American History: The 19th Century

Figure 1.--There are three movements which dominated American history in the 19th century: 1) political and economic liberty (democracy and capitalism), 2) emancipation of the slaves, and 3) Westward settlement. The Westward settlement is probably the most celebrated. Our images of the Westward settlement are largely set by Hollywood which commonly perpetuated myths rather than historical insight. Hollywood is often inaccuate about boys' clothing. Here the photographic record can be misleading because it over emphazizes the towns and large cities and less commonly the Frontier. In addition, people commonly dressed up for the portrsits. We we see an image from the West at the turn-of-the 20th century just as the frontier was closing. It shows how boys commonly dressed on the Frontier. Children often went barefoot.

Two issues dominated America during the first half of the 19th century. Gradually Manifest Destiny gripped America and the creation of a continental power was made possible by first war in Europe (Napoleon decided to sell Louisiana) and than war in North America (the Mexican War). The second issue which dominated the first half of the 19th century was slavery. The Constitution and a small number of amendments proved to be a remarkably successful structure for addressing major issues in national life. The sole exception proved to be slsavey which was only resolved by a terrible Civil War (1861-65). America in the 19th century evolved from a largely agricultural to the world's most important industrial power. Bountiful natural resources, a foundation of English law, a free enterprise system, an effective public education system, and immigration combined to make America potentially the most powerful country in the world. Here historians differ on how they assess the second half of the century. Some stress the positive: the development of new industrial technologies, an expanding middle class, the creation of wealth, and the creation of opportunities for American and Europe's dispossed. Other historian focus on the negative: the concentration of wealth, child sand female labor, unfair and unsafe working condotions, and other social problems. The social critics that describe working conditions in America are often quite accurate, although they often do not put their accounts in context. It is important to remember that a society's ability to address social problems is dependent on its ability to create wealth. Socialism in the 20th century has a mixed track record of distributing wealth and a failed ability to create wealth. While social conditions were intolerable for many, conditions in Europe were even worse. And the economic productivity created in the 19th century gave America not only the ability to address social problems in the 20th century, but to save Western Civilization from the totalitarian ideologies that arose in Europe during the 20th century.

Decade Trends

Readers can view American history chronologically by decade. This provides more chronologicaly contunuity than the more thematic approach. The beginning of the century was dominated by the Louosiana Purchase (1803) and Anerican efforts to stay out of the Napoleonic Wars which engulfed Europe during the first two decades of the century. This was followed by tge Era of Good feelings which spanned tge1810s anhd 20s. This effort ultimstely failed with the War of 1812, essentially fought to resolve unsettled issues from the Revolutionary War. The 1830s ws dominated by the Jacksonian Era. The Ante-Bellum decades of the 1840s and 50s are often passed over, but of course included the Mexican War (1856-58). The best studied decade is of course the 1860s with the Civil War and Reconstruction. This finally ended the slavery, but not the race issue. The rest of the decades donnot stand out, but were dominated by two major trends, the ibdustrialization of the United States and the wave of European immigration leaving Amnerica a much more diverse country.

Jeffersonian Democracy

America as founded by the Constitution was a republic, but not a democracy. Suferage was not defined in the Constitution, but determined by each state and the states had a range of limutations on democracy. The vote was graned exclusively to white men and most had property qualifications of some kind. Most required a level of property ownership to qualify to vote. Jeffersonian democracy was a movement for more democracy in the new American Republic. Thomas Jefferson was the leading spokesman for this movement and the Democratic Republican Party coalesed around him drng te Washington Administration. The Constitution did not provide for political parties and President Washington saw them as an evil influence. Jefferson;'s supportes in the states helped widen the suferage which made possible Jefferson's election (1800) and the subsequent destrction of the Federalist Party. Jefferson's vision was an agricultiral republic governed by majority rule. Jefferson saw farmers as the most moral of citizens and saw agriculture as America's future. He had concerns with cities, commerce, and especially finance. Ironically Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton's vision of a republic based on finance and commerce proved to be the America that would emerge as a great power. There were limits on Jfferson;'s democratic vision. Jefferson saw the need for the people to be guided by an educated and able leadership who were chosen by the people. Jacksonian democracy would take Jefferson's democratic vision one step further.

