Period 6 Overview
Age of Business
Though in some ways recovery seemed slow, the Civil War served as a major catalyst for U.S. economic expansion between 1865 and 1898. As new markets and production techniques improved the standard of living of most Americans, health and safety concerns elicited public calls for increased government scrutiny of big business to protect workers and consumers from overreaching capitalism. New problems arose as industrialization and a dramatic rise in immigration led to overcrowded major urban centers and increased concern over sanitation, poverty, and corruption.
As job opportunities opened up for native-born white women, changes in social structures and expanded concern over social welfare left many questioning the culture of separate spheres for men and women. Agricultural expansion, necessary to feed city-dwellers, benefitted from improved technology, placing greater pressure on the government to open new land for American settlement by rehousing or exterminating American Indian tribes. Varied concern over the problems of the time began to separate the political parties over the proper role of the government in the economy, particularly in regard to tariffs, monetary standards, and regulating big business.
Another Revolution… Another Boom!
In the Second American Industrial Revolution, production techniques improved dramatically, economy expanded, and a readily available supply of cheap labor reduced production costs while raising the standard of living for most Americans. The federal government partnered with big business in this industrial boom, helping fuel growth via land grants, railroad subsidies and protective tariffs to give a competitive advantage to “infant industries” over foreign companies. Industries consolidated into trusts to expand profits, and new organizational structures such as vertical and horizontal integration reduced production costs, allowing certain companies to dominate the market.
These production economies also made American products more competitive in the world market, contributing to public support for a more outward-looking foreign policy, particularly after the Panic of 1893. While most Americans benefitted from these innovations, the gap between the rich and poor widened.
Laissez-Faire. Even Stevens.
In addition to protective tariffs, businesses were also aided by the federal government consistently maintaining a laissez-faire attitude toward regulation. The federal government tended to side with business owners and leaders during labor disputes, sending in troops and issuing injunctions against labor unions. In response to perceived exploitation, workers organized into unions and eventually honed their goals from nebulous demands of a “just and harmonious society” to “bread and butter” unionism seeking higher wages, shorter hours, and improved working conditions. The sporadic outbreaks of violence occurring in some labor disputes generally amounted to little as big business still maintained the upper hand.
New Immigrants. Cheap Labor. Same Conflict.
As American workers flocked to urban areas for employment, a massive influx of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe also contributed to the industrial labor force. These immigrants tended to settle in urban ethnic ghettos, delaying their assimilation into American society and spurring a new nativist movement in response. Urban political leaders found ways to take advantage of immigrant and impoverished citizens, contributing to the rise of big city bosses and large-scale bribery and corruption on a municipal level.
Growing urban problems provided early muckraking journalists fuel for sensational public exposés on corruption and squalor, leading to the establishment of social workers who attempted to remedy such hardship. These workers rejected the idea of Social Darwinism (survival of the fittest) and fostered the ideal that eventually became known as the Social Gospel (eradicating social ills by human efforts). As native-born white women stepped into roles as typists, telephone operators and social workers, the cult of domesticity value system continued to weaken. In the American South, attempts to create a diverse industrialized economy largely failed to materialize and African-Americans struggled to find the most effective means of gaining equality.
Agriculture Beefs Up
Increased agricultural production became necessary to support this urban growth, requiring western lands held by American Indians to be opened to settlement. The government adopted a policy of forcibly moving native populations to small scattered reservations and attempted to reduce tribal authority through legislation like the Dawes Act. Through a combination of technological development, opening new farmland, and consolidating small farms into larger holdings, agricultural surpluses increased until prices fell dramatically and many small farmers were placed at risk. Attempting to gain political clout in the 1880s and 1890s, farmers organized into the Farmers Alliance and the Grange, eventually founding a Populist Party and nominating a presidential candidate in 1892. The new party advocated the increased regulatory power of the federal government to counter the power of big business and benefit ordinary Americans.
Between 1865 and 1898, the power of big business grew significantly and the standard of living for most Americans improved. Nevertheless, to combat the power and influence of big business on the federal government, and perceived exploitation of the poor, disadvantaged groups began to organize and lobby for government protection against the abuses of extreme capitalism. The problems of urban and rural poor coupled with the increased political clout of these disadvantaged groups led to rising calls for government regulation of big business and expanded social welfare legislation.
About the Author: Warren Hierl taught Advanced Placement U.S. History for twenty-eight years. He has conducted 250+ AP US History workshops for teachers. He was a member of the committee that wrote the original Advanced Placement Social Studies Vertical Teams Guide and the Advanced Placement U.S. History Teachers Guide. He has been a reader, a table leader, and, for the past eight years, the question leader on the DBQ at the AP U.S. History reading.
In other words- Mr. Hierl grades the essays you will write for the APUSH exam.