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The history of the United States (1865–1918) covers Reconstruction and the rise of industrialization in the United States. This period of rapid change in society and in the workforce involved numerous labor unions and strikes.

At the conclusion of the Civil War, the United States remained bitterly divided. Reconstruction and its failure left the Southern whites in a position of firm control over its black population, denying them their civil rights and keeping them in economic, social, and political second class status.

An unprecedented wave of mostly European immigration, 37 million people between 1840 and 1920, served both to provide cheap labor industry and to create diverse communities in previously undeveloped areas, such as California. The expansion of industry and population had a substantial cost as well. Native American tribes were generally forced onto small reservations so that white farmers and ranchers could take their lands. Abusive industrial practices led to the somewhat violent rise of the labor movement in the United States.

The United States began its rise to international power in this period with substantial population and industrial growth domestically, along with numerous imperialist ventures abroad. By the late nineteenth century, the United States had become a leading global industrial power, building on new technologies (such as the telegraph and the Bessemer process), an expanding railroad network, and abundant natural resources to usher in the Second Industrial Revolution.

During this period, the United States conquered Cuba, which passed from Spanish rule to a de facto American one, and annexed Hawaii and Puerto Rico. At the end of the Spanish-American War, it acquired the Philippines, and after suppressing an independence movement in a war which killed hundreds of thousands of Filipino civilians, it began modernizing the islands, especially through public health measures designed to stop epidemics that killed hundreds of thousands.

The United States late (1917) entry in World War I on the side of the Allied Powers shifted the balance of the war and made the United States a major military, as well as financial power.



Reconstruction was the period after the American Civil War when the Southern states of the defeated Confederacy, which had seceded from the United States, were reintegrated into the Union. The attempt to establish civil rights for the Freedmen caused lasting bitterness among white Southerners toward the federal government.

Before his assassination, Abraham Lincoln had endorsed moderate plans for reconstruction. However, the immense human cost of the war and the social changes wrought by it led Congress to resist readmitting the rebel states without first imposing preconditions, including protection for the freed blacks. Lincoln's lasting legacy included the Emancipation Proclamation effective in January 1863, freeing slaves in rebellion states, and the Freedman's Bureau in March 1865, aiding former slaves with education, health care, and employment. The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in December 1865, outlawing indentured servitude in all the United States. The obstinacy of Lincoln's successor Andrew Johnson in opposing the wishes of the Republican majority in Congress led to Congressional Reconstruction, also known as Radical Reconstruction. From 1866 to 1869, Congress passed a series of reconstruction laws establishing the conditions and procedures for reintegrating the Southern states and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 giving all persons the same citizenship rights as Whites.

Under Reconstruction, a Republican coalition of Freedmen, Scalawags (local whites) and Carpetbaggers (recent arrivals) took control of Southern State governments and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, giving African Americans citizenship. These governments borrowed heavily to build railroads and public schools, running up the tax rate in the face of increasingly fierce opposition that drove most of the Scalawags into the Democratic Party. President Ulysses S. Grant enforced civil rights protection for African Americans in South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1870 giving African Americans the right to vote in elections. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed to give people the right to public facilities regardless of race or previous servitude.

Reconstruction ended at different times in each state, the last in 1877, when Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the contentious presidential election of 1876 over his opponent, Samuel J. Tilden. To deal with disputed electoral votes, Congress set up an Electoral Commission. It awarded the disputed votes to Hayes, and in the "Compromise of 1877" the white South acquiesced knowing that Hayes proposed to end Army control over the remaining three state governments in Republican hands. Reconstruction finally ended since white Northerners generally agreed that the Civil War was over and there was no threats to the nation from Southern whites.

The end of Reconstruction marked the demise of the brief period of civil rights and civil liberties for African Americans in the South, where most lived. However, racism, was found in all parts of the country, not just the Reconstruction states. White supremacists created a segregated society through "Jim Crow Laws", with the Southern white elites ("Redeemers", the southern wing of the "Bourbon Democrats") in firm political and economic control under a dominant-party system, called "The Solid South". Local law enforcement was weak in rural areas, allowing outraged mobs to use lynching to redress supposed crimes committed by blacks.

Indian Wars

Expansion into the plains and mountains by miners, ranchers and settlers led to increasing conflicts with the indigenous population of the West. The government insisted the Indians remain on assigned reservations, and used force to keep them there. The violence petered out in the 1880s and practically ceased after 1890. By 1880 the buffalo herds, a foundation for the hunting economy, had disappeared. White reformers wanted to speedily assimilated the Indians into American society, setting up training programs and schools, such as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, that produced many prominent Indian leaders. The anti-assimilation forces, however, resisted integration.

The reformers decided the solution was to allow Indians still on reservations to own land as individuals. In 1887, the Dawes Act proposed to divide up tribal land and parcel out 160 acres (0.65 km²) of land to each head of a family. Such allotments were to be held in trust by the government for 25 years, after which time the owner won full title to the land (so that it could be sold or mortgaged), as well as full legal citizenship. Lands not thus distributed, however, were offered for sale to settlers. This policy eventually resulted to the Indian loss, by seizure and sale, of almost half of their tribal lands. It also destroyed much of the communal organization of the tribes, further disrupting the traditional culture of the surviving indigenous population. The Dawes Act was an effort to integrate Indians into the mainstream; the majority accepted integration and were absorbed into American society, leaving a trace of Indian ancestry in millions of American families. Those who refused to assimilate remained in poverty on the reservations, supported by Federal food, medicine and schooling.

In 1934, U.S. policy was reversed again by the Indian Reorganization Act which attempted to protect tribal and communal life on the reservations.


