Columbia Southern University American History Questions


In your opinion, how important were writers to the reforms mentioned in the unit reading? Would you say that publication, economic developments, or some other factor most influenced the change in the period between 1880 and 1914?

Imagine that you are a migrant or immigrant who has lived through 1880–1914 in America. Identify your age, gender, ethnicity, family role, economic class, and the conditions of life where you live. With these in mind, explain your feelings about changes in your life created by the Gilded Age versus Progressive Era values using specific examples from the period. In your response, provide one example of the impact the industrial expansion is having on your family and your living conditions. Be careful to recreate a person who would have lived in this period rather than inserting yourself and your own opinions into the past (see page one of the unit study guide on avoiding anachronism).


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Last week, we looked at the post-Civil War world, a time of hope, expansion
and contraction of rights and property, and expansion of U.S. territory and
This week, we continue to learn about “anachronism” and other logical
missteps that can stop us from looking for and weighing all of the historical
evidence including what we don’t know and how changes, beneficial or not,
affected people of the past – not us. We begin with that reminder because
of how often skewed and simplified versions of history are used in our own
political debates. Great rule of thumb: if you don’t see an author noting
multiple possible interpretations, and offering you very specific discussions
of issues involving sources and data, chances are very high that you’re
looking at a over-simplified and “anachronistic” source. The period from the
end of the 19th century to the beginning of World War I marks the rise of
the “Gilded Age” of corruption and the rise of progressive movements and
figures battling against its effects. In this unit, we consider the rise of big
business and businessmen with legal and illegal influences over the
economy and society, efforts to force or legislate reforms to enhance the
lives and safety of laborers, and ongoing efforts to expand the definition of
“all men” in the U.S. Constitution to include women. We also look more
deeply into the debate over the role of the United States in the world, and
the world in the United States.
The Unit II Assessment Essay
As promised, the essay directs you to reconstruct the past by first creating
a “persona” of a person likely to have immigrated to America and then to
deduce from all the available facts what their individual experience would
likely have been. We ask you to consider the impacts of corruption and
industrialization, of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, but only up to
1914 without projection into the future impacts. What was life like given the
specific backgrounds, religions, likely professions or jobs, locations, and
other circumstances generated by this historical era?
As always, success comes with using key examples from the period in
depth to explain why this persona thinks as he or she does. Reconstruction
should force contemplation of fine details. Try to see events as
crystallizations of struggles.
I’m here if you have any questions!
The image of the octopus was a very popular icon for manipulation, corruption,
and raging ambition in the pre-World War I period. Below are three versions,
the first two showing fears of corruption in the oil and railroad industry and
the third as anti-Russian propaganda by a British mapmaker.
Image 1. G. Frederick Keller’s “The Curse of California.” InThe Wasp. August
19, 1882. The Southern Pacific Railroad monopoly as an octopus driven by greed
corrupting the California state house to kill traditional livelihoods. This story was
fictionalized by Frank Norris in the novel entitled The Octopus, which he tried to
pattern on the great Greek epics of Homer. It’s the story of the epic threat to the
American way of life. You might enjoy the story.
Image 2: Udo Keppler’s cartoon with Standard Oil wrapping its tentacles
around major industries and government, including a suggestion of
corruption at the highest level, the White House. J. Ottmann Lith, Co.,
(Sept. 7, 1904). Public Domain.
Political cartoon showing a Standard Oil tank as an octopus with many
tentacles wrapped around the steel, copper, and shipping industries, as
well as a state house, the U.S. Capitol, and one tentacle reaching for the
White House.
Image 3: Fred. W. Rose, artist. A Serio-Comic Map of Europe, 1877. Public
Domain. Frederick Rose generated many propaganda maps to indicate the
threat to Europe of Russia.
Figure 19.1 For the millions of immigrants arriving by ship in New York City’s harbor, the sight of the
Statue of Liberty, as in Unveiling the Statue of Liberty (1886) by Edward Moran, stood as a physical
representation of the new freedoms and economic opportunities they hoped to find.
Chapter Outline
19.1 Urbanization and Its Challenges
19.2 The African American “Great Migration” and New European Immigration
19.3 Relief from the Chaos of Urban Life
19.4 Change Reflected in Thought and Writing
“We saw the big woman with spikes on her head.” So begins Sadie Frowne’s first memory of arriving
in the United States. Many Americans experienced in their new home what the thirteen-year-old
Polish girl had seen in the silhouette of the Statue of Liberty (Figure 19.1): a wondrous world of new
opportunities fraught with dangers. Sadie and her mother, for instance, had left Poland after her
father’s death. Her mother died shortly thereafter, and Sadie had to find her own way in New York,
working in factories and slowly assimilating to life in a vast multinational metropolis. Her story is
similar to millions of others, as people came to the United States seeking a better future than the one
they had at home.
The future they found, however, was often grim. While many believed in the land of opportunity, the
reality of urban life in the United States was more chaotic and difficult than people expected. In
addition to the challenges of language, class, race, and ethnicity, these new arrivals dealt with low
wages, overcrowded buildings, poor sanitation, and widespread disease. The land of opportunity, it
seemed, did not always deliver on its promises.
Learning Objectives
By the end of this section, you will be able to:

Explain the growth of American cities in the late nineteenth century
Identify the key challenges that Americans faced due to urbanization, as well as
some of the possible solutions to those challenges
Figure 19.2
Urbanization occurred rapidly in the second half of the nineteenth century in the United
States for a number of reasons. The new technologies of the time led to a massive leap
in industrialization, requiring large numbers of workers. New electric lights and powerful
machinery allowed factories to run twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Workers were forced into grueling twelve-hour shifts, requiring them to live close to the
While the work was dangerous and difficult, many Americans were willing to leave
behind the declining prospects of preindustrial agriculture in the hope of better wages in
industrial labor. Furthermore, problems ranging from famine to religious persecution led
a new wave of immigrants to arrive from central, eastern, and southern Europe, many of
whom settled and found work near the cities where they first arrived. Immigrants sought
solace and comfort among others who shared the same language and customs, and the
nation’s cities became an invaluable economic and cultural resource.
Although cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, and New York sprang up from the initial
days of colonial settlement, the explosion in urban population growth did not occur until
the mid-nineteenth century (Figure 19.3). At this time, the attractions of city life, and in
particular, employment opportunities, grew exponentially due to rapid changes in
industrialization. Before the mid-1800s, factories, such as the early textile mills, had to
be located near rivers and seaports, both for the transport of goods and the necessary
water power. Production became dependent upon seasonal water flow, with cold, icy
winters all but stopping river transportation entirely. The development of the steam
engine transformed this need, allowing businesses to locate their factories near urban
centers. These factories encouraged more and more people to move to urban areas
where jobs were plentiful, but hourly wages were often low and the work was routine
and grindingly monotonous.
Figure 19.3 As these panels illustrate, the population of the United States grew rapidly
in the late 1800s (a). Much of this new growth took place in urban areas (defined by the
census as twenty-five hundred people or more), and this urban population, particularly
that of major cities (b), dealt with challenges and opportunities that were unknown in
previous generations.
Eventually, cities developed their own unique characters based on the core industry that
spurred their growth. In Pittsburgh, it was steel; in Chicago, it was meat packing; in New
York, the garment and financial industries dominated; and Detroit, by the mid-twentieth
century, was defined by the automobiles it built. But all cities at this time, regardless of
their industry, suffered from the universal problems that rapid expansion brought with it,
including concerns over housing and living conditions, transportation, and
communication. These issues were almost always rooted in deep class inequalities,
shaped by racial divisions, religious differences, and ethnic strife, and distorted by
corrupt local politics.
This 1884 Bureau of Labor Statistics report for Massachusetts from Boston looks in
detail at the wages, living conditions, and moral code of the girls who worked in the
clothing factories there.
As the country grew, certain elements led some towns to morph into large urban centers, while
others did not. The following four innovations proved critical in shaping urbanization at the turn
of the century: electric lighting, communication improvements, intracity transportation, and the
rise of skyscrapers. As people migrated for the new jobs, they often struggled with the absence of
basic urban infrastructures, such as better transportation, adequate housing, means of
communication, and efficient sources of light and energy. Even the basic necessities, such as
fresh water and proper sanitation—often taken for granted in the countryside—presented a
greater challenge in urban life.
Electric Lighting
Thomas Edison patented the incandescent light bulb in 1879. This development quickly became
common in homes as well as factories, transforming how even lower- and middle-class
Americans lived. Although slow to arrive in rural areas of the country, electric power became
readily available in cities when the first commercial power plants began to open in 1882. When
Nikola Tesla subsequently developed the AC (alternating current) system for the Westinghouse
Electric & Manufacturing Company, power supplies for lights and other factory equipment could
extend for miles from the power source. AC power transformed the use of electricity, allowing
urban centers to physically cover greater areas. In the factories, electric lights permitted
operations to run twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. This increase in production
required additional workers, and this demand brought more people to cities.
Gradually, cities began to illuminate the streets with electric lamps to allow the city to remain
alight throughout the night. No longer did the pace of life and economic activity slow
substantially at sunset, the way it had in smaller towns. The cities, following the factories that
drew people there, stayed open all the time.
Communications Improvements
The telephone, patented in 1876, greatly transformed communication both regionally and
nationally. The telephone rapidly supplanted the telegraph as the preferred form of
communication; by 1900, over 1.5 million telephones were in use around the nation, whether as
private lines in the homes of some middle- and upper-class Americans, or as jointly used “party
lines” in many rural areas. By allowing instant communication over larger distances at any given
time, growing telephone networks made urban sprawl possible.
