During the latter part of the nineteenth century, the United States had many crises in which they had to “fix” or at least attempt to fix in order for the country to continue. The crises included money, or lack thereof, labor issues, race relation problems, differences between urban and rural areas, and the intellectual reforms. Each of the issues took a significant role in the shaping of the United States at this time.
Money became a problem throughout the 1870s-1900s. Many lived in poverty and at the beginning most still relied of trading, rather than paper money. Lears states “…most could merely dream of quick profits, and only a handful could make money beget mony.” (Lears 51) This handful quickly adopted a laissez-faire mindset. Along with the Social Darwinists, believe that “life was a completion for survival” (Hicks 1.12). On the other side of the spectrum, the working people adopted the idea of collectivity in order to weaken the impact of individual capitalism on their lives.
One of the capitalists was Andrew Carnegie who came from an out-of-work family and was one of the few who could claim to be “self-made” (58). As a young man, Carnegie learned about insider trading and later refined the art. He “accumulated capital by trading shares in overcapitalized companies and skimming profits from inflated stock prices.” (59) He was a prime example of the “rags to riches” American dream.
Many Americans looked for ways to “get rich quick”. Many turned to the stock markets, gambling, or gold camps to attempt “lucky strikes” (66). Lotteries also became popular. The thought of instant success got the attention of the many impoverished of the time. Those who didn’t jump on the wagon of the get rich quick mindset had to work extremely hard in order to survive, let alone live comfortably.
Labor proved a large issue during the Gilded Age. Workers had to deal with “unregulated workplace[s]: recurring wage cuts and prolonged unemployment.” (73) The workers were no longer demanded as in the past. They were replaced by machinery or cheaper labor. They became referred to as “hands”, not people. During this time the working people got upset to the point of striking. The first nationwide strike was the Railroad Strike of 1877. This strike was the worst labor violence to its time, but somehow the economy increased at an exceptional rate.
During this time, businesses sought to control every aspect of the business from the workers to the market where they sold the goods. The businesses gained control of most things, including the support of the federal government. During this time period the federal government ruled mostly with the business so the businesses weren’t controlled as they should have been. The workers had to deal “wage cuts, speedups, stretchouts” (82). The after effects of these changes caused many labor uprisings within the factories. Many of these were controlled by “policemen and soldiers firing into crowds of protestors.” (82) By this time the Knights of Labor was established.
They believed that the United States were being “undermined by the combined forces of monopoly, political corruption, cutthroat competition, and wage labor.” (3.25) The Knights not only tried to help the working white man, but also tried to remedy the situation of the bad organization of women, immigrant, and black workers. They requested eight hour work days, abolition of child labor, equal pay for equal work, and graduated income tax. Throughout the Gilded Age, the Knights were involved in most of the major labor disputes. After all the problems, the American Federation of Labor was formed and gave the businesses greater stability.
Labor seemed to just be a problem of the time. Race on the other hand had been a continuous battle for centuries and it wasn’t just with African-Americans. It also included the Native Americans. The Natives were pressured to “renegotiate treaties and confine themselves to more restricted…