How great were the economic and social consequences of rapid

Cambridge International AS and A Level History
Component 2: The History of the USA, 1840-1941
The Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, 1870s-1920s
How great were the economic and social consequences
of rapid industrialization in the late nineteenth century?
Introduction: The Jeffersonian Ideal
§ The Founding Fathers of the United States proclaimed the positive
advantages of nonmetropolitan, nonurban, unsophisticated culture.
This perspective emphasized the blessings of simplicity, frugality, and
authenticity. The virtues of plainness thus distinguished Americans
from the inhabitants of Europe. These cultural images were politically
important. For if, as Thomas Jefferson announced, government
derived its just powers from the consent of the governed, then the
character of the citizens would determine the quality of their political
institutions. “I think our governments will remain virtuous … ” declare
Jefferson in 1787, “as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will
be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When
they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe,” he
warned, “they will become corrupt as in Europe.”
§ Ideally, Americans wanted to be Jeffersonian yeoman so that they
could enjoy Anglo-Saxon liberty and democracy, but in 1890, there
was no space for this yeoman, no future for the Jeffersonian dream. In
the late nineteenth century, the population of cities almost doubled
every decade.
Even the number of cities multiplied, moving steadily westward:
Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis,
Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Minneapolis. Such urban growth increasingly
depended upon immigration from Europe, including millions of
Catholics and Jews. In 1862, as Yankees in Minnesota cleared the
Sioux from the land, the center of St. Paul, ironically, was filling with
Irish Catholics.
§ In 1865, the white American majority identified the nation with
Protestant, especially evangelical Protestant, values. It had been easy to
relate this kind of religious emphasis to the autonomous spiritual life
of the individual and to the assumed economic autonomy of the
homestead. It was easy to fear the loss of this autonomy in the city. For
these Protestants, the index of the health of their Christian nation was
the observance of the Sabbath. The nation was healthy if its people
observed the day in sober worship with no concessions to work or
play. By this standard, Protestant leaders already had found signs of
great decadence by 1877.
As one churchman wrote, “Owing to the demoralization consequent
on the late Civil War, and the laxity of all moral restraint growing
inevitably from such social disturbances; owing to the introduction and
acceptance of trans-Atlantic theories and practices; owing to the mixed
character of our great population, representing too many divergent
types of thought, Sabbath desecration has assumed alarming
proportions and summons the Churches of Christ to a new and
vigorous campaign for its repression.”
§ The virtues of evangelical Protestantism and its relationship to
American nationalism were expressed in popular public-school
textbooks. Common Sense Geography, for example, stated that
“Christian [Protestant] nations are made powerful, and much more
advanced in knowledge than any others. Their power also is
continually increasing. There is little doubt that, in the course of a few
generations, the Christian [Protestant] religion will be spread over the
greater part of the earth.” By the 1880s, this sense of religious manifest
destiny was ironically threatened in the very heart of the American
citadel by the waves of Catholic immigrants who challenged Protestant
domination of the public schools.
§ Josiah Strong, one of the great evangelical
theologians, wrote Our Country in 1884 to
warn that “the city” represented the “seven
perils” facing the nation. The first six were
Romanism, Mormonism, intemperance,
socialism, wealth, and immigration, and they
all blended into the seventh peril, the city.
The city was the base for the alien army that
had invaded America, “an army twice as vast
as the estimated numbers of Goths and
Vandals that swept over Southern Europe
and overwhelmed Rome.”
§ Everywhere one looked in late-nineteenthcentury America, one sensed the failure of
space, of the geographical frontier, to
provide an environment for individual
liberty and equality. One indication was the
formation in 1884 of the Zion’s Watch
Tower Society by Charles Taze Russell.
Josiah Strong
Russell’s group, which was to grow to major
proportions in the twentieth century as the
Jehovah’s Witnesses, expressed the first
doubts by lower-middle-class Protestants
about the necessary relationship between the
American political state and Christian values.
Russell rejected the orthodox Protestantism
of his youth after concluding that an
established elite was in control and
manipulating American society. He believed
that their satanic conspiracy worked through
“the religious, commercial, and political
Charles Taze Russell
combine.” As corrupt as any European
nation, he predicted that this American establishment would be
destroyed by 1914 by the armies of God. Only those who refused to
be loyal citizens of the evil nation, only those who became Russell’s
followers, would be safe from Armageddon and would inherit the
purged and purified earth.