In the same way that electric lights spurred greater factory production and economic growth, the
telephone increased business through the more rapid pace of demand. Now, orders could come
constantly via telephone, rather than via mail-order. More orders generated greater production,
which in turn required still more workers. This demand for additional labor played a key role in
urban growth, as expanding companies sought workers to handle the increasing consumer
demand for their products.
Intracity Transportation
As cities grew and sprawled outward, a major challenge was efficient travel within the city—
from home to factories or shops, and then back again. Most transportation infrastructure was
used to connect cities to each other, typically by rail or canal. Prior to the 1880s, two of the most
common forms of transportation within cities were the omnibus and the horse car. An omnibus
was a large, horse-drawn carriage. A horse car was similar to an omnibus, but it was placed on
iron or steel tracks to provide a smoother ride. While these horse-driven vehicles worked
adequately in smaller, less-congested cities, they were not equipped to handle the larger crowds
that developed at the close of the century. The horses had to stop and rest, and horse manure
became an ongoing problem.
In 1887, Frank Sprague invented the electric trolley, which worked along the same concept as
the horse car, with a large wagon on tracks, but was powered by electricity rather than horses.
The electric trolley could run throughout the day and night, like the factories and the workers
who fueled them. But it also modernized less important industrial centers, such as the southern
city of Richmond, Virginia. As early as 1873, San Francisco engineers adopted pulley
technology from the mining industry to introduce cable cars and turn the city’s steep hills into
elegant middle-class communities. However, as crowds continued to grow in the largest cities,
such as Chicago and New York, trolleys were unable to move efficiently through the crowds of
pedestrians (Figure 19.4). To avoid this challenge, city planners elevated the trolley lines above
the streets, creating elevated trains, or L-trains, as early as 1868 in New York City, and quickly
spreading to Boston in 1887 and Chicago in 1892. Finally, as skyscrapers began to dominate the
air, transportation evolved one step further to move underground as subways. Boston’s subway
system began operating in 1897, and was quickly followed by New York and other cities.
Figure 19.4 Although trolleys were far more efficient than horse-drawn carriages, populous
cities such as New York experienced frequent accidents, as depicted in this 1895 illustration
from Leslie’s Weekly (a). To avoid overcrowded streets, trolleys soon went underground, as at
the Public Gardens Portal in Boston (b), where three different lines met to enter the Tremont
Street Subway, the oldest subway tunnel in the United States, opening on September 1, 1897.
The Rise of Skyscrapers
The last limitation that large cities had to overcome was the ever-increasing need for space.
Eastern cities, unlike their midwestern counterparts, could not continue to grow outward, as the
land surrounding them was already settled. Geographic limitations such as rivers or the coast
also hampered sprawl. And in all cities, citizens needed to be close enough to urban centers to
conveniently access work, shops, and other core institutions of urban life. The increasing cost of
real estate made upward growth attractive, and so did the prestige that towering buildings carried
for the businesses that occupied them. Workers completed the first skyscraper in Chicago, the
ten-story Home Insurance Building, in 1885 (Figure 19.5). Although engineers had the capability
to go higher, thanks to new steel construction techniques, they required another vital invention in
order to make taller buildings viable: the elevator. In 1889, the Otis Elevator Company, led by
inventor Elisha Otis, installed the first electric elevator. This began the skyscraper craze,
allowing developers in eastern cities to build and market prestigious real estate in the hearts of
crowded eastern metropoles.
Figure 19.5 While the technology existed to engineer tall buildings, it was not until the invention
of the electric elevator in 1889 that skyscrapers began to take over the urban landscape. Shown
here is the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, considered the first modern skyscraper.
Jacob Riis and the Window into “How the Other Half Lives”
Jacob Riis was a Danish immigrant who moved to New York in the late nineteenth century and,
after experiencing poverty and joblessness first-hand, ultimately built a career as a police
reporter. In the course of his work, he spent much of his time in the slums and tenements of New
York’s working poor. Appalled by what he found there, Riis began documenting these scenes of
squalor and sharing them through lectures and ultimately through the publication of his
book, How the Other Half Lives, in 1890 (Figure 19.6).
Figure 19.6 In photographs such as Bandit’s Roost (1888), taken on Mulberry Street in the
infamous Five Points neighborhood of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Jacob Riis documented the
plight of New York City slums in the late nineteenth century.
By most contemporary accounts, Riis was an effective storyteller, using drama and racial
stereotypes to tell his stories of the ethnic slums he encountered. But while his racial thinking
was very much a product of his time, he was also a reformer; he felt strongly that upper and
middle-class Americans could and should care about the living conditions of the poor. In his
book and lectures, he argued against the immoral landlords and useless laws that allowed
dangerous living conditions and high rents. He also suggested remodeling existing tenements or
building new ones. He was not alone in his concern for the plight of the poor; other reporters and
activists had already brought the issue into the public eye, and Riis’s photographs added a new
element to the story.
To tell his stories, Riis used a series of deeply compelling photographs. Riis and his group of
amateur photographers moved through the various slums of New York, laboriously setting up
their tripods and explosive chemicals to create enough light to take the photographs. His photos
and writings shocked the public, made Riis a well-known figure both in his day and beyond, and
eventually led to new state legislation curbing abuses in tenements.
Congestion, pollution, crime, and disease were prevalent problems in all urban centers; city
planners and inhabitants alike sought new solutions to the problems caused by rapid urban
growth. Living conditions for most working-class urban dwellers were atrocious. They lived in
crowded tenement houses and cramped apartments with terrible ventilation and substandard
plumbing and sanitation. As a result, disease ran rampant, with typhoid and cholera common.
Memphis, Tennessee, experienced waves of cholera (1873) followed by yellow fever (1878 and
1879) that resulted in the loss of over ten thousand lives. By the late 1880s, New York City,
Baltimore, Chicago, and New Orleans had all introduced sewage pumping systems to provide
efficient waste management. Many cities were also serious fire hazards. An average workingclass family of six, with two adults and four children, had at best a two-bedroom tenement. By
one 1900 estimate, in the New York City borough of Manhattan alone, there were nearly fifty
thousand tenement houses. The photographs of these tenement houses are seen in Jacob Riis’s
book, How the Other Half Lives, discussed in the feature above. Citing a study by the New York
State Assembly at this time, Riis found New York to be the most densely populated city in the
world, with as many as eight hundred residents per square acre in the Lower East Side workingclass slums, comprising the Eleventh and Thirteenth Wards.
Visit New York City, Tenement Life to get an impression of the everyday life of tenement
dwellers on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Churches and civic organizations provided some relief to the challenges of working-class city
life. Churches were moved to intervene through their belief in the concept of the social gospel.
This philosophy stated that all Christians, whether they were church leaders or social reformers,
should be as concerned about the conditions of life in the secular world as the afterlife, and the
Reverend Washington Gladden was a major advocate. Rather than preaching sermons on heaven
and hell, Gladden talked about social changes of the time, urging other preachers to follow his
lead. He advocated for improvements in daily life and encouraged Americans of all classes to
work together for the betterment of society. His sermons included the message to “love thy
neighbor” and held that all Americans had to work together to help the masses. As a result of his
influence, churches began to include gymnasiums and libraries as well as offer evening classes
on hygiene and health care. Other religious organizations like the Salvation Army and the Young
Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) expanded their reach in American cities at this time as
well. Beginning in the 1870s, these organizations began providing community services and other
benefits to the urban poor.
In the secular sphere, the settlement house movement of the 1890s provided additional relief.
Pioneering women such as Jane Addams in Chicago and Lillian Wald in New York led this early
progressive reform movement in the United States, building upon ideas originally fashioned by
social reformers in England. With no particular religious bent, they worked to create settlement
houses in urban centers where they could help the working class, and in particular, working-class
women, find aid. Their help included child daycare, evening classes, libraries, gym facilities, and
free health care. Addams opened her now-famous Hull House (Figure 19.7) in Chicago in 1889,
and Wald’s Henry Street Settlement opened in New York six years later. The movement spread
quickly to other cities, where they not only provided relief to working-class women but also
offered employment opportunities for women graduating college in the growing field of social
work. Oftentimes, living in the settlement houses among the women they helped, these college
graduates experienced the equivalent of living social classrooms in which to practice their skills,
which also frequently caused friction with immigrant women who had their own ideas of reform
and self-improvement.
Figure 19.7 Jane Addams opened Hull House in Chicago in 1889, offering services and support
to the city’s working poor.
The success of the settlement house movement later became the basis of a political agenda that
included pressure for housing laws, child labor laws, and worker’s compensation laws, among
others. Florence Kelley, who originally worked with Addams in Chicago, later joined Wald’s
efforts in New York; together, they created the National Child Labor Committee and advocated
for the subsequent creation of the Children’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor in 1912.
Julia Lathrop—herself a former resident of Hull House—became the first woman to head a
federal government agency, when President William Howard Taft appointed her to run the
bureau. Settlement house workers also became influential leaders in the women’s suffrage
movement as well as the antiwar movement during World War I.
Jane Addams Reflects on the Settlement House Movement
Jane Addams was a social activist whose work took many forms. She is perhaps best known as
the founder of Hull House in Chicago, which later became a model for settlement houses
throughout the country. Here, she reflects on the role that the settlement played.
