Presentation on theme: "Cambridge International AS and A Level History Component 2: The History of the USA, 1840-1941 The Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, 1870s-1920s How great."— Presentation transcript:
Cambridge International AS and A Level History Component 2: The History of the USA, The Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, 1870s-1920s How great were the economic and social consequences of rapid industrialization in the late nineteenth century?
Introduction: The Jeffersonian Ideal
§The Founding Fathers of the United States proclaimed the positive advantages of nonmetropolitan, nonurban, unsophisticated culture. This perspective emphasized the blessings of simplicity, frugality, and authenticity. The virtues of plainness thus distinguished Americans from the inhabitants of Europe. These cultural images were politically important. For if, as Thomas Jefferson announced, government derived its just powers from the consent of the governed, then the character of the citizens would determine the quality of their political institutions. “I think our governments will remain virtuous … ” declare Jefferson in 1787, “as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe,” he warned, “they will become corrupt as in Europe.” §Ideally, Americans wanted to be Jeffersonian yeoman so that they could enjoy Anglo-Saxon liberty and democracy, but in 1890, there was no space for this yeoman, no future for the Jeffersonian dream. In the late nineteenth century, the population of cities almost doubled every decade.
Even the number of cities multiplied, moving steadily westward: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Minneapolis. Such urban growth increasingly depended upon immigration from Europe, including millions of Catholics and Jews. In 1862, as Yankees in Minnesota cleared the Sioux from the land, the center of St. Paul, ironically, was filling with Irish Catholics. §In 1865, the white American majority identified the nation with Protestant, especially evangelical Protestant, values. It had been easy to relate this kind of religious emphasis to the autonomous spiritual life of the individual and to the assumed economic autonomy of the homestead. It was easy to fear the loss of this autonomy in the city. For these Protestants, the index of the health of their Christian nation was the observance of the Sabbath. The nation was healthy if its people observed the day in sober worship with no concessions to work or play. By this standard, Protestant leaders already had found signs of great decadence by 1877.
As one churchman wrote, “Owing to the demoralization consequent on the late Civil War, and the laxity of all moral restraint growing inevitably from such social disturbances; owing to the introduction and acceptance of trans-Atlantic theories and practices; owing to the mixed character of our great population, representing too many divergent types of thought, Sabbath desecration has assumed alarming proportions and summons the Churches of Christ to a new and vigorous campaign for its repression.” §The virtues of evangelical Protestantism and its relationship to American nationalism were expressed in popular public-school textbooks. Common Sense Geography, for example, stated that “Christian [Protestant] nations are made powerful, and much more advanced in knowledge than any others. Their power also is continually increasing. There is little doubt that, in the course of a few generations, the Christian [Protestant] religion will be spread over the greater part of the earth.” By the 1880s, this sense of religious manifest destiny was ironically threatened in the very heart of the American citadel by the waves of Catholic immigrants who challenged Protestant domination of the public schools.
§Josiah Strong, one of the great evangelical theologians, wrote Our Country in 1884 to warn that “the city” represented the “seven perils” facing the nation. The first six were Romanism, Mormonism, intemperance, socialism, wealth, and immigration, and they all blended into the seventh peril, the city. The city was the base for the alien army that had invaded America, “an army twice as vast as the estimated numbers of Goths and Vandals that swept over Southern Europe and overwhelmed Rome.” §Everywhere one looked in late-nineteenth- century America, one sensed the failure of space, of the geographical frontier, to provide an environment for individual liberty and equality. One indication was the formation in 1884 of the Zion’s Watch Tower Society by Charles Taze Russell. Josiah Strong
Russell’s group, which was to grow to major proportions in the twentieth century as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, expressed the first doubts by lower-middle-class Protestants about the necessary relationship between the American political state and Christian values. Russell rejected the orthodox Protestantism of his youth after concluding that an established elite was in control and manipulating American society. He believed that their satanic conspiracy worked through “the religious, commercial, and political combine.” As corrupt as any European nation, he predicted that this American establishment would be destroyed by 1914 by the armies of God. Only those who refused to be loyal citizens of the evil nation, only those who became Russell’s followers, would be safe from Armageddon and would inherit the purged and purified earth. Charles Taze Russell