The Barbary Wars

America while British colonies developed one of the largest merchant fleets in the world. Ans as British colonies, they saided under the Union Jack and the protection of the Royal Navy. The British had treaties with the four Barbary states (Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli). Thus they were protected by the Barbary corsairs. Morocco was the nation to publicly recognize the United States, perhaps with ulterior motive (1777). Brbary corsairs began seeing American shipping in the Mediterannean after America had achieved its independence (1783). Morocco was the first Barbary state to seize an American vessel (1784). Algiers subsequently sized were the Maria and Dauphin (1785). The men aboard were cast into a dank prison and reduced to slavery. The Dey of Algiers demanded a huge payment to ransome the captives and for for a peace treaty to protect other American ships. This incident occurred at a time when the United States was still governed by the Articles of Confederation. There was no American Navy at the time. Ironically the American diplomats first involved were John Adams in London and Thomas Jefferson in Paris. There was little they could do. As the Barbary corsairs had noted, there was no Amrican Navy to protect the merchant ships. Only after the Constitution was signed was a Federal Gocernment created which could build a Navy. President Adams was the father of the U.S. Navy. The Navy was the most controversial issue in the early years of the Republic. Adams and the Federalists insisted on building six costly frigates. Jefferson's Republicans oppsed both construction and the use of the frigates in the Quasi War with France, But it would be the U.S. Navy that he and the Republicans had opposed that President Jefferson would used to fight the Barbary pirates. It would be America and not the Europeans that they preyed on for several centuries that would take on he Barbary pirates.

Louisiana Purchase (1803)

Some historians argue that the Louisana Purchase was the single most important event in American history. [Kukla] The Lousiana Purchase alone would have made Thomas Jefferson one of the great American presidents. By a stoke of the pen, he doubled the size of the country, made America a trans-connitental power, and radically changed the economics of the West by providing an outlet for the ecomic production of Western farmers. The price was relatively modest, abour $24 million. Spain in an effort to restrict American expansion had closed the Missisippi River to Americans. This effectively closed the only realistic route for Western farmers to market their produce--a huge economic limitation. Once France acquired Louisana back from Spain (1800), America sought to buy New Orleans. French control of the interior was infeasible without New Orleans and thus Napoleon decided to sell all of Louisana. The French may have had larger designs, but the French suffered such loses in Haiti fighting Toussaint l'Overture that the resources were not available for Louisiana. Napoleon because of the power of the British Royal Navy was not sure he could hold Louisana and needed money for his operatioins against Britain. America was concerned about the long border with a powerful European country. Purchase removed the potential danger. Jefferson'd purchase forevre changed America. The United States entered the 19th century surrounded by the great European powers, England, France, and Spain. Americans still clung precariously to the Eastern seaboard. Very few Americans had crossed the Alleganies into the West. Ohio, Illonois, and Indiana were still contolled by Native Americans, secretly supported by the Briish. Other Native American tribes still controlled much of Alababa and Mississppi. Jefferson by purchasing Louisana removed a major impediment to American expansion and changed a struggling republic which few Euopeans even thought would survive into a potential new world power. [Kukla] At the time, little was known of the Great Planes which wasseen as oif little value, They were inhabited by the Plsins tribes. The Lewis Clarke Expedition provided an invaluable record of the Plains Tribes at the peak of their cultural development.

