THIS volume, one of a long series of studies in American history, deals almost exclusively with the years 1890 to 1900. It is essentially concerned with the politics of the decade, with the economic history of the period, with efforts to reform and improve many areas of the existing society, and finally with the new burst of territorial expansion resulting in part from the Spanish-American War. Other volumes in this series will emphasize the constitutional and the cultural development of the decade in greater detail than the present author has attempted.
To those brought up in the tradition of "the gay nineties," it may be surprising to discover that the phrase is misleading. Except for the few exciting months of the Chicago World's Fair, there was little gaiety in the decade. On the contrary, five years of deep depression pushed agriculture to its lowest depths, demoralized industry and transportation, and brought with them various economic problems which became irretrievably interwoven with politics. The long and dreary battles over trusts, the control of interstate commerce, "free silver," and tariffs dominated the political life, but hardly raised the morale of the citizens. Nor did the efforts to solve these problems bring any immediate solutions to a harassed people.
To explode the myth of the nineties is not difficult. But I found it complicated, as is often the case, to point up the dominant characteristics of a single decade when the activities of the period started before the decade and continued in subsequent years. The nineties were restless, full of questioning and pioneering, when people were intent on reforming many aspects of social, economic, and political life.
Thinking people of the nineties knew the weaknesses of existing society