American Colossus by H.W. Brands :: The Gilded Age and The Populist and Progressive Era Reading Group

 

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The American Gilded Age and The Populist and Progressive Era
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This is a friendly group of people interested in reading great books about the American Gilded Age and The Populist and Progressive Eras c.1877 to 1920. It includes the American World War I home-front.

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Reading Table of Contents

Prologue and Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16

Current Book Reading Schedule :: Week and Chapter

  • Prologue: The Capitalist Revolution and Chapter 1: Speculation as Martial Art

    Thought Questions:
    - What factors after 1860 contributed to the Capitalist Revolution?
    - How did access to information become preeminent on Wall Street?
    - How did the development of transportation and communication infrastructure development change the United States after 1860?
    - How did government respond to the Capitalist Revolution after the end of the Civil War?
    - What role did patriarchy play in the development of American Capitalism?

    Articles
    Brief Biography of Andrew Carnegie
    Brief Biography of Daniel Drew
    Brief Biography of John D. Rockefeller
    Brief Biography of J.P. Morgan
    Brief Biography of Jay Cooke
  • Chapter 2: One Nation Under Rails

    Thought Questions
    - Describe the controversy over internal improvements and how it was resolved for the transcontinental railroad.
    - How were the Central Pacific and Union Pacific organized and how did they complete the transcontinental railroad?
    - How did California and Civil War politics effect the transcontinental railroad?
    - What role did Chinese immigrants play in creating the transcontinental railroad?
    - How did the transcontinental railroad effect relations with Native Americans in California?
    - How did the transcontinental railroad effect relations with the Great Plains Indians?
    - What similar and unique circumstances did the Union Pacific and Central Pacific face?
    - What was the general plan for development along the route of the railroad?

    Optional Supplemental Reading
    - Begin Reading Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
    (We will be reading Leaves of Grass until the end of American Colossus)
  • Chapter 3: The First Triumvirate

    Thought Questions
    - How were the steel, oil and financial industries connected and how did this connect their respective capitalists?
    - How did each of the Triumvirate use knowledge as power?
    - How do the relationships between the centers around the triumvirates reflect the broader developing relationships between finance and industrial capitalism?
    - How did risk factor into the plans of each of the triumvirate?
    - How did the Carnage and Rockefeller empires reflect horizontal and vertical industrial consolidation/integration?
    - What was a "Trust" and how and why did it develop?
    - Describe the "Oil War" and the formation of the Standard Oil Company
    - What role did religion and philosophy play in the personal lives and business practices of the triumvirate?

    Articles
    Vertical integration - The Economist
    What is the difference between horizontal integration and vertical integration?
    Horizontal Integration

    Optional Supplemental Reading
    - Continue Reading Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
    (We will be reading Leaves of Grass until the end of American Colossus)
  • Chapter 4: Toil and Trouble

    Thought Questions
    - How did the industrial and capitalist revolution effect the value of labor and develop a working class in the United States?
    - How did the change in working conditions and patterns effect American society?
    - What were the environmental and human conditions of coal mining and how did this evolve over time?
    - What were the names coal miners gave to different types of gases in the mine?
    - What was the Avondale Mine disaster?
    - How did monopoly capitalism effect working conditions for primary and secondary labor pools that served various industries?
    - What was the Long Strike and who were the Molly Maguires?
    - How did ethnic and religious animosities effect working class solidarity?
    - Who were Allan Pinkerton and James McParlan?
    - How did the railroad industry impact labor management and unions?
    - What was the false equivalence of dividends and wages that developed in industrial warfare?
    - How did management use violence to control labor? How did labor use violence to impact management?
    - How did the government use violence to control the working class and what difficulties did they face in using force?

    Optional Supplemental Reading
    - Continue Reading Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
    (We will be reading Leaves of Grass until the end of American Colossus)
  • Chapter 5 :: The Conquest of the South

    Thought Questions
    - How was the question of the balance of power a factor at the end of the civil war - for both American and state institutions?
    - How did the issue of class effect the development of the balance of power in the United States? (South and North: Freed Slaves, Free Working Blacks and Whites and Planters)
    - How did attitudes towards race change in the Northern and Southern states? How would the Western migration effect issues of race?
    - In what ways did the issue of land and economic stability effect freed blacks at the end of the war?
    - Who was J.T. Throwbridge and what insight do we gain from him?
    - What were "Black Codes" and how did they develop and how do they evolve?
    - How were Black Codes in the North different from Black Codes in the South?
    - In what ways did southerns continue to resist capitalism as an economic system after the war?
    - In what ways was the South successful in creating a communal feudalism to replace slavery and repress capitalism?
    - Compare and contrast how the communal feudalism that developed in the south effected white and black labor?

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - “Slavery is receiving by irresistible power the work of another man, and not by his consent. The freedom, as I understand it, promised by the proclamation, is taking us from under the yoke of bondage and placing us where we can reap the fruit of our own labor, and take care of ourselves and assist the government in maintaining our freedom.”
    - "Sherman was one of the many Northerners—starting with Lincoln and running far down the chain of command—whose views on the race question changed dramatically during the course of the war."
    - "This is not the condition of really free men. You ask us to forgive the landowners of our island. You only lost your right arm in the war, and might forgive them. The man who tied me to a tree and gave me 39 lashes, who stripped and flogged my mother and sister and who will not let me stay in his empty hut except I will do his planting and be satisfied with this price, and who combines with others to keep away land from me, well knowing I would not have anything to do with him"
    - “I had been a wild boy before the war,” he told Trowbridge. “I had plenty of money with no restrictions upon my spending it. But I tell you, I was never so happy in my life as when I was at work for my living in that store. My employer liked me, and trusted me, and I liked the people.”
    - “If you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.”