§ Another major spokesman of disenchantment was Mark Twain. As
early as his 1868 book, The Gilded Age, written with Charles Warner,
Twain expressed his horror at the political corruption that followed
the Civil War. Fantastic economic growth seemed to be the outcome
of political corruption, yet dedication to economic labor did not bring
independence to the individual. Rather, it trapped him in the social
system. Twain came to
question a redemptive
purity that contrasted
with the corruption of
European society.
Mark Twain
Charles Warner
Twain’s vision of America, including its
new technology, was as bleak as that of
his contemporary Henry Adams. The
direct descendant of two presidents,
Adams was sensitive to the political
corruption of the 1860s and 1870s. Like
Twain, Adams felt trapped by the forces
of urban society. Both men shared the
idea that this new energy would destroy
rather than liberate the individual and
that by 1890 they were approaching the
end. Twain’s final vision of the future
was a holocaust created by an engineerdictator who destroys America with an
ultimate weapon.
Henry Adams
The Farming Crisis
§ Many farmers did not share the industrial workers’ fears of the
corporation. Although the large railroad companies symbolized the
mobilization of labor in rigid, hierarchical, bureaucratic patterns, for
the farmers it still symbolized the possibility of fulfilling the agrarian
dream of Thomas Jefferson. The rapid westward expansion of the
railroads ironically provided the economic conditions for the
expansion of the number of farms from about 2,000,000 in 1860 to
almost 6,000,000 in 1900 and a comparable increase in the land
under cultivation from about 150,000,000 acres to almost
400,000,000. Without the extension of the railroads, hundreds of
thousands of white settlers could not have taken advantage of the
Homestead Act of 1862, which entitled them to a 160-acre farm. The
railroads also had been given millions of acres by the national, state,
and county governments to encourage their push into the West. The
railroads subsequently sold these lands at prices ranging from two
dollars to ten dollars an acre.
§ Recognizing the profitability of settling the West, the railroads also
joined with the Midwestern and western state governments in sending
agents to the East and to Europe to encourage immigration.
As Governor Alexander Ramsey of Minnesota
declared, “Give us the capital of more men and
we will vivify and infuse the breath of life into the
dead capital of millions of acres now growing
only prairie flowers. Immigration will multiply
capital, diffuse wealth, sell our town lots and
increase activity in every pursuit and business.”
§ This boom psychology and the almost religious
idealism of achieving yeoman independence
inspired hundreds of thousands of settlers to
fling themselves into the space of the newly
Alexander Ramsey
conquered Indian Territory. But the idealism
that drove them west was not enjoyed in the lives they led there. One
wife described a typical day as “done my housework, then made fried
cakes, squash pies, baked wheat and corn bread, cut out a night dress
and partly made it,” and then “am very tired.” On the edge of white
settlement, without family or friends or medical help, women bore
many babies and then watched a high percentage of them die.
Again, a wife recorded the experience of sitting up with a sick child.
“At half past five this A.M., he died after much suffering.” Then she
added, “Made his pants Aunty sent him and buried him about sun
down. All well with him.”
§ This final farmers’ frontier was characterized by a total commitment
to technological progress. “The Minnesota farmers do not go out
there in the old ways in which their fathers
had,” reported the New England writer
Mary Dodge, “for the very good reason they
have neither ways nor fathers. They make
experiments. Indeed, their farming itself is
an experiment.” And one could see the
twentieth-century future of corporation
farming on the incredibly flat land of the
Red River Valley between Minnesota and
North Dakota, where men like Oliver
Dalrymple put together farms of thirty
thousand acres.
Oliver Dalrymple
There, commanding twenty-five reapers moving through the wheat
fields, “a superintendent on a superb horse, like a brigadier directing
his forces, rides along the line, accompanied by his staff of two on
horseback. They are fully armed and equipped, not with swords but
with wrenches, hammers, chisels. An army of ‘shockers’ follow the
reapers, setting up the bundles to ripen before threshing.”
§ The rapid mechanization of agriculture made it possible for fewer
farmers to feed more people. But the irony for this agricultural
community was that the farmers, because they depended on the
natural cycle of the growing season, could not equal the linear
productive output of the urban factories. Although the farmers could
use machines to accelerate planting and harvesting and eliminate
much of the manual labor in these critical periods, the machinery sat
idle after the planting. The farmer, unlike the industrial producer, had
to wait for the cyclical maturing of his crops and remained dependent,
to a large degree, on the amount of sunshine and rain needed by those
crops. Again, after the harvest, the machinery was not used during the
fall and winter as the farmer waited the return of spring and the new
planting season.
