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Impact of the Growth of the New Nation on Native Americans
The constant westward shove given to American Indians, as well as the unequal terms of many treaties, fundamentally changed the structure of Indian life. Men's traditional social roles, hunting and warfare, became less significant. Land restrictions meant that game quickly became scarce, and fur trading was less and less feasible. Andrew Jackson's 1814 treaty with the Creeks introduced the concept of individual ownership to the society, thus bringing the competitive self-oriented spirit of Western capitalism to the Indians. This was called "civilization." The loss of economic identity and power, combined with the loss of political influence, led to tremendous frustration and shame. Suicides, alcoholism, and other legacies of displacement and depression became more frequent among Native Americans of many tribes.
The impact of the Transcontinental Railroad on Native Americans
The Transcontinental Railroad was completed 150 years ago, in 1869. In 1800s America, some saw the railroad as a symbol of modernity and national progress. For others, however, the Transcontinental Railroad undermined the sovereignty of Native nations and threatened to destroy Indigenous communities and their cultures as the railroad expanded into territories inhabited by Native Americans.
I asked Dr. Manu Karuka, American Studies scholar and author of Empire’s Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad, about the impact of the railroad on Indigenous peoples and nations.
A Native American man looking at the Central Pacific Railroad, about 1869. Courtesy of Library of Congress.
Traditional histories of the Transcontinental Railroad often exclude Native Americans. How does including Indigenous peoples and nations transform these familiar narratives?
Indigenous people are often present in railroad histories, but they form a kind of colorful backdrop that establishes the scene. Rarely, if ever, do we get an understanding of the interests that drove Indigenous peoples’ actions in relation to the railroad. Rather than analyzing Indigenous peoples’ commitments to their communities and their homelands, railroad histories have emphasized market competition and westward expansion. Focusing on Indigenous histories reveals how Indigenous nations have survived colonialism.
“Indigenous people are often present in railroad histories, but they form a kind of colorful backdrop,” explains Karuka. That is literally the case in this illustration of the Transcontinental Railroad created for a souvenir booklet. Courtesy of Archives Center, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana.
Your new book reinterprets the building of the railroad as a colonial project. Your book also challenges readers to consider the Transcontinental Railroad as a form of “continental imperialism.” Colonialism and imperialism are two very distinct processes. How are they different, and how are they related in your analysis of the Transcontinental Railroad?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines colonialism as “colonization by settlement.” In the case of the U.S., Canada, and other settler colonies, colonialism is a process that replaces existing, Indigenous communities and ways of relating to the land with settler populations, and settler ways of life.
The Transcontinental Railroad facilitated the colonization of western territories by encouraging new settlements on Indigenous lands.
This colonization was an extension of what I call “continental imperialism.” I draw from the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and Vladimir Lenin to understand imperialism as a process through which finance capital becomes ascendant over industrial capital. This results in the increasing concentration of wealth under fewer hands, through corporate trusts and mergers. Du Bois and Lenin argued that the hyper-concentration of wealth led to the territorial division of the world. Railroads were a core infrastructure of imperialism in North America, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
What roles did Native Americans play during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad?
It is important to distinguish between different nations and their relationships to the railroad. The railroad did not impact Native peoples in a uniform manner.
Lakotas, for example, had developed a way of life organized around the expansiveness of the Plains and of the life on it, especially the massive buffalo herds. As the Lakota writer and political leader Luther Standing Bear described it, Lakota people moved through their land, following buffalo herds. “Moving day was just like traveling from one nice home to another.” When the Union Pacific Railroad was being built, Lakota expansiveness confronted the expansionist drive of the United States. This represented two distinct and competing ways of living in relationship to the land and the living beings on it.
Sioux drawing of a bison, 1898. The Transcontinental Railroad dramatically altered ecosystems. For instance, it brought thousands of hunters who killed the bison Native people relied on.
The Cheyenne experience was different. The railroad disrupted intertribal trade on the Plains, and thereby broke a core aspect of Cheyenne economic life. Cheyennes responded to this crisis by developing annuity economies, based around regular payments by the U.S. federal government, as stipulated in treaties, and raiding economies. This signaled a long-term strategic shift within Cheyenne communities.
Other Indigenous peoples found themselves drawn into a closer relationship with railroad construction. For instance, some Pawnee men worked as scouts for the U.S. Army, defending railroad construction parties. Their work provided an avenue to wage labor, shaped in a historical context of the imposition of commercial farming and boarding schools on Pawnees. Both of these impositions sought to replace Pawnee women’s agricultural and pedagogical work and relationships.
After the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, indigenous populations continued to have different relationships to the railroads. Some nations resisted, while others worked with the railroad. In this photograph, a group of Native American people are attending a last spike ceremony to complete the Northern Pacific Railroad, 1883. Courtesy of National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
How did the U.S. government’s role in railroad construction affect Indigenous peoples?
The U.S. Congress granted millions of acres of land to railroad companies. According to treaties ratified by Congress, these lands belonged to different Indigenous nations. In other words, Congress granted land to railroad companies that was not legally under its control. The different forms of Indigenous resistance to railroad construction were neither savage nor illegal. These were forms of resistance to uphold treaties, the supreme law of the land.
The possibility of Indigenous resistance posed risks to investors. In response, the U.S. government enlisted the U.S. Army to ensure that resistance could be contained. The Army and state militias enforced the progress of construction through military occupation of Indigenous communities, deliberately targeting villages and food sources. This took the form of massacres of entire villages, as at Sand Creek and Blue Water Creek assassination of tribal diplomatic leaders attempts to isolate children from their families and the wholesale destruction of the buffalo herds. The goal was to destroy the ability of Indigenous nations to contest the invasion and occupation of their lands. The railroads themselves facilitated these military tactics by enabling swift troop and supply movements over great distances in harsh weather.
Despite the efforts of both railroad officials and military authorities, Indigenous peoples resisted. In the summer of 1867, for example, Cheyenne raids led to the complete disruption of railroad construction. Massive villages conducted strategic attacks on military outposts, settler communities, and the overland trail, completely isolating Denver from the United States for a time.
Resistance continued well after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. In 1873, Lakotas took up armed resistance against the Northern Pacific Railroad’s illegal incursion of their homelands. Despite genocidal violence and ecological destruction, the Indigenous nations invaded by railroad colonialism are still here today. Some are at the forefront of contemporary struggles against fracking, pipelines, coal mining, and monopoly agro-business.
This illustration comes from the United States Pacific Railroad Surveys, which were commissioned by the U.S. Congress and conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers to map potential routes for the Transcontinental Railroad. This document not only shows the government’s investment in the railroad, but the perspective from which many of the surviving historical documents were created.
What are some of the challenges in telling a history of the Transcontinental Railroad through the lens of Native Americans?
Corporate, military, and Indian Office officials created documents to facilitate the capture of Indigenous lands and the exploitation of Chinese labor. For example, I have read census records of Paiute Native Americans that tabulate the size of populations, and “propensity to labor,” with question marks next to each number recorded. These records have been cited in scholarship as facts, essentially removing the question marks. In other words, historians have cited supposed facts from documents that actually recorded rumors. A core challenge for historians working in these archives is to expose these rumors, and the impulse behind them, rather than repeating them at face value. In a larger sense, I think there is work for all of us to better understand the histories of the places where we live, rather than repeating the stories we have been told. For the great majority of us, I think our survival depends on it.
Sam Vong is a curator of Asian Pacific American history at the National Museum of American History.
Manu Karuka is an assistant professor of American Studies at Barnard College.
Digital programming for the Transcontinental Railroad anniversary is made possible by John and Ellen Thompson.
The New Deal Worked
This section counters the common fiction that the New Deal was a failure or, at best, a well-intentioned but ineffective approach to the catastrophe of the Great Depression. Below you will find short summaries & statistics on key dimensions of economic recovery and social welfare in the 1930s, plus the role of New Deal programs in addressing each problem and the longer-term implications of the New Deal&rsquos beneficial policies.
