Category Archives: American History.

USA: Untold History


It has been said that when you’re defending you’re losing. Oliver Stone has become a media darling in the USA and spends his days defending his perception of reality. With heavyweight historian Prof Peter Kuznick on his side it might be best if Stone stops defending and allows this 10 part documentary series and 750 page tome speak for themselves. If that were to happen then ‘Untold History’ or, more accurately, ‘Overtold History’, citing over 2,000 ‘Told History’ sources in 14 Chapters might end up on the immaculate shelves of Democrats with voracious appetites for sinister reasons to despise Republicanism.

Historians agree that History must be challenged. Stone & Kuznick argue that the narrative of American history, devoted to liberty and justice, is only part of the story, “We must understand our history; it helps us to shape the here and now.”[1] The authors are recent arrivals in a line of revisionist historians presenting known facts in a skewed order leading to a skewed conclusion.  One wonders if the next revisionist historian to reinterpret this work may be a ‘post-revisionist’.

The inspiration for this journey through America’s ‘untold history’ may be the valiant Maj Gen Smedley Butler who won numerous medals for heroic escapades. He once wrote, “I helped make the world safe for American oil interests. I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”[2] Stone & Kuznick use Butler’s words as a foundation stone for their flawed reconstructed interpretation, “War is a racket as US troop’s storm their way around the world to defend American capitalism.”

Once one is willing to accept this argument then the rest flows very naturally and the main players, presidents, politicians, soldiers, bankers and businessmen in the saga are either good (Democrats) or evil (Republicans). The book contends that the ongoing construction of the rapidly expanding ‘American Empire’ is leaving in its wake a trail of chaos preventing America from playing a role in advancing rather than retarding humanity. The USA, claim the writers, have remained in the grip of militarists and empire builders and presidents have been “brainwashed” into sustaining the repressive state that oversees US domination of the world.

The two main heroes here are Henry Wallace who urged the United States to usher in what he called “the century of the common man” and JFK who by 1963 was on the verge of rejecting Cold War thinking and leading the USA on the road to peace and prosperity. Wallace was vilified, by all but Kennedy, for suggesting the banning of colonialism and economic exploitation. Kennedy’s death handed back the country to dark ‘enemies’ who wanted war and repression.[3]

Stone & Kuznick suggest modern America has been created by these ‘enemies’, a minority of wealthy Americans exerting control over US domestic and foreign policy while the masses experience rapid diminution of power and living standards, “Americans are now victims of intrusive surveillance, government intrusion, abuse of civil liberties, and loss of privacy.”[4] In the United States those who are driven by personal greed and self-interest are empowered over those who extol kindness, generosity, compassion, sharing, empathy, and community building.

Such are some of the issues addressed in these pages which attempts to advance President John Quincy Adam’s condemnation of British colonialism and declaration that the USA, “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy”[5] Stone & Kuznick are left-leaning historians seeking deliverance from the evils of society and, it seems, liberation cannot come from politicians but some badly defined movement envisaged as US citizens learning the lessons of this ‘Untold History’.

The ‘revelation’ that America is ‘imperialist’ is timeworn. The US expansionist impulse exists since the earliest British colonies, an impulse later embodied in “Manifest Destiny” and reflected in the Monroe Doctrine; “since the first settlers America was an imperial nation”[6] The American Empire is exceptional; it is concerned with economic domination not controlling populations. The USA has resorted to force to protect those economic interests. Recent Pentagon figures indicate that the USA had military presence in 132 nations.[7]

The American Empire has evolved over a century. After fulfilling what journalist John L. O’Sullivan termed its “Manifest Destiny” by spreading across North America, the United States looked overseas. As the Europeans seized land in the late 19th century Henry Cabot Lodge observed, “the great nations are rapidly absorbing for their future expansion and their present defence all the waste places of the Earth”, he urged the USA to move quickly to make up for much lost time.[8]

The USA needed markets abroad to absorb its growing overproduction surplus. Capitalists endorsed the approach thereby ensuring to involve USA in world affairs. American industrialists prospered and demanded compliant foreign governments protecting their interests. Political instability afforded the USA a pretext to intervene militarily and reinstall governments.[9] In short, argue Stone & Kuznick, the globalisation of American democracy proceeded at gunpoint financed by capitalists. To trace the roots of this ‘modern evil’ one needs to return to President Woodrow Wilson.

Stone & Kuznick claim Wilson had major weaknesses, “descended from Presbyterian ministers, moralistic and self-righteously inflexible. He believed he was carrying out God’s plan”.[10] Wilson disapproved of radicalism and expressed greater sympathy for business than for labour, “Wilson abhorred radical change. A true diehard imperialist he refused to recognise the Mexican government and sent thousands of American troops to the Mexican border.[11]

While the United States was busy policing its neighbours to the south, more ominous developments were occurring in Europe. Wilson was not to know that the predominantly European bloodletting – the Great War, World War I – would be only the start of an era of unending warfare and horrific violence, human and technological barbarism on an unimaginable scale, which would later come to be known as the American Century. Americans of all political persuasions feared getting dragged into Europe’s bloodletting. Antiwar sentiment held strong and despite overwhelming sympathy for the allies, the United States declared neutrality in the war; “we have to be neutral,” Wilson explained, “since otherwise our mixed populations would wage war on each other.” [12] American neutrality existed in principle but not in practice. Economic interests clearly placed the United States in the Allied camp.

After the sinking of the Lusitania Roosevelt called for war. Despite initial disclaimers, the ship was in fact carrying a large cargo of arms to Great Britain. Though Wilson had won re-election in 1916 under the slogan “He kept us out of war,” he was increasingly coming to believe that if the United States didn’t join the war, it would be denied a role in shaping the post-war world. [13] In April 1917, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war, saying, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Opponents attacked Wilson as a tool of Wall Street. “We are about to put the dollar on the American flag,” charged Sen George Norris of Nebraska. [14] The American public were not enthusiastic to take part in the Great War but the propaganda machine quickly took control of public opinion and became a central element in all future war planning. “During the war period it came to be recognised that the mobilisation of men and means was not sufficient; there must be a mobilisation of opinion.” [15] Stone & Kuznick argue that the war years did, however, bring on unprecedented collusion between large corporations and government in an attempt to rationalise and stabilise the economy, control unfettered competition, and guarantee profits – something that top bankers and corporate executives had striven for decades to achieve. As a result, American banks and corporations thrived during the war, with munitions makers leading the pack.

In Paris on January 12, 1919 Wilson’s “fourteen points” proved a weak foundation on which to base negotiations. The Allies balked at Wilson’s terms. They had little interest in making the world safe for democracy, freedom of the seas, and “peace without victory.” They wanted revenge, new colonies, and naval dominance. Europe was crumbling, starvation was rampant, disease was spreading and displaced populations were seeking refuge. Few of Wilson’s 14 points remained in the final treaty.

Wilson’s verbal promises to spread democracy and end colonialism were broken with his actions. Bankers and munitions manufacturers brought America into WW1 and Wilson’s ineffectiveness about settlements and League of Nations created American scepticism about international involvement and hampered America’s response to the threat of advancing fascism in the 1930’s.

History would soon prove that Wilson had reason to be alarmed at the radical tide sweeping Europe and beyond. American workers also participated in the radical upsurge; steelworkers, miners and textile workers went on strike for higher wages but were soon to learn that police, courts, troops, and the entire apparatus of the state would be arrayed against them when they struggled for better conditions, higher pay and the right to join unions. Thousands of alleged radicals were arrested and many were incarcerated without charges for months. J Edgar Hoover headed up the campaign against the “un-Americanism” and by 1921 he had compiled a list of over half a million potentially subversive individuals, groups, and publications.

Historians have long since discredited the myth that revulsion caused by the war and European entanglements plunged the United States into isolationism in the 1920s. In fact, World War I marked the end of European dominance and the ascendancy of the United States and Japan, the wars two real victors. The 1920s saw a rapid expansion of American business and finance around the globe. New York replaced London as the centre of world finance. The era of US domination of the world economy had now begun. Among the leaders in this effort were the oil companies. The war proved that controlling oil companies was central to projecting and exercising power.

