Free «Exam: The Dawes Act, the Populists and the American Labor Movement» Essay Sample

The Dawes Act

Americans considered Indians a strong cohesive society, led by powerful leaders who were opposing any changes weakening the positions of a tribe. Therefore, many white Americans had been afraid of Indian peoples and sought an immediate reform. The rejection of Indians of the Euro-American way of life, which then was a social norm in the United States, was considered by the white settlers as unacceptable and uncivilized. By the end of 1880, the settlers had formed a clear common view about the habits of the Indian people.

With the emergence of huge groups of the new European settlers who had reached the eastern border and places of settlement of plurality of Native American tribes, the government introduced an idea of the inability to coexist of different racial communities within the same community. Everything that was needed was to get rid of the Indian problem in order to free new Americans from their poor and uncivilized neighbors and replace them with independent Americanized Christian farming society. Searching for a quick and affordable solution to this problem, the creation of a colony or reservation was proposed. Thus, on 8 February 1887, the Law on Allocation of Davis was signed by the President Grover Cleveland.

The provisions of the Dawes Act included several important points. The document involved the statement that the head of the family would receive a grant of 160 acres, a lonely man or an orphan under the age of 18 years would have a grant of 80 acres. Moreover, the persons under the age of 18 would get 40 acres. The allocation would be placed in the trust fund of the US government for 25 years. The Indians considered appropriate for criteria had four years to choose their own land. Then the choice would be made for them by the Minister of Internal Affairs.

Each member of a group or tribe who received land became subject to the laws of the state or territory in which he was living. Every Indian who got the allotment and adopted the habits of civilized life living separately from the tribe became a United States’ citizen. It was not reducing or affecting the rights of any Indian tribe or other property.

The reservations were set up exclusively for the locals, imitating those that the locals had created for themselves in the east. It was a form of removal. The US government had been using it to uproot people from their current habitats and move them to distant areas.

Indians resisted the introduction of the reservations system. For decades, they had got involved in the so-called Indian Wars with the United States Army in the West. In the end, after the defeat in this struggle with the US military forces and the continuing wave of the encroachment of settlers, the tribes agreed as follows. They decided to conclude an agreement on the relocation to the reservation. Native Americans found themselves in the area of arid deserts and farmlands.

The system of reservations was not an ideal way of life for Indians. However, it was the only exit which gave every family a considerable degree of freedom. Each tribe had the right to a new land, protection of its territory, and the right to self-government. The Senate was able to intervene only through negotiations. Moreover, the Indians were still able to live, according to their traditions of individual communities.

The law obliged and forced them to surrender because the government had allocated the reservations without their consent. Native Americans preached a special ideology, according to which the land was the only thing that they appreciated. The care for the land gave them all that they needed and used. It supported their lives. The land was an embodiment of their existence, identity and environment in which they were living. The Dawes Act was extremely cruel towards Native Americans.

The Populists

In the late 1880s and early 1890s, the position of farmers on the western outskirts of the Midwest and the old South was terrifying. In the far west, silver miners were unhappy with demonetization of silver since the price for this metal had fallen dramatically. The mood of impoverished farmers and some workers was caught by public figures that made a political organization. On 19 May 1891, it was formed as the People's (Populist) Party.

The supporters of the nascent movement became known as Populists. They were trying to create a party that served primarily the interests of agricultural workers while they vainly hoped to win the support of  employees as well. Their opponents were plutocrats who controlled finance and industry as well as the two oldest political parties.

By 1880, the US farmers had created several political organizations, putting forward their own demands on the government's economic policy. They opposed the dominance of monopolies and sought the introduction of the state regulation of economy or even the nationalization of railways and creation of state stores. Democrats, who were in opposition to the Republican majority in the Congress, supported the demands of farmers. Besides, their interests were defended by some small parties, including the People's Party or populists.

The populist movement gathered disparate interest groups (mainly these were farmers and workers). Grouping was made on the interracial basis in the fight against multiple forms of domination of monopoly capital that had been established at that time. The movement reflected the attitude of mass strata of American workers who were the victims of devastating effects of monopolies on small-scale production and its social consequences.

The populists had put forward a number of new ideas, corresponding to important trends in public of the United States. Understanding the idea of nation and democracy proposed by them differed from the classical positions of bourgeois democracy. The highest social value to them was not abstract people but the working masses. Thus, true individuals were those working in the countryside and city. Contrary to the American traditions of the weak central government, populists put forward the idea of a strong state, which had been acting in the interests of working people and, most importantly, under their  direct control.