    Primary Sources
    Up from Slavery: An Autobiography by Booker T. Washington
    Sherman's Field Order No. 15
    The Desolate South, 1865-1866 by John T. Trowbridge
    Mississippi Black Code - November 1865
    North Carolina Black Code - 1866

    Articles
    Booker T. Washington Brief Biography
    Sherman's Field Order No. 15

    An interesting book demonstrating the complexity of race in this transformative era is Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920 by Gerald Horne

    Optional Supplemental Reading
    - Continue Reading Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
    (We will be reading Leaves of Grass until the end of American Colossus)
  • Chapter 6 :: Lakota's Last Stand

    Thought Questions
    - In what ways did the end of the Civil War effect the relationship between the sectional regions - North and South with the West?
    - What does the author mean when he says the west has always been a "comparative concept"?
    - How did the settlement of the post civil war West reflect capitalist development? Does the author overstate this point?
    - Briefly describe an outline of Sioux history from colonial contact to the end of the Civil War? How did the end of the Civil War effect the Sioux?
    - What was the Sand Creek Massacre and how did the response to it symbolize the American Indian policy?
    - Who was Red Cloud and how did he oppose assimilation and fight the destruction of Native Americans?
    - What was the Fort Laramie Pact and how did it impact Native American polities?
    - What role did Grant, Sherman and other American officers perform in the Plains Indian genocides?
    - In what ways did migrant settlers participate in and benefit from the Plains Indian genocides?
    - Who were Crazy Horse and Sitting bull and what motivated their conflict settlers and the Army?
    - What role did Civil War debt and government financing play in the conquest of the Black Hills?
    - What was Black Elk's vision?
    - What forces contributed to the destruction of the plains Buffalo and what consequences would this have on Native Americans?

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - "When the Cheyennes and Arapahos expressed their desire for peace with the whites, Evans balked. “What shall I do with the Third Colorado Regiment if I make peace?” he demanded of an officer who thought the governor ought to accept the Indians’ proposal. “They have been raised to kill Indians, and they must kill Indians.” Chivington was even more emphatic. “Kill all the Indians you come across,” he ordered his soldiers. Nor did he except women and children. “Nits make lice,” he explained to a Denver audience."
    - "Black Elk was old enough to mutilate an enemy but young enough to want his mother to be the first to know about it."

    Articles
    - Brief Biography: Red Cloud
    - Brief Biography: Sitting Bull
    - Brief Biography: Crazy Horse
    - Brief Biography: Black Elk

    Primary Sources
    - Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868)
  • Week 7 :: Chapter 7: Profits on the Hoof - American Colossus by H.W. Brands

    Thought Questions
    - How was the Cattle Industry similar to non-animal capitalist industries?
    - In what ways did "Cattle culture" create a shared border region in the Southwest?
    - How did the Civil War effect the Texas cattle herds and industry?
    - Describe the conflict that erupted between Texas and Missouri during the opening of the cattle frontier
    - How were the cattle frontier and farming frontier related to each other?
    - Describe the evolution of Abilene as a cattle town
    - How was the division of labor arranged on the cattle trails? How was the composition of a team of cattlemen?
    - What was daily life like for individuals on a cattle drive?
    - Describe the experience of Theodore Roosevelt in the Dakota Territory
    - How was the Northern cattle trade different from the Southern cattle trade?

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - "The men slept on the ground with the lariat wrapped around the wrist and with the horse so close he could be mounted at a bound. Sometimes the demands were so urgent that a man’s boots would not be taken off his feet for an entire week. The nerves of the men usually became wrought up to such a tension that it was a standing rule that no man was to be touched by another when he was asleep until after he had been spoken to. The man who suddenly aroused a sleeper was liable to be shot, as all were thoroughly armed and understood the instant use of the revolver or the rifle."
    - "The cattle congregated into a mass of unmanageable animals, milling and lowing in their fever and thirst. The milling only intensified their sufferings from the heat, and the outfit split and quartered them again and again, in the hope that this unfortunate outbreak might be checked. No sooner was the milling stopped than they would surge hither and yon, sometimes half a mile, as ungovernable as the waves of an ocean.… We threw our ropes in their faces, and when this failed, we resorted to shooting. But in defiance of the fusillade and the smoke they walked sullenly through the line of horsemen across their front. Six-shooters were discharged so close to the leaders’ faces as to singe their hair. Yet, under a noonday sun, they disregarded this and every other device to turn them, and passed wholly out of our control. In a number of instances wild steers deliberately walked against our horses. And then, for the first time, a fact dawned on us that chilled the marrow in our bones—the herd was going blind!"

    Articles and Resources
    - For those interested, two excellent books on the Cattle frontier are:
    - - Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton
    - - Cattle Towns by Robert Dykstra
  • Week 8 :: Chapter 8: To Make The Desert Bloom - American Colossus by H.W. Brands

    Thought Questions
    - Who was John Wesley Powell and how was he involved in the "opening" of the west?
    - In what ways was the story of Howard Ruede representative of post war "homesteaders"?
    - How did the Preemption Act of 1841, the Timber Culture Acts and the Homestead Act of 1862 effect western farming settlement?
    - What was the typical circumstances of an eastern settler family in the early post war period?
    - How did life on the "Farming Frontier" effect the roles of men and women?
    - Compare and contrast life on the middle "Farming Frontier" for men and women with the lives of those on the eastern Mining and western Cattle Frontiers
    - Describe how John Wesley Powell "divided" the west in regions. How does this reflect the expansion of American capitalism?
    - Describe the evolution of Wheat agriculture and "Bonanza Farms" in the west
    - How did the evolution of the "Wheat Belt" compare to the evolution of the "Corn Belt" in the post war period?
    - How did advances in farming technology and scientific agriculture effect the farming frontier in the post war period?
    - In what ways did wheat (grassland) agriculture and cattle husbandry compliment each other?
    - Describe the geographic regions associated with the "Corn Belt" and those associated with the "Wheat Belt"
    - How was the relationship between wheat and cattle similar and different from the relationship between corn and hogs?

