The Gilded Age

The United States of America emerged in the eighteenth century as the first successful republic in the world of monarchy.


The United States of America emerged in the eighteenth century as the first successful republic in the world of monarchy. The Founding Fathers imagined the United States as the most progressive society in the universe, the country of equal opportunities for each American citizen, irrespective of ethnic origin, race, religion, political viewpoint, customs, and traditions. Naturally, such system would have been fair in regard to each American citizen, but unfortunately, European colonists brought all vices of European monarchies to the New World with them. Therefore, slavery, racism, gender inequality, and various religious, political, and social prejudices have existed in the United States since the first years of its independence. The significant arguments occurred between business, governmental, and social groups of America after the Civil War. It was the beginning of the class struggle, which led to the emergence of the civic society in the market economy and described in book reviews

The whole history of the United States is a history of the class struggle. In addition, there existed great contradictions between various ethnic, racial, social, and gender groups in the country. Moreover, the United States is the nation of immigrants that come from all over the world, the country of the so-called melting pot of all nations, races, and ethnicities. Of course, in the eighteenth century, nobody could predict the development of social movements, and the first European immigrants brought all the prejudices from their native countries to the New World. As the result, only men from Europe could become American citizens, while the middle class of English colonies in America became the driving force of the American Revolution. It mainly revolved around white men who wanted to live in a free republic. Hence, the American Civil War of 1861–1865 was the logical continuation of the class struggle.

The Civil War took place in the historical period of the Industrial Revolution that had broken out in the United States. The country was split into two parts, represented by the Northerners and the Southerners who fought for dominance. As Howard Zinn states, “those years are filled with the controversy over slavery, but on the eve of the Civil War it was money and profit, not the movement against slavery”. It happened this way because the Industrial Revolution had initiated the industrialization of the whole economy, and as the result, new economic relations emerged in the market economy. In this regard, slavery became unprofitable because free workers were interested in doing better and brought more profits with their productivity. The labor of people who worked for wages was more effective — therefore, the class of large landowners of the South, the slaveholders, ceased their existence after the Civil War. The concept of slavery was also eliminated, replaced by the farmers and tenant field workers.

After the Civil War, the United States remained a unitary state, but the whole nation was divided into exploiters and exploited. The representatives of big business sphere, such as owners of factories and other industrial establishments, hired the workers, thus becoming the employers or in other words, the exploiters. The rural and industrial workers were the class of the exploited people, and farmers with small enterprises belonged to the middle class. Also, farmers and tenant workers occupied the working class. African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and women regardless of their ethnicity or race could not have the American citizenship. For example, the American authorities fined Susan B. Anthony, a prominent American political leader, a hundred dollars for voting in the election. Later, Anthony stated, “the Constitution… should declare equality of rights the national guarantee to all persons born or naturalized in the United States”. This incident caused the feminist movement in America, where women demanded the gender equality. At the same time, the emergence of political parties that supported the interests of various social groups and classes occurred, which was a natural and logical event. As Eric Foner states, two largest American parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, “came under the control of powerful political managers with close ties to business interests”. Thus, the Republicans maintained the government policy of high tariffs for reinforcing the Federal power and the National industry. The Democrats, in turn, were against both the high tariffs policy and the governmental increasing investments into “debt-ridden agricultural areas”.

In 1883, the American Government passed the Civil Service Act, which eliminated political and business influence on the Federal Government. Hence, the civil service was freed from both business and political interests. In 1887, the Interstate Commerce Commission appeared in order to monitor the economic activity of the companies, because only the court had a legal right to punish the companies for economic crimes. Also, it was an attempt to restrict the free trade, and in 1890, the Government designed the Sherman Antitrust Act to eliminate the existing difficulties. Meanwhile, there occurred many conflicts between the farmers and the small entrepreneurs in regard to large production numbers and transportation companies, because unfair tariffs and high fees supported the interests of big businesses. In addition, the labor movement commenced, with people demanding economic improvements for the working class, such as eight-hour working day, elimination of the child labor, and improvement of the working conditions. It became the ground for debates in the society on the subject of how to establish a new order.

Big businesses became the monopolists in the United States. Such names as Morgan, Carnegie, and Rockefeller gained popularity as the names of the biggest monopolies, and these monopolies “made a mockery of economic competition and political democracy by manipulating the market and bribing legislators”. As for people of the working class, they had to obey the employers, and nobody cared about their interests. In some industrial branches, skilled workers could manage to monitor the manufacturing process, which signified freedom, since they could establish wages, create more suitable working conditions, and improve their education. However, the majority of workers lived and worked under dismal conditions.

As Foner states, “by 1890, the richest 1 percent of Americans received the same total income as the bottom half of the population and owned more property than the remaining 99 percent”. Therefore, strikes became the major method of protecting rights and freedom of the working class. In 1877, the Great Railroad Strike took place in America — the workers protested against the reduction in wages and demanded the improvement of working conditions by paralyzing the railroad traffic from Chicago to Saint Louis. The Government ordered the military troops to shoot, and in the result, twenty workers died. Although the Government suppressed the strike, the new labor movement, known as the Knights of Labor, emerged to protect the interests of the working class. It was the first Labor Union in America. Also, there existed farmers’ revolts, caused by people’s desire not to lose their profits in the result of the international competition. The reform movement known as progressivism proposed to eliminate the conflict between labor and capital by humanizing capitalism, which meant that the employers had to take care of their workers by giving them fair payment and improving their working and social conditions. Moreover, all workers could now take part in monitoring the manufacturing process.

The late 19th and the early 20th centuries became a period of the formation of new market economic relations, in which new working classes emerged in agriculture and industry. Thus, former slaves became either tenant field workers or farmers, while the class of big landowners and slaveholders vanished as the result of the Industrial Revolution. At the same time, racial segregation, gender inequality, and social prejudices remained huge obstacles that hindered the emergence of the real democratic civic society in America. Only the political parties with various social movements managed to become the National forces, capable of establishing the real democracy in America.



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