Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Politics, United States, Economics, America, Sociology, Slavery, Capitalism, Society

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2021/02/21

1. Prior to the Civil War, American society was a bifurcated society along racial lines built primarily along the lines of an agrarian entity. Indeed, the United States during the 1850s was a polarized nation according to specific regional idiosyncrasies and identities. In the South, a pro-slavery identity was carved out, as those living in south supported the expansion of slavery to states in the West, which abolition sentiments dominated in the North. Up until the 1850s, the slavery issue had been predicated on balance, per the stipulations of the Missouri Compromise of 1920. Newly acquired territories posed the threat to thwarting the balance between slavery states and non-slavery states. Fissures had also unequivocally hastened between the Democrats and the Whigs, which was organized along Republican precepts. States rights versus federal rights emerged as one contentious debate that took place in political discourses during this time period. Industrialization had also germinated during this epoch, and railroads have facilitated the opening up of new markets. European immigration resulted in the influx of millions of European farmers and workers in the North. In the South, planters maintained running slaves and shift operations taking from the nutrient-poor soils in the South to the more fertile lands in the American Southwest that yielded them great profits.
Prior to the Civil War, the issue of slavery figured prominently in political, economic, and social debates, especially in light of newly acquired territories in the aftermath of the U.S.-Mexican War in 1848. The Compromise of 1850 temporarily resolved these simmering tensions. Provisions in the compromise related to race such as the Fugitive Slave law incited great controversy due to the fact that slavery was still a legal institution. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed in 1854 and reversed prior precedents by stating that all states in the Union had to decide the state’s stance and posture on slavery. The Republic Party staunchly opposed the spread of slavery to western territories. The republicans had consolidated a power bloc in the northern states up into the 180s. Bloody Kansas further illuminates the tensions that existed between pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups that fought over slavery in Kansas.
Thus, the 1850s and the period prior to the Civil War was demarked by a developing market economy that spawned cultural shifts as a result of the influx of immigrants who would form the backbone of the working class. Political upheavals transpired as well due to the issue of slavery and the acquisition of new territory as a result of the U.S.-Mexican War. The Wilmot Proviso serves as one manifestation of the popular sovereignty debate over whether states should decide for themselves if slavery should be legal or not. The Gold Rush that took place in California spawned a mass migration of those searching for money. Ultimately, the issue of slavery dominated political discourses and debates that affected U.S. society in a litany of ways.
In a contrasting fashion, the Gilded Age built on the advancements that took place prior to the Civil War, although the tensions wrought by the war and the failures of Reconstruction affected the nation and society in an idiosyncratic manner. The final decades of the 1800s was characterized by vast economic, social, and demographic transformations that contested and complicated the concepts of freedom and democracy. Tensions surrounding these notions percolated into the 1900s when World War I broke out, causing many groups within the U.S. as well as foreign leaders to question whether the U.S. lived up to its creed. Mark Twain had referred to the late nineteenth century as the Gilded Age because much innovation had taken place yet corruption was veiled and rampant. As such, this epoch was defined by stealth, greed and corruption due to organized crime, shady business practices, scandalous politics, and speculators. Although this epoch was caricatured as one dominated by conspicuous consumption, corruption, imperialistic impulses, gender anxieties and unfettered capitalism, it is better to frame it as critical in the formation of modern America because industrialization and urbanization transpired on a macro scale. Once an agrarian society comprised of small producers, American society evolved into an urbanized entity in which industrial corporations dominated it and immigrants composed of the working-class population. A modern industrial economy thus germinated along with a transcontinental transportation network vis-à-vis railroads. New communication and transportation networks thus dominated the organization of businesses. The economic crisis of the 1890s propelled the United States to look abroad to sustain its industrialized economy by extracting resources and labor abroad.
In addition, the Gilded Age also witnessed a litany of reforms. The Civil Service Act was passed in order to curtail corruption in politics by stipulating that applicants who wanted to work in the government had to take a competitive inaugural examination. The government also passed the Interstate Commerce Act in order to gut discriminatory practices by railroad companies against small business shippers. Finally, the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act rendered business monopolies illegal so that wealth was not concentrated in the hands of the 1%. Such tumultuous years witnessed the escalation of racial tensions, discontent, militancy, especially amongst agricultural laborers, labor violence, and antagonism of the unemployed. Indeed, the failures of Reconstruction resulted in more racial tensions escalating in an arguably worse way than had been witnessed in the antebellum era. The burgeoning of the Populist movement also took place due to falling prices and heavy debts incurred by farmers. The Populist Part demanded that more money be created and put into circulation, a graduated income tax, government aid for farmers to assist them in repaying their loans, and the reduction of tariffs.