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - "At the top of Powell’s agenda was disabusing the American people of the notion that settlement habits and patterns developed in the East might be readily translated to the West."
    - “If the lands are surveyed in regular tracts as square miles or townships, all the water sufficient for a number of pasturage farms may fall entirely within one division.… For this reason divisional surveys should conform to the topography.”
    - “The Dakota farmers, who buy machinery by the car-load, say that many times it does not pay to take a machine to the shed after a hard season’s wear and tear.… More money is lost in time repairing and tinkering with an old implement than would pay for two new ones.”

    Primary Sources
    - Text: The Homestead Act of 1862
    - Text: The Preemption Act of 1841
    - Text: The Timber Culture Acts (1873) and related amendments
    - Text: The Land Revision Act of 1891
    - Image: Norwegian settlers in 1898 North Dakota in front of their sod hut homestead

    Articles and Resources
    - Brief Biography: John Wesley Powell
    - Map of the Colorado River Valley System
    - Map of the Red River Valley System
    - Timber Culture Act of 1873

    If you are interested in John Wesley Powell, consider
    - Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell's 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon by Edward Dolnick
    - Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West by Wallace Stegner
  • Week 9 :: Chapter 9: The Teeming Shore - American Colossus by H.W. Brands

    Thought Questions
    - What does the author intend when using the weather analogy in the opening of the chapter?
    - Compare and Contrast Irish and German immigrants during this period
    - How did western, central and eastern European immigration patterns differ?
    - Describe the conflict that erupted in the Civil War draft riots in New York
    - How did gender effect the immigration experience?
    - How did immigrants embrace their native culture while becoming Americans?
    - In what ways did immigrant culture effect the development of the United States?
    - Compare and Contrast immigration from Europe with immigration from East Asia?
    - How did native born Americans react to immigration in the post Civil War era?
    - What was the Chinese Exclusion Act and how did it effect immigration?
    - Describe how immigrants were sexually exploited and why this was possible

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - "The new conscription law compelled young men to register for the draft; those who lacked the three hundred dollars for a replacement were subject to a lottery that determined which ones would actually serve. Many Irish asked why they should fight to free the slaves, whom they would then have to fight for jobs. They observed acidly that three hundred dollars would buy an Irishman’s life while a typical slave cost a thousand dollars."
    - "The states got into the immigration business, too. Western states sought settlers: people to purchase state land, increase everyone’s property values, and generally strengthen the state economies."
    - "Months more passed before he saved the money to send for them. But finally their summons came. Mary never forgot the feeling she had when her mother opened the letter that contained the steamship tickets. “At last I was going to America! Really, really going, at last! The boundaries burst. The arch of heaven soared. A million suns shone out of every star. The winds rushed in from outer space, roaring in my ears, ‘America! America!’"
    - "“Italians do not come to America to find a home … but to repair the exhausted financial conditions in which they were living in Italy.… They leave the mother country with the firm intention of going back to it as soon as their scarsellas shall sound with plenty of quibus.” In the event, about half the emigrants from Italy eventually returned. Emigrants from Greece returned in comparable proportions, as did certain Central Europeans. Germans were more likely to remain in America, but not as likely as Russian and Polish Jews, many of whom, having fled religious persecution, had no desire to return to the ghettos and pogroms."

    Primary Sources
    - The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)
    - An Act to Encourage Immigration
    - April 4, 1882: Veto of the Chinese Exclusion Act

    Articles
    - Chester A. Arthur - The Miller Center
  • Week 10 :: The American Colossus by H.W. Brands
    Chapter 10: Cities of the Plain


    Note: The primary sources for this week are two important essays by two keen observers of American life.

    Thought Questions
    - What relationship did first generation immigrants have with capitalism and urban centers?
    - How did immigrants shape urban culture in the gilded age?
    - What circumstances pulled immigrants towards urban centers instead of the frontier?
    - Why and How was Chicago founded? What is the meaning of the name "Chicago"?
    - How did the evolution from water based transport to rail based transport impact American development in the gilded age?
    - Describe the events in Chicago in the fall of 1871
    - What questions faced Chicagoans in the aftermath of the fire? How did they answer them?
    - What opportunities were afforded due to the disaster that otherwise would have been unlikely?
    - Describe how intercity transportation evolved and how its growth and expansion fueled both urban overcrowding and suburbanization
    - Who was Walt Whitman and what did he contribute to American culture?
    - Describe how Walt Whitman's essay "Democratic Vistas" reflects on American Life
    - Describe how Mark Twain's essay "On the Decay of the Art of Lying" reflects on American Life
    - Compare and Contrast the Perspectives and Focus of Walt Whitman and Mark Twain (with Perspective being the historical and current panorama a person views events against and Focus being what you dwell on - what a person latches onto)

