The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865-1915

By Charles Howard Hopkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
APPLYING CHRISTIANITY TO THE
LABOR QUESTION

The gospel is a religion fitted for to-day, and it will answer the social problems of to-day, whether propounded by workman, employer, or consumer.

HARRY W. CADMAN

THE latter half of the nineteenth century witnessed radical changes in the character and status of American labor. With phenomenal speed the industrial revolution converted a peaceful agricultural country almost overnight into an urban nation of bustling factories whose operatives were no longer skilled artisans but machine tenders. Gigantic absentee-owned corporations removed the personal factor from employment while managements nourished on laissez faire economics opposed collective bargaining and hired mercenaries to do battle with strikers.

At the close of the Civil War strikes and lockouts had been virtually unknown, but between 1881 and 1894 more than fourteen thousand contests took place involving over four raillion workers. Technological unemployment, immigration, and other factors combined by 1900 to create a standing army of a million unemployed whereas in 1870 the labor supply had been inadequate. The demands of industry brought millions from the farms and from the old world to the new and crowded cities, expanding the working classes fivefold. Between 1860 and 1890 the national wealth increased from sixteen to seventy-eight and one half billions of dollars, more than half of which was held by some forty thousand families or one third of one per cent of the population. But in the decade 1870-80 real wages, which had never been above the bare subsistence level, had declined from an average of $400 to $300, forcing children into premature labor and driving women to the factories beside the men. The American industrial revolution, in the process of creating wealth such as the world had never seen or dreamed of, produced also a sullen proletariat resentful of the poverty it had

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