The machines in the factories, of course, could run every day of the
week, every week of the year, even day and night if necessary. But the
farmers did not pay less for the machines or the energy they used than
did industrialists.
§ As fewer men and more machines produced greater amounts of
goods, prices fell. Farmers, however, were not producing as efficiently
as industrial workers, although the prices of their agricultural products
were set by industry. By 1890, many farmers found that they simply
could not compete; they could not pay off mortgages because their
costs were not diminishing as they did for industry. An ever increasing
number of farmers lost their farms and became tenants on the land;
others moved into the cities after the loss of their farms; still others
survived by acquiring more machinery and increasing the size of their
farm, and sent their daughters and sons into the cities. In 1860,
6,000,000 people lived in the cities; in 1910, it was 45,000,000, almost
half the national population. At least 11,000,000 of the city dwellers in
1910 had come from rural America; almost another 20,000,000 were
immigrants, European peasants, driven from the land by the same
processes of industrial efficiency operating in the Old World.
The Realities of Urbanization
§ An elaborate popular literature was produced to educate the large
white Protestant population coming to the city from the farm in the
late nineteenth century. Manuals that taught young rustics how to
succeed in the city stressed the importance of time. “Holding
punctuality among the major virtues, the good worker is ever true to
the appointed hour and as he goes and comes, men set their watches
by him, as though he were a clock—face of the sun and moved by solar
§ This literature linked spiritual and economic success. “Those who
will their salvation and diligently cultivate industry, frugality, sobriety,
perseverance, punctuality, loyalty, obedience will find the reward of
success.” Success for the young man from the farm was defined as
finding a secure place in the corporate army. Respect, even fear of
authority, was inculcated. “Your employer, like God, knows the ways
of the just and unjust. There are no secrets before God, or your
employer. He knows who shirks, who watches the clock, who clips a
few minutes, who is a little late and a little early to leave. He records
your sins and good works in the book of judgment and on the day of
reckoning knows who deserves poverty and who deserves wealth.”
§ In the immensely popular dime
novels of Horatio Alger, there is the
same moral lesson of loyalty and
obedience. His young orphan
heroes come to the city from the
country look for a protective father
figure. In his series of Ragged Dick
stories, Dick dreams that “some rich
man would adopt me, and give me
plenty to eat, and drink and wear,
without my havin’ to look so sharp
after it.” Dick also expresses his
limited ambition when he says, “I’d
like to be an office boy, and learn
business, and grow up ‘spectable.’”
Alger’s heroes succeed because they
are morally correct and they have
the good luck to find someone who
rewards their virtue.
A “Rags to Riches” Story
By Horatio Alger, Jr.
§ The demographic explosion of urban America was directly related
to the new forms of technology. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the
size of American cities remained limited by the absence of mass
transportation. People walked to work or climbed aboard horse-drawn
vehicles capable of carrying only a few passengers. In these walking
cities, no more extended than the time it could take the poor to walk
to and from work, the rich and powerful lived in the urban center,
where their important commercial and banking activities were
concentrated. After the development of trains and streetcars, the rich
moved to the outskirts of the city and commuted to their downtown
business. Manufacturing had been dispersed in factory towns spread
along rivers that supplied waterpower to run the machines. The use of
coal, and later electricity, for industrial power made it possible to
concentrate factories in the central cities. New technology provided
water for these expanding cities and created sewage systems to handle
the wastes of several million people as well as the wastes that came
from the huge new factories. Nonelected specialists came to control
water, sewage, transportation, and the other services—gas, electricity,
and the telephone—that made life in the gigantic metropolis possible.
§ Spatial specialization, even fragmentation, came to characterize this
new streetcar metropolis. In the smaller, pre-Civil War cities, rich and
poor lived side by side. Stores, offices, small-scale industry, residences,
and schools existed in the same neighborhoods. In the early twentiethcentury cities, not only did the rich flee the downtown area to live in
suburbs, but even the rapidly growing middle class and white- and
blue-collar workers moved away from the urban center to establish
modest neighborhoods apart from the inner-city poor.
