Since its inception, America as a nation has developed and progressed according to trends of change that collectively define an era. Like all other eras, the time period of 1875-1925 experienced growth, changes, movements, and new ideas. It is the way that these changes came about that defines this era. Americans started to push for changes in many areas of life that were previously unchallenged.
New experiences and opportunities were also presented to America that caused tributaries in the former American ideal. These pressures for change could not be ignored and thus America continued its maturity in a new and unique manner. The changes in the American sphere of life and the development of the greater organization, the largest underlying theme of the time period, facilitated the resurgence of new foreign and military policies, urban reform policies, economic reform policies, neo-federalism especially in dealing with business, social reform policies, and the quality of life.
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The period from 1875-1900 was considered the “Gilded Age”. On come the no-name presidents. There is a reason though, why these presidents were no-name presidents. It is because all the power that the presidency gained from Lincoln, was lost during reconstruction. Most things in American life were considered to be things that the government, especially the president, should not touch. The laissez-faire philosophy was in full force. The lack of interference allowed the giants like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J. Pierpont Morgan to rise to an almost divine status. This is where organization comes to play.
The business began to realize that by organizing their power and joining together in bonds such as cartels, later pools, and finally trusts, that they could maximize the exploitation of the growing American population. With this fusion of power and the creation of megacorporations, abuses in the course of industrialization concerning labour and the environment developed. This reaction to the weak central government led to the opposition of these abuses.
It is a natural pattern that opposition would occur, but the fact that organized opposition began to grow is what separates these resistances from the oppositions of the past. Immigration reaches its peak during the gilded age and shifts from the “old immigration” (northern & western Europe) to the “new immigration” (southern & eastern Europe) over time.
Immigration was considered not to be easy to assimilate, and therefore a bigger problem than before. Nativist developed, as immigrants increased the urbanization problems and formed ethnic ghettos throughout the city while competing for jobs and working at lower wages than native-born citizens. This immigration brought on an increased fight for labour power, urban machines for maximizing the immigrants’ large collective power, another form of organization, and plans for urban reform especially the ‘Wisconsin idea”, and the city-manager plan.
All the reforms suggested remedying these problems are known as progressive reforms. Progressivism is what the time period is most known for. A major feature of the progressive reform is that a great deal of it came from the middle-class. A middle-class reform carries a great deal of weight, and also means that it is not a great class struggle, but that a higher class is looking to improve social injustices. Progressivism is a general term that encompasses the reforms of women’s movements, granger movements, labour movements (including socialism), racial movements (pro and anti-black), nativism movements, moral/religious movements, and anti-trust movements.
Later on, at the national government level, Theodore Roosevelt became the first true progressive president and brings to the forefront the idea of new federalism, the square deal, and the new nationalism (later). He started to strengthen the national government and the presidency which was continued eventually through to Woodrow Wilson and his New Freedom. The key to progressivism is that all of these reforms were organized from the local level of labour unions and other resistance movements to the top level of government organization in matters such as trust-busting.
Progressivism was successful in accomplishing many of its goals. It reduced corruption in many of America’s institutions. It gained privileges for working-class people the in a reduction of hours in workweeks, got increasingly safer conditions, and higher wages. The settlement houses provided help for the urban, immigrant poor and also key information about the racial ghettos and quality of living. This led to muckraking and other tools of bringing reform. Progressives got the 18th and 19th amendments passed granting prohibition and women’s suffrage. Segregation, which was considered a progressive movement, started to develop more and more during this time period. The insurance system had its major modern roots in the progressive era and city manager plans took effect as a result of progressives in order to destroy all the abuses of urban life. Basically, the time period is known for the changes that came about in it, and these changes are because of progressivism.
With all of the changes going on within America, and the prosperity and production that came with the industrial revolution, the temptation to stray from the foreign policy that Washington set out a hundred years before was very great. The Americans now entered a time where they were in a position to compete with European powers, but the European powers had a jump on the Americans in many areas, especially colonization of foreign territories. In addition, the American frontier for the first time in history, no longer existed.
The frontier symbolized the freedom of a place to go when things got boring. The frontier was a safety valve for people to go settle new territories, and to find raw materials. Now with the frontier gone, the idea of taking foreign territories looked like the best way to replace that frontier. Increasingly, the Americans had started to flex their muscle in the affairs around the world. Finally, it became clear that an imperialistic stance for America would be necessary in order to keep up with all the other western powers.
Many changes in American life especially industrialization forced America to react to the new situations being presented to it. The people developed opinions on certain issues and actively pursued change. This forced America to experience things that it never had in the past. It marked the rise of America as a substantial world power, the removal from isolationism, and the changing of the quality of life. The organized responses of the era, are its stamp on American history.
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