In addition to reform, the Western Frontier was increasingly closed off. In 1860, the majority of Americans viewed the Great Plains as the “Great American Desert. Very few people wanted to setting in areas such as Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, and Louisiana. Only California and Texas were more densely populated. By 1893, the U.S. Census Bureau asserted that all of the western frontier had been filled with occupants. The discovery of valuable and precious minerals such as gold and silver and catalyzed a westward migration, especially miners and prospectors. Railroads had expanded, and novelties such as windmills, pumps, and barbed wire encouraged farmers and ranchers to move to the Great Plains during the latter half of the nineteenth century. This movement westward was propelled by new inventions and prospects of economic fortune in the Far West, which resulted in the germination of the mythos of the West, which exerted an immense amount of influence on the popular imagination and conception of mass consumerism and culture. Native Americans were decimated amidst these years of unprecedented technological advancements, political partisanship, mass migrations, and political corruption amidst disputes over currency and other economic policies. Nonetheless, the Gilded Age was formative in the advent of technologies such as the radio and telephone that proved critical in the making of the modern United States.
2. Terrence L. McDonald notes in the introduction of William L. Riordan’s Plunkitt of Tammany Hall that the book helped identify the parameters within which American politics has oscillated ever since” it was published in 1905. During the preliminary years of the twentieth century, the United States was negotiating what the appropriate role for government was in its burgeoning capitalistic and industrialized economy. Plunkitt contended that American society could balance economic opportunities while also providing for the less fortunate. George Washington Plunkitt himself have been raised in an impoverished family but ascended to become a ward boss in the Fifteenth Assembly District in New York, and he played a critical role as a member of Tammany Hall, who was a millionaire. The argument that big business could thrive while also ensuring that the poor and the working class members were taken care of is idealistic and incommensurate with the realities of working-class life. The Progressive Era, which took place between 1900 and 1916, was an epoch in which the city emerged as a central element in the U.S. Progressive movement. Labor and women’s movements altered the meanings of liberty and freedom within public discourses. Indeed, progressivism represented an amalgam of both undemocratic and democratic impulses that complicate Plunkitt’s view of the U.S. government and its role in a rapidly changing society. Ultimately, however, the presidents who were at the helm of American politics during this era cultivated the rise of the modern-nation state, which consolidated in the aftermath of World War I during the 1920s.
Although the notion of freedom had expanded during this epoch, its practice did not live up to the rhetoric espoused by the government. A social movement, progressivism also grafted in important political decisions and elements that wielded far-reaching ramifications. An urban and consumer society burgeoned as a result of economic growth that was fueled by a population explosion, increasing industrial production, and the expansion of a consumer-oriented marketplace. Urban spaces remained at the core of progressive politics, as socioeconomic inequities were unequivocal in this new consumer society. Such stark inequalities in urban spaces stemmed from the composition of the American working class as predominately immigrants who lived in tenements and in close corridors to one another. Ironically, these workers lived in close proximity to wealthy entrepreneurs such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. Thus juxtaposition underscores the chasm between the rich and the poor that rendered it impossible for the government to provide correctives that eschewed regulation of capitalistic activity. Muckrakers, or journalists who used their craft to expose the ills and the underbelly of American city life. Millions of children were forced to labor in order to earn wages that would contribute to the subsistence of working-class families who scraped by rather than pursue money to become rich. Seth Rockman, argues against traditional labor history and Marxist interpretations and instead articulates an unconventional view about the advent of capitalism as well as working class formation that eschews the rise of enterprise. The denigration of crafts and/or the rise of factories did not merely undergird the formation of the American working class. Rather, the commodification of labor fueled the advent of capitalism, as capitalism depended on the adaptability of slave labor as well as free labor. Rockman focuses on the labor itself and the experience of hard labor and scraping by rather than on agency or resistance, thereby arguing for the lack of an historical class-consciousness. The culture of capitalism pervaded the Progressive era so much that it provided a script for workers who, despite their struggles, enabled them to survive even if capitalists believed that poor men and women did not strive to do so. Rockman contends asserts that the prevailing notion that workers refused to work hard constituted a “social fiction” that nonetheless remained a powerful idea because powerful capitalists perpetuated it. Such salient notions rendered the material inequalities between working-class members and their capitalist overlords legitimate; the industry and ingenuity of laborers practical to capitalists; and the social and economic mobility for the poor and working class rare.