§Another major spokesman of disenchantment was Mark Twain. As early as his 1868 book, The Gilded Age, written with Charles Warner, Twain expressed his horror at the political corruption that followed the Civil War. Fantastic economic growth seemed to be the outcome of political corruption, yet dedication to economic labor did not bring independence to the individual. Rather, it trapped him in the social system. Twain came to question a redemptive purity that contrasted with the corruption of European society. Charles WarnerMark Twain
Twain’s vision of America, including its new technology, was as bleak as that of his contemporary Henry Adams. The direct descendant of two presidents, Adams was sensitive to the political corruption of the 1860s and 1870s. Like Twain, Adams felt trapped by the forces of urban society. Both men shared the idea that this new energy would destroy rather than liberate the individual and that by 1890 they were approaching the end. Twain’s final vision of the future was a holocaust created by an engineer- dictator who destroys America with an ultimate weapon. Henry Adams
The Farming Crisis
§Many farmers did not share the industrial workers’ fears of the corporation. Although the large railroad companies symbolized the mobilization of labor in rigid, hierarchical, bureaucratic patterns, for the farmers it still symbolized the possibility of fulfilling the agrarian dream of Thomas Jefferson. The rapid westward expansion of the railroads ironically provided the economic conditions for the expansion of the number of farms from about 2,000,000 in 1860 to almost 6,000,000 in 1900 and a comparable increase in the land under cultivation from about 150,000,000 acres to almost 400,000,000. Without the extension of the railroads, hundreds of thousands of white settlers could not have taken advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862, which entitled them to a 160-acre farm. The railroads also had been given millions of acres by the national, state, and county governments to encourage their push into the West. The railroads subsequently sold these lands at prices ranging from two dollars to ten dollars an acre. §Recognizing the profitability of settling the West, the railroads also joined with the Midwestern and western state governments in sending agents to the East and to Europe to encourage immigration.
As Governor Alexander Ramsey of Minnesota declared, “Give us the capital of more men and we will vivify and infuse the breath of life into the dead capital of millions of acres now growing only prairie flowers. Immigration will multiply capital, diffuse wealth, sell our town lots and increase activity in every pursuit and business.” §This boom psychology and the almost religious idealism of achieving yeoman independence inspired hundreds of thousands of settlers to fling themselves into the space of the newly conquered Indian Territory. But the idealism that drove them west was not enjoyed in the lives they led there. One wife described a typical day as “done my housework, then made fried cakes, squash pies, baked wheat and corn bread, cut out a night dress and partly made it,” and then “am very tired.” On the edge of white settlement, without family or friends or medical help, women bore many babies and then watched a high percentage of them die. Alexander Ramsey
Again, a wife recorded the experience of sitting up with a sick child. “At half past five this A.M., he died after much suffering.” Then she added, “Made his pants Aunty sent him and buried him about sun down. All well with him.” §This final farmers’ frontier was characterized by a total commitment to technological progress. “The Minnesota farmers do not go out there in the old ways in which their fathers had,” reported the New England writer Mary Dodge, “for the very good reason they have neither ways nor fathers. They make experiments. Indeed, their farming itself is an experiment.” And one could see the twentieth-century future of corporation farming on the incredibly flat land of the Red River Valley between Minnesota and North Dakota, where men like Oliver Dalrymple put together farms of thirty thousand acres. Oliver Dalrymple
There, commanding twenty-five reapers moving through the wheat fields, “a superintendent on a superb horse, like a brigadier directing his forces, rides along the line, accompanied by his staff of two on horseback. They are fully armed and equipped, not with swords but with wrenches, hammers, chisels. An army of ‘shockers’ follow the reapers, setting up the bundles to ripen before threshing.” §The rapid mechanization of agriculture made it possible for fewer farmers to feed more people. But the irony for this agricultural community was that the farmers, because they depended on the natural cycle of the growing season, could not equal the linear productive output of the urban factories. Although the farmers could use machines to accelerate planting and harvesting and eliminate much of the manual labor in these critical periods, the machinery sat idle after the planting. The farmer, unlike the industrial producer, had to wait for the cyclical maturing of his crops and remained dependent, to a large degree, on the amount of sunshine and rain needed by those crops. Again, after the harvest, the machinery was not used during the fall and winter as the farmer waited the return of spring and the new planting season.
