HIST 102 AMU week 1 lesson Creating and Preserving a Continental Nation American History since 1877 American Military university
The integration of the western United States—both in land area and economically—had a far-reaching impact on its entire people socially, politically, and especially economically.
Topics covered will include:
- The Republican vision for a reconstructed United States
- The Growth of the Economy
- A Growing Interest in Global Expansion
- Incorporating the West
- Conflict on the Plains
- The Growth of Big Business
- New Immigration
- Growth of a Labor Movement
A Reconstructed United States
At the end of the American Civil War in 1865, the former Confederate States of America emerged greatly changed. With the Thirteenth Amendment, four million slaves were now free people. And after four years of stress and strain, the South’s economy and infrastructure was in shambles.
The Union welcomed the Southern states back into the nation, but made it clear that changes would need to be made. After President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, Vice President Andrew Johnson was sworn in as President and wasted little time in implementing his own plans for Reconstruction. These plans required the Southern states to pay off war debts and swear loyalty to the Union as well as abolish slavery. But Johnson was a staunch supporter of states’ rights, and he felt that policies that were too restrictive and punitive would discourage unity in the newly restored nation.
In spite of the Depression of 1873, railroads continued to be the driving industry of the late nineteenth century. The first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, seven years after the Pacific Railway Act authorized its construction; by 1900, there were five such railroads, with over 170,000 miles of railway tracks crisscrossing the nation.
Private investment was important in the construction of these railroads, with companies, such as Westinghouse and Pullman Palace Car Company, growing to meet the needs of the expanding railroads and the trains that traveled along them. While the growth of the railroad industry led to vast accumulations of private wealth, state investment was most pivotal to this growth. Railroad companies received land grants of millions of acres from the U.S. government, both for the purpose of laying tracks and also to sell, as a means of raising money to finance further railroad construction. These land grants were primarily given to large railroad companies; smaller companies typically were among the purchasers of land granted through these agreements.
Overall, these investments paid off handsomely. Settlement of the West was largely possible due to the possibility of affordable travel. A bustling tourist industry also arose, as more Americans from the East longed to experience the adventure of the West for themselves. The economic opportunities that the railroads allowed were made obvious in 1894, when a great railroad strike led to the shutting down of the transcontinental railroads, with the entire nation suffering as a result.
Protective tariffs were another economic force in the nineteenth century. These tariffs were levied on imported goods as a means of raising their prices, in order to encourage Americans to buy domestically produced goods instead. Other countries were producing the same goods that American farmers and manufacturers were making and selling them on the import market at considerably lower prices. Northern Republicans encouraged tariffs as a means of offsetting the higher costs of American goods, but Southern Democrats tended to oppose the tariffs. Generally, the goods grown and produced by Southern industries (including cotton, wheat, and livestock) were produced for export and sold in foreign markets; it was inevitable that other countries would respond to high tariffs accordingly by levying tariffs of their own on American-made goods.
Smaller railroad companies also tended to oppose the tariffs, as the most cost-effective steel (of which the railroads used enormous amounts) was typically foreign-made. Throughout the nineteenth century, protective tariffs remained controversial. They did not succeed in the goal of preventing poverty among railroad workers and other Americans at risk. And by putting small railroad companies at a disadvantage, tariffs helped foster the growth of trusts, large corporations that attempted to create monopolies by edging out competition.
Issues such as tariffs raised the question of how much power the federal government should have to regulate private industries. In 1872, the Illinois state legislature had attempted to aid its state’s farmers by imposing limits on the maximum fees grain elevator companies could charge for storing grain in their facilities. When the Chicago firm Munn and Scott was found guilty of violating that law, they appealed the decision against them, and in 1876 the case Munn v. Illinois was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. The following year, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision on the grounds that the government had the power to regulate private enterprise in the best interests of the public. This decision was far-reaching, leading to later court decisions allowing for state regulation of railroads and utilities.