    Response / Thought Questions
    - "“I cannot convey to you how the streets looked,” Mary related to her mother the next day. “Everybody was out of their houses, without exception, and the sidewalks were covered with furniture and bundles of every description. The middle of the street was a jam of carts, carriages, wheelbarrows, and every sort of vehicle—many horses being led along, all excited and prancing, some running away. I scarcely looked right or left, as I kept my seat by holding tightly to the trunk. The horse would not be restrained, and I had to use all my powers to keep on. I was glad to go fast, for the fire behind us raged, and the whole earth, or all we saw of it, was a lurid yellowish red.”"
    - "“When I got out of doors I found it literally raining fire,” Tree recalled afterward. “Along Randolph and Clark streets canvas awnings in front of many of the stores, and in several instances the large wooden signs, also, were burning. Here and there where the sparks had found a lodgment small jets of flames were darting out from the wooden cornices on the tops of buildings, while the sparks and cinders which were constantly falling upon the streets were being whirled around in little eddies and scattered down the basement stairways.” Not even the sidewalk beneath his feet was safe. “Along North State and Ohio streets, the dead leaves which the wind had from time to time caught up and deposited against and under the wooden sidewalks had been ignited in many places by the flying sparks, which had in turn set fire to the sidewalks, so that every few yards tongues of fire were starting up between the cracks in the boards.”"
    - "“Babylon had her hanging gardens, Egypt her Pyramids, Athens her Acropolis, Rome her Coliseum—so Brooklyn has her bridge. Over its broad roadway the teeming millions of the two cities may pass; under its spacious arch the commerce of the world may pass.”"
    - "“I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man,” Thomas Jefferson told Benjamin Rush. “True, they nourish some of the elegant arts, but the useful ones can thrive elsewhere, and less perfection in the others, with more health, virtue & freedom, would be my choice.”"

    Primary Sources
    - Democratic Vistas by Walt Whitman
    - On the Decay of the Art of Lying by Mark Twain

    Articles and Resources
    - Diagram of a Caission
    - The Great Chicago Fire - Photo Gallery - Chicago Historical Society 
    - Brief Biography: Walt Whitman
  • Week 11 :: The American Colossus by H.W. Brands
    Chapter 11: Below The El

    Thought Questions
    - What does the author mean by "Below the El"?
    - How does the author juxtapose assimilation and segregation in Gilded Age Immigrant communities?
    - How does the author juxtapose freedom and opportunities in Gilded Age Immigrant communities?
    - What impulses and necessities contributed to the development of immigrant communities in urban areas?
    - What was the Chinese Exclusion Act and how did it impact immigrant communities?
    - Why did urban cores become centers for queer life?
    - How did transportation and communication contribute to the development of immigrant communities?

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - "A committee of our friends, several years ahead of us in American experience, put their heads together and concocted American names for us all. Those of our real names that had no pleasing American equivalents they ruthlessly discarded, content if they retained the initials. My mother, possessing a name that was not easily translatable, was punished with the undignified nickname of Annie. Fetchke, Joseph, and Deborah issued as Frieda, Joseph, and Dora, respectively. As for poor me, I was simply cheated. The name they gave me was hardly new. My Hebrew name being Maryashe in full, Mashke for short, Russianized into Marya (Mar-ya), my friends said that it would hold good in English as Mary; which was very disappointing, as I longed to possess a strange-sounding American name like the others."
    - "The men sit or stand in the streets, on trucks, or in the open doors of the saloons smoking black clay pipes, talking and gesticulating as if forever on the point of coming to blows. Near a particularly boisterous group, a really pretty girl with a string of amber beads twisted artlessly in the knot of her raven hair has been bargaining long and earnestly with an old granny, who presides over a wheel-barrow load of secondhand stockings and faded cotton yarn, industriously darning the biggest holes while she extols the virtues of her stock. One of the rude swains, with patched overalls tucked into his boots, to whom the girl’s eyes have strayed more than once, steps up and gallantly offers to pick her out the handsomest pair, whereat she laughs and pushes him away with a gesture which he interprets as an invitation to stay; and he does, evidently to the satisfaction of the beldame, who forthwith raises her prices fifty per cent without being detected by the girl."
    - "If you wanted to join a tong, you had to have a friend who was already a member sponsor you. He had to swear to your good character, and even then the tong would investigate your name for one month before they let you in. This was the rule for everybody. You could be a cook, a waiter, work in a gambling house or do any kind of work, but you had to have a friend to sponsor you. And once you were a member, you were on your honor to follow all the rules. If you did, then the tong would protect you. If anyone threatened you, or interfered with your business, the tong would help you out. Or if you couldn’t find a job, the tong would send you someplace, or introduce you to someone who could give you work. This was why so many people wanted to join."

    Primary Sources
    - The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)
  • Week 12 :: The American Colossus by H.W. Brands
    Chapter 12: The Best Government Money Can Buy: School for Scandal