§ At the very center of the downtown areas, skyscrapers proliferated,
serviced by elevators. Commercial and banking activities were
concentrated there. The executives came into this center every day
from the suburbs, and their white-collar workers arrived from the
edges of the city. Here also were concentrated the professional men,
lawyers, and doctors. The suburbs and the more modest lowermiddle-class neighborhoods became specialized as places for family
life dramatically separated from the work place or the place of
professional services. Major department stores and theaters became
part of the downtown landscape.
The wives of businessmen, doctors, and lawyers traveled along their
husbands’ commuting route to the center of the city for their shopping
and entertainment. Grouped around this specialized downtown area
was a ring of housing for the poorest city dwellers. Unable financially
to construct their own dwellings, they subdivided housing abandoned
by the wealthy and the middle class.
§ Chicago, which expanded
from 300,000 in 1870 to
3,000,000 in 1920, is a
classic example of this
pattern of residential rings
that characterized metropolitan development during
that half-century. Around the
area of residential poverty
that surrounded downtown
Chicago was a ring of bluecollar and lower-middle-class
State Street, North from Madison, Chicago, 1890s
Here there were some small single-family cottages, but most lived in
flats and apartments. In the middle-class suburbs were numerous
single-family homes. Running through these rings were corridors of
commercial and industrial activity that radiated from the downtown
center into the farmland, like the railroads that came into the central
city from every direction.
§ For the millions who surged into Chicago by World War I, the
major concern was economic and social survival. Protestants, Irish,
German, and Italian Catholics, a variety of Slavic groups, and blacks
settled in separate neighborhoods and maintained their ethnic identity.
Most aspects of life were experienced on the job and in the
neighborhoods. Work took place in factories or offices; there was no
interest or ability to see the economy of the city as a whole. There was
no connection between ethnic social identity and economic class
interest. Poor blacks, Catholics, and Jews in the innermost ring of
poverty did not associate with one another politically to put pressure
on city leaders to provide housing or jobs or medical care. Nor did
blue-collar lower-middle-class white Protestants and the various
Catholic groups and Jews see their common interests.
§ Only the mainstream Protestant elite, who dominated the city’s
economic life from downtown offices, seemed to look out from their
skyscrapers and see the city as a whole. But even for them, the whole
might be seen as a series of autonomous parts. Working their way to
the top of the corporation, they had been specialists in one of the
company’s departments. They were trained to see the functioning of
only their department. In a stable, corporate world where each
department was fulfilling its corporate responsibility, an overview
might not be necessary. Their political and economic control of the
city did not include social planning.
§ To all appearances, community leaders believed that all economic
and social problems would be solved by continued expansion. If the
city grew new rings as it responded to economic growth, then the
inner-city poor could move outward—into the ring formerly filled with
the blue-collar lower middle class who would also move outward into
the middle-class sector. The same hopes apparently were held in
regard to employment, education, and social services. Expansion, not
planning, was supposed to solve the urban problems of 1914.
§ The social and economic evidence of 1914, however, did not
support this belief in the inevitable benefits of economic expansion.
The black ghettos of Chicago and every other American city in 1914
showed no signs of moving their inhabitants onto the corporate
§ In 1890, there were fifteen thousand blacks in Chicago, where 80
percent of the population was foreign-born or had foreign-born
parents. By 1915, blacks numbered fifty thousand as more and more
left a South that seemed to offer few economic opportunities and
much social and political oppression. At the end of the Civil War,
blacks had hoped that the plantations would be broken up and the
land distributed to the former slaves. “The way we can best take care
of ourselves is to have land and till it by our own labor,” declared a
black leader, and he insisted that “no such thing as a free democratic
society can exist in any country where all lands are owned by one class
of men and cultivated by another.” But only a few radical Republican
leaders, like Thaddeus Stevens, agreed with the blacks that “the whole
fabric of southern society must be changed.”
Stevens asked, “How can republican
institutions, free schools, free churches, free
social intercourse exist in a mingled community
of nabobs and serfs?” Most radical Republican
leaders, however, shared so strongly the racial
prejudice against blacks that they would not
confiscate the property of southern white
§ Most of the former black slaves saw no
alternative but to continue to work for the white
man, on the white man’s land for the white
Thaddeus Stevens
man’s profit. The new pattern of southern
agriculture was sharecropping. Because of a shortage of capital to pay
wages and because blacks preferred the autonomy they could have as
sharecroppers, the planters divided their land into a series of small
farms worked by separate black families. A share of their crop was
returned to the planter to pay their rent. In practice, however, the
system of credit and indebtedness came to be dominated by
storekeepers located at country crossroads.