But some people nevertheless clung to the belief that the United States had engaged in a great crusade for freedom and democracy, but for many the phrase rang hollow. Some expressed anger at the war. Others just expressed profound sense of post-war malaise. Hollywood produced several successful anti-war movies including “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930). The war proved demoralising and now seemed to showcase barbarism and depravity, “Put simply, the faith in human capability and human decency had disappeared. Negative views of human nature were reflected in a loss of faith in essential human capabilities.”[16]

Thus the war would have consequences that went far beyond the horrors of the battlefield. The United States never joined the League of Nations, rendering that body impotent in the face of Fascist aggression in the 1930s. Revelations that the United States had entered the First World War on false pretences, while bankers and munitions manufacturers – later labelled “merchants of death” – had raked in huge profits, created widespread scepticism about foreign involvement at a time when the United States needed to contend with a real “axis of evil”: Germany, Italy, and Japan. By the time the United States acted, it was much too late. The necessity of finally combating fascism would, however, afford the United States an opportunity to reclaim some of that democratic, egalitarian heritage on which its earliest greatness and moral leadership had rested. And, though late in entering World War II, the United States provided crucial assistance in defeating Europe’s fascists and played the decisive role in defeating Japan’s militarists. But by setting up the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the war, the United States, once again, proved itself unready to provide the kind of leadership a desperate world cried out for.

By 1920 the world was on the mend from the Great War but by 1930, problems seemed insurmountable. The United States was in the worst depression in its history, the banking system had collapsed, bread lines formed in every town and city, homeless walked the streets, and misery was ubiquitous, despair pervasive. [17] The rest of the world was also in bad shape and had not experienced the relative prosperity in the 1920s that had  that cushioned America. In Europe the trouble was looming Mussolini was in power in Italy, Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany and in 1931 Japanese forces had seized Manchuria. Roosevelt had attacked Pres Hoover for spending too aggressively and unbalancing the budget. He acknowledged the suffering of the people and called for a “new deal.” He had to solve some very real and very practical problems. Thus after his election the first issue he was to deal with was that of the banking system. “But Roosevelt connected with a deeper reality: Americans’ desperate need for renewed hope and confidence. And that he set out to restore”.[18]

In 1940, Stone & Kuznick write, Roosevelt first named his brilliant secretary of agriculture, Henry Wallace, as his running mate thus overruling reluctant party bosses. Four years later, with Roosevelt’s health declining the party bosses knew that the nominee for vice president might well soon become president so they conspired to dump Wallace and replace him with Harry Truman. Too enfeebled to put up any fight Roosevelt still made it clear in an open letter to the Democratic convention that he wanted Wallace. Rank-and-file Democrats rose up against “the bosses” stranglehold over the convention and mounted a demonstration and very nearly nominated Wallace, but were caught short when the bosses forced adjournment against the wishes of the delegates. Truman prevailed and thus came about the first major setback to hopes for a peaceful post-war world. Stone & Kuznick contend that History might have turned out more happily if only this virtual conspiracy to undermine Wallace never took place. In fact Wallace was a major source of concern for party bosses primarily because of his esoteric interests. He once said of himself, “I am a searcher for methods of bringing the ‘inner light’ to outward manifestation”. This search put him under the influence of some oddball prophets. These abstruse interests along with political incapacity gave Wallace notoriety in Washington and his critics deemed him unfit for presidency. Wallace himself was very aware of the fact that Roosevelt had little or no confidence in him as presidential material, “I am certain that the president wanted to ditch me as noiselessly as possible.”

By the time Roosevelt was inaugurated, banking had been halted completely or sharply limited everywhere. Conditions were ripe for dramatic changes in the banking system public anger against bankers had been building since the stock market crash. The media of the day exposed fraud and wrong doing on the part of the nation’s top bankers, including obscene salaries, unpaid taxes, hidden bonuses, unethical loans, and more. Magazines began calling bankers “banksters.”

In this climate, Roosevelt had pretty much a free hand to do what he wanted. He declared a four-day national bank holiday, conferred with the nation’s top bankers on his first full day in office, called a special session of Congress to pass emergency legislation, and calmed citizens fears with the first of his famous fireside chats. Congress passed and Roosevelt signed the emergency banking act, written largely by the bankers themselves. The banking system had been restored without radical change.

Roosevelt’s solution to the banking crisis would serve as a template for how he would handle most issues and his instincts were fundamentally conservative. He would save capitalism from the capitalists. He would face allegations that his “new Deal” was fascistic. In fact, in 1976 Ronald Reagan claimed that “fascism was really the basis of the new Deal.” [19] There was great uncertainty about where Roosevelt was taking the country, leading some observers to compare the United States with Fascist Italy. Some News magazines were unabashed supporters of Mussolini and extolled Italian fascism which they claimed embodied ancient virtues of the race including discipline, duty, courage, glory and sacrifice. [20]

Roosevelt focused from the outset on jumpstarting the US economy and getting Americans back to work. Solving international problems would take a back seat. Roosevelt’s inward looking approach was apparent across the board. He repudiated his earlier support for joining the League of Nations and willingly sacrificed foreign trade in order to stimulate domestic recovery. He even took steps to reduce the countries 140,000 man army which prompted a visit by secretary of war George Dern. Dern brought along Gen Douglas MacArthur, who told the President that he was endangering the country’s safety.

Following FDR’s death and Truman’s arrival as president in the Oval Office came ‘disaster’. The United States dropped atomic bombs even though, according to the authors, the Japanese already knew they were defeated. Truman dropped the bombs to intimidate Stalin into post-war submission and a combination of the Truman Doctrine, the Berlin airlift and the Marshall Plan led the Soviets into the Cold War and a conflict which escalated into a nuclear arms race that imperilled civilisation with the only objector being Wallace whom FDR appointed secretary of commerce. This all sounds logical in theory but the reality is far different. The authors offer no real evidence to back their claim that the Japanese was close to surrender prior to events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Historians generally accept the Japanese were not close to ‘unconditional surrender’ and would fight hard for a ‘mild’ negotiated settlement to protect their adored Emperor. This being true then Stone & Kuznick’s basic contention that Truman was less than honest about his motive for dropping the bomb, namely, to spare American GI lives, and the chain of events that followed including the Cold War, Soviet paranoia,  McCarthyism and the Cuban Missile crisis would never have occurred. There are ample grounds to condemn some of Truman’s actions, not least the loyalty oath program in 1947 but by glorifying Wallace by stating what could have happened the authors merely indulge in serious conjecture. In its most basic form the Cold War was about Liberalism versus Communism and the reality is that each side could learn from the other. The Cold War was the driving force of the American Empire.

Stone & Kuznick’s book and TV series presented as new has a misleading title. Most of the interpretations they present from the war in the Philippines to Afghanistan have appeared in revisionist histories of American foreign policy written over the last 50 years. The authors have conceded this point in their sources and claimed that what they call their “revisionist narrative” that informs their book has become “the dominant narrative among university-based historians.”

The authors devote themselves almost entirely to America’s role in world affairs since 1900 and particularly since 1939. Their aim is to describe America’s seizure of global supremacy during and after World War II, and its imperial exploits up to the present day. It is a tale of good and bad men but mostly bad. By the 1920s the Democratic Republic all but disappeared to make way for an America whose unique mixture of idealism, militarism, avarice, and realpolitik propelled it toward becoming a world power. The book is not so much a work of history than a slanted political document restating and updating a particular view of the world that leaves plenty of space for further historical revisionism. No doubt that too shall come.

[1]Stone, O. & Kuznick, P., 2013. The Untold History of the United States. 2013 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[2]Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove, Voices of a People’s History of the United States, 2nd. ed. (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2009), pp251-252

[3]Stone, O. & Kuznick, P., 2013. The Untold History of the United States. 2013 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[4]Stone, O. & Kuznick, P., 2013. The Untold History of the United States. 2013 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[5]Gardner, L. C., LaFeber, W. F. & McCormick, T. J., 1976. Creation of the American Empire (United States Diplomatic History to 1901). Chicago: Rand McNally College Publishing.

