United States land of opportunity 1865 to1900

by Amira Smale, June 2014

900 words

3 pages


Institutional Affiliation

The decades between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the twentieth century are frequently referred to as the Gilded Age. It was a time of fundamental changes in political, social, and economic life of the United States. Industrialization, urbanization, rapid technical progress, social movements marked the period. At the time, the US was commonly considered to be a land of unlimited opportunities. Its democratic values and flourishing economy attracted millions of immigrants from all over the world, who left their home countries with the hope to attain success in America. However, democracy is known to have had its limits in the US at the time. While lots of far-reaching reforms were carried out in the USA, which laid the foundations of a democratic political system and economic freedoms, prejudices against ethnic minorities, institutionalized racism, suffrage limitations, corruption, social inequality, and economic restrictions persisted.

One of the most significant achievements of the time under analysis is the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which abolished slavery. The documents ensured equal treatment of US citizens irrespective of their racial and ethnic origin. Though slavery was outlawed, racism existed and African Americans were often prevented from exercising their democratic rights. Although the number of African American students increased considerably, black children still had limited access to education (Calhoun, 2007). The system of segregation was implemented, which led to marginalization of African Americans. The following figures demonstrate that blacks were socially unprotected and civil rights were often denied to them. Approximately 2,500 black Americans were lynched between 1882 and 1889 (Shrock, 2004). In many cases, African Americans were accused of crimes which they had never committed, but they were incapable of proving their innocence.

The period of 1865-1900 is characterized by dramatic changes in political system of the country. The fact that the number of political organizations increased and African Americans as well as immigrants were granted suffrage and encouraged to participate in state and federal government suggests that the USA had transformed its political system into a democratic one. For example, organizations responsible for local government represented democratic values, since all urban Americans, including foreign-born working-class people, could participate in elections of political machines bosses. While voting for their candidates, immigrants could indirectly influence democratic government of the US. The above-mentioned organizations were supposed to provide city dwellers with essential social services such as legal assistance, jobs (Shrock, 2004). However, political machines often failed to perform their tasks well, since their bosses tended to be corrupt.

African Americans were granted voting rights as well. After slavery abolition, black people could put up their candidates for senate and hold local offices if elected. According to Shrock (2004), at least one African American from southern states held office in Congress between 1881 and 1891. However, white culture dominated and black people’s efforts to participate in local or federal government were commonly confronted with outrage and hostility. White Southerners used a wide range of methods to prevent African Americans …

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