§ Northern bankers loaned money to southern bankers, who loaned it
to storekeepers, who used it to buy supplies of food, clothing, tools,
and seeds, which they sold to sharecroppers on credit. Under the
burden of high interest rates, only a small percentage of black farmers
could save enough money to buy their farms from the white owners.
For the children of these sharecroppers, white as well as black, there
was very little future in farming. And many blacks and whites began
the trek to the city.
§ Most migrants headed for the opportunity of a northern city.
Stripped of its huge capital investment in slaves, the white South had
little capital to invest in industrialization. Some northern and
European capital entered the region to finance the expansion of
railroads, tobacco factories in North Carolina, cotton mills in South
Carolina, steel mills in Birmingham, Alabama, and lumbering in
Mississippi and Louisiana. But this investment was so small in
comparison to that in the North and the Midwest that industrialization
and urbanization in the South fell far below national growth patterns.
§ There were few employment opportunities for
blacks in southern cities. Slaves and free blacks
had been artisans and craftsmen in these cities
before 1865. But between Emancipation and
1900, they were driven systematically from those
jobs by hostile whites. This created an ironic
situation for black educational leaders , such as
Booker T. Washington. Washington, born in
slavery, had received an education at Hampton
Booker T. Washington
Institute in Virginia. Hampton was one of a
number of schools begun by the American Missionary Association.
This group, dominated by New England Congregationalists, like other
northern white church groups was concerned with giving blacks the
opportunity of formal education that had been denied them under
slavery. Southern state governments, under radical Republican
leadership, had created public schools in that region for the first time.
This system included provisions for segregated black schools. Since
these institutions did not include high schools, secondary or college
education had to be provided by northern or southern philanthropy.
§ Northern white philanthropists visualized black education producing
more efficient agricultural and industrial workers and consequently
financed colleges for the training of black teachers to staff the primary
schools. Booker T. Washington, who had left Hampton to help build
Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, asked for funds from Carnegie and
Rockefeller and other northern philanthropists to teach young blacks
the virtues of thrift, punctuality, cleanliness, sobriety, and hard work.
Blacks, he insisted, would use any gifts responsibly because they were
“the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the
world has seen.” Education would not make them wish for social or
political equality, he continued, because “in all things that are purely
social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all
matters essential to mutual progress.”
§ Washington had been persuaded by his white New England teachers
that everyone could become a self-made man in America. He was
certain that if black people worked hard in agriculture and industry
and in small business, they could climb the ladder of economic
success. But blacks were prevented from making progress in those
occupations by the prejudice of white southerners in 1900.
And when blacks moved into northern cities, they encountered the
same prejudice. Skilled black artisans, barbers, waiters, and caterers
were deprived of jobs that subsequently went to white immigrants.
§ White immigrants were often able to apply their European work
experience to their jobs in America. Skilled workers from England
and Germany and Russian urban Jews frequently found well-paying
jobs in industry. Irish, Italian, and Polish peasants, among others, with
nothing but agricultural experience, found jobs as unskilled labor.
These unskilled, uneducated whites were given better jobs than
northern blacks, who had generations of urban experience, possessed
more occupational skills, and had acquired more formal education.
§ For the unskilled, uneducated, rural blacks who entered northern
cities in larger numbers in 1900, there was almost no hope of
advancement on an occupational ladder. In Boston, for example, a
second generation of Irish-Americans increased their number of
white-collar workers to 24 percent, doubling the 12 percent of the first
generation. In contrast, black immigrants in Boston increased their
number of white-collar workers only from 7 percent to 9 percent as
the descendants of the first generation came of age.
§ Most ethnic neighborhoods in the early
twentieth century were no more than 60
percent occupied by a dominant immigrant
group such as Irish or Italian or Jewish. But
blacks, who had been scattered throughout
northern cities in 1880, were soon pushed
into ghettos that became 90 percent or more
homogenous after 1900. Although most
black men were confined to low-paying jobs
as day laborers and most black women
confined to domestic service, these poor
people paid higher rents than their white
neighbors because they were forced to find
housing within the restricted boundaries of
the ghetto. In Chicago in 1910, an
apartment for working-class whites was
“seven room, $25,” but a “seven room for
colored people, $37.50.”