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - "When I began to make inquiries as to the whereabouts of the local Republican Association and the means of joining it, these men—and the big business men and lawyers also—laughed at me and told me that politics were “low”; that I would find them run by saloon-keepers, horse-car conductors, and the like, and not by men with any of whom I would come in contact outside; and, moreover, they assured me that the men I met would be rough and brutal and unpleasant to deal with. I answered that if this were so it merely meant that the people I knew did not belong to the governing class, and that the other people did—and that I intended to be one of the governing class."
    - "When you’ve voted them with their whiskers on, you take them to a barber and scrape off the chin fringe. Then you vote them again with the side lilacs and a mustache. Then to a barber again, off comes the sides and you vote them a third time with the mustache. If that ain’t enough and the box can stand a few more ballots, clean off the mustache and vote them plain face. That makes one of them good for four votes."
    - "Tammany guided the greenhorns to housing, jobs, medical care, and other essentials. “I can always get a job for a deserving man,” Tammany wheelhorse George Washington Plunkitt explained. “I know every big employer in the district—and in the whole city, for that matter—and they ain’t in the habit of saying no to me when I ask them for a job.” Emergency assistance was a Tammany specialty. “If there’s a fire in Ninth, Tenth, or Eleventh Avenue, for example, any hour of the day or night, I’m usually there with some of my election district captains as soon as the fire engines,” Plunkitt said. “If a family is burned out, I don’t ask whether they are Republicans or Democrats, and I don’t refer them to the Charity Organization Society, which would investigate their case in a month or two and decide they were worthy of help about the time they are dead from starvation. I just get quarters for them, buy clothes for them if their clothes were burned up, and fix them up until they get things running again.” All Tammany asked in exchange for its generosity was loyalty on election day. It was rarely disappointed. “It’s philanthropy, but it’s politics too—mighty good politics,” Plunkitt said. “The poor are the most grateful people in the world.”"
    - "My party’s in power in the city, and it’s going to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I’m tipped off, say, that they’re going to lay out a new park at a certain place. I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before. Ain’t it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course it is. That’s honest graft."
    - "“There is no law and no reason, legal or moral, why a member of Congress should not own stock in a road any more than why he should not own a sheep when the price of wool is to be affected by the tariff,” he said. Former congressman Benjamin Boyer of Pennsylvania, one of Ames’s investors, adopted a similar view. “I had no idea of wrong in the matter,” he said. “Nor do I see how it concerns the public.… And as the investment turned out to be profitable, my only regret is that it was no larger in amount.”"

    Thought Questions
    - How and why did the Civil War impact Theodore Roosevelt's political choices?
    - What was Tammany Hall and who was William Marcy "Boss" Tweed?
    - In what ways was Boss Tweed an urban Jesse James?
    - In what ways was Boss Tweed an urban Robin Hood?
    - How did poverty relief foster a climate of urban political corruption?
    - Compare and Contrast rural poverty / farm relief with urban / immigrant relief and how they individually fostered bipartisan political corruption
    - In what ways did the mutual cooperation between sectionally corrupt institutions and political machines weld the union together during the post Civil War Age?
    - In what ways was Gilded Age politics a competition between the wealth of the few and the ingenuity of the many?
    - What was the Tenure of Office Act
    - Who was Andrew Johnson and how did he become President?
    - How did the impeachment and trial of Andrew Johnson impact reconstruction?
    - What did Grant mean by "Let us have peace". How did this impact Southern Blacks, Southwestern Hispanics, West Coast Asians and Northern European immigrants?
    - What was the Gould - Fisk Gold Scandal? How was Grant associated with it?
    - What were the scandals around the Union Pacific Railroad? How was Congress associated with them?
    - Who was Charles Dana?
    - In what ways were "sin" taxes a part of American history and what impact has this had?
    - How was the story of the Belknaps symbolic of the "spirit of the age"?
    - Outline the sequence of scandals in the Grant administration

    Primary Sources
    - The Tenure of Office Act
    - October 16, 1869 - The New York Times "Black Friday" Cartoon

    Articles and Resources
    - The impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson - PBS

    Further Reading
    - Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics by Terry Tollway
    - Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons by Edward J. Renehan Jr.
    - The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street: Jay Gould, Jim Fisk, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the Erie Railway Wars by John Steele Gordon (some used copies available for around $5 including shipping)
  • Week 13 :: The American Colossus by H.W. Brands
    Chapter 13: The Spirit of ’76

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - “I went to Philadelphia on Xmas eve and stayed three days and was pressed to stay the week out,” he explained at the beginning of 1876. “There was nothing special then but feasting—and I did feast, had to doctor myself when I came home.” One aspect of the holiday celebration, besides the feasting, did merit special notice. “That is the Christmas trees, originally from Germany and I think first introduced into England by Prince Albert, but an old custom here. Usually the trees are decorated and loaded with sweets, toys &c, which are disposed of with great eclat (what’s that, Willie?) and the matter ends.” (Willie was Lewis’s nephew.) “Not so in Philadelphia. There all the people seem to resolve themselves into children for the occasion.” Philadelphians carried the decoration of Christmas trees to excess. Everyone who could afford it—and to Lewis’s eye, nearly everyone could—devoted two whole rooms of their houses to Christmas trees and collateral decorations. “The usual arrangement in this country is to have two parlours—be it a large or small house—opening to each other by sliding doors, the front being for state occasions. As large and fine a tree as can be accommodated being procured and set up, it is covered with every conceivable shape into which coloured and gilt paper and card can be cut, and … little pictures, glass balls, chains, garlands &c, anything to make a gay and imposing display.… All the light possible is thrown upon it, often by reflectors, the lattice blinds thrown open, and it is open to inspection by passers by, which, as houses in Philadelphia are only a little above the street, is an easy matter.” There was no limit, beyond the budget and imagination of the homeowners, to the extent of the decorations. “At one place I visited, an old doctor’s, there was a very handsome river steamboat, perfect, three feet long with about fifty passengers (these last small pictures cut out) all of white, coloured and gilt card. Also a beautiful fire hose carriage.”
    - "The party segregated after dinner. “Gentlemen upstairs, ladies to the parlour. We smoked and played cards, but hearing a great row downstairs I left as soon as I could, went down, and found that I had missed part of the fun—charades and other games. After that we had nigger minstrelsy &c by my son, Moffitt, and another young man in black faces and appropriate costumes. Black Sal also appeared and danced a jig; she puzzled me, but I afterwards learnt that she was the doctor’s wife next door, a romp—nearer fifty than any other age.… After that we had a variety of choruses and some good piano playing. Nobody waited to be asked to sing.”

