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Industrialization After the Civil War
INDUSTRIALIZATION AFTER THE CIVIL WAR Author 2
Industrialization after the Civil War
Three major aspects of industrialization between 1865 and 1920 that truly influenced the society, economy and politics of the United States were urbanization, geographic boundaries and the rise of big business. The centers for industrialization became the Northern cities, which people flocked to for work. The previously established agrarian way of life was cast by the wayside and many Southern farmers, both black and white, struggled. Eventually the South did advance through industrialization but the gains were in technology and farming. Steel plants were not abundant in the South and its cities did not grow as swiftly as their Northern colleagues.
The population explosions in urban centers brought numerous issues. There were sanitation problems, spread of disease and the exhaustion of an infrastructure that was created to
contain the amount of people now residing there. These Northern cities were dirty and crowded. They were definitely not Shangri la. Many workers were exploited as well, through horrific working conditions, long hours and low pay. It was to address these multiple scenarios, that legislation such as child labor laws, was enacted.
The rise of industrialization also directly contributed to the closing of the Western frontier. As settlers claimed Indian lands for their own, the native populations were eventually forced onto reservations after death, disease and poverty saw them virtually decimated. This is one of the instances in American history, many academics have claimed could be defined as genocide. It also had long lasting ramifications, as settlement altered the environment tremendously. For example, the slaughter of the buffalo impacted the fertilization of soil through their dung and urine with visible effects today. Western settlement, however, is one of the primary reasons for the American rise to power and established more markets for goods across the entire continent.
Overall, industrialization brought America great wealth and power. It is what propelled its rise as one of the most tremendous civilizations in the world, but it also produced many problems. Exploitation of workers, unsanitary conditions and the development an upper, middle and lower classes are only several examples of social, economic and political concerns American citizens must address. As stated previously, this was accomplished through a slew of legislation and through the efforts of many Americans. There was a true need for reform and it was during this time, the impetus for reform movements arose.
Although every American citizen was impacted by industrialization, there were certain groups in society that experienced significant transitions, were brought to life or faded into the background. One of these groups of people is the Southern farmer. The South obviously had to recover from the ravages of war and transition to freed blacks. Socially there were many issues they had to overcome, as well as economically. They were literally starting all over again. With prices falling for their products and many small farmers participating in the industry as tenants, they simply could not compete. Mechanization had begun and farmers able to buy the machinery were able to still do quite well, while their less financially advantaged colleagues could not do so. With hungry mouths to feed and no money to do so, many farmers called for government control of big business, including the railroad companies and numerous other reforms. For example, the Grange formed and outlined demands because farmers were seriously prepared to rebel against the government. They even called for more equal land distribution and for fences to be removed around properties.
The American Indian was undeniably impacted by the industrialization. Their way of life was essentially terminated as they were removed from their lands and mowed down by American settlers in addition to the military. The trials and tribulations of the American Indian have been well chronicled and remain a source of friction to this day. In areas of upstate New York where the Iroquois have their reservations, many of the Indians are quite well to do and highly resented by their neighbors because they enjoy tax exempt status. Many Americans still do not feel the Indians should be provided anything from the government and the removal to reservations was just supposed to be accepted by Indians. Due to their plight, Indians did not really develop their
own reform movements during this time or have many people supporting them, but in the 1960’s Indians asserted themselves through the Civil Rights era.
Another group that was affected by rapid industrialization were women. With so much work available in factories, women could finally being working more outside of the home. They began to take jobs in factories and also became more educated. This enabled them to participate more in society that had historically been male dominated. Also, the industrial revolution altered their lives in the home as new inventions such as the washing machine decreased the time that needed to be spent on household chores, leaving more time for leisure. Industrialization brought about the push for female suffrage. In fact, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton instituted the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 and Wyoming, which was still a territory, allowed women the right to vote the following year. It certainly took several decades for suffrage to become a reality, but by the end of the industrial era, woman finally had at least legally gained equality with men.
Another group that was impacted by industrialization was labor unions. In fact, labor unions were created in response to the reforms that needed to be instituted in the workplace. In 1886, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was created. It still exists today after joining forces with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The AFL was led by Samuel Gompers who entered discussions with employers to extract fair wages, improved working conditions for employees, insurance policies and worker compensation. The AFL and other labor unions made tremendous gains for the American factory worker (Higham and Woodworth, p187-190).
Another group impacted by industrialization were politicians. Naturally, with railroads and other forms of transportation becoming available this altered how they would campaign. Politicians now had to develop significant platforms and not focus on merely local issues. They also had to gain much more exposure from all areas of the continent or country. This gave rise to stumping and presenting speeches. It was at this time, the two party system became firmly entrenched in American politics. As the North and South developed differently so did their political goals and aims. A noteworthy feature to discuss is the widespread corruption in politics. One of the farmer’s complaints was big business provided politicians with bribes and kickbacks so they could grow their enterprises. The farmers certainly had a point as President Grant’s administration used their positions to create financial gain for themselves (Higham and Woodworth, p78).
Industrialization truly impacted the American culture, economy, society and politics. The influx of immigrants increased competition for employment opportunities, but it also increased leisure time. The new technology allowed Americans to visit fairs, plays, movies and sporting events. They enjoyed a much deeper social life. The automobile made American lives even more convenient as travel was not nearly as restricted as relying on horses. They could go more places and do more things. Industrialization also saw the development of the upper, middle and lower class social system that remains in force today as a pecking order so to speak. Industrialization was an amazing bounty for Americans, but it also brought many issues and problems with it. At this time, Americans began to exercise their rights to reform the injustices and inequalities created by industrialization and that spirit still exists in our modern society.
Borremans. “Post Civil War Industrialization”. Retrieved from
Higham, Robin and Woodworth, Steven. (1996). The American Civil War: A Handbook of
Literature and Research. Greenwood Press.
The USA Online. “History of the United States Industrialization and Reform” Retrieved
Weinberg, Meyer. A Short History of American Capitalism. 2002. Print.
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