The Gilded Age, Populist and Progressive Era Reading Group

Chapter 20: Imperial Dreams (Part 1) :: American Colossus by H.W. Brands

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “The republic is something more than a local policy. It is a general principle, not to be forgotten at any time, especially when the opportunity is presented of bringing an immense region within its influence.”
  • “They see wealth and poverty side by side. They note great inequality of social position and social chances. They eagerly set about the attempt to account for what they see, and to devise schemes for remedying what they do not like. In their eagerness to recommend the less fortunate classes to pity and consideration, they forget all about the rights of other classes, they gloss over the faults of the classes in question, and they exaggerate their misfortunes and their virtues. They invent new theories of property, distorting rights and perpetuating injustice, as anyone is sure to do who sets about the readjustment of social relations with the interests of one group distinctly before his mind, and the interests of all other groups thrown into the background. When I have read certain of these discussions, I have thought that it must be quite disreputable to be respectable, quite dishonest to own property, quite unjust to go one’s own way and earn one’s own living, and that the only really admirable person was the good-for-nothing.”
  • “The work which the English race began when it colonized North America is destined to go on until every land on the earth’s surface that is not already the seat of an old civilization shall become English in its language, in its religion, in its political habits and traditions, and to a predominant extent in the blood of its people. The day is at hand when four-fifths of the human race will trace its pedigree to English forefathers, as four-fifths of the white people in the United States trace their pedigree today.”

Thought Questions

  • What is Turner’s “Frontier Thesis”
  • What factors (Russian and American) led into the transfer of Alaska to the United States
  • Who were William Sumner and Herbert Spencer and what is “social Darwinism”
  • Describe the fallacies associated with the concept of “social Darwinism”
  • Explain and Expand: “Most significantly, the war confirmed the redemptive power of American democracy.”
  • Compare and Contrast: John Fiske and Charles Sumner
  • Describe the relationship between war and social Darwinism
  • Describe the relationship between American religion and social Darwinism
  • Who was Alfred Thayer Mahan and how did he influence American imperialism
  • Describe the American conquest of Hawaii

Primary Sources

Articles and Resources

Further Reading

 

 

The Gilded Age, Populist and Progressive Era Reading Group

Chapter 19: Tariff Bill And Dollar Mark :: American Colossus by H.W. Brands

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “Though Republicans won the presidency in three of the four elections from 1876 to 1888, the Democratic candidates actually polled more popular votes (19.1 million total to 18.8 million for the Republicans). Republicans controlled the Senate for ten of the twelve years after 1876; Democrats controlled the House for ten of the twelve years.”
  • McKinley’s election inaugurated an era of Republican dominance of the federal government that lasted till the Great Depression of the 1930s.
  • “I do not promise the members of this House whenever they listen to me to give them wisdom of adamant. I do not promise them I shall not change my mind when I see good reason for doing it. I only promise that I will give them honestly what my opinion is at the time. They must take their chances about it being for eternity.”
  • “One, with God, is always a majority, but many a martyr has been burned at the stake while the votes were being counted.”
  • “It is the women who do the shopping,” Reed observed, “who keep the run of prices, who have the keenest scent for increased cost. They heard in every store the clerks behind the counters explain how this article or that could not be sold hereafter at the former price because of the McKinley Bill; they went home and told their husbands and fathers.”
  • “That’s what I tell all the boys,” he said. “But, Mack, don’t let’s lie to one another.”
  • “We are doing this in a semi-confidential way and will not receive any money from persons except those who give from proper motives,”
  • “If a gold plank is adopted, we will not carry a state west of the Mississippi River”
  • “The existing gold standard must be maintained”
  • “You may make fun of the West and South if you like. You may say that their people are not financiers,” he told the Eastern members of the House. “But these people have just as much right to express their ideas and to guard their interests as you have to guard yours, and their ideas are as much entitled to consideration as yours.”
  • “We of the South have burned our bridges behind us so far as the Eastern Democrats are concerned,” Ben Tillman of South Carolina declared. “We denounce the administration of President Cleveland as undemocratic and tyrannical!”
  • “I speak more in sorrow than in anger,” David Hill said. “You know what this platform means to the East.”
  • “Things are going against us, William,” he told McKinley. “You’ve got to stump or we’ll be defeated.” The candidate knew better. “I will not try to compete with Bryan,” he said. “I am going to stay here”—in Canton, Ohio, his hometown—“and do what campaigning there is to be done. If I took a whole train, Bryan would take a sleeper; if I took a sleeper, Bryan would take a chair car; if I took a chair car, he would ride a freight train. I can’t outdo him, and I am not going to try.”