The machines in the factories, of course, could run every day of the week, every week of the year, even day and night if necessary. But the farmers did not pay less for the machines or the energy they used than did industrialists. §As fewer men and more machines produced greater amounts of goods, prices fell. Farmers, however, were not producing as efficiently as industrial workers, although the prices of their agricultural products were set by industry. By 1890, many farmers found that they simply could not compete; they could not pay off mortgages because their costs were not diminishing as they did for industry. An ever increasing number of farmers lost their farms and became tenants on the land; others moved into the cities after the loss of their farms; still others survived by acquiring more machinery and increasing the size of their farm, and sent their daughters and sons into the cities. In 1860, 6,000,000 people lived in the cities; in 1910, it was 45,000,000, almost half the national population. At least 11,000,000 of the city dwellers in 1910 had come from rural America; almost another 20,000,000 were immigrants, European peasants, driven from the land by the same processes of industrial efficiency operating in the Old World.
The Realities of Urbanization
§An elaborate popular literature was produced to educate the large white Protestant population coming to the city from the farm in the late nineteenth century. Manuals that taught young rustics how to succeed in the city stressed the importance of time. “Holding punctuality among the major virtues, the good worker is ever true to the appointed hour and as he goes and comes, men set their watches by him, as though he were a clock—face of the sun and moved by solar machinery.” §This literature linked spiritual and economic success. “Those who will their salvation and diligently cultivate industry, frugality, sobriety, perseverance, punctuality, loyalty, obedience will find the reward of success.” Success for the young man from the farm was defined as finding a secure place in the corporate army. Respect, even fear of authority, was inculcated. “Your employer, like God, knows the ways of the just and unjust. There are no secrets before God, or your employer. He knows who shirks, who watches the clock, who clips a few minutes, who is a little late and a little early to leave. He records your sins and good works in the book of judgment and on the day of reckoning knows who deserves poverty and who deserves wealth.”
§In the immensely popular dime novels of Horatio Alger, there is the same moral lesson of loyalty and obedience. His young orphan heroes come to the city from the country look for a protective father figure. In his series of Ragged Dick stories, Dick dreams that “some rich man would adopt me, and give me plenty to eat, and drink and wear, without my havin’ to look so sharp after it.” Dick also expresses his limited ambition when he says, “I’d like to be an office boy, and learn business, and grow up ‘spectable.’” Alger’s heroes succeed because they are morally correct and they have the good luck to find someone who rewards their virtue. A “Rags to Riches” Story By Horatio Alger, Jr.
§The demographic explosion of urban America was directly related to the new forms of technology. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the size of American cities remained limited by the absence of mass transportation. People walked to work or climbed aboard horse-drawn vehicles capable of carrying only a few passengers. In these walking cities, no more extended than the time it could take the poor to walk to and from work, the rich and powerful lived in the urban center, where their important commercial and banking activities were concentrated. After the development of trains and streetcars, the rich moved to the outskirts of the city and commuted to their downtown business. Manufacturing had been dispersed in factory towns spread along rivers that supplied waterpower to run the machines. The use of coal, and later electricity, for industrial power made it possible to concentrate factories in the central cities. New technology provided water for these expanding cities and created sewage systems to handle the wastes of several million people as well as the wastes that came from the huge new factories. Nonelected specialists came to control water, sewage, transportation, and the other services—gas, electricity, and the telephone—that made life in the gigantic metropolis possible.
§Spatial specialization, even fragmentation, came to characterize this new streetcar metropolis. In the smaller, pre-Civil War cities, rich and poor lived side by side. Stores, offices, small-scale industry, residences, and schools existed in the same neighborhoods. In the early twentieth- century cities, not only did the rich flee the downtown area to live in suburbs, but even the rapidly growing middle class and white- and blue-collar workers moved away from the urban center to establish modest neighborhoods apart from the inner-city poor. §At the very center of the downtown areas, skyscrapers proliferated, serviced by elevators. Commercial and banking activities were concentrated there. The executives came into this center every day from the suburbs, and their white-collar workers arrived from the edges of the city. Here also were concentrated the professional men, lawyers, and doctors. The suburbs and the more modest lower- middle-class neighborhoods became specialized as places for family life dramatically separated from the work place or the place of professional services. Major department stores and theaters became part of the downtown landscape.
