Domesticating the West: The Re-Creation of the Nineteenth-Century American Middle Class

Domesticating the West: The Re-Creation of the Nineteenth-Century American Middle Class

Domesticating the West: The Re-Creation of the Nineteenth-Century American Middle Class

Domesticating the West: The Re-Creation of the Nineteenth-Century American Middle Class

Synopsis

In 1881 Thomas and Elizabeth Tannatt said a final good-bye to Massachusetts and the eastern seaboard and set out in search not of land but of opportunities for social and political advancement. Facing severe limitations to their goals in the depressed and disheveled postwar East, the Tannatts went west to Walla Walla, Washington Territory, to pursue their dreams of influence and status. Domesticating the West examines the motivations of late-nineteenth-century middle-class migrants who moved west to build communities and establish themselves as leaders. The West offered new opportunities for solidly middle-class eastern families who endured hardship, uncertainty, and displacement during the Civil War, and who struggled to carve out meaningful social space in the war's aftermath. Brenda K. Jackson places the Tannatts at the center of this movement and demonstrates how gender, class, and place affected the new migrants' abilities to integrate into their new communities. She also shows how easterners redefined themselves as leaders of a new, moral western environment through volunteerism and political participation. While many studies of westward expansion focus exclusively on the earliest pioneers, Jackson adroitly shows how later arrivals shaped the social, economic, and cultural growth of the nation.

Excerpt

In 1881, Thomas and Elizabeth Tannatt said a final good-bye to Massachusetts and the eastern seaboard, where they had spent the majority of their lives, and moved west, as had so many American pioneers before them. Here, however, the similarities end, for the Tannatts undertook their journey in the years following the Civil War, more than a generation after the great migrations of the 1840s and 1850s. and unlike the agricultural and speculative motivations that drove pioneers during the first half of the century, middle-class travelers of the postwar era sought roles in the West as leaders, philanthropists, and community builders, opportunities that social and economic change wrought by war had rendered unattainable in many of their eastern hometowns.

The United States celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its independence in 1826, just a decade prior to the births of Thomas and Elizabeth in the 1830s. in the years that followed the country experienced an era of exceptional development and transformation as it grew from a young and largely agricultural nation to one perched on the brink of industrial explosion. the transportation revolution succeeded in connecting the eastern seaboard with the Ohio Valley and points west, and this shift of attention from the Atlantic coast to the heartland brought about a new sense of American pride and growth of a national spirit, witnessed in part by the 1828 presidential victory of “upstart” Andrew Jackson over incumbent John Quincy Adams.

The events of the century’s early decades disrupted many aspects of American society, in particular the class system, in place since the earliest days of colonization. Borrowed from the European model, the American social ladder included the wealthy at one end, the laboring poor, destitute, and enslaved at the other, and in between those loosely referred to as the “middling sort.” Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, this “natural” order remained largely unchallenged, for, despite the success of the few who did improve their social standing, the opportunities from which they benefited remained unavailable to the majority of the population.

The early nineteenth century’s transportation revolution produced a burst of technology, manufacture, and growth in the United States, all of which expanded in response to burgeoning national and international markets demanding large quantities of goods and services for rapidly expanding “consumer” populations. This era, often referred to as the Market Revolution, greatly upset the traditional class structure as it introduced the concept of upward mobility: the notion that individuals could move up the social ladder through diligence and hard work. “Ours is a country where men start from an humble origin, and from small beginnings rise gradually in the world, as . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.