(Note: This is an ongoing project to which new topics will be added over time)
The Great Depression had brought the country to its economic knees by the time Franklin Roosevelt entered the White House in March 1933. FDR and his team launched the New Deal to help get the country back on its feet. They succeeded, yet the myth persists that the New Deal had little effect on economic recovery and only World War II ended the Depression.
The proximate cause of the Great Depression was the financial meltdown that began in October 1929. Stock prices nosedived, millions defaulted on mortgage payments, thousands of firms and banks were shuttered. The scariest moments were the Wall Street panic of late 1929 and the bank implosion of early 1933.
The real economy was going into recession well before Black Friday, but after that shock all hell broke loose. Investment shrank, wages were slashed, layoffs multiplied and consumer demand shriveled, propelling the economy into a downward spiral. By early 1933, GDP had fallen by half, industrial output by a third, and employment by one-quarter.
When President Roosevelt took office, the first order of business was to get the country&rsquos financial house in order. The next order of priority was to provide relief and employment was the working people of the country. Along with these material strategies, FDR knew he had to provide a traumatized nation with hope that its problems could be solved and to give the American people a helping hand in getting back on their feet.
As the New Deal took hold, the economy took off, with growth reaching double-digit rates in 1934 and 1936. By 1937, the Great Recovery had pushed output, income and manufacturing back to 1929 levels. Then, recession hit in 1937-38, dropping output by a third and driving unemployment back up &ndash in part due to FDR&rsquos wish to return to a balanced budget and the Fed&rsquos desire to tighten up on the money supply (both were mistakes). After growth resumed in 1939, however, the economy made it all the way back to its long-term trajectory by 1942 (i.e., as if the Depression had not happened). In short, national output and income had fully recovered before the United States entered the Second World War.
One glaring exception to the Great Recovery was unemployment, which stayed near 10% &ndash a fact that has been used to forever mar the New Deal&rsquos reputation. The failure of a booming economy to absorb surplus labor was due chiefly to the way business had shuttered factories, warehouses and railroads during the Depression then replaced them with more productive capacity and equipment during the recovery. Ironically, the New Deal contributed to higher productivity by such means as better roads, hydroelectric dams, rural electrification and better health of workers.
World War II brought full employment through military recruitment and full-tilt production for the war effort. The federal government was even moreactive in stimulating the economy than during the New Deal, financing thousands of new factories and running more massive deficits than the New Deal ever dared. Contrary to common perception, however, overall productivity did not increase much during the war.
To be sure, economic growth, industrial productivity and high US wage rates cannot simply be ascribed to the New Deal or government policy alone. By the 1920s, the American economy was the largest in the world and the assembly line, electricity, chemicals and petroleum had unleashed a new industrial revolution, of which the United States was the clear leader. But the New Deal played a key role in halting the downward spiral of the Great Depression and boosting the wages and welfare of millions of ordinary Americans.
Conservatives have long denied the New Deal&rsquos effective response to the Great Depression, as when Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell declared: &ldquoWe know for sure that the big spending programs of the New Deal did not work.&rdquo (&ldquoRevisionists&rsquo blind view of the New Deal,&rdquo Politico, February 13, 2009). Today, many skeptics similarly view the Green New Deal initiative as hopelessly pie-in-the-sky. Nonetheless, the experience of the New Deal proves that big government programs can reap big rewards, if done right.
Economy & Business
If the fall into the Great Depression was precipitous, the rise from the depths of the crisis was equally striking. The period from 1934 to 1942 was one of the greatest periods of economic growth in American history &ndash a fact that has perturbed New Deal critics from the 1930s to the present. The average rate of growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was around 10% for the decade, comparable to the phenomenal growth of China in the 2000s.
The contrast with the slow recovery from the Great Recession of 2008-10 is startling. As former chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, Professor Christina Romer, has noted, &ldquoFrom 1933 to 1937, real gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of almost 10 percent, and unemployment fell from 25 percent to 14. To put that in perspective, G.D.P. growth has averaged just 2.5 percent in the current recovery, and unemployment has barely budged.&rdquo
Here are the annual figures for U.S. GDP &ndash the total value of all goods and services produced &ndash from 1929 to 1941, in billions of dollars:
Here are the figures for the annual rate of growth in GDP adjusted for inflation &mdash from 1930 to 1941 in percent:
The foundation for this rapid growth was the new industrial revolution of the early 20th century, based on the assembly line, electricity, chemicals and petroleum. United States was the world&rsquos largest and most dynamic economic power by the 1920s. Nevertheless, the collapse of 1929 to 1933 had to be stopped before the economy could renew its upward climb, and the New Deal played a major role in halting the bleeding and kick-starting the recovery.
First, the Roosevelt administration put the banking and financial system back on a solid footing: failing banks were culled, deposit insurance instituted, homeowners bailed out, and mortgages guaranteed. The dollar was untied from the Gold Standard and devalued. The Federal Reserve Bank loosened up money supply. Credit began to flow again.
Second, the federal government pumped billions of dollars into the economy through emergency relief funds and public works programs, while running the first peacetime deficits in US history. Not only were millions of desperate Americans put back to work, but their wages gave families spending money to boost aggregate consumption.
The New Deal&rsquos aggressive monetary and fiscal policies had a stabilizing and stimulating effect on the American economy, and they were put in place even before the terms were invented and theorized by the economist John Maynard Keynes in 1936.
It should be added that the New Deal influenced America&rsquos Golden Era of postwar economic growth. It laid the building blocks for the expansion of the middle-class, such as protections for unions, the 30-year mortgage, and more education & training. New Deal public works remained in use for decades after the 1930s, including highways, dams, electric lines, and sewer systems.
Between 1946 and 1980 (35 years) annual economic growth exceeded 5 percent 12 times. By contrast, from 1981 through 2018 (38 years), annual economic growth exceeded 5 percent just once (1984). The latter was the so-called Neoliberal era of tax-cutting, deregulation, union decline, stagnant wages, and rising inequality &ndash very much the opposite of the New Deal era.
Note: GDP statistics are from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The quote from Christina Romer comes from her op-ed, &ldquoThe Hope That Flows From History,&rdquo New York Times, August 13, 2011.
After a shocking drop-off of 1931-1933, US corporate profits began to recover during the New Deal. This was true even with corporate tax increases and greater efforts to stop corporate tax avoidance (see our Income and Wealth Taxes program summary ).
The war years were even better for corporations, thanks to full capacity use of factories, wage restraints and price controls &ndash again led by the federal government.
Here are the after-tax profits in billions of dollars for America&rsquos corporations, 1929-1946:
1929: 9.5 billion
1930: 3.7 billion
1931: .06 billion
1932: 1.7 billion
1933: 1.3 billion
1934: 2.5 billion
1935: 3.4 billion
1936: 5.7 billion
1937: 6.1 billion
1938: 3.6 billion
1939: 6.3 billion
1940: 7.8 billion
1941: 11.2 billion
1942: 11.1 billion
1943: 11.8 billion
1944: 11.8 billion
1945: 9.7 billion
1946: 16.5 billion
Note: Data is from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, &ldquoTable 6.19A. Corporate Profits After Tax by Industry,&rdquo accessed May 18, 2019.
Bank failures were a prominent feature of major economic downturns in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many Americans lost their savings when banks failed, further driving down economic activity. There were many state-level experiments to insure bank deposits, but none proved to be viable in the long-term.
The thousands of bank failures of the Great Depression, 1929-1933, were the worst case of financial implosion the country had ever seen, and the states alone were unable to stop the collapse. While the Federal Reserve bank system had been created in the wake of the financial crisis of 1908, the Fed remained a conservative bankers&rsquo institution and did not react in a way that helped cushion the banks from deflation in fact, the Fed made everything worse by tightening up the money supply!
