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“Who can tell the weird and ghastly story of the last quarter of the nineteenth-century?” - John Swinton. I. The Age of Uncertainty. 1862, Emancipation Proclamation (U.S.). 1861, Alexander frees the serfs (Russia). 1868, the Meiji restoration (Japan). 1876, the “Porfirato” (Mexico).

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“Who can tell the weird and ghastly story of the last quarter of the nineteenth-century?” - John Swinton

I. The Age of Uncertainty


1862, Emancipation Proclamation (U.S.)

1861, Alexander frees the serfs (Russia)

1868, the Meiji restoration (Japan)

1876, the “Porfirato” (Mexico)


A rural society suffering from extreme sectional polarization led by a weak federal government, moving through a 30 year boom and bust cycle out of which came corporate giants. These conditions provoked widespread utopian and radical movements, constantly thwarted by the nation’s rigid party system and racist, ethnic and political divisions.

I. The Age of Uncertainty, 1877 through 1898

post civil war westward migration
Post Civil War Westward Migration
  • Stay on the same latitude
  • A middle class phenomenon
  • Men went first to industrial and extractive regions; families to agricultural areas
  • Coincided with the boom and bust cycle
  • Settlers moved over and over
the chinese exclusion act 1882
The Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882
  • Congressional response to theWorkingmen’sParty ofCalifornia
  • Prohibited most Chinese from immigrating to the United States
  • Exceptions: wives of men already in the U.S.; teachers, students, and merchants
  • Chinese-American population halved by 1920

Chinatown, San Francisco, 1882. . . indicative of enclave America. 40 percent of the population of NYC spoke some other language besides English by 1910

yick wo v hopkins 1886
Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886)
  • Yick Wo was denied a permit to operate a laundry in San Francisco (while white operators received permits).
  • U.S. Supreme Court declared that the application of a statute as well as the statute itself must not be discriminatory

Yick Wo Elementary School, SF

  • Declared City of San Francisco in violation of the 14th amendment
  • Case later cited in Texas v. Hernandez (1954)
the exodusters african american migrants from the mississippi valley to kansas
The Exodusters, African American migrants from the Mississippi Valley to Kansas

“Pap” Singleton

fall of corn prices in the late 19 th century

Rise of wheat production in the far west

Fall of corn prices in the late 19th century
  • 1890: half the wheat in the U.S.
  • 1910: 65 percent of the wheat in the U.S.
  • 1867: 78 cents a bushel
  • 1873: 31 cents a bushel
  • 1889: 23 cents a bushel
why farmers didn t like the gold standard
Why farmers didn’t like the Gold Standard . . .

Imagine a world in 1880 with 1 farmer, 1 bushel of wheat to sell and 1 consumer with 1 dollar?

Q. How much is that bushel going to sell for?

(A. 1 dollar)

Suppose in 1881 the population goes up . . .

Now there are 2 farmers and 2 bushels of wheat being sold to 2 consumers.

But, still only one dollar because the dollar is based on the extant supply of gold!

Q. How much do those two farmers get for their wheat?

  • Still one crummy buck, which the two farmers have to divide among them! 
the peoples party 1892
The Peoples Party, 1892
  • Calls for government warehouses to store crops and loan money to farmers at fair rates
  • Direct primaries
  • Progressiveincometax
  • Direct election of senators

An alliance meeting in the 1880s

the dawes act 1887 kill the indian to save the man
The Dawes Act, 1887“Kill the Indian to save the man.”
  • Privatization of reservation land
    • 1881 Indians held 155,000,000 acres
    • 1890 they held 104,000,000
    • 1900 they held 77,000,000
the big boom of the mid to late 19 th century
The Big Boom of the mid- to late- 19th century
  • 1880 to 1914: U.S. steel production goes up from 2 to 30 million tons
  • 1860 to 1890: Half a million patents registered with the government (36,000 registered from 1790 to 1860)
  • 1900: 20 million industrial workers (up from 4.3 million in 1860)
  • 193,000 miles of railroad in 1900 (30,000 in 1860)
the big boom of the mid to late 19 th century15
The Big Boom of the mid- to late - 19th century