Life in the Settlement discovers above all what has been called ‘the extraordinary pliability of
human nature,’ and it seems impossible to set any bounds to the moral capabilities which might
unfold under ideal civic and educational conditions. But in order to obtain these conditions, the
Settlement recognizes the need of cooperation, both with the radical and the conservative, and
from the very nature of the case the Settlement cannot limit its friends to any one political party
or economic school. The Settlement casts side none of those things which cultivated men have
come to consider reasonable and goodly, but it insists that those belong as well to that great body
of people who, because of toilsome and underpaid labor, are unable to procure them for
themselves. Added to this is a profound conviction that the common stock of intellectual
enjoyment should not be difficult of access because of the economic position of him who would
approach it, that those ‘best results of civilization’ upon which depend the finer and freer aspects
of living must be incorporated into our common life and have free mobility through all elements
of society if we would have our democracy endure. The educational activities of a Settlement, as
well its philanthropic, civic, and social undertakings, are but differing manifestations of the
attempt to socialize democracy, as is the very existence of the Settlement itself.
In addition to her pioneering work in the settlement house movement, Addams also was active in
the women’s suffrage movement as well as an outspoken proponent for international peace
efforts. She was instrumental in the relief effort after World War I, a commitment that led to her
winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.
Learning Objectives
By the end of this section, you will be able to:

Identify the factors that prompted African American and European immigration to
American cities in the late nineteenth century
Explain the discrimination and anti-immigration legislation that immigrants faced
in the late nineteenth century
New cities were populated with diverse waves of new arrivals, who came to the cities to
seek work in the businesses and factories there. While a small percentage of these
newcomers were White Americans seeking jobs, most were made up of two groups that
had not previously been factors in the urbanization movement: African Americans
fleeing the racism of the farms and former plantations in the South, and southern and
eastern European immigrants. These new immigrants supplanted the previous waves of
northern and western European immigrants, who had tended to move west to purchase
land. Unlike their predecessors, the newer immigrants lacked the funds to strike out to
the western lands and instead remained in the urban centers where they arrived,
seeking any work that would keep them alive.
Between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Great Depression, nearly two million
African Americans fled the rural South to seek new opportunities elsewhere. While some moved
west, the vast majority of this Great Migration, as the large exodus of African Americans
leaving the South in the early twentieth century was called, traveled to the Northeast and Upper
Midwest. The following cities were the primary destinations for these African Americans: New
York, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. These
eight cities accounted for over two-thirds of the total population of the African American
A combination of both “push” and “pull” factors played a role in this movement. Despite the end
of the Civil War and the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the
U.S. Constitution (ending slavery, ensuring equal protection under the law, and protecting the
right to vote, respectively), African Americans were still subjected to intense racial hatred. The
rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War led to increased death
threats, violence, and a wave of lynchings. Even after the formal dismantling of the Klan in the
late 1870s, racially motivated violence continued. According to researchers at the Tuskegee
Institute, there were thirty-five hundred racially motivated lynchings and other murders
committed in the South between 1865 and 1900. For African Americans fleeing this culture of
violence, northern and midwestern cities offered an opportunity to escape the dangers of the
In addition to this “push” out of the South, African Americans were also “pulled” to the cities by
factors that attracted them, including job opportunities, where they could earn a wage rather than
be tied to a landlord, and the chance to vote (for men, at least), supposedly free from the threat of
violence. Although many lacked the funds to move themselves north, factory owners and other
businesses that sought cheap labor assisted the migration. Often, the men moved first then sent
for their families once they were ensconced in their new city life. Racism and a lack of formal
education relegated these African American workers to many of the lower-paying unskilled or
semi-skilled occupations. More than 80 percent of African American men worked menial jobs in
steel mills, mines, construction, and meat packing. In the railroad industry, they were often
employed as porters or servants (Figure 19.8). In other businesses, they worked as janitors,
waiters, or cooks. African American women, who faced discrimination due to both their race and
gender, found a few job opportunities in the garment industry or laundries, but were more often
employed as maids and domestic servants. Regardless of the status of their jobs, however,
African Americans earned higher wages in the North than they did for the same occupations in
the South, and typically found housing to be more available.
Figure 19.8 African American men who moved north as part of the Great Migration were often
consigned to menial employment, such as working in construction or as porters on the railways
(a), such as in the celebrated Pullman dining and sleeping cars (b).
However, such economic gains were offset by the higher cost of living in the North, especially in
terms of rent, food costs, and other essentials. As a result, African Americans often found
themselves living in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, much like the tenement slums in which
European immigrants lived in the cities. For newly arrived African Americans, even those who
sought out the cities for the opportunities they provided, life in these urban centers was
exceedingly difficult. They quickly learned that racial discrimination did not end at the MasonDixon Line, but continued to flourish in the North as well as the South. European immigrants,
also seeking a better life in the cities of the United States, resented the arrival of the African
Americans, whom they feared would compete for the same jobs or offer to work at lower wages.
Landlords frequently discriminated against them; their rapid influx into the cities created severe
housing shortages and even more overcrowded tenements. Homeowners in traditionally White
neighborhoods later entered into covenants in which they agreed not to sell to African American
buyers; they also often fled neighborhoods into which African Americans had gained successful
entry. In addition, some bankers practiced mortgage discrimination, later known as “redlining,”
in order to deny home loans to qualified buyers. Such pervasive discrimination led to a
concentration of African Americans in some of the worst slum areas of most major metropolitan
cities, a problem that remained ongoing throughout most of the twentieth century.
So why move to the North, given that the economic challenges they faced were similar to those
that African Americans encountered in the South? The answer lies in noneconomic gains.
Greater educational opportunities and more expansive personal freedoms mattered greatly to the
African Americans who made the trek northward during the Great Migration. State legislatures
and local school districts allocated more funds for the education of both Black and White people
in the North, and also enforced compulsory school attendance laws more rigorously. Similarly,
unlike the South where a simple gesture (or lack of a deferential one) could result in physical
harm to the African American who committed it, life in larger, crowded northern urban centers
permitted a degree of anonymity—and with it, personal freedom—that enabled African
Americans to move, work, and speak without deferring to every White person with whom they
crossed paths. Psychologically, these gains more than offset the continued economic challenges
that Black migrants faced.
Immigrants also shifted the demographics of the rapidly growing cities. Although immigration
had always been a force of change in the United States, it took on a new character in the late
nineteenth century. Beginning in the 1880s, the arrival of immigrants from mostly southern and
eastern European countries rapidly increased while the flow from northern and western Europe
remained relatively constant (Table 19.1).
Region Country
Northern and Western Europe
Southern and Eastern Europe
Table 19.1 Cumulative Total of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States, 1870–1910 (by major
country of birth and European region)
The previous waves of immigrants from northern and western Europe, particularly Germany,
Great Britain, and the Nordic countries, were relatively well off, arriving in the country with
some funds and often moving to the newly settled western territories. In contrast, the newer
immigrants from southern and eastern European countries, including Italy, Greece, and several
Slavic countries including Russia, came over due to “push” and “pull” factors similar to those
that influenced the African Americans arriving from the South. Many were “pushed” from their
countries by a series of ongoing famines, by the need to escape religious, political, or racial
persecution, or by the desire to avoid compulsory military service. They were also “pulled” by
the promise of consistent, wage-earning work.
Whatever the reason, these immigrants arrived without the education and finances of the earlier
waves of immigrants, and settled more readily in the port towns where they arrived, rather than
setting out to seek their fortunes in the West. By 1890, over 80 percent of the population of New
York would be either foreign-born or children of foreign-born parentage. Other cities saw huge
spikes in foreign populations as well, though not to the same degree, due in large part to Ellis
Island in New York City being the primary port of entry for most European immigrants arriving
in the United States.
The number of immigrants peaked between 1900 and 1910, when over nine million people
arrived in the United States. To assist in the processing and management of this massive wave of
immigrants, the Bureau of Immigration in New York City, which had become the official port of
entry, opened Ellis Island in 1892. Today, nearly half of all Americans have ancestors who, at
some point in time, entered the country through the portal at Ellis Island. Doctors or nurses
inspected the immigrants upon arrival, looking for any signs of infectious diseases (Figure 19.9).
Most immigrants were admitted to the country with only a cursory glance at any other
paperwork. Roughly 2 percent of the arriving immigrants were denied entry due to a medical
condition or criminal history. The rest would enter the country by way of the streets of New
York, many unable to speak English and totally reliant on finding those who spoke their native
Figure 19.9 This photo shows newly arrived immigrants at Ellis Island in New York. Inspectors
are examining them for contagious health problems, which could require them to be sent back.
(credit: NIAID)
Seeking comfort in a strange land, as well as a common language, many immigrants sought out
relatives, friends, former neighbors, townspeople, and countrymen who had already settled in
American cities. This led to a rise in ethnic enclaves within the larger city. Little Italy,
Chinatown, and many other communities developed in which immigrant groups could find
everything to remind them of home, from local language newspapers to ethnic food stores. While
these enclaves provided a sense of community to their members, they added to the problems of
urban congestion, particularly in the poorest slums where immigrants could afford housing.
This Library of Congress exhibit on the history of Jewish immigration to the United States
illustrates the ongoing challenge immigrants felt between the ties to their old land and a love for
The demographic shift at the turn of the century was later confirmed by the Dillingham
Commission, created by Congress in 1907 to report on the nature of immigration in America; the
commission reinforced this ethnic identification of immigrants and their simultaneous
discrimination. The report put it simply: These newer immigrants looked and acted differently.
