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In the beginning of the 1870s, the United States entered an impactful period of American history known as “The Gilded Age”, which caused an outstanding transformation due to industrialization and urbanization. However, this era’s transformation created a mere facade for the corruption and classism. A divide through the wealthy and the poor. Many of the wealthy viewed the Gilded as ‘golden’, but the poor workers saw through the shiny exterior and saw the corruption that lied beneath it. There is this constant question over what is America’s self-identity is it two nations, between the poor and the wealthy or one nation where everybody has a chance to succeed. The Gilded Age was plagued with problems that many workers, the members of society, began noticing how they were not a free citizen of a healthy republic when struggling to pay bills or feed their families. The feeling of lack of recognition from the Founding Fathers lead to work strikes which angered businessmen. The nation was growing for the better and the worst as the rich got richer the poor became poorer. Throughout my essay, I will be explaining who from the rich transformed America economically and socially, how the economic development of the Gilded Age affected American freedom, and how reformers dealt with the industrial society.
Many business leaders took control of the Industrial Revolution and held an extreme amount of economic power. One among the many is Andrew Carnegie a innovative entrepreneur who set out to establish control over transportation, manufacturing, and distribution in the steel industry. Carnegie accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars. His technology advanced enterprise, Carnegie Brothers & Company, produced more than 60 tons of steel to earning him about as much as the average American made in a year. He was living the life of what many considered the American dream from starting from nothing to creating an empire business. Carnegie ran his companies nonstop. The person behind the oil company was John D. Rockefeller, he is known to take out rival oil refineries by battling to control competitors and participating in secret deals with the railroad companies, fixing prices and production. From records, it’s been noted that 4,000 firms vanished into huge corporations that served national markets and had control over the marketplace. With no governmental regulation, both these businessmen benefited from controlling product prices through monopolies and the existence of a corrupt government also profited businessmen when they bribed legislators to turn elections into practices in fraud. These resulted in social and political injustices toward the lower-class citizens. In the 1880s, John D. Rockefeller controlled 90 percent of the nation’s drilling, refining, storage, and distribution of oil. Similar to Carnegie who gave money to philanthropies, public libraries in towns and other parts of the country, Rockefeller invested his money in foundations to promote education and medical research. Rockefeller also ruthlessly destroyed any unions organized by his employees.
The poor labors saw the corruption in the Gilded Age. The working conditions for work labors are horrible and dangerous. All working Americans faced economic and social issues during this time because of corporate corruption and the lack of laws and programs that protected families from being overworked with no pensions or care when workers were injured. Many labor workers had to deal with these conditions in order to take care of their families. There is recorded evidence in the 1880s of an average of 35,000 workers dying in a gruesome way in a factory and mine accidents. The industrial system created new forms of freedom. In some industries, the skilled workers had high wages, free managerial supervision, and elaborate work rules. For example, skilled iron workers fixed output quotas and controlled the training of apprentices in the iron rolling technique. For the industrial labor force faced a different type of “freedom,” since they were not technically skilled, they lost their jobs or forced to accept half wages. The outrageous part is there was no strong work union at that time to help these workers. Instead of Americans owning a farm or business two-thirds worked for wages. The people who went on strike for higher wages lost their jobs to the people called “scrubs,” the employers brought in public and private police to scare off strikers. Another different type of “freedom” they faced is having the local government distinguish the “deserving poor,” from the “undeserving poor.” There is no sympathy for the poor. The people who want a perfect society and who believe that strong, intelligent, and talented people are the ones who deserve to “survive,” are called Social Darwinists. Social Darwinism is a competition between groups in society, usually resulting in the most fit, or most capable, coming out on top. Social Darwinists argue that the strong power and wealth should increase, whereas the weak should decrease.
In the 1880s, Terence Powderly founded and led “The Knights of Labor.” The Knights soon became the most popular labor union to attempt to organize skilled and unskilled workers of both genders and black and white workers. They united various trade unions into a secret concerned with social issues. In 1886, nearly 800,000 people joined the group. The Knights often went on strikes, boycotts, and political action and were very visible. Some social reformers such as Edward Bellamy, Henry George, and the advocates of the Social Gospel movement conceived of liberty and freedom by George proposing tax solution to replace other taxes and Bellamy said to reject class inequality and competition and to help on another. The Social Gospel Movement made it an effort to reform protestant churches by expanding their appeal in poor urban neighborhoods and making them more attentive to the era’s social ills and established missions and relief programs in urban areas that attempted to alleviate poverty, combat child labor, and encourage the construction of better working-class housing.
All these tensions present in the Gilded Age have continued to last. In today’s world, people fear Mexican immigrants and how they will change the United States. Americans are accusing Mexican workers of stealing their “jobs” The fear over terrorism and foreign entities often with different ideologies like Islam are prominent. Since the tragedy of 9/11 happened Americans blamed all Muslims of generating the same hatred for America and titled all Middle Eastern people of being terrorists.
Industrialization made the United States a greater economic power, but it seemed as though the wealthier the country became, the poorer the citizens became. As stated above, the American freedom was affected by the Gilded Age economic development by concentrating on wealth as inevitable and a natural part of life, the lack and forced “freedom” and authority in the workplace, and businessmen seeing the state regulations achieved by the reformers as” losing money.” The most common argument some might say and with the most evidence supporting this argument is, “Immigrants will take American jobs, lower our wages, and especially hurt the poor.” The jobs immigrants are taking are in the growing regions, they are taking the jobs many Americans don’t want since they are coming over to make more than what they made back at their country. In some countries, the lacked of work. The poor did not want to take some of the job’s immigrants had then nor now. However, analyzing, all the of this era of history it is clear that the key anxiety of the gilded age was fear of change.
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