Social and economic prospects in the United States brought thousands of immigrants to America’s shores between 1830 and 1860. At the same time, the expanding market economy led to numerous social changes.
II. Country Life
A. Farm Communities
The farm village was the center of rural life. The social life of farm men and women consisted of trips to the market and meeting at such events as after-church dinners, prayer groups, and country bees. As people moved to towns and became wage earners and consumers, their daily lives were changed. Some people began to resist such changes by experimenting with cooperative rather than competitive environments.
The Shakers became one of the first groups of Americans to experiment with utopian communities.
C. Mormon Community of Saints
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints developed into the most successful communal group.
D. Brook Farm
Brook Farm played a significant role in fostering a national literature.
E. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson was the prime mover of the American Renaissance and a cornerstone of the transcendental movement.
III. The West
A. Discovery of Gold
Discovery of gold in 1848 led to the great California Gold Rush of 1849. Thousands went west to seek their fortunes, but most never found enough gold to pay their expenses.
Since most of the gold seekers had to be fed, California experienced an agricultural boom.
C. Women Settlers
Women constituted about one-seventh of the travelers on overland trails, and they found their domestic skills in high demand.
IV. City Life
A. New York City
New York had a population of over 800,000 by 1860.
B. Urban Problems
The rapid growth of nineteenth-century cities eventually forced city governments to take over public services.
C. Horace Mann and Public Schools
Horace Mann helped generate widespread interest in a secular system of education.
Through organized social actives and associations, leisure in the city became a commodity to be purchased.
The spread of mass education and the wide distribution of books and periodicals meant that Americans read more during their leisure time.
The theater provided an important source of enjoyment for both men and women.
G. Minstrel Show
Minstrel troupes traveled by city to city by the 1840s, but minstrel shows furthered racial divisions because of the stereotypical manner in which blacks were portrayed.
Sports such as horse racing, boxing, and eventually baseball, became popular. City dwellers became less spontaneous, relying more on formal rules.
I. City Culture
The growth of cities encouraged people to form private clubs and associations, while growing neighborhoods created distinctive youth cultures.
J. Urban Riots
City dwellers often rioted, forcing many cities to establish professional police forces in response to the violence.
V. Extremes of Wealth
A. “If Not an Aristocracy”
The egalitarian view of life in America diminished as a new aristocracy based on money and power emerged.
B. Urban Poverty
Growing cities generated a large class of urban poor that resented labor competition from immigrants.
C. The Urban Elite
The urban elite thrived in this period, often using inherited wealth to increase their power and riches.
D. The Middle Class
A comfortable middle class existed in urban America and enjoyed the fruits of the expanding market economy. Separated from the urban elite and from the urban poor, they increasingly looked to the family and home as the core of middle-class life.
VI. Women, Families, and the Domestic Ideal
A. Supporting Families
Many women viewed working in mills, department stores, or schools as temporary occupations before marriage. The poor, widows, and free African Americans, however, worked to support their families.
B. Idealizing the Family
The family was idealized by middle-class Americans as a moral institution characterized by selflessness and cooperation. This view restricted the paying jobs deemed appropriate to middle-class women, with teaching being the one occupation that was suitable to the female role.
C. Decline in Family Size
The birthrate declined, partly because in the market economy smaller families seemed more economical.
D. Limiting Families
Americans employed several forms of contraception.
E. Single Men and Women
Many women decided to remain single, pursue their own interests, and become independent.
VII. Immigrant Lives in America
A. Promotion of Immigration
Numerous enterprises recruited immigrants to the United States, and most of the newcomers ended up in the cities.
B. Settling In
Most immigrants gravitated toward cities. Scandinavians and Netherlanders generally settled in rural areas.
C. Immigrant Disenchantment
Many immigrants grew dissatisfied with life in the United States, and thousands of them returned home.
D. Irish Immigrants
Following the Potato Famine, more than 1 million Irish emigrants came to the United States. Most of them were Catholics who settled in the urban areas of the North.
E. Racial Ideas
Non-British, non-European, non-Protestant people were often described in negative, racial terms by the white, Anglo-Saxon majority.
Many people feared that emigrants subverted American values, leading to widespread anti-Catholicism and anti-Irish sentiment.
G. German Immigrants
By 1854, Germans became the largest immigrant group. Most of them settled in small towns to preserve their cultural identities, but they also had major influences on cities such as Milwaukee and Cincinnati.
Many Hispanics became Americans with the annexation of Texas, the Mexican War, and the Gadsden Purchase. Their culture persisted, but they lost economic influence.
VIII. Free People of Color
A. African American Communities
Black churches, literary societies, fraternal associations, and schools helped free blacks cope with their hardships.
B. Racial Exclusion and Segregation
In the North, African Americans faced exclusion from or segregation in public places. They also suffered hiring and wage discrimination.
C. African American Women
Because of their domestic skills, African American women found jobs more easily than African American men. However, they continued to bear the burden of gender stereotyping.
D. Black Nationalism
Many free blacks felt frustration with the failure of abolitionism, and racial solidarity, self-help, and an interest in Africa characterized a black nationalism.