Here are the figures on the number of bank failures around the country from 1921 to 1933, showing the growing bank crisis following on the Stock Market Crash of 1929:
On June 16, 1933, a surprisingly hesitant President Roosevelt agreed to sign legislation that included the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). By insuring bank deposits up to a certain amount, FDIC gave Americans a greater sense of security that if their bank failed they would not be left destitute. This sense of security reduced &ldquobank-runs&rdquo (a mass, panicked rush to remove money from a distressed bank), which in turn helped banks avoid failure.
Here, by contrast, are the numbers of bank failures, 1934-1946, after the New Deal&rsquos creation of the FDIC (on a base of 13,000-14,000 FDIC-insured banks):
As the chart highlights, the FDIC (alongside other New Deal banking actions) was astonishingly effective, virtually eliminating bank failures altogether.
In fact, from 1934 to 1981 the number of bank failures never exceeded 100 annually, even as the total number of banks remained relatively unchanged. Unfortunately, since deregulation fervor began around 1980, bank failures have exceeded 100 a number of times, with a high of 534 in 1989. Moreover, the savings & loan sector &ndash which had also been shored up during the New Deal &ndash imploded in the financial crisis of 1986-87 and effectively disappeared thereafter.
Note: Most of the information and statistics above are from the history and data tool sections of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation website. Also see, &ldquoExplaining the Decline in the Number of Banks since the Great Recession,&rdquo Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, March 2015 (accessed May 11, 2019).
Productivity rose rapidly in the economic recovery of the 1930s. In fact, the rate of increase in total factor productivity was the highest per decade going back to the 19th century and higher than any decade since. What took place was effectively a broadening of the base of the industrial and consumer revolutions of the first half of the 20th century (Field, p. 35). As Alexander Field puts it, &ldquoIt was not principally the Second World War that laid the foundation for postwar prosperity. It was technological progress across a broad frontier of the American economy in the 1930s.&rdquo (Field, p. 19)
Here are the figures on annual rates of growth in total factor productivity, 1900-2007, by economic cycle (Field, p 43):
This key fact of the New Deal era recovery has been underestimated in the past by economic historians using inappropriate measures. One mistake has been not to use the correct peak-to-peak business cycle endpoints (in this case, 1929-1941). A second has been to look only at labor productivity &ndash by which the 1930s comes in fifth place since 1800 &ndash rather than total factor productivity (which includes capital inputs as well as labor) the latter better captures key changes in chemistry, materials, energy and automation. A third error has been to look only at manufacturing &ndash which grew by a over 5% per year in the 1920s &ndash when the biggest improvements of the 1930s came in transportation, communication, distribution and utilities (though 1930s still come in second) (Field, pp. 48-49).
The New Deal contributed to the economy&rsquos rise in productivity in ways that went beyond the stabilization and stimulus policies discussed previously. Most of all, it underwrote collective productivity through investments in better infrastructure (Field, p. 106). The single largest public works program of the New Deal was building roads to aid the shift from railroad to truck transport &ndash with transportation experiencing the greatest leap in productivity of all sectors (Field, p. 59). Hydroelectric dams and new power lines allowed for greater electrification of industry and households &ndash necessary to the adoption of new machinery, including household appliances.
Meanwhile, the New Deal promoted more research and education. Its farm, forest and soil programs increased funding for research and practical assistance to the agriculture and timber sectors so that new and better production practices could be adopted. New Deal education programs &ndash from humble CCC literacy classes to teacher aides to university buildings &ndash improved the ability of millions of Americans to work with the new technologies being employed by US industry.
Note: Alexander Field, A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2011.
The Great Depression devastated the stock markets of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco. Everyone remembers Black Monday and Tuesday, October 28-29, 1929, when the New York stock exchange index fell 25%, but the collapse continued over the next three years (with the usual ups and downs of daily trading). By the end of 1932, the Dow Jones Index of the NYSE was down by almost 90%. It would take decades for the markets to fully recover.
Part of the problem was that stock prices had been elevated in the 1920s by massive speculation, especially borrowing on margins to profit off of rising prices (Galbraith 1972). Stock manipulation (now called &lsquoinsider trading&rsquo) added to the bloat. As historian Cameron Addis argues, &ldquoIn 1929, stock share prices were running higher than their historical average in relation to how much companies were actually earning (Price/Earnings, or P/E ratios). Corruption increased the market&rsquos instability. Small groups of wealthy men &lsquopainted the tape,&rsquo driving up prices artificially by buying themselves, only to sell at high profits after other &lsquosuckers&rsquo bought into the rally.&rdquo
New Deal policies introduced at the beginning of President Franklin Roosevelt&rsquos administration in Spring 1933 worked to stabilize the stock market, along with the banks and the dollar. In particular, the Securities & Exchange Commission clamped down on the stock market fraud that had been practiced during the Roaring Twenties.
From the nadir of 1932, the Dow Jones NYSE index rose briskly, 1933-36 (see table). The short recession of 1937 knocked the market back, but it recovered in 1939 before war fears put the damper on things until the United States finally entered the Second World War in 1942. The stock market did not reach its pre-Depression highs again until the 1950s, despite the booming postwar economy. Finance had been brought back to earth &ndash for a time.
New Deal financial regulations put the lid on speculation throughout the postwar era. Only with the growth of the Eurodollar market in London in the late 1960s did the financial markets start to escape the New Deal order. Banks and capital markets were steadily deregulated from the early 1970s onward, and the stock markets took off again, driven by options, secondary mortgages, and ever more exotic instruments and off-balance sheet banking. As the regulatory system was gutted, financial markets once again blew up with speculation in the 1990s and 2000s and the Great Recession followed the financial crisis of 2008 (Stiglitz 2010, Roubini & Mimn 2010).
Note: Statistics for the Dow Jones Industrial Average obtained, or derived from: Phyllis S. Pierce (ed.), The Dow Jones Averages, 1885-1990, Homewood, IL: Business One Irwin (for Dow Jones & Company, Inc.), 1991.
Sources noted above:Galbraith, John Kenneth. The Great Crash, 1929. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972. Cameron Addis. nd. Stock Market Crash & Great Depression. History Hub at: http://sites.austincc.edu/caddis/stock-market-crash-great-depression/. Anon, &ldquoHere Are Warning Signs Investors Missed Before the 1929 Crash,&rdquo History.com, December 20, 2018. Stiglitz, Joseph. Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy. New York: Norton, 2010. Roubini, Nouriel and Stephen Mihm. Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance. New York: Penguin Press, 2010.
Employment & Income
The massive job losses of the Great Depression&rsquos opening years left nearly 13 million American workers unemployed in 1932-33 out of a workforce of around 50 million, or almost one-quarter of the labor force. Employment rose along with national output from 1933 onward, except for the sharp recession of 1937-38 (see entry on growth, above). By 1940 the number employed equaled the level of 1929.
The New Deal created over 20 million work relief jobs from 1933 to 1942 through programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps, Civil Works Administration and Works Progress Administration. These reduced the jobless rate by about 5%. New Deal investment programs like the Public Works Administration created about as many jobs, both directly and indirectly, in the private sector, lowering unemployment another 5% or so.
Here are U.S. unemployment rates from 1929-1940:
Nevertheless, the New Deal was unable to get unemployment rates down to pre-Depression levels. This was largely due to technological displacement of industrial and transport workers. The graph below shows how employment growth, while high, lagged output growth through most of the 1930s (and 1940s).
There is a good deal confusion about unemployment figures during the New Deal years. It is frequently claimed that the rate remained in the double-digits throughout the 1930s and that by the end of the decade it was still around 15%. Such claims rely on older statistics by Stanley Lebergott that counted workers in the work-relief programs as &ldquounemployed&rdquo subsequently, economic historians have revised the data to show the substantial difference this makes.