A $1/Month Room
“Dens of Death”
§ Within these developing black ghettos in every major northern city,
there was a revolution in leadership. In Chicago, for example, the
black community leaders of 1900 were doctors, dentists, and
newspaper men who were hopeful for integration. Within a decade,
however, they had been replaced by self-made businessmen like Oscar
DePriest, who made a fortune in real estate. Formerly from Alabama,
DePriest and a few other black businessmen acquired wealth from the
people of the ghetto and thus
had an interest in preserving
it. “I believe that the interest
of my people lies with the
wealth of the nation,” said a
black leader in Chicago,
“and with the class of white
people who control it.”
Oscar DePriest
§ But when Chicago’s black population doubled during World War I,
a result of a decline in white immigration, and the great migration of
five hundred thousand blacks into northern cities that served to fill the
labor shortage caused by the war, the obsequious attitude of these
black leaders toward the white establishment did not protect them
from savage white criticism. As the black ghetto pushed into Irish and
Polish working-class neighborhoods on its western edge and into a
middle-class white Protestant neighborhood on the south, street
conflicts occurred. White “athletic clubs” physically attacked blacks on
the streets and white “neighborhood improvement” societies even
bombed black homes. Rigid racial segregation was established in city
parks and beaches, restaurants, hotels, theaters, and stores. By the
spring of 1919, bombings were taking place every day, and finally a
major race riot exploded in July. Comparable riots had taken place in
other cities that had experienced large black migrations.
§ From 1890 to 1917, Anglo-Americans had been reassuring
themselves that the industrial and urban frontiers could replace the
vanished geographic frontier.
It was more than ironic, therefore, as white Americans expressed their
hope to control the vast colored populations of the world through the
industrialization and urbanization of every continent, that they seemed
unable to control the black population within their own national
boundary. “Black man, stay South,” thundered the Chicago Tribune
in 1918. “Blacks,” wrote the newspaper, “couldn’t fit into the northern
way of life because they didn’t have the white work ethic.” “Mo’ rain,
mo’ rest, mo’ niggers sleep in de nest”—this, said the Tribune, was
black philosophy; “today’s the day, not tomorrow with them.” And the
Chicago Tribune offered financial aid to any blacks who would agree
to return to the South.
“The Color Line Has Reached the North”
New Immigration
§ In the 1880s and 1890s, immigrants were pouring in from Europe at
a faster rate than before. They all went through the harrowing ocean
voyage of the poor. Now there were not so many Irish and German
immigrants as Italians, Russians, Jews, Greeks—people from Southern
and Eastern Europe, even more alien to native-born Anglo-Saxons
than the earlier newcomers were.
§ How the immigration of different ethnic groups contributed to the
fragmentation of the working class, how conflicts developed among
groups facing the same
difficult conditions, is shown
in an article in a Bohemian
newspaper, Svornost, of 27
February 1880. The newspaper reported that over half
of the taxpayers of the school
district, 258 parents and
guardians at the Throop
School in New York, signed
“American Citizens of Tomorrow”
a petition. The petition said: (Bohemian-Polish Quarter, New York City, 1903)
“the petitioners have just as much right to request the teaching of
Bohemian as have the German citizens to have German taught in the
public schools …. In opposition to this, Mr. Vocke claims that there is
a great deal of difference between Germans and Bohemians, or in
other words, they are superior.”
§ The Irish, still recalling the hatred against them when they arrived,
began to get jobs with the new political machines that wanted their
vote. Those who became policemen encountered the new Jewish
immigrants. On 30 July 1902, New York’s Jewish community held a
mass funeral for an important
rabbi, and a riot took place,
led by Irish who resented
Jews coming into their
neighborhood. The police
force was dominantly Irish,
and the official investigation
of the riot indicated the
police helped the rioters:
Immigrants Arriving at Ellis Island (1902)
“ … it appears that charges of unprovoked and most brutal clubbing
have been made against policemen, with the result that they were
reprimanded or fined a day’s pay and were yet retained upon the
§ There was desperate economic competition among the newcomers.
By 1880, Chinese immigrants, brought in by the railroads to do the
backbreaking labor at pitiful wages, numbered 75,000 in California,
almost one-tenth of the population. They became the objects of
continuous violence. The novelist Bret Harte wrote an obituary for a
Chinese man named Wan Lee: “Drad, my revered friends, dead.
Stoned to death in the streets of
San Francisco, in the year of grace
1869 by a mob of half-grown boys
and Christian school children.” In
Rock Springs, Wyoming, in the
summer of 1885, whites attacked
five hundred Chinese miners,
massacring twenty-eight of them
Chinese Miners, Rock Springs, Wyoming
in cold blood.
