Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The U.S. Government and Reform in the Late 19th Century

            In the latter half of the 19th century the United States was expanding westward.  Lands acquired from Mexico in the Mexican / American War was free to be settled now without the question of slavery becoming an issue.  Also the wrath of the Civil War on the south and the influx of immigration made westward expansion a top priority for the United States Government and an opportunity for many to start over.  In actuality, there was a perfect storm brewing in the United States caused by several different factors; many things caused completion of Manifest Destiny to be a main goal after the Civil War.
What has inspired this essay is a chapter from: “American Issues:  Volume 2: Since 1865.”  The readings in this chapter bring many different views of the then growing American West into perspective.  While reading this you are in the shoes of Indians, congress, settlers, and farmers; all of these people have an issue with the American West or have played a major role in its history.  Through reading these stories it helps the reader to understand many of the complicated facets that compose American life today.

While reading this essay I noticed some things that intrigued me.  The United States in today’s world, even after the events in Tucson is a divided, partisan nation.  These stories I believe deserve much reflection, but I wish to view them from a different angle.  To do this I must purpose the question; when did we lose faith in the federal government and would it be possible to accomplish some of these goals in this very partisan world we live in?

How was the West won; from an American settlers perspective?  There were several things that made the conquest of the American West by the American settlers possible.  The following is a brief list of some of the things that helped make western expansion possible:

·         Creation of Trans-Continental Rail road and expansion of rail road systems throughout the American West.
·         Free or nearly free land opened up to settlers by the federal government
·         U.S military intervention driving Indians onto smaller and smaller reservations opening up more and more land for White Americans to settle.

I’m sure that one could make a valid case why other things could be listed as factors on this list but for simplicities sake I have chose only to list these three.  These three things may not appear to be attached in any way but they share one major thing in common with each other.  All three of these factors were paid for, supported, and initiated by the United States Federal Government. 
With all this being said I again ask the question of when did we lose faith in the federal government?  At this point in American history people wanted the government to be active in their lives.  American settlers in the west wanted goods to be able to come into the area, as well as leave it and the creation of the railroad systems helped make this possible.  Why is the government relevant to this; railroads in the west were encouraged by the federal government.  The federal government acquired lands, and compensated railroad companies well for expanding rail lines west.  The first story of the reading is about the free land grab in Oklahoma by one of the settlers Hamilton S. Wicks.  Mr. Wicks talks about his experience on the train and how it affected the race for the prime real estate in Oklahoma:

“The occupants of the train now became absorbed in their own fate.  Indeed our train was one of the participants in this unexampled race…”   

I realize that this may not be the best example to use to present the argument that whether people admit it or even realize it, they want their federal government to look out for them.  This excerpt does show the importance of the rail road to the growing West though.  Another one of the readings in this chapter shows beyond a reasonable doubt that American’s want government intervention.  
The second article is also from an American settler’s perspective of the west, but it is about the issues with farming and some of the farmers own explanations of how to fix the situation.  I found the arguments proposed to be practical, but in today’s bipartisan political climate, I wonder how some of these thoughts would have been received.  

American farmers after the Civil War faced a relentless series of problems.  Farming after the Civil War was plagued with overproduction which caused plummeting prices and new technology which was too expensive.  Farmers viewed themselves at this time as the back bone of society, and yet the most unappreciated.  In several cases at this time, the farmer made less than his workers.  It truly was less profitable to farm.

     Farmers proposed many ways of correcting this issue.  Ideas such as unionizing and government intervention were thrown out.  One of the things that the Farmers Alliance (a farmers union) called for is: 

“The ownership by the government of all railroads, telegraphs, and telephones”
      I think this statement is reasonable, but again, where was the outcry over government intervention?  If there was none then when did the American people become so paranoid of the federal government?  Those questions I don’t know the answer too but when asking those questions I feel that it shows how over time a societies concerns change with the times.  Years from now will the question of government intervention still be an issue or will it be another fad for the history books?

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