As historian Eric Rauchway has noted, &ldquowhether you look at the performance of GDP or at current scholarship on unemployment, you see significant recovery during the New Deal. You could only believe the New Deal did little to aid the ordinary American if you went out of your way to cite the older, Lebergott data on unemployment and utterly ignored the performance of GDP.&rdquo
It took another massive round of government spending and military enlistment during World War II to finally eliminate unemployment.
Note: On relief and public works employment, see Jason Scott Smith, Building New Deal Liberalism: The Political Economy of Public Works, 1933-1956. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp. 96-97. Unemployment statistics from Robert A. Margo, &ldquoEmployment and Unemployment in the 1930s,&rdquo Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Spring 1993), pp. 41-59. Also see Michael R. Darby, &ldquoThree-And-A-Half Million U.S. Employees Have Been Mislaid Or, An Explanation Of Unemployment, 1934-1941,&rdquo Journal of Political Economy, February 1976, 84, 1-16 and Eric Rauchway, &ldquoNew Deal Denialism,&rdquo Dissent, Winter 2010, pp. 68-72. On technological displacement and investment, see Corrington Gill, Wasted Manpower: The Challenge of Unemployment, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1939, pp. 66-104) and Alexander Field, A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2011.
The Great Depression drove down wages relentlessly. Given the horrible economic conditions, businesses either laid off workers or demanded that the ones who remained accept lower wages (and fewer hours) to keep their jobs. Mass unemployment put a fierce downward pressure on wages through 1933, which hit their nadir in 1933 this was especially true for industrial workers and the less skilled.
With economic revival in the New Deal era, wages began to tick upward in 1934. Nominal wages climbed back to 1929 levels by 1937 and real wages reached the same mark by 1940. The figures and graphs here show the movement of both nominal wages (in current dollars) and real wages (adjusted for inflation) from the early 1920s to the early 1940s:
New Deal programs and policies helped lift wages beyond what economic recovery in the private sector was able to generate. Recognition of unions and labor rights &mdash starting with the National Industrial Relations Act in 1933 and confirmed by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 &ndash was crucial to the revival of organized labor during the 1930s and beyond (labor research has consistently shown that unionized workers earn more on average than non-unionized workers). In 1939 the New Deal added the first federal minimum wage floor to lift the earnings of the lowest strata of workers.
Earnings continued to rise in the postwar era, despite the major setback to organized labor in the Taft-Hartley Act of 1946. In recent decades, policymakers have moved away from the New Deal and focused on the interests of shareholders and big donors. Union rates have fallen steadily since the 1970s and minimum wages have lagged badly. As a result, wages for the lower 2/3ds of the labor force have been practically stagnant.
Note: Data for the gross earnings chart comes from U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Earnings,Vol. 7 No. 2 (August 1960), p. 29 (Table C-1, &ldquoGross hours and earnings of production workers in manufacturing, 1919 to date&rdquo). The real wages graph is from Gerhard Bry,&ldquoWages in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States,&rdquo p. 278, in Gerhard Bry (ed.), Wages in Germany, 1871-1945, Princeton University Press, 1960. For an introduction to labor organizing in the New Deal era and the pushback by employers in the Neoliberal era, see Nelson Lichtenstein, The State of the Union: A Century of American Labor. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002. On stagnant wages, see &ldquoFor most U.S. workers, real wages have barely budged in decades,&rdquo Pew Research Center, August 7, 2018).
After the Stock Market Crash of 1929, millions of Americans struggled to afford basic necessities, let alone save money. With New Deal reforms, that changed. However, jobless Americans enjoyed a stronger, New Deal-created safety net to soften the hardships of unemployment (for example, food stamps and the distribution of large amounts of surplus commodities).
Here are the personal savings rates (as a percentage of disposable income) for Americans from 1929 to 1941:
Personal savings continued to be strong from 1942 through 1984, when many New Deal policies and programs were still robust, exceeding 10 percent annually 38 out of 43 years. From 1985 to the present, however, the personal savings rate has never exceeded a yearly rate of 10 percent, and has routinely been below 8 percent. This period, often called the era of &ldquoNeo-Liberalism,&rdquo featured wage stagnation, union decline, and rollback of many New Deal policies. During the 10-year period 1999 to 2008, the personal savings rate never went above an annual rate of 5.8 percent.
Note: Data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Consumer spending is mostly determined by economic performance, prevailing wages and government transfer payments (such as pensions), with an added element of household outlook. Consumer spending improved sharply during the New Deal thanks to a revived economy, greater employment and rising wages, plus a renewed sense of personal security and optimism. After struggling through years of economic recession, the majority of Americans finally had money in their pockets to buy goods and services.
The graph above shows Real, i.e., adjusted-for-inflation, Personal Consumption Expenditures (a measure of consumer spending) from 1929-1940.
The New Deal&rsquos programs helped revive the American economy and put people to work earning wages, while the growth of labor unions and rising productivity kept wages on the rise (as noted in prior entries). Furthermore, social aid programs brought more government transfers to the disadvantaged, while unemployment insurance and social security kicked in later in the decade.
The role of consumer spending in economic growth and recession is still debated by economists, but FDR&rsquos Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Marriner Eccles (a banker from Utah) was convinced that the Great Depression was brought on by a reduction in consumer purchasing power due to growing income and wealth inequality in the 1920s (see our biography of Eccles here). Higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations instituted during the New Deal certainly helped fund social security and other programs, while rising wages further cut into class inequality through the 1950s.
Note: The graph is provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, using data from the U.S.Bureau of Economic Analysis.
New Deal policymakers were able to replenish federal coffers, which had hit their nadir in 1932-33. Federal tax revenues were bolstered by a growing economy and by taxes on alcohol sales (with the end of Prohibition in 1933) and higher taxes on high income households and corporate profits.
Here are federal receipts for fiscal years 1925-1947 (in billions), not including Social Security taxes:
There is a notable jump in federal revenues beginning with fiscal year 1942, which was brought about by new wartime taxes as well as the national mobilization to fight the Second World War. Some of the new taxes continued after the war in an effort to &ldquobalance the budget&hellip finance the European recovery program&hellip [and] provide a substantial surplus for retirement of debt&rdquo, which had soared with government borrowing to pay for the war. (Quote from the annual report of the Secretary of the Treasury, fiscal year 1947, p. 1 ).
Along with rising revenues, federal spending ramped up during the New Deal years, becoming a larger part of the U.S. economy. Here are the figures:
1929: 3 %
1930: 3 %
1931: 4 %
1932: 8 %
1933: 8 %
1935: 9 %
1937: 9 %
1938: 8 %
1939: 10 %
Note: Revenue statistics are from the U.S. Treasury&rsquos annual reports, fiscal years 1925-1946, most of which are available at Hathitrust. Federal spending as a percentage of GDP from Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American history website at: https://www.gilderlehrman.org/content/statistics-impact-depression
In the 19th century, state and local governments were hesitant to undertake major spending programs after the canal building boom of the 1820s-30s ended with several states in bankruptcy in the 1840s. The railroad booms of the 1950-60s and 1880s were privately financed and similarly came to grief in the downturns of the 1870s and 1890s. Most local investments were financed on a piecemeal basis through special property assessments.
The Progressive Era (1890-1910) ramped up public spending dramatically, especially by cities, but was restrained by the short financial crisis of 1908 and the onset of World War One. State and local spending took off again after the war, with debt loads rising rapidly. By the end of the boom of the 1920s, many cities and states were overextended and were effectively (sometimes formally) bankrupt after the Great Depression hit.
The New Deal&rsquos Emergency Relief Act of 1933 was a godsend for public finances, providing some $3 billion in grants to state and local governments and bringing most of them back to solvency. Economic revival and the growth of state and local revenues did the rest. Debt crises only began to reappear in the 1970s and beyond, with the 21st century looking more and more risky. The following chart shows the rise and fall of state and local debt.
