Change And Continuity In The Guilded Age

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Change and Continuity in the Gilded AgeEmergence of Modern America "Every day things change, but basically they stay the same."-Dave MatthewsChange and continuity are two major principles of life. They can easily be applied to history because their application accurately portrays the circumstances, and characterizes the era of interest. Merriam-Webster defines continuity as an uninterrupted connection, succession, or union, or an uninterrupted duration or continuation especially without essential change. Change is defined as to make different in some particular, to alter, to make radically different, to transform, or to give a different position, course, or direction to. These antonyms are critical in understanding history. The gilded age of the United States is an extremely interesting era that generally gets diluted in the teaching of American history.

However, this age was very critical in the development of many modern ideas and institutions we utilize today. Change and continuity are both prevalent in this time, but change is the primary element from 1877 to 1900. When discussing change in the late 1800's a few things come to mind, but the progression of capitalism was a major catalyst for most of them. Capitalism is an economic system of free market. It promotes private or corporate ownership of goods from investments based upon price, production, and distribution of goods. This new idea tended to promise wealth and stability, but when the distinction between the working lower class and bourgeoisie became more evident, people were irritated. Capitalism began to exploit the greed in man and bring fear to the strongest of wills. Many dreamed of this as the golden age of man kind and saw new prosperity as a benefit for all "for how could there be greed when all had enough."(George, p.21) Poverty spread through the working class like disease and forced millions of Americans to fight for survival

In a trip to Chicago Rudyard Kipling furiously describes the dreary, money driven conditions that consumed the earth, water, and air. "I spent ten hours in that huge wilderness, wandering through scores of miles of these terrible streets, and jostling some few hundred thousand of these terrible people who talked money through their noses."(Kipling, p.122) The free market, which seemed to promise progress, was bringing the beast of man to the limelight and pinning him against his own greed. However, do not misinterpret my statements, I am surely an advocate of capitalism but at the time it was unregulated, therefore untamed. This onslaught of capitalism directly revolutionized modern industrialism as well as the industrial city. Machines morphed the predominately agricultural nation to a herd of factory and corporate workers. Swarms of people, both native and immigrant, flocked to major cities. "The present century has been marked by a prodigious increase in wealth-producing power. The utilization of steam and electricity, the introduction of improved processes and labor saving machinery, the greater subdivision and grander scale of production, the wonderful facilitation of exchanges, have multiplied enormously the effectiveness of labor."(George, p.20) The major problem with this newfound industrialism was the way in which the workforce was treated.

Capitalism was supposed to provide a way out, a way ascend the financial and social staircase, if you worked hard enough. This however was not the case, if you were a loyal, hardworking employee you simply got to keep your job, and if you were in any way injured or incompetent you were fired. During this time America saw some of its most rapid increase of immigration and population, not to mention westward expansion. Between 1880 and 1900 many cities grew in the hundreds of thousands, making work, shelter, and life a little more competitive. Much of this was directly related to the rapid immigration from Germany, Ireland, Poland and many other European countries, as well as Canada. Never before had the nation been so diverse. This altered every aspect of American life.

Culturally and socially the various backgrounds melted, as money became scarce and survival was the only priority. These conditions however tended to unify the people against one common factor, corporate monopoly. The gilded age began to spawn new ideas amongst the people. Beginning in 1877, numerous railroad and anti-industrial strikes took place amongst American citizens. They were tired of living in poverty while a few industrial moguls, whom they did all the work for, made millions. Taking place in America, at this time, was a huge labor movement; one prime example is the organization of the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, in the late 1860's. This was the first mass compilation of the working class in North America.

It "helped sustain a national debate over the social implications of industrial capitalism."(Fink, p.36) They fought for the workers rights, spread public awareness, and made labor issues a political reality. The reason this labor movement was so crucial in American history was not only because it wanted to improve the workplace, but also because of it's underlying themes. The movement stressed, "Equal rights..identity of work and self worth, and (creating) secure, family centered households."(Fink, p.37) Though the movement was oppressed from the power of wealthy owners, and from their own strenuous physical and mental exhaustion, it begun to tame uncontrollable capitalist tyrants, and speak for the people. Another ideological movement at this time was populism. It also recognized this societal unrest and wanted to "restore the government of the Republic to the hands of the 'plain people.'"(Omaha Platform, p.195) Populists saw the work of millions of Americans benefiting the fortunes of a few and wanted to restore public opinion for and by the people. They demanded an establishment of national currency, governmental transportation and communication, as well as the dissolution of monopolies.

America was in a black hole of oppression and needed to seek methods of government and societal change. Jim crow laws, another important installment of the gilded age, proposed separate but equal laws dividing blacks and whites, but was this a step forward or backward? Did the separation help unify the nation to create a better America, and deplete greedy capitalist? Even though I chose to defend the change of the gilded age there was also continuity. The country still faced severe issues of poverty, racism, and oppression, but the people of America were growing wise and understanding the system and how to change it. Inventions, technology and industrialization were fueled during this time, constantly changing and improving, to create a better America. Ideologically the United States was spawning great new ideas on government regulations, and equal rights. These forefront dreams created much of American society, as we know it today.

It pushed the envelope and made top officials see that if the people were unhappy, the nation would not benefit but struggle to come to consensus. Though the end of this age did not completely put all the standards into practice, it set a foundation for future progress. In my opinion where there is change there is always continuity, and vice versa, but change primarily characterized the gilded age. Bibliography1. Fink, Leon. Major Problems in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era: second edition.

Houghton Mifflin, 2012 .2. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. http://www. merriam-webster. com.

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