Politic of USA
A great many changes took place in the Americas from 1800 to 1870. The
United States more than doubled in size, and its government was set on a
firm base. This allowed the country to become strong. Latin America, or
Central and South America, won independence from European rule. But
traditions established under colonial rule remained strong. So despite
strong efforts, democracy did not develop. In all, the 70-year period
was a time of both great promise and great hardship.
A strong spirit of reform swept through the United States during the
late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Many Americans called for changes in the
country’s economic, political, and social systems. They wanted to reduce
poverty, improve the living conditions of the poor, and regulate big
business. They worked to end corruption in goverment, make government
more responsive to the people, and accomplish other goals.
During the 1870’s and 1880’s, the reformers made relatively little
progress. But after 1890, they gained much public support and influence
in government. By 1917, the reformers had brought about many changes.
Some reformers called themselves progressives. As a result, the period
of American history from about 1890 to about 1917 is often called the
During the Expansion Era, many Americans came to believe that social
reforms were needed to improve their society. Churches and social groups
set up charities the poor and teach them how to help themselves
Reformers worked to reduce the working day of laborers from the usual 12
or 14 hours to 10 hours.
Prohibitionists — convinced that drunkenness was the chief cause of
poverty and other problems — persuaded 13 states to outlaw the sale of
alcohol between 1846 and 1855. Dorothea Dix and others worked to improve
the dismal conditions in the nation’s prisons and insane asylums. Other
important targets of reformers were women’s rights, improvements in
education, and the abolition of slavery.
The drive for women’s rights. Early American women had few rights. There
were almost no colleges for women, and most professional careers were
closed to them. A married woman could not own property. Instead, any
property she had legally belonged to her husband. In addition, American
women were barred from voting in almost all elections.
A women’s rights movement developed after 1820, and brought about some
changes. In 1833, the Oberlin Collegiate Institute (now Oberlin College)
opened as the first coeducational college in the United States. Some
men’s colleges soon began admitting women, and new colleges for women
were built. In 1848, New York passed a law allowing women to keep
control of their own real estate and personal property after marriage.
That same year, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stan-ton organized a
Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. The convention issued
the first formal appeal for woman suffrage (the right to vote). But
nationwide suffrage did not come about until 1920.
Education reform. In the early 1800’s, most good schools in the United
States were expensive private schools. Poor children went to second-rate
“pauper,” or “charity”, schools, or did not go at all. During the
1830’s, Hornce Mann of Massachusetts and other reformers began demanding
education and better schools for all American children. States soon
began establishing public school systems, and more and more children
received an education. Colleges started training teachers for a system
of public education based on standardized courses of study. As a result,
schoolchildren throughout the country were taught much the same lessons.
For example, almost all children of the mid-1800`s studied the McCuffey,
or Eclectic, Readers to learn to read. These books taught patriotism and
morality as well as reading.
The abolition movement became the most intense and controversial reform
activity of the period. Beginning in colonial times, many Americans —
called abolitionists — had demanded an end to slavery. By the early
1800’s, every Northern state had outlawed slavery. But the plantation
system had spread throughout the South, and the economy of the Southern
States depended more and more on slaves as a source of cheap labor.
The question of whether to outlaw or allow slavery became an important
political and social issue in the early 1800’s. Through the years, a
balance between the number of free states (states where slavery was
prohibited) and slave states (those where it was allowed) had been
sought. This meant that both sides would have an equal number of
representatives in the United States Senate. As of 1819, the federal
government had achieved a balance between free states and slave states.
There were 11 of each.
When the Territory of Missouri applied for admission to the Union in
1818, bitter controversy broke out over whether to admit it as a free or
slave state. In either case, the balance between free and slave states
would be upset. But in 1820, the nation’s leaders worked out the
Missouri Compromise, which temporarily maintained the balance.
Massachusetts agreed to give up the northern part of its territory. This
area became the state of Maine, and entered the Union as a free state in
1820. In 1821, Missouri entered as a slave state, and so there were 12
free and 12 slave states.
The Missouri Compromise had another important provision. It provided
that slavery would be “forever prohibited” in all the territory gained
from the Louisiana Purchase north of Missouri’s southern border, except
for Missouri itself.
The Missouri Compromise satisfied many Americans as an answer to the
slavery question. But large numbers of people still called for complete
abolition. In 1821, Benjamin Lundy, a Quaker, pleaded for gradual
abolition in a journal called The Genius of Universal Emancipation.
William Lloyd Garrison, a fiery New England journalist, opposed even
gradual abolition. Garrison demanded an immediate end to slavery. He
founded The Liberator, an important abolitionist journal, in 1831. Many
blacks who had gained their freedom became important speakers for the
abolition movement. They included Frederick Douglass and Sojourner
The growing strength of the abolition movement raised fears among
Southerners that the federal government would outlaw slavery.