As such, government regulation was necessary in order for the working-class and impoverished groups to survive. Progressive activists such as Jane Addams, who exhibited how women exercised some political agency despite their inability to vote in elections, reflected a more democratic vision of the activist and progressive state beyond just elite politics. Addams helped found Hull House along with other so-called settlement homes that helped immigrants and the working poor assimilate into American society as well as improving the lives of the poor immigrants in general. Women indeed functioned as spearheads of reform, which cultivated impulses in female political circles to push for suffrage that would materialize in the subsequent decades. The progressive presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt believed that the government had to intervene in the economic arena because unchecked capitalism exacerbated the bifurcation of American social and economic circles. Federal regulation was thus necessary with regards to labor in the United States. Roosevelt decried the “vast power conferred by vast wealth” as validation for federal intervention in unchecked capitalism. Not all of the business moguls like Carnegie and Rockefeller were philanthropists bent on giving back by distributing their wealth in order to improve the lives of the poor.
Clearly, the role of government expanded during the Progressive era because unfettered capitalism adversely impacted large sectors of American society. An increasingly bifurcated society exacerbated social ills and squalid conditions that the working class lived in. As such, it is idealistic to think that unfettered capitalism would allow people to accrue wealth while also ensuring that the poor’s needs were taken care of.


Social Darwinism refers to the theoretical application of biologist Charles Darwin’s paradigm-shifting theory of evolution regarding how living things adapt and change to environments that are constantly in flux. Social scientists took biological principles, laws of physics and laws of gravity, or natural laws, and utilized them to interpret how societies work and function in a similar way to how economist Adam Smith and Karl Marx did. Thus, Darwin, took teleological functioning of history working towards something better and applying it to economics. The catch-phrase “survival of the fittest” has increasingly become associated with Social Darwinism despite the fact that he did not coin it. Rather, in 1964, Herbert Spencer 184, an English economist, was known as the first person to take the biological theory and bring it over to socio-economic issues examining how it could explain how the world, societies work within themselves and in relation to the others. Social interactions, according to this theory, were a competition at the basic plant and animal level. Spencer’s ideas represented a spinoff from Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Its impact and use relate in large part to what Adam Smith and Karl Marx talked about in the economic realm. Social Darwinism was first used to justify capitalism, which directly countered Marxian economic theory which asserted that capitalism is rotten at the core because it is based on inequality. Thus, it is not about cyclical study of history in which there are competing economic systems that “battle” one another for survival. Because capitalists have the most money, they rendered themselves the strongest and felt that they would triumph and crush the uprisings of the proletariat, thereby exploiting them. Economic inequality is not a negative thing. Rather, it is a fact of life, and there in SHOULD be social and economic inequality because the strongest are destined to triumph. As a result, huge corporate magnets emerge such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie who fused laws with theology and enabled the rise of oil companies to materialize. Social Darwinism was thus key for how big business and moguls and new corporations are going to conceive of themselves in relation to everyone below them. Beyond justifying capitalism, Social Darwinism was also significant because it was used to justify racism and racialized nationalism, or Raceology. Karl Pearson discussed the development of the relations between nations and race in his National Life From the Standpoint of Science, in which he argued that history has always been a struggle between races as a signifier of progress, as only the strong would survive while the inferior race polluting society would perish. Pearson’s ideas are not new, but they are directly related to the competition between nations developing because of imperialism and the new variant related to imperialism called colonization. Indeed, the “survival of fittest” principle was directly transferable to the well-being of states, which resulted in the emergence of pseudo-science called “Raceology” and the eugenics movement that culminated in the Holocaust. Social Darwinism thus provided the foundation for imperialism and foundation for a renewed race for power that took placed amongst the European nations in the context of modernity.