Local and State Debt Levels in the 20th Century as Percentage of National GDP (local in red, state in blue)
At the start of the 20th century, local government debt stood at about 8 percent of US GDP by the end of the 1920s, it had reached 13.5 percent. When the Great Depress hit it jumped to 28 percent of GDP in 1933 before declining sharply during the New Deal years. At the start of the 20th century, state government debt stood at only 1 percent of GDP it expanded briskly through the 1920s to 2.2 percent of GDP in 1929, then shot up to 5.31 percent in 1933 before falling again with New Deal aid.
World War II, which put a halt to most non-military government projects, brought local debt down to 5.5 percent in 1948 and state debt all the way back to 1 percent in 1946.
Note: on 19th century local finances, see Robin Einhorn, Property Rules: Political Economy in Chicago, 1833-1872. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991. On the Progressive Era, see Jon Teaford, The Unheralded Triumph: City Government in America, 1870-1900. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984. On the postwar era, see Alberta Sbragia, Debt Wish: Entrepreneurial Cities, U.S. Federalism and Economic Development. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996. 20th century debt chart at USgovernmentspending,com.
Public Works & Infrastructure
Public spending on infrastructure in the United States was notoriously scant in the 19th century. Several states made large investments in canals in the 1820s and 30s, financed with general revenue bonds sold, above all, to British investors. Railroads were the country&rsquos main public works in the second half of the century they were financed chiefly by federal land grants and issuance of corporate stocks and bonds from the 1850s to 1900s.
A surge in public works construction came in the Progressive Era, 1890-1910, concentrated in America&rsquos burgeoning cities. These were financed chiefly by local revenue bonds and property taxes. The states also undertook major new bond-financed infrastructure projects, notably highways and rural roads, backed by gas taxes.
The New Deal ushered in a Golden Age for public works, as Washington at last took a leading role in funding infrastructure. The federal government, working hand-in-hand with state and local agencies, financed (and provided relief labor for) a huge array of projects. These emphasized the newest forms of technology and infrastructure, including highways, airports, dams, and electric grids, as well as more traditional public works, such as libraries, schools and parks.
Below are some of the public works accomplishments of New Deal&rsquos many public works programs. The resulting upgrade in the country&rsquos infrastructure served several generations of Americans and, in many cases, are still in use today.
Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942:
2.3 billion trees planted
2,500 cabins built in state & national parks & forests
6.4 million man-days fighting forest fires
68,000 miles of new firebreaks constructed
1 billion fish stocked in lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams
Public Works Administration, 1933-1939:
212 dams and canals
894 sewage disposal plants
698 college buildings
406 post offices
572,353 miles of work on rural roads, including farm-to-market roads
77,965 new bridges
325 new firehouses
16,000 miles of new water lines
23,607 miles of new sidewalks
Rural Electrification Administration, 1935-1943:
381,000 miles of power lines installed, serving over 1 million farms
National Youth Administration, 1935-1943:
1,337,185 items of school furniture
407 new swimming pools
2,354 tree and plant nurseries
9,074 tennis courts built, repaired, or improved
88 new golf courses
Civil Works Administration, 1933-1934:
Approximate number built, repaired, or improved &ndash some projects were incomplete and subsequently finished by the Work Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, 1934-1935 or the WPA
255,000 miles of roads
2,000 miles of levees
4,000 athletic fields
Note: Statistics from the various annual and final reports of the respective agencies.
As part of the New Deal&rsquos massive public works programs, the administration did not overlook the importance of beauty in public places. Some of the country&rsquos finest architects were hired to design new public buildings. Fine rustic structures were added to the National Parks. New landscaping enhanced most public spaces. And, most famously, thousands of artists were hired to add murals, paintings, statues and bas-relief sculptures to public buildings, new and old. Artists and architects, too, found themselves jobless as a result of the Great Depression and were able to keep themselves going by taking on New Deal engagements. Many of those artists, such as Sargent Johnson and Ben Shahn, went on to become famous in their own right.
Here are the figures for the two notable New Deal arts programs:
Public Works of Art Project, 1933-1934
15,663 artworks for public places (carvings, sculptures, oil paintings, etc.)
1,047 murals and 268 sculptures for public buildings (many of them can be seen in our post offices today)
WPA Art Projects, 1935-1942
108,000 easel works (paintings, drawings, etchings, etc.) for public display and enjoyment.
Note: Statistics from the various annual and final reports of the respective agencies.
The U.S. suicide rate reached a record high of 17.4 per 100,000 citizens in 1932, at the depth of the Great Depression. The graph below shows suicide rates largely decreasing after 1932. Social scientist David Stuckler and epidemiologist Sanjay Basu credit New Deal spending for that downward trend (&ldquoHow Austerity Kills,&rdquo New York Times, May 12, 2013).
Suicide rates remained relatively low from 1941 until just a few years ago, and stabilizing New Deal programs like FDIC, Glass-Steagall, Social Security, unemployment insurance, and union protections probably played a role (see, e.g., &ldquoSocial Security: Suicide Prevention Tool,&rdquo Pacific Standard, March 17, 2017). Recently, as New Deal programs have been threatened or cut back, and Americans have become less economically secure, suicide rates have increased, for example, 14.5 per 100,000 in 2017, the highest rate in three-quarters of a century. Other deaths of despair, such as drug overdoses and liver disease, have also increased.
Note: Information and data can be found in various U.S. government vital statistics reports, for example, Federal Security Agency, U.S. Public Health Service, &ldquoVital Statistics Rates in the United States, 1900-1940,&rdquoWashington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1947 and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, &ldquoFatal Injury Reports, National, Regional and State, 1981-2017&rdquo (accessed March 6, 2019).
Movements in the incidence of crime are notoriously hard to pin down to any one cause and murder is one of the hardest crimes to explain in any single case. Nevertheless, the decline in homicides during the New Deal is clearly etched in the statistics.
The homicide rate was high during the 1920s and rose even higher after the Stock Market Crash of 1929, peaking at 9.7 per 100,000 people at the bottom of the Great Depression. No doubt, mass unemployment, poverty and despair had an impact on the peak in murder and other crimes.
The homicide rate dropped steadily during the New Deal era to 6.0 homicides per 100,000 people in 1941 and continued to decline until the end of World War II.
Here are the homicide rates (firearm homicide rates in parenthesis) in the United States, per 100,000 people, from 1921 to 1946:
1921: 8.1 (5.9)
1922: 8.0 (5.9)
1923: 7.8 (5.6)
1924: 8.1 (5.8)
1925: 8.3 (5.8)
1926: 8.4 (5.8)
1927: 8.4 (5.6)
1928: 8.6 (5.9)
1929: 8.4 (5.5)
1930: 8.8 (6.0)
1931: 9.2 (6.2)
1932: 9.0 (6.1)
1933: 9.7 (6.3)
1934: 9.5 (6.1)
1935: 8.3 (5.1)
1936: 8.0 (4.7)
1937: 7.6 (4.4)
1938: 6.8 (3.9)
1939: 6.4 (3.7)
1940: 6.2 (3.5)
1941: 6.0 (3.4)
1942: 5.8 (3.1)
1943: 5.0 (2.6)
1944: 4.9 (2.6)
1945: 5.6 (3.0)
1946: 6.3 (3.5)
Two initiatives of the Roosevelt Administration almost surely contributed to lower homicide rates: the repeal of prohibition (December 5, 1933) and the National Firearms Act of 1934 (regulating certain dangerous firearms). But two other social factors were probably more important. One was better economic conditions, with rising employment, wages and decline in poverty &ndash and the social stresses that go with those. The other was a heightened sense of solidarity in the nation, as many Americans worked together on rebuilding a shattered country in the Civilian Conservation Corps, Works Progress Administration and, later, national defense efforts. Prison regimes in several states were reformed during the 1930s to be less severe.
Violent crime rates across the United States started up again in the 1960s and peaked in the early 1990s, leading to a draconian crack-down under Nixon&rsquos War on Crime, Reagan&rsquos Zero-Tolerance policy, state laws like California&rsquos Three Strikes, and Clinton&rsquos Violent Crime & Law Enforcement Act. The consequence was to fill up America&rsquos jails and prisons with hundreds of thousands of adults and adolescents, often on minor drug charges. In recent years there has been a growing reaction against that era of hyper-criminalization, which disproportionately targeted young men of color.