Thought Questions

  • Explain and Expand: “We are New Yorked to disgrace and death, and mugwumped to a state of idiocy.”
  • Describe the circumstances around the election of 1888 and Benjamin Harrison’s candidacy
  • Describe the circumstances around the election of 1892 and the return of Grover Cleveland
  • Describe the circumstances around the election of 1896 and William McKinley’s candidacy
  • Explain and Expand: “The Democrats were entrenched in the South, and they became ever more entrenched as the politics of the region grew ever whiter. The Republicans retained their advantage in the Northeast and Ohio Valley.”
  • Describe the myth and reality of the “New South”
  • Explain and Expand: “a place where good Representatives went when they died”
  • What was the significance of tariff reform in the Gilded Age
  • Explain and Expand: “The tariff was a triumph for the capitalist class but a disaster for the Republican party.”
  • Describe the circumstances around and consequences of the Panic of 1893
  • Describe the impact of the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act
  • Who was Mark Hanna and what was his relationship with William McKinley?
  • Affirm or Refute: “Hanna’s attachment to McKinley was opportunistic—the capitalist to the candidate, the kingmaker to the king-to-be—but it was also emotional. … His attitude was always that of a big, bashful boy toward a girl he loves.”
  • What issues animated William Jennings Bryan
  • Explain and Expand: “In the end the Populists tried to have it both ways. They nominated Bryan for president, but in place of Arthur Sewall, the Democratic nominee for vice president, they forwarded the anti-fusionist Watson, who accepted the nomination under the duress of believing that his candidacy alone could prevent a fatal fracture in the party.”

Primary Sources

Articles and Resources

Further Reading

The Gilded Age, Populist and Progressive Era Reading Group

Chapter 18 – The Wages of Capitalism :: American Colossus by H.W. Brands

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “As a starting point for a new education at fifty- five years old, the shock of finding oneself suspended, for several months, over the edge of bankruptcy, without knowing how one got there, or how to get away, is to be strongly recommended.”
  • “The more he saw of it the less he understood it. He was quite sure that nobody understood it much better. Blindly some very powerful energy was at work, doing something that nobody wanted done.”
  • “On July 5 union sympathizers at Bellevue, Pennsylvania, not far from Homestead, reported the arrival by train of the Pinkerton men, who boarded two barges for the final approach to Homestead. Before the barges came within sight of the plant, the workers had spread the alarm. An informal militia of workers raced to the waterfront below the plant, and as the barges, propelled by a tug, drew near, the workers opened fire.”
  • “Some of the workers tossed sticks of dynamite at the barges; these effected little damage to the steel craft but seriously dented the Pinkertons’ morale. Another group of workers pumped hundreds of gallons of oil into the river upstream from the barges and attempted to set it alight as it drifted down. But the fuel wouldn’t catch. Still another group improved on the incendiary idea, commandeering a raft, filling it with oily refuse, setting it ablaze, and pushing it downstream toward the barges. This variant came close to succeeding, but the current redirected the fiery vessel at the last moment and spared the Pinkertons from roasting.”
  • “The corporation is everything and everywhere,” a journalist from Pittsburgh recorded. “The corporation trims your lawn and attends to your trees; the corporation sweeps your street, and sends a man around to pick up every cigar stump, every bit of paper, every straw or leaf; the corporation puts two barrels in your back yard, one for ashes and one for refuse of the kitchen; the corporation has the ashes and refuse hauled away.… The corporation does practically everything but sweep your room and make your bed, and the corporation expects you to enjoy it and hold your tongue.”

