The (re)United States: 1877 - 1900

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The train is very important in the reconstruction of the United States after the Civil War; it was a failure, but it was a chance to transform the United States in a different way. The secessionist states of the South are rapidly returning to the Union. From 1870 to 1900, the United States underwent a period of profound changes that transformed it into a major industrial power.

Role of the railways[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

At the ceremony for the driving of the "Last Spike" at Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869.

The railways will play an important role, whereas now there are practically no trains in the United States; unlike in Latin America, the construction of railways is not primarily for exports, but for the formation of a huge internal market. The rail network links East to West and also North to South with an internal network.

In 1870, there were 85,000 kilometres of railways, in 1900 320,000, i.e. four times as many. All the railways are privately owned, they impose the four eastern time zones in order to coordinate their schedules. However, this network is formed around corruption, haste, competition, it is a network that is not always well known. Its construction has been heavily subsidized by both the states and the federal government. In the process, companies have become extremely powerful, having accumulated huge land holdings along the railroads.

At the same time as the railroad network was being built, the country was building a communications network through telegraph and post. Even united by the railways and the new means of communication the States of the Union remain very different from each other, we can distinguish three regions which are the West, the South and the North-East.

The West[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Conquest of Amerindian territories[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Mass grave with Lakota who died after the massacre at Wounded Knee.

These are the states freshly taken from Mexico or Great Britain, these lands were mainly the lands of the Amerindians. From 1850 to 1890, the survivors of the great deportations were again displaced and confined to small reserves under federal control.

It was during this period that the buffalo were literally exterminated on the central plains. The last great battle against the Amerindians took place at Wounded Knee in 1890 when the federal army massacred 200 sick and hungry Sioux.[8][9][10][11][12][13]

The total number of Amerindians rose from 330,000 in 1860 to 237,000 in 1900. On the other hand, the population of the West increased from about 2 million to 20 million. The total population of the country increases from 31 million to 76 million.

From 0.1% of the total population in 1860, the Amerindians were only 0.003% in 1900.

Rapid colonization[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The American West across the Mississippi River. In dark red, the states that are still considered part of it: California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, plus Alaska and Hawaii. In hatched red, states that are sometimes considered part of the South or Middle West: Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota.

Rid of its Indians and bison, the West was very quickly colonized by railways, but also colonized by the expansion of cattle breeding by cowboys, a quarter of whom were African-Americans. The cows are quickly sent to Chicago, which becomes the capital of beef slaughter and beef industrialism thanks to refrigeration, and it is at this time that steak begins to be part of the American diet.

At the same time, hundreds of thousands of farmers from Eastern, Central and Eastern Europe moved to the Great Plains to cultivate corn and wheat, among other crops.

This colonization by the farmers was difficult, but also by a large part of Chinese who came to settle mainly in California to participate in gold mining and to work in mining camps and small businesses.

The colonization of the interior is difficult even though agriculture is becoming mechanized and transportation is improving the isolation remains strong while the winter is cold and very hot.

It is also in this context that large mail-order companies such as Sears were created with its famous catalogue which not only made products from the cities available to farmers, but standardized consumption at the national level.

Although the West was practically conquered in 1890, it remains very rural. It is a conquest that plays a fundamental role in the national culture, as Frederick Jackson Turner theorized. According to him, the repeated experience of colonizing new frontiers on the continent has made Americans an iniquitous, adventurous, optimistic and democratic people.

It is an interpretation that has been criticized by recent historical research, but one that is still shared by most Americans today and which is maintained in the 19th century by an abundant popular culture. The metaphor of conquest endured, when Kennedy launched his aid programs in Latin America and the peace corps, he said they would conquer a new frontier.

The South[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The country's reunification is to the detriment of blacks, who will very quickly react to the black codes imposed by the southerners and other violations of the law by resorting to the courts.

As early as 1876, the Supreme Court, still dominated by former slaveholders, ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Citizenship Act and the Bill of Rights for American-born blacks did not require the federal government to protect the civil rights of blacks and that each state could regulate race relations as it saw fit.

In 1896, the Supreme Court legalized separation in public places as long as it did not prevent both races from having equal access to public services. Since the end of the reconstruction, the XIV and XV amendments remained a dead letter until the mid-1960s.

The right to vote was to be abolished by the codes, now the Supreme Court legalizes the "separated but equal". The United States Supreme Court carries enormous weight, rights are never taken for granted, and what black African Americans gained in the 1870s disappears very quickly.