Note: Statistics come from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, &ldquoVital Statistics Rates in the United States, 1940-1960,&rdquo Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1968, Table 65, pp. 576-594 (the table includes statistics from before 1940).
The New Deal contributed substantially to military preparedness and contributed to America&rsquos victory in World War II. Here are some of the ways:
SHIPS: The Public Works Administration (PWA) funded the construction of numerous Navy and Coast Guard vessels, most of which were very active during the war. The PWA paid for at least 2 aircraft carriers, 4 cruisers, 20 destroyers, 4 submarines, and 2 gunboats (Federal Works Agency, Millions for Defense, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1940, p. 17). The PWA aircraft carriers Enterprise (CV-6) and Yorktown (CV-5) played a key role in the Battle of Midway, the turning point in the Pacific Theater.
For the Coast Guard, PWA funded at least 16 cutters, 9 patrol boats, and 53 smaller boats of various type (Treasury Department Appropriation Bill for 1936, Hearing Before the Subcommittee of House Committee on Appropriation, 74th Congress, First Session, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1935, p. 434).
MILITARY BASES: The Works Progress Administration (WPA) built, repaired, or improved thousands of facilities on military bases, for example, 410 hospitals & infirmaries, 1,720 mess halls, and 3,000 barracks. In addition, the WPA built many landing fields on military bases, as well as roads in and around national defense plants. A 1942 article in the Army and Navy Register noted: &ldquoIn the years 1935 to 1939, when regular appropriations for the armed forces were so meager, it was the WPA worker who saved many army posts and naval stations from literal obsolescence.&rdquo (Quote, information, and statistics from Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1947, pp. 84-86.)
LEADERSHIP & CAMARADERIE: The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) instilled discipline and fostered team spirit in its enrollees &ndash character traits that proved very beneficial to training and battle successes during the war. CCC veterans who enlisted in the military quickly ascended to leadership positions. General Mark Clark, commander of the Allied Fifth Army during World War II, recalled, &ldquoTo my way of thinking the CCC&hellip became a potent factor in enabling us to win WW-II&hellip though we did not realize it at the time, we were training Non-Commissioned Officers&rdquo (Charles E. Heller, &ldquoThe U.S. Army, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and Leadership for World War II, 1933-1942,&rdquo Armed Forces & Society, April 2010, vol. 36, no. 3, 439-453).
JOB TRAINING: The National Youth Administration (NYA) trained hundreds of thousands of young men and women in trades needed by national defense industries. Many &ldquoRosie the Riveters&rdquo and &ldquoWendy the Welders&rdquo were graduates of NYA training (see, for example, &ldquoLou Annie Charles and Eva Vassar: Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front Oral History Project,&rdquo Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley, 2012-2013, accessed May 17, 2019). The WPA had similar projects: &ldquoSpecial training for employment in the war industries was given to more than 330,000 WPA workers&hellip&rdquo (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1947, p. 87).
ENERGY: The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), Boulder Dam and other New Deal-built dams and power plants supplied energy to national defense firms in Washington, California and Alabama, among other places. Of particular importance was cheap electricity to produce aluminum for airplanes. TVA electricity also powered the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, TN. After the war, President Harry Truman said, &ldquoWithout Grand Coulee and Bonneville dams it would have been almost impossible to win this war&rdquo (&ldquoBPA powered the industry that helped win World War II,&rdquo Bonneville Power Administration, October 31, 2012, accessed May 17, 2019).
The Expedition's Impact on Indigenous Americans
National Archives and Records Administration
To some, Lewis and Clark’s expedition ushered in a new and exciting time characterized by economic growth and new possibilities. To others, it would come to signify loss - the loss of land, the loss of cultural ways, and so much more
The Lewis and Clark Expedition was the first occasion for United States citizens to travel so far by river and land into the West, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Upon their return they provided detailed maps, reports about natural resources, and details about the indigenous populations they encountered. That information made it easier for others to follow and lay their claims to the abundance of resources. In fact, just four years after the expedition returned, traders were already moving deep into the Louisiana Territory to exchange goods with Plains tribes. By 1822 one man alone - William H. Ashley - employed at least 100 trappers in the Rocky Mountains.
The United States expanded significantly by acquiring the Oregon (1846) and California (1848) territories. The government was eager to populate and develop these new lands. Coincidently, the concept of Manifest Destiny was popularized. It referred to the United States’ right to expand and develop all land between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The government gave land to settlers and encouraged economic ventures to spur development. The transcontinental railroad, completed in 1869, linked the Atlantic to the Pacific and replaced the flow of covered wagons with train cars. Less than 70 years after the Corps of Discovery returned from its expedition, the West was open to numerous economic pursuits.
Many saw United States’ economic expansion as the realization of Jefferson’s goals for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. To indigenous Americans, however, the Lewis and Clark Expedition symbolizes a devastating U.S. citizen invasion that challenged their ways of life.
As eastern populations moved West, the government enacted policies of removal and relocation to free up land for new settlers. The Indian Removal Act (1830) took Indian land in existing states and forcibly relocated indigenous populations to “unsettled” lands in the west, primarily to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). The Indian Appropriations Act (1851) confined Native peoples to small tracts of land - known as reservations. This allowed the government to free up indigenous land so that it could more easily be redistributed. The Dawes Act - or General Allotment - of 1887 divided up reservations into tracts of land for individuals and families. Land that was left over after these tracts were created were considered “surplus” and were thus opened to white-Americans to settle. It is estimated that these and similar policies gave over 500 million acres of indigenous land to settlers and business ventures.
In the 1870s the American government began sending American Indian children to off-reservation boarding schools . Children were separated from their families and weren’t allowed to speak their native languages or practice cultural traditions. Richard Pratt, a military officer who founded some of the first boarding schools, described their purpose in a speech:
“A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."
These schools served to eliminate land and cultural ties in an effort to make these populations more “American.” In doing so, the government could continue to take indigenous land more easily and redistribute to those flooding the West.
There were several impacts of Lewis and Clark’s trek West. It laid the groundwork for a growing nation to expand, but it also ushered in an era of anti-Indian policy and sentiment. The policies and actions of the government following the Lewis and Clark Expedition have had resounding implications on indigenous populations that are still experienced today.
Era 6 – The Development of Modern America (1865 to 1920)
The Civil War, while devastating to the South, brought industrial growth and economic strength to the North. The capital gained during the war enabled many in the North to invest in new factories and industry. Foreign investment, an abundance of natural resources, and a pro business government spurred further growth. Government policies kept the tariffs high to protect United States industries, kept taxes low, and stayed out of the businesses’ affairs in a true Laissez Faire fashion. The federal and state subsidies to railroads led to over 200,000 miles of track being laid by 1900. The railroads spurred the settlement of the remaining regions of the West and connected all the regions of the nation. These railroads companies began to merge and developed into the first big businesses in the nation. Cornelius Vanderbilt began consolidated smaller railroad companies, which made transportation easier and railroads more profitable. As Vanderbilt and his railroad contemporaries earned the nickname “Robber Barons” for being unscrupulous with their business dealings. This name soon was generalized to all leaders of industry such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. Rockefeller and Carnegie each used the lack of government interference to their advantage as they developed their own industries Rockefeller was in oil and Carnegie was in steel. These men used business methods, such as horizontal and vertical integration, to eliminate competition and increase their profits. This massive accumulation of wealth was unprecedented in United States history. Many big business owners used Herbert Spencer’s idea of Social Darwinism to justify their cutthroat practices. They were often on the edge of legality. Authors Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner coined the phrase “The Gilded Age” to describe the time period. Horatio Alger’s “rags to riches” novels built on the Protestant work ethic and gave rise to the belief in the American Dream: anyone who worked hard work and determination could achieve great wealth.
