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Alexis De Tocqueville’s Comments on the American Cultural and Political Landscape

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Frenchman Alexis De Tocqueville came to visit the United States in the 1830’s. He commented on the key elements of America’s democratic society. On his travels through the country he met with many Americans from all walks of life. One of the things that stood out to him was how Americans believed that it was possible to have upward financial mobility, from poverty to riches, through hard work and determination. This was very different from De Tocqueville’s homeland where an aristocracy ruled and low class citizens, who had no chance of accumulating wealth, were likely to die the same class as they were born . This perceived possibility for upward mobility was the reason behind the American people being so financially motivated and prosperous. This American cultural and political landscape that had developed during the time of Alexis De Tocqueville’s visit was the backdrop that the Organizational Revolution was borne out of. This would be a time when everyone would have access to more of everything but the most pivotal moment would be the forty years leading up to it. The era of most significant change in United States history is between the years 1830 to 1870. The events as well as the cultural, political, agricultural, industrial and technological advances during this era give context to the fully maturing industrial nation of 1870 to present.

Changes in farming and farm life played a crucial role in the lead up to the second industrial revolution of the 1870’s onward. In the early 19th century many Americans lived a Jeffersonian lifestyle. Because land was cheap or free in most cases, many people bought land and set up farms to sustain themselves. It was the goal of people who labored in the East to save money and buy land to cultivate in the West. Western European immigrants were also coming quickly into the United States to farm. They would arrive in New York and then take the recently built Erie Canal from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes region. Even before the steam boat, this new piece of aquatic infrastructure helped populate the midwest at breakneck speeds. In 1800 there were 450,000 farms and by 1850 that number had rapidly grown to over 1.5 million farms.

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Technological advances on these farms were quickly spreading in the 1830’s. These technologies marked the end of the Jeffersonian self sustained farmer, and made farmers consumers in addition to producers. They now could affect the economy by voting with their wallets. Labor saving machinery such as the mechanical reaper, invented by Obed Hussey which could plow 15 acres per day, meant that farmers could harvest more crops while employing less labor. The demand for these new technologies had an enormous effect on the industries that began to grow in the east. The metal plow was a technology that had just began to have general practical use in the 1820’s but the industry was small with just a few factories producing them. Industrial businessmen, such as John Deere increased production in Chicago so that by 1830, all farmers were using the metal plow. Mass manufacturing brought prices down and made these plows the standard. This demonstrates how demand from the farms led to increased production and industrial growth in the East. This is a theme that would continue to grow in this era and contribute to the industrial revolution that would follow.

The technological feat that had the most impact on giving rural farmers a prominent spot in the country’s economy was the railroad. The first commercial railroad was the New York central line in 1830 and it did not take long for railways spread across the country. The speed with which the railroads were built was primarily due to president Abraham Lincoln’s belief that the country needed a transcontinental railroad system. His administration gave numerous subsidies and legal privileges to to railroad companies to cover the country with tracks. These subsidies and privileges include national bond loans, tax exemptions and monopoly protection. The most valuable subsidy that the railroads received was federal land. 242,000 square miles of land was given to the rails. The trains helped Westward expansion take place much more quickly than it had before. It was primarily the businessmen and settlers moving west who first used this new means of transportation , but by 1850 the majority of rail cars were filled with freight. Although farmers complained of high rail fees and Robber Barons, they took full advantage of this new way of getting their produce to a much larger market and benefited from it greatly. The railroads also helped the farmers in the great plains to be less isolated and towns began to pop up all along the tracks.

The railroads had a positive effect on industry before they were even built. Over a million people were employed to build tracks during this time and it created a large demand for steel. This demand would give rise to Andrew Carnegie, who started Carnegie Steel Company. Carnegie used new techniques of raising productivity and cutting prices to make himself the world’s leading steel producer. These techniques would later be adopted by monopolies such as Standard Oil to eliminate competition. The railways were responsible for the creation of standardized time zones on November 18, 1883. This was essential in order to keep train schedules and avoid collisions on tracks. But it also made time play a more prominent role in the lives of all Americans and changed the way that they did business. The pocket watch went from being a luxury to a necessity.

