The growing strength of the abolition movement raised fears among Southerners that the federal government would outlaw slavery. Increasingly, the South hardened its defense of slavery. Southerners had always argued that slavery was necessary to the plantation economy. But after 1830, some Southern leaders began arguing that blacks were inferior to whites, and there-fore fit for their role as slaves. Even many Southern whites who owned no slaves took comfort in the belief that they were superior to blacks. As a result, Southern support of slavery increased.
Cultural change. After 1820, the wilderness seemed less and less hostile to Americans, increasingly, society glorified the frontier and nature. The public eagerly read thenovels of James Fenimore Cooper, which described Indians and pioneers as pure of heart and noble in deeds. Ralph Waldo Emerson and other American philosophers praised nature as a source of truth and beauty available to all people, rich and poor alike.
The years of expansion see important social changes. By the mid-1800's the United States had expanded westward across the North American continent. This era of expansion brought with it other profound changes in American society.
With new territory and a growing population, the nation needed better transportation systems. In the early 1800's workers built hundreds of miles of canals to link the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers with the Great Lakes and the Atlantic coast. Along these water routes, canal boats carried manufactured goods to the West and raw materials and agricultural products to the East. Railroads also developed during this period. Thousands of miles of track were built between 1820 and 1850.
Early reform efforts included movements to organize laborers and farmers. In 1886, skilled laborers formed the American Federation of Labor (AFL) - now the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). Led by Samuel Gompers, this union bargained with employers and gained better wages and working conditions for its members. Farmers founded the National Grange in 1867 and Farmers Alliances during the 1870's and 1880's. These groups helped force railroads to lower their charges for hauling farm products and assisted the farmers in other ways.
Unskilled laborers had less success in organizing than did skilled laborers and farmers. The Knights of Labor, a union open to both the unskilled and skilled workers, gained a large membership during the 1880's. But its membership declined sharply after the Ha/market Riot of 1886. In this incident, someone threw a bomb during a meeting of workers in Haymarket Square in Chicago, and a riot erupted. At least seven police officers and one civilian died. Many Americans blamed the disaster on the labor movement. The Haymarket Riot aroused antilabor feelings and temporarily weakened the cause of unskilled workers.
The drive for woman suffrage became strong after the Civil War. In 1869, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. The Territory of Wyoming gave women the right to vote the same year. Soon, a few states allowed women to vote, but only in local elections.
Early reformers brought about some changes in government. In 1883, their efforts led to passage of the Pendleton, or Civil Service, Act. This federal law set up the Civil Service Commission, an agency charged with granting federal government jobs on the basis of merit, rather than as political favors. The commission was the first federal government regulatory agency in the na-tion's history. In 1884, Democrats and liberal Republicans joined together to elect Grover Cleveland President. A reform-minded Democrat, Cleveland did much to enforce the Pendleton Act.
The Progressive Era. The outcry for reform increased sharply after 1890. Members of the clergy, social workers, and others studied life in the slums and reported on the awful living conditions there. Educators criticized the nation's school system. A group of writers-called muckrakers by their critics-published exposes about such evils as corruption in government and how some businesses cheated the public. The writers included Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and Ida M. Tarbell. Increasingly, unskilled workers resorted to strikes in an attempt to gain concessions from their employers. Often, violence broke out between strikers and strikebreakers hired by the employers. Socialists and others who opposed the U.S. economic system of capitalism supported the strikers and gained a large following.
These and other developments caused many middle-class and some upper-class Americans to back reforms. The people wondered about the justice of a society that tolerated such extremes of poverty and wealth. More and more, the power of big business, corruption in government, violent strikes, and the inroads of socialism seemed to threaten American democracy.
As public support for reform grew, so did the political influence of the reformers. In 1891, farmers and some laborers formed the People's, or Populist, Party. The Populists called for government action to help farmers and laborers. They gained a large following, and convinced many Democrats and Republicans to support reforms. See Populism.
Reformers won control of many city and some state governments. They also elected many people to Congress who favored their views. In addition, the first three Presidents elected after 1900-Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson - supported certain reform laws. These political developments resulted in a flood of reform legislation on the local, state, and federal levels.
The reform movement flourished under Wilson. Two amendments to the Constitution proposed during Taft's Administration were ratified in 1913. The 16th Amendment gave the federal government the power to levy an income tax. The 17th Amendment provided for the election of U.S. senators by the people, rather than by state legislatures. The Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 struck a blow against monopolies. It prohibited corporations from grouping together under interlocking boards of directors. It also helped