From 1865 to about 1913, the U.S. grew to become the world's leading industrial nation. The availability of land and labor, the diversity of climate, the ample presence of navigable canals, rivers, and coastal waterways filling the transportation needs of the emerging industrial economy, and the abundance of natural resources all fostered the cheap extraction of energy, fast transport, and the availability of capital that powered this Second Industrial Revolution.

"Where there was iron there was coal" shifted production from artisans to factories, the Second Industrial Revolution pioneered an expansion in organization, coordination, and the scale of industry, spurred on by technology and transportation advancements. Railroads opened up the West, creating farms, towns and markets where none had existed. The First Transcontinental Railroad, built by nationally oriented entrepreneurs with British money and Irish and Chinese labor, provided access to previously remote expanses of land. Railway construction boosted opportunities for capital, credit, and would-be farmers.

New technologies in iron and steel manufacturing, such as the Bessemer process and open-hearth furnace, combined with similar innovations in chemistry and other sciences to vastly improve productivity. New communication tools, such as the telegraph and telephone allowed corporate managers to coordinate across great distances. Innovations also occurred in how work was organized, such as when Henry Ford's development of the moving assembly line and Frederick Winslow Taylor's ideas of scientific management.

To finance the larger-scale enterprises required during this era, the Stockholder Corporation emerged as the dominant form of business organization. Corporations expanded by combining into trusts, and by creating single firms out of competing firms, known as monopolies. High tariffs sheltered U.S. factories and workers from foreign competition, federal railroad subsidies enriched investors, farmers and railroad workers, and created hundreds of towns and cities. All branches of government generally sought to stop labor from organizing into unions or from organizing strikes.

Powerful industrialists, such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Jay Gould, known collectively as "robber barons", held great wealth and power. In a context of cutthroat competition for wealth accumulation, the skilled labor of the old-fashioned artisan and craftsman gave way to well-paid skilled workers and engineers, as the nation deepened its technological base. Meanwhile, a steady stream of immigrants encouraged the availability of cheap labor, especially in the mining and manufacturing sectors.


Gilded Age

The "Gilded Age" that was enjoyed by the topmost percentiles of American society after the recovery from the Panic of 1873 floated on the surface of the newly industrialized economy of the Second Industrial Revolution. It was further fueled by a period of wealth transfer that catalyzed dramatic social changes. It created for the first time a class of the super-rich "captains of industry", the "Robber Barons" whose network of business, social and family connections ruled a largely Anglo-Saxon and Protestant social world that possessed clearly defined boundaries. The term "Gilded Age" was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their 1873 book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, employing the ironic difference between a "gilded" and a Golden Age.

With the end of Reconstruction, there were few major political issues at stake and the 1880 presidential election was the quietest in a long time. James Garfield, the Republican candidate, won, but a few months into his administration was shot by Charles Giteau, a disgruntled public office seeker. The president died two months later and was succeeded by his VP Chester Arthur.

Politics during the Gilded Age were astoundingly corrupt, but in spite of that voter enthusiasm and turnout during the period 1872-1892 was high. The lack of major issues meant that personalities were what mainly determined elections. The 1884 presidential election saw the Republican James Blaine and Democrat Grover Cleveland engage in an ugly, mudslinging campaign in which the latter prevailed to become the 22nd president of the United States.

The cohesive ruling class of the Northeast possessed the confidence to proclaim an "American Renaissance", which could be identified in the rush of new public institutions that marked the period—hospitals, museums, schools, opera houses, public libraries, symphony orchestras— and by the Beaux-Arts architectural idiom in which they splendidly stood forth, after the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.

Also important in the Gilded Age were drastic educational changes, immigrant assimilation, religion movements, and huge empires built in a newly national press, notably by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.

Social history

Urbanization (the rapid growth of cities) went hand in hand with industrialization (the growth of factories and railroads), as well as expansion of farming. The rapid growth was made possible by an enormous immigration, from Europe, French Canada and China.


From 1840 to 1920, an unprecedented and diverse stream of immigrants arrived in the United States, approximately 37 million in total. They came from a variety of locations: 6 million from Germany; 4.5 million from Ireland; 4.75 million from Italy; 4.2 million people from England, Scotland and Wales; 4.2 million from the Austro-Hungarian Empire; 2.3 million from Scandinavia; and 3.3 million people from Russia (mostly Jews, and Poles and Lithuanian Catholics)[citation needed]. Most came through the port of New York City, and from 1892, through the immigration station on Ellis Island, but various ethnic groups settled in different locations. New York and other large cities of the East Coast became home to large Jewish, Irish, and Italian populations, while many Germans and Central Europeans moved to the Midwest, obtaining jobs in industry and mining. At the same time, about one million French Canadians migrated from Canada to New England.

Immigrants were pushed out of their homelands by poverty or religious threats, and pulled to America by jobs and kin connections. They found economic opportunity (in the forms of steady factory employment or arable land to farm) or refuge from the Irish Potato Famine. Many immigrants fled from religious or political persecution, especially conservative Lutherans from Saxony (Germany) and Jews from Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th century. Political repression and compulsory military service were reason for massive immigration toward a better life in the United States.

While most immigrants were welcomed, Asians were not. Many Chinese had been brought to the west coast to construct railroads, but unlike European immigrants, they were seen as being part of an entirely alien culture. After intense anti-Chinese agitation in California and the west, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. An informal agreement in 1907 the Gentlemen's Agreement stopped Japanese immigration.

Some immigrants stayed temporarily in the U.S. then returned home, often with savings that made them relatively prosperous. Most, however, permanently left their native lands and stayed in hope of finding a better life in the New World. This desire for freedom and prosperity led to the famous term, the American Dream.