War of 1812 (1812-15)

The War of 1812 is the war between America and Britain during 1812-15. The War of 1812 to most Europeans meant the invasion of Russia by Napoleon's Grand Army. To Americans it means the war with Britain, a kind of second revolutionary war. The War was indeed influenced by the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. The War of 1812, however, was primarily the outgrowth of domestic issues. The primary international issue was the impressment of American sailors by the Royal Navy. Both the British and French impressed American saiolors, The impressments grew out of the war between France and England than act aimed at the Americans. After Trafalgur (1805), it was the Royal Navy that was primarily responsible. President Jefferson hoped the Embargo Act (1807) would end this, but the Act adversely affected the American economy and had little impact on the British. While impressment was important, it was probably British actions on the frontier, especially the North west Territory that was the major cause of the War. Amerucans moving west wamted land. This could only be obtained from the Indians. And the British were suooirting Indian tribes as part of a policy to hold Amerucans in check. The War Hawks and moderates debated war and finally the War Hawks gained the upperhand in Congress. President Madison asked Congress to declare war. Congress declared war (June 1812). The principal American action was an effort to seize Canada. The British adopred a three front strategy. In studying the situation, the Duke of Wellington advised operations along the coast that could be supported by the Royal Navy or at least along waterways. Welingtom was mindful that Britain during the Revolution lost two field armies when they were cut off from the Royal Navy.

Era of Good Feelings

The period following the War of 1812 has commonly, but rather inaccurately been called the the "Era of Good Feelings". It is true that the Federalists disappeared and only Jeffersons Democratic Republicans goverened. There were, however, deep rifts within the Party which President Monroe attempted to resolve through an appeal to patriotism and national symbols.

Missouri Compromise (1820)

American history after the ratification of the Constitution was a series of compromises meant to difuse the issue of slavery. The centerpiece of this effort was the Missouri Compromise (1820). Northern states had abolished slavery or were in the process of doing so. Many had thought that slavery would gradually disappear of its own accord. This had happened in the north, but the development of the cotton gin had given a new live to slavery in the South. Northerners began to see that the admission of more slave states would simply worsen the problem. The first in a series of sectional crisis occurred when Missouri applied for admission to the Union as a slave state. Many northern Congressmen opposed the admission of another slave state. from the North did not want another slave state. Maine in the asked to be admitted to the Union as a free state. Southern Congressman demanded the admission of Missouri in exchange for their support for admitting Maine. The result was the Missouri Compromise. This allowed Missouri to come into the Union as a slave state and Maine would be a free state. Congress also agreed to draw a line in the remaining territory acquired in the Louisana Purchse. That line was the southern border of Missouri. This line would be the border between free and slaves states. Any new state entering the Union that was south of the line could be a slave state. Any state north of the line would have to enter the Union as a free state. A look of the map of the Louisana Purchase shows that free states would be the real bulk of the Western territories at the time. Henry Clay's role in arranging the Mussoiri Compromise earned him the title, the Great Compromiser.