  • “The forces of labor must unite,” he told the second annual meeting of the ARU in June 1894. “The dividing lines must grow dimmer day by day until they become imperceptible, and then labor’s hosts, marshaled under one conquering banner, shall march together, vote together, and fight together, until working men shall receive and enjoy all the fruits of their toil. Then will our country be truly and grandly free, and its institutions as secure and enduring as the eternal mountains.”
  • “While the boycott is ostensibly declared as a demonstration of sympathy in behalf of the strikers in the Pullman shops it in reality will be a struggle between the greatest and most powerful railroad labor organization and the entire railroad capital.”
  • “A strike is essentially a conspiracy to extort by violence … Whatever other doctrine may be asserted by reckless agitators, it must ever be the duty of the courts, in the protection of society, and in the execution of the laws of the land, to condemn, prevent, and punish all such unlawful conspiracies and combinations.”
  • “The first shot fired by the regular soldiers at the mobs here will be the signal for a civil war I believe this as firmly as I believe in the ultimate success of our course. Bloodshed will follow, and ninety percent of the people of the United States will be arrayed against the other ten percent.”
  • “From this moving mass of shouting rioters squads of a dozen or two departed, running toward the yards with fire brands in their hands. They looked in the gloaming like specters, their lighted torches bobbing about like will-o’-the-wisps. Soon from all parts of the yard flames shot up and billows of fire rolled over the cars, covering them with the red glow of destruction.… It was pandemonium let loose, the fire leaping along for miles and the men and women dancing with frenzy. It was a mad scene where riot became wanton and men and women became drunk on their excesses.”
  • “When a body of 100,000 men lay down their implements of labor, not because their rights have been invaded, but because the bread has been taken from the mouths of their fellows, we have no right to say they are criminals. It is difficult for us to place ourselves in the position of others, but this Court should endeavor to do so and should realize that the petitioners in this case are representatives of the great laboring element of this country, upon which this country must so largely depend for its safety, prosperity, and progress.”
  • “Every detail of the proceedings was stamped with the effort on the part of the prosecutor to make a mountain out of a mole hill”

Thought Questions

  • In what ways was the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago significant for the United States?
  • What did The World’s Columbian Exposition symbolize about the United States
  • Describe the “battle of the currents”
  • Describe the symbolism in the following: “Millet and his crews devised a novel method of applying the mixture of white lead and oil— through hoses and nozzles from tanks pressurized by air. The “whitewash gang,” Burnham called them, and their spray equipment, even while launching a revolution in the painting industry, finished the Chicago job with just hours to spare.”
  • Explain and Expand: “Many visitors got their first direct appreciation of standard time zones (adopted by American railroads during the 1880s) by observing the fair clocks, which were connected electrically to the Naval Observatory in Washington, an hour ahead of Chicago. George Ferris’s giant wheel wasn’t finished when the fair began, but its size and shape drew gasps nonetheless.”
  • What was the significance of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890
  • What was the significance of the National Cordage Company
  • Describe the American economy in the early 1890s, the Panic of 1893 and the ensuing depression
  • In what ways had time changed banking and the currency issue
  • Describe the Haymarket riot of 1886 and its significance on organized labor
  • Who was Henry Clay Frick
  • Compare and Contrast: Pinkertons and working men
  • Explain and Expand: Pinkertons and working men
  • Explain and Expand: “The union leaders were right to be concerned about a loss of popular sympathy.”
  • Explain and Expand: “George Pullman was a paternalist, but before that he was a capitalist”
  • Who was Eugene V. Debs and what role did he have in the American Railway Union?
  • Compare and Contrast: American workers with the railroads, financial resources, federal government, public opinion.
  • Explain and Expand: “Combinations of workingmen to promote their interests, promote their welfare, and increase their pay if you please, to get their fair share in the division of production, are not affected in the slightest degree, nor can they be included in the words or intent of the bill,”
  • React and Respond: “President Cleveland directed Nelson Miles, still the commander of the Western army, to deploy federal troops against the strikers.”
  • Explain and Expand: “The troop deployment made the tense situation explosive. General Miles was as determined to crush this labor rebellion as he had been to crush the Ghost Dancers.”
  • Who was Jacob Coxey
  • Explain and Expand: “If Jacob Coxey had known either more or less about economics he might have agreed.”
  • Describe the arrival of Coxey’s Army in Washington D.C.
  • Explain and Expand: “The Western Coxeyites never got anywhere near Washington.”