The wives of businessmen, doctors, and lawyers traveled along their husbands’ commuting route to the center of the city for their shopping and entertainment. Grouped around this specialized downtown area was a ring of housing for the poorest city dwellers. Unable financially to construct their own dwellings, they subdivided housing abandoned by the wealthy and the middle class. §Chicago, which expanded from 300,000 in 1870 to 3,000,000 in 1920, is a classic example of this pattern of residential rings that characterized metro- politan development during that half-century. Around the area of residential poverty that surrounded downtown Chicago was a ring of blue- collar and lower-middle-class residences. State Street, North from Madison, Chicago, 1890s
Here there were some small single-family cottages, but most lived in flats and apartments. In the middle-class suburbs were numerous single-family homes. Running through these rings were corridors of commercial and industrial activity that radiated from the downtown center into the farmland, like the railroads that came into the central city from every direction. §For the millions who surged into Chicago by World War I, the major concern was economic and social survival. Protestants, Irish, German, and Italian Catholics, a variety of Slavic groups, and blacks settled in separate neighborhoods and maintained their ethnic identity. Most aspects of life were experienced on the job and in the neighborhoods. Work took place in factories or offices; there was no interest or ability to see the economy of the city as a whole. There was no connection between ethnic social identity and economic class interest. Poor blacks, Catholics, and Jews in the innermost ring of poverty did not associate with one another politically to put pressure on city leaders to provide housing or jobs or medical care. Nor did blue-collar lower-middle-class white Protestants and the various Catholic groups and Jews see their common interests.
§Only the mainstream Protestant elite, who dominated the city’s economic life from downtown offices, seemed to look out from their skyscrapers and see the city as a whole. But even for them, the whole might be seen as a series of autonomous parts. Working their way to the top of the corporation, they had been specialists in one of the company’s departments. They were trained to see the functioning of only their department. In a stable, corporate world where each department was fulfilling its corporate responsibility, an overview might not be necessary. Their political and economic control of the city did not include social planning. §To all appearances, community leaders believed that all economic and social problems would be solved by continued expansion. If the city grew new rings as it responded to economic growth, then the inner-city poor could move outward—into the ring formerly filled with the blue-collar lower middle class who would also move outward into the middle-class sector. The same hopes apparently were held in regard to employment, education, and social services. Expansion, not planning, was supposed to solve the urban problems of 1914.
§The social and economic evidence of 1914, however, did not support this belief in the inevitable benefits of economic expansion. The black ghettos of Chicago and every other American city in 1914 showed no signs of moving their inhabitants onto the corporate escalator. §In 1890, there were fifteen thousand blacks in Chicago, where 80 percent of the population was foreign-born or had foreign-born parents. By 1915, blacks numbered fifty thousand as more and more left a South that seemed to offer few economic opportunities and much social and political oppression. At the end of the Civil War, blacks had hoped that the plantations would be broken up and the land distributed to the former slaves. “The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land and till it by our own labor,” declared a black leader, and he insisted that “no such thing as a free democratic society can exist in any country where all lands are owned by one class of men and cultivated by another.” But only a few radical Republican leaders, like Thaddeus Stevens, agreed with the blacks that “the whole fabric of southern society must be changed.”