Nadir of American race relations

Starting in the end of the 1870s, African Americans lost many of the civil rights obtained during Reconstruction and became increasingly subject to racial discrimination. Increased racist violence, including lynchings and race riots, lead to a strong deterioration of living conditions of African Americans in the Southern states. Jim Crow laws, established after the Compromise of 1877, and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan were also important causes of uneasiness. Many decided to flee for the Midwest as early as 1879, an exile which was intensified during the Great Migration that began before World War I.[citation needed] Blackface minstrelsy reproduced racist stereotypes (famous actors included Sam Lucas (1850–1916), who was the first black man to portray the role of Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1852).

In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively reversed the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments in Plessy v. Ferguson, upholding racial segregation and the "separate but equal" doctrine.[citation needed]

D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) popularized the second rise of the KKK, while "scientific racism" theories, gave a new legitimacy to previous racist prejudices and to proponents of white supremacism. In the 19th century, the idea that the white race was superior to all others was part of mainstream scientific thought. Thus, the amateur anthropologist and eugenicist Madison Grant, head of the New York Zoological Society, had Congolese pygmy Ota Benga put on display at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, in 1906, alongside apes and other animals. At the behest of Grant, the zoo director placed Ota Benga in a cage with an orangutan and labeled him The Missing Link, illustrating the supposition that in evolutionary terms Africans like Ota Benga were closer to apes than were Europeans.

Farmers and the rise of populism

Map of the United States, 1870-80. Orange indicates statehood, light blue territories, and green unorganized territories

Despite their remarkable progress, 19th-century U.S. farmers experienced recurring periods of hardship. Several basic factors involved—soil exhaustion, natural disasters, a decline in self-sufficiency, and the lack of adequate legislative protection and aid. Perhaps most important, however, was over-production.

Along with the mechanical improvements which greatly increased yield per unit area, the amount of land under cultivation grew rapidly throughout the second half of the century, as the railroads and the gradual displacement of the Plains Indians opened up new areas of the West for settlement. A similar expansion of agricultural lands in countries, such as Canada, Argentina, and Australia, created problems of oversupply and low prices in the international market, where much of U.S. agricultural production was sold.

The farther west the settlers went, the more dependent they became on the monopolistic railroads to move their goods to market. At the same time, farmers paid high costs for manufactured goods, because of the protective tariffs that Congress, backed by Eastern capitalist industrial interests, had long supported. Over time, the Midwestern and Western farmer fell ever more deeply in debt to the banks that held their mortgages.

In the South, the fall of the Confederacy brought major changes in agricultural practices. The most significant of these was sharecropping, where tenant farmers "shared" up to half of their crop with the landowners, in exchange for seed and essential supplies. An estimated 80% of the South's African American farmers and 40% of its white ones lived under this debilitating system following the Civil War. Most sharecroppers were locked in a cycle of debt, from which the only hope of escape was increased planting. This led to the over-production of cotton and tobacco (and thus to declining prices and decreased income), exhaustion of the soil, and increased poverty among both the landowners and tenants.

The first organized effort to address general agricultural problems was the Grange movement. Launched in 1867, by employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Granges focused initially on social activities to counter the isolation most farm families experienced. Women's participation was actively encouraged. Spurred by the Panic of 1873, the Grange soon grew to 20,000 chapters and one-and-a-half million members.

Although most of them ultimately failed, the Granges set up their own marketing systems, stores, processing plants, factories and cooperatives. The movement also enjoyed some political success during the 1870s. A few states passed "Granger Laws," limiting railroad and warehouse fees.

By 1880, the Granger movement began to decline and was replaced by the Farmers' Alliances. By 1890, the Alliance movements had members from New York to California totaling about 1.5 million. A parallel African American organization, the Colored Farmers National Alliance, numbered over a million members.

From the beginning, the Farmers Alliances were political organizations with elaborate economic programs. According to one early platform, its purpose was to "unite the farmers of America for their protection against class legislation and the encroachments of concentrated capital." Their program also called for the regulation—if not the outright nationalization—of the railroads; currency inflation to provide debt relief; the lowering of the tariff; and the establishment of government-owned storehouses and low-interest lending facilities. These were known as the Ocala Demands.

During the late 1880s, a series of droughts devastated the West. Western Kansas lost half its population during a four-year span. To make matters worse, the McKinley Tariff of 1890 was one of the highest the country had ever seen. This was detrimental to American farmers, as it drove up the prices of farm equipment.

By 1890, the level of agrarian distress was at an all-time high. Mary Elizabeth Lease, a noted populist writer and agitator, told farmers that they needed to "raise less corn and more hell". Working with sympathetic Democrats in the South and small third parties in the West, the Farmer's Alliance made a push for political power. From these elements, a new political party, known as the Populist Party, emerged. The elections of 1890 brought the new party into coalitions that controlled parts of state government in a dozen Southern and Western states and sent a score of Populist senators and representatives to Congress.

Its first convention was in 1892, when delegates from farm, labor and reform organizations met in Omaha, Nebraska, determined at last to make their mark on a U.S. political system that they viewed as hopelessly corrupted by the monied interests of the industrial and commercial trusts.

The pragmatic portion of the Populist platform focused on issues of land, transportation, and finance, including the unlimited coinage of silver. The Populists showed impressive strength in the West and South in the 1892 elections, and their candidate for President polled more than a million votes. It was the currency question, however, pitting advocates of silver against those who favored gold, that soon overshadowed all other issues. Agrarian spokesmen in the West and South demanded a return to the unlimited coinage of silver. Convinced that their troubles stemmed from a shortage of money in circulation, they argued that increasing the volume of money would indirectly raise prices for farm products and drive up industrial wages, thus allowing debts to be paid with inflated currency.

