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“An analysis of the popular culture of the United States from 1865 to 1900 reveals deep class, gender and ethnic or racial divisions.” Assess the validity of this statement.


It is possible that the economic divisions of the reconstruction and corporate industrial era led to the creation of racial and ethnic divisions or vice versa, that is a question of the chicken and the egg. The American era of reconstruction and the corporate era the followed produced a strong division between economic classes, ethnic groups and other racial devisions in America; such as those expressed in it's economic, social and political events.

Life in the south after the civil war was difficult, close to 1 in 10 southern men had been killed during the war and allowed for a great deal of corruption in southern politics. Carpetbaggers, often poor northerners seeking wealth in the south, quickly took over southern state governments including a number of governorships. The constitutions and subsequent laws forced through were much more democratic and repealed black codes. The repeal of black codes was not for the black population however as much as it was for the carpetbaggers, who could manipulate their votes with ease. Mean while in the north, equal amounts of vote manipulation was taking place.

Through out the 1850's and 1860's William Tweed controlled the new York politics. Tweed and people like him (such as many of the carpetbaggers) abused his political power and in the end, may have cost New York City 100 million dollars om unnecessary repairs, fake bills and fake vouchers. This political corruption was eventually revealed by cartoonist Thomas Nast and Tween was eventually jailed. Political power was often abused, as was shown with “Boss” Tweed and in the Credit Mobilier Scandal for financial gain in this reconstructive era helped deepen the economic divides in America.

These economic divides were further expressed in Americas economic issues. Under President Grant the central economic question was whether of not the government should remove the greenback from circulation or print more. There were two sides on this issue which lasted into the progressive era. The debtor and the 'big money' or lenders. The debtors included farmers primarily who had to buy farm equipment and seed, to do this they were forced to borrow money so should money devaluate, they would have to repay less money than otherwise. These ideas lead to events such as the Coxey rebellion which cause more fear than it ultimately need have as only 200 men continued through to the capital. The money lenders on the other hand, wanted the exact opposite of inflation. The money lenders wanted deflation which would not only make sure that money had a stable value, it would also make sure that they got their money back from the debtors. These money lenders favored a gold standard because of this. This among other issues is what led to the populist movement. This same issue was later expressed by bimetallism and the Sherman Silver Act (which was later repealed by Cleavland). The divisions and rivalries created by this single issue was not only expressed in all muckraker works, but also in yellow journalism which, both of which had massive impact upon public opinion.

Muckrakers also covered social issues however, these issues included the crimes perpetrated by the industrialists (Robber Barons) as well as things like the safety of children. The 1880's was the golden age for children's literature, authors like Howard Pyle, author of Robin Hood, and Joel Chandler Harris, who's characters Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Uncle Remus were quite popular and who continue to be so today.

The mid-1880's was a time of literary realism with the publishing of The Rise of Silas Lapham and similar works considering business ethics in a time of social corruption. Other large scale social issues included the prohibition of alcohol and restrictions upon immigration. The prohibition of alcohol was widely promoted by the anti-saloon league and a large number of manufactures. The primary target of it's campaigning was the unemployed as many manufacturers would only hire sober workers. While the prohibition worked to a mild degree, the fact that it affected the lower class the most did nothing but widen the divide between the worker and the employer in terms of equality. The desire for restrictions upon immigration were generated out of the native born's feeling of the superiority and their feelings of entitlement. These desires eventually led to a 10 year ban upon Chinese immigration and a number of quotas however for the large part, America was still open to almost anyone.

A large number of things were present in the reconstructive and cooperate industrial eras that created and widened the divides between race, ethnicity, and economic wellbeing. One of the largest issues was that of job availability and safety, this one issue controlled an amazing amount of the votes in the united states and until the populists achieved the Australian ballot, it allowed employers like Boss Tweed to manipulate the votes effectively. This political corruption eventually led to the muckrakers and their stories exposing this corruption to the public, the best example of this can be found in Shame of the Cites. The other issue that primarily led to the division between classes was expressed in the populist issue. While the populist idealist desires for inflation and what can be best expressed as rule by the agrarian class was not perhaps the best path for the nation as a whole, the populist movement and it's related literature clearly expressed the strong division between economic classes.

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