Stevens asked, “How can republican institutions, free schools, free churches, free social intercourse exist in a mingled community of nabobs and serfs?” Most radical Republican leaders, however, shared so strongly the racial prejudice against blacks that they would not confiscate the property of southern white planters. §Most of the former black slaves saw no alternative but to continue to work for the white man, on the white man’s land for the white man’s profit. The new pattern of southern agriculture was sharecropping. Because of a shortage of capital to pay wages and because blacks preferred the autonomy they could have as sharecroppers, the planters divided their land into a series of small farms worked by separate black families. A share of their crop was returned to the planter to pay their rent. In practice, however, the system of credit and indebtedness came to be dominated by storekeepers located at country crossroads. Thaddeus Stevens
§Northern bankers loaned money to southern bankers, who loaned it to storekeepers, who used it to buy supplies of food, clothing, tools, and seeds, which they sold to sharecroppers on credit. Under the burden of high interest rates, only a small percentage of black farmers could save enough money to buy their farms from the white owners. For the children of these sharecroppers, white as well as black, there was very little future in farming. And many blacks and whites began the trek to the city. §Most migrants headed for the opportunity of a northern city. Stripped of its huge capital investment in slaves, the white South had little capital to invest in industrialization. Some northern and European capital entered the region to finance the expansion of railroads, tobacco factories in North Carolina, cotton mills in South Carolina, steel mills in Birmingham, Alabama, and lumbering in Mississippi and Louisiana. But this investment was so small in comparison to that in the North and the Midwest that industrialization and urbanization in the South fell far below national growth patterns.
§There were few employment opportunities for blacks in southern cities. Slaves and free blacks had been artisans and craftsmen in these cities before But between Emancipation and 1900, they were driven systematically from those jobs by hostile whites. This created an ironic situation for black educational leaders, such as Booker T. Washington. Washington, born in slavery, had received an education at Hampton Institute in Virginia. Hampton was one of a number of schools begun by the American Missionary Association. This group, dominated by New England Congregationalists, like other northern white church groups was concerned with giving blacks the opportunity of formal education that had been denied them under slavery. Southern state governments, under radical Republican leadership, had created public schools in that region for the first time. This system included provisions for segregated black schools. Since these institutions did not include high schools, secondary or college education had to be provided by northern or southern philanthropy. Booker T. Washington
§Northern white philanthropists visualized black education producing more efficient agricultural and industrial workers and consequently financed colleges for the training of black teachers to staff the primary schools. Booker T. Washington, who had left Hampton to help build Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, asked for funds from Carnegie and Rockefeller and other northern philanthropists to teach young blacks the virtues of thrift, punctuality, cleanliness, sobriety, and hard work. Blacks, he insisted, would use any gifts responsibly because they were “the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen.” Education would not make them wish for social or political equality, he continued, because “in all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all matters essential to mutual progress.” §Washington had been persuaded by his white New England teachers that everyone could become a self-made man in America. He was certain that if black people worked hard in agriculture and industry and in small business, they could climb the ladder of economic success. But blacks were prevented from making progress in those occupations by the prejudice of white southerners in 1900.
And when blacks moved into northern cities, they encountered the same prejudice. Skilled black artisans, barbers, waiters, and caterers were deprived of jobs that subsequently went to white immigrants. §White immigrants were often able to apply their European work experience to their jobs in America. Skilled workers from England and Germany and Russian urban Jews frequently found well-paying jobs in industry. Irish, Italian, and Polish peasants, among others, with nothing but agricultural experience, found jobs as unskilled labor. These unskilled, uneducated whites were given better jobs than northern blacks, who had generations of urban experience, possessed more occupational skills, and had acquired more formal education. §For the unskilled, uneducated, rural blacks who entered northern cities in larger numbers in 1900, there was almost no hope of advancement on an occupational ladder. In Boston, for example, a second generation of Irish-Americans increased their number of white-collar workers to 24 percent, doubling the 12 percent of the first generation. In contrast, black immigrants in Boston increased their number of white-collar workers only from 7 percent to 9 percent as the descendants of the first generation came of age.
