The main idea of this book is to review history of American development after the Civil War until end of XIX century and analyze what and how impacted this development and turned America into the country it became at the beginning of XX century. The main points of analysis are the reconstruction and its failure, Western expansion, Indian wars and removal of Indians to reservations. The key for understanding of these events was an American ideology build around the notion of Home and competency, and eventual failure of classical liberalism to respond effectively to industrialization and substitute of independent farmer and planter / landowner with laborer and businessmen as key elements of society.
In introduction author defines main themes of this book: transfer of America from the world before Civil War with its slavery, provinciality, and people’s loyalty to their state to the world after war with its eventually failed reconstruction, massive industrial development, and transfer of loyalty from one of the states to the United States. No less important was process of slow, but continuing decline of traditional liberalism with its laisses faire market and rise of progressivism with its government intervention and struggle between organized labor and owners/management.
Part I: Reconstructing the Nation
Prologue: Mourning Lincoln
Author uses assassination of Lincoln as the starting point, describing how it impacted overall leadership of the country by bringing to power Southerner Andrew Johnson. At the end author uses census data to make a point of how relatively levelled was wealth distribution in America with even somewhat rich people having practically the same live style as relatively poor, in the society with absence of both very rich and very poor.
- In the Wake of War,
Here author present American situation after the war: Victorious North, Devastated South, and mainly unconquered West. Then he defines North objectives as establishment of National Unity, freedom of Contract for everybody, including fully emancipated freedmen. After defining these objectives, author describes realities of the South where emancipation and freedom of contract for freedmen were completely rejected by white population. Consequently, it led to continuing condition of low intensity civil war between North supporters and active blacks, especially ones with military experience, and majority of whites on the local level and similar struggle between Johnson and Republican congress, senate, and administration. In DC this was expressed with Presidential Reconstruction of Johnson, who intended return country to practically pre-war situation sans formal slavery and put high priority on rehabilitation of confederates. This pretty much failed due to activities of republicans at all levels, especially in legislature, but also on sites via Freedman bureau activities. The situation was multilayered: federal legislature was resisting presidential reconstruction, Southern state legislature was trying to return back to prewar situation by implementing black codes, and at the very bottom terrorist activities and overall violence on both sides ran wild. The last part of this chapter stresses how dominant at the time ideology of old liberalism failed to expand from North to South and include freedmen.
- Radical Reconstruction
This is about the struggle between Johnson who slowly, but surely moved in direction of reestablishment of slaveowners power against congressional republicans including radicals who promoted constitutional amendments to solidify victory in Civil War and make emancipation irreversible reality. This struggle included both legislative and ideological fight in DC and all over the country, and low intensity terrorist war in the South. The result was pretty much stalemate with Republicans failing to impeach Johnson, small mainly demobilized army incapable suppressing terrorist activities, and former slave owners taking power back, while emancipation amendments successfully moving ahead.
- The Greater Reconstruction,
This chapter starts with initiation of the next step in Indian wars – Chivington’s massacre of Cheyennes in Colorado in November of 1964. Just after completion of Civil War, US Army, while rapidly decreasing in numbers, nevertheless become very active in cleansing Indians from territories further and further to the West. Here is a nice map representing this process:
The interesting thing about it is that unlike all other countries of colonization period, American exceptionalism was demonstrated itself in complexity of this process when many of American military commanders and political figures tried to bring some order and legality, however shaky, to this process, by continuiously creating treaties with Indians and sometimes even attempting to use force against white settlers to enforce this treaties. Eventually only massive government intervention in the form of sponsoring railroad and western settlement assured conquest of these territories and relegation of Indians to reservations.
This is a very important chapter for understanding of America because it is about ideological notion of Home, which basically serves as cornerstone of American culture. This notion is much more that building where one lives. It includes competency of the person and his ability to build family and provide for it based on combination of property and work. In this family everybody: husband, wife, children had their roles and were valued by selves and others based on their ability to fulfil these roles successfully. The societally approved objective was not to get rich and powerful, but rather fulfil one’s role in live by achieving competency resulting in building the home, giving good start to the next generation, and retiring with comfortable means. Author discusses in detail how this process was developing initially, how it was supported lately, and provides a nice graph for one of the most important form of such support: homestead movement:
Author makes an important point that the most important objectives of reconstruction were turning former slaves and Indians into homebuilders similar to all other Americans and how both of these objectives mainly fail because of Southern resistance for blacks and cultural incompatibility for Indians. It also applied to other groups: Chinese, Irish, and other immigrants who did not share this concept of home as objective of life’s main effort and often would not be able to achieve it, even if they would want to because members of the idealistic republic of farmers that did not really exist outside of ideological construct of American society.
This chapter is about struggle of intellectuals of Gilded Age to reconcile American ideology of home and competency with realities of live. It went in multiple directions one of them being use of scientific achievement of age such as statistic to build new institutions such as insurance companies to handle randomness of luck. Another was via expansion of education, and yet another one via Social Science represented by ASSA, which author considers the most important classical liberal institution of the time. Finally, this period also included beginning of conversion of classical liberalism of free market and personal responsibility into ideology of supplemental institutions to alleviate individual problems via statistical redistribution of risk with the new liberalism of big government interfering to eliminate problems completely by using force and expert knowledge. Interestingly enough, it all coincided with the struggle against government corruption – usually local government corruption of Tammany hall type.
