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Full Name Comment goes here. Are you sure you want to Yes No. Be the first to like this. Industrial work ebbed and flowed with the economy. The typical industrial laborer could expect to be unemployed one month out of the year. They labored sixty hours a week and could still expect their annual income to fall below the poverty line. Among the working poor, wives and children were forced into the labor market to compensate.
Crowded cities, meanwhile, failed to accommodate growing urban populations and skyrocketing rents trapped families in crowded slums. Strikes ruptured American industry throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Workers seeking higher wages, shorter hours, and safer working conditions had struck throughout the antebellum era, but organized unions were fleeting and transitory. The Civil War and Reconstruction seemed to briefly distract the nation from the plight of labor, but the end of the sectional crisis and the explosive growth of big business, unprecedented fortunes, and a vast industrial workforce in the last quarter of the nineteenth century sparked the rise of a vast American labor movement.
The failure of the Great Railroad Strike of convinced workers of the need to organize. Union memberships began to climb. The Knights of Labor enjoyed considerable success in the early s, due in part to its efforts to unite skilled and unskilled workers. It welcomed all laborers, including women the Knights only barred lawyers, bankers, and liquor dealers. By , the Knights had over seven hundred thousand members. The Knights envisioned a cooperative producer-centered society that rewarded labor, not capital, but, despite their sweeping vision, the Knights focused on practical gains that could be won through the organization of workers into local unions.
His local union walked off the job, and soon others joined. Gould hired strikebreakers and the Pinkerton Detective Agency, a kind of private security contractor, to suppress the strikes and get the rails moving again. The Texas governor called out the Texas Rangers. Workers countered by destroying property, only winning them negative headlines and for many justifying the use of strikebreakers and militiamen.
The strike broke, briefly undermining the Knights of Labor, but the organization regrouped and set its eyes on a national campaign for the eight-hour day. In the summer of , the campaign for an eight-hour day, long a rallying cry that united American laborers, culminated in a national strike on May 1, Somewhere between three hundred thousand and five hundred thousand workers struck across the country.
In Chicago, police forces killed several workers while breaking up protesters at the McCormick reaper works. Labor leaders and radicals called for a protest at Haymarket Square the following day, which police also proceeded to break up. But as they did, a bomb exploded and killed seven policemen.
Police fired into the crowd, killing four. The deaths of the Chicago policemen sparked outrage across the nation, and the sensationalization of the Haymarket Riot helped many Americans to associate unionism with radicalism. Eight Chicago anarchists were arrested and, despite no direct evidence implicating them in the bombing, were charged and found guilty of conspiracy. Four were hanged and one committed suicide before he could be executed. Membership in the Knights had peaked earlier that year but fell rapidly after Haymarket; the group became associated with violence and radicalism.
The national movement for an eight-hour day collapsed. But workers continued to strike. After repeated wage cuts, workers shut the plant down and occupied the mill. The Pinkertons tried to land by river and were besieged by the striking steel workers. After several hours of pitched battle, the Pinkertons surrendered, ran a bloody gauntlet of workers, and were kicked out of the mill grounds.
But the Pennsylvania governor called the state militia, broke the strike, and reopened the mill. The union was essentially destroyed in the aftermath. Still, despite repeated failure, strikes continued to roll across the industrial landscape. Thousands of workers struck and national railroad traffic ground to a halt. Unlike in nearly every other major strike, the governor of Illinois sympathized with workers and refused to dispatch the state militia.
The strike violated the injunction, and Debs was arrested and imprisoned. The strike evaporated without its leadership. Jail radicalized Debs, proving to him that political and judicial leaders were merely tools for capital in its struggle against labor. In , the degrading conditions of industrial labor sparked strikes across the country.
The final two decades of the nineteenth century saw over twenty thousand strikes and lockouts in the United States. Industrial laborers struggled to carve for themselves a piece of the prosperity lifting investors and a rapidly expanding middle class into unprecedented standards of living. But workers were not the only ones struggling to stay afloat in industrial America. American farmers also lashed out against the inequalities of the Gilded Age and denounced political corruption for enabling economic theft. The expanding markets and technological improvements that increased efficiency also decreased commodity prices.
Commercialization of agriculture put farmers in the hands of bankers, railroads, and various economic intermediaries. As the decades passed, more and more farmers fell ever further into debt, lost their land, and were forced to enter the industrial workforce or, especially in the South, became landless farmworkers. The rise of industrial giants reshaped the American countryside and the Americans who called it home. Meanwhile, improved farm machinery, easy credit, and the latest consumer goods flooded the countryside. But new connections and new conveniences came at a price.
Farmers had always been dependent on the whims of the weather and local markets. But now they staked their financial security on a national economic system subject to rapid price swings, rampant speculation, and limited regulation. Their dissatisfaction with an erratic and impersonal system put many of them at the forefront of what would become perhaps the most serious challenge to the established political economy of Gilded Age America.
Mass production and business consolidations spawned giant corporations that monopolized nearly every sector of the U. In contrast, the economic power of the individual farmer sank into oblivion. They could share machinery, bargain from wholesalers, and negotiate higher prices for their crops. Over the following years, organizers spread from town to town across the former Confederacy, the Midwest, and the Great Plains, holding evangelical-style camp meetings, distributing pamphlets, and establishing over one thousand alliance newspapers.
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Source: N. Dunning ed. These cooperatives spread across the South between and and claimed more than a million members at their high point. In the South, alliance-backed Democratic candidates won four governorships and forty-eight congressional seats in The Populists attracted supporters across the nation by appealing to those convinced that there were deep flaws in the political economy of Gilded Age America, flaws that both political parties refused to address.
