THE decade of the nineties was the watershed of American history. On the one side stretches the older America--the America that was overwhelmingly rural and agricultural, that devoted its energies to the conquest of the continent, that enjoyed relative isolation from the Old World, that was orthodox in religion, optimistic in philosophy, and romantic in temperament. Over the horizon, on the other side, came the new America--an America predominantly urban and overwhelmingly industrial, inextricably involved in world politics and world wars, experiencing convulsive changes in population, economy, technology, and social relations, and deeply troubled by the crowding problems that threw their shadow over the promise of the future.
Already by the nineties the generation that had fought the Civil War was passing from the scene, and a generation that knew Pickette's charge and Missionary Ridge only as history and tradition was coming to the fore. Majors and colonels in faded blue or gray still strutted the political stage, but the most memorable politician of the decade-- William Jennings Bryan--was born the year of secession, and his great rival, Theodore Roosevelt, was but a baby when the flag came fluttering down from Ft. Sumter. The issues that had agitated the postwar generation--reconstruction, the tariff, public lands, railroads--took on a faded and old-fashioned character. Politicians, notoriously the victims of the cultural lag, still waved the bloody shirt of the rebellion or invoked the memory of the stars and bars, but to little avail, and soon a new war united North and South where an old war had divided them. Even the statesmen of the previous decades, the bearded Blaines and Conklings, Mortons and Lamars came to seem alien and archaic when contrasted with new men like Bryan and La Follette and Theodore