    Thought Questions
    - What factors made the election of 1876 significant?
    - Who were Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden?
    - What was the Red (Bloody) Shirt Campaign?
    - Describe the Compromise of 1876 and the circumstances that gave rise to it
    - What would be the impact of the end of Reconstruction and the "sectional reconciliation"?
    - How did the diversifying stream of immigration impact the United States during Reconstruction?
    - In what ways did the end of the Civil War impact the British immigrants to the United States?
    - How did "black-face entertainment" impact the new normal of freedman racism during Reconstruction?
    - Explain and Expand on the phrase: "While steam multiplied force, electricity conquered distance"
    - Describe the Centennial Exposition, how it reflected the present and foreshadowed the future
    - Compare and Contrast Classical European Marxism and the Yankee Reform tradition
    - What impact did advances in communication and transportation have on America during Reconstruction?
    - Describe Gilded Age conspicuous Consumption and conspicuous Display
    - Explain and Expand on the phrase: "Inside the federal government’s building was “every conceivable instrument for scientific murder"
    - Who were James G. Blaine and Roscoe Conkling and how did the represent different factions in 1876?
    - Explain and Expand: "I do not know how to belong to a party a little”
    - What was the Crédit Mobilier scandal and how did it impact the election of 1876?

    Primary Sources
    - Rutherford B. Hayes - Inaugural Address
    - Rutherford B. Hayes - 1877 State of the Union Address
    - The Papers of Rutherford B. Hayes - UCSB
    - Harpers' Weekly Editorial cartoon: Uncle Sam directs U.S. Congressmen implicated in the Crédit Mobilier scheme to commit hara-kiri

    Articles and Resources
    - Brief Biography: Samuel J. Tilden
    - Brief Biography: James G. Blaine
    - Brief Biography: Roscoe Conkling
    - Brief Biography: Rutherford Hayes - Miller Center
    - Brief Biography: Rutherford Hayes - White House
    - The Ugliest, Most Contentious Presidential Election Ever
    - "Every Public Question With An Eye Only To The Public Good" - The New York Times
    - The Crédit Mobilier Scandal

    Further Reading
    - The Bloody South Carolina Election of 1876: Wade Hampton III, the Red Shirt Campaign for Governor and the End of Reconstruction by Jerry L. West
    - The Yankee International: Marxism and the American Reform Tradition, 1848-1876 by Timothy Messer-Kruse
  • Week 14 :: The American Colossus by H.W. Brands
    Chapter 14: Lives of the Parties

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - “I am a Stalwart and Arthur will be president!”
    - “a fool and a madman and an ass to embark anew, at sixty-five years of age, in a career that may at any moment become tempest-tossed by the perfidy, the defalcation, the dishonesty or neglect of any one of a hundred thousand subordinates.”

    Thought Questions
    - How did James Bryce describe the evolution of the American party system?
    - In what ways was the first incarnation of the Republican party a divided party?
    - How did the end of Reconstruction impact the Republican party?
    - Who was Roscoe Conkling and the Stalwarts?
    - Who was James Blaine and the Half-Breeds?
    - Compare and Contrast the Stalwarts and the Half Breeds
    - Under what circumstances did Chester Arthur become President?
    - What was the basis for the rivalry between Chester Arthur and Theodore Roosevelt and how did it represent the continuing evolution of the Republicans party?
    - Who were the "Mugwumps" and how did the shape the evolution of the Republican Party?
    - Compare and Contrast Grover Cleveland and Chester Arthur
    - Who was Francis Parkman and what impact did he have on the Gilded Age?

    Primary Sources
    - The American commonwealth by James Bryce
    - 1883 Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act

    Articles and Resources
    - Chester Arthur - Miller Center
    - Chester Arthur - The White House
    - The Papers of Chester Arthur - UCSB Presidency Project
    - Grover Cleveland - The Miller Center
    - Grover Cleveland - The White House
    - The Papers of Grover Cleveland - UCSB Presidency Project

    Further Reading
    - The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur by Scott S. Greenberger
    - The Gentleman Boss by Thomas Reeves
    - Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
    - Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion: The Making of a President, 1884 by Mark Wahlgren Summers
  • Week 15 :: The American Colossus by H.W. Brands
    Chapter 15: Capital Improvements


    Response / Thought Quotes
    - "I found that the nation had at first tried universal suffrage pure and simple, but had thrown that form aside because the result was not satisfactory. It had seemed to deliver all power into the hands of the ignorant and non-taxpaying classes; and of a necessity the responsible offices were filled from these classes also. A remedy was sought. The people believed they had found it, not in the destruction of universal suffrage, but in the enlargement of it. It was an odd idea, and ingenious. You must understand, the constitution gave every man a vote; therefore that vote was a vested right and could not be taken away. But the constitution did not say that certain individuals might not be given two votes, or ten! So an amendatory clause was inserted in a quiet way, a clause which authorized the enlargement of the franchise in certain cases to be specified by statute."
    - "Whereas formerly a man was honored only according to the amount of money he possessed, his grandeur was measured now by the number of votes he wielded. A man with only one vote was conspicuously respectful to his neighbor who possessed three. And if he was a man above the commonplace, he was as conspicuously energetic in his determination to acquire three for himself. This spirit of emulation invaded all ranks. Votes based upon capital were commonly called “mortal” votes, because they could be lost; those based upon learning were called “immortal,” because they were permanent."
    - “When a man’s child is able to make himself honored according to the amount of education he acquires,” the resident said, “don’t you suppose that that parent will apply the compulsion himself? Our free schools and free colleges require no law to fill them.”
    - “I cannot do better than to compare society as it then was to a prodigious coach which the masses of humanity were harnessed to and dragged toilsomely along a very hilly and sandy road,” ,,, "At such times the passengers would call down encouragingly to the toilers of the rope, exhorting them to patience, and holding out hopes of possible compensation in another world for the hardness of their lot, while others contributed to buy salves and liniments for the crippled and injured. It was agreed that it was a great pity that the coach should be so hard to pull, and there was a sense of general relief when the specially bad piece of road was gotten over."