They had darker skin tone, spoke languages with which most Americans were unfamiliar, and
practiced unfamiliar religions, specifically Judaism and Catholicism. Even the foods they sought
out at butchers and grocery stores set immigrants apart. Because of these easily identifiable
differences, new immigrants became easy targets for hatred and discrimination. If jobs were hard
to find, or if housing was overcrowded, it became easy to blame the immigrants. Like African
Americans, immigrants in cities were blamed for the problems of the day.
Growing numbers of Americans resented the waves of new immigrants, resulting in a backlash.
The Reverend Josiah Strong fueled the hatred and discrimination in his bestselling book, Our
Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis, published in 1885. In a revised edition that
reflected the 1890 census records, he clearly identified undesirable immigrants—those from
southern and eastern European countries—as a key threat to the moral fiber of the country, and
urged all good Americans to face the challenge. Several thousand Americans answered his call
by forming the American Protective Association, the chief political activist group to promote
legislation curbing immigration into the United States. The group successfully lobbied Congress
to adopt both an English language literacy test for immigrants, which eventually passed in 1917,
and the Chinese Exclusion Act (discussed in a previous chapter). The group’s political lobbying
also laid the groundwork for the subsequent Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration
Act of 1924, as well as the National Origins Act.
The global timeline of immigration at the Library of Congress offers a summary of immigration
policies and the groups affected by it, as well as a compelling overview of different ethnic
groups’ immigration stories. Browse through to see how different ethnic groups made their way
in the United States.
Learning Objectives
By the end of this section, you will be able to:

Identify how each class of Americans—working class, middle class, and upper
class—responded to the challenges associated with urban life
Explain the process of machine politics and how it brought relief to working-class
Settlement houses and religious and civic organizations attempted to provide some
support to working-class city dwellers through free health care, education, and leisure
opportunities. Still, for urban citizens, life in the city was chaotic and challenging. But
how that chaos manifested and how relief was sought differed greatly, depending on
where people were in the social caste—the working class, the upper class, or the newly
emerging professional middle class—in addition to the aforementioned issues of race
and ethnicity. While many communities found life in the largest American cities
disorganized and overwhelming, the ways they answered these challenges were as
diverse as the people who lived there. Broad solutions emerged that were typically class
specific: The rise of machine politics and popular culture provided relief to the working
class, higher education opportunities and suburbanization benefitted the professional
middle class, and reminders of their elite status gave comfort to the upper class. And
everyone, no matter where they fell in the class system, benefited from the efforts to
improve the physical landscapes of the fast-growing urban environment.
For the working-class residents of America’s cities, one practical way of coping with the
challenges of urban life was to take advantage of the system of machine politics, while another
was to seek relief in the variety of popular culture and entertainment found in and around cities.
Although neither of these forms of relief was restricted to the working class, they were the ones
who relied most heavily on them.
Machine Politics
The primary form of relief for working-class urban Americans, and particularly immigrants,
came in the form of machine politics. This phrase referred to the process by which every citizen
of the city, no matter their ethnicity or race, was a ward resident with an alderman who spoke on
their behalf at city hall. When everyday challenges arose, whether sanitation problems or the
need for a sidewalk along a muddy road, citizens would approach their alderman to find a
solution. The aldermen knew that, rather than work through the long bureaucratic process
associated with city hall, they could work within the “machine” of local politics to find a speedy,
mutually beneficial solution. In machine politics, favors were exchanged for votes, votes were
given in exchange for fast solutions, and the price of the solutions included a kickback to the
boss. In the short term, everyone got what they needed, but the process was neither transparent
nor democratic, and it was an inefficient way of conducting the city’s business.
One example of a machine political system was the Democratic political machine Tammany
Hall in New York, run by machine boss William Tweed with assistance from George
Washington Plunkitt (Figure 19.10). There, citizens knew their immediate problems would be
addressed in return for their promise of political support in future elections. In this way,
machines provided timely solutions for citizens and votes for the politicians. For example, if in
Little Italy there was a desperate need for sidewalks in order to improve traffic to the stores on a
particular street, the request would likely get bogged down in the bureaucratic red tape at city
hall. Instead, store owners would approach the machine. A district captain would approach the
“boss” and make him aware of the problem. The boss would contact city politicians and strongly
urge them to appropriate the needed funds for the sidewalk in exchange for the promise that the
boss would direct votes in their favor in the upcoming election. The boss then used the funds to
pay one of his friends for the sidewalk construction, typically at an exorbitant cost, with a
financial kickback to the boss, which was known as graft. The sidewalk was built more quickly
than anyone hoped, in exchange for the citizens’ promises to vote for machine-supported
candidates in the next elections. Despite its corrupt nature, Tammany Hall essentially ran New
York politics from the 1850s until the 1930s. Other large cities, including Boston, Philadelphia,
Cleveland, St. Louis, and Kansas City, made use of political machines as well.
Figure 19.10 This political cartoon depicts the control of Boss Tweed, of Tammany Hall, over
the election process in New York. Why were people willing to accept the corruption involved in
machine politics?
Popular Culture and Entertainment
Working-class residents also found relief in the diverse and omnipresent offerings of popular
culture and entertainment in and around cities. These offerings provided an immediate escape
from the squalor and difficulties of everyday life. As improved means of internal transportation
developed, working-class residents could escape the city and experience one of the popular new
forms of entertainment—the amusement park. For example, Coney Island on the Brooklyn
shoreline consisted of several different amusement parks, the first of which opened in 1895
(Figure 19.11). At these parks, New Yorkers enjoyed wild rides, animal attractions, and large
stage productions designed to help them forget the struggles of their working-day lives. Freak
“side” shows fed the public’s curiosity about physical deviance. For a mere ten cents, spectators
could watch a high-diving horse, take a ride to the moon to watch moon maidens eat green
cheese, or witness the electrocution of an elephant, a spectacle that fascinated the public both
with technological marvels and exotic wildlife. The treatment of animals in many acts at Coney
Island and other public amusement parks drew the attention of middle-class reformers such as
the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Despite questions regarding the
propriety of many of the acts, other cities quickly followed New York’s lead with similar, if
smaller, versions of Coney Island’s attractions.
Figure 19.11 The Dreamland Amusement Park tower was just one of Coney Island’s
The Coney Island History Project shows a photographic history of Coney Island. Look to see
what elements of American culture, from the hot dog to the roller coaster, debuted there.
Another common form of popular entertainment was vaudeville—large stage variety shows that
included everything from singing, dancing, and comedy acts to live animals and magic. The
vaudeville circuit gave rise to several prominent performers, including magician Harry Houdini,
who began his career in these variety shows before his fame propelled him to solo acts. In
addition to live theater shows, it was primarily working-class citizens who enjoyed the advent of
the nickelodeon, a forerunner to the movie theater. The first nickelodeon opened in Pittsburgh in
1905, where nearly one hundred visitors packed into a storefront theater to see a traditional
vaudeville show interspersed with one-minute film clips. Several theaters initially used the films
as “chasers” to indicate the end of the show to the live audience so they would clear the
auditorium. However, a vaudeville performers’ strike generated even greater interest in the films,
eventually resulting in the rise of modern movie theaters by 1910.
One other major form of entertainment for the working class was professional baseball (Figure
19.12). Club teams transformed into professional baseball teams with the Cincinnati Red
Stockings, now the Cincinnati Reds, in 1869. Soon, professional teams sprang up in several
major American cities. Baseball games provided an inexpensive form of entertainment, where
for less than a dollar, a person could enjoy a double-header, two hot dogs, and a beer. But more
importantly, the teams became a way for newly relocated Americans and immigrants of diverse
backgrounds to develop a unified civic identity, all cheering for one team. By 1876, the National
League had formed, and soon after, cathedral-style ballparks began to spring up in many cities.
Fenway Park in Boston (1912), Forbes Field in Pittsburgh (1909), and the Polo Grounds in New
York (1890) all became touch points where working-class Americans came together to support a
common cause.
Figure 19.12 Boston’s Fenway Park opened in 1912 and was a popular site for working-class
Bostonians to spend their leisure time. The “Green Monster,” the iconic, left field wall, makes it
one of the most recognizable stadiums in baseball today.
Other popular sports included prize-fighting, which attracted a predominantly male, workingand middle-class audience who lived vicariously through the triumphs of the boxers during a
time where opportunities for individual success were rapidly shrinking, and college football,
which paralleled a modern corporation in its team hierarchy, divisions of duties, and emphasis on
time management.
The American financial elite did not need to crowd into cities to find work, like their workingclass counterparts. But as urban centers were vital business cores, where multi-million-dollar
financial deals were made daily, those who worked in that world wished to remain close to the
action. The rich chose to be in the midst of the chaos of the cities, but they were also able to
provide significant measures of comfort, convenience, and luxury for themselves.
Wealthy citizens seldom attended what they considered the crass entertainment of the working
class. Instead of amusement parks and baseball games, urban elites sought out more refined
pastimes that underscored their knowledge of art and culture, preferring classical music concerts,
fine art collections, and social gatherings with their peers. In New York, Andrew Carnegie built
Carnegie Hall in 1891, which quickly became the center of classical music performances in the
country. Nearby, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its doors in 1872 and still remains one
of the largest collections of fine art in the world. Other cities followed suit, and these cultural
pursuits became a way for the upper class to remind themselves of their elevated place amid
urban squalor.