For several years, the populists had had the support of the population. They also had a political influence in several states of the South and West. In the early 1890s, they had already sent their representatives to the Congress. Denying the need for revolution and struggle and hoping only on the parliamentary activity, their leaders were acting together with the Democratic Party in the presidential elections in 1896. They supported its candidate William Jennings Bryan. Hereinafter the dependence of populists on Democrats increased.

However, the economic crisis of 1893 and inability to cope with it caused a split in the ranks of Democrats and the democratic administration of the President Cleveland. As a result, the common, according to the populists’ ideas and principles, candidate elected in 1896 William Jennings Bryan lost. The Republican candidate William McKinley got his victory during those presidential elections. Not being able to win the White House, the populists focused their impact on the state level.

The heterogeneous composition of the party and absence of leadership led to instability and weakness of the movement of populists. By 1900, they virtually had ceased to exist as an independent party.

The Gilded Age

In the US history, there was a very interesting in all respects period known as the Gilded Age. The origin of this concept is the era of the great confrontation between North and South. The Gilded Age was the time of capitalism flourishing, massive corruption, and incredible adventures. During this period, the specific business civilization of the North due to the military victory over the aristocratic South had acquired the pro-American scope and begun to determine the nature of the further development of the whole country. The name of this time comes from a book by Mark Twain and Charles Warner The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. It interpreted the naming golden age, which in the American history was gilded only on the surface.

The Gilded Age was based on industrialization, especially in the development of heavy industries, i.e. factories, railways, and coal mines. The first transcontinental railroad allowed the United States to deliver passengers and cargo from the east coast to the west in a short time. The total length of American railways grew significantly. The need for funding of large industrial enterprises and railroads stimulated the consolidation of capital on the Wall Street. This process led to the formation of new large corporations in many spheres called trusts.

During the technological revolution era, in the US Northeast, businessmen were building new industrial cities with city-forming plants and factories. They employed wage workers from different European countries. This period was marked with an active consolidation of the industry and capital in the hands of robber barons. In particular, Jason Gould, John Pierpont Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and many others were among them. Concentrating a huge amount of capital in their hands, the robber barons could promote some favorable solutions in the US government.

However, The Gilded Age is called as the times of party rule. The role of political parties was the highest one in the American history during this period. The US political life mainly consisted in the struggle between the Republican and Democratic sides. Almost all influential people in America belonged either to one or another party. The economic boom had inevitably led to a gradual merging of government and big businesses.

Earlier, in America, the so-called spoils system, in accordance with the well-known slogan to the victor goes the spoils, had developed. The party which won the election received at its disposal the public positions. Meanwhile the supporters of the losing side were denied their access to the state work. It cannot be said that before that party members had been not seeking for help of businessmen. However, it happened on the wave of the industrial growth gradually included in the policy. Both major parties, Republicans and Democrats, were interested in and connected with the corporate capital. Such union inevitably led to the fact that the leadership and organization of the parties’ methods specific to the business became prevailing.

The power and influence of the captains of the policy were no less strong than the impact of the leaders from the industry and finance. Branched, concerted and disciplined party organizations created in each of the states, as well as all major and many smaller towns, became the supporters for parties and party bosses. Bosses and their immediate surroundings formed an informal party leadership, which directed its activities. Republicans and Democrats who found themselves in public offices due to their protection had to obey the will of bosses. They had to make the corresponding contribution to the party coffers depending on their position. Otherwise, they could lose their positions.

Party bosses wanted to turn the largest and most profitable institutions of their state into the property of their party. For example, such a basis for the Republicans of New York was the custom being the largest one in the United States. Its income and bribes received by officials could be compared with the profits of successful businessmen. The customs office encouraged bribery. It turned into a reliable source of funding for the Republican Party. The employees of customs not only shared their profits with the party boss but also gave their time for organizational outreach activities of the party. Thus, business interests began to greatly influence the government.

Therefore, political parties and their bosses had great administrative and financial powers. They were able to appoint police and provide a license to the owners of drinking establishments, as well as give permissions for the operations of bus lines, urban railways, and ferries. City coffers sponsored New York’s leaders. Usually, from inflated cost estimates for any contract the contractor received only 35 percent of its value; the boss was getting 25, and his immediate surroundings - all the rest.

