The fifty year p between 1870 and 1920 in United States history found our great, growing nation struggling with many economic, racial and social crisis. Rules were made and broken. Walls were built and torn down. Lines were drawn and crossed. With a huge cultural chasm yawning out across an invisible landscape, rocked on its foundations by a civil war, the United States of America stood at a crossroads, It was now entering uncharted territory. Would it let the torrent of differences and alienation between itself and its vanquished other half divide the nation forever?
Or would it have the fortitude, forbearance, and mercy to begin the heart-rending task of putting the pieces back together again and truly becoming “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”? Though emotionally exhausted from its assuredly un-civil war, and except for the decimated South, the nations economic health was excellent. New opportunities abounded for the young and enterprising in the large cities that were growing ever larger thanks to the flood of immigrants searching for the American dream.
And in this new post-Civil War era standards remained static in many areas, were raised in others, and certainly, most glaringly in the political-economic arena, fell in others. Great wealth, power, and prosperity accumulated quickly after the Civil War, and everyone wanted a hand in it. However, because standards were so lax in the political-economic area, a preoccupation with material and monetary gain increased. Men whose principal claim to this newfound wealth and power (characteristics certainly envied) was through corruption and ruthlessness.
A good example of one of these men was “… John D. Rockefeller in oil. He saw a marketplace of huge integrated companies, cooperating to avoid competition. The virtue of this new form of production, for Rockefeller, was its efficiency. Then he [Rockefeller] set out to eliminate competition: they could sell out to him at his price: they could become his agents; or they could be destroyed” (261 Carol Noble). Not just another term for “survival of the fittest”, efficiency and being efficient would revolutionize the industrial age, its people, and its culture.
The humming and expanding continent, for all its corruption and crudities, embodied progress, and nothing would stand in its way. Rockefeller would go on to speak prophetically about the social changes to come: “The day of combination is here to stay. Individualism has gone, never to return” (261 Carol Noble). As individualism was being ground up and replaced under the heels of industrialism, another “-ism”, racism, and second-class citizenship towards immigrants, blacks, and anyone with a different religion, remained unchanged.
People from all walks of life that had come to the land of opportunity were increasingly forced into working alongside one another. “Corporate leaders well understood and the exploited the ethnic groups within the labor force” (265 Carol Noble). Pitting blacks against whites, whites against whites, Swedes against Slovaks, and Catholics against Jews, the fat cat’s just sat back and laughed. “They deliberately worked to deepen resentment between them” (265 Carol Noble). This, to me, is a very repulsive side to the new industrial age and its efficiency.
These so-called “leaders” exploited many honest, hardworking people because of their ethnicity, low-class, and ignorance. Spurred on by their greed, their bosses greed, and greedy human nature in general. Treating people like they were animals in search of the almighty buck. To a small degree in their defense, America had never been here before. It never had industries, corporations, and things of this nature. It now had large railroads connecting the nation to make “… it possible for regional specialization to be linked to the national economy” (260 Carol Noble).
This was all new and people took advantage of it like hogs to slop. No discipline, no planning or thinking ahead. It was all going to last forever is what they probably thought. However, one people, one race, had been here before. Subjected to unheard of treatment, domination, and abuse for the past four hundred and some odd years, African-Americans did not know what to do with their new found freedom. “This child race had received total guidance from the whites during the period of slavery” (252 Carol Noble). Though they were not considered slaves anymore, they might as well have been.
Ostracized to a ridiculous extent in almost every conceivable area, blacks were still hated by southern whites like Adolph Hitler hated the Jews. “This crusading prejudice produced rigid forms of social segregation between 1890 and 1910” (254 Carol Noble). Many people thought segregation would work just fine. Many others did not. Among them were the ones who could actually do something about it … the “leaders”. Many of them “… advocated the deportation of blacks, [while] other northern leaders listened to more extreme proposals, such as “to emasculate the entire Negroe race” (255 Carol Noble).
These prejudice men would roll over in their graves at the progress blacks would go on to make by the latter half of the twentieth century versus the late nineteenth century. Blacks were not going to be held down m, and the squashing of the individual who, in the words of Andrew Carnegie, didn’t have “the special talent required” to create and keep capitol (46 Kammen). A lot of these so-called “untalented” people were of course of the working class and the new efficiency invading the culture had them reeling.
On top of all the myriad of changes and unstableness in the workplace was a new type of management by Frederick W. Taylor. “‘Taylorism’ became an international byword for social control and for programs designed to make men function like machines” (87 Kammen). Of course men are not like machines and so cannot function like them. Standards were not being raised in this critical backbone area of industry due to “Taylorism”, and labor America voiced it with “… growing labor unrest and major strikes, especially in 1911-12” (87 Kammen).
Workers, it turned out, had brains and wanted to use them. Many of the people that were working at the turn of the twentieth century were woman, as the new efficiency permeating society pushed them out of the home and into the work force. They also campaigned against inequality and male double-standards. Tired of staying at home anyway, women were becoming more outspoken and independent. “Increasing numbers of young women attended colleges, choosing to become teachers, librarians, and social workers” (242 Carol Noble).
Chafing under restraint, women flexed their way into public life and changed the way they were viewed. In summary, change happens in all areas of life and at all times of life. It establishes itself as unpredictable, unreliable, maddening. Like the butterfly theory of flapping its wings in Tokyo and creating a rainstorm in Central Park, change is the weather of history. One thing influences another and another, producing good and bad. In life, human nature is the constant; it is what affects change.