As new opportunities for the middle class threatened the austerity of upper-class citizens,
including the newer forms of transportation that allowed middle-class Americans to travel with
greater ease, wealthier Americans sought unique ways to further set themselves apart in society.
These included more expensive excursions, such as vacations in Newport, Rhode Island, winter
relocation to sunny Florida, and frequent trips aboard steamships to Europe. For those who were
not of the highly respected “old money,” but only recently obtained their riches through business
ventures, the relief they sought came in the form of one book—the annual Social Register. First
published in 1886 by Louis Keller in New York City, the register became a directory of the
wealthy socialites who populated the city. Keller updated it annually, and people would watch
with varying degrees of anxiety or complacency to see their names appear in print. Also called
the Blue Book, the register was instrumental in the planning of society dinners, balls, and other
social events. For those of newer wealth, there was relief found simply in the notion that they
and others witnessed their wealth through the publication of their names in the register.
While the working class were confined to tenement houses in the cities by their need to be close
to their work and the lack of funds to find anyplace better, and the wealthy class chose to remain
in the cities to stay close to the action of big business transactions, the emerging middle
class responded to urban challenges with their own solutions. This group included the managers,
salesmen, engineers, doctors, accountants, and other salaried professionals who still worked for a
living, but were significantly better educated and compensated than the working-class poor. For
this new middle class, relief from the trials of the cities came through education and
In large part, the middle class responded to the challenges of the city by physically escaping it.
As transportation improved and outlying communities connected to urban centers, the middle
class embraced a new type of community—the suburbs. It became possible for those with
adequate means to work in the city and escape each evening, by way of a train or trolley, to a
house in the suburbs. As the number of people moving to the suburbs grew, there also grew a
perception among the middle class that the farther one lived from the city and the more amenities
one had, the more affluence one had achieved.
Although a few suburbs existed in the United States prior to the 1880s (such as Llewellyn Park,
New Jersey), the introduction of the electric railway generated greater interest and growth during
the last decade of the century. The ability to travel from home to work on a relatively quick and
cheap mode of transportation encouraged more Americans of modest means to consider living
away from the chaos of the city. Eventually, Henry Ford’s popularization of the automobile,
specifically in terms of a lower price, permitted more families to own cars and thus consider
suburban life. Later in the twentieth century, both the advent of the interstate highway system,
along with federal legislation designed to allow families to construct homes with low-interest
loans, further sparked the suburban phenomenon.
New Roles for Middle-Class Women
Social norms of the day encouraged middle-class women to take great pride in creating a positive
home environment for their working husbands and school-age children, which reinforced the
business and educational principles that they practiced on the job or in school. It was at this time
that the magazines Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping began distribution, to
tremendous popularity (Figure 19.13).
Figure 19.13 The middle-class family of the late nineteenth century largely embraced a
separation of gendered spheres that had first emerged during the market revolution of the
antebellum years. Whereas the husband earned money for the family outside the home, the wife
oversaw domestic chores, raised the children, and tended to the family’s spiritual, social, and
cultural needs. The magazine Good Housekeeping, launched in 1885, capitalized on the middleclass woman’s focus on maintaining a pride-worthy home.
While the vast majority of middle-class women took on the expected role of housewife and
homemaker, some women were finding paths to college. A small number of men’s colleges
began to open their doors to women in the mid-1800s, and co-education became an option. Some
of the most elite universities created affiliated women’s colleges, such as Radcliffe College with
Harvard, and Pembroke College with Brown University. But more importantly, the first
women’s colleges opened at this time. Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley Colleges,
still some of the best known women’s schools, opened their doors between 1865 and 1880, and,
although enrollment was low (initial class sizes ranged from sixty-one students at Vassar to
seventy at Wellesley, seventy-one at Smith, and up to eighty-eight at Mount Holyoke), the
opportunity for a higher education, and even a career, began to emerge for young women. These
schools offered a unique, all-women environment in which professors and a community of
education-seeking young women came together. While most college-educated young women still
married, their education offered them new opportunities to work outside the home, most
frequently as teachers, professors, or in the aforementioned settlement house environments
created by Jane Addams and others.
Education and the Middle Class
Since the children of the professional class did not have to leave school and find work to support
their families, they had opportunities for education and advancement that would solidify their
position in the middle class. They also benefited from the presence of stay-at-home mothers,
unlike working-class children, whose mothers typically worked the same long hours as their
fathers. Public school enrollment exploded at this time, with the number of students attending
public school tripling from seven million in 1870 to twenty-one million in 1920. Unlike the oldfashioned one-room schoolhouses, larger schools slowly began the practice of employing
different teachers for each grade, and some even began hiring discipline-specific instructors.
High schools also grew at this time, from one hundred high schools nationally in 1860 to over six
thousand by 1900.
The federal government supported the growth of higher education with the Morrill Acts of 1862
and 1890. These laws set aside public land and federal funds to create land-grant colleges that
were affordable to middle-class families, offering courses and degrees useful in the professions,
but also in trade, commerce, industry, and agriculture (Figure 19.14). Land-grant colleges stood
in contrast to the expensive, private Ivy League universities such as Harvard and Yale, which
still catered to the elite. Iowa became the first state to accept the provisions of the original
Morrill Act, creating what later became Iowa State University. Other states soon followed suit,
and the availability of an affordable college education encouraged a boost in enrollment, from
50,000 students nationwide in 1870 to over 600,000 students by 1920.
Figure 19.14 This rendering of Kansas State University in 1878 shows an early land-grant
college, created by the Morrill Act. These newly created schools allowed many more students to
attend college than the elite Ivy League system, and focused more on preparing them for
professional careers in business, medicine, and law, as well as business, agriculture, and other
College curricula also changed at this time. Students grew less likely to take traditional liberal
arts classes in rhetoric, philosophy, and foreign language, and instead focused on preparing for
the modern work world. Professional schools for the study of medicine, law, and business also
developed. In short, education for the children of middle-class parents catered to class-specific
interests and helped ensure that parents could establish their children comfortably in the middle
class as well.
While the working poor lived in the worst of it and the wealthy elite sought to avoid it, all city
dwellers at the time had to deal with the harsh realities of urban sprawl. Skyscrapers rose and
filled the air, streets were crowded with pedestrians of all sorts, and, as developers worked to
meet the always-increasing demand for space, the few remaining green spaces in the city quickly
disappeared. As the U.S. population became increasingly centered in urban areas while the
century drew to a close, questions about the quality of city life—particularly with regard to
issues of aesthetics, crime, and poverty—quickly consumed many reformers’ minds. Those
middle-class and wealthier urbanites who enjoyed the costlier amenities presented by city life—
including theaters, restaurants, and shopping—were free to escape to the suburbs, leaving behind
the poorer working classes living in squalor and unsanitary conditions. Through the City
Beautiful movement, leaders such as Frederick Law Olmsted and Daniel Burnham sought to
champion middle- and upper-class progressive reforms. They improved the quality of life for city
dwellers, but also cultivated middle-class-dominated urban spaces in which Americans of
different ethnicities, racial origins, and classes worked and lived.
Olmsted, one of the earliest and most influential designers of urban green space, and the original
designer of Central Park in New York, worked with Burnham to introduce the idea of the City
Beautiful movement at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. There, they helped to design and
construct the “White City”—so named for the plaster of Paris construction of several buildings
that were subsequently painted a bright white—an example of landscaping and architecture that
shone as an example of perfect city planning. From wide-open green spaces to brightly painted
white buildings, connected with modern transportation services and appropriate sanitation, the
“White City” set the stage for American urban city planning for the next generation, beginning in
1901 with the modernization of Washington, DC. This model encouraged city planners to
consider three principal tenets: First, create larger park areas inside cities; second, build wider
boulevards to decrease traffic congestion and allow for lines of trees and other greenery between
lanes; and third, add more suburbs in order to mitigate congested living in the city itself (Figure
19.15). As each city adapted these principles in various ways, the City Beautiful movement
became a cornerstone of urban development well into the twentieth century.
Figure 19.15 This blueprint shows Burnham’s vision for Chicago, an example of the City
Beautiful movement. His goal was to preserve much of the green space along the city’s
lakefront, and to ensure that all city dwellers had access to green space.
Learning Objectives
By the end of this section, you will be able to:

Explain how American writers, both fiction and nonfiction, helped Americans to
better understand the changes they faced in the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries
Identify some of the influential women and African American writers of the era
In the late nineteenth century, Americans were living in a world characterized by rapid
change. Western expansion, dramatic new technologies, and the rise of big business
drastically influenced society in a matter of a few decades. For those living in the fastgrowing urban areas, the pace of change was even faster and harder to ignore. One
result of this time of transformation was the emergence of a series of notable authors,
who, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, offered a lens through which to better
understand the shifts in American society.
One key idea of the nineteenth century that moved from the realm of science to the murkier
ground of social and economic success was Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin was a
British naturalist who, in his 1859 work On the Origin of Species, made the case that species
develop and evolve through natural selection, not through divine intervention. The idea quickly
drew fire from the Anglican Church (although a liberal branch of Anglicans embraced the notion
of natural selection being part of God’s plan) and later from many others, both in England and
abroad, who felt that the theory directly contradicted the role of God in the earth’s creation.
Although biologists, botanists, and most of the scientific establishment widely accepted the
theory of evolution at the time of Darwin’s publication, which they felt synthesized much of the
previous work in the field, the theory remained controversial in the public realm for decades.
