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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

The Dynamics of Growth - Document Overview

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Opportunity plus improvements equaled growth, and growth, to most Americans, meant progress and prosperity. In terms of opportunity, Americans were fortunate in the natural riches of the land they claimed, claims that grew throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, as the nation grew physically, it attracted and encompassed more people who expended much energy and showed tremendous ingenuity in their pursuit of individual and national improvements. Many of these people cultivated more and more land. Agriculture, however, blossomed not just because of additional farmers working on extensive, fertile homesteads, it flourished because other Americans, native born and immigrant, created better tools with which to work. Inventors devised mechanical aides, from the cotton gin that transformed the South to the mechanical seeders and reapers that, in the Old Northwest, helped turn sustenance farming into commercial agriculture.

More farms, farmers, and farm machines in and of themselves would not have created a successful commercial climate. These farmers needed greater markets, and they had to be able to get their goods to them. Furthermore, as the farmers became markets for goods they could not easily or profitably produce, they needed to be supplied with such products. Well aware of the farmers' situation, Americans took a great interest in internal improvements—whether financed by the national or state governments.

While citizens wrangled over the type and sponsorship of improvements, their federal and local governments proceeded to build roadways and waterways. The National Road was the premier example of the former, and the numerous canals that gouged through the states, connecting rivers and lakes, cities and shipping terminals established the latter. As much as new technology aided in building these roads and canals, they did not represent the greatest innovations in transportation. People had long used the power supplied by air, earth, and water, but in harnessing the power created by a combination of those elements—steam power—they revolutionized the ways by which people traveled. Steamships began to ply the country's rivers, lakes, and shorelines, and heralded the beginning of the end for the great ocean sailing ships. Steam-powered locomotives, engines on wheels that moved on tracks, also energized the movement of people and products.

The most dynamic element in this transformation was the human one. People invented machines to benefit people. Laborers used the machines to make the goods—including other mechanical devices—that the populace wanted and needed. As demand for both workers and products grew, more and more people streamed in from the American countryside as well as from other countries to work in the factories. The resulting confluence of cultures, with all its attendant turbulence and debris, was a mixed blessing for American society. While some Americans liked to see customs challenged by the new realities of industrialization and urbanization, many others found the process, and certainly the consequences, profoundly disturbing.

The growth of manufacturing expanded the ranks of landless laborers and contributed to social and economic stratification as Americans started to define the value of such workers and their work. Many, planted deep in the yeoman farmer tradition, did not understand those who chose to toil in factories rather than fields. While movement was an accepted part of the American experience when it included clearing new farms, the urban laborers' rootlessness was not. One result was that some Americans came to discriminate against industrial workers, especially when such laborers changed the face, figure, and speech of America's working class. Whereas manufacturers readily hired women and children—indeed, they preferred them for certain tasks—people worried about them working outside family control (working within it had always been acceptable). While factory work was a positive in that it gave some women and families greater economic options, it also led to exploitation, not just employment. Natives and immigrants alike struggled with this and the other dilemmas that were the byproducts of industrialization.

Immigrants were vital to American growth. The nation had natural resources in abundance, but while Americans were as energetic in populating the land as they were in planting crops, rail stakes, and factory foundations, they did not provide enough laborers. Fortunately for the nation—although some citizens believed that more misfortune than fortune attended their coming—immigrants flocked to these shores after 1820. Pushed from their motherlands by depression, famine, and political persecution, and pulled to America by seductive images of its prosperity, bountifulness, and tolerance, thousands upon thousands of peoples shipped off for the New World. Prominent among them were Germans and Irish, the two major European groups to migrate to the United States before 1860.

National power and prosperity benefitted from the interplay among land, people, and technology. Yet what many hailed as progress was not welcomed by all. Some feared that the move to manufacturing and cities spelled not only the doom of the yeoman farmer, but of the political system created for him. Others decried the influence of immigrants on American culture—a concept cynics may have choked on, but which boosters did not see as an oxymoron—and thus espoused nativism. Yet as much as nativists wanted to preserve an idealized past in their culture, American civilization was just as dynamic an invention as the mechanical ones, and just as susceptible to those who wanted to improve it.


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