[6]Kennedy, P., 2002. The Eagle Has Landed. Financial Times, 22 February.

[7]Freedland, J., 2002. Is America the New Rome?. Guardian, 18th September.

[8]Shoultz, L., 1998. Beneath the United States: A History of US Policy Toward Latin America. 1998 ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts.: Harvard University Press.

[9]Stone, O. & Kuznick, P., 2013. The Untold History of the United States. 2013 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[10]Stone, O. & Kuznick, P., 2013. The Untold History of the United States. 2013 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[11]Hofstadter, R., 1949. The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

[12]Herring, G. C., 2008. From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations since 1776. New York: Oxford University Press.

[13]Herring, G. C., 2008. From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations since 1776. New York: Oxford University Press.

[14]Knock, T. J., 1992. To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order. New York: Oxford University Press.

[15]Lasswell, H. D., 1927. Propaganda Technique in the World War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

[16]Stone, O. & Kuznick, P., 2013. The Untold History of the United States. 2013 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[17]Kennedy, P., 2002. The Eagle Has Landed. Financial Times, 22 February.

[18]Stone, O. & Kuznick, P., 2013. The Untold History of the United States. 2013 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[19]Reagan, R., 1976. The Nation: I’ve Had a Bum Rap. Time, 17th May, p. 19.

[20]Michael Augspurger, “Henry Luce, Fortune, and the Attraction of Italian Fascism,” American Studies 41 (Spring 2000), p115


American Culture.

The Birth Of The Great American Dream.


In 1850 Isaac Singer improved the design of a sewing machine similar to one patented by Elias Howe Jnr and within ten years he was a wealthy man. This was a machine everyone wanted as the textile industry was on the rise and the sewing machine meant many people could work from home. The factories farmed out work to private homes and those with sewing machines could finish this work much faster than any people using older techniques. This optimistic response to technological change was typical of the 1850s, technology was seen as a gift from God to advance mankind, the telegraph, cotton gin, steam engine and mechanical reaper prompted utopian hopes for a greater future. But technology also had its critics and active enemies. The newly invented revolver was useless for all but one purpose, to settle private scores. The farm women who had made a successful living sewing by hand at home were replaced in the inner cities by working women with sewing machines or in sweatshops. Philosophers and artists were worried about the changing landscape while conservationists made efforts to preserve enclaves as retreats from the ‘evils’ of progress.

Technology drew praise from all sides. Machines were doing the work of people without food or clothing and it was improving society for the betterment of all. In antebellum America the sweeping changes brought about by steam engines, cotton gin, the reaper and the telegraph, mostly European inventions, but Americans had a knack for improving them, was transforming society. But technology did not benefit all. The cotton gin created a greater demand for slaves in the south, machines did the work of artisans who lost their livelihoods and women who had a chance to make a living from home soon lost that chance. Meanwhile, improving transportation, increasing productivity and advancing technology lowered commodity prices and raised living standards for many Americans.

In 1830 the movement west had advanced to Ohio and Kentucky where land alternated with forest and prairie soil, though fertile, was tough. John Deere identified this problem and invented a steel tipped plow that cut the work in half. Settlers saw this plow as a means to open up new lands and found themselves moving into new areas near woodlands and forests where timber could be found to build new homes and fencing. Wheat became to the west what cotton was to the south and gave great purpose to farming. Technology enhanced the working of wheat to quicker and bigger harvests and in 1834 the horse drawn mechanical reaper harvested grain seven times faster than by hand. The mechanical reaper guaranteed that wheat would dominate the Midwestern prairies.

Industrial advancement owed a great debt  to effective use of machine tools, power machines that cut and shaped metal to precise requirements. Americans were importing machine tools technology from Britain and very quickly the hand filing of parts became obsolete. After mid century this system of interchanging parts was known as ‘the American system of manufacturing’ and demonstrated that Americans were willing to resort to machines as a substitute for manual labor. Interchangeable parts made replacement parts possible and improved machine tools enabled entrepreneurs to push for greater product and profit. Worker specialization meant faster productivity. After the transmission of the first telegraph in 1844 Americans seized the technology to eliminate the constraints of time and space. By 1852 thousands of miles of telegraph lines connected cities far apart and the era of intercity communication was established.

The railroad  had the most dramatic effect on antebellum America. By 1850 ordinary Americans could travel three times faster than by horse. Americans loved railroads but they had hurdles to overcome to perfect the system of rail and railway travel. But the railroad was unstoppable because it had become the great agent of civilization and progress. Between 1840 and 1860 American society had transformed with the railway systems which had become powerful and convenient. By 1860 the Americans had more track than the rest of the world combined. Canals too were n the rise but railways overtook them . Major cities expanded into thriving hubs and linked the east to the west. The dramatic growth of Chicago illustrates the impact of expanding railway lines. In 1849 Chicago was just a village but by 1860 it had become a major city. Rail lines also stimulated the settlement of the mid west and increased the value of farmland and promoted additional settlement. Industrial development prospered and even small towns along routes made money from traffic and estate speculation. Hotels, lumberyards, grain elevators and mills sprang up ins mall towns and by the Civil War the concept of ‘frontiers’ were all but forgotten. Railways were the nations first big business and they transformed the way business was done. Railroad expansion turned New York City into the center of modern investment firms as New York Stock Exchange became the home of investment for those wanting to make money buying and selling shares, not only in the railroad system, but, in time other commodities too.

Technological advances reduced prices for consumers and the widening use of steam power led to longer working hours and better wages. The growth of towns and cities also contributed to incomes. Thriving cities gave extra work to out of season farmers and their families so cash could be earned all year round instead of just for a few months of the year. Women and children too went to work and earned money as opposed to working for no cash on their farms. Many families lived close to the margin and such families needed as much income as could be earned. The quality of life in urban communities was not necessarily superior to rural life but because of economic conditions rural dwellers were financially better off. The comforts and conveniences of city life explain the mass movement of people during the mid 19th century into cities.

As technology progressed its benefits seemed a little uneven. The middle classes were the biggest winners. Domestic life was improving rapidly as new inventions such as stoves enhanced the lifestyles of those who could afford them. Clothing of fine quality was widely available, and the shops were filling up with new inventions, new household utensils, new products imported from far and wide for those who prospered and had the finances to avail of them. The patent office was saturated with new ideas for domestic tools and equipment including new flytraps, household appliances, cleaning products and foodstuffs. While the middle classes enjoyed luxurious lives the poorer lived in squalid tenements. However, all seemed to welcome the age of technological change and all it’s gifts to mankind.

Timber houses that had flourished in the early 19th century began to give way to more orderly rows of brick homes which were a response to rising land prices. Middle class homes were luxurious and elegant while working class housing, usually occupied by Irish Catholics and Free Blacks, were very rudimentary and designed for multiple families. These were known as tenements and mostly owned by ruthless Landlords charging exorbitant rents that could only be afforded by families sharing small rooms. Furnishings also elevated the class divide with the wealthier spending money on high class furnishings and ornaments usually placed in public areas of the home (like the parlor) where they could be seen by visitors while other parts of the home were furnished more sparsely. Rural living was a bit more comfortable as new styles and techniques of building enhanced comfort. Advancing transport systems gave rise to new materials and furnishings becoming widely available at friendly prices and thus middle class rural dwellers could live comfortable quite lives in relative luxury and tranquility which is what most people strived for.