Conservative groups and the financial classes, on the other hand, believed that such a policy would be disastrous, and they insisted that inflation, once begun, could not be stopped. Railroad bonds, the most important financial instrument of the time, were payable in gold. If fares and freight rates were set in half-price silver dollars, railroads would go bankrupt in weeks, throwing hundreds of thousands of men out of work and destroying the industrial economy. Only the gold standard, they said, offered stability.

The financial Panic of 1893 heightened the tension of this debate. Bank failures abounded in the South and Midwest; unemployment soared and crop prices fell badly. The crisis, and President Cleveland's inability to solve it, nearly broke the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party, which supported silver and free trade, absorbed the remnants of the Populist movement as the presidential elections of 1896 neared. The Democratic convention that year was witness to one of the most famous speeches in U.S. political history. Pleading with the convention not to "crucify mankind on a cross of gold," William Jennings Bryan, the young Nebraskan champion of silver, won the Democrats' presidential nomination. The remaining Populists also endorsed Bryan, hoping to retain some influence by having a voice inside the Bryan movement. Despite carrying the South and all the West except California and Oregon, Bryan lost the more populated, industrial North and East—and the election—to the Republican William McKinley with his campaign slogan "A Full Dinner Pail".

The following year, the country's finances began to improve, mostly from restored business confidence. Silverites—who did not realize that most transactions were handled by bank checks, not sacks of gold—believed the new prosperity was spurred by the discovery of gold in the Yukon. In 1898, the Spanish-American War drew the nation's attention further away from Populist issues. If the movement was dead, however, its ideas were not. Once the Populists supported an idea, it became so tainted that the vast majority of American politicians rejected it; only years later, after the taint had been forgotten, was it possible to achieve Populist reforms, such as the direct popular election of Senators.

Labor and management

Compared to the life of a present day American industrial worker, the life of a 19th-century U.S. industrial worker was not easy. Wages were about double the level in Europe, but the work was harder with less leisure. Economic recessions swept the nation in 1873 and 1893, further eroding industrial wages and producing high levels of unemployment and underemployment.

At the same time, technological improvements, which added to the nation's productivity, continually reduced the demand for skilled labor and increased the demand for unskilled labor. The pool of unskilled labor was constantly growing, as unprecedented numbers of immigrants—18 million between 1880 and 1910—entered the U.S., eager for work.

Before 1874, when Massachusetts passed the nation's first legislation limiting the number of hours women and child factory workers could perform to 10 hours a day, virtually no labor legislation existed in the country. Indeed, it was not until the 1930s that the Federal government became actively involved. Until then, the field was left to the state and local authorities, few of whom were as responsive to the workers as they were responsive to wealthy industrialists.

The "crony capitalism", which dominated the second half of the 19th century and fostered huge concentrations of wealth and power, was backed by a pliant judiciary, which consistently ruled against those who challenged the established system. In this, judges were merely following the prevailing philosophy of the times. As John D. Rockefeller is reported to have said: "the growth of a large business is merely a survival of the fittest."[citation needed] This "Social Darwinism," as it was known, had many self-serving proponents who argued that any attempt to regulate business was tantamount to impeding the natural evolution of the species.[citation needed]

Yet, the costs of this indifference to the victims of industrialism were high. For millions, living and working conditions were poor, and the hope of escaping from a lifetime of poverty was slight. Immigrant laborers lived in crowded and filthy tenement housing. That industrialization tightened the net of poverty around America's workers was even admitted by corporate leaders, such as Andrew Carnegie, who noted "the contrast between the palace of the millionaire and the cottage of the laborer."[citation needed] In spite of his often noble sentiments, working conditions in Carnegie's factories were no better than anywhere else. As late as 1900, the United States had the highest job-related fatality rate of any industrialized nation in the world. Most industrial workers still worked a 10-hour day (12 hours in the steel industry), yet earned from 20 to 40 percent less than they needed. The situation was only worse for children, whose numbers in the work force doubled between 1870 and 1900.[citation needed]

Labor organization

The first major effort to organize workers' groups on a nationwide basis appeared with The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor in 1869. Originally a secret, ritualistic society organized by Philadelphia garment workers, it was open to all workers, including African Americans, women and farmers. The Knights grew slowly until they succeeded in facing down the great railroad baron, Jay Gould, in an 1885 strike. Within a year, they added 500,000 workers to their rolls.

The Knights of Labor soon fell into decline, however, and their place in the labor movement was gradually taken by the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Rather than open its membership to all, the AFL, under former cigar-makers union official Samuel Gompers, focused on skilled workers. His objectives were "pure and simple": increasing wages, reducing hours and improving working conditions. As such, Gompers helped turn the labor movement away from the socialist views earlier labor leaders had espoused. The AFL would gradually become a respected organization in the US, although it would have nothing to do with unskilled laborers.

Non-skilled workers' goals—and the unwillingness of business owners to grant them—resulted in some of the most violent labor conflicts in the nation's history. The first of these was the Great Railroad Strike in 1877, when railworkers across the nation went on strike in response to a 10-percent pay cut by owners. Attempts to break the strike led to bloody uprisings in several cities: Baltimore, Maryland; Chicago, Illinois; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Buffalo, New York; and San Francisco, California.

The Haymarket Riot took place in 1886, when someone threw a bomb at police dispersing a rally called to protest the deaths of two workers who had been shot and killed by police during a strike at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago. Eleven people were killed, along with unknown dozens injured, at Haymarket.

Next came the riots of 1892 at Carnegie's steel works in Homestead, Pennsylvania. A group of 300 Pinkerton detectives, whom the company had hired to break a bitter strike by the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers, were fired upon and 10 were killed. As a result, the National Guard was called in to subdue the striking workers; non-union workers were hired and the strike broken. The Homestead plant completely barred unions until 1937.