Increasingly, the South hardened its defense of slavery. Southerners had
always argued that slavery was necessary to the plantation economy. But
after 1830, some Southern leaders began arguing that blacks were
inferior to whites, and therefore fit for their role as slaves. Even
many Southern whites who owned no slaves took comfort in the belief that
they were superior to blacks. As a result, Southern support of slavery
Cultural change. After 1820, the wilderness seemed less and less hostile
to Americans, increasingly, society glorified the frontier and nature.
The public eagerly read the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, which
described Indians and pioneers as pure of heart and noble in deeds.
Ralph Waldo Emerson and other American philosophers praised nature as a
source of truth and beauty available to all people, rich and poor alike.
The years of expansion see important social changes. By the mid-1800’s
the United States had expanded westward across the North American
continent. This era of expansion brought with it other profound changes
in American society.
With new territory and a growing population, the nation needed better
transportation systems. In the early 1800’s workers built hundreds of
miles of canals to link the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers
with the Great Lakes and the Atlantic coast. Along these water routes,
canal boats carried manufactured goods to the West and raw materials and
agricultural products to the East. Railroads also developed during this
period. Thousands of miles of track were built between 1820 and 1850.
Early reform efforts included movements to organize laborers and
farmers. In 1886, skilled laborers formed the American Federation of
Labor (AFL) — now the American Federation of Labor-Congress of
Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). Led by Samuel Gompers, this union
bargained with employers and gained better wages and working conditions
for its members. Farmers founded the National Grange in 1867 and Farmers
Alliances during the 1870’s and 1880’s. These groups helped force
railroads to lower their charges for hauling farm products and assisted
the farmers in other ways.
Unskilled laborers had less success in organizing than did skilled
laborers and farmers. The Knights of Labor, a union open to both the
unskilled and skilled workers, gained a large membership during the
1880’s. But its membership declined sharply after the Ha/market Riot of
1886. In this incident, someone threw a bomb during a meeting of workers
in Haymarket Square in Chicago, and a riot erupted. At least seven
police officers and one civilian died. Many Americans blamed the
disaster on the labor movement. The Haymarket Riot aroused antilabor
feelings and temporarily weakened the cause of unskilled workers.
The drive for woman suffrage became strong after the Civil War. In 1869,
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman
Suffrage Association. The Territory of Wyoming gave women the right to
vote the same year. Soon, a few states allowed women to vote, but only
in local elections.
Early reformers brought about some changes in government. In 1883,
their efforts led to passage of the Pendleton, or Civil Service, Act.
This federal law set up the Civil Service Commission, an agency charged
with granting federal government jobs on the basis of merit, rather than
as political favors. The commission was the first federal government
regulatory agency in the nation’s history. In 1884, Democrats and
liberal Republicans joined together to elect Grover Cleveland President.
A reform-minded Democrat, Cleveland did much to enforce the Pendleton
The Progressive Era. The outcry for reform increased sharply after 1890.
Members of the clergy, social workers, and others studied life in the
slums and reported on the awful living conditions there. Educators
criticized the nation’s school system. A group of writers—called
muckrakers by their critics—published exposes about such evils as
corruption in government and how some businesses cheated the public. The
writers included Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and Ida M. Tarbell.
Increasingly, unskilled workers resorted to strikes in an attempt to
gain concessions from their employers. Often, violence broke out between
strikers and strikebreakers hired by the employers. Socialists and
others who opposed the U.S. economic system of capitalism supported the
strikers and gained a large following.
These and other developments caused many middle-class and some
upper-class Americans to back reforms. The people wondered about the
justice of a society that tolerated such extremes of poverty and wealth.
More and more, the power of big business, corruption in government,
violent strikes, and the inroads of socialism seemed to threaten
As public support for reform grew, so did the political influence of the
reformers. In 1891, farmers and some laborers formed the People’s, or
Populist, Party. The Populists called for government action to help
farmers and laborers. They gained a large following, and convinced many
Democrats and Republicans to support reforms. See Populism.
Reformers won control of many city and some state governments. They also
elected many people to Congress who favored their views. In addition,
the first three Presidents elected after 1900—Theodore Roosevelt,
William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson — supported certain reform laws.
These political developments resulted in a flood of reform legislation
on the local, state, and federal levels.
The reform movement flourished under Wilson. Two amendments to the
Constitution proposed during Taft’s Administration were ratified in
1913. The 16th Amendment gave the federal government the power to levy
an income tax. The 17th Amendment provided for the election of U.S.
senators by the people, rather than by state legislatures. The Clayton
Antitrust Act of 1914 struck a blow against monopolies. It prohibited
corporations from grouping together under interlocking boards of
directors. It also helped labor by making it impossible to prosecute
unions under antitrust laws. In 1914, the government set up the Federal
Trade Commission (FTC) to handle complaints about unfair business
practices. The many other reform measures passed during Wilson’s
presidency included the Underwood Tariff Act of 1913, which lowered a
high tariff that protected American business from foreign competition.