Around 1890 in the south, segregation, racial violence, lynchings, and black codes were imposed with the Supreme Court's consent. The large plantation disappears to be replaced by sharecropping, the sharecroppers earn little and become indebted to the owners as the price of cotton on the international market falls. For the South, this is the end of the Cotton King.

In the South, this industrialization that began during the civil war continued mainly in the steel and textile industries. The exploitation of wood is also developing with the massive deforestation of the South. Due to the South's indebtedness, particularly during the war, all its industries very quickly came under the control of industrialists from the North.

The South remains mainly rural, it continues to produce mainly raw materials processed or consumed in the North and its economy depends on capital and management from the North.

Labour is segregated and slave-like systems dominate, particularly the system of forced labour through the black codes; thousands of blacks are sentenced to long terms of forced labour. All this is done at enormous mortality rates and without moving the financiers and even the citizens of the North.

In general, blacks are excluded from industrial work, but the whites who generally work there come from poor and indebted peasant families are also indebted and underpaid. Small complementary towns will be formed, dominated by a textile industry that supplies and controls everything almost as it did at the time of the plantation, but for the whites. However, the South is maintained in the illusion of the white race.

The Northeast[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The northeast is changing profoundly and much more than the south.

Industrialization[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In 1865 the value of manufactured goods in the United States was $2 billion, in 1900 it reached $13 billion. The United States has become the world's most productive nation and its industry produces one-third of the world's manufactured goods.

Four factors explain this rapid industrialization:

  • creation of a national consumer market through railways, communications, postal services, advertising and mail order sales.
  • technological innovations such as Bell's telephone in 1876 and Thomas Edison's light bulb in 1879. All this will lead to the development of industries in which mechanization and rationalization of work, in which workers are increasingly harnessed to the machine.
  • Economic protectionism, i.e. the maintenance of high import taxes by a federal government that is very submissive to the major industrialists in order to protect industry from foreign competition.
  • unbridled capitalism.

The era of unbridled capitalism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Portrait of John D. Rockefeller painted by John Singer Sargent in 1917.

Within the United States, wild capitalism is developing, with entrepreneurship playing a major role, becoming a model of American society replacing the great merchant and planter of the first half of the century. Two men embody this wild capitalism: Carnegie and Rockefeller.

Carnegie is the symbol of the American dream, he was born in Scotland, emigrated with his family at the age of 13, did all the trades and then joined a railway company, not hesitating to mortgage his mother's house to invest in his first business, which was sleeping cars going to the steel industry, locomotives and steel; he specializes in vertical concentration i.e. from raw material to finished product and in this case it is from coal and iron ore mining to the advanced steel industry. He became a multimillionaire, but in 1901 he gave up his empire and became a philanthropist until his death in 1919, spending 350 million in donations.

Standard Oil Refinery No. 1 in Cleveland, Ohio, 1897.

Rockefeller is a specialist in horizontal concentration, i.e. the concentration of a maximum number of companies producing the same product, i.e. a virtual monopoly in a given sector. He was born in the State of New York, first as an accountant and then as an executive in a brokerage firm; in 1859 he understood the importance that oil was going to have and in 1870 he founded the Standard Oil Company, 10 years later he controlled 95% of the country's oil production, often thanks to the coercion that founded the first oil trust that allowed him to fix the quantity of oil and the price at which it was sold.

Rockefeller will produce more reactions than Carnegie. When Congress tried to protect small businesses through antitrust law, Rockefeller surrounded himself with legal experts and founded the first holding company - a company that controlled different companies by acquiring a significant portion of their capital, but without having a monopoly.

During the last years of the 19th century, in all the major sectors, hundreds of companies disappeared to be absorbed by giants such as Goodyear or General Electric; everything was done with the protection of the Supreme Court, while ironically the antitrust law was applied against the trade unions under the pretext that they were anarchists and threatened the free competition of labour.

The law of the strongest[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In 1890, 125,000 out of 63 million Americans, or just under 2% of the population, owned half of the national wealth, which they spread out shamelessly. Almost all of these "happy few" were practicing Protestants and Anglo-Saxons.

Their monumental richness provokes some caricatures, but not much in-depth criticism, as it is justified by Herbert Spencer's social Darwinism, which applies Darwin's theory of the evolution of species to humanity. The triumph of industrialists is explained by the survival of the strongest, the most gifted, the most deserving; the industrial triumph of the United States is explained by the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race.