If the railroad was the main technological feat that aimed The United States in an industrial direction, the Civil War was the event that completed the transformation and started the industrial revolution. In the South slavery was an institution and staple of their agricultural industry. Slave-farms in Virginia were failing to meet the growing demands of cotton plantations. Prices of slaves were rising due to the end of the trans-atlantic slave trade. The south wanted to repeal the 1807 Act that banned the slave trade and argued that doing so would boost the country’s economy. The South hurried to get more Democratic slave states into the Union to keep the majority that they had held in congress during the earlier part of the century, but in 1858 the free state of Minnesota joined the Union and broke the Democratic majority. One of the non-violent tactics that the Northern Whigs and Republicans employed before the war was to create high tariffs. This was detrimental to the South who had a one crop economy. They relied heavily on imports and exports. They were the world’s top supplier of cotton and this hindered their ability to do productive business . The tariffs had an incredibly positive impact on the North however. They had more natural resources and industrial infrastructure than the South did and the tariffs only caused them to become more self reliant. Before the war the United States exported only primary goods such as cotton and tobacco and it mostly imported all of its manufactured goods. But by the end of the war the U.S. was manufacturing enough to be self sufficient. The implementation of these high tariffs was viewed by the South as exploitation to boost Northern industry, and it may have been. They believed that they were now a slave of the Union and wished to secede from the Union entirely to form the Confederate States of America.

The Civil War began on April 12, 1861 when Confederate soldiers attacked Union soldiers at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Jefferson Davis, a southern democrat from Mississippi was elected to be the Confederate leader. The Union was led by Abraham Lincoln, a Republican who rose up from the ashes of the Whig party. Although Lincoln’s first bill that he wrote as president was for the abolition of slavery, Lincoln’s main goal of the Civil War was to preserve the Union and strengthen it. During the war he took multiple actions to promote westward expansion. One of which was his promotion through legislation to get the transatlantic railroad built. These acts could not be completed while the southern democrats had the stranglehold in congress. But while they were absent during the war, the republicans were free to pass legislation that directly benefited the North only. California engineer Theodore D. Judah was able to successfully lobby for the railroad and pass through congress permission for a railway in California only weeks after the Democrats retreated from congress to the South. In this legislation the federal government granted the railroad’s land in the form of a 400 foot right of way and ten alternate sections of land to choose from for each mile of track that they planned to build. The railroads were also given funding from the federal government in the form of loans. They were given $16,000 for every mile of track in the flat lands, $32,000 in the foothills, and $48,000 in the mountains. This legislation could not have passed if Southern Democrats still held seats in Congress. Another legislative achievement of Lincoln and the Republicans during this time was the passing of a Homestead Bill in 1852. This bill gave entrepreneurial farmers 160 acres of land at a low price, usually $1.50 per acre or free if the farmer had already resided there five years. This legislative action increased the speed at which the west was populated dramatically. The war and these growing number of subsidies put the North into tremendous debt. By 1886 it reached 2.8 billion dollars. To fight this congress implemented heavy taxes. They also implemented the first personal income tax. These taxes ranges from 3 to 5 percent on all wages earned by working individuals. This was phased out in 1872 but would later reemerge in 1913 and become a controversial political issue between the wealthy and the federal government. The use of heavy income tax to fight public debt during war time became a trend that would repeatedly be used. In 1918, the climax of World War I, taxes peaked at 77 percent on individuals earning over 1 million dollars annually. In 1944, during World War II, income taxes rates would climb even higher up to 94 percent of every dollar earned above $200,00. These new means of collecting revenue, that started during the civil war, would allow the Federal Government to fund its expansion and numerous endeavours well into the industrial revolution.

A more admirable legacy of Lincoln’s, during the Civil war was the abolition of slavery. Lincoln’s cabinet advised him to wait until the Union had a major victory in the war to give his Emancipation Proclamation so that it would have a more favorable reception. After the Union battle victory in Antietam Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect January 1st, 1863. After the war was over the constitution was ratified and the 13th Amendment was added which abolished all slavery within the county. dIt is conceivable that if the Civil War had not taken place when it did, the Southern Democratic leaders would have maintained their stranglehold on Washington and the nation would have been devoid of any political progress. If this were to have taken place, the cultural and industrial advances that occur in the late 19’th century may have been postponed indefinitely.