Jacksonian Era

The period following the War of 1812 has commonly, but rather inaccurately been called the the "Era of Good Feelings". It is true that the Federalists disappeared and only Jeffersons Democratic Republicans goverened. There were, however, deep rifts within the Party which President Monroe attempted to resolve through an appeal to patriotism and national symbols. The slavery issue began to grow as a devisive issue and was defused for a generation with the Missoiri Compromise, but not resolved. There were other major concerns. Important figures like Henry Clay conceptualized the American System advocating a strong Federal government establishing high tariffs to protect fledgling industries and able to finance internal improvements to develop the West. Other men like Jackson were more concerned with state rights seeing a strong Federal government as a source of coruption threatening the liberty of the common man. Jackson wanted to expand the francise and limit Federal power, especially the Bank of the United States. Jackson hated all banks and a good many at the time were corupt, but he especialy hated the Bank of the United States. Republican in Comgress attempted to nominate one of their own through the caucus system in 1828, but the effort failed ending the caucus system of selecting presidebtial candidates. State legislatures entered the nominating system. Tennesse in particular proposed General andrew Jackson--now a senator. Jackson received more electoral and popular votes than the other major candidates (Adams, Clay, and Crawford), but not a majority. This through the election into the House of Representatives. Clay as Speaker had enormous influence. Clay who especially disliked Jackson (despite being fellow Westerners), through his support behind Secretary of State John Quincey Adams who supported the American System. Jackson's supporters were outraged, alling it "The Corupt Deal". Adams appointed Clay Sectretary of State. Martin Van Buren builds the modern Democratic Party whoch elects Jackson (1828). Jackson was elected by the "common man", western farmers and eastern workers and Jackson viewed himself as their spokesmen. . Property qualifications were still prevalent at the time. These were eliminated in most states during the Jacksonian era. There was a marked change in the nature of political campaigns. Jackson made his reputation fighting both the British an Native Americans. One of the major disputes with Native Americans during this period came in Georgia sith the Cherokees which unlike other Native Americans were attempting to adopt European ways. While Jackson was a strong believer in states' rights, he also believed in a strong military and denied the right of a state to seceed fom the Union. The issue came to a head when South Carolina attempted to nullify the Tariff of Abominations (1828). The Nulification Crisis threatened a rupture of the Union, but Jackson acted resolutely, securing the Force Act from Congress. South Carlolina backed down and Congress lowered the tarriff. Jackson is best known for his war against the Bank of the United States. He rempved Federal funds from the Bank and opposed it recharting. There were many reasons for Jackson's opposition. Many were associated with banks in general. There was at the time considerable corruption associated with banls. Many saw them as tools of Northeastern moneyed inteests. They foreclosed farm mortgages. The Bank of the United States in partucular threatened state banks and the issuance of paper money which favored farmers and wstern interests. Bank president Nicholas Biddle used bank funds to assist anti-Jackson politicians. It was a devisive struggle, but Jackson suceeded in destroying the Bank. Jackson's fiscal policies, however, led to the Panic of 1837, one of the worst depressions in American history. This occurred after Jackson's anoited successor, Martin Van Buren, has suceeded him. It ruined the Van Buren presidency, but left Jackson who was largely responsible for it relatively untarished in the public mind.

Utopian Communities

While many Americans were focused on the Western frontier and expanding the nation, other Americans were attempting to perfect human society through a number of utopian communities. Plymouth Colony was founded as a utopian community (1620). The purity and fervor of the puritans proved hard to maintain. The Great Awakening of the 18th century provided a new religious impulse to the developing colonies. The utopian communities established in the United States echoed the Puritans in many ways with the desire to achievevheavan on earth. But there was also some very modern about the utopian communities. They were in fact in many ways an early experiment in socialism before the term was even coined. Curiously despite the American self image of rugged individualism, it was in America that Utopian experiments were persued with a notable idealism and moral fervor. There were some of these communities in Europe, such as New Lanark in Scotland. But the movement was no where in Europe persued with the vigor that was notable in America. And often the European movement (the Paris Commune and Fourierist Phalanxes) were more politically oriented than was the case in America. Some of these communities were founded in the 18th century, but the first half of the 19th century gave rise to the founding to quite a wide range of these comminities. Many of these communities were communistically organized with shared property and wealth. Despite some similarities, they were quite different in goals, methods and achievements. There were both religious-based and secular communities. There were quite a number of these Utopian communities. Perhaps the most successful, certainly the most enduring, were the Shakers. We note two unidentified girls who may be Shakers. Another important group was the Harmonists. Others were individual communities not connected with a larger movement. Perhaps the best known such community was the Oneida Community. Not all of these movements involved communal living. The Mormon's for example, had strong family foundation, althoogh the family was not astandard one because of the polygamy.