Political philosopher Herbert Spencer took Darwin’s theory of evolution further, coining the
actual phrase “survival of the fittest,” and later helping to popularize the phrase social
Darwinism to posit that society evolved much like a natural organism, wherein some individuals
will succeed due to racially and ethnically inherent traits, and their ability to adapt. This model
allowed that a collection of traits and skills, which could include intelligence, inherited wealth,
and so on, mixed with the ability to adapt, would let all Americans rise or fall of their own
accord, so long as the road to success was accessible to all. William Graham Sumner, a
sociologist at Yale, became the most vocal proponent of social Darwinism. Not surprisingly, this
ideology, which Darwin himself would have rejected as a gross misreading of his scientific
discoveries, drew great praise from those who made their wealth at this time. They saw their
success as proof of biological fitness, although critics of this theory were quick to point out that
those who did not succeed often did not have the same opportunities or equal playing field that
the ideology of social Darwinism purported. Eventually, the concept fell into disrepute in the
1930s and 1940s, as eugenicists began to utilize it in conjunction with their racial theories of
genetic superiority.
Other thinkers of the day took Charles Darwin’s theories in a more nuanced direction, focusing
on different theories of realism that sought to understand the truth underlying the changes in the
United States. These thinkers believed that ideas and social constructs must be proven to work
before they could be accepted. Philosopher William James was one of the key proponents of the
closely related concept of pragmatism, which held that Americans needed to experiment with
different ideas and perspectives to find the truth about American society, rather than assuming
that there was truth in old, previously accepted models. Only by tying ideas, thoughts, and
statements to actual objects and occurrences could one begin to identify a coherent truth,
according to James. His work strongly influenced the subsequent avant-garde and modernist
movements in literature and art, especially in understanding the role of the observer, artist, or
writer in shaping the society they attempted to observe. John Dewey built on the idea of
pragmatism to create a theory of instrumentalism, which advocated the use of education in the
search for truth. Dewey believed that education, specifically observation and change through the
scientific method, was the best tool by which to reform and improve American society as it
continued to grow ever more complex. To that end, Dewey strongly encouraged educational
reforms designed to create an informed American citizenry that could then form the basis for
other, much-needed progressive reforms in society.
In addition to the new medium of photography, popularized by Riis, novelists and other artists
also embraced realism in their work. They sought to portray vignettes from real life in their
stories, partly in response to the more sentimental works of their predecessors. Visual artists such
as George Bellows, Edward Hopper, and Robert Henri, among others, formed the Ashcan School
of Art, which was interested primarily in depicting the urban lifestyle that was quickly gripping
the United States at the turn of the century. Their works typically focused on working-class city
life, including the slums and tenement houses, as well as working-class forms of leisure and
entertainment (Figure 19.16).
Figure 19.16 Like most examples of works by Ashcan artists, The Cliff Dwellers, by George
Wesley Bellows, depicts the crowd of urban life realistically. (credit: Los Angeles County
Museum of Art)
Novelists and journalists also popularized realism in literary works. Authors such as Stephen
Crane, who wrote stark stories about life in the slums or during the Civil War, and Rebecca
Harding Davis, who in 1861 published Life in the Iron Mills, embodied this popular style. Mark
Twain also sought realism in his books, whether it was the reality of the pioneer spirit, seen
in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in 1884, or the issue of corruption in The
Gilded Age, co-authored with Charles Dudley Warner in 1873. The narratives and visual arts of
these realists could nonetheless be highly stylized, crafted, and even fabricated, since their goal
was the effective portrayal of social realities they thought required reform. Some authors, such as
Jack London, who wrote The Call of the Wild, embraced a school of thought called naturalism,
which concluded that the laws of nature and the natural world were the only truly relevant laws
governing humanity (Figure 19.17).
Figure 19.17 Jack London poses with his dog Rollo in 1885 (a). The cover of Jack London’s The
Call of the Wild (b) shows the dogs in the brutal environment of the Klondike. The book tells the
story of Buck, a dog living happily in California until he is sold to be a sled dog in Canada.
There, he must survive harsh conditions and brutal behavior, but his innate animal nature takes
over and he prevails. The story clarifies the struggle between humanity’s nature versus the
nurturing forces of society.
Kate Chopin, widely regarded as the foremost woman short story writer and novelist of her day,
sought to portray a realistic view of women’s lives in late nineteenth-century America, thus
paving the way for more explicit feminist literature in generations to come. Although Chopin
never described herself as a feminist per se, her reflective works on her experiences as a southern
woman introduced a form of creative nonfiction that captured the struggles of women in the
United States through their own individual experiences. She also was among the first authors to
openly address the race issue of miscegenation, a term referring to interracial relations, which
usually has negative associations. In her work Desiree’s Baby, Chopin specifically explores the
Creole community of her native Louisiana in depths that exposed the reality of racism in a
manner seldom seen in literature of the time.
African American poet, playwright, and novelist of the realist period, Paul Laurence Dunbar
dealt with issues of race at a time when most reform-minded Americans preferred to focus on
other issues. Through his combination of writing in both standard English and Black dialect,
Dunbar delighted readers with his rich portrayals of the successes and struggles associated with
African American life. Although he initially struggled to find the patronage and financial support
required to develop a full-time literary career, Dunbar’s subsequent professional relationship
with literary critic and Atlantic Monthly editor William Dean Howells helped to firmly cement
his literary credentials as the foremost African American writer of his generation. As with
Chopin and Harding Davis, Dunbar’s writing highlighted parts of the American experience that
were not well understood by the dominant demographic of the country. In their work, these
authors provided readers with insights into a world that was not necessarily familiar to them and
also gave hidden communities—be it iron mill workers, southern women, or African American
men—a sense of voice.
Mark Twain’s lampoon of author Horatio Alger demonstrates Twain’s commitment to realism by
mocking the myth set out by Alger, whose stories followed a common theme in which a poor but
honest boy goes from rags to riches through a combination of “luck and pluck.” See how Twain
twists Alger’s hugely popular storyline in this piece of satire.
Kate Chopin: An Awakening in an Unpopular Time
Author Kate Chopin grew up in the American South and later moved to St. Louis, where she
began writing stories to make a living after the death of her husband. She published her works
throughout the late 1890s, with stories appearing in literary magazines and local papers. It was
her second novel, The Awakening, which gained her notoriety and criticism in her lifetime, and
ongoing literary fame after her death (Figure 19.18).
Figure 19.18 Critics railed against Kate Chopin, the author of the 1899 novel The Awakening,
criticizing its stark portrayal of a woman struggling with societal confines and her own desires.
In the twentieth century, scholars rediscovered Chopin’s work and The Awakening is now
considered part of the canon of American literature.
The Awakening, set in the New Orleans society that Chopin knew well, tells the story of a
woman struggling with the constraints of marriage who ultimately seeks her own fulfillment over
the needs of her family. The book deals far more openly than most novels of the day with
questions of women’s sexual desires. It also flouted nineteenth-century conventions by looking
at the protagonist’s struggles with the traditional role expected of women.
While a few contemporary reviewers saw merit in the book, most criticized it as immoral and
unseemly. It was censored, called “pure poison,” and critics railed against Chopin herself. While
Chopin wrote squarely in the tradition of realism that was popular at this time, her work covered
ground that was considered “too real” for comfort. After the negative reception of the novel,
Chopin retreated from public life and discontinued writing. She died five years after its
publication. After her death, Chopin’s work was largely ignored, until scholars rediscovered it in
the late twentieth century, and her books and stories came back into print. The Awakening in
particular has been recognized as vital to the earliest edges of the modern feminist movement.
Excerpts from interviews with David Chopin, Kate Chopin’s grandson, and a scholar who
studies her work provide interesting perspectives on the author and her views.
While many Americans at this time, both everyday working people and theorists, felt the changes
of the era would lead to improvements and opportunities, there were critics of the emerging
social shifts as well. Although less popular than Twain and London, authors such as Edward
Bellamy, Henry George, and Thorstein Veblen were also influential in spreading critiques of the
industrial age. While their critiques were quite distinct from each other, all three believed that the
industrial age was a step in the wrong direction for the country.
In the 1888 novel Looking Backward, 2000-1887, Edward Bellamy portrays a utopian America
in the year 2000, with the country living in peace and harmony after abandoning the capitalist
model and moving to a socialist state. In the book, Bellamy predicts the future advent of credit
cards, cable entertainment, and “super-store” cooperatives that resemble a modern day WalMart. Looking Backward proved to be a popular bestseller (third only to Uncle Tom’s
Cabin and Ben Hur among late nineteenth-century publications) and appealed to those who felt
the industrial age of big business was sending the country in the wrong direction. Eugene Debs,
who led the national Pullman Railroad Strike in 1894, later commented on how Bellamy’s work
influenced him to adopt socialism as the answer to the exploitative industrial capitalist model. In
addition, Bellamy’s work spurred the publication of no fewer than thirty-six additional books or
articles by other writers, either supporting Bellamy’s outlook or directly criticizing it. In 1897,
Bellamy felt compelled to publish a sequel, entitled Equality, in which he further explained ideas
he had previously introduced concerning educational reform and women’s equality, as well as a
world of vegetarians who speak a universal language.
Another author whose work illustrated the criticisms of the day was nonfiction writer Henry
George, an economist best known for his 1879 work Progress and Poverty, which criticized the
inequality found in an industrial economy. He suggested that, while people should own that
which they create, all land and natural resources should belong to all equally, and should be
taxed through a “single land tax” in order to disincentivize private land ownership. His thoughts
influenced many economic progressive reformers, as well as led directly to the creation of the
now-popular board game, Monopoly.