Although life in the 19th century was somewhat primitive by today’s standards it was still one of impressive quality to those who enjoyed the daily spoils and advantages of an ever growing economy. Stoves had arrived into most homes and the quality and variety of diets became more versatile. The new railways systems brought food and vegetables into towns and villages that locals had not seen or heard of in the past. Even foodstuffs grown thousands of miles away could still be found in stores at friendly prices and thus the diet of most Americans became very varied. New water systems such as aqueducts were being constructed all over civilized America and families started to live healthier lives with the availability of free flowing water. Despite improvements home comforts were somewhat limited. Coal fires lasted longer than wood but caused pollution. Carbon monoxide emissions created health risks, even though most people were oblivious to its existence, food stuffs could not be preserved so had to be consumed as quickly as possible. Ice boxes did not exist so meat could only be preserved using salt which accounts for the popularity of pork which tasted more pleasant than salted beef. Public waterworks were impressive but not yet widespread. It was usually a very upper class areas that had access to water hydrants and bats and showers could only happen by boiling water pot by pot. Most working class people only bathed once a year and thus urban life consisted of many pungent smells, rat infestation was common as a result of poor sanitary conditions, wild animals such a s hogs roamed the streets (often captured and eaten in poorer areas) and piles of horse manure and human waste gathered on the streets and created, in intense heat, a dangerous environment that would create health problems for many who were ignorant of the source of their ill health.

Primary Source

Boyer, Clark & Halttunen

The Enduring Vision

American Politics.


Dorothea Dix was a 19th century reformer who launched  her career in March 1841 when she became infuriated at the mistreatment of patients in a mental institution in Massachusetts. She successfully petitioned to have heating for patients in such institutions and by doing so she launched her career as an advocate for humanitarian treatment of the mentally ill. Like so many women and men of her era she was motivated primarily by a deep religious conviction and she was only one of many such people living throught the ‘second great awakening’ that was to shape a host of reforms that swept the United States after 1820.

The Republican Party of 1824 was under increasing pressure brought about by westward expansion, industrialization and cotton cultivation in the south. These forces would eventually split republicans into two groups – those who thought state control was the way forward became Democrats and those who sought national control became National Republicans or Whigs.

Political democratization took several forms. States started to abolish exclusivity of voting rights to landowners. Formerly appointive offices became elective and as the voting landscape changed so did control of power. It was now necessary to court voters and this meant grand parties, hosting of community leaders to political affairs and enamoring the voters with charm and diplomacy to ensure office was secured. Transportation and communications system were changing and thus the electorate became more politically astute and well informed. Women a free blacks were disenfranchised but opposition to ‘common people’ (meaning adult white males) was becoming a formula for political suicide.

In 1824 sectional tensions brought the ‘era of good feeling’ to an abrupt end. Five candidates ran for office of President and John Quincy Adams was favorite whose only real opposition was Andrew Jackson. He went on to win more popular votes than any candidate but failed to gain a majority as demanded by the constitution. It had to go to the House Of Representatives for a final decision but another candidate, third in the running, Henry Clay of Kentucky aligned himself to Adams in a trade for a high office deal and so Jackson’s hopes were immediately dashed. The so called ‘corrupt bargain’ was to cast a long dark shadow over Adams term of office.  Adams sought ‘improvement’ in education, communication, transport but his ambitions met with growing political opposition and his views only guaranteed him one term of office.

As Adams’ popularity declined Jackson’s rose. Jackson was a war hero and a link to the glorious past and Jackson’s widespread support created a modern political machine that would create a new political system; Adams men or National Republicans and Jackson’s men Democratic Republicans. The only one to truly recognize this fact was Martin Van Buren who saw that the two-party system of politics where the splintered political system could be naturally divided into two opposing groups. Then the parties could compete and a winner would emerge. Jackson ran for the newly renamed Democratic Party and was successful while Adams ran for the National Republicans thereby giving shape to the American two party system. The mudslinging began almost immediately with allegations of murder, debauchery and extravagance being thrown from both sides but Jackson’s team had better aim after Adams men accused Jackson of being an illiterate backwoods man and thereby characterizing him as a ‘common man’ which was exactly what the people seemed to want in office. Jackson won the election with more than twice the electoral vote of Adams. The popular vote was much closer which highlighted the reality of the sectional bases of both parties and the accuracy of Van Burens astuteness in observing that the American political landscape was changed forever.

As an opponent of corruption and privilege Jackson made the civil service his first target. He enforced the ‘rotation’ system and made sweeping changes to staff holding high office. But his motives were questioned by his enemies as ‘the spoils system’ and those selected for high office seemed to be more friends than enemies. This was a start of a new Presidency that would be rife with problems and the first major one was the Nullification Crisis.?

Jackson and his vice president John C. Calhoun, an ardent nationalist, had presidential notions and wanted to succeed Jackson after only one term. To do this he had to maintain the support of the South which was growing opposed to Tariffs which they blamed for migration of cotton cultivation, dramatic increases in cotton and reduction in British demand for their products. However, opposition was not just economic. Southerners believed that if the Federal government could interfere with one law it could interfere with another and thus ‘slavery’ could arrive on the table for abolition. Moods were changing in relation to slavery across the nation and newspapers such as The Liberator had come into being and they wanted slavery abolished as quickly as possible. The big issue between Jackson and Calhoun was the question of the Tariff of 1828.

The Tariff of 1828 was a protective tariff passed by the Congress of the United States on May 19, 1828, designed to protect industry in the northern United States. It was labeled the Tariff of Abominations by its southern detractors because of the effects it had on the antebellum Southern economy. The major goal of the tariff was to protect industries in the northern United States which were being driven out of business by low-priced imported goods by putting a tax on them. The South, however, was harmed directly by having to pay higher prices on goods the region did not produce, and indirectly because reducing the exportation of British goods to the US made it difficult for the British to pay for the cotton they imported from the South. The reaction in the South, particularly in South Carolina, would lead to the Nullification Crisis that began in late 1832. The Tariff marked the high point of US tariffs. It was approached, but not exceeded, by the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act of 1830. Calhoun opposed the tariff on constitutional grounds and embraced the view that the Union was a compact by which the states had conferred limited and specified powers on the federal government. The imposition of tariffs to raise funds for common purpose, such as defense, were constitutional to Calhoun and the enforcement of any tariff for any other purpose that could be deemed detrimental to State economic growth and prosperity could only be imposed with state co-operation and agreement. In 1828 Calhoun campaigned, against his President, arguing that aggrieved states had the right to nullify the law within its borders. Jackson responded by devising two policies; one to appease the South and one for all others. The first was to pay out surplus money to all states to balance the distribution of wealth and thus appease dissent. Secondly, Jackson wanted to reduce tariffs from sky high levels of 1828 and thus appeased Calhoun who did not want to be seen to be at loggerheads with Jackson but Southerners remained dissatisfied. Calhoun and Jackson had other personal problems with each other and these were added to when Jackson discovered that Calhoun had been a long time enemy of his and had advocated punishment for him in the past for his unauthorized raid into Spanish Florida. Jackson wanted to eliminate Calhoun from public life at all costs. The stage was now set for the Nullification Crisis. In 1831 Calhoun  admitted to his opposition to Jackson  and some months lat in 1832 a South Carolina convention nullified the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 and so Jackson went to war with Calhoun. He sent weapons to loyal Unionists in Carolina and in December 1832 he issued a proclamation that, while promising South Carolinians further tariff reductions, condemned nullification as unconstitutional which he emphasized had established a ‘single nation’ not a league of states. The crisis eased when Jackson signed into law two measures (the olive branch and the sword) namely, a Compromise Tariff Bill of 1833 which provided for a gradual reduction  of duties between 1833 and 1842. The sword was the Force Bill which allowed the president to use arms to collect customs duties in South Carolina which nullified it immediately but accepted the Compromise Tariff Bill. The nullifies defiantly toasted their success and commended ‘the great compromiser’ Kentuckian Henry Clay who had negotiated the peace deal and, according to Southerners, ‘saved the country’ by his efforts.