No assessment of America would be complete without considering the immigrants that played such an important role in the American saga. All American except for Native Americans have immigrated from other countries. Most of the early immigrants came from the British Isles. Immigrants followed from every European country. Immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy, Svandinavia, and Africa played key roles. Blacks brought from Africa as slaves also played an important role. Important immigration also came from China and Japan. While these immigrants played a major role in the building of modern America, we think that their influence on fashion was relatively limited. Most of the children wanted to wear American clothes and learn English so that they could fit in as quickly as possible.

Oregon and Texas (1820s-40s)

After the War of 1812 and the increasing realization that Canadians did not want to be part of America, th idea of Manifest Destiny began to take hold, the expasion west to the Pacific Coast. This involved confrontation with foreign powers. The most serious was with Britain which claimed the Oregon Territory. Britain had the military power to prevent further American expansion, but the cost would be high of fighting the United States in such aemote location. In the end the issue woukld be settled by demographics. Large numbers of Americans settled the southern Oregon Territory, tavelling over the Oregon Trail. The path to the south was more complicated. Spain as a colonial power was replaced by the new Mexican Republic. Mexico was not as great a military power as Britain, but the power differential between Mexico and the United States in the pre-0industrial era was not as great as it would later become after America's industrial expansion. There were, however, serious domestic political considerations. After the War of 1812 slavery began to develp as a serious devisive issue. This was temporarily resolved by the Missouri Compromise (1820), but Mexican Territory was outside the area of the territory coverd by that compromise. Thus adding Mexican territory would mean undoing the compromise. As in Oregon, the issue would eventually be partially resolved by demographics, but ultimately a war. American began settling in the norther Mexican territory of Texas which even before the arrival of the Americans resisted control by the Mexican centrl govrnment. American settlement would lead to the war of independemce (1835-36). Resistnce by anti-slave forces meant that Texas fior a decade existed as an independent republic which legalized slavery. The Mexicans did not try to retake slavery, but made it clear that it would not accept annexation by the United States. President Polk (1845-49), a strong Jaksonian, moved forward on both Oregon and Texas. A compromise was reached with Britain over Oregon, but the issue of Texas and the southeast would be settled by war.

The Mexican War (1846-48)

The Mexican War was a conflict between the United States and Mexico. It is one of the most important wars fought by the United States because of the vast area of land annexed, about one-third of Mexio. It has, however, been given relatively little attention by American historians, possibly because it does not fit well into America's self image. Assessments of the War vary among both Mexican and American historians and among American historians. And these assessments have varied over time. The War began when Mexican units attacked U.S. troops in dispured territory between Mexico and Texas (April 25, 1846). Ther initial fighting took plasce in northern Mexico when General Zacrarry Taylor attacked across the Rio Grande. A small American force took New Mexico and California. When Mexico refused to make peace the United States invaded Mexico at Vera Cruz. The forced commanded by Gen. Winfield Scott moved inland and occupied Mexico City (September 14, 1847). A peace treaty was signed a few months later at Guadalupe Hidalgo (February 2, 1848). Mecico recognized the U.S. annexation of Texas and ceded California and New Mexico to the United States. Mexian historians have always seen the Mexican War as naked agression by the United States. Some American historians in recent years have also come to this conclusion. This is considerable truth in this, but a strong jigoist element in Mexico desiring to retake Texas has to be considered. One often ignored question is why so few Mexicans moved into the northern territories. One reason the United States prevailed in the War was that so few Mexicans lived in California and New Mexico. The War is also notble because of the roles played by key figures in the coming American Civil War.

The American Debate over Slavery

The debate over slavery in the United States did not begin with the Constitutinal Convention (1787), but it was here that the issue first came to the fore. Some northern delegates were opposed to it. Southern delegates were committed to it. It became clear that there would be no Constitution without a compromise. The compromise was that a decission on the future of slavery wold be deferred. A curious arrangement was written in to the Constitution by which for voting purposes slaves would be counted as 2/3s of a person. Many delegates believed or at least hope that slavery would gradually die out as individuals states abolished it. Subsequent history was a series of compromises meant to difuse the issue. The centerpiece of this effort was the Missouri Compromise (1820). This worked for over three decades until promoted by Seator Stephen Douglas Congress undid it with the Kansas-Nebrasks Act (1854). The result was rising tensions, acrimonious debate, and finlly a breakdown on compromose which led to "Bleeding Kansas"and John Brown's raid on the Federal arsenal. Finally came secession and bloody civil war.