Another critique of late nineteenth-century American capitalism was Thorstein Veblen, who
lamented in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) that capitalism created a middle class more
preoccupied with its own comfort and consumption than with maximizing production. In coining
the phrase “conspicuous consumption,” Veblen identified the means by which one class of
nonproducers exploited the working class that produced the goods for their consumption. Such
practices, including the creation of business trusts, served only to create a greater divide between
the haves and have-nots in American society, and resulted in economic inefficiencies that
required correction or reform.
City Beautiful
a movement begun by Daniel Burnham and Fredrick Law Olmsted, who believed
that cities should be built with three core tenets in mind: the inclusion of parks
within city limits, the creation of wide boulevards, and the expansion of more
the financial kickback provided to city bosses in exchange for political favors
Great Migration
the name for the large wave of African Americans who left the South after the
Civil War, mostly moving to cities in the Northeast and Upper Midwest
a theory promoted by John Dewey, who believed that education was key to the
search for the truth about ideals and institutions
machine politics
the process by which citizens of a city used their local ward alderman to work the
“machine” of local politics to meet local needs within a neighborhood
a theory of realism that states that the laws of nature and the natural world were
the only relevant laws governing humanity
a doctrine supported by philosopher William James, which held that Americans
needed to experiment and find the truth behind underlying institutions, religions,
and ideas in American life, rather than accepting them on faith
a collection of theories and ideas that sought to understand the underlying
changes in the United States during the late nineteenth century
settlement house movement
an early progressive reform movement, largely spearheaded by women, which
sought to offer services such as childcare and free healthcare to help the working
social gospel
the belief that the church should be as concerned about the conditions of people
in the secular world as it was with their afterlife
Social Register
a de facto directory of the wealthy socialites in each city, first published by Louis
Keller in 1886
Tammany Hall
a political machine in New York, run by machine boss William Tweed with
assistance from George Washington Plunkitt
19.1 Urbanization and Its Challenges
Urbanization spread rapidly in the mid-nineteenth century due to a confluence of factors. New
technologies, such as electricity and steam engines, transformed factory work, allowing factories
to move closer to urban centers and away from the rivers that had previously been vital sources
of both water power and transportation. The growth of factories—as well as innovations such as
electric lighting, which allowed them to run at all hours of the day and night—created a massive
need for workers, who poured in from both rural areas of the United States and from eastern and
southern Europe. As cities grew, they were unable to cope with this rapid influx of workers, and
the living conditions for the working class were terrible. Tight living quarters, with inadequate
plumbing and sanitation, led to widespread illness. Churches, civic organizations, and the secular
settlement house movement all sought to provide some relief to the urban working class, but
conditions remained brutal for many new city dwellers.
19.2 The African American “Great Migration” and New European Immigration
For both African Americans migrating from the postwar South and immigrants arriving from
southeastern Europe, a combination of “push” and “pull” factors influenced their migration to
America’s urban centers. African Americans moved away from the racial violence and limited
opportunities that existed in the rural South, seeking wages and steady work, as well as the
opportunity to vote safely as free men; however, they quickly learned that racial discrimination
and violence were not limited to the South. For European immigrants, famine and persecution
led them to seek a new life in the United States, where, the stories said, the streets were paved in
gold. Of course, in northeastern and midwestern cities, both groups found a more challenging
welcome than they had anticipated. City residents blamed recent arrivals for the ills of the cities,
from overcrowding to a rise in crime. Activist groups pushed for anti-immigration legislation,
seeking to limit the waves of immigrants that sought a better future in the United States.
19.3 Relief from the Chaos of Urban Life
The burgeoning cities brought together both rich and poor, working class and upper class;
however, the realities of urban dwellers’ lives varied dramatically based on where they fell in the
social chain. Entertainment and leisure-time activities were heavily dependent on one’s status
and wealth. For the working poor, amusement parks and baseball games offered inexpensive
entertainment and a brief break from the squalor of the tenements. For the emerging middle class
of salaried professionals, an escape to the suburbs kept them removed from the city’s chaos
outside of working hours. And for the wealthy, immersion in arts and culture, as well as
inclusion in the Social Register, allowed them to socialize exclusively with those they felt were
of the same social status. The City Beautiful movement benefitted all city dwellers, with its
emphasis on public green spaces, and more beautiful and practical city boulevards. In all, these
different opportunities for leisure and pleasure made city life manageable for the citizens who
lived there.
19.4 Change Reflected in Thought and Writing
Americans were overwhelmed by the rapid pace and scale of change at the close of the
nineteenth century. Authors and thinkers tried to assess the meaning of the country’s seismic
shifts in culture and society through their work. Fiction writers often used realism in an attempt
to paint an accurate portrait of how people were living at the time. Proponents of economic
developments and cultural changes cited social Darwinism as an acceptable model to explain
why some people succeeded and others failed, whereas other philosophers looked more closely
at Darwin’s work and sought to apply a model of proof and pragmatism to all ideas and
institutions. Other sociologists and philosophers criticized the changes of the era, citing the
inequities found in the new industrial economy and its negative effects on workers.
Figure 20.1 L. Frank Baum’s story of a Kansas girl and the magical land of Oz has
become a classic of both film and screen, but it may have originated in part as an
allegory of late nineteenth-century politics and the rise of the Populist movement.
Chapter Outline
20.1 Political Corruption in Postbellum America
20.2 The Key Political Issues: Patronage, Tariffs, and Gold
20.3 Farmers Revolt in the Populist Era
20.4 Social and Labor Unrest in the 1890s
L. Frank Baum was a journalist who rose to prominence at the end of the nineteenth
century. Baum’s most famous story, The Wizard of Oz (Figure 20.1), was published in
1900, but “Oz” first came into being years earlier, when he told a story to a group of
schoolchildren visiting his newspaper office in South Dakota. He made up a tale of a
wonderful land, and, searching for a name, he allegedly glanced down at his file
cabinet, where the bottom drawer was labeled “O-Z.” Thus was born the world of Oz,
where a girl from struggling Kansas hoped to get help from a “wonderful wizard” who
proved to be a fraud. Since then, many have speculated that the story reflected Baum’s
political sympathies for the Populist Party, which galvanized midwestern and southern
farmers’ demands for federal reform. Whether he intended the story to act as an
allegory for the plight of farmers and workers in late nineteenth-century America, or
whether he simply wanted to write an “American fairy tale” set in the heartland,
Populists looked for answers much like Dorothy did. And the government in Washington
proved to be meek rather than magical.
Learning Objectives
By the end of this section, you will be able to:

Discuss the national political scene during the Gilded Age
Analyze why many critics considered the Gilded Age a period of ineffective
national leadership
Figure 20.2
The challenges Americans faced in the post-Civil War era extended far beyond the
issue of Reconstruction and the challenge of an economy without slavery. Political and
social repair of the nation was paramount, as was the correlative question of race
relations in the wake of slavery. In addition, farmers faced the task of cultivating arid
western soils and selling crops in an increasingly global commodities market, while
workers in urban industries suffered long hours and hazardous conditions at stagnant
Farmers, who still composed the largest percentage of the U.S. population, faced
mounting debts as agricultural prices spiraled downward. These lower prices were due
in large part to the cultivation of more acreage using more productive farming tools and
machinery, global market competition, as well as price manipulation by commodity
traders, exorbitant railroad freight rates, and costly loans upon which farmers depended.
For many, their hard work resulted merely in a continuing decline in prices and even
greater debt. These farmers, and others who sought leaders to heal the wounds left
from the Civil War, organized in different states, and eventually into a national thirdparty challenge, only to find that, with the end of Reconstruction, federal political power
was stuck in a permanent partisan stalemate, and corruption was widespread at both
the state and federal levels.
As the Gilded Age unfolded, presidents had very little power, due in large part to highly
contested elections in which relative popular majorities were razor-thin. Two presidents
won the Electoral College without a popular majority. Further undermining their efficacy
was a Congress comprising mostly politicians operating on the principle of political
patronage. Eventually, frustrated by the lack of leadership in Washington, some
Americans began to develop their own solutions, including the establishment of new
political parties and organizations to directly address the problems they faced. Out of
the frustration wrought by war and presidential political impotence, as well as an
overwhelming pace of industrial change, farmers and workers formed a new grassroots
reform movement that, at the end of the century, was eclipsed by an even larger, mostly
middle-class, Progressive movement. These reform efforts did bring about change—but
not without a fight.
Mark Twain coined the phrase “Gilded Age” in a book he co-authored with Charles Dudley
Warner in 1873, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The book satirized the corruption of postCivil War society and politics. Indeed, popular excitement over national growth and
industrialization only thinly glossed over the stark economic inequalities and various degrees of
corruption of the era (Figure 20.3). Politicians of the time largely catered to business interests in
exchange for political support and wealth. Many participated in graft and bribery, often
justifying their actions with the excuse that corruption was too widespread for a successful
politician to resist. The machine politics of the cities, specifically Tammany Hall in New York,
illustrate the kind of corrupt, but effective, local and national politics that dominated the era.
Figure 20.3 Pages from Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age, published in 1873. The illustrations in
this chapter reveal the cost of doing business in Washington in this new age of materialism and
corruption, with the cost of obtaining a female lobbyist’s support set at $10,000, while that of a
male lobbyist or a “high moral” senator can be had for $3,000.
