America was at a turning point and the verge of a new century. Although tragedy and uncertainty threatened America, it was a time of prosperity and innovation.
There were an astonishing number of new inventions and enterprises were opening up everywhere. People felt excited by the new possibilities in America. Progress was something people believed in because it was everywhere.
Pessimism and self-pity was not in style. The Declaration of Independence was still read out loud on the Fourth of July. Between 1800 and 1900 America had become the most prosperous nation on earth. America had the largest industrial and agricultural economy, the highest per capita income and the highest level of education. America could have been described with characteristics such as optimism, hope and buoyancy. For the United States, everything seemed to be going just right.
By 1899 a series of tragic events would test the attitudes of the people. An explosion occurred in a coal mine in Utah, a devastating hurricane hit Texas, two brutal wars were fought overseas and assassins plot to murder the president of the United States.
There was unprecedented event in human history with the scientific, technological and industrial revolution. Americans believed that the inventions of the day were going to make them smarter, happier and healthier.
The electric light and popular music celebrated breakthroughs. This period in America is compared to that of the Renaissance. Everything since this period has been engineering. Motion pictures were new and the telephone was considered a miracle. Before this most people could remember hard work, dirtiness and disorganization.
While America was dreaming of the future, the world around them was changing leaving a troubling undercurrent of anxiety and doubt. Nowhere in America was progress so striking than in San Francisco. Fifty years before, prospectors had arrived for gold. Now, at the turn of the century over 350,000 people lived in San Francisco. San Francisco was a city that attracted artists, writers and bohemians.
The limits of progress were also being exposed with the cutting of about one-half of the forest. There was questioning of progress as it had been conventionally understood. People started to talk about conservation.
All at once America had control of the Spanish colonies on both sides of the globe including the Philippines with over 100 islands as a gateway to the markets of China. In 1899, the Philippines started to form an army to fight the United States in 1900. According to America, a superior power was fighting an inferior people. There was a no holds barred war with the Philippines.
In addition, the largest wave of immigration was happening. One-third of the population in New York was foreign-born. Many native Americans feared the immigrant and blamed them for hunger and poverty. From New York, millions of immigrants moved out west. Many people worked in mines and industrial factories. Conditions in the city were terrible from the smell of waste of humans and horses.
After the Civil War, African Americans had voted, sent representatives to serve Congress, served as sheriffs and justices of the peace, and sat along whites on juries, school boards and city councils. By 1900, through poll taxes, literacy tests and dozens of other schemes southern whites had stripped African Americans of their most basic rights as citizens.
By 1900, the south was segregated and southern whites resorted to terrorism. There were a series of people lynched and the majority of people lynched were African Americans. This was a period of demoralization for the Blacks but they were not slaves.
-Content prepared by Geri Robles.
Copyright (c) 1999; all rights reserved.
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