The Course of American Democratic Thought

By Ralph Henry Gabriel; Robert H. Walker | Go to book overview
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Chapter 16
THE RELIGION OF HUMANITY AT WORK

DURING THE FIRST HALF of the nineteenth century the citizens of the Republic lived in a world of flux as the frontier hurried toward the Pacific and industrialism began the transformation of the northeastern states. After Appomattox the speed of social change accelerated. The last and most turbulent frontier came and went as settlers reclaimed the dry high plains from the wilderness. When the land available for human habitation had been occupied, Frederick Jackson Turner pointed out that an epoch in American history had come to an end, and that Americans were entering a new world. This world, of course, was that of the city. In the last four decades of the nineteenth century the gargantuan metropolis came into being where railroads converged upon a favorable harbor, upon a river junction, or upon a strategically located bit of lake shore.

Because of industrial exploitation, the natural wealth increased as a mountain reservoir rises when the snow melts on the uplands. But an ever-growing proportion of the husbanded water was sluiced off to irrigate the lands of the few. Giganticism appeared in industry, and the intimate personal relations of the small economic enterprise vanished. The distance between the worker and the owner-manager became great. There was no friendly path between the company house of the Pennsylvania coke-worker and the Fifth Avenue palace of Henry Clay Frick. It was equally as far from the railway office of Jay Gould to the farmstead served by the Erie. Social distances in the latter decades of the nineteenth century should be measured in terms of power; democratic equalitarianism disappeared as industrial and financial giants rose above the ranks of common men.

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