The unification of the North and the South after the Civil War and the following period of Reconstruction determined the course of further growth of the United States. The end of slavery and the start of the westward expansion provided the potential for the development of the country.
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This situation gave rise to a new age of American history that is referred to as the Gilded Era. This period lasted from 1877 up to the end of the nineteenth century and was characterized by a reformation of the country, industrialization, urbanization, growing immigration, and a rise of social movements. Economic, social, and cultural change in the United States during the Gilded Era, together with dramatic growth in territory and population, significantly strengthened the country and made a great impact on its future.
Expansion of the United States to the west provided the country with an enormous amount of new land, creating an opportunity for economic development, but also led to a brutal war with the native population. The Great Sioux War in the Great Planes and the Nez Perce War of 1877 in the Pacific Northwest, along with smaller-scale conflicts in the following years, resulted in the subjugation of Indian tribes (Nichols and Unger 125-127).
The defeat of the Native American tribes made them give up their ancestry land and move to reservations. Several legal acts by the American government allowed redistribution of the territory among farmers and railroad corporations (Johnson 45). The American policies towards the indigenous population costed many lives and resulted in Native American people losing most of their land and becoming the poorest group in the country.
This period was also the time of a major migration of population inside the United States and from abroad. The chance to acquire land and the hope for new opportunities encouraged millions of American settlers to move westward to the territories that had been previously inhabited by Native Americans. At the same time, immigration to the country was also increasing. Over seven million people, primarily from Europe and China, moved to the United States from 1877 to the end of the century (Nichols and Unger 61). The population of the country during this period grew from about 50 million people to over 76 million (Nichols and Unger 64).
Ethnically and culturally based conflicts that had come together with increasing immigration became an issue during that time. They led to several attempts to restrict entering the country by certain groups and limit the rights of immigrants (Nichols and Unger 139-143). The major change in the population of the United States during the Gilded Era determined the future dynamics and challenges in the political and social life and culture of the country.
The end of the century was the period of the increasing strength of social movements. Industrialization of the country and the growth of the working class led to the rise of labor activism and the increasing popularity of anti-monopolistic, anarchist, and socialist ideology. The formation of labor unions and organizations, including the American Federation of Labor, which was founded in 1886, contributed to the political strength of labor movements (Nichols and Unger 232).
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The struggle for the rights of women was another major tendency of that period. National American Woman Suffrage Association was created in February of 1890. The goal of the organization was to consolidate the political activity aimed to advocate in favor of women’s right to vote in elections in the United States. It kept growing and increasing its power throughout the last decade of the century and eventually became the largest voluntary organization in the country (Nichols and Unger 107). Thus, the changes in American society during the Gilded Age gave rise to political activism and brought about new ideas that shaped the future political landscape of the country.
The position of the United States on the international stage also saw a major strengthening during the Gilded Age. The Spanish-American war of 1898 was a major event of the period in question (Nichols and Unger 423). Defeating the Spanish military, the United States acquired new territories and strengthened its positions in the Caribbean, western Pacific region, and Latin America. The victory also brought economic advantages, providing Americans better access to trade.
The United States Military had a chance to operate in action, and its weaknesses that had become apparent during the conflict led to major reforms and improvements (Nichols and Unger 426). As a result, the country emerged as a world power and significantly strengthened its economic and political position.
The situation that had developed in the United States by the late 1870s was unprecedented in world history and provided the country with a great potential for growth. The territorial gains gave the nation the space and a chance for self-sufficiency and independence, but the westward expansion also led to a dramatic decline of the Native American people. The hope for new land and opportunity encouraged millions of people to move to the new territory and attracted a large number of immigrants to the country.
This dramatic change in population, along with the spread of new political ideas, determined the way of further formation and development of the American culture and society. The country strengthened its economic and political influence in the region, starting its way of becoming a major power in the world.
Johnson, Kimberley S. Governing the American State: Congress and the new federalism, 1877-1929. Vol. 154, Princeton University Press, 2016.
Nichols, Christopher M., and Nancy C. Unger, editors. A Companion to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. John Wiley & Sons, 2017.