All this is also the law of nature and the law of God. Carnegie publishes The Gospel of Fortune. At the same time, Rockefeller declares that "God gave me my money[14] ». A pastor sells a million copies of a pamphlet that argues that building a fortune is a Christian duty.

Men, women and children of various origins and races will be competing against each other, who have no protection against the economic crisis, accidents at work, sickness or old age. Workers work 10 to 14 hours a day, 6 to 7 days a week for a daily wage of less than a dollar and without any protection.

Workers try to improve their living conditions by migrating from one place to another, working more and organizing themselves. However, it is difficult to organize when you are different; a union called the Knights of Labour formed in 1870 accepts workers of all origins and colours and in 1886 had one million members thanks to a campaign in favour of the 8-hour day.

1886 engraving published in Harper's Weekly newspaper depicting the Haymarket Square tragedy.

On May 1, 1886, a bomb in a demonstration against police violence in Chicago killed 7 policemen. The bomb was quickly attributed without evidence to anarchists, four of whom were condemned to be hanged, while the press falsely accused the Knights of Labor of having links with these anarchists leading to the banning of the union.

As early as May 1886, class unionism was in freefall in the United States, to be replaced by sectoral bargaining unionism. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) is the embodiment of this unionism, representing only the labor aristocracy, skilled workers, whites, but not migrants, negotiating on a case-by-case basis for better conditions for its members while polishing the unskilled workers and rejecting any political agenda.

Bargaining unionism that rejects class struggle still dominates today both because of the repression of all trade unionism and classism and in faith in the American dream that everyone can become a Carnegie or a Rockefeller; conversely, if one is poor it is because one is less capable and does not work enough, one deserves to be rich, and one deserves to be poor.

Urbanization[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Broadway in 1909.

Urbanization is due to the fact that large factories are located in cities and that is where workers are concentrated. It must be seen that the Northeast is becoming even more urbanized, as early as 1890 there are several cities with more than 250,000 inhabitants, New York has more than 3 million inhabitants; in these cities is concentrated both great wealth and great poverty.

Increasingly, the inhabitants live in distinct communities in limited spaces and ghettos for the poor.

The Democratic and Republican parties[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

There has been an attempt by a section of the people to bring together farmers from the north and south, with the Republican bipartisan system in the north and California representing industry and protectionism against imports and the Democrats representing the white south, farmers and immigrant groups in the centre, the bipartisan system holding firm without one party winning a large majority.

From 1880 onward, elections were a spectacular and costly mobilization; with the enormous growth of the state apparatus and civil service, each party became a political machine recruiting voters from among new migrants; corruption was widespread, probusiness legislators received shares from the industries that protected them, and voters and activists received public jobs. This is a far cry from the rural, virtuous, puritanical America of 1776.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  • Cosmas, Graham A. An Army for Empire; the United States Army in the Spanish-American War. Columbia: U of Missouri, 1971. Print.
  • Wealth, by Andrew Carnegie, North American Review Vol.148, Issue 391 pp. 653–665, June 1889. (Later published as Part I of The Gospel of Wealth)
  • The Best Fields for Philanthropy, by Andrew Carnegie, North American Review Vol.149, Issue 397 pp. 682–699, December 1889. (Later published as Part II of The Gospel of Wealth)
  • Excerpts from "Wealth" by Andrew Carnegie, North American Review, 148, no. 391 (June 1889)*Carnegie, South American View, 223 no. 876 (October 1982)

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  1. Aline Helg - UNIGE
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  8. Liggett, Lorie (1998). "Wounded Knee Massacre – An Introduction". Bowling Green State University.
  9. "Plains Humanities: Wounded Knee Massacre". Retrieved December 9, 2014. "resulted in the deaths of more than 250, and possibly as many as 300, Native Americans."
  10. Utley, Robert (1963). "The Last Days of the Sioux Nation". Yale University Press.
  11. Bateman, Robert (June 2008), "Wounded Knee", Military History, 24 (4): 62–67
  12. Hill, Richard (October 7, 1999). "Wounded Knee, A Wound That Won't Heal". First Nations issues of consequence.
  13. Jeffrey Ostler: The Plains Sioux and U.S. colonialism from Lewis and Clark to Wounded Knee, pp. 357–358, Cambridge University Press (2004) ISBN 0-521-60590-3
  14. JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER, interview in 1905. Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The Rockefellers, an American Dynasty, chapter 3, p. 48