The gap between rich and poor was widening in the 1830s and Jackson blamed this on Banking. He was not a successful businessman in the past and despised banks. He had no issue with individual wealth accumulation but wanted to obliterate wealth accumulation through corruption and privileges. The Second Bank of the United States had a monopoly over funding to state banks and also had the right to demand repayments in specie (gold or silver). The government had little or no control over the banks and Jackson wanted to end this situation. Henry Clay courted the banks in a bid to help him win the White House and managed to fast track a Bill that would secure banks from government control. Jackson vetoed the Bill and denounced the banks as a private and privileged monopoly that drained the west of specie, eluded state taxation and made the rich richer and the potent more powerful. Clay failed to persuade congress to override Jackson’s veto and pinned his hopes on gaining the presidency himself. Jackson had made his position clear on many issues. He was a staunch defender of Unionist philosophy but he believed that the states were too diverse to take instruction from Washington. The safest way was to allow state freedom so that they would remain content and reject dangerous doctrines like nullification.  Breaking his promise to retire he ran again and was successful and now ready to dismantle the Bank of the United States.

Jackson’s veto of the re-charter ignited controversy. The opposition were not happy about his efforts to destroy the Bank and this created greater public interest in politics and the economy. By 1840 the Whigs and the Democrats were fundamentally divided over the bank. Money took the form of IOUs (promises to redeem in specie) and they fuelled economic development by making business easier. But when notes depreciated because of public doubts about a banks solvency, wage earners suffered because they were paid in paper rather than specie. Paper money also encouraged economic speculation. Farmers who had bought land on credit were left in debt when prices dropped. Would the US embrace swift economic development at the price of speculators languishing while others got rich or would the nation opt for modest growth based on honest hard work and frugality? Between 1833 and 1840 these questions were dominant.

Jackson could have let the Bank to die in 1836 but he feared its power and decided to act fast. The Bank anticipated the move and started to call in loans and credit. Jackson reacted by removing federal deposits and place them in state banks but the move backfired. The state banks got cash rich and started to loan out large sums of cash for land purchase and thus Jackson’s policy was producing the very kind of economy he wanted to suppress.

During Jackson’s second term the opposition gave way to the new Whig Party and his opponents promptly aligned themselves to this new political entity. Southerners saw it as a chance to punish Jackson for his stance on nullification and his war on the Banks created similar results.  Southerners also feared the lack of wealth distribution on internal improvements and that it was unfairly balanced between north and south. This would mean that Southerners would lag behind the wealthier north and so much money was tied up in slavery that it made the situation more volatile as a mood of anti-slavery was creeping in outside the southern states.

Northern reformers were also working against Jackson and wanted slavery and liquor abolished, education improved and the general elevation of public morality. Reformers found the Whigs more attractive than the Democrats. The Whigs wanted more involvement in society and the economy while the Democrats believed that it was not good to impose uniform ds on a diverse society. The reformers, mostly Protestant, despised Irish Catholics and saw them as drunken lazy slobs and the Irish went into the Democratic Party. By 1836 the Whigs had become a national party with broad appeal in both North and South.

Jackson’s popularity was a tough act to follow and the Whigs could not succeed, in this short time, in taking the White House. However, even though Martin Van Buren won for the Democrats it was obvious that trouble lay ahead because of the loss of Democratic votes to the Whigs who came close to victory.

After Jackson’s departure the Panic of 1837 began. In 1835 and 1836 the banking credit and loans business was booming and commodity and land prices soared. But in May 1837 prices began to tumble  and bank after bank began to suspend specie payments. After a short rally by 1839 the banks began to collapse and The Bank Of The United States failed and banks throughout the nation began to collapse. The ensuing recession was severe as wages fell, prices soared and the population saw this as punishment from God and the end of the world was imminent.

Van Buren ran again for the Democrats while the Whigs opted for a single candidate (not to make the same mistakes of 1836), William Harrison, a farmer with few enemies. The Democrats made a fatal mistake and tagged him “Old Granny” a man who loved sipping cider in his old Log Cabin but the tag backfired because the image of an ordinary man being victimized by an aristocratic Van Buren who lived in regal splendor drinking fine wines while people were hungry on the streets. The Whigs used Democratic tactics against the Democratic candidate. Harrison had a clear victory because of economic depression and the ‘log cabin’ campaign but there was also another factor. The social and moral reform movements that emerged in the 1830s were gaining momentum and they originated not in politics, but in religion.

Historians contend that in 19th Century America religion was the foremost of the political institutions. In other states religion and politics were at odds with each other but in America they were intimately united. However, this is not to say that religion ruled but that it was compatible with politics rather than antagonistic.  Just as Americans expected politicians to address the common man they also insisted that ministers preach to ordinary people. Ministers had to speak the language of the heart and not theological complexities. They also insisted on doctrines that put individuals in charge of their own destiny and that anyone could attain heaven. In short, Americans wanted a ‘democratic’ heaven over which they could have some control. The harmony between religion and politics gave rise to the religious revivals known as The Second Great Awakening.

The Second Great Awakening: This ignited in the 1790s and swept across America during the half century that followed. But as the revivals progressed they also transformed. The second coming of Jesus was proclaimed and repentance was necessary in order to reap the rewards of eternal life. The most famous gathering took place in Kentucky in 1801 when a huge congregation of mixed religions assembled to hear sermons, sing hymns and be saved. The frenzy had some extreme features as men and women rolled around like logs, jerked their heads furiously and barked like dogs. The whole affair, critics claimed, was mo lustful than spiritual with “more souls begot rather than saved”. Of all the religious movements it was the Methodists that proved the most dominant. They argues that religion was about the heart and not the head. They travelled from place to place on horseback bringing with them the word of God. They went to remote areas and set up weekly classes before departing. These classes formed a Methodist code of behavior known as ‘Discipline’  which reinforced family and community values.

In the 1820s the Second Great Awakening had begun to move Eastward. The man who spearheaded the revival of New York was Charles Finney who had experienced a powerful religious conversion. He became a Presbyterian Minister and started to conduct revival camps from New York to Boston. His experience and spiritual wisdom made him ‘the father of modern revivalism’. He used techniques such as a conversion chair where people sat and were surrounded by the congregation who prayed over them to cleanse their souls for the re-entry of Jesus. Finney’s congregation would leave meetings with a cleansed soul with all guilt washed away and were ‘Born again’. Finney had a large middle class following and was also a favorite of most women whom he converted before converting their family.

The Unitarians: Revivals drew criticism. It was doubted by some that revivalists had any sacred power to change anybody and they were condemned as fakers and charlatans for trying. The influential ‘Unitarians’ who believed that Jesus was not divine but no more than a human model for moral life had some considerable support in wealthy circles. They contended that moral goodness is cultivated over time and not instantly by barking like dogs. The Unitarians, who influenced Dorothea Dix, claimed that all Christianity had one purpose: “the perfection of human nature, the elevation of men into nobler beings.”

The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons founded by Joseph Smith, a New York confused boy who grew up to create a religion founded on a discovered book of revelation pointed out to him by an Angel named Moroni. In short, Mormonism contends that an ancient Hebrew prophet came to America and created a prosperous nation  to await Jesus. Some dark sin was caused during the wait and as punishment God created the Indians who, by the time Columbus got to America, had forgotten the entire affair. Mormonism had placed America as the center of religious history. Smith revealed his ideas to doubtful Protestants and was persecuted as a heretic and he absconds to live with the Indians whom he wanted to convert. They built a city called Nauvoo in Illinois but in 1844 a group of dissident members, vexed on the plural marriage issue, had him thrown into jail and later murdered him and his brother.

Mother Ann Lee, the founder of ‘The Shakers’ had a following who believed she was the Daughter of God just as Jesus was the son of God. The Shakers had convulsive like fits while worshipping and pursued religious perfection. They produced furniture noted for it’s beauty but also strived for complete celibacy. Children would be adopted or fostered to prevent sexual activity. The practiced christian socialism and shared land and implements to create remarkably prosperous villages.

The relentless struggle for divine perfection, spiritual independence was compatible with social requirements of all individuals. Saved souls could unite in the purpose of elimination of all evil in society. To achieve this, a wide range of social services began to spring up in civilized America. Abolition of slavery, rights of women, temperance, humane treatment of criminals and the insane and public eduction were all on the reformers agenda. All conflict was perceived as the clash of good and evil and they had God on their side so could not lose. Those churches that refused to condemn any evil, mostly slavery, we’re themselves condemned. The age of Reform drew its fuel from the evangelical revivalists and they had the power of God to help them convince a spiritually malnourished society.