§ The new immigrants became laborers, housepainters, stonecutters,
and ditchdiggers. They were often imported en masse by contractors.
One Italian man, told he was going to Connecticut to work on the
railroad, was taken instead to sulfate mines in the South, where he and
his fellows were watched over by armed guards in their barracks and in
the mines, given only enough money to pay for their railroad fare and
tools, and very little to eat. He and others decided to escape. They
were captured at gunpoint and ordered to work or die. They still
refused and were brought before
a judge and put in manacles. Five
months after their arrival, they
were finally dismissed. “My
comrades took the train for New
York. I had only one dollar, and
with this, not knowing either the
country or the language, I had to
walk to New York. After forty-two
days I arrived in the city utterly
Italian Family Arriving in New York (1905)
§ Their conditions led sometimes to rebellion. A contemporary
observer told how “some Italians who worked in a locality near Deal
Lake, New Jersey, failing to receive their wages, captured the
contractor and shut him up in the shanty, where he remained a
prisoner until the county sheriff came with a posse to his rescue.”
§ A traffic in immigrant child laborers developed, either by contract
with desperate parents in the home country or by kidnapping. The
children were then supervised by “padrones” in a form of slavery,
sometimes sent out as beggar musicians. Droves of them roamed the
streets of New York and Philadelphia.
§ As the immigrants became naturalized citizens, they were brought
into the American two-party system, invited to be loyal to one party or
the other, their political energy thus siphoned into elections. An article
in L’Italia, in November 1894, called for Italians to support the
Republican Party: “When American citizens of foreign birth refuse to
ally themselves with the Republican Party, they make war upon their
own welfare. The Republican Party stands for all that the people fight
for in the Old World. It is the champion of freedom, progress, order,
and law. It is the steadfast foe of monarchial class rule.”
§ There were 5½ million immigrants in the 1880s, 4 million in the
1890s, creating a labor surplus that kept wages low. The immigrants
were more controllable, more helpless than native workers were; they
were culturally displaced, at odds with one another, therefore useful as
strikebreakers. Often their children worked, intensifying the problem
of an oversized labor force and joblessness; in 1880 there were
1,118,000 children under sixteen (one out of six) at work in the
United States. With everyone working long hours, families often
became strangers to one another. A pants presser named Morris
Rosenfeld wrote a poem, “My Boy,” which became widely reprinted
and recited:
I have a little boy at home,
A pretty little son;
I think sometimes the world is mine
In him, my only one ….
’Ere dawn my labor drives me forth;
Tis night when I am free;
A stranger am I to my child;
Morris Rosenfeld
And stranger my child to me ….
§ Women immigrants became servants, prostitutes, housewives,
factory workers, and sometimes rebels. Leonora Barry was born in
Ireland and brought to the United States. She got married, and when
her husband died she went to work in a hosiery mill in upstate New
York to support three young children, earning 65 cents her first week.
She joined the Knights of Labor, which had fifty thousand women
members in 192 women’s assemblies by 1886. She became “master
workman” of her assembly of 927 women, and was appointed to work
for the Knights as a general investigator, to
“go forth and educate her sister workingwomen and the public generally as to their
needs and necessities.” She described the
biggest problem of women workers:
“Through long years of endurance they
have acquired, as a sort of second nature,
the habit of submission and acceptance
without question of any terms offered them,
with the pessimistic view of life in which
Leonora Barry
they see no hope.”
Barry’s report for the year 1888 showed: 537 requests to help women
organize, 100 cities and towns visited, 1,900 leaflets distributed.
§ In 1884, women’s assemblies of textile workers and hat makers went
on strike. The following year in New York, cloak and shirt makers,
men and women (holding separate meetings but acting together), went
on strike. The New
York World called
it “a revolt for bread
and butter.” They
won higher wages
and shorter hours.
Garment Strikers in New York, c. 1913
Economic Growth and Recessions
§ The unregulated capitalist economy of the Gilded Age resulted in
repeated disasters. In 1873, economic crisis devastated the nation. It
was the closing of the banking house of Jay Cooke—a banker who
during the Civil War had made $3 million a year in commissions
alone for selling government bonds—that started the panic. While
President Ulysses S. Grant slept in Cooke’s Philadelphia mansion on
18 September 1873, the banker rode downtown to lock the door on
his bank. Now people could not pay loans on mortgages: five
thousand businesses closed and put their workers on the street.