Two years later, wage cuts at the Pullman Palace Car Company, just outside Chicago, led to a strike, which, with the support of the American Railway Union, soon brought the nation's railway industry to a halt. As was usual during this time, the Federal government, then under President Grover Cleveland, stepped in on the side of business. U.S. Attorney General Richard Olney, himself a former lawyer for the railroad industry, deputized over 3,000 men in an attempt to keep the rails open. This was followed by a Federal court injunction against union interference with the operation of the trains. When workers refused to bow to the maneuverings of the railroad industry and the Federal government, Cleveland again sent in Federal troops. The strike was eventually broken.

The most militant working class organization of the time was the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Formed from an amalgam of unions fighting for better conditions in the West's mining industry, the IWW, or "Wobblies" as they were commonly known, gained particular prominence from its incendiary and revolutionary rhetoric. Openly calling for class warfare, the Wobblies gained many adherents after they won a difficult 1912 textile strike (commonly known as the "Bread and Roses" strike) in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Rise of U.S. imperialism

New Imperialism

Post-Spanish-American War map of "Greater America," including Cuba and the Philippines.

With the landslide election victory of William McKinley, who had risen to national prominence six years earlier with the passage of the McKinley Tariff of 1890, a high tariff was passed in 1897 and a decade of rapid economic growth and prosperity ensued, building national self confidence.

Spain had once controlled a vast colonial empire, but by the second half of the 19th century only Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and some African possessions remained. The Cubans had been in a state of rebellion since the 1870s, and American newspapers, particularly those of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, printed sensationalized stories about Spanish atrocities in Cuba. There were increased calls for US intervention. In 1890, the frontier had been officially declared to no longer exist, and the Wounded Knee Massacre that year marked the end of the Indian Wars. As a result, the age of Manifest Destiny was over and many thought that the US should make overseas territorial acquisitions since Europe at this time was busily carving up Africa and Asia. Others argued that an imperialistic foreign policy was contrary to American principles.

On February 15, 1898, the battleship USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor. Although it was unclear precisely what caused the blast, many Americans believed it to be the work of a Spanish mine, an attitude encouraged by the yellow journalism of Hearst and Pulitzer. While President McKinley attempted to calm the situation, his assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt took the opposite approach, saying that the president had "the backbone of a chocolate eclair". The military was rapidly mobilized as the US prepared to intervene in the Cuban revolt. It was made clear that no attempt at annexation of Cuba would be made and that the island's independence would be guaranteed. Spain considered this a wanton intervention in its internal affairs and severed diplomatic relations. War was declared on April 25.

The Spanish were quickly defeated in Cuba and Puerto Rico, and Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders gained notoriety in the latter island. Meanwhile, Commodore George Dewey's fleet crushed the Spanish in the far away Philippines, which were also in a state of revolt. Spain capitulated, ending the three-month long war and recognizing Cuba's independence. Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines were ceded to the United States. In the latter, a brutal war of subjugation was fought against the native populace until 1902.

Although U.S. capital investments within the Philippines and Puerto Rico were small, some politicians hoped they would be strategic outposts for expanding trade with Latin America and Asia, particularly China. That never happened and after 1903 American attention turned to the Panama Canal as the key to opening new trade routes. The Spanish-American War thus began the active, globally-oriented American foreign policy that continues to the present day.


Brought to the Philippines by the U.S. Navy in 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo fought Spain then tried to set up an independent country in opposition to the U.S. He was captured by U.S Army in 1901 and ended the shadow government.

The U.S. purchased the Philippine Islands from Spain in 1899. The U.S. had aided an uprising against Spanish forces in 1898, but in 1899 relations between the U.S. and the insurgents turned sour. The United States found itself in a role familiar to colonial powers when it suppressed an armed independence movement in the first two years of its Philippine occupation. During the ensuing conflict, 4,234 U.S. soldiers died, chiefly from tropical disease. Philippine military deaths were estimated at roughly 20,000. Filipino civilian deaths, from famine and disease, are unknown, but some estimates place them as high as one million—over 10% of the Philippine population. Most of these were killed by rebels enforcing their rule or preventing disease eradication.

During the U.S. occupation, English was declared the official language, although the languages of the Philippine people were Spanish, Visayan, Tagalog, Ilokano and other native languages. Over five hundred American teachers were imported aboard the USS Thomas to set up an educational system. Also, the Roman Catholic Church was disestablished, and, after an arrangement worked out with the Vatican, large church estates were purchased and redistributed to the people.

In 1914, Dean C. Worcester, a senior American official in the Philippines (1901–1913), boasted that Americans "have not only brought under control the wildest tribes of the Philippines, but have established the most friendly relations with them."[1]

In 1916, Congress guaranteed the independence of the Philippines by 1945.

Latin America

The U.S. first became engaged in Cuban affairs through the Spanish-American War. In 1901, the U.S. Congress passed the Platt Amendment, putting severe restrictions on the Cuban government's financial freedom, taking a U.S. a naval base at Guantanamo Bay, and reserving the right of the U.S. to intervene in Cuban affairs. Cuba was also pressured to write the provisions of the Platt Amendment into its constitution.

The U.S. had become interested in constructing a canal across Panama to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt supported the independence of Panama from Colombia to construct and have control over the Panama Canal.

In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt announced his "Corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine, stating that the United States would intervene in the Western Hemisphere should Latin American governments prove incapable or unstable in the interest of bringing democracy and the blessings of white Anglo-Saxon civilization to them. This so-called "Good Neighbor" policy would be the pretext for numerous interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean during the next 30 years, mostly to protect American business interests.