- Triumph of Wage Labor,
This chapter is about the coming of the new era when productivity growth in agriculture (250 hours per bushel in 1840 vs 150 per bushel in 1880), new goods and services that become available, made old ideas of farmers’ republic invalid. It was substituted by the combination of labor and capital with old middle class of farmers, while converting into the new middle class of small business owners and highly qualified employees, nevertheless losing its ideological and political influence. Author describes this process and allocates a lot of attention to the process of devaluation of labor that become increasingly wide spread due to the nature of labor at the low level of technology when it required little time and effort to get up to speed, making workers easily substitutable, and consequently decreasing their bargaining power to nearly 0.
The chapter starts with reference to Grant election in 1972 for the second term. Author stresses the local character of politics at the time, and that the Reconstruction as national issue was not that important for majority of people. Grant was still popular and won easily, but he did not have any big ideas to implement and was traying to accommodate different fractions of republican coalition. Author looks at various scandals that start developing at the time such as Credit Mobilier and them moves to actual panic that started with the crash of stock exchange in Vienna, which undermined European grain trade, causing financial problems in America that was supplying lots of grain to these markets. Combined with switch to gold coins only (Crime of 73), it caused serious recession through the end of Grant administration and beyond. It was especially severe because of the shift to wage labor that left little space for people to fall on when unemployment struck. By the end of panic in 1880 lots of people were worse off than 20 years before. Author also looks at legal developments and failed attempt to implement Civil Rights Act of 1875. The reconstruction ended with elections of 1876 without achieving real emancipation and leaving the South free to establish formal racial segregation.
- Beginning a Second Century
The chapter starts with Centennial exposition where demonstration of progress was combined with absence of Southerners and Indians. Then it proceeds to discuss limits of free labor in the age of monopolies and initiation of unions and strikes. Author discusses practical end of 200 years of Indian wars and kind of settlement with reservations, Indian affairs departments, and Indian dependency on government for mere survival after they were deprived of opportunities to continue their way of live. Author briefly discusses Southern problems, but mainly concentrates on issues of Catholic immigration and related development of new political and economic power – permanent wage workers like miners, steelworkers, and such who did not expect to become independent farmers or business owners and consequently saw the only way for improvement via higher wages and better labor conditions.
Part II: The Quest for Prosperity.
- Years of Violence,
This is about 1876-1877 when after the end of Grant’s second term North gave up on reconstruction in exchange for Hayes presidency and southern racists fully reestablished their rule in the form of segregation. Author describes it in part I, then goes to Indian Nez Perce war of 1977. However, the most attention allocated to economic development: Rockefeller and railroads. This also includes labor struggles, strikes, lockouts, and related violence. Author also discusses political organization of this time with fee-based government and fight between different parts of this political system for wealth and power.
- The Party of Prosperity~
This chapter is about Republican Party that claimed to be a party of prosperity based on tariffs and protected markets. They supported gold standard and correspondingly democrats were for easy money with the use of silver. This period also includes beginning of welfare state with pensions for Civil war union soldiers. Author looks at multiple strains of cultural development from suppression of Mormons into monogamy to beginnings of temperance movement, and expansion of education, including for women. At the end of chapter author discusses election of 1880 with all candidates pretty much scared by raise of monopolies and labor movement with Garfield eventually winning for republicans.
- People in Motion,
This chapter is about immigration and it starts with description of process for English immigrant. It then discusses immigration overall and its impact in late XIX century when newly arrived immigrant could not expect to get land anymore and generally should go to work in urban or extraction industries. It also provides a nice graph for the process:
Author dicusses positive economic role of immigration and how it was necessary to populate the country.
- Liberal Orthodoxy and Radical Opinions,
Here author looks at events of 1880s through prism of decaying ideology of classical liberalism that could not handle the new situation of expansion of non-propertied labor that had nothing to fall on in case of unemployment, possess no serious skills that would support meaningful bargaining power, and therefore had to agree to practically any conditions, even if these conditions could not provide sustainable living. Author discusses assassination of Garfield and ideological movements: Spencer, William Sumner, and overall American movement to obtain high level European education, especially in Germany. A special discussion is provided for Henry George and his ideas of right for land and universal tax on rent. Another ideological personality discussed here is Howells who communicated his ideas via popular novels. Finally, the last part of this chapter discusses fight over corruption and eventual road to Pendleton Act that created permanent bureaucracy theoretically ending spoils system.
- Dying for Progress.
This chapter is about hugely negative consequences of industrial development on environment, conditions of live, and consequently on health of American population. Here is a nice graph demonstrating this development:
- The Great Upheaval,
This is about that rise of labor movement, and specifically story of Knights of Labor and other similar organizations that at the time seems to be confirming Marxist analysis of human history and development. Nevertheless, even after major strikes and disturbances American system demonstrated its flexibility in accommodating to the new circumstances and successfully handling the Great Upheaval of labor within it framework.
