The Course of American Democratic Thought

By Ralph Henry Gabriel; Robert H. Walker | Go to book overview
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Chapter13
THE GOSPEL OF WEALTH OF THE GILDED AGE

WHEN HIS WAR-TIME AMBASSADORSHIP in England came to an end, Charles Francis Adams returned to a new and strange America. He was astonished at some of the changes. "Most noticeable of these," he remarked in 1871, "is perhaps to be found in a greatly enlarged grasp of enterprise and increased facility of combination. The great operations of war, the handling of large masses of men, the influence of discipline, the lavish expenditure of unprecedented sums of money, the immense financial operations, the possibilities of effective cooperation were lessons not likely to be lost on men quick to receive and to apply all new ideas."1 Adams recognized, however, that it was not the war alone that had brought in the new day.

A concatenation of events in the 1850's and 1860's initiated an industrial revolution in the United States. Previous to the fall of Sumter, states in the northeast quarter of the nation had been exploring their natural resources with scientific aid; during the same period the federal government had occasionally sent expeditions into wilderness areas to map the boundaries of mineral beds. The successors of Father Hennepin and Sieur La Salle and determined the extent and quality of the copper fields of Michigan; they had studied the more important eastern bituminous coal fields; and had brought to light the astounding wealth of iron ore which nature had thoughtfully placed so near the surface of the ground beside the shores of Lake Superior. Coal and iron are twin foundations of an industrial civilization. By the end of the Civil War, Americans noted that the nation possessed both minerals in what seemed unlimited amounts. It was possible for the ambitious entrepreneur of the mid-nineteenth century to visualize the manner in which coal and iron could be brought together. Since the beginning of their

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