U.S. interest in Nicaragua arose from its possible use as an alternative Atlantic-Pacific canal route. In 1909, Nicaraguan President José Santos Zelaya resigned after the triumph of U.S.-backed rebels. This was followed up by the 1912-1933 U.S. occupation of Nicaragua.

The US military occupation of Haiti, in 1915, followed the mob execution of Haiti's leader but was largely justified to the U.S. public as a consolidation of American control in the area in the face of a possible German invasion of the island. Fears of German takeover were somewhat realistic: Germans controlled 80% of the economy by 1914; the major railroad was controlled by Hamburg bankers; and the Germans were even bankrolling revolutions that kept the country in political turmoil. The conquest resulted in a 19-year-long United States occupation of Haiti (1915-1934).

American intervention in Mexico also took place, as that country fell into a long period of anarchy and civil war starting in 1910. In April 1914, U.S. troops occupied the Mexican port of Veracruz following the Tampico Incident; the reason for the intervention was Woodrow Wilson's desire to overthrow the Mexican dictator Victoriano Huerta.

In 1916, the U.S. occupied the Dominican Republic.

In March 1916, Pancho Villa led 1,500 Mexican raiders in a cross-border attack against Columbus, New Mexico, attacked a U.S. Cavalry detachment, seized 100 horses and mules, burned the town, and killed 17 of its residents. President Woodrow Wilson responded by sending 12,000 troops, under Gen. John J. Pershing, into Mexico to pursue Villa. The Pancho Villa Expedition to capture Villa failed in its objectives and was withdrawn in January 1917.

Progressive Era

Child laborer, Newberry, South Carolina. 1908.

The presidential election of 1900 gave the U.S. a chance to pass judgment on the McKinley Administration, especially its foreign policy. Meeting at Philadelphia, the Republicans expressed jubilation over the successful outcome of the war with Spain, the restoration of prosperity, and the effort to obtain new markets through the Open Door Policy. The 1900 election was mostly a repeat of 1896 except for imperialism being added as a new issue (Hawaii had been annexed in 1898 along with the above-mentioned acquisitions). Again campaigning for free silver, William Jennings Bryan went down to defeat a second time.

President McKinley was enjoying great popularity as he began his second term, but it would be cut short. In September 1901, while attending an exposition in Buffalo, New York, McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist. He was the third President to be assassinated, all since the Civil War. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency.

In domestic as well as international affairs, Roosevelt's accession coincided with a new epoch in American political life. The continent was peopled with non-natives; the frontier was disappearing. The country's political foundations had endured the vicissitudes of foreign and civil war, the tides of prosperity and depression. Immense strides had been made in agriculture, mining, and industry. However, the influence of big business was now more firmly entrenched than ever. The 1883 Civil Service Reform Act (or Pendleton Act), which placed most federal employees on the merit system and marked the end of the so-called "spoils system," permitted the professionalization and rationalization of the federal administration. However, local and municipal government remained in the hands of often corrupt politicians, political machines and their local "bosses." Henceforth, the spoils system survived much longer in many states, counties and municipalities, such as the Tammany Hall ring, which survived well into the 1930s when New York City reformed its own civil service. Illinois modernized its bureaucracy in 1917 under Frank Lowden, but Chicago held on to patronage into the 1970s.

Against these defaults of political life, a new spirit of the times, known as "Progressivism", arose in the 1890s and continued to the U.S. entry into World War I in 1917.

Many self-styled progressives saw their work as a crusade against urban political bosses and corrupt "robber barons". There was increased demands for effective regulation of business, a revived commitment to public service, and an expansion of the scope of government to ensure the welfare and interests of the country as the groups pressing these demands saw fit. Almost all the notable figures of the period, whether in politics, philosophy, scholarship or literature, were connected at least in part with the reform movement.

Trenchant articles dealing with trusts, high finance, impure foods and abusive railroad practices began to appear in the daily newspapers and in such popular magazines as McClure's and Collier's. Their authors, such as the journalist Ida M. Tarbell, who crusaded against the Standard Oil Trust, became known as "Muckrakers". In his novel, The Jungle, Upton Sinclair exposed unsanitary conditions in the Chicago meat packing houses and the grip of the beef trust on the nation's meat supply.

The hammering impact of Progressive Era writers bolstered aims of certain sectors of the population, especially a middle class caught between big labor and big capital, to take political action. Many states enacted laws to improve the conditions under which people lived and worked. At the urging of such prominent social critics as Jane Addams, child labor laws were strengthened and new ones adopted, raising age limits, shortening work hours, restricting night work and requiring school attendance.

Roosevelt's Presidency

By the early 20th century, most of the larger cities and more than half the states had established an eight-hour day on public works. Equally important were the Workers' Compensation Laws, which made employers legally responsible for injuries sustained by employees at work. New revenue laws were also enacted, which, by taxing inheritances, laid the groundwork for the contemporary Federal income tax.

Roosevelt called for a "Square Deal," and initiated a policy of increased Federal supervision in the enforcement of antitrust laws. Later, extension of government supervision over the railroads prompted the passage of major regulatory bills. One of the bills made published rates the lawful standard, and shippers equally liable with railroads for rebates.

His victory in the 1904 election was assured. Emboldened by a sweeping electoral triumph, Roosevelt called for still more drastic railroad regulation, and in June 1906, Congress passed the Hepburn Act. This gave the Interstate Commerce Commission real authority in regulating rates, extended the jurisdiction of the commission, and forced the railroads to surrender their interlocking interests in steamship lines and coal companies. During that year, a major coal strike took place, creating the very real possibility of many Americans freezing to death in the winter for lack of heat. Roosevelt summoned the owners of the mines to the White House and threatened to nationalize them (although it was technically unconstitutional to do so) if an agreement was not reached with the striking workers.

