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Years Of Growth

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Years Of Growth

Post by Admin on Sun Apr 10 2011, 23:23

1 Miners, Railroads and Cattlemen

In March 1848 a Californian landowner first discovered gold in a stream. Before long the news of this discovery was sweeping through California. By the middle of the summer a gold rush had begun and by the spring of 1849 people from all over the world were rushing to California to look for gold. In 1848 its population was 15.000 people, by 1852 the population was more than 250.000. In the next twenty years gold discoveries attracted fortune-seekers also to other parts of the far West.
The first mining settlements were just untidy collections of tents and huts, scattered along rough tracks that were muddy in winter an dusty in summer. But some grew later into permanent communities. The present city of Denver (the capital of Colorado) began life in this way.
Thousands of miles separated these western mining settlements from the rest of the United States, thousands of miles of flat or gently rolling land covered with tall grass. Early travellers who passed through this region described it as a ”sea of grass”, for hardly any trees or bushes grew there. Geographers call these grasslands the Great Plains of North America.
In the middle of the nineteenth century the Great Plains were the home of wandering Amerindian hunters such as the Sioux. The herds of buffalo that grazed on the sea of grass provided them with everything they needed.
Yet within twenty-five years of the end of the Civil War, practically all of the Great Plains had been divided into states and territories. Ranchers were feeding large herds of cattle on the ”sea of grass” and farmers were ploughing the ”Great American Desert” to grow wheat. By 1890 the separate areas of settlement on the Pacific Coast and along the Mississippi River had moved together.
Railroads played an important part in this time. During the Civil War, Congress had become anxious to join the gold-rich settlements along the Pacific Coast more closely to the rest of the United states. In 1862 the Union Pacific Railroad Company began to build a railroad west from the Mississippi towards the Pacific and at the same time the Central Pacific Railroad Company began to build eastwards from California. The whole country watched with growing excitement as the two lines gradually approached one another. Finally, on May 10, 1869, the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific lines met at Promontory Point in Utah. The first railroad across the North American continent was completed.
Now the cattle ranchers in Texas saw a way to make money. They could feed cattle cheaply on the grasslands between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains and then use the new railroads to transport the cattle to eastern cities. After the Civil War Texas cattle owners hired men called ”drovers” or ”cowboys” to drive their cattle north to the railroads.
Very soon meat from the Great Plains was feeding people in Europe as well as the eastern United states.


Last edited by Admin on Sun Apr 10 2011, 23:25; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Years Of Growth

Post by Admin on Sun Apr 10 2011, 23:24

2 Farming the Great Plains

In 1862 (during the Civil War) Congress passed a law called the Homestead Act. The Homestead Act offered free farms in the West to families of settlers. Each homestead consisted of 160 acres of land and all the people had to do was to move onto a piece of public land, live on it for five years and the land became theirs.
To increase their profits transcontinental railroad companies were keen for people to begin farming this land so they advertised for settlers. They did this not only in the eastern United States, but as far away as Europe.
Live wasn’t easy for these settlers. The Great Plains had few streams and the rainfall was so low and unreliable that lack of water was a serious problem. Fire was another danger of the long, dry summers. In some years plagues of insects caused even more destruction than fire. The railroads made it possible for the farmers to sell their produce in faraway places, even in Europe. Improved agricultural machines were making their farms more productive every year. This and the fact that farmers were cultivating more land finally caused constant ”over-production”. The prices for which individual farmers were able to sell their wheat were too low to give them a decent living.
So farmers formed political action groups to try to improve their position. Soon many western states passed laws that set up government bodies to control railroad freight charges and to look after farmers’ interests in other matters.

