Politics, Reform, and Expansion, 1890-1900

By Harold U. Faulkner | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 1
The Restless Decade

THE 1890's separated not only two centuries but two eras in American history. These years saw the gradual disappearance of the old America and the rather less gradual emergence of the new. They witnessed the passing of the frontier and the rise of the United States to a position of world power and responsibility which was to make any return to her old isolation increasingly difficult, if not impossible. Old issues were dead or dying; sectional tension was no longer a force of much importance in politics, and efforts to revive it proved unavailing. Most important of all, the triumph of industry over agriculture was now assured. The Industrial Revolution, if not completed, had gone so far as to make turning back to the ways of a simpler agrarian society out of the question. Yet by no means all Americans--perhaps not even a majority--were able to recognize or willing to acknowledge the significance of these momentous changes. The face of life was being perceptibly altered; thought, in many cases, had yet to accommodate itself to the fact. The American people, Henry Adams said, "were wandering in a wilderness much more sandy than the Hebrews had ever trodden about Sinai; they had neither serpents nor golden calves to worship. They had lost the sense of worship . . . ."1 In their uncertainty they looked to the past for guidance and reassurance, but the past was of little assistance in confronting the problems of a new era.

The Industrial Revolution pushed the great questions of slavery and sectionalism into the past; by 1900 the Civil War belonged to a bygone age seen now through the filter of romance. Veterans on both sides cherished memories of the war, but they could now celebrate their

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1
The Education of Henry Adams ( Modern Library ed., New York, 1931), p. 328.

-1-

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