Western Movement

American history was powerffully influenced throughout the 19th century by the steady push west and the development of the Western frontier. This began of course with the establishment of the first English colonies beginning with Jamestown (1607). At the time the Western Frontier was just a few miles up the James River. Grafually the Western Frontier was seen as the Appalachin Mountains. The British effort to close off the land beyond the Appalachins was one of the major causes of the Revolution (1776). The West for the early American Republic was the Ohio River Valley which the Erie Canal played an important role in opening. To the south thir were other lands beyond the Apalachins which proved to be ideal for growing cotton based on slave labor and large plantations. The United States Western frontier was redefined by the Louisiana Purchase (1803). The economy of the West depended on the Mississippi Ruiver and the outlet to the sea at New Orleans. It is no accident that the British in the Wr of 1812 attempted to seize New Orleans (1815). After the War of 1812 the American movement West focused primarily on the territory east of the Mississippi. Herethe Erie Canal played an important role. There were wars with the Native Americans which helped make Andrew Jackson the preminent political figure overseeing this period. The only American president with an era named after him. The frontier which at first seemed endless played apowerful role in the development od the American character. The existence of huge quantities of virtually free land was very different from the situation in Europe. Some historians describe this as the vital firce in the building of America. America settled these lands on two basic lines. North of the Ohio it was free labor and small family farms. South of the Ohio it was slave labor and slave labor. Ironically the rise of the Amnerican economy was to a large degree based on slave labor that produced the cotton which provided the principal expot economy before the advent of industrial exports. The Mexian War again expanded the frontier (1856-58). After the Civil War the settlement of the frontier beyond the Mississippi began in earnest, including the Great Plains. The major figures of the Western movement are now lengends clouded with myth: mountain men, riverboat men, pioneers, Native Americans, Pony Express riders, cowboys, homesteaders, cavalry, outlaws, bullwhackers, and others. The final phase of the Western expansion was aided by both the expanding railroad network and increased European immigration. The frontier was essentially closed in the 1890s, a fact that marked the transition from an agricultural to the world's pre-eminent industrial nation.

Civil War (1861-65)

The American Civil War has been called the first modern war because of the number of men involved, the sweeping movements, the use of trains and telegraphs, and the increasing sophistication of the weaponery including rifled artillery, repeating weapons and iron-clad ships. The Civil War was the defining epoch of the American nation. It has been extensivel studied in American history, but except for military scholars little noted outside the United States. The Civil War, however, had profound consequences for world history that were not immediately apparent in 1865. The losses and disruption of the war was staggering. More Americans died in the Civil War than in any other war America has fought--including World War II. This was in part because military tactics had not yet adjusted to the increasing leathality of weaponry. This was the last major War in which men incredibly lines up in rows to fire at each other. The South was devestated and the economic and social impacts were felt well into the 20th century. The industrial expansion of the north, however, was strongly promoted by the War. We do not know, however, of a major fashion change associated with the war. Military styled outfits such as Zouave outfits were popular, but lasting impacts on boys' fashions seem hard to detect. The Civil War does appear to be the watershead between the first and second half of the centuries. In a general way it also divides the period when long pants were common to the later era when kneepants dominated.