§Most ethnic neighborhoods in the early twentieth century were no more than 60 percent occupied by a dominant immigrant group such as Irish or Italian or Jewish. But blacks, who had been scattered throughout northern cities in 1880, were soon pushed into ghettos that became 90 percent or more homogenous after Although most black men were confined to low-paying jobs as day laborers and most black women confined to domestic service, these poor people paid higher rents than their white neighbors because they were forced to find housing within the restricted boundaries of the ghetto. In Chicago in 1910, an apartment for working-class whites was “seven room, $25,” but a “seven room for colored people, $37.50.” A $1/Month Room “Dens of Death”
§Within these developing black ghettos in every major northern city, there was a revolution in leadership. In Chicago, for example, the black community leaders of 1900 were doctors, dentists, and newspaper men who were hopeful for integration. Within a decade, however, they had been replaced by self-made businessmen like Oscar DePriest, who made a fortune in real estate. Formerly from Alabama, DePriest and a few other black businessmen acquired wealth from the people of the ghetto and thus had an interest in preserving it. “I believe that the interest of my people lies with the wealth of the nation,” said a black leader in Chicago, “and with the class of white people who control it.” Oscar DePriest
§But when Chicago’s black population doubled during World War I, a result of a decline in white immigration, and the great migration of five hundred thousand blacks into northern cities that served to fill the labor shortage caused by the war, the obsequious attitude of these black leaders toward the white establishment did not protect them from savage white criticism. As the black ghetto pushed into Irish and Polish working-class neighborhoods on its western edge and into a middle-class white Protestant neighborhood on the south, street conflicts occurred. White “athletic clubs” physically attacked blacks on the streets and white “neighborhood improvement” societies even bombed black homes. Rigid racial segregation was established in city parks and beaches, restaurants, hotels, theaters, and stores. By the spring of 1919, bombings were taking place every day, and finally a major race riot exploded in July. Comparable riots had taken place in other cities that had experienced large black migrations. §From 1890 to 1917, Anglo-Americans had been reassuring themselves that the industrial and urban frontiers could replace the vanished geographic frontier.
It was more than ironic, therefore, as white Americans expressed their hope to control the vast colored populations of the world through the industrialization and urbanization of every continent, that they seemed unable to control the black population within their own national boundary. “Black man, stay South,” thundered the Chicago Tribune in “Blacks,” wrote the newspaper, “couldn’t fit into the northern way of life because they didn’t have the white work ethic.” “Mo’ rain, mo’ rest, mo’ niggers sleep in de nest”—this, said the Tribune, was black philosophy; “today’s the day, not tomorrow with them.” And the Chicago Tribune offered financial aid to any blacks who would agree to return to the South. “The Color Line Has Reached the North”
§In the 1880s and 1890s, immigrants were pouring in from Europe at a faster rate than before. They all went through the harrowing ocean voyage of the poor. Now there were not so many Irish and German immigrants as Italians, Russians, Jews, Greeks—people from Southern and Eastern Europe, even more alien to native-born Anglo-Saxons than the earlier newcomers were. §How the immigration of different ethnic groups contributed to the fragmentation of the working class, how conflicts developed among groups facing the same difficult conditions, is shown in an article in a Bohemian newspaper, Svornost, of 27 February The news- paper reported that over half of the taxpayers of the school district, 258 parents and guardians at the Throop School in New York, signed a petition. The petition said: “American Citizens of Tomorrow” (Bohemian-Polish Quarter, New York City, 1903)
“the petitioners have just as much right to request the teaching of Bohemian as have the German citizens to have German taught in the public schools …. In opposition to this, Mr. Vocke claims that there is a great deal of difference between Germans and Bohemians, or in other words, they are superior.” §The Irish, still recalling the hatred against them when they arrived, began to get jobs with the new political machines that wanted their vote. Those who became policemen encountered the new Jewish immigrants. On 30 July 1902, New York’s Jewish community held a mass funeral for an important rabbi, and a riot took place, led by Irish who resented Jews coming into their neighborhood. The police force was dominantly Irish, and the official investigation of the riot indicated the police helped the rioters: Immigrants Arriving at Ellis Island (1902)
“ … it appears that charges of unprovoked and most brutal clubbing have been made against policemen, with the result that they were reprimanded or fined a day’s pay and were yet retained upon the force.” §There was desperate economic competition among the newcomers. By 1880, Chinese immigrants, brought in by the railroads to do the backbreaking labor at pitiful wages, numbered 75,000 in California, almost one-tenth of the population. They became the objects of continuous violence. The novelist Bret Harte wrote an obituary for a Chinese man named Wan Lee: “Drad, my revered friends, dead. Stoned to death in the streets of San Francisco, in the year of grace 1869 by a mob of half-grown boys and Christian school children.” In Rock Springs, Wyoming, in the summer of 1885, whites attacked five hundred Chinese miners, massacring twenty-eight of them in cold blood. Chinese Miners, Rock Springs, Wyoming