    Thought Questions
    - What was the significance of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution?
    - What was the significance of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution?
    - In what ways was the American faith in democracy shaken in the Gilded Age?
    - What steps did American leaders take to restore the lost popular faith in American democracy?
    - How did education and wealth impact the voting franchise in the Gilded Age?
    - What were "mortal" votes and "immortal" votes?
    - How did Samuel Clemens travels impact his views? How did Samuel Clemens transform into Mark Twain?
    - Explain and Expand on the American character traits and philosophical outlooks revealed in Twain's "Life on the Mississippi", "Innocents Abroad" and "A Connecticut Yankee"
    - Explain and Expand on Twain's motivations, intentions and impact in writing "The Gilded Age"
    - Who was Herman Melville and what circumstances did Moby Dick emerge from?
    - Who was Edward Bellamy and what was the significance of his writings?
    - Describe the work "Looking Backward" by Edward Bellamy
    - Compare and Contrast the backgrounds, viewpoints and intentions of Twain, Melville, Bellamy and George Henry
    - How did American socialism begin to develop in the Gilded Age
    - Compare and Contrast American socialism in the late Gilded Age with the European Social Democratic movement, The Paris Commune and the Russian Mensheviks 
    - Compare and Contrast the role Anarchism and Anarchist terrorism played in the United States, Europe and Russia in the period of 1870-1920
    - Why did American socialism manifest itself differently in the United States from concurrent movements in Europe and Russia?

    Primary Sources
    - The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
    - The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
    - The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today By Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner
    - On the Decay of the Art of Lying by Mark Twain
    - What Is Man? and Other Essays by Mark Twain
    - Mark Twain's Letters - Volume 1 (1835-1866) by Mark Twain
    - Mark Twain's Letters - Volume 2 (1867-1875) by Mark Twain
    - Mark Twain's Letters - Volume 3 (1876-1885) by Mark Twain
    - Mark Twain's Letters — Volume 4 (1886-1900) by Mark Twain
    - Mark Twain's Letters - Volume 5 (1901-1906) by Mark Twain

    American Literature
    - Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
    - Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
    - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
    - Moby Dick by Herman Melville
    - Progress and Poverty by George Henry
    - Looking Backward 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy
    - Equality by Edward Bellamy

    Articles and Resources
    - 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - Library of Congress
    - 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - Library of Congress
    - Brief Biography: Francis Parkman
    - Brief Biography: Herman Melville
    - Brief Biography: George Henry
    - Brief Biography: Edward Bellamy
    - The Paris Commune (1871)
    - The Russian Menshevik Party

    Further Reading
    - Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers
  • Week 16 :: The American Colossus by H.W. Brands
    Chapter 16: Meet Jim Crow


    Response / Thought Quotes
    - Prof. B. T. Washington: I am so impressed with the reply to your critics in the current issue of the Plaindealer that I at last do what I have been intending ever since I read your manly criticism of our corrupt and ignorant ministry—write to one who is a stranger to me in every respect save that of reputation. I have long since seen that some one of the name and standing of yourself, among ourselves, must call a halt and be the Martin Luther of our times in condemning the practices of our ministers, and I know no one more fitted for the task than yourself.… To a man whose conscience is his guide, words of encouragement and sustenance are not necessary, yet I cannot refrain from adding my mite to the approbation your utterances and work have received from the rank and file of our people. Respectfully, Ida B. Wells1
    - “I heard the words Ku Klux Klan long before I knew what they meant,” she recounted. “I knew dimly that it meant something fearful, by the anxious way my mother walked the floor at night when my father was out to a political meeting.”
    - “A Darky Damsel Obtains a Verdict for Damages,” a local paper headlined. “What It Cost to Put a Colored School Teacher in a Smoking Car.”
    - "DEMOCRACY WAS EVEN less reliable than conscience."
    - “The Government which made the black man a citizen is bound to protect him in his rights as a citizen of the United States,” Lodge declared, “and it is a cowardly Government if it does not do it. No people can afford to write anything into their Constitution and not sustain it. A failure to do what is right brings its own punishment to nations as to men.”
    - "The black community of Memphis knew what to expect next, and an African American state militia unit called the Tennessee Rifles ringed the jail to prevent the prisoners from being kidnapped from custody and executed. But the same judge who had handed down all the arrest warrants now ordered the militia—and the rest of the black citizenry—disarmed."
    - “Negroes are leaving this locality in large numbers for Oklahoma and other points, and a general exodus is apprehended.”
    - “The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival,” she declared. “There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are out-numbered and without arms. The white mob could help itself to ammunition without pay, but the order was rigidly enforced against the selling of guns to Negroes. There is therefore only one thing left that we can do: save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.”
    - “Where are our ‘leaders’ when the race is being burnt, shot, and hanged? Holding good fat offices and saying not a word.… However much the Negro is abused and outraged, our ‘leaders’ make no demands on the country to protect us, nor come forward with any practical plan for changing the condition of affairs.”
    - “If the negroes themselves do not apply the remedy without delay it will be the duty of those whom he has attacked to tie the wretch who utters these calumnies to a stake at the intersection of Main and Madison Sts., brand him in the forehead with a hot iron and perform upon him a surgical operation with a pair of tailor’s shears.”
    - “People were crowded and seemed to be excited. Hundreds of people, many of them hurrying, were pushing against each other, pages were yelling names, a big Negro was calling stations for departing trains; train bells ringing, steam escaping with strange and frightening sounds.”
    - “The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing.”
    - "If a state can prescribe, as a rule of civil conduct, that whites and blacks shall not travel as passengers in the same railroad coach, why may it not so regulate the use of the streets of its cities and towns as to compel white citizens to keep on one side of a street, and black citizens to keep on the other? Why may it not, upon like grounds, punish whites and blacks who ride together in street cars or in open vehicles on a public road or street? Why may it not require sheriffs to assign whites to one side of a court room, and blacks to the other? And why may it not also prohibit the commingling of the two races in the galleries of legislative halls or in public assemblages convened for the consideration of the political questions of the day?"
    - "The present decision, it may well be apprehended, will not only stimulate aggressions, more or less brutal and irritating, upon the admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the belief that it is possible, by means of state enactments, to defeat the beneficent purposes which the people of the United States had in view when they adopted the recent amendments of the constitution.… Sixty millions of whites are in no danger from the presence here of eight millions of blacks. The destinies of the two races, in this country, are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all shall not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation as was enacted in Louisiana."