The platform proposed an unprecedented expansion of federal power. In an attempt to deal with the lack of currency available to farmers, it advocated postal savings banks to protect depositors and extend credit. It called for the establishment of a network of federally managed warehouses—called subtreasuries—which would extend government loans to farmers who stored crops in the warehouses as they awaited higher market prices. To save debtors it promoted an inflationary monetary policy by monetizing silver.
Direct election of senators and the secret ballot would ensure that this federal government would serve the interest of the people rather than entrenched partisan interests, and a graduated income tax would protect Americans from the establishment of an American aristocracy. And when the Panic of sparked the worst economic depression the nation had ever yet seen, the Populist movement won further credibility and gained even more ground. Pamphlets such as W.
In the elections, Populists elected six senators and seven representatives to Congress. The third party seemed destined to conquer American politics. The movement, however, still faced substantial obstacles, especially in the South. The failure of alliance-backed Democrats to live up to their campaign promises drove some southerners to break with the party of their forefathers and join the Populists. Many, however, were unwilling to take what was, for southerners, a radical step. Southern Democrats, for their part, responded to the Populist challenge with electoral fraud and racial demagoguery.
Both severely limited Populist gains. The alliance struggled to balance the pervasive white supremacy of the American South with their call for a grand union of the producing class.
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American racial attitudes—and their virulent southern strain—simply proved too formidable. Democrats race-baited Populists, and Populists capitulated. Racial mistrust and division remained the rule, even among Populists, and even in North Carolina, where a political marriage of convenience between Populists and Republicans resulted in the election of Populist Marion Butler to the Senate.
Populists opposed Democratic corruption, but this did not necessarily make them champions of interracial democracy. Populism exploded in popularity. The first major political force to tap into the vast discomfort of many Americans with the disruptions wrought by industrial capitalism, the Populist Party seemed poise to capture political victory. And yet, even as Populism gained national traction, the movement was stumbling. The Omaha platform was a radical document, and some state party leaders selectively embraced its reforms.
More importantly, the institutionalized parties were still too strong, and the Democrats loomed, ready to swallow Populist frustrations and inaugurate a new era of American politics. William Jennings Bryan March 19, —July 26, accomplished many different things in his life: he was a skilled orator, a Nebraska congressman, a three-time presidential candidate, U. In terms of his political career, he won national renown for his attack on the gold standard and his tireless promotion of free silver and policies for the benefit of the average American.
Although Bryan was unsuccessful in winning the presidency, he forever altered the course of American political history. Bryan was born in Salem, Illinois, in to a devout family with a strong passion for law, politics, and public speaking. At twenty, he attended Union Law College in Chicago and passed the bar shortly thereafter. Bryan later won recognition as one of the greatest speakers in American history. When economic depressions struck the Midwest in the late s, despairing farmers faced low crop prices and found few politicians on their side.
While many rallied to the Populist cause, Bryan worked from within the Democratic Party, using the strength of his oratory. I could move them as I chose. I have more than usual power as a speaker.
16. Capital and Labor
God grant that I may use it wisely. Although he lost a bid to join the Nebraska Senate, Bryan refocused on a much higher political position: the presidency of the United States. There, he believed he could change the country by defending farmers and urban laborers against the corruptions of big business. In —, Bryan launched a national speaking tour in which he promoted the free coinage of silver. In contrast, Republicans championed the gold standard and a flat money supply. American monetary standards became a leading campaign issue.
He astounded his listeners. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold. The Republicans ran William McKinley, an economic conservative who championed business interests and the gold standard. Bryan crisscrossed the country spreading the silver gospel. The election drew enormous attention and much emotion. Yet Bryan could not defeat McKinley. A notably high Bryan sought the presidency again in but was again defeated, as he would be yet again in Library of Congress,.
William Jennings Bryan espoused Populist politics while working within the two-party system as a Democrat. Republicans characterized this as a kind hijacking by Bryan, arguing that the Democratic Party was now a party of a radical faction of Populists. The pro-Republican magazine Judge rendered this perspective in a political cartoon showing Bryan representing Populism writ large as huge serpent swallowing a bucking mule representing the Democratic party. Political Cartoon, Judge, Socialists argued that wealth and power were consolidated in the hands of too few individuals, that monopolies and trusts controlled too much of the economy, and that owners and investors grew rich while the workers who produced their wealth, despite massive productivity gains and rising national wealth, still suffered from low pay, long hours, and unsafe working conditions.
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Karl Marx had described the new industrial economy as a worldwide class struggle between the wealthy bourgeoisie, who owned the means of production, such as factories and farms, and the proletariat, factory workers and tenant farmers who worked only for the wealth of others. American socialist leader Eugene Victor Debs, The socialist movement drew from a diverse constituency.
Party membership was open to all regardless of race, gender, class, ethnicity, or religion. They were joined by masses of American laborers from across the United States: factory workers, miners, railroad builders, tenant farmers, and small farmers all united under the red flag of socialism. Many united with labor leader William D. Socialist mayors were elected in thirty-three cities and towns, from Berkeley, California, to Schenectady, New York, and two socialists—Victor Berger from Wisconsin and Meyer London from New York—won congressional seats.
All told, over one thousand socialist candidates won various American political offices. Julius A. Debs, the Indiana-born Socialist Party candidate for president, received almost one million votes, or 6 percent of the total. Over the following years, however, the embrace of many socialist policies by progressive reformers, internal ideological and tactical disagreements, a failure to dissuade most Americans of the perceived incompatibility between socialism and American values, and, especially, government oppression and censorship, particularly during and after World War I, ultimately sank the party.
Like the Populists, however, socialists had tapped into a deep well of discontent, and their energy and organizing filtered out into American culture and American politics. The march of capital transformed patterns of American life.