§The new immigrants became laborers, housepainters, stonecutters, and ditchdiggers. They were often imported en masse by contractors. One Italian man, told he was going to Connecticut to work on the railroad, was taken instead to sulfate mines in the South, where he and his fellows were watched over by armed guards in their barracks and in the mines, given only enough money to pay for their railroad fare and tools, and very little to eat. He and others decided to escape. They were captured at gunpoint and ordered to work or die. They still refused and were brought before a judge and put in manacles. Five months after their arrival, they were finally dismissed. “My comrades took the train for New York. I had only one dollar, and with this, not knowing either the country or the language, I had to walk to New York. After forty-two days I arrived in the city utterly exhausted.” Italian Family Arriving in New York (1905)
§Their conditions led sometimes to rebellion. A contemporary observer told how “some Italians who worked in a locality near Deal Lake, New Jersey, failing to receive their wages, captured the contractor and shut him up in the shanty, where he remained a prisoner until the county sheriff came with a posse to his rescue.” §A traffic in immigrant child laborers developed, either by contract with desperate parents in the home country or by kidnapping. The children were then supervised by “padrones” in a form of slavery, sometimes sent out as beggar musicians. Droves of them roamed the streets of New York and Philadelphia. §As the immigrants became naturalized citizens, they were brought into the American two-party system, invited to be loyal to one party or the other, their political energy thus siphoned into elections. An article in L’Italia, in November 1894, called for Italians to support the Republican Party: “When American citizens of foreign birth refuse to ally themselves with the Republican Party, they make war upon their own welfare. The Republican Party stands for all that the people fight for in the Old World. It is the champion of freedom, progress, order, and law. It is the steadfast foe of monarchial class rule.”
§There were 5½ million immigrants in the 1880s, 4 million in the 1890s, creating a labor surplus that kept wages low. The immigrants were more controllable, more helpless than native workers were; they were culturally displaced, at odds with one another, therefore useful as strikebreakers. Often their children worked, intensifying the problem of an oversized labor force and joblessness; in 1880 there were 1,118,000 children under sixteen (one out of six) at work in the United States. With everyone working long hours, families often became strangers to one another. A pants presser named Morris Rosenfeld wrote a poem, “My Boy,” which became widely reprinted and recited: I have a little boy at home, A pretty little son; I think sometimes the world is mine In him, my only one …. ’Ere dawn my labor drives me forth; Tis night when I am free; A stranger am I to my child; And stranger my child to me …. Morris Rosenfeld
§Women immigrants became servants, prostitutes, housewives, factory workers, and sometimes rebels. Leonora Barry was born in Ireland and brought to the United States. She got married, and when her husband died she went to work in a hosiery mill in upstate New York to support three young children, earning 65 cents her first week. She joined the Knights of Labor, which had fifty thousand women members in 192 women’s assemblies by She became “master workman” of her assembly of 927 women, and was appointed to work for the Knights as a general investigator, to “go forth and educate her sister working- women and the public generally as to their needs and necessities.” She described the biggest problem of women workers: “Through long years of endurance they have acquired, as a sort of second nature, the habit of submission and acceptance without question of any terms offered them, with the pessimistic view of life in which they see no hope.” Leonora Barry
Barry’s report for the year 1888 showed: 537 requests to help women organize, 100 cities and towns visited, 1,900 leaflets distributed. §In 1884, women’s assemblies of textile workers and hat makers went on strike. The following year in New York, cloak and shirt makers, men and women (holding separate meetings but acting together), went on strike. The New York World called it “a revolt for bread and butter.” They won higher wages and shorter hours. Garment Strikers in New York, c. 1913
Economic Growth and Recessions
§The unregulated capitalist economy of the Gilded Age resulted in repeated disasters. In 1873, economic crisis devastated the nation. It was the closing of the banking house of Jay Cooke—a banker who during the Civil War had made $3 million a year in commissions alone for selling government bonds—that started the panic. While President Ulysses S. Grant slept in Cooke’s Philadelphia mansion on 18 September 1873, the banker rode downtown to lock the door on his bank. Now people could not pay loans on mortgages: five thousand businesses closed and put their workers on the street. §It was more than Jay Cooke. The crisis was built into a system that was chaotic in its nature, in which only the very rich were secure. It was a system of periodic crisis—1837, 1857, 1873 (and later: 1893, 1907, 1919, 1929)—that wiped out small businesses and brought cold, hunger, and death to working people while the fortunes of the Astors, Vanderbilits, Rockefellers, Morgans, kept growing through war and peace, crisis and recovery. Jay Cooke
During the 1873 crisis, Carnegie was capturing the steel market, Rockefeller was wiping out his competitors in oil. §“LABOR DEPRESSION IN BROOKLYN” was the headline in the New York Herald in November It listed closings and layoffs: a felt-skirt factory, a picture-frame factory, a glass- cutting establishment, a steelworks factory. And women’s trades: milliners, dressmakers, and shoebinders. The depression continued through the 1870s. This Harper’s Weekly illustration of Wall Street after the Panic of 1873 shows President Grant helping America, depicted as the woman on the right, escape from urban rubble.