    Thought Questions
    - Who and What was Jim Crow?
    - Who was Booker T, Washington?
    - Who was Ida B. Wells?
    - Compare and Contrast the ideologies and methods of Booker T. Washington and Ida B. Wells
    - What was the "Free Speech and Headlight"?
    - What is the Tuskegee Institute and what is its founding philosophy?
    - Describe the birth of the Klu Klux Klan and their goals and methods
    - What methods other than violence was used to disenfranchise blacks in the Jim Crow South?
    - What was The Federal Election Bill of 1890?
    - Who was W. H. Barrett and what was the "Curve" and the "The People’s Grocery Company"? How did they become symbols of the Jim Crow South?
    - What was the purpose of gun control laws in the Jim Crow South?
    - Compare and Contrast Memphis as a symbol of the "Old South" and Atlanta as a symbol of the "New South"?
    - In what ways did lynching impact California?
    - In what ways did the railroad impact the development of the New South?
    - How did the railroad effect the civil rights and economic interests of blacks?
    - How did the Capitalism impact the work of Booker T. Washington?
    - Describe the Supreme Court Civil Rights Cases of 1883 and the impact on the New South
    - Describe the Civil Rights Act of 1875
    - Describe the Plessy v. Ferguson decision and its impact on America
    - Who was John Marshall Harlan?
    - React and Respond "minority rights within majority rule wasn’t unique to Gilded Age America"

    Primary Sources
    - The Booker T. Washington Collection: 8 Classic Works by Booker T. Washington
    - The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader by Ida B. Wells
    - The Federal Election Bill of 1890
    - The Red Record by Ida B. Wells
    - Southern Horrors Lynch Law in All Its Phases by Ida B. Wells
    - The Civil Rights Act of 1875
    - Plessy v. Ferguson, Supreme Court of the United States, No. 210, October Term, 1895
    - Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883)

    Articles and Resources
    - Brief Biography: Booker T. Washington
    - Brief Biography: Ida B. Wells
    - Memphis Free Speech
    - Tuskegee Institute
    - Image of Jim Crow
    - Brief Biography: John Marshall Harlan
    - Hanging Trees: The Untold Story of Lynching in California

    Further Reading
    - Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington by Robert J. Norrell
    - Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching by Paula Giddings

American Gilded Age and The Populist and Progressive Era Group Reading List

  1. Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920 by Jackson Lears
  2. American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900 by H.W. Brands
  3. Sisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists by Jean H. Baker
  4. The Populist Vision by Charles Postel
  5. At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943 by Erika Lee
  6. Origins of the New South, 1877--1913: A History of the South by C. Vann Woodward
  7. Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920 by Gerald Horne
  8. The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur by Scott S. Greenberger
  9. A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920 by Michael McGerr
  10. The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age by Myra MacPherson
  11. The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens
  12. American Nightmare: The History of Jim Crow by Jerrold M. Packard
  13. The Devil Is Here in These Hills: West Virginia's Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom by James Green
  14. The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 by Richard White
  15. Colored No More: Reinventing Black Womanhood in Washington, D.C. by Treva B. Lindsey
  16. The Response to Industrialism, 1885-1914 by Samuel P. Hays
  17. The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America by Lawrence Goodwyn
  18. Greenbackers, Knights of Labor, and Populists: Farmer-Labor Insurgency in the Late-Nineteenth-Century South by Matthew Hild
  19. Over Here: The First World War and American Society by David M. Kennedy
  20. The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 by Evan Thomas
  21. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
  22. Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America by Richard White
  23. The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
  24. The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Black Cavalry in the West by William H. Leckie and Shirley A. Leckie
  25. Encounter on the Great Plains: Scandinavian Settlers and the Dispossession of Dakota Indians, 1890-1930 by Karen V. Hansen
  26. The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, the Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War in American History by Paul Andrew Hutton
  27. Reunion and Reaction: The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction by C. Vann Woodward

After the first books listed above we will select the next books we read from the list below. Provide us feedback and suggestions for our next book by clicking here.

To view the books on our American Gilded Age, Populist and Progressive Era History Reading List click here