  • Telephone
  • Telegraph
  • Camera
  • Mechanized farm equipment
  • Otis safety elevator
  • Mass produced steel
  • Wireless telegraphy
  • Electric light bulb
  • The Typewriter
  • The Corporation
jay cooke s panic of 1873
Jay Cooke’s Panic of 1873
  • Agreed to finance and construct the Northern Pacific railroad
  • Mortgaged Northern Pacific holdings to finance construction
  • Couldn’t sell the bonds
  • Huge section of the railroad system collapsed
  • U.S. economy collapsed

Jay Cooke

u s steel 1901
U.S. Steel, 1901
  • First billion dollar U.S. Corporation
  • 11 companies
  • 800 plants
  • Controlled 60 percent of all steel output in the U.S.
the sherman anti trust act of 1890

The Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890

  • Outlawed “every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce.”
  • More often used to attack unions at first
  • Not seriously enforced until 1901
  • Mergers continued unabated . . .
industrial accidents in the late 19 th century
Industrial accidents in the late-19th century
  • 1880 to 1900:35,000 people died from industrial accidents, per year
  • More than all fatalities during the Civil War
  • 500,000 injuries per year
frederick winslow taylor 1856 1915
Frederick Winslow Taylor, 1856-1915
  • Pioneered the study of industrial tasks
  • Developed methods of timing and measuring the efficiency of individual factory jobs
  • Published Principles of Scientific Management in 1911
carnegie s gospel of wealth
Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth
  • set an example of modest, unostentatious living
  • to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds for the community—
  • the man of wealth thus becoming the mere agent and trustee for his poorer brethren
  • bringing to their service his superior wisdom
  • doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.
malthus and social darwinism
Malthus and social Darwinism
  • Social Darwinism: “Survival of the Fittest”
  • Malthus: Nature requires “corrections” to fix imbalance between population growth and food supply
henry george s economic analysis
Henry George’s economic analysis
  • Problem! As civilization advances, labor saving devices proliferate
  • Industrial progress leads to overproduction, depressions become endemic
  • Solution? THE SINGLE TAX! A tax on unused land or speculated land
  • The government has revenue for social needs!
  • Extra land for agrarian settlement
  • Progress and Poverty
the knights of labor
The Knights of Labor
  • Organized themselves around “assemblies” of workers
  • Sought to challenge the wage system in favor of cooperatives
accident rates on railroads
Accident rates on railroads

Between July 1888 and June 1889 the railroads employed:

704,443 people

of these,

20,028 were injured

and 1,972 died

a 3 percent rate of injury and fatality

Jimmy Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman

the american federation of labor afl
The American Federation of Labor (AFL)
  • Gompers advocates “pure and simple” trade unionism
  • “Pure” because AFL stayed out of politics
  • “Simple” because AFL organized only skilled workers
  • 1 million members by 1901 . . .
bryan s 1896 political program
Bryan’s 1896 political program
  • A graduated Federal income tax
  • Direct election of United States Senators
  • Greater regulation of the railroads, telegraph, and monopolies to protect consumers
  • Lower tariffs to protect consumers
  • Backing the dollar with silver as well as gold for a more flexible currency

Tom Watson of the People’s Party

William Jennings Bryan, “Cross of Gold” speech, 1896

Election of 1896: McKinley beats Bryan, 51 to 46.7 %

Republican William McKinley

frank l baum wizard of oz 1900
Frank L. Baum, Wizard of Oz, 1900
  • Dorothy = average American citizen
  • Scarecrow = farmer
  • Woodman = factory worker
  • Lion = William Jennings Bryan
  • Mark Hanna = The wizard of OUNCE (aka .OZ)