Primary Sources

Articles and Resources

Further Reading

Primary Source Documents

Grover Cleveland – State of the Union Address – December 7, 1896

To the Congress of the United States:

As representatives of the people in the legislative branch of their Government, you have assembled at a time when the strength and excellence of our free institutions and the fitness of our citizens to enjoy popular rule have been again made manifest. A political 

contest involving momentous consequences, fraught with feverish apprehension, and creating aggressiveness so intense as to approach bitterness and passion has been waged throughout our land and determined by the decree of free and independent suffrage without disturbance of our tranquillity or the least sign of weakness in our national structure.

When we consider these incidents and contemplate the peaceful obedience and manly submission which have succeeded a heated clash of political opinions, we discover abundant evidence of a determination on the part of our countrymen to abide by every verdict of the popular will and to be controlled at all times by an abiding faith in the agencies established for the direction of the affairs of their Government.

Thus our people exhibit a patriotic disposition which entitles them to demand of those who undertake to make and execute their laws such faithful and unselfish service in their behalf as can only be prompted by a serious appreciation of the trust and confidence which the acceptance of public duty invites.

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Grover Cleveland – State of the Union Address – December 2, 1895

To the Congress of the United States:

The present assemblage of the legislative branch of our Government occurs at a time when the interests of our people and the needs of the country give especial prominence to the condition of our foreign relations and the exigencies of our national finances. The reports of the heads of the several administrative Departments of the Government fully and plainly exhibit what has been accomplished within the scope of their respective duties and present such recommendations for the betterment of our country’s condition as patriotic and intelligent labor and observation suggest.

I therefore deem my executive duty adequately performed at this time by presenting to the Congress the important phases of our situation as related to our intercourse with foreign nations and a statement of the financial problems which confront us, omitting, except as they are related to these topics, any reference to departmental operations.

I earnestly invite, however, not only the careful consideration but the severely critical scrutiny of the Congress and my fellow-countrymen to the reports concerning these departmental operations. If justly and fairly examined, they will furnish proof of assiduous and painstaking care for the public welfare. I press the recommendations they contain upon the respectful attention of those charged with the duty of legislation, because I believe their adoption would promote the people’s good.

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Primary Source Documents

Grover Cleveland – State of the Union Address – December 3, 1894

To the Congress of the United States:

The assemblage within the nation’s legislative halls of those charged with the duty of making laws for the benefit of a generous and free people impressively suggests the exacting obligation and inexorable responsibility involved in their task. At the threshold of such labor now to be undertaken by the Congress of the United States, and in the discharge of an executive duty enjoined by the Constitution, I submit this communication, containing a brief statement of the condition of our national affairs and recommending such legislation as seems to me necessary and expedient.

The history of our recent dealings with other nations and our peaceful relations with them at this time additionally demonstrate the advantage of consistently adhering to a firm but just foreign policy, free from envious or ambitious national schemes and characterized by entire honesty and sincerity.

During the past year, pursuant to a law of Congress, commissioners were appointed to the Antwerp Industrial Exposition. Though the participation of American exhibitors fell far short of completely illustrating our national ingenuity and industrial achievements, yet it was quite creditable in view of the brief time allowed for preparation.

I have endeavored to impress upon the Belgian Government the heedlessness and positive harmfulness of its restrictions upon the importation of certain of our food products, and have strongly urged that the rigid supervision and inspection under our laws are amply sufficient to prevent the exportation from this country of diseased cattle and unwholesome meat.