The role of American women changed dramatically during the 1920’s. The
19th Amendment to the Constitution, which became law on Aug. 26, 1920,
gave women the right to vote in all elections. In addition, many new
opportunities for education and careers opened up to women during the
Modern life and social change. Developments of the 1920’s broadened the
experiences of millions of Americans. The mass movement to cities meant
more people could enjoy such activities as movies, plays, and sporting
events. Radio broadcasting began on a large scale during the 1920’s. It
brought news of the world and entertainment into millions of urban and
rural homes. The automobile gave people a new way to get around —
whether for business, or to see far-off places, or just for fun.
Motion-picture theaters became part of almost every city and town during
the 1920’s. They became known as dream palaces because of their fancy
design and the excitement and romance that motion pictures provided for
the public. The new role of women also changed society. Many women who
found careers outside the home began thinking of themselves, more as the
equal of men, and less as housewives and mothers.
Change and problems. The modern trends of the 1920’s brought about
problems as well as benefits.
Many Americans had trouble adjusting to the impersonal, fast-paced life
of cities. This disorientation led to a rise in juvenile delinquency,
crime, and other antisocial behavior. The complex life in cities also
tended to weaken the strong family ties that had always been part of
The 18th Amendment to the Constitution, called the prohibition
amendment, caused unforeseen problems. It outlawed the sale of alcoholic
beverages throughout the United States as of Jan. 16, 1920. Large
numbers of otherwise law-abiding citizens considered prohibition a
violation of their rights. They ignored the law and bought liquor
provided by underworld gangs. The supplying of illegal liquor, called
bootlegging, helped many gangs prosper. In addition, competition for
control of Ube-lucrative bootlegging business led to many gang wars.
Roosevelt, recovery, and reform. Early in the Great Depression, Hoover
promised that prosperity was “just around the corner.” But the
depression deepened as the election of 1932 approached. The Republicans
slated Hoover for reelection. The Democrats chose Franklin Delano
Roosevelt. In his campaign, Roosevelt promised government action to end
the Great Depression and reforms to avoid future depressions. The
people responded, and Roosevelt won a landslide victory.
Roosevelt’s program for recovery and reform was called the New Deal.
Its many provisions included public works projects to provide jobs,
relief for farmers, aid in manufacturing firms, and the regulation of
banks. A solidly Democratic Congress approved almost every measure
Roosevelt proposed. Many new government agencies were set up to help
fight the depression. The agencies included the Civilian Conservation
Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA), both of which
provided jobs; the Farm Credit Administration (FCA), which extended
credit to farmers; and the Social Security Board, which developed the
social security system.
The New Deal helped relieve the hardship of many Americans. However,
hard times dragged on until World War II military spending stimulated
Roosevelt’s efforts to end the depression made him one of the most
popular U.S. Presidents. The voters elected him to four terms. No other
President won election more than twice. Roosevelt’s New Deal was a
turning point in American history. It marked the start of a strong
government role in the nation’s economic affairs that has continued and
grown to the present day.
The industrial growth that began in the United States in the early
1800’s continued steadily up to and through the Civil War. Still, by the
end of the war, the typical American industry was small. Hand labor
remained widespread, limiting the production capacity of industry. Most
businesses served a small market and lacked the capital needed for
After the Civil War, however, American industry changed dramatically.
Machines replaced hand labor as the main means of manufacturing,
increasing the production capacity of industry tremendously. A new
nationwide network of railroads distributed goods far and wide.
Inventors developed new products the public wanted, and businesses made
the products in large quantities. Investors and bankers supplied the
huge amounts of money that business leaders needed to expand their
operations. Many big businesses grew up as a result of these and other
developments. They included coal mining, petroleum, and railroad
companies; and manufacturers and sellers of such products as steel,
industrial machinery, automobiles, and clothing.
The industrial growth had major effects on American life. The new
business activity centered in cities. As a result, people moved to
cities in record numbers, and the cities grew by leaps and bounds. Many
Americans amassed huge fortunes from the business boom, but others lived
in extreme poverty. The sharp contrast between the rich and the poor and
other features of American life stirred widespread discontent. The
discontent triggered new reform movements, which — among other things —
led to measures to aid the poor and control the size and power of big
The industrial growth centered chiefly in the North. The war-torn South
lagged behind the rest of the country economically. In the West,
frontier life was ending.
America’s role in foreign affairs also changed during the late 1800’s
and early 1900’s. The country built up its military strength and became
a world power.
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