This chapter is about various reform movements. It starts with anarchists, Greenback supporters, then moves to evangelicals, temperance movement, and most importantly, to labor movement. The big part of chapter describes anti-monopoly movement, which unlike many others had significant legislative achievements.
- Westward the Course of Reform
This chapter is about western movement and development. It was quite different from initial American development that was driven by settlers with little if any government involvement. The movement of the end of XIX century was government driven via huge land grants to railroads, but also huge expansion of public land ownership. There is a very interesting piece here about cowboys and huge difference between reality and cultural representation. In American culture cowboys represent rugged individualism, guns, freedom, and violence. In reality they were mainly corporate employees because corporations very quickly took over cattle rising. Also interesting is the story of tick resistant longhorns vs. more valuable, but less sturdy regular northern cattle. Overall the western cattle industry was highly dependable on railroads and eventually was not that profitable after all. Author also discusses here attempts to include Indians into regular American culture via Indian schools, development of mining and farming industries on the West.
- The Center Fails to Hold,
This is about political development at the end of century when socialist ideas start penetrating culture, especially intellectual circles, while previously dominant classical liberalism was in full retreat, not capable to handle labor movement based on inability of low skills individual to survive in the free market. The chapter also includes discussion on final expulsion of Indians from practically all valuable land and expansion of homesteads, however faulty it really was.
- The Poetry of a Pound of Steel
This chapter starts with Carnegie and his involvement in both material and ideological areas of American live. It is interesting how his growing involvement with ideas, which were pretty much feel good ideas of peace, brotherhood, education, philanthropy and such, practically pushed him out of area of material production that required competition, cost cutting, including wages and jobs, and similar unpleasant activities, which nevertheless were the only way to achieve efficient production. Author describes in details Homestead strike and other episodes of industrial struggle. A very interesting and not obvious note is that very nice philanthropic initiatives like creation of Carnegie libraries eventually came down to rich man deciding what poor man needs and directing resources of society to building something that was of no use for hard working laborer and later had to be maintained by taxes drawn from these laborers.
Part III: The Crisis Arrives
- The Other Half,
The other half here is the newly arrived immigrants and other laborers. Live of these people was unknown for middle class established Americans. It was later popularized via literature and journalism on the mass scale. This description typically ignored reason for this people to come, which was obviously better live than they had back in places of their origin. It was rather concentrating on perceived failure of free market in creating human conditions of live for these people and necessity of government involvement. Author describes formation of local political machines that facilitated process of immigrant integration, which while hugely corrupted, still helped them to improve their lives. The last part of the chapter is about acculturalization that rapidly occurred if not with immigrant themselves, then with their children.
- Dystopian and Utopian America
This chapter starts with Lizzie Borden and culture of American crime, then moved to Dreiser and world that he described. Then it returns back to South situation with lynching and growing segregation, and then political movements of the end of century, especially populism. However, despite all this, the chapter ends with Columbian Exposition and enthusiasm about America and its future that majority experienced at the time.
- The Great Depression,
This chapter describes the depression of 1893 and panic on Wall Street. It also narrates story of Pullman’s attempt to create perfect factory town with everything from housing to control over behavior provided by the company. Obviously, it did not work, so author next continue discussion of labor movement including new personages like Debs.
- Things Fall Apart,
This chapter starts with Mark Hanna and political maneuvering of McKinley and his tariffs policy. Then it continues describing labor relations and how people start adjusting their lives to unpredictability of labor market and need to maintain saving to handle it. Author also discusses public domain issues such as roads and public lands. At the end of chapter author looks at appearance of judicial activism and ideological background that gave birth to it – rejection of democratic governance as inadequate and ineffective and call for experts to take over.
- An Era Ends,
The final chapter is about the end of post-Civil War era that came with election of McKinley for the second term with Teddy as VP. Even when republicans triumphed in election 1896, their ideology of classical liberalism was in deep decline and mass government intervention into just about everything was just around the corner.
In conclusion author retells his main points: failure of liberalism to substitute slavery with effective system of contract labor, decline of independent agrarian producer, and raise of labor, capital, struggle between them, ideological movement to socialism, and consequently raise of government in all areas of live.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This as a pretty good and detailed history and I think it shows quite well that decline of traditional American culture and raise of government was a very logical response to industrialization and decline of opportunities for individual producers not only to compete but even to survive in the world of big business closely connected with government. It is also very interesting in demonstrating the extent to which removal of slavery was based on little supported ideology of abolitionism and necessities of war, rather than on rejection of this institution by either Southern or Northern societies, including southern slaves who put relatively little resistance to reestablishment of white dominance. Probably the most important, albeit not really obvious lesson here is that overall huge change of society that occurred after Civil War went amazingly smoothly with relatively small bloodshed. I think it demonstrates significant advantages of Democracy as the system that allows resolution of core issues of society via relatively peaceful interaction of its different forces.