As the wealth of the large industrialists grew, their political power grew as well. Instances of government corruption became more widespread when businesses tried to influence government actions in their favor. Citizens began to complain of the big businesses’ practices despite the strong belief in Laissez Faire capitalism. The government finally stepped in with laws such as the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate railroad travel between states, and the Sherman Antitrust Act to eliminate the excessive power of the big businesses. These laws were often not used in the fashion for which they were created.
One of the problems with industry and big businesses was the elimination of competition. These eliminations hurt the consumer and worker alike. Child labor persisted. Both children and women were discriminated against in the workplace. Labor unions began to spring up to look out for the interests of the workers, with such groups as the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor. Business and government response to unions was not positive, nor was the public perception of them. Socialism and anarchism were linked with labor unions. Violence resulted from such labor events such as the Haymarket Riot and the Homestead Strike, and was blamed on the workers and the unions.
The huge growth of industry led to an increased demand for labor, which was satisfied by immigration. Most immigrants to the United States had come from Northern and Western Europe in the past. The immigration in the later part of the 19th century and early 20th century was largely from Eastern and Southern Europe as well as from parts of Asia. The immigrants from these parts of the world were vastly different both culturally and ethnically. Nativism, or fear of immigrants, became an issue. United States citizens looked to restrict and control the immigrants with such laws as the Chinese Exclusion Act, passed in 1882. The vast majority of the immigrants lived in ethnic urban neighborhoods. Urbanization caught most cities unprepared to meet the demands of the rapid influx of people. The poverty, pollution, crime and lack of sanitation services created needs that the local governments were unable to handle. Without cities stepping in, political machines, such as Tammany Hall in New York, provided some of the much-needed services for the poor and the immigrants in exchange for votes. Industrialization and urbanization had positive impacts as well. Factory worker looked for new forms of entertainment on their days off saloons, dance halls, amusement parks, libraries, museums, and spectator sports all competed for the leisure time of the industrial workers.
Growth in the West was fast as well. The Pacific Railway Act and the Homestead Act of 1862, helped develop the West and bring a number of new settlers to the regions. Less land was available for the Native Americans as more settlers moved west. The United States Army engaged in battles against the Native Americans. The United States succeeded in pushing Native Americans off their land and onto land was that much less desirable. In 1890 the frontier was closed all the land had been settled.
The farmers out West experienced major problems. The end of the Civil War led to overproduction in agriculture and much lower prices. Farmers took out loans for more land or better equipment to meet the demand during the war. Farmers were now faced with high debt and less income flow. Government policies did not aid farmers in stopping deflation, which caused prices to drop as much as the demand for their goods. Services necessary for the farmers were extremely costly. Railroads charged farmers increased rates, when compared to big businesses. Farmers had little recourse since they needed the railroads to get their goods to market. The Grange and the Farmers Alliance formed to address problems that confronted farmers. Both groups showed farmers the power of numbers. By the early 1890s, farmers had formed a political party known as the People’s Party, but better known as the Populist Party. The Populist platform contained many strong and unachievable ideas. The platform consisted of such ideas like a more democratic approach to government, government regulation of big business, government control of the railroads, and a graduated income tax. The Populists supported the Democratic candidate, William Jennings Bryan, in the election of 1896. Bryan lost and the Populists faded away as well.
The ideas of the Populists were incorporated into the Progressives, a group formed after the turn of the twentieth century. The Progressives used the ideas from other earlier reforms groups in hopes of correcting problems that had lasted since the Civil war. They believed urbanization and industrialization had created problems. They felt the same methods used to create new technology could correct the problems that had developed. The Progressives’ called for the government to be involved in addressing these issues. The Progressives addressed reforms in government, politics, the workplace, and long-term movements such as women’s rights and temperance. The first three presidents of the twentieth century, Teddy Roosevelt, William H. Taft, and Woodrow Wilson, dealt with many of the Progressives’ concerns. Many of the desired reforms had occurred before the end of the Progressive Era in 1920. Direct election of senators became a reality with the passage of the seventeenth amendment in 1913. The Populists felt this would make the government more democratic. Prohibition started when the eighteenth amendment was adopted in 1919. This idea had been pushed since the temperance movement began in the 1820s. The nineteenth amendment was ratified in 1920 finally granting women the right to vote.
The same mentality that fueled growth of industry in the United States also fueled the growth of the United States as an empire. European nations spread their influence and power to new regions of the world during America’s Civil War and Reconstruction. Many believed the United States needed to become an imperial power in order to compete with the European nations. The idea of Social Darwinism extended to United State’s international affairs. The United States extended its borders with the purchase of Alaska, the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands, and the acquisition of the Philippines and Puerto Rico following the Spanish American War. This helped America to be an impenetrable country. The United States also exerted its influence in a number of regions around the world such as Asia and Latin America. The Open Door policy and the Roosevelt Corollary, an extension of the Monroe Doctrine, gave justification for the United States involvement in China and in many nations of the Western hemisphere. Many in the nation felt the United States as an imperial power violated the very ideals on which the nation had been founded.
In the early 21st century, while many of the efforts of Native American communities focused by necessity on local, regional, or national issues, others increasingly emphasized their interaction with the global community of aboriginal peoples. The quest for indigenous self-determination received international recognition in 1982, when the United Nations Economic and Social Council created the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. In 1985 this group began to draft an indigenous rights document, a process that became quite lengthy in order to ensure adequate consultation with indigenous nations and nongovernmental organizations. In 1993 the UN General Assembly declared 1995–2004 to be the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples the same body later designated 2005–2015 as the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
In 1995 the UN Commission on Human Rights received the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The commission assigned a working group to review the declaration, and in 2006 the group submitted a final document to the Human Rights Council. Despite efforts by many members of the UN General Assembly to block a vote on the declaration, it was passed in 2007 by an overwhelming margin: 144 votes in favour, 11 abstentions, and 4 negative votes (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, all of which would formally endorse the declaration by 2016). Indigenous communities in the Americas and elsewhere applauded this event, which they hoped would prove beneficial to their quests for legal, political, and land rights.
Impact of the Growth of the New Nation on Native Americans - History
Victory over the British in the War of 1812 confirmed the independence of the new American republic, promoting a sense of national self-confidence and pride. It also encouraged expansionism: In the decades prior to the Civil War, the nation grew exponentially in size, as restless white Americans pushed westward across the Appalachians and the Mississippi, and on to the Pacific. These white settlers were driven by hunger for land and the ideology of "Manifest Destiny." They forced the removal of many Native American nations from the Southeast and Northwest. They acquired a large part of Mexico through the Mexican-American War, and they engaged in racial encounters with Native Americans, Mexicans, Chinese immigrants, and others in the West.
With territorial expansion came economic development that fed growing regional tensions. In the northern states, economic development ushered in the early stages of industrialization, a transportation revolution, and the creation of a market system. The North's cities flourished on a rising tide of immigration, and its newly opened territories were cultivated by growing numbers of family farms. The South followed a dramatically different course, however, staking its expansion on the cotton economy and the growth of slavery. While white Southerners fiercely defended this exploitive economic and social system, millions of African American slaves struggled to shape their own lives through family, religion, and resistance.
The rapid expansion of American society in the first half of the 19th century put new demands on the political system. For the first time, interest-group politics came to the fore, marking the advent of modern politics in America. Some groups were not yet part of the political system: efforts to secure women's suffrage failed, and free African Americans remained disenfranchised in many parts of the North. However, this period also saw one of the greatest bursts of reformism in American history. This reform was both an attempt to complete the unfinished agendas of the revolutionary period and an effort to solve the problems posed by the rise of factory labor and rapid urbanization. It laid the groundwork for social movements--such as the civil rights and feminist movements--that continue to be significant forces in American society today.