Early 19th century Americans were heavy drinkers. One reason for this was the state of agriculture. Prior to the transport revolution, farmers who could not transport their corn and rye began to manufacture whiskey. Drunkenness pervaded which resulted in many social problems such as domestic violence, disease and economic failure. The American Temperance Society was formed in 1826 and rapidly increased its membership nationwide. Even women and children, as victims of violence and poverty, we’re becoming members. The main targets of the temperance reformers were the working classes but the workers showed little interest until the argument that society would collapse if drinking were to take hold was floated. In dread of losing their jobs or businesses and temperance spread farther and faster as the movement won new support and now began to demand prohibition. The campaigners fought a hard but successful battle and by the 1840s consumption had dropped to less than half  it’s peak rate in the 1820s.

The typical American school in the early 19th century was rural. Reading and counting were the main activities for the classroom of mixed ages from three to twenty. Parents were satisfied with these arrangements but reformers wanted a better system to equip children for a growing economy. Reformers wanted state support for education, extending school time, standards textbooks, a grade system and compulsory attendance. The purpose of school was to spread industrial values and combat ignorance. Industry, honesty, sobriety and patriotism were the values to be instilled in all students. School reformers prevailed after a struggle because their opponents failed to unify. Women wanted reform because it would improve opportunities and they were right. By 1900 over 70% of teachers were women. The school system was soon seen as a way  for creating a common American culture out of a diverse society. However, black children did not enter public school, reformers did not include them in their plans, black children encountered hostility and violence.

Anti slavery sentiment flourished in the Revolutionary era. The northern states had emancipation schemes in place but the South had a growing dependence on slavery and that was unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. Colonization in Liberia, West Africa was a northern proposal for a solution to the problem but most African Americans did not want to be transported to a new continent. They saw themselves as African American and demanded the right to be treated as citizens of America. Black activist David Walker, born a free man, led an anti-white campaign and he urged slaves to rise up and murder their masters if slavery were not abolished. In the 1830s Black leaders began holding conventions devoted to abolishing slavery in the South and repealing discriminatory black codes in the North. White abolitionists launched campaigns to stop new slaves from being transported into the Union. William Lloyd Garrison of New England launched a newspaper ‘The Liberator’ which established him as  the most prominent and provocative of all white abolitionists. He filled his paper with stories of slave mistreatment and thereby appealed to the humanity of his vast readership to abolish slavery. He wanted immediate emancipation without compensation to slaveholders. He also wanted full equality with whites and formed the American Antislavery Society to achieve this end.

Fugitive slaves also had a role to play in abolition and the foremost of these was Frederick Douglas who wrote his autobiography which sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Relations between black and white abolitionists were not always harmonious but racial prejudices were mild by comparision to anti-abolition whites who transferred their hatred to white abolitionists. Abolitionists drew on the language of revivalists and condemned slavery as a sin but issues of strategy and tactics divided those who desired an end to slavery. Garrison advocated non resistance in which the doctrine held that the fundamental evil of slavery was its reliance on force, the opposite of Christian love. Government also rested on cohersion and any person who voted or participated in politics was not a true Christian. The second issue dividing abolitionists was the role of women in the movement. Women participating in this crusade were seen as ‘indelicate’, women should obey men, not lecture them. In 1840 Abolitionists were split on these issues and the break up of the American Antislavery Society that followed did not damage the larger movement.

When the Grimke sisters took up the cause of women’s rights in 1838 they were not just defending their right to participate in the Antislavery movement. They were responding to perceived similarities between women and slaves. Women under slavery were degradated and sexually vulnerable. In the early 19th century women were not allowed to vote, hold public office, educated  or allowed into the professions. Married women had no legal identity, could not own property, control their own earning, sue or be sued or enter a contract. Divorced women could not get custody of their children and domestic violence went unchallenged. Women’s place was in the home and they had no legal rights. However, reform movements gave women a chance to work in public as volunteers and they could claim that their objectives were to clean up society to enhance the quality of home life for all women. Feminism first emerged in abolitionism and it gave its female participants thee courage and inspiration they needed to fight the fight for their own rights. In 1848 New York the first true feminist convention took place at Seneca Falls. It declared that all women were equal and modeled itself on the Declaration of Independence. It passed twelve resolutions that were to be the code of all feminist activities to follow. By 1860 changes started to occur, a New York law allowed married women to vote but it took until 1920 for women to secure a national right, fifty five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery.

In the 1820s reformers had started their war on poverty, crime and abuse of mentally or physically challenged people. Secular and religious reformers believed that human nature could be improved  through placement in the proper moral environment. Teh reformers model for this proper environment for paupers, criminals and the insane was an asylum which would remove deviants from corrupting influences by placing them in a controlled environment under moral supervision and disciplined work. Up until the early 19th century the way to deal with such people was through public flogging or execution rather than extended prison terms. Two different types of penitentiary care emerged in antebellum America. The Auburn system forbade inmates any communication with each other and the Pennsylvania System confined prisoners to isolation in a single cell and deprived of human contact with no news or visits from the outside for the duration of the sentence. The poor and mentally ill were inmates in less rigorous institutions where they could be taught (if possible) to work at being virtuous and productive citizens. Insane asylums were set up for the mentally ill but they too had the optimistic believe that insanity was curable through proper moral environments. These institutions, prisons, almshouses and asylums were forms of social control but inmates were not protected from the punishments of incarceration and regimentation.

The reformists belief in the possibility of human perfection found its greatest expression in utopian communities. They began in the 1820s and expanded over the next few decades. These communities were experiments in unification of like-minded people aiming for social and economic harmony and the eradication of evil and the advancement of religious ideals. Scottish mill owner Robert Owen founded New Harmony in Indiana where he improved the home and work life of his community members with the aim of elimination of vice and misery. He believed human character was the fruit of its environment so if the latter is perfect then so will be the former. His community failed because it was too attractive to idlers and fanatics but his ideas inspired more Utopians to follow. Experimental communities multiplied in the 1830s and 1840s many f which had the common belief that modern life in large urban environments was not natural and not helpful to the development of the mind and spirit. The most controversial utopian experiment was the Oneida Community established in 1848 in New York. It advocated Christian communism and renounced private property but, most controversially, in place of conventional marriage it had ‘complex marriage’ in which every male was married to every female. Critics of the community saw it as a free sex for all club and a sex haven designed by its founder, John Humphrey Noyes, but the prosperous Oneida outlived other less radical utopian societies. Utopian communities, despite ridicule, exemplified the idealism and hopefulness of all reform movements in antebellum America.

In conclusion, in the early decades of the 19th Century politics became an activity of the common people. Voting barriers changed, party machines began to expand and religion and revivalism spearheaded the campaign for a better society for all through improving moral behavior. Revivalists challenged the idea of man nor being in control of his own destiny and advocated that all humans, men and women, had the ability to perfect themselves. The election of Andrew Jackson was the will of the people but his dictatorial manner contributed to the emergence of the second party system. Religion gave rise to new reform movements, some seeking legal equality for slaves and women, others wanting temperance, better education, institutional reform and utopian communitarianism. While complaining about the corruptness of politics the reformers made their demands using the same techniques they admonished in the politicians.

Primary Source

Boyer, Clark & Halttunen

The Enduring Vision

American Transformation.


By 1840, most migrants desired and expected a better version of life they had known in the East, more land, and more crops. Several factors nurtured this expectation, the growing power of the federal Government, its often-ruthless removal of the Indians from the path of white settlement and a boom in the prices of agricultural commodities after the war of 1812. Americans began to move West from 1791 onwards seeking security and a new life. Pioneers moved as families rather than individuals and settled near navigable waters especially near the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. It was not until the spread of canals in the 1820s and 1830s, and later of railroads did Westerners feel free to venture far from rivers. Migrants carried with them the values and customs learned in the East regardless of origins. Most Westerners craved sociability. Rural families joined with their neighbours for sports, markets, and festivals. These activities brought communities and families together and the West began to develop a character of its own and community spirit was high. The far West was also being explored and exploited by fur traders, trappers and frontiersmen (explorers and hunters) who were mostly notorious as survivors of harsh surroundings.