Emma Goldman: The first-wave feminist movement laid the foundation to dismantle a moral canon defined by the expectations of women to show sexual restraint in the private sphere during the nineteenth century. The birth control movement thus emerged at the outset of the twentieth century as a political manifestation of first-war feminism aimed at ensuring that women enjoy sex in the same way that their male counterparts did. Emma Goldman, along with Margaret Sanger, was the progenitor of the birth control movement. They argued that women must have access to various methods of contraception so that they can avoid having any unwanted pregnancy and so that they could enjoy the pleasure of sexual intercourse (Dubois and Dumenil 435). Goldman had made a new for herself through her political activism as an anarchist, as she played a crucial role in developing a political philosophy that embraced anarchy in both Europe and in the United States during the first couple of decades during the twentieth century. She founded Mother Earth, an anarchist journal, in 1906. Goldman, who become renowned as the “most dangerous woman in America”, is significant because feminism developed out of her radical activism during the 1970s, which was the most crucial epoch for feminism in which feminists gained traction due to the litany of legislation passed as correctives to the historical disadvantages women have had throughout the history of the United States since the inception of the nation.
Andrew Carnegie: Andrew Carnegie was a famous entrepreneur and philanthropist at the turn of the century who benefited from capitalism and the justification of capitalism by the ideology of Social Darwinism. Indeed, he penned the Gospel of Wealth, which describe how the law of competition was not only beneficial but also ESSENTIAL to the future progress of the hegemonic race. Carnegie used the language of inevitability to describe how evolution works, as only the fittest would survive. If an individual was now rendered fit, then he or she must be biologically flawed. This constituted the nineteenth century view of poverty that persisted into the twentieth century. Because there were no corporate or personal taxes during the Progressive era, Carnegie along with other business leaders was able to accumulate an enormous amount of economic clout and wealth. Carnegie had migrated to the United States from Scotland when he was just a teenager. He launched his own steel company in the aftermath of the Civil War . By the 1890s, Carnegie dominated the steel industry and had accumulated millions of dollars, as his steel factories were the most technologically developed ones in the world. Carnegie, however, eschewed the “worship of money” and opted to distribute the majority of his wealth to various philanthropic causes despite the fact that he reinforced a workplace discipline ethos.
KKK: A grassroots vigilante group bent on restoring white hegemony by using intimidation tactics against African Americans who sought to exercise their newfound political rights, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), the "military arm of the Democratic Party in the South," was first organized in Tennessee in 1866 before rapidly spreading to other states during Reconstruction in the South. Indeed, the Civil War had ended in 1865, yet violence remained diffuse and a quotidian fear in almost all parts of the post-war South. Using brutal tactics and lawless behavior, the KKK gained support from whites who spanned all social classes while thriving on local initiatives. As a result of the diffuse popular support, secrecy, ruthlessness of its tactics, and decentralization, Klan activities were nearly impossible to suppress. Although most people associate the KKK with the ruthless lynchings that characterized the Jim Crow South towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Klan experienced three distinct eras in which it rose to prominence in the political and social activities. The Klan has developed its own language rooted in hatred against various targets, especially black Americans. However, the Klan has also organized activities against other subaltern groups in America, including homosexuals, immigrants, Catholics, and Jews. Since its inception, the group has identified itself as a Christian organization, although within more modern contexts group activities have been motivated by various political as well as theological The history and activities of the Klan remain a sullen reminder of how deeply entrenched race and racism are within the structures and institutions in the United States.
Compromise of 1877: This compromise effectively ended the period known as Reconstruction in the aftermath of the Civil War. After the presidential election of 1876, it was unequivocal that the race would be determined by the outcomes of the election results in the only Republican governments in power in the South: Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina. The election returns were also disputed by many as rigged. In 1877, a bipartisan congressional commission engaged in a hotly contested debate regarding the outcome. Republican Art candidate Rutherford Hayes and his allies secretly congregated with modern southern Democrats in order to strike a deal in which the election of Hayes was accepted. The Compromised entailed that Hayes not block the election of Hayes in exchange for the withdrawal of all military troops from the South. As a result, this compromise consolidated the South under the control of the Democrats. As such, Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina also became Democratic, which signified the end of Reconstruction. The southern bloc of Democrats and the central ideology of whiteness that structured these states directly led to Jim Crow, which was sustained for over a century.

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