America in 1870

Although America, by 1870, was still not one hundred years into its life as a country, it had the blessings and curses of an industrialized nation—some inherited from the British but others uniquely American.[i] Among the blessings was widespread prosperity: the United States then had “74 percent of British and 128 percent of German per-capita income.”[ii] Although many Europeans had come to see America as a country filled with “little more than amiable backwoods-men not yet ready for unsupervised outings on the world stage,” those Europeans had erred in reaching that conclusion as was evident at the London Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851 when Americans showed their latest inventions in their “outpost of wizardry and wonder” with machines that “did things that the world earnestly wished machines to do—stamp out nails, cut stone, mold candles—but with a neatness, dispatch, and tireless reliability that left other nations blinking.”[iii] But that presentation of the United States to the world lacked the nuance that was evident to those who toured the country; prosperity may have been widespread, but it was not equally distributed and it was not without hardship.

Read more

The Obstinacy of the North and South

enhanced-28733-1444703692-1
Construction on the Capitol in 1859. Courtesy: William England, Getty Images.

By 1859, the northern and southern sections of America had developed different economic systems, cultural norms, and approaches to permitting slavery. Congress and the political parties had been able to overlook those differences for the sake of self-preservation and advancement of the collective agenda. As 1859 concluded and 1860 sprang, Americans understood that the status quo of compromise was not to continue much longer. Read more

The Evolving Political Parties of the 1850s

panoramic-view-of-washington-city-e-sachse-and-co-1856
Panoramic View of Washington, DC in 1856. Courtesy: E. Sachse & Co.

The Democratic Party and Whig Party were the dominant political parties from the early 1830s up until the mid-1850s. Both were institutions in national politics despite not having a coherent national organization by cobbling together a diverse group of states to win elections. While the Democrats had a more populist agenda, the Whigs were more focused on pursuing industrialization and development of the country. See David Potter, The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861, 226. While the Democratic Party would survive to the present day, the Whig Party would not survive the mid-1850s, not as a result of its own ineptness but because of the changing political landscape of that era. Read more

The Work Divide

john_caspar_wild_-_cincinnati_from_behind_newport_barracks_-_google_art_project
Painting of Cincinnati, Ohio from Newport, Kentucky. By: John Caspar Wild.

The North and the South had come to develop two distinct cultures by the mid-1800s. One of those fundamental differences was the nature of work.

Read more

The Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842

daniel_webster_-_circa_1847
Daniel Webster.

Daniel Webster, the Secretary of State under President John Tyler, brought a breadth of experience and dignity to the office, but he also brought “a different perspective on Anglo-American relations.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 672.

Read more

The Emergence of Bankruptcy

10010743373
The Bankruptcy Act of 1841.

In the wake of the Panics of 1837 and 1839, Congress sent the White House a new bill to be signed into law: The Bankruptcy Act of 1841. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 593. From then on, bankruptcy would be part of American life, providing an option for when debts become overwhelming.

Read more

The Railroad Revolution

dewitt_clinton_28locomotive29
A Depiction of the Replica of the Dewitt Clinton, an American-made Locomotive.

Following the Panics of 1837 and 1839, America began rapidly expanding a new innovation: the railroad. While this would seem to have brought the country together, in fact, it increased sectionalism, creating more tension between the North and the South. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 569.

Read more