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Primary Source Document

Grover Cleveland – State of the Union Address – December 4, 1893

To the Congress of the United States:

The constitutional duty which requires the President from time to time to give to the Congress information of the state of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient is fittingly entered upon by commending to the Congress a careful examination of the detailed statements and well-supported recommendations contained in the reports of the heads of Departments, who are chiefly charged with the executive work of the Government. In an effort to abridge this communication as much as is consistent with its purpose I shall supplement a brief reference to the contents of these departmental reports by the mention of such executive business and incidents as are not embraced therein and by such recommendations as appear to be at this particular time appropriate.

While our foreign relations have not at all times during the past year been entirely free from perplexity, no embarrassing situation remains that will not yield to the spirit of fairness and love of justice which, joined with consistent firmness, characterize a truly American foreign policy.

My predecessor having accepted the office of arbitrator of the long-standing Missions boundary dispute, tendered to the President by the Argentine Republic and Brazil, it has been my agreeable duty to receive the special envoys commissioned by those States to lay before me evidence and arguments in behalf of their respective Governments.

The outbreak of domestic hostilities in the Republic of Brazil found the United States alert to watch the interests of our citizens in that country, with which we carry on important commerce. Several vessels of our new Navy are now and for some time have been stationed at Rio de Janeiro. The struggle being between the established Government, which controls the machinery of administration, and with which we maintain friendly relations, and certain officers of the navy employing the vessels of their command in an attack upon the national capital and chief seaport, and lacking as it does the elements of divided administration, I have failed to see that the insurgents can reasonably claim recognition as belligerents.

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Grover Cleveland – State of the Union Address – December 3, 1888

To the Congress of the United States:

As you assemble for the discharge of the duties you have assumed as the representatives of a free and generous people, your meeting is marked by an interesting and impressive incident. With the expiration of the present session of the Congress the first century of our constitutional existence as a nation will be completed.

Our survival for one hundred years is not sufficient to assure us that we no longer have dangers to fear in the maintenance, with all its promised blessings, of a government rounded upon the freedom of the people. The time rather admonishes us to soberly inquire whether in the past we have always closely kept in the course of safety, and whether we have before us a way plain and clear which leads to happiness and perpetuity.

When the experiment of our Government was undertaken, the chart adopted for our guidance was the Constitution. Departure from the lines there laid down is failure. It is only by a strict adherence to the direction they indicate and by restraint within the limitations they fix that we can furnish proof to the world of the fitness of the American people for self-government.

The equal and exact justice of which we boast as the underlying principle of our institutions should not be confined to the relations of our citizens to each other. The Government itself is under bond to the American people that in the exercise of its functions and powers it will deal with the body of our citizens in a manner scrupulously honest and fair and absolutely just. It has agreed that American citizenship shall be the only credential necessary to justify the claim of equality before the law, and that no condition in life shall give rise to discrimination in the treatment of the people by their Government.

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Grover Cleveland – State of the Union Address – December 6, 1887

To the Congress of the United States:

You are confronted at the threshold of your legislative duties with a condition of the national finances which imperatively demands immediate and careful consideration.

The amount of money annually exacted, through the operation of present laws, from the industries and necessities of the people largely exceeds the sum necessary to meet the expenses of the Government.

When we consider that the theory of our institutions guarantees to every citizen the full enjoyment of all the fruits of his industry and enterprise, with only such deduction as may be his share toward the careful and economical maintenance of the Government which protects him, it is plain that the exaction of more than this is indefensible extortion and a culpable betrayal of American fairness and justice. This wrong inflicted upon those who bear the burden of national taxation, like other wrongs, multiplies a brood of evil consequences. The public Treasury, which should only exist as a conduit conveying the people’s tribute to its legitimate objects of expenditure, becomes a hoarding place for money needlessly withdrawn from trade and the people’s use, thus crippling our national energies, suspending our country’s development, preventing investment in productive enterprise, threatening financial disturbance, and inviting schemes of public plunder.

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Grover Cleveland – State of the Union Address – December 6, 1886

To the Congress of the United States:

In discharge of a constitutional duty, and following a well-established precedent in the Executive office, I herewith transmit to the Congress at its reassembling certain information concerning the state of the Union, together with such recommendations for legislative consideration as appear necessary and expedient.