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution is arguably the most important development in human gistory since the development of agriculture (about 10,000 BC). The Industrial Revolution began first in Britain (mid-19th century). It slowly spread to North America anf continental Europe. The British origins was a great advantage to the United States. It meant that among the immigrants to America were Britons with a wide range of technical skills. Almong with them, the American commitmdnt to free market capitalism and the rule of law created the stable conditioins for foreign investments. The British were especilly active. The British-based legal system facilitated economic development and guaranteed contracts. And the free market outlook of most Amnericans prevented Government interference which had impeded economic development in many European countries. While the British legal tradition was vital for America, the Revolution was also a necessary for America's own industrial revolution. This was Britain saw America as an adjunct for the British econmy. America's role to provide agricultural products and raw materials and to serve as a market for British manufactuers. Laws restrucyted the development of American manufacturing. This was only possible after America achieved its independenc. American policies toward public schools also resulted in aell-educated population. These actors combined with abundant natural resources created favorable conditions for the spread of the industral revolution to the United States. This set the fondation for the United States emergence as the most technologically advanced country in the world. Especially important was the availability of cheap energy. Intially this meant seemingly inexhustable forrests and rivers, but as the industrial revolution developed emense coalfields and then oil fuel America's indudtrial expansion. Even before the Revolution (1776-83) America had constructed a substantial merchant fleet, nut inland was dependant on rivers. This changed with the contruction of fist canals and thn railroads. Foreign, especially, British capital played a central role in financing the early railroads. It is difficult to date the beginning of the american industrial revolution. Eli Witney's invention of the cotton gin (1793) layed the foundation for cotton production in the south which would provide the raw matetial for New Ebgland textile mills. The Napoleonic Wars in Europe promoted industrial development in America. Presudent Jefferson issued embargoes. The British Royal Navy made it diffiult for merchant vessels to reach rench-held continental Europe. The war of 1813 virtually ended trade for several years and much oif the american merchnt navy was seized or destroyed. This was xa great boon to domestic mnug=factuers who began openking factories in the northeast. The same did not occur in the South where fortunes could be made eploiting slave labor. America fought the Mexican War before industrialization had made a huge advance. This was not the case in the Civil War where industrilization largely explins the Federal victory. After the war Americaa began building an industrial powehouse which would not only make Americans the most prosperous people on earthm but prfijundly affect the history of the 20th century.

Innovation and Invention

The development of our modern civilization is the product of the gradual evolution through fits and starts beginning in Mesopotmia about 9,000 years ago. This has been the product of great minds as well as cultural values that stimulted and promoted innovation. As a result, there have been long eras in which innovation did not occur as well as short periods of intense innovation. And important innovation has tended to occur in a small number of societies or in modern terms nation states. One of the most important such periods was the 19th and early 20th centuries. Steam power revolutionized transport both the railroads on land and steamships on rivers and at sea. The United states benefitted from developments in Europe, especially because the great problem faced by a large country like the United States was distance. It posed both economuc and commercial problems as well as fostered regionalism with the fanger of fractional breakup. Anf here the telegraph was the preminant invention. For the first in human history, communication was separated from transportation. [Howe] This had commercial, economic, cultural, military, political, and other consequences. The disappearance of the telegraph in the modern age disguises just how importantv atep the telegraph was. And the surrising thing is that many of the great innovations came from men of humble background in the United States rather than the academicians with prestigious credentials in Europe. The list of major inventions is stunning. Sammuel F.B. Morse invented the telgraph (1830s). Cyrus Hall McCormick invented the reaper (1831). Alexander Grahm Bell invented the telephone (1876). Thomas Edison invented the incadesent lightbulb (1879), phonograph (1877), motion pictures (1878?), and many other devices and patents. The Wright Brothers perfected manned flight (1903). Henry Ford invented the assembly line (1913). These are among the inventions that have made our modern society. One has to ask why so much of this came from America and at this time.