With incentives given by the government during the Civil War the Western frontier more an attraction for young men seeking adventure and looking to find their fortunes in the mining of precious metals. The mining boom in the West was often a bloody affair because greedy young miners would often ignore treaties that were in place with the native Americans,which lead to violent conflicts. But this did not slow the growth of the mining industry. Seven states , California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico. Colorado, Idaho, and Montana were all born out of the mining boom. Finding huge gold deposits was also one of the contributing factors that caused the Federal Government to back it’s money with gold. The gold standard had huge effects on the economy and affected all industries throughout the country until the Great Depression. The mining boom also affected the outcome of the civil war because when slavery hating miners moved into California during the gold rush, it ruined the South’s hopes of making it into another slave state.

Perhaps the most important cultural aspect of this pre-industrial time was the myth of the American frontier. Stories of the gunfights, saloons, Indians, mountain men, cattle herders and drunks have been immortalized in every medium. The era of the cowboy was short lived only about 25 years. Just as the stories of the American cowboys riding on the open range had become legend throughout rural and urban America, cattle herds began to be fenced in by the new creation of barbed wire. It was invented in 1870 by Joseph F. Glidden and Jacob Haish. It was a cheaper more practical solution to straying cattle than wooden fencing. Thousands of miles of it were used to enclose herds and to keep the Southern cattle from breeding with the healthier northern cattle. The mass production of barbed wire symbolizes the end of the wild west.

This period between 1830 and 1870 was a fruitful time. It laid the groundwork for a new society to be built upon it. This new society would not only be made up of entrepreneurs, inventors, corporations, and billionaires. Through use of labor saving technologies, standardization of machinery, new new abilities to organize production. Items that were once luxuries would become necessities.

In the Eastern cities after the Civil War people such as J.P. Morgan were beginning to find tremendous wealth in the financial markets. These well established figures had a lot of spending power and used it on the latest technologies for their houses and to make their lives more leisurable. Inventions were rapidly being patented to meet the luxury needs of their households. Josephine Cochran was born to one of these households. She was the granddaughter of John Fitch the inventor of the first steam engine. Josephine loved to have lavish dinner parties at her large house but she hated to wash dishes. This led her to invent the world’s first dishwasher but it was originally only able to be sold to hotels and restaurants. There was no market for products like this to be sold to consumers of working class means. Farmers in the midwest were isolated and had no way of shopping for the latest keeping up with the latest technologies. They were completely separated, both culturally and economically from the country that they resided in. But once the railways were spread generously throughout the country they were able to bring in more money by having a larger market to sell their cash crops in. They now had money but could only spend it at local general stores which did not offer a large selection of goods and certainly no luxurious goods. In the 1890’s Richard Warren Sears sees an opportunity to take advantage of the many goods being produced in the East and the newly acquired spending power of the farmers by starting a mail-order catalogue. In his catalogue he had lower prices than the farmer’s local general stores but also offered luxuries such as dishwashers and fancy clothing. The United States now had rural free delivery and trains made delivery times more than bearable. New products that were originally created to meet the needs of the wealthy were being made more cheaply through mass production and mass marketing. The Sears Roebuck catalogue was a household item and changed the way that farming was done. Items such as cream separators and refrigerators were became staples of a dairy farmers set of tools. It is important to note that before the civil war america got almost all of its manufactured goods from imports but the high tariffs that were imposed had the effect of causing American industrial productivity to flourish. One of the first mass produced items was the metal reaper during the war. Now American industry was able to delivery cheap products to its growing domestic market.

Another example of American industrial revolution being being built upon the foundation of the Civil War era is the success story of John D. Rockefeller. Years after the railroad legislation had passed through congress during the civil war and the railroad infrastructure had already been put in place. Rockefeller and his company Standard Oil had secured deals with all of the railroad companies to get favorable rates that were much cheaper than his competitors. He was able to do this by having large quantities of shares in the transportation companies. Cheap transportation allowed him to cut prices.By 1879 he controlled 90 to 95 percent of the oil that was manufactured. The birth of the automobile market that started in the 1890’s only secured Standard Oil’s Stranglehold on the economy.

