V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > H. North America, 1789–1914 > 2. The United States, 1878–1914
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
2. The United States, 1878–1914
a. Overview
 
Between the end of Reconstruction and the advent of World War I, America nearly completed its transition from a predominantly agrarian society to a predominantly urban industrial nation. Immigration, urban growth, and the expansion of industrial capitalism proceeded apace. The number of Americans living in cities reached nearly 50 percent, fueled by the arrival of nearly 17 million immigrants, mostly from southern, central, and eastern Europe. The Asian and Hispanic populations also increased. The birthrate continued to drop, falling from 39.9 live births per 1,000 people in 1880 to 32.3 by 1900. The nation witnessed the increasing decline of the agricultural sector, the emergence of a progressive movement to reform the worst abuses of industrialism, and the intensification of racism at home and abroad (as the nation expanded beyond its continental boundaries and became an imperial nation with significant overseas possessions). Despite the heightening of nationalistic fervor as the U.S. became a major world power, class, race, and regional differences continued to define the American experience.  1
The unequal impact of industrialism underlay the emergence of a variety of new social movements. In rapid succession, white workers embarked upon a series of organizing drives: the Knights of Labor in the late 1870s and 1880s, the American Federation of Labor during the 1890s, the Socialist Party of America in the early 1900s, and the Industrial Workers of the World after 1905. Native Americans continued to resist the encroachment of white settlers upon their land, as reflected in the persistence of Indian wars through the 1890s. African Americans, European immigrants, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans all intensified their separate institutional and community-building activities, designed to fight the impact of racial, class, and ethnic discrimination on their lives. Likewise, in an effort to arrest the deterioration of their livelihood, farmers launched an aggressive campaign to gain control over state and national economic policy. Their movement gained its greatest expression in the formation of the Populist Party in 1892. For a brief moment, it appeared that farmers would succeed in bridging not only regional differences between the South and the West, but racial and ethnic ones as well. The movement produced some of the most dramatic examples of black-white cooperation in American history.  2
Under the impact of these diverse social movements, the political system itself underwent significant change. Whereas the period from the fall of Reconstruction through the 1890s represented what some analysts call the “politics of equilibrium,” characterized by little disagreement on major issues, the 1890s ushered in a new era of political conflict. Following the decline of the Populist revolt and the triumph of the Republican Party in the election of 1896, the nation experienced a resurgence of reform. Between 1900 and World War I, the Progressive movement sought to control the most exploitative features of industrial capitalism—especially its abuse of men, women, and children. Despite heroic efforts to right outstanding wrongs of the industrial system, failure to address the issue of racial injustice was undoubtedly the movement's greatest shortcoming.  3
During the late 19th and early 20th century, the system of Jim Crow was consolidated in the South, and its de facto counterpart proceeded apace in the North and the West. Although some whites joined blacks in the formation of the NAACP (1909) and the National Urban League (1910), racial justice represented a low priority for most white Americans. Perhaps it was inevitable that America would stop short of developing a more equitable multiracial society. It was during this period that America completed its continental expansion from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Following the Spanish-American War, the United States also took its place as a new empire with its own colonial claims over peoples of color in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam.  4
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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