§ It was more than Jay Cooke. The crisis was
built into a system that was chaotic in its nature,
in which only the very rich were secure. It was a
system of periodic crisis—1837, 1857, 1873
(and later: 1893, 1907, 1919, 1929)—that wiped
out small businesses and brought cold, hunger,
and death to working people while the fortunes
of the Astors, Vanderbilits, Rockefellers,
Morgans, kept growing through war and peace,
Jay Cooke
crisis and recovery.
During the 1873 crisis, Carnegie
was capturing the steel market,
Rockefeller was wiping out his
competitors in oil.
BROOKLYN” was the headline
in the New York Herald in
November 1873. It listed closings
and layoffs: a felt-skirt factory, a
picture-frame factory, a glasscutting establishment, a
steelworks factory. And women’s
trades: milliners, dressmakers,
and shoebinders. The depression
continued through the 1870s.
This Harper’s Weekly illustration of Wall Street after the Panic of 1873 shows President
Grant helping America, depicted as the woman on the right, escape from urban rubble.
§ The year 1893 saw the biggest economic crisis in the country’s
history. After several decades of wild industrial growth, financial
manipulation, uncontrolled speculation and profiteering, it all
collapsed: 642 banks failed and 16,000 businesses closed down. Out
of the labor force of 15 million, 3 million were unemployed. No state
government voted relief, but mass demonstrations all over the country
forced city governments to set up soup kitchens and give people work
on streets or parks.
§ In New York City, in Union Square, Emma Goldman addressed a
huge meeting of the unemployed and urged those whose children
needed food to go into the stores
and take it. She was arrested for
“inciting to riot” and sentenced to
two years in prison. In Chicago, it
was estimated that 200,000 people
were without work, the floors and
stairways of City Hall and the police
stations packed every night with
Emma Goldman Speaking in Union
homeless men trying to sleep.
Square, New York City, 1916
§ The Depression lasted for years and brought a wave of strikes
throughout the country. The largest of these was the nationwide strike
of railroad works in 1894 that began at the Pullman Company in
Illinois, just outside of Chicago. It was the Depression of 1893 that
propelled Eugene Debs into a lifetime of action for unionism and
socialism. Debs wrote in the Railway Times: “The issue is Socialism
versus Capitalism. I am for Socialism because I am for humanity. We
have been cursed with the reign of gold long enough. Money
constitutes no proper basis of civilization.
The time has come to regenerate society—
we are on the eve of a universal change.”
Labor insurrection became more
organized. There were now revolutionary
movements influencing labor struggles, the
ideas of socialism affecting labor leaders.
Radical literature was appearing, speaking
of fundamental changes, of new possibilities
for living.
Eugene Debs
§ By 1900, neither the patriotism of war nor the absorption of energy
in elections could disguise the troubles of the system. The process of
business concentration had gone forward; the control by bankers had
become clearer. As technology developed and corporations became
larger, they needed more capital, and it was the bankers who had this
capital. “The imperial leader of the new oligarchy was the House of
Morgan,” wrote Thomas Cochran and William Miller. “In its
operations it was ably assisted by the First National Bank of New York
(directed by George F. Baker) and the National City Bank of New
York (presided over by James Stillman, agent of the Rockefeller
interests). Among them, these three men and their financial associates
occupied 341 directorships in 112 great corporations. The total
resources of these corporations in 1912 was $22,245,000,000, more
than the assessed value of all property in the twenty-two states and
territories west of the Mississippi River …. ” Morgan had always
wanted regularity, stability, predictability. An associate of Morgan’s
said in 1901:
“With a man like Mr. Morgan at the
head of a great industry, as against the
old plan of many diverse interests in it,
production would become more regular,
labor would be more steadily employed
at better wages, and panics caused by
over-production would become a thing
of the past.” But even Morgan and his
associates were not in complete control
of such a system. In 1907, there was
another panic, financial collapse, and
crisis. True, the very big businesses were
not hurt, but profits after 1907 were not
as high as capitalists wanted, industry was
not expanding as fast as it might, and
industrialists began to look for ways to
cut costs, such as Taylorism.
A 2 February 1910 editorial cartoon in Puck titled: “The Central Bank—Why should
Uncle Sam establish one, when Uncle Pierpont is already on the job?”

similar documents