To facilitate Westward Expansion the Government invested in new roads, giving free land to men who enlisted (Military Bounties) and also invested in canals and railroads to keep the Westward movement vibrant. The same government that aided the whites were brutal to the Indians. Westward settlers found sizable numbers of Indians in their paths, especially in the south, home to the five civilised tribes, Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws and Seminoles. Trading and interbreeding with whites had turned the tribes into ‘mixed bloods’ who shared civilised traditions with the new immigrants. Forced to give up its lands and migrate, the Cherokee people suffered disease, hunger, and exhaustion on what they remember as ‘the trail of tears’. The Indian removal act of 1830 demanded the removal of Indian nations from their homelands to Indian Territory in Oklahoma and many Native Americans suffered from exposure, disease, and starvation en route. Many died on the trail and the five civilised tribes were decimated.

Rising prices of agricultural product created new demands for land. American farmers found brisk trade in wheat and corn in the US and in Europe. Industrialisation and urbanisation in the US shifted workers from agricultural to non-agricultural employment. The wests splendid rivers system made it possible for farmers to ship wheat and corn around the country. Mostly to New Orleans from where it was forwarded to other beckoning markets. Government policies made west farming possible and high prices made it attractive. Along with this, the demand for cotton was also on the increase as cotton clothing came into fashion. The south was gripped in ‘cotton fever’ as the climate was perfect for cotton cultivation leading to the establishment of large plantations.

The Growth of The Market Economy: Traditional farmers were primarily subsistent (catered for themselves only) but with wheat and cotton, demanding high prices a growing number of farmers added cash crops to meet the demands. In the south, slaves became a valuable commodity and the sale of slaves grew into a huge business as other states transferred their slaves to the south. Virginia became a ‘negro growing’ state to cater for this demand. Virginia exported up to six thousand slaves to other states in the US every year.

Most of the public domain found its way into the hands of small farmers because speculators gained nothing from holding on to land for long periods of time. The existence of squatters, people who had helped themselves to land, was a persistent problem. They saw themselves as somehow ‘sacred’ people who had earned their land by discovering it and working it prior to the arrival of immigrants. They were eventually given exemption from having to purchase their land. Small farmers who rented land from wealthy speculators began to drown in debt and were forced to keep moving forward west and this the ‘moving frontier’ refers not only to the obvious fact that the line of settlement shifted farther west with each passing decade, but also to the fact that the same people kept moving.

The land boom collapsed in 1819 as the states banks loose practises caused complete panic. A combination of bumper crops in Europe, a recession in Britain and American farmers over-borrowing from the banks and depending on exports to repay debts led to a state of economic chaos. Land speculators, financed by banks, were the biggest losers as land prices plummeted and the credit squeeze drove down prices of wheat, corn, cotton, and tobacco. Farmers were left cash strapped, landowners left unpaid, and banks blamed for causing hard times. It was clear that farmers needed to look elsewhere for markets. They realised that they had relied too much on exports and thus came the need for new forms of nationwide transport systems.

Western and eastern farmers needed to connect, roads were expensive and slow, horse drawn carriages were limited and so the waterways seemed to be the best option. Steamboats, canals, and railroads lured private investment. The Mississippi river hosted hundreds of steamboats used in summer for tourism and as commercial transport systems for the rest of the year. Transport charges dropped dramatically and inter-state trading prospered. The canal boom was hit by a recession in 1830 when government withdrew investment and turned to less expensive railroad systems. Cities lacking inland waterways found rail systems far more attractive. Cheaper to build and maintain and much faster than canal ways. However, the system of railways were not built by state governments but by private investment and this resulted in railroads demanding constant repairs. Secondly, it was cheaper to transport bulk by canal. These two factors meant that the arrival of railway systems was a slow process. The transportation system speeded the growth of towns and cities. Small towns turned into cities and cities into thriving metropolises. This growth occurred with dramatic suddenness all over America, but especially in the west.

Industrialisation gave an added boost to the growth of cities and towns. Industrialisation changed lives; former agricultural workers only familiar with working at their own pace now went to factories operating machines from sunrise to sunset and changing their daily routines to accommodate the clock instead of themselves. Industrialisation was caused by demand for shoes, clothes, and food and by the transportation revolution that created greater connections between south and the west. Tensions ran high in rural economies, too many people and too little land, so mass migration into cities to work in the factories was a very viable option. The gap between the rich and the poor continued to widen and in the big cities, a small fraction of the people owned a huge share of the wealth. Splendid social clubs and residences set the rich apart. Few of these wealthy people had earned it. Most of them were born into wealth. The usual way to wealth was to inherit it, marry into it, or invest very wisely. The myth of hard-earned wealth was only a myth. There were few exceptions to this rule. On the other end of the scale were paupers. Circumstantial paupers, such as the disabled or elderly, and self-inflicted paupers such as alcoholics and those unwilling to work. In the lowest orders were the Irish who were notorious paupers and Catholics who became a nation of wanderers and scroungers who were perceived as a burden on the state. The protestant majority of America had little or no time for Irish Catholics who had been forced from their homeland by the British to the new world in search of a better life. Just below the Irish in terms of prejudice were the blacks. Although slavery had almost disappeared by 1820, laws continued to restrict blacks. Laws against blacks prevented voting, migration between states, banishment from some states, segregated schools, alms-houses and hospitals. Blacks were forced into the least paying jobs and rarely owned real estate. The blacks started to establish their own churches, which then led to the education of black children in black schools. The reality of life for the vast majority of black Americans was that they were less than human.

Many factors influenced industrialisation. Along with economic factors such as the fallout of the Embargo Act of 1807 whereby merchants had to redirect capital into factories, the era of good feelings proved tariffs were needed to protect the American economy from foreign competition and america possessed an environmental advantage. In the late 18th century the population was expanding with little land to support it. Small farmers began to expand their incomes by starting small workshops in their homes to produce items for sale at markets. High wages spurred the search for new machinery that would replace workers and, if possible, Americans would copy foreign designs.

Primary Source

Boyer, Clark & Halttunen

The Enduring Vision

Lincoln Assassination.

Assassination Of Lincoln.


  1.             Document Informatiom.
  2.             Article Context.
  3.             Article Key Points.
  4.             Persuasiveness of Article
  5.             Place of Publication and Political Affiliation Bias
  6.             Article Appeal
  7.             Appendix 1: Article Image
  8.             Bibliography                                                                            .
  1. Document Information. (Congress, 2011)
  1. Title: The Daily Inter Ocean. [1]
  2. Alternative Titles: Inter Ocean – Sunday Inter Ocean
  3. Place of Publication: Chicago, Illinois.
  4. Geographic Coverage: Chicago, Cook, Illinois.
  5. Publisher: Inter Ocean Publishing Company.
  6. Dates of Publication: 1879-1902
  7. Description: The Daily Inter Ocean, (Chicago, Illinois)
  8. Date of Publication: Sunday, May 14, 1893.
  9. Location: Pg. 19; Issue 51; Col F
  10. Title of Article: In Ford’s Theatre.
  11. Writer: Captain R. S. Collum.
  12. Category: Arts & Entertainment.
  13. Frequency: Daily
  14. Price: Single Copy 2 Cents/Per Week By Carrier 12 Cents/Sunday Single Copy 5 Cents/Daily And Sunday Per Week By Carrier 15 Cents/To Newsdealers Outside Of Chicago The Daily, $1.15 Per 100 Postage Paid/Sunday $3.00 Per 100 Postage Paid. (Ads, 1891)

2. Article Context:

The article “In Ford’s Theatre” was published in Chicago during a period of rapid economic and population growth between the post-Civil War and post-Reconstruction eras of the 19th century. Chicago, influenced by a radical leader of the progressive movement and Democrat Governor, John Peter Altgeld (1847-1902), considered by republicans, “a socialist and an anarchist.” (Drew VandeCreek, 2002). His ideals and philosophies were popular on the streets of Chicago. Altgeld, according to historian Philip Dray, “is synonymous with the dawn of the Progressive era.” (Dray, 2010)

It is imperative to recognise that the ‘pro-abolition’ newspaper, edited by an African-American journalist and Civil & Women’s Rights Activist Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), ‘The Daily Inter Ocean’ was up against its greatest “pro-slavery” rival ‘The Chicago Times’ which had been “espousing the Copperhead (anti-war democrats) point of view in supporting Southern Democrats and denounced the policies of Abraham Lincoln.” (Sandburg, 1948). Wells, with her husband, newspaper owner Ferdinand L. Barnett, an early leader in the civil rights movement had spent much of her writing career documenting black lynching in the United States, showing how it was often a way to control or punish blacks who competed with whites.