Our Government has consistently maintained its relations of friendship toward all other powers and of neighborly interest toward those whose possessions are contiguous to our own. Few questions have arisen during the past year with other governments, and none of those are beyond the reach of settlement in friendly counsel.

We are as yet without provision for the settlement of claims of citizens of the United States against Chile for injustice during the late war with Peru and Bolivia. The mixed commissions organized under claims conventions concluded by the Chilean Government with certain European States have developed an amount of friction which we trust can be avoided in the convention which our representative at Santiago is authorized to negotiate.

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Grover Cleveland – State of the Union Address – December 8, 1885

To the Congress of the United States:

Your assembling is clouded by a sense of public bereavement, caused by the recent and sudden death of Thomas A. Hendricks, Vice-President of the United States. His distinguished public services, his complete integrity and devotion to every duty, and his personal virtues will find honorable record in his country’s history.

Ample and repeated proofs of the esteem and confidence in which he was held by his fellow-countrymen were manifested by his election to offices of the most important trust and highest dignity; and at length, full of years and honors, he has been laid at rest amid universal sorrow and benediction.

Grover ClevelandThe Constitution, which requires those chosen to legislate for the people to annually meet in the discharge of their solemn trust, also requires the President to give to Congress information of the state of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall deem necessary and expedient. At the threshold of a compliance with these constitutional directions it is well for us to bear in mind that our usefulness to the people’s interests will be promoted by a constant appreciation of the scope and character of our respective duties as they relate to Federal legislation. While the Executive may recommend such measures as he shall deem expedient, the responsibility for legislative action must and should rest upon those selected by the people to make their laws.

Contemplation of the grave and responsible functions assigned to the respective branches of the Government under the Constitution will disclose the partitions of power between our respective departments and their necessary independence, and also the need for the exercise of all the power intrusted to each in that spirit of comity and cooperation which is essential to the proper fulfillment of the patriotic obligations which rest upon us as faithful servants of the people.

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Primary Source Documents

A Letter to American Workingmen from the Socialist Soviet Republic of Russia – V.I. Lenin – Moscow, August 20, 1918

A Letter to American Workingmen from the Socialist Soviet Republic of Russia

By V.I. [M] Lenin

Moscow, August 20, 1918

LeninComrades: A Russian Bolshevik who participated in the Revolution of 1905 and for many years afterwards lived in your country has offered to transmit this letter to you. I have grasped this opportunity joyfully for the revolutionary proletariat of America—insofar as it is the enemy of American imperialism—is destined to perform an important task at this time.

The history of modern civilized America opens with one of those really revolutionary wars of liberation of which there have been so few compared with the enormous number of wars of conquest that were caused, like the present imperialistic war, by squabbles among kings, landholders and capitalists over the division of ill-gotten lands and profits. It was a war of the American people against the English who despoiled America of its resources and held in colonial subjection, just as their “civilized” descendants are draining the life-blood of hundreds of millions of human beings in India, Egypt and all corners and ends of the world to keep them in subjection.

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Primary Source Documents

Grover Cleveland :: Inaugural Address :: March 4, 1893

Grover ClevelandMy Fellow-Citizens:

In obedience of the mandate of my countrymen I am about to dedicate myself to their service under the sanction of a solemn oath. Deeply moved by the expression of confidence and personal attachment which has called me to this service, I am sure my gratitude can make no better return than the pledge I now give before God and these witnesses of unreserved and complete devotion to the interests and welfare of those who have honored me.

I deem it fitting on this occasion, while indicating the opinion I hold concerning public questions of present importance, to also briefly refer to the existence of certain conditions and tendencies among our people which seem to menace the integrity and usefulness of their Government.

While every American citizen must contemplate with the utmost pride and enthusiasm the growth and expansion of our country, the sufficiency of our institutions to stand against the rudest shocks of violence, the wonderful thrift and enterprise of our people, and the demonstrated superiority of our free government, it behooves us to constantly watch for every symptom of insidious infirmity that threatens our national vigor.