The fact that the financial and industrial elite as well as the groups representing their interests affected the US policy and the adoption of laws had been recognized at that time. In particular, in the US Senate archives, there is a lithograph called The Bosses of the Senate by Joseph Keppler created in 1889. It speaks for itself.

 It is believed that the modern American economy was created in the era of the Gilded Age. The economy, in general, as well as wages, wealth, national products and capital, was growing at the fastest pace in the country's history.


In the late 19th century, the United States was the most industrially developed country. At that time, the state had come out on top in industrial production. This fact affected the functioning of the movement. Until the 80s, the US labor movement had been extremely weak. It could be due to several reasons. Firstly, there were a lot of free land resources in the west. Secondly, the USA is a country of immigrants with a large influx of population. Due to this, there was no unity among workers. In fact, in America, there were the highest wages for employees.

However, in the 1880s, the situation changed. All the land in the west had been already occupied. Moreover, the movement to the West had stopped. However, the influx of immigrants from Europe to the East in the major cities had increased even more. Most American workers were the immigrants. This fact had largely determined the nature of the American labor movement. The last third of the XIX century was the time of the new immigration, which was characterized by the mass nature and other national content compared to the previous wave. The development of steamship across the ocean and a sharp decline in the cost of movement had generated a huge flow of immigrants from the most backward parts of Europe. These people were ready to work for the most miserable fee.

Sovereignty speculators and the long recession had led to the deterioration of material conditions of working classes in the United States. Thus, the labor movement began to grow. At the same time, in the 80s, there was a slight downturn. Thus, unemployment increased; as for wages, they stopped growing and even declined in some industries. American workers continued living well in comparison with the European ones. However, there was some discontent in society.

In the years following the Civil War, the broadest industry growth had transformed the United States. By the early 20th century, the United States had become the country of growing large cities, the country machinery, coal mining, and steel production as the fast means of communication. Although living conditions generally improved, millions of industrial workers were living under overcrowded unsanitary conditions. During the recession, the situation became just awful.

For many people, it seemed obvious that for those living only due to wages it was not easy to achieve justice. American workers had passed through a long and difficult struggle for a fair treatment. In the course of this fight, the growing number of employees used to seek assistance from labor unions. All it led to a strong labor movement.

One of the most dramatic events in the history of the American labor movement was the strike. It began on 1 May 1886, in Chicago. For that time, the country had been covered by the global economic crisis. During this period, the railway companies had reduced the salaries for its workers by 20 percent. Many railroad employees complained that they were not able to support their families. However, these workers could not do almost anything. Unions were weak, and employees were afraid to strike. The reason was that the country was full of the unemployed who would be willing to take their place. Nevertheless, there was a secret union of railway workers being ready to resist these events.

On 1 May 1886, the workers of Chicago began the general strike to get an 8-hour workday and higher wages. The struggle was well organized. On 3 May, the bomb was thrown at the police from crowd workers. Several policemen were wounded; the police opened fire killing six workers. Thus, a peaceful and well-organized strike led to bloodshed. Strike leaders were arrested and executed.le the trials of persons responsible for these movements were happening, in many cities, the wave of protest against the court in support of the workers of Chicago appeared. The great railway strike in 1877 helped workers to a certain respect. Some railway companies canceled the previously announced reduction of wages. An even more important result of this strike was the solidarity of industry workers such as miners, metallurgists, and others. The working class felt its strength and unity.

In 1886, on the wave of the mass movement for an 8-hour working day, a rather powerful union was established. It was called the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which soon became the largest and most influential trade association in the United States. It denied the political struggle. It consisted mainly of skilled workers of the American origin. The AFL advocated the class collaboration for a gradual improvement of the situation of employees and basically refused from the political struggle. They acted only within the framework of law and put the economic objectives such as the working day lasting 8 hours, increase of wages, etc.

The strike of railway workers made many employees join the growing ranks of some national labor organizations, such as Noble Holy Order of the Knights of Labor. The unity was founded in 1869 by a small group of workers. The membership in Noble Holy Order of the Knights of Labor was open to all employees living for wages. It did not depend on their race, gender, and qualifications. New members took an oath of secrecy, promising never to divulge any names of the Order and of its members.


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