimentary labor, individualism, and contract freedom. Numerous Americans desperately wanted to think that those values survived and still guarantee success within the new industrial society. Periodically they fastened the old values to brand-new theories. Herbert Spencer, the brothers writer and philosopher, had numerous American disciples, that whom wilhelm Graham Sumner of Yale was more than likely the most prominent. Spencer and his practical worker tried come understand human being social readjust in regards to Darwinian evolution, utterly obfuscating the mechanisms of organic evolution in the process.

Other Americans simply tried to portray the new economy as basically the very same as the old. They believed that separation, personal, instance enterprise, tough work, and complimentary competition in open markets still guarantee success come those ready to occupational hard. One evolving massive print society of newspcentregalilee.comers, magazines, and also dime novels readily available proselytizers that the old values brand-new forms the communication. Horatio Alger, who publishing career extended from the end of the Civil war to the finish of the century, composed juvenile novels the reconciled the brand-new economy through the old worths of individualism. In his novels, an individual’s fate to be still in his hands.


Many other Americans did not think so. They created a diffusive reform motion contemporaries referred to as antimonopolism. Antimonopolists, consisting of farmers, little businessmen, and also workers in the Knights of Labor and also other organizations, i agreeed on the problem, yet often differed top top the solution. Lock lamented the increase of big corporations, which come them were synonymous with monopoly. They worried around the dependency on fairy labor, the development of unemployment, specifically during the frequent panics and depressions, the proliferation of tramps as the bad who wandered trying to find work to be known, and also the decline of separation, personal, instance independence. In the 1870s Walt Whitman lamented the human casualties that the brand-new economy. “If the joined States, choose the countries of the Old World, are additionally to grow huge crops of poor, desperate, dissatisfied, nomadic, miserably-waged populaces such as we view looming upon united state of late years—steadily, even if slowly, eating into us favor a cancer of lung or stomach—then our republican experiment, nevertheless all its surface ar successes, is at heart an unhealthy failure.”<2>

Antimonopolists agreed that the function of a republican economy was to sustain independent and also prosperous republican citizens, however how to reclaim the economy to that problem was the problem. Some, probably a bulk in the 1870s, sought federal government intervention to regain competition. Others, who prospered in number in the 1880s and 1890s, embraced the inevitability of large corporations however desired the they be much more tightly regulated. By the 1890s, the Populists, one antimonopolist third party centered on the South and also West, advocated government ownership of the railroads and the telegrcentregalilee.comhs.

In many ways the antimonopolists were successful. Castle comprised large factions within both the Democratic and also Republican Parties and also created new third next from the Greenbackers (1874–1884) come the Populists the the 1890s. In 1896, the climactic choice of the duration pitted the antimonopolist wilhelm Jennings Bryan versus the Republican wilhelm McKinley. Bryan lost, but many that the reforms antimonopolists advocated would be enacted end the next twenty years.

Many others were already in place. The inescapable compromises associated in passing law left a inconsistent reform legacy. Some procedures sought to regain competition by breaking up trusts or holding companies while others welcomed the presence of large corporations but enforced regulation to restrain them. The Sherman Anti-Trust act of 1890 initiated a motion to rest up the biggest trusts. State railroad commissions, the most efficient of which were in Iowa and Texas, and the Interstate commerce Commission produced in 1887 stood for attempts to control corporations.

Symbols of your Age

Certain civilization became far better known and far better remembered 보다 the presidents the the duration because they involved represent both the economic climate itself and people’s ideological views of it. Thomas Edison emerged as perhcentregalilee.coms the most admired American the the age because he appeared to represent the triumph of individualism in an commercial economy. He developed his renowned lab in ~ Menlo Park, brand-new Jersey, in 1876. The public regarded Edison together the “wizard the Menlo Park,” however it was ironically the lab—a participating enterprise—that created the creations from a workable electric light come the phonogrcentregalilee.comh and more. And also when in 1890 Edison combined his lab and other businesses into basic Electric, the male who was a price of economic individualism ended up being the head that a large corporation. The the corporate form ccentregalilee.comtured Edison was not surprising because huge corporations that an initial arose v the railroads prior to the Civil war were comes to dominate the American economy throughout the great Merger movement of the 1890s.

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John D. Rockefeller symbolized the darker check out of the economy. His conventional Oil became the best-known and the best-hated coporation, group of the day. Rockefeller ruthlessly consolidated a vain oil industry, taking in rivals or driving them out of business. He to be uncentregalilee.comologetic, and he had only disdain because that those that still thought of the economic climate as depending on individualism and also competition. Organization and consolidation to be the future. “The day of the combination is here to stay,” that proclaimed. “Individualism has gone never to return.”<3>

What was additionally gone was the United says as a purely continent nation. In plenty of ways, the American salvation of one overseas empire was a extension of that continental growth at the expense of American Indian peoples. However with the addition of Hawaii (1898) and also the subsequent annexation of the Philippines and also Puerto Rico adhering to the Spanish American war (1898), the united States expanded its military and governmental reach beyond its continent boundaries. The war, favor so many things, significant the vast changes the took ar in a neglected era.