Meanwhile, Congress had created a new Department of Commerce and Labor, with membership in the President's Cabinet. One bureau of the new department, empowered to investigate the affairs of large business aggregations, discovered in 1907 that the American Sugar Refining Company had defrauded the government of a large sum in import duties. Subsequent legal actions recovered more than $4 million and convicted several company officials.

Conservation of the nation's natural resources and beautiful places was among the other facets of the Roosevelt era. The President had called for a far-reaching and integrated program of conservation, reclamation and irrigation as early as 1901 in his first annual message to Congress. Whereas his predecessors had set aside 46 million acres (188,000 km²) of timberland for preservation and parks, Roosevelt increased the area to 146 million acres (592,000 km²) and began systematic efforts to prevent forest fires and to retimber denuded tracts. His appointment of his friend Gifford Pinchot as chief forester resulted in vigorous new scientific management of public lands. TR added 50 wildlife refuges, 5 new national parks, and initiated the system of designating National Monuments, such as the Grand Canyon.

President Taft

Roosevelt's popularity was at its peak as the campaign of 1908 neared, but he was unwilling to break the tradition by which no President had held office for more than two terms. Instead, he supported William Howard Taft. On the Democrat side, William Jennings Bryan ran for a third time, but managed to carry only the South. Taft, a former judge, first colonial governor of the U.S.-held Philippines and administrator of the Panama Canal, made some progress with his Dollar Diplomacy.

Taft continued the prosecution of trusts, further strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission, established a postal savings bank and a parcel post system, expanded the civil service, and sponsored the enactment of two amendments to the United States Constitution. The 16th Amendment authorized a federal income tax, while the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, mandated the direct election of U.S. Senators by the people, replacing the prior system established in the original Constitution, in which they were selected by state legislatures.

Yet balanced against these achievements were: Taft's acceptance of a tariff with protective schedules that outraged progressive opinion; his opposition to the entry of the state of Arizona into the Union because of its progressive constitution; and his growing reliance on the conservative wing of his party. By 1910, the Republican Party was divided, and an overwhelming vote swept the Democrats back into control of Congress.

President Wilson

Two years later, Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic, progressive governor of the state of New Jersey, campaigned against Taft, the Republican candidate, and against Roosevelt who was appalled by his successor's policies and thus broke his earlier pledge to not run for a third term. As the Republicans would not nominate him, he ran as a third-party Progressive candidate, but the ticket became widely known as the Bull Moose Party. The election was mainly a contest between Roosevelt and Wilson, Taft receiving little attention and carrying just eight electoral votes.

Wilson, in a spirited campaign, defeated both rivals. Under his leadership, the new Congress enacted one of the most notable legislative programs in American history. Its first task was tariff revision. "The tariff duties must be altered," Wilson said. "We must abolish everything that bears any semblance of privilege." The Underwood Tariff in 1913 provided substantial rate reductions on imported raw materials and foodstuffs, cotton and woolen goods, iron and steel, and removed the duties from more than a hundred other items. Although the act retained many protective features, it was a genuine attempt to lower the cost of living for American workers.

The second item on the Democratic program was a reorganization of the banking and currency system. "Control," said Wilson, "must be public, not private, must be vested in the government itself, so that the banks may be the instruments, not the masters, of business and of individual enterprise and initiative."

The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was one of Wilson's most enduring legislative accomplishments. It imposed upon the existing banking system a new organization that divided the country into 12 districts, with a Federal Reserve Bank in each, all supervised by a Federal Reserve Board. These banks were to serve as depositories for the cash reserves of those banks that joined the system. Until the Federal Reserve Act, the U.S. government had left control of its money supply largely to unregulated private banks. While the official medium of exchange was gold coins, most loans and payments were carried out with bank notes, backed by the promise of redemption in gold. The trouble with this system was that the banks were tempted to reach beyond their cash reserves, prompting periodic panics during which fearful depositors raced to turn their bank paper into coin. With the passage of the act, greater flexibility in the money supply was assured, and provision was made for issuing federal reserve notes to meet business demands. The creation of the Federal Reserve remains a highly controversial act to this day.

The next important task was trust regulation and investigation of corporate abuses. Congress authorized a Federal Trade Commission to issue orders prohibiting "unfair methods of competition" by business concerns in interstate trade.

A second law, the Clayton Antitrust Act, forbade many corporate practices that had thus far escaped specific condemnation—interlocking directorates, price discrimination among purchasers, use of the injunction in labor disputes and ownership by one corporation of stock in similar enterprises.

The Federal Employees' Compensation Act (39 Stat. 742; 5 U.S.C. 751) of September 7, 1916 authorized allowances to federal civil service employees for disabilities incurred at work.[2] The Adamson Act of the same year established an eight-hour day for railroad labor. The record of achievement won Wilson a firm place in American history as one of the nation's foremost political reformers. On the other hand, he was a committed white supremacist and began rolling back the progress that had been made in opening the federal government to African-American employment. The story that Wilson enjoyed D.W. Griffith's infamous film "The Birth of a Nation" was not true though, and he banned it for the duration of World War I. However, his domestic reputation would soon be overshadowed by his record as a wartime President who led his country to victory but could not hold the support of his people for the peace that followed.

World War I

Woodrow Wilson.

Firmly maintaining neutrality when World War I began in 1914, the United States entered the war against Germany only after the latter's U-boats sank the ocean liner Lusitania, Germany announced that its U-boats would conduct unrestricted submarine warfare against neutral shipping, and the U.S. discovered, through an intercepted telegram known as the Zimmermann Telegram, that the Germans had attempted to ask Mexico to go to war against the United States in case the United States went to war with Germany. It proposed that Mexico retake Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, all of which had been lost in the 1846-1848 war. This was really just a diversionary tactic by Germany, since Mexico's military weakness and unstable political situation made such a venture impossible. Sympathies among many politically and industrially influential Americans had favored the British and French cause from the start of the war; however, a sizable number of citizens (which included many of Irish and German extraction) were staunchly opposed to U.S. involvement in the European conflict (at least on the British side), and the vote in Congress on April 6, 1917 to declare war, unlike many other declarations of war by the United States, was far from unanimous.