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Grover Cleveland :: Inaugural Address :: March 4, 1885

Grover ClevelandFellow-Citizens:

In the presence of this vast assemblage of my countrymen I am about to supplement and seal by the oath which I shall take the manifestation of the will of a great and free people. In the exercise of their power and right of self-government they have committed to one of their fellow-citizens a supreme and sacred trust, and he here consecrates himself to their service.

This impressive ceremony adds little to the solemn sense of responsibility with which I contemplate the duty I owe to all the people of the land. Nothing can relieve me from anxiety lest by any act of mine their interests may suffer, and nothing is needed to strengthen my resolution to engage every faculty and effort in the promotion of their welfare.

Amid the din of party strife the people’s choice was made, but its attendant circumstances have demonstrated anew the strength and safety of a government by the people. In each succeeding year it more clearly appears that our democratic principle needs no apology, and that in its fearless and faithful application is to be found the surest guaranty of good government.

But the best results in the operation of a government wherein every citizen has a share largely depend upon a proper limitation of purely partisan zeal and effort and a correct appreciation of the time when the heat of the partisan should be merged in the patriotism of the citizen.

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The Gilded Age, Populist and Progressive Era Reading Group

Chapter 17: Affairs of the Heartland :: American Colossus by H.W. Brands

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “The fire from the guns raked the camp, ripping through tepees and cutting down men, women, and children indiscriminately.”
  • “Strange news had come from the West,” the Sioux seer recalled. “It was hard to believe, and when I first heard of it, I thought it was only foolish talk that somebody had started somewhere. This news said that out yonder in the West at a place near where the great mountains”—the Sierra Nevada—“stand before you come to the big water”—the Pacific—“there was a sacred man among the Paiutes who had talked to the Great Spirit in a vision, and the Great Spirit had told him how to save the Indian peoples and make the Wasichus disappear and bring back all the bison and the people who were dead and how there would be a new earth.”
  • “I should let the dance continue,” McGillycuddy said. “If the Seventh Day Adventists prepare their ascension robes for the second coming of the Savior, the United States Army is not put in motion to prevent them. Why should not the Indians have the same privilege? If the troops remain, trouble is sure to come.”
  • “Stand at Cumberland Gap and watch the procession of civilization, marching single file—the buffalo following the trail to the salt springs, the Indian, the fur-trader and hunter, the cattle-raiser, the pioneer farmer—and the frontier has passed by. Stand at South Pass in the Rockies a century later and see the same procession with wider intervals between. The unequal rate of advance compels us to distinguish the frontier into the trader’s frontier, the rancher’s frontier, or the miner’s frontier, and the farmer’s frontier. When the mines and the cow pens were still near the fall line the traders’ pack trains were tinkling across the Alleghenies, and the French on the Great Lakes were fortifying their posts, alarmed by the British trader’s birch canoe. When the trappers scaled the Rockies, the farmer was still near the mouth of the Missouri.”
  • “Since the days when the fleet of Columbus sailed into the waters of the New World, America has been another name for opportunity, and the people of the United States have taken their tone from the incessant expansion which has not only been open but has even been forced upon them. He would be a rash prophet who should assert that the expansive character of American life has now entirely ceased. Movement has been its dominant fact, and, unless this training has no effect upon a people, the American energy will continually demand a wider field for its exercise. But never again will such gifts of free land offer themselves. For a moment, at the frontier, the bonds of custom are broken and unrestraint is triumphant.”
  • “There is something radically wrong in our industrial system. There is a screw loose. The wheels have dropped out of balance. The railroads have never been so prosperous, and yet agriculture languishes. The banks have never done a better or more profitable business, and yet agriculture languishes. Manufacturing enterprises never made more money or were in a more flourishing condition, and yet agriculture languishes. Towns and cities flourish and “boom” and grow and “boom,” and yet agriculture languishes. Salaries and fees were never so temptingly high and desirable, and yet agriculture languishes.”
  • “We want money, land, and transportation. We want the abolition of national banks, and we want the power to make loans direct from the government. We want the accursed foreclosure system wiped out. Land equal to a tract thirty miles wide and ninety miles long has been foreclosed and bought in by loan companies of Kansas in a year. We will stand by our homes and stay by our firesides by force if necessary, and we will not pay our debts to the loan-shark companies until the government pays its debts to us. The people are at bay; let the bloodhounds of money who have dogged us thus far beware.”
  • “Drop the old, worn nickel of the “party slogan” into the slot, and the machine does the rest. You might beseech a Southern white tenant to listen to you upon questions of finance, taxation, and transportation; you might demonstrate with mathematical precision that herein lay his way out of poverty into comfort; you might have him almost persuaded to the truth. But if the merchant who furnished his farm supplies (at tremendous usury) or the town politician (who never spoke to him except at election times) came along and cried “Negro rule!” the entire fabric of reason and common sense which you had patiently constructed would fall, and the poor tenant would joyously hug the chains of an actual wretchedness rather than do any experimenting on a question of mere sentiment.”
  • ““A war with England would be the most popular war ever waged on the face of the earth!” The audience cheered louder. “If it is true that she can dictate the money of the world and thereby create world-wide misery, it would be the most just war ever waged by man!””
  • “The integrity of the government has been violated. A Financial Trust has control of your money, and with it, is robbing you of your property. Vampires feed upon your commercial blood.… This is a struggle for humanity. For our homes and firesides. For the purity and integrity of our government.… Go among the people and awake them to the situation of peril in which they are placed. Awake them as you would with startling cries at the coming of flood and fires. Arouse them as did Paul Revere as he rode through the streets shouting: “The British are on our shores!””
  • “Oh, this is a state to be proud of! We are a people who can hold up our heads! What we need is not more money, but less capital, fewer white shirts and brains, fewer men with business judgment, and more of those fellows who boast that they are “just ordinary clodhoppers but they know more in a minute about finance than John Sherman.”… We don’t need population, we don’t need wealth, we don’t need well-dressed men on the streets, we don’t need standing in the nation, we don’t need cities on the fertile prairies; you bet we don’t! What we are after is the money power. Because we have become poorer and ornerier and meaner than a spavined, distempered mule, we, the people of Kansas, propose to kick; we don’t care to build up, we wish to tear down.”
  • “What’s the matter with Kansas? Nothing under the shining sun. She is losing wealth, population and standing. She has got her statesmen, and the money power is afraid of her. Kansas is all right. She has started in to raise hell, as Mrs. Lease advised, and she seems to have an over-production. But that doesn’t matter. Kansas never did believe in diversified crops.”