§The year 1893 saw the biggest economic crisis in the country’s history. After several decades of wild industrial growth, financial manipulation, uncontrolled speculation and profiteering, it all collapsed: 642 banks failed and 16,000 businesses closed down. Out of the labor force of 15 million, 3 million were unemployed. No state government voted relief, but mass demonstrations all over the country forced city governments to set up soup kitchens and give people work on streets or parks. §In New York City, in Union Square, Emma Goldman addressed a huge meeting of the unemployed and urged those whose children needed food to go into the stores and take it. She was arrested for “inciting to riot” and sentenced to two years in prison. In Chicago, it was estimated that 200,000 people were without work, the floors and stairways of City Hall and the police stations packed every night with homeless men trying to sleep. Emma Goldman Speaking in Union Square, New York City, 1916
§The Depression lasted for years and brought a wave of strikes throughout the country. The largest of these was the nationwide strike of railroad works in 1894 that began at the Pullman Company in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. It was the Depression of 1893 that propelled Eugene Debs into a lifetime of action for unionism and socialism. Debs wrote in the Railway Times: “The issue is Socialism versus Capitalism. I am for Socialism because I am for humanity. We have been cursed with the reign of gold long enough. Money constitutes no proper basis of civilization. The time has come to regenerate society— we are on the eve of a universal change.” Labor insurrection became more organized. There were now revolutionary movements influencing labor struggles, the ideas of socialism affecting labor leaders. Radical literature was appearing, speaking of fundamental changes, of new possibilities for living. Eugene Debs
§By 1900, neither the patriotism of war nor the absorption of energy in elections could disguise the troubles of the system. The process of business concentration had gone forward; the control by bankers had become clearer. As technology developed and corporations became larger, they needed more capital, and it was the bankers who had this capital. “The imperial leader of the new oligarchy was the House of Morgan,” wrote Thomas Cochran and William Miller. “In its operations it was ably assisted by the First National Bank of New York (directed by George F. Baker) and the National City Bank of New York (presided over by James Stillman, agent of the Rockefeller interests). Among them, these three men and their financial associates occupied 341 directorships in 112 great corporations. The total resources of these corporations in 1912 was $22,245,000,000, more than the assessed value of all property in the twenty-two states and territories west of the Mississippi River …. ” Morgan had always wanted regularity, stability, predictability. An associate of Morgan’s said in 1901:
“With a man like Mr. Morgan at the head of a great industry, as against the old plan of many diverse interests in it, production would become more regular, labor would be more steadily employed at better wages, and panics caused by over-production would become a thing of the past.” But even Morgan and his associates were not in complete control of such a system. In 1907, there was another panic, financial collapse, and crisis. True, the very big businesses were not hurt, but profits after 1907 were not as high as capitalists wanted, industry was not expanding as fast as it might, and industrialists began to look for ways to cut costs, such as Taylorism. A 2 February 1910 editorial cartoon in Puck titled: “The Central Bank—Why should Uncle Sam establish one, when Uncle Pierpont is already on the job?”