There are countless other examples of the seeds of industry being planted during the Civil War Era. The were 2 essential factors that were present during this era and helped this take place. First, The citizens of the United States attitude about their ability to move upward in society through hard work. There was a growing financially motivated farming population who were prosperous with the help of cash crops and railroads. Second, the Federal Government used its powers to give generously to its people while encouraging domestic business. Congress was no longer being impeded by the slaver Democrats and were able to give subsidies to the rails, businesses and farmers. Domestic industry was greatly strengthened as a result of the high tariffs that were implemented. Because there was a functional government and motivated citizens the United States transformed from an agricultural country to an industrial country.

Buffalo Girls by Larry McMurtry Book Review :

The novel starts out rather slow because the characters are rather slow. This may be a result of alcohol abuse and aging. Their style of speaking seems obnoxious at first but eventually it grows on you. The theme and backdrop of this book is the dying wild west. It takes place in the late 1800’s. essentially the characters travel around their old stomping grounds of South Dakota reminiscing about the trouble and adventures they used to be involved in. These adventures include fighting indians, trapping beaver and hunting buffalo. The characters are now unsure what to do next because all of the indians, beaver and buffalo have already been hunted to some degree or another.

The central character of the novel is Calamity Jane. We get to know her primarily through her letters to her daughter. These letters are at first boring and hard to follow but by the big reveal at the end of the book you realise how important they are to understanding Jane’s character. Calamity’s main struggle throughout the book is loneliness as she travels with her friends. Her cure for loneliness is alcohol and writing to her daughter.

More of the important cast of characters include Jim Ragg, Bartle Bones, No Ears, Dora and Blue. Jim Ragg is an aging trapper. He always has beaver on the brain they say. He doesn’t speak much. He used to be a successful trapper but now all of the beavers are gone. Barttle is Jim’s best friend and is his companero on all of their journeys. Their friendship is important to the story and makes it quite depressing towards the end of the book. No Ears is an 80 year old Native American man who got his name because he has no ears, He is the most entertaining character he is so neurotic and his childlike interpretations of signs that he sees. He is continuously trying to see the hidden meaning in things and believes he can predict when people will die. Two important sid characters are Blue and Dora. They are in a romance with each other although Blue is married to someone else and Dora is a prostitute who runs a brothel.

Eventually Bill Cody comes to town and invites everyone(except blue) to come and work for him at his wild west show. This is a relieving point in the story because it seems that something will happen and the characters may finally cheer up. Dora decides not to go and the rest eventually talk themselves into it. The characters’ explanations and guesses as to how the the ocean works and what it will be like are quite comical and give some needed relief to the depressing tone of the story. When they get to europe they learn how popular wild west culture is there. It is quite ironic considering the culture has died in the real west. They all have a terrible time in England except Jim. Calamity gets drunk and fights everyone, Bartle gets married to a young redhead who leaves him after three months, no ears is jealous of sitting bull and Jim finally sees his beavers at the zoo. All of this wild west makes them get real homesick and they all become alcoholic. When they get back to America Jim is murdered immediately. No Ears then decides to go his own way. After Bartle’s wife leaves him for a ship captain. Bartle is barely himself as he travels back to town with Calamity. This was the most depressing part. Bartle keeps being sad about missing Jim. Even Calamity tells him to snap out of it. He never does though. While they were gone Dora got married to a large twenty-two year old named Oggen because he helped her out of the mud and has gotten pregnant with Blues baby. Bartle eventually dies and Calamity doesn’t feel welcome with Dora anymore so she just dies alone. When we read her last letters to her daughter it all comes together and I felt so bad for Calamity that I felt guilty for having been bored in other parts of the book. I almost wanted to read it again to see if there were any clues as to her gender or to her daughter being made up. I probably will read a little of it again. I’ve never had a book make me want to read it again but this one gave me the desire to. It was not an easy read because of how little action takes place. But the last third of the book, although sad, was very entertaining.

As for the theme of the dying west: I never realised how short lived that era was. I had always assumed it was around 100 years long. According to “A History of the American People” it took place over 25 years. It is curious to question whether a lot of the legends even were true. In this novel it seems to be a common habit among people in the west to bend the truth.

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