Friday, June 26, 2009

The Populists, the Progressives, and Revolution in America

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There was a mandate for change in the Gilded Age, but no agreement on what that change should be among the divergent groups that made up American society. (1) The upper industrial class engineered a wrenching economic transformation, accumulated staggering fortunes, and pursued notorious private lives, upholding a set of values at odds with the middle class, farmers, and workers. Even among themselves the upper industrial class disagreed how best to live their lives and secure their future. Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, among the most successful, were, with their austere lifestyles and doctrines of philanthropy, revolutionaries to other members of the upper industrial class; (2) the middle class was split between old style Radicals such as Albion Tourgee with notions of color blind meritocracy and more cautious middle class reformers such as the Progressives who sought to avoid societal turmoil and remake workers, immigrants and the industrial upper class in their own image; (3) the agrarian class simultaneously pursued the agrarian myth of the yeoman farmer, while living the life of the rural small businessman; (4) labor divided between those seeking a re-structuring of society and those primarily concerned with wages and working conditions; (5) sectional and racial issues unresolved from the time of the Civil War continued to divide; (6) women increasingly questioned prescribed gender roles.

No group could unilaterally impose its will. Instead, each group usually had to make alliances, some of them strange and uncomfortable, and win over at least some of the enemy in order to achieve its goals. For example, by the end of the century, many women suffragists argued that Anglo-Saxon women’s votes, would serve as bulwark against the influence of foreign and black votes. Then, as now, the very fragmentation of America precluded revolution or the emergence of a successful radical opposition.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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