Nationally, between 1872 and 1896, the lack of clear popular mandates made presidents reluctant
to venture beyond the interests of their traditional supporters. As a result, for nearly a quarter of a
century, presidents had a weak hold on power, and legislators were reluctant to tie their political
agendas to such weak leaders. On the contrary, weakened presidents were more susceptible to
support various legislators’ and lobbyists’ agendas, as they owed tremendous favors to their
political parties, as well as to key financial contributors, who helped them garner just enough
votes to squeak into office through the Electoral College. As a result of this relationship, the rare
pieces of legislation passed were largely responses to the desires of businessmen and
industrialists whose support helped build politicians’ careers.
What was the result of this political malaise? Not surprisingly, almost nothing was accomplished
on the federal level. However, problems associated with the tremendous economic growth during
this time continued to mount. More Americans were moving to urban centers, which were unable
to accommodate the massive numbers of working poor. Tenement houses with inadequate
sanitation led to widespread illness. In rural parts of the country, people fared no better. Farmers
were unable to cope with the challenges of low prices for their crops and exorbitant costs for
everyday goods. All around the country, Americans in need of solutions turned further away
from the federal government for help, leading to the rise of fractured and corrupt political
Mark Twain and the Gilded Age
Mark Twain (Figure 20.4) wrote The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today with his neighbor, Charles
Dudley Warner, as a satire about the corrupt politics and lust for power that he felt characterized
American society at the time. The book, the only novel Twain ever co-authored, tells of the
characters’ desire to sell their land to the federal government and become rich. It takes aim at
both the government in Washington and those Americans, in the South and elsewhere, whose
lust for money and status among the newly rich in the nation’s capital leads them to corrupt and
foolish choices.
Figure 20.4 Mark Twain was a noted humorist, recognized by most Americans as the greatest
writer of his day. He co-wrote the novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today with Charles Dudley
Warner in 1873.
In the following conversation from Chapter Fifty-One of the book, Colonel Sellers instructs
young Washington Hawkins on the routine practices of Congress:
“Now let’s figure up a little on, the preliminaries. I think Congress always tries to do as near
right as it can, according to its lights. A man can’t ask any fairer than that. The first preliminary
it always starts out on, is to clean itself, so to speak. It will arraign two or three dozen of its
members, or maybe four or five dozen, for taking bribes to vote for this and that and the other
bill last winter.”
“It goes up into the dozens, does it?”
“Well, yes; in a free country likes ours, where any man can run for Congress and anybody can
vote for him, you can’t expect immortal purity all the time—it ain’t in nature. Sixty or eighty or a
hundred and fifty people are bound to get in who are not angels in disguise, as young Hicks the
correspondent says; but still it is a very good average; very good indeed. . . . Well, after they
have finished the bribery cases, they will take up cases of members who have bought their seats
with money. That will take another four weeks.”
“Very good; go on. You have accounted for two-thirds of the session.”
“Next they will try each other for various smaller irregularities, like the sale of appointments to
West Point cadetships, and that sort of thing— . . . ”
“How long does it take to disinfect itself of these minor impurities?”
“Well, about two weeks, generally.”
“So Congress always lies helpless in quarantine ten weeks of a session. That’s encouraging.”
The book was a success, in part because it amused people even as it excoriated the politics of the
day. For this humor, as well as its astute analysis, Twain and Warner’s book still offers
entertainment and insight today.
Visit the PBS Scrap Book for information on Mark Twain’s life and marriage at the time he
wrote The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.
In many ways, the presidential election of 1876 foreshadowed the politics of the era, in that it
resulted in one of the most controversial results in all of presidential history. The country was in
the middle of the economic downturn caused by the Panic of 1873, a downturn that would
ultimately last until 1879, all but assuring that Republican incumbent Ulysses S. Grant would not
be reelected. Instead, the Republican Party nominated a three-time governor from Ohio,
Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes was a popular candidate who advocated for both “hard money”—an
economy based upon gold currency transactions—to protect against inflationary pressures
and civil service reform, that is, recruitment based upon merit and qualifications, which was to
replace the practice of handing out government jobs as “spoils.” Most importantly, he had no
significant political scandals in his past, unlike his predecessor Grant, who suffered through
the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal. In this most notorious example of Gilded Age
corruption, several congressmen accepted cash and stock bribes in return for appropriating
inflated federal funds for the construction of the transcontinental railroad.
The Democrats likewise sought a candidate who could champion reform against growing
political corruption. They found their man in Samuel J. Tilden, governor of New York and a selfmade millionaire, who had made a successful political career fighting corruption in New York
City, including spearheading the prosecution against Tammany Hall Boss William Tweed, who
was later jailed. Both parties tapped into the popular mood of the day, each claiming to champion
reform and promising an end to the corruption that had become rampant in Washington (Figure
20.5). Likewise, both parties promised an end to post-Civil War Reconstruction.
Figure 20.5 These campaign posters for Rutherford B. Hayes (a) and Samuel Tilden (b)
underscore the tactics of each party, which remained largely unchanged, regardless of the
candidates. The Republican placard highlights the party’s role in preserving “liberty and union”
in the wake of the Civil War, hoping to tap into the northern voters’ pride in victory over
secession. The Democratic poster addresses the economic turmoil and corruption of the day,
specifically that of the Grant administration, promising “honesty, reform, and prosperity” for all.
The campaign was a typical one for the era: Democrats shone a spotlight on earlier Republican
scandals, such as the Crédit Mobilier affair, and Republicans relied upon the bloody shirt
campaign, reminding the nation of the terrible human toll of the war against southern
confederates who now reappeared in national politics under the mantle of the Democratic Party.
President Grant previously had great success with the “bloody shirt” strategy in the 1868
election, when Republican supporters attacked Democratic candidate Horatio Seymour for his
sympathy with New York City draft rioters during the war. In 1876, true to the campaign style of
the day, neither Tilden nor Hayes actively campaigned for office, instead relying upon supporters
and other groups to promote their causes.
Fearing a significant African American and White Republican voter turnout in the South,
particularly in the wake of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which further empowered African
Americans with protection in terms of public accommodations, Democrats relied upon White
supremacist terror organizations to intimidate Black people and Republicans. Tactics included
physically assaulting many while they attempted to vote. The Redshirts, based in Mississippi and
the Carolinas, and the White League in Louisiana, relied upon intimidation tactics similar to the
Ku Klux Klan but operated in a more open and organized fashion with the sole goal of restoring
Democrats to political predominance in the South. In several instances, Redshirts would attack
freedmen who attempted to vote, whipping them openly in the streets while simultaneously
hosting barbecues to attract Democratic voters to the polls. Women throughout South Carolina
began to sew red flannel shirts for the men to wear as a sign of their political views; women
themselves began wearing red ribbons in their hair and bows about their waists.
The result of the presidential election, ultimately, was close. Tilden won the popular vote by
nearly 300,000 votes; however, he had only 184 electoral votes, with 185 needed to proclaim
formal victory. Three states, Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, were in dispute due to
widespread charges of voter fraud and miscounting. Questions regarding the validity of one of
the three electors in Oregon cast further doubt on the final vote; however, that state subsequently
presented evidence to Congress confirming all three electoral votes for Hayes.
As a result of the disputed election, the House of Representatives established a special electoral
commission to determine which candidate won the challenged electoral votes of these three
states. In what later became known as the Compromise of 1877, Republican Party leaders offered
southern Democrats an enticing deal. The offer was that if the commission found in favor of a
Hayes victory, Hayes would order the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. troops from those three
southern states, thus allowing the collapse of the radical Reconstruction governments of the
immediate post-Civil War era. This move would permit southern Democrats to end federal
intervention and control their own states’ fates in the wake of the end of slavery (Figure 20.6).
Figure 20.6 Titled “A Truce not a Compromise,” this cartoon suggests the lack of consensus
after the election of 1876 could have ended in another civil war.
After weeks of deliberation, the electoral commission voted eight to seven along straight party
lines, declaring Hayes the victor in each of the three disputed states. As a result, Hayes defeated
Tilden in the electoral vote by a count of 185–184 and became the next president. By April of
that year, radical Reconstruction ended as promised, with the removal of federal troops from the
final two Reconstruction states, South Carolina and Louisiana. Within a year, Redeemers—
largely Southern Democrats—had regained control of the political and social fabric of the South.
Although unpopular among the voting electorate, especially among African Americans who
referred to it as “The Great Betrayal,” the compromise exposed the willingness of the two major
political parties to avoid a “stand-off” via a southern Democrat filibuster, which would have
greatly prolonged the final decision regarding the election. Democrats were largely satisfied to
end Reconstruction and maintain “home rule” in the South in exchange for control over the
White House. Likewise, most realized that Hayes would likely be a one-term president at best
and prove to be as ineffectual as his pre-Civil War predecessors.
Perhaps most surprising was the lack of even greater public outrage over such a transparent
compromise, indicative of the little that Americans expected of their national government. In an
era where voter turnout remained relatively high, the two major political parties remained largely
indistinguishable in their agendas as well as their propensity for questionable tactics and
backroom deals. Likewise, a growing belief in laissez-faire principles as opposed to reforms and
government intervention (which many Americans believed contributed to the outbreak of the
Civil War) led even more Americans to accept the nature of an inactive federal government
(Figure 20.7).
Figure 20.7 Powerful Republican Party leader Roscoe Conkling is shown here as the devil.
Hayes walks off with the prize of the 1876 election, the South, personified as a woman. The
cartoon, drawn by Joseph Keppler, has a caption that quotes Goethe: “Unto that Power he …

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