The American Vision: Modern Times © 2008
This chapter looks at the urbanization and industrialization of cities after the Civil War and how these developments impacted American society and culture.
Section 1 discusses the reasons why millions of immigrants settled in the United States after the Civil War. Of the fourteen million immigrants that arrived in the United States between 1860 and 1900, most came from Asia and eastern and southern Europe. Although the reasons why they immigrated varied, many Europeans came to avoid religious persecution and forced military service, or to break free of Europe's class system. Chinese immigrants wanted to escape China's unemployment, poverty, and political unrest. Most Europeans endured a difficult voyage to the United States aboard a steamship and disembarked at Ellis Island—an immigrant processing center. Many of the immigrants from Japan and China who arrived on the West Coast during the late 1800s disembarked at Angel Island. Most immigrants settled in cities and formed ethnically separated groups. Economic concerns and religious and ethnic prejudices led many Americans to discriminate against immigrants. They treated immigrants poorly and pushed for laws restricting immigration.
Section 2 looks at the urbanization of the United States. In the years following the Civil War, the number of American cities greatly expanded, and urban populations grew rapidly. Immigrants and farmers poured into the cities, creating almost unbearable congestion. New technologies paved the way for skyscrapers, suspension bridges, and new methods of mass transit. Distinct neighborhoods emerged, separating the cities' social classes. The majority of urban dwellers were the working class who suffered deplorable living conditions in dark and crowded tenements. The problems of rapidly growing cities included threats of crime, violence, fire, disease, and pollution. Political machines, controlled by party bosses, addressed urban problems by providing essential city services in return for the loyalty of urban immigrant groups. Corruption plagued political machines, however, since party bosses also controlled cities' finances.
Section 3 describes how the late 1800s, an era called the Gilded Age, gave rise to new values, art, and forms of entertainment. During the era, many Americans firmly believed in individualism—an idea that the individual had the power to create his or her own future. Social Darwinism, another powerful idea of the era, reinforced individualism and suggested that only the fittest people within a society would survive. New movements in art and literature focused on capturing the world realistically. As industrialization increased the disposable incomes and leisure time for many, people began to enjoy new forms of entertainment and recreation. Change was seen in politics, as well. The civil service was reformed, and government began to regulate business to benefit the public. Social reformers became a powerful force, through organizations such as the Salvation Army and the YMCA. The number of public schools nearly tripled during this period.
Section 4 details the emergence of populism. In the years immediately following the Civil War, overproduction and deflation created economic hardships for many farmers. Many blamed railroads and banks and decided they needed more political muscle to effect economic changes. Farmers organized into the Grange, the Greenback Party, and the Farmers' Alliance. When farmers and reformers organized the People’s Party, their demands included allowing the free coinage of silver, ending national banks and protective tariffs, applying tighter restrictions on railroads, and allowing the direct election of U.S. senators. The main objective of the party was to expand the powers of the federal government to protect farmers. The People’s Party declined after 1896. They had failed to ease economic hardships of farmers. However, some of their reforms, such as the graduated income tax, came about in later decades.
Section 5 describes how Southern states passed laws during the late 1800s that disenfranchised African Americans and imposed segregation on them. After Reconstruction, many African Americans tried to escape the grinding poverty of the rural South. While thousands of "Exodusters" migrated to Kansas, some African Americans joined farmers' alliances. When African Americans joined the Populist Party, Democratic leaders used racism to put an end to the Populist threat in the South. Election officials employed strategies at the polls that barred nearly all African Americans from voting. Encouraged by a Supreme Court decision, Southern States passed a series of laws that reinforced segregation. Another Supreme Court ruling endorsed "separate but equal" facilities for African Americans, and the South found its legal basis for discrimination. As racial brutality, mob violence, and lynchings increased during the late 1800s, African Americans responded with protests against violence, calls for compromise, and demands for equality.