The war saw a phobia of anything German engulf the nation. Sauerkraut was referred to as "liberty cabbage", and many Americans with German surnames had them anglicized. The state of South Dakota made it illegal for anyone to speak German over the telephone, and even the music of German composers such as Bach were banned.

The Wilson Administration created the Committee on Public Information (CPI) to control war information and provide pro-war propaganda. The private American Protective League, working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was one of many private right-wing "patriotic associations" that sprang up to support the war and at the same time fight labor unions and various left-wing and anti-war organizations. The U.S. Congress passed, and Wilson signed, the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. The Sedition Act criminalized any expression of opinion that used "disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language" about the U.S. government, flag or armed forces. Government police action, private vigilante groups and public war hysteria compromised the civil liberties of many Americans who disagreed with Wilson's policies.

Fear of German occupation of Denmark and hence control of the Danish Virgin Islands prompted the United States to purchase the islands for $25,000,000 before entering the war.

The United States was remarkably unprepared for war in 1917, as it had not fought a major conflict since 1865. The military was tiny and had some weapons that were decades old. A hasty expansion of the armed forces was thus launched.

On the battlefields of France, the arriving fresh American troops proved crucial in bolstering the war-weary Allied armies in the summer of 1918 as they turned back the powerful final German offensive (Spring Offensive) and advanced in the Allied final offensive (Hundred Days Offensive). With victory over Germany achieved a few months later on November 11, 1918, Britain, France and Italy imposed severe economic penalties on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles. The United States Senate did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles; instead, the United States signed separate peace treaties with Germany and her allies. The Senate also refused to enter the newly created League of Nations on Wilson's terms, and Wilson rejected the Senate's compromise proposal.

Despite Wilson's calls for treaty terms more agreeable to Germany, the economic impact of the reparations mandated from Germany by the Versailles Treaty was severe and a direct cause of the rise of Hitler and, thus, World War II in Europe. The additional failure of the treaty to meet Japan's imperial and colonial demands helped lay the groundwork in Japan for the rise of the Japanese military dictatorship and thus World War II in the Pacific.

References and external links

Reconstruction: 1865–1877

Gilded Age: 1877-1900

  • Buenker, John D. and Joseph Buenker, eds. Encyclopedia of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Sharpe Reference, 2005. xxxii + 1256 pp. in three volumes. ISBN 0-7656-8051-3; 900 essays by w00 scholars
  • Nancy Cohen; The Reconstruction of American Liberalism, 1865-1914 University of North Carolina Press, 2002
  • Fine, Sidney. Laissez Faire and the General-Welfare State: A Study of Conflict in American Thought, 1865–1901. University of Michigan Press, 1956.
  • Jensen, Richard. "Democracy, Republicanism and Efficiency: The Values of American Politics, 1885-1930," in Byron Shafer and Anthony Badger, eds, Contesting Democracy: Substance and Structure in American Political History, 1775-2000 (U of Kansas Press, 2001) pp 149–180; online version
  • H. Wayne Morgan, ed. The Gilded Age: A Reappraisal Syracuse University Press 1970.
  • Ted Curtis Smythe; The Gilded Age Press, 1865-1900 Praeger. 2003.

Progressive Era

  • Buenker, John D. and Joseph Buenker, eds. Encyclopedia of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Sharpe Reference, 2005. xxxii + 1256 pp. in three volumes. ISBN 0-7656-8051-3; 900 essays by w00 scholars
  • Buenker, John D., John C. Burnham, and Robert M. Crunden. Progressivism (1986)
  • Buenker, John D. Dictionary of the Progressive Era (1980)
  • Diner, Steven J. A Very Different Age: Americans of the Progressive Era (1998)
  • Gould Lewis L. America in the Progressive Era, 1890-1914" (2000)
  • Gould Lewis L. ed., The Progressive Era (1974)
  • Hays, Samuel P. The Response to Industrialism, 1885-1914 (1957),
  • Hofstadter, Richard The Age of Reform (1954), Pulitzer Prize
  • Jensen, Richard. "Democracy, Republicanism and Efficiency: The Values of American Politics, 1885-1930," in Byron Shafer and Anthony Badger, eds, Contesting Democracy: Substance and Structure in American Political History, 1775-2000 (U of Kansas Press, 2001) pp 149–180; online version
  • Kennedy, David M. ed., Progressivism: The Critical Issues (1971), readings
  • Mann, Arthur. ed., The Progressive Era (1975), readings
  • McGerr, Michael. A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920 (2003
  • Mellander, Gustavo A.(1971) The United States in Panamanian Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years. Daville,Ill.:Interstate Publishers. OCLC 138568.
  • Mellander, Gustavo A.; Nelly Maldonado Mellander (1999). Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1-56328-155-4. OCLC 42970390.
  • Mowry, George. The Era of Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of Modern America, 1900-1912. survey by leading scholar
  • Pease, Otis, ed. The Progressive Years: The Spirit and Achievement of American Reform (1962), primary documents
  • Thelen, David P. "Social Tensions and the Origins of Progressivism," Journal of American History 56 (1969), 323-341 online at JSTOR
  • Wiebe, Robert. The Search For Order, 1877-1920 (1967), influential interpretation

World Affairs and World War I


  1. ^ Dean C. Worcester, The Philippines: Past and Present (1914) p. 567 online
  2. ^


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