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Re: Years Of Growth

Post by Admin on Sun Apr 10 2011, 23:26

3 The Amerindians’ Last Stand

As I said, white people spread across the plains and mountains of the American West, where the Amerindians lived. The Amerindians saw that it was impossible to drive the newcomers away from their hunting grounds, so they made treaties with the government in Washington, giving up large pieces of their land for white farmers to settle upon. In return for such agreements the government promised to leave the Amerindians in peace on the lands that remained theirs.
By this time the Amerindian peoples of the Great Plains were facing another serious problem: The buffalo was beginning to disappear. The Amerindians lived by hunting the buffalo, it provided them with everything they needed - food, clothing, tools and homes. The land that the big animals needed to graze upon was being taken by ranchers and farmers. Worse still, white hunters were shooting down the buffalo in thousands. The American army saw the extermination of the buffalo as a way to end Amerindian resistance to the occupations of their land.
As more settlers claimed homesteads in the West the American government needed more land for them. To obtain this it decided to force the Amerindians to give up their wandering way of life. It sent soldiers to drive the Amerindians onto ”reservations”. These reservations were areas of land that were usually so dry or rocky that the government thought white settlers were never likely to want them. The Amerindians tried to fight back, but they had no chance of winning. They surrendered and the white soldiers marched them away to the reservations.
The United States government said that it would help and protect the reservation Amerindians. It promised them food, materials to build homes and tools to cultivate the land. But the promises were often broken. There was great suffering on the reservations. Epidemic diseases swept through them, killing their people.
In 1924 Congress finally passed the Indian Citizenship Act. This recognised Amerindians as full citizens of the United States and gave them the right to vote. In spite of such improvements, Amerindians remained far behind most other Americans in health, wealth, and education.

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Re: Years Of Growth

Post by Admin on Sun Apr 10 2011, 23:28

4 Inventors and Industries

In the 1880s and 1890s American industries grew quickly. The production of coal and iron grew especially fast. These were the most important industrial raw materials in the nineteenth century. Railroads were very important in this growth of manufacturing. Vast amounts of coal and iron were used to make steel for their rails, locomotives, freight wagons and passenger cars. But the railroads also linked together buyers and sellers all over the country. Without them big new centres of industry like Pittsburgh and Chicago could not have developed.
By 1890 the industries of the United States were earning the country more than its farmland. In the twenty years that followed, industrial output went on growing, faster and faster.
As industrial organisations grew bigger and more powerful they often became ”trusts”. By the early twentieth century trusts controlled large parts of American industry. One trust controlled the steel industry, another the oil industry, and there were many more. The biggest trusts were richer than most nations. By their wealth and power - and especially their power to decide wages and prices - they controlled the lives of millions of people.
Many Americans were alarmed by the power of the trusts. The United States was a land that was supposed to offer equal opportunities to everyone. Yet now it seemed that the country was coming under the control of a handful of rich and powerful men who were able to do more or less anything they wished.

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Re: Years Of Growth

Post by Admin on Sun Apr 10 2011, 23:29

5 Reformers and Progressives

Many men, women and children laboured for long hours in factories, mines and workshops for a little amount of money and lived in dirty and overcrowded slums. Workers tried to form trade, or labour, unions to improve the conditions of their lives, but this attempts often failed. Employers were determined to allow neither their workers nor anyone else to interfere in the way they ran their business. Employers would dismiss union members and put their names on a ”blacklist”. If a worker’s name appeared on one of these lists, other employers would refuse to give him a job.
In the early years of the twentieth century a stream of books and magazine articles drew people’s attention to a large number of national problems. Some dealt with conditions of life in the slums of the great cities, some with bribery and corruption in the government, others with the dishonesty of wealthy businessman. Reports like this often brought out startling and frightening facts and shocked the American people. People began to demand that the nation’s leaders should deal with these scandals; this pressure brought about an important change in American economic and political life. Before 1900 most Americans had believed in ”laissez faire” - the idea that governments should interfere with business, and with people’s lives in general, as little as possible. After 1900 many Americans became ”Progressives”. A Progressive was someone who believed that, where necessary, the government should take action to deal with the problems of society.
The Progressive movement found a leader in the Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who became President in 1901. Roosevelt was particularly concerned about the power of the trusts. His idea was to give the United States the best of both worlds. He wanted to allow businessmen enough freedom of action to make their firms efficient and prosperous, but at the same time to prevent them from taking unfair advantage of other people.
In 1913 Woodrow Wilson, the candidate of the Democratic Party, became President. Wilson, too, supported the Progressive movement.
Despite Roosevelt’s attempts to bring the trusts under control, they were even more powerful in 1913 than they had been in 1900. Wilson believed that only action by the federal government could halt this process. He called his policies ”The New Freedom”. They were put into effect by a series of laws passed between 1913 and 1917. One of Wilson’s first steps was to reduce customs duties in order to encourage trade between the United States and other countries. Then he reformed the banking system and introduced a system of federal taxes on high incomes. Other laws reduced the powers of the trusts.
The Progressive movement changed and improved American life in many ways. But many people still distrusted too much government ”interference” in the nation’s life.

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