Unit 6- The Gilded Age vs the New West

Yawp Chapters 16 & 17

Chapter 16: Capital and Labor

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 heralded a new era of labor conflict in the United States. That year, mired in the stagnant economy that followed the bursting of the railroads’ financial bubble in 1873, rail lines slashed workers’ wages (even, workers complained, as they reaped enormous government subsidies and paid shareholders lucrative stock dividends). Workers struck from Baltimore to St. Louis, shutting down railroad traffic—the nation’s economic lifeblood—across the country.

Panicked business leaders and friendly political officials reacted quickly. When local police forces were unwilling or incapable of suppressing the strikes, governors called out state militias to break them and restore rail service. Many strikers destroyed rail property rather than allow militias to reopen the rails. The protests approached a class war. The governor of Maryland deployed the state’s militia. In Baltimore the militia fired into a crowd of striking workers, killing eleven and wounding many more. Strikes convulsed towns and cities across Pennsylvania. The head of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Thomas Andrew Scott, suggested that, if workers were unhappy with their wages, they should be given “a rifle diet for a few days and see how they like that kind of bread.”1 Law enforcement in Pittsburgh refused to put down the protests, so the governor called out the state militia, who killed twenty strikers with bayonets and rifle fire. A month of chaos erupted. Strikers set fire to the city, destroying dozens of buildings, over a hundred engines, and over a thousand cars. In Reading, strikers destroyed rail property and an angry crowd bombarded militiamen with rocks and bottles. The militia fired into the crowd, killing ten. A general strike erupted in St. Louis, and strikers seized rail depots and declared for the eight-hour day and the abolition of child labor. Federal troops and vigilantes fought their way into the depot, killing eighteen and breaking the strike. Rail lines were shut down all across neighboring Illinois, where coal miners struck in sympathy, tens of thousands gathered to protest under the aegis of the Workingmen’s Party, and twenty protesters were killed in Chicago by special police and militiamen.2 Read more of Chapter 16 from the American Yawp.

Questions to be thinking about as you move through the content of this chapter

  1. Describe the relationship between the railroad and industrialization.
  2. Who were the “new industrial giants?”  Why were they also called “robber barons?”
  3. How did the Industrial Revolution lead to a new class consciousness for both the middle and working classes?
  4. Discuss the factors leading to labor unrest in the late nineteenth century.
  5. How did the emergence of corporations change the American economy? 
  6. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the nineteenth-century American economy’s reliance on the efficiencies of scale.
  7. How did industrialization lead to the emergence of a new category of worker, typically called “the proletariat”?  To answer this questions, you will need to consider what proletariat means and how industrialization engendered it.
  8. How did the Second Industrial Revolution contribute to income inequality?
  9. What is Social Darwinism?  How was it used to justify the inequality that accompanied the Second Industrial Revolution?
  10. What factors led to the rise of the People’s (Populist) Party?  What factors led to its decline?
  11. What factors led to the rise of the Socialist Party?  What factors led to its decline?

Chapter 17: Conquering the West

Native Americans long dominated the vastness of the American West. Linked culturally and geographically by trade, travel, and warfare, various indigenous groups controlled most of the continent west of the Mississippi River deep into the nineteenth century. Spanish, French, British, and later American traders had integrated themselves into many regional economies, and American emigrants pushed ever westward, but no imperial power had yet achieved anything approximating political or military control over the great bulk of the continent. But then the Civil War came and went and decoupled the West from the question of slavery just as the United States industrialized and laid down rails and pushed its ever-expanding population ever-farther west.

Indigenous Americans had lived in North America for over ten millennia and, into the late-nineteenth century, perhaps as many as 250,000 natives still inhabited the American West.1 But then unending waves of American settlers, the American military, and the unstoppable onrush of American capital conquered all. The United States removed native groups to ever-shrinking reservations, incorporated the West first as territories and then as states, and, for the first time in its history, controlled the enormity of land between the two oceans.

The history of the late-nineteenth-century West is many-sided. Tragedy for some, triumph for others, the many intertwined histories of the American West marked a pivotal transformation in the history of the United States. Read more of Chapter 17 from the American Yawp.

Questions to be thinking about as you move through the content of this chapter

  1. Discuss the reasons for such dramatic population growth in the west from 1860-1900.
  2. How did the Sand Creek Massacre lead to a push for a “Peace Policy”?  How did it change the American approach to Indian policy?
  3. What role did religion play in American Indian policy after 1868?
  4. How did the US secure their hold over the west?  Be sure that you can discuss this question from several perspectives: military; social; economic; political; and cultural.
  5. How did the railroad transform the United States and “make” the American West?  Be sure to consider how it transformed the lives of Native Americans as well as Americans moving westward.
  6. In what ways did the US government subsidize the growth of the west?
  7. What were the consequences (long term and short term) of the Dawes Act?
  8. How did the Wild West Show create the “myth of the west?”
  9. Discuss Turner’s “Frontier Thesis” with regard to the growth of the west.
  10. In what ways has the history of west been mythologized into a story of relentless progress and self-sufficiency?