The publication of this article demonstrates a clear example of the courage of the states ‘African American’ newspaper dedicated to covering racism, advocating rights for blacks, and offering a beacon of hope for migrants from the South.

3. Article Key Points.

Published are events related to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (April 14th 1865). Historian, Captain R.S. Collum witnessed “exciting scenes following the murderous act.” He had published “History of the United States Marine Corps” (1875) and his testimony was credible because he recalled, “every detail of the terrible tragedy.”

Visiting Washington he and a colleague attended Ford’s Theatre. As they walked they met friends, and then came “a curious coincidence that makes a lasting impression.” While talking a stranger approached, whispered something, and then walked away. “Days later I had this stranger turned over to me as a conspirator.”

Only a “fair sized” house was in attendance. There were vacant rows at the front and the stage boxes on the right were also empty. It transpired that these seats were engaged but unused. Collum reports, “After Act One, John Wilkes walked about the theatre and surveyed the President’s box.”

A few moments later the assassin did his work. There was a chilling silence after the gunfire. Booth jumped from the Presidents Box, ripping the flag with his spur as he landed on the stage. He held a knife aloft as he cried, “Sic Semper Tyrannis”. (Thus always to tyrants!) The audience had realised that something dreadful had happened as Laura Keane (Actress) dashed onto the stage shouting “Kill him, kill him!” the rest is common knowledge. “I was on duty when the conspirators were turned over to us.” Booth’s body was returned for autopsy and another curious incident came about. Locks of Booth’s hair had been cut off by those handling the body to keep as relics. “An investigation was ordered but nothing came of it.”

When it came to the question of where the body was to be buried there was a suggestion to take it out to sea and throw it overboard but this was rejected. “The body was interred at the foot of the gallows where the other conspirators were hung.” It remained there for many years but was exhumed, by family request, and moved to Baltimore.

4. Persuasiveness of Article.

Historian Capt. W.S. Collum’s testimony is not convincing as he depicts some significant and relevant facts and these facts, although appearing over a quarter of a century after the event, bring further questions. The ‘stranger’, described as a ‘conspirator’ is given little attention and we are not told his name or his role in the event.

Collum’s narrative indicates that he and his colleague went to the theatre as a last minute decision; “On the evening in question, I proposed to a brother officer, Lieutenant Nokes, since deceased, that we attend the performance at Ford’s Theatre”. He also confirms that, “It was generally known that the President and family and several prominent army officers would be present.” Combined, these facts suggest there was a strong military presence. There was also a lack of seat availability; “I recollect very distinctly noticing at the time that during the first act the three rows of seats in our immediate front were vacant.” In light of these facts, the questions remain as to how and where he acquired the tickets, at the last minute, for such a major and prestigious event or, more pointedly, was he in attendance at all?”

John Wilkes Booth is described as “walking about the theatre”. This implies that little or no security was in place to protect the President at a time when he was most vulnerable, this was a time when the American Civil War was drawing to a close and less than a week after the commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee, and his battered Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant and the Army of the Potomac. The questionable freedom of movement in a confined area of a known Confederate sympathizer, vehement in his denunciation of the Lincoln Administration, and outraged by the South’s defeat in the American Civil War. Booth strongly opposed the abolition of slavery in the United States and Lincoln’s proposal to extend voting rights to recently emancipated slaves. Why then was he allowed, in strong military presence to roam within the theatre and so close to the President’s box?

Finally, Collum’s assertion that unknown people had tampered with Booth’s body; “It seems that some of those who had the handling of the body had cut locks from Booth’s long hair to keep as relics.” This is a shocking revelation that he instantly dismisses as not investigated but auspiciously implies morbid ‘Union’ contempt for the Confederates.

In light of these questions and observations the article is not at all convincing but best interpreted as a pro-abolitionist piece of propaganda with little or no substance.

5. Place of Publication and Political Affiliation Bias.

Under the governance of popularly elected radical and liberal-minded Democrat John Peter Altgeld Chicago in the 1890s was clearly very much a part of the new progressive era that was sweeping across America. The elimination of corruption, the promise of forthcoming prohibition, the exposing of political machines and the looming era of gangsterism, the advocating of women’s suffrage, modernisation and continuing advances in science and technology was the main focus of the new society. Progressives drew support from the middle-classes and supporters included professionals in education, science and business. Urban population was increasing and sixty eight cities boasted more than a hundred thousand inhabitants, “Between 1870 and 1900 Chicago’s population had increased more than fivefold and had more than a million residents. America had become an urban nation.” (Boyer, et al., 2011)

        In this new society the issue of slavery was not primary in Chicago as the ‘panic of 1893’ took root. Stock prices were tumbling and gold reserves sank, railroads, banks and institutions were failing. A full scale depression was underway and unemployment soared, jobless men walked the streets and protests were rampant.

        The appearance of an article in relation to an event which occurred a quarter of a century earlier, gone from the public sphere,  in a newspaper advocating anti-abolition was an indication of the irrelevance of the issue of slavery in a society distressed by new more significant issues such as unemployment, hunger and poverty.

6. Article Appeal.

The Chicago Inter Ocean, “an upper-class arbiter of cultural tastes” (Schwarzlose, 2004) was praised by its competitors as ‘the leading republican journal of the Northwest.” (Anon., 1873) Chicago was and is traditionally a Republican state it can be concluded that the paper had broad appeal. The paper had republican roots and was originally published as a partisan newspaper that supported the Republican Party.

The industrial revolution brought about great changes in railroad systems and thus the readership of the paper, as with all other papers of the era, expanded with easier delivery. However, the newspaper began its demise with the introduction of linotype which meant it would lose many of its non-Chicago native readers who now bought more local papers.

7.  Bibliography.

Ads, C., 1891. Classified Ads. The Daily Inter Ocean, 15 September, Issue 175, p. 10.

Anon., 1873. News. Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, (Bangor, ME), 168(168), p. 1: Col A.

Boyer, P. S. et al., 2011. Enduring Vision (A History Of The American People). 13 ed. Boston(Massachusetts): Wadsworth Centage Learning.

Collum, C. R. S., 1893. Captain R. S. Collum Witnessed Lincoln’s Assassination. Daily Inter Ocean, 14 May, Issue 51, p. 19.

Congress, L. O., 2011. National Endowment For The Humanities.. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 29 10 2011].

Dray, P., 2010. There Is Power In A Union.. In: There Is Power In A Union.. New York: Random House/Doubleday, p. 57.

Drew VandeCreek, P., 2002. 1892-1895: 1893 Chicago’s World Fair. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 26 10 2011].

Sandburg, C., 1948. In: The Fiery Trail. New York: Dell Publishing Ltd., p. 90.

Additonal Footnotes:

[1] In Ford’s Theatre; Captain R. S. Collum Witnessed Lincoln’s Assassination. (Arts & Entertainment) Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL) May 14, 1893; Pg. 19; Issue 51; Start; Column F: 1586 Words; Elec. Coll.: GT3013611910.

[2] Source: The Daily Inter Ocean, (Chicago, IL) Sunday, May 14, 1893; pg. 19; Issue 51; col F/In Ford’s Theatre Captain R. S. Collum Witnessed Lincoln’s Assassination/Category: Arts & Entertainment

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