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Primary Sources

Message Approving Specie Resumption Act – January 14, 1875

To the Senate of the United States:

Senate bill No. 1044, “to provide for the resumption of specie payments,” is before me, and this day receives my signature of approval.

I venture upon this unusual method of conveying the notice of approval to the “House in which the measure originated” because of its great importance to the country at large and in order to suggest further legislation which seems to me essential to make this law effective.

It is a subject of congratulation that a measure has become law which fixes a date when specie resumption shall commence and implies an obligation on the part of Congress, if in its power, to give such legislation as may prove necessary to redeem this promise.

To this end I respectfully call your attention to a few suggestions:

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Chapter 16: Meet Jim Crow :: The American Colossus by H.W. Brands

Response / Thought Quotes

  • 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

Articles and Resources

Further Reading

 

Chapter 15: Capital Improvements :: The American Colossus by H.W. Brands

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

American Literature 

Articles and Resources

Further Reading

 

Chapter 14: Lives of the Parties – The American Colossus by H.W. Brands

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

Articles and Resources

Further Reading

 

Chapter 13: The Spirit of ’76 – The American Colossus by H.W. Brands

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

Articles and Resources

Further Reading

 

Chapter 12: The Best Government Money Can Buy: School for Scandal – American Colossus by H.W. Brands

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

Articles and Resources

Further Reading

 

Chapter 11: Below The El – American Colossus by H.W. Brands

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

 

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

Articles and Resources

 

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