From the arrival of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1620, religion in New England was shaped by the tension between traditions brought from afar and spiritual developments born of a land already filled with a diversity of practices and beliefs. Early efforts to enforce religious uniformity eventually gave way to an ever-expanding “spiritual marketplace” of Anglicans and Baptists, Quakers and Shakers, Congregationalists and Unitarians, as well as the resilient and adaptable traditions of African Americans and the region’s original inhabitants. The Pilgrims were only one chapter of a story that soon included new worlds of faith.
The first English settlements in Massachusetts were intended to be theologically uniform, but almost immediately differences of opinion became a part of the American religious experience. Facing persecution and sometimes death, dissenters fled to other colonies, while members of new denominations arrived and brought changes from within, creating a region known for both piety and diversity.
Children’s Letter Book, around 1840
Religion informed every stage of life in early America, beginning with childhood. From the establishment of the first schools in New England in the 17th century, moral lessons and scriptural allusions were an essential part of education. Letter books like this one used biblical tales to teach basic reading skills.
New England Native American Groups
People lived in the area called New England long before the first Europeans arrived. The lives of these Native Americans&mdashpart of the Algonquian language group&mdashwould be forever changed by the arrival of English colonists.
Native American Man and the Mayflower
This woodcutting appears to show a Native American man greeting Pilgrims as they come to New England on the Mayflower. It suggests a positive relationship between the two groups. That idea, however, is largely false.
Photograph of illustration by North Wind Picture Archives
New England (in the northeast of what is now the United States) was inhabited long before the first Europeans arrived and named the area after their homeland. Experts estimate there were between 70,000 and 100,000 Native Americans living in New England at the beginning of the 17 th century. The peoples of New England were part of the Algonquian (al-GON-kiun) people and shared a similar language and culture, but there were several different groups. Among them were the Abenaki (a-be-NAWK-e), Micmac (MIK-mak), Pennacook (PEN-uh-cook), Pequot (PEE-kot), Mohegan (mo-HEE-gun), Nauset (NAW-set), Narragansett (nair-uh-GAN-set), Nipmuc (NIP-muk), Woronoco (wor-oh-NOH-koh), and Wampanoag (wahm-puh-NOH-uhg).
The groups in southern New England generally lived in small villages where women tended fields of corn, beans, and squash. Men supplemented this diet by fishing and hunting. Women and children also gathered nuts and berries from the plentiful forests of New England. In northern New England, where the climate was not conducive to farming, Native Americans depended on fishing, hunting, and gathering, as well as trade. Beginning in the 1600s, the Native Americans also began to trade with European merchants, exchanging beaver pelts for metals and textiles. Besides goods, Europeans also brought deadly diseases. Because the native peoples had no resistance to these diseases, illness sometimes had catastrophic effects. A 1616 epidemic killed an estimated 75 percent of the Native Americans on the Atlantic Coast of New England.
Most of the villages of the New England tribes were semipermanent when the agricultural land was depleted of nutrients, groups would move to settle nearby areas. As a result, they had a fundamentally different idea about the owernship of land and owernship than the Europeans who began to encroach on Native American lands in the 17 th century. The first Europeans to settle in New England were the Pilgrims, who came from England to settle in Plymouth (Massachusetts) in the winter of 1620. Historians believe the clearing where the Pilgrims settled was the site of a Pawtuxet village that had been wiped out by disease.
One Pawtuxet, Squanto, had been kidnapped by a European captain and taken to England. But he had freed himself and made his way home a few years later. Coming upon Squanto was fortunate for the Pilgrims. Squanto taught them how to plant corn and showed them where to fish and hunt. He also helped translate between English and Native American languages, and to negotiate peace with local Native American chiefs.
Peace was tenuous as best. Over the next several decades, conflicts between the English and Native Americans erupted often, particularly as more waves of settlers came to claim land where the Native Americans lived, hunted, and fished. Competition over trade further destabilized the region. In the Pequot War, which lasted 11 months between 1636 and 1637, thousands of Pequot were killed and their villages were destroyed. In 1675, several Native American groups led by the Pokunoket Chief Metacom (called King Philip by the English) tried desperately to defend their territory and honor, but they were outnumbered and overpowered by the European settlers. This conflict, which became known as King Philip&rsquos War, marked the last major effort of Native Americans to drive English settlers out of New England.
This woodcutting appears to show a Native American man greeting Pilgrims as they come to New England on the Mayflower. It suggests a positive relationship between the two groups. That idea, however, is largely false.
The United States Government’s Relationship with Native Americans
A brief overview of relations between Native Americans and the United States Government.
Social Studies, U.S. History
Lakota Delegation 1891
The Treaty of Ft. Laramie of 1868 "set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation" of the Black Hills for the Lakota Nation. But the discovery of gold in the area ultimately led to the treaty's annulment and the Black Hills War. Here, a delegation from the Lakota Nation visited Washington, D.C., after another conflict between the Lakota and the U.S., the Wounded Knee Massacre of Dec. 29, 1890.
Photograph by Charles Bell
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Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Relations between Native Americans and the United States government have been full of tension. The history began when Native Americans extended an uneasy welcome to the first European settlers. They worried that the newcomers would take their land, and many did.
Many tribes sided with the British during the Revolutionary War. After the United States won its independence, the government was free to take Native American lands. It signed treaties with the tribes to define the boundaries of tribal lands. They also stated how much the government would pay the tribes for taking their land.
Sometimes, the representatives of Native American tribes who signed the treaties were not authorized to do so. William McIntosh was the chief of the Muskogee-Creek Nation. He signed the Treaty of Indian Springs in 1825. The agreement gave away nearly all of the tribe's land in the state of Georgia. The tribe's members said they had not authorized McIntosh to sign it, and later killed him.
In 1903, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress could override the land treaties. Many treaties made before then, however, remain in force. One is the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868, which was signed by the U.S. government and the Lakota Nation. In it, the government pledged that the Great Sioux [Lakota] Reservation would be for the "undisturbed use" of the tribe. The land included the Black Hills, a small mountain range in western South Dakota that is holy to the Lakota.
Neither side ever fully obeyed the treaty, however. When gold was discovered in the Black Hills, the United States tried to buy back the land. The Lakota rejected the offer, resulting in the Black Hills War (1876-1877). One of the war's most famous battles happened along the Little Bighorn River (June 25-26, 1876). General George A. Custer led a group of soldiers against the Lakota. Custer and his men were killed, and later the battle became known as Custer's Last Stand.
The United States continued its battle against the Lakota until reclaiming the Black Hills in 1877. In 1923, the Lakota sued, saying that the land had been unlawfully taken. Sixty years later, the Supreme Court agreed. It ruled that the government had to pay the tribe for the land. As of 2018, the amount due is around $1 billion. The tribe has refused to accept the money, however, because it is still seeking return of the land.
Thousands Forced from Their Homes
In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which allowed the government to remove Native Americans from their tribal land and settle them elsewhere. The main targets were tribes in the Southeast, such as the Cherokee. Resettlement was supposed to be voluntary. However, it turned out not to be. Thousands of Native Americans were forced from their homes and sent west of the Mississippi River. The forced relocation became known as the Trail of Tears.
In 1887, the U.S. government passed another law called the General Allotment Act. It let the government divide tribal land into small lots for members. The goal was to pressure Native Americans into becoming farmers or ranchers. Lawmakers thought this would help tribal members fit in with society. The government bought back land that was not used and sold it to white settlers. This policy caused Native Americans to lose a lot of their land.
A new approach was undertaken with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The law stopped the dividing of tribal land into small lots. It also ended the sale of Native American land. After World War II, however, some lawmakers favored closing reservations. A number were closed, including one belonging to the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin.
The civil rights movement in the 1960s influenced government policy with Native Americans. In 1975, it passed the Indian Self-Determination Act. This law allowed tribes to self-govern and manage more of their affairs independently.
In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled on casinos operating on tribal land. It said that states cannot oversee them. This decision led to a new law, which governs casinos on reservations.