Spanish-American War (1898)

The Spanish-American War announced America's arrival on the world stage. While one of the lesser known American wars, the War had huge implications for America's world role in the 20th century. The path to war led through Cuba. Cuba was the last important Spanisg colony in the Americas. Attempts by the Cubans to ver throw Spanish rule failed. A new revolution broke out (1895) and was brutally supressed by Spanish authorities. American economic interests wee damaged in the fighting. Some American began to see strategic interests in Cuba, especially as interest was building for a canal in Central America. The situation in Cuba was brough to the attention of the American public through "yellow journalism" reporting lurid details of actual ad imagines Spanish attrocities. W.R. Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World competed with each other for the most luris stories to increase circulation. War fever grew when a letter written by a Spanish diplomat disparaging President McKinley was published. The sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor made war inevitable. The United States demanded Spain withdraw from Cuba. Spain declared war (April 24, 1898). The American Pacific Fleet commanded by George Dewey was ordered to engage the Spanish Fleet at Manila Bay. Dewey destoyed the Spanish Fleet (May 1). The American Atlantic Fleet sought out the Spansh Atlantic Fleet, but it sought refuge in Santiago Harbor. The advancing American Army forced the Spanish Fleet out and it was destoyed (July 3). Santiago subsequently surrendered. An Armistace was reached (August 12). The Treaty of Paris ending the War was signed (December 10). Spain granted Cuba independence. The United States attempted to control political developments in Cuba, even after withdrawing by insisting that the Platt Amendment be inserted in the Cuban Constitution. Spain ceeded Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States and the Philippines for a $20 million payment. This ended the long history of the Spanish Empire in the America. It also began an involvement of the United States in Latin American affairs. America had earlier acquired the Hawaiian Islands. The acquisition of the Spanish territories also further involved America in the Far East.

Progressive Movement

The Progressive Movement on America was an in part an attempt to address social problems that developed in America after the Civil war as a result of industrialization. Progressives also addressed some more long term problems such as woman's sufferage. America had changed considerably since the Civil War. The frontier had been settled, America had emerged as the world's greatest agricultural and industrial power, there was an experiment with imperialism, great cities had developed, and huge numbers of immigrants accepted. America bustled with wealth, optimism, and industrial expansion. Many Americans had benefitted from the rise of America as an industrial power. Many Americans had not. Large numbers of Americans subsisted on an economic edge. Children and women toiled in sweatshops and mills for pitiful sums. Poor children were often unavle to attend school. Public health programs were week and products sols were sometimes unhealthy. Working conditions were often unsafe and there was no work place protections or disability insurance. There was no protection for widows and orphans and no old age protecion schemes. Prisons and state hospitals for the retarded and mentally ill were commomly horror houses. State and Federal goverments were often run on the spoils system. Legislators in many states as well as senators were not selected by direct vote. Monoplies and trusts gained great power in the American economy. A growing movement to prohibit alcoholic beverages were a part if the progressive movement. And with the outbreak of World war Imny progressives took up the cause of pacifism. Muckraking journalists drew these problems to the attention of the often shocked American public. A new phenomenon, the crusading socially conscious photographer added to the impact. Many at the turn of century believed that the Governments role was to keep expenditures low and to avoid involvement in the economy. President Cleveland made no effort to alieviate economic suffering during the Depression of 1892-93. The central issue raised by the progressives was what is the proper role of the government in social and economic affairs. The progressives were not basically a political party as such, but the progressives influenced the Democrats and Republicans, especially during the Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson administrtions and were a major influence on the Roosevelt's New Deal. While not normally a political party, progressives did organize three challanges to the major parties. The first and most important was Roosevelt's Bull Moose challenge to the Republican Party (1912). There was also the La Follette Progressives (1920s) and Wallace Progressives (late 1940s).


Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of Amrica, 1815-1848 (Oxford University Press, 2007), 904p. This insightful work by a British historian addresses a era of American history that modern American historians have neglected.

Kukla, Jon. A Wildrerness so Immense: The Louisana Purchase and the Destiny of America (Knopf, 2003), 430p.


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Created: 3:31 PM 6/23/2007
Last updated: 1:53 AM 12/4/2014