The Industrial Revolution was most revolutionary because of the sheer number of immigrants that came in search of prosperity and the promise of success that had been so widely advertised of America. Unfortunately for the vast majority, many ended up living poverty-stricken lives which were often a good deal worse from where they had come. Some like the Irish had little choice, as it was emigration or starve for many Irish folks at that time of famine in Ireland.
Perhaps, the mass immigration into the United States wasn’t such a bad thing. It certainly expanded the nation faster than anyone would have expected. However, that mass immigration was also a serious problem. There were not nearly enough jobs for all the people, and certainly not enough living space and food for everyone, either.
As much as we celebrate America’s rapid spread across the continent of North America, the idea Anglo-Saxon superiority was a key factor in the spirit of Manifest Destiny. It was a greedy spirit, indeed. Manifest Destiny may be celebrated in American history for expanding the United States, but it also was a very divisive and destructive force.
Though most were without ill intent, settlers moved out west in great herds. Unfortunately, the land quickly became eaten up, unable to withstand the mass volume of people moving in and trying to farm the fertile land. The over-farming and the cattle eating up the native grasses that could not grow back fast enough to support the high volume of incoming livestock were highly detrimental to the ecology of the land. Eventually, this ecological damage would lead to the Dust Bowls in the mid-west. Also, with the widespread killing of buffalo – much of it purely for sport –entire tribes of Native Americans lost their way of life.
The white settlers had little regard for the land itself. Many were eager to claim it without much care. It took a great deal of time to build up a proper infrastructure to make sure that the land was properly cared for and given out. There simply was not enough space for everybody! The government did later come in to help the land, starting programs such as Forest Management Act of 1897 and the National Reclamation Act of 1902. However, the damage was already extensive.
One textbook puts it best, “The changes they produced in some areas were nearly as cataclysmic as those that occurred during the Ice Age." It was the Promised Land, which brought many to flock to these “new lands.” Unfortunately, the beautiful promise of these lands would be stripped away from the reach of many by the sheer fact that people needed jobs, and the big business owners were far from being the kindest bosses.
The theory of Social Darwinism became quite popular among the rich business-owners and entrepreneurs. It was a proponent of the Darwin’s famous principle, the “survival of the fittest." The theory justified the high positions of power for the owners and the existence of a lower subservient class of workers. To think otherwise, according to the Social Darwinism doctrine, was to go against the natural order.
In mass production, this was not pretty business. New technology and the promise of success that lured in many European and Asian immigrants caused an overflow of folks into an increasingly limited number of jobs. Because there were so many people lining up for limited job openings, there were always several folks who could fill a job, making many of the workers more than expendable. The surplus of workers turned out to be a bad thing. Unemployment led to resentment of both immigrants, who were perceived to be stealing away all the good jobs, and the big bosses who were treating them all as so expendable.
In his essay “Condemned Haymarket Anarchist,” George Engel pointed out that with the improvements in mechanization that working men were getting more time to reflect on their situation. “The fact that through the improvement of machinery so many men are thrown out of employment,” Engel wrote, “or at least working but half the time, brings them to reflection. They have leisure, and they consider how their conditions can be changed." Engel points out that “the workingman has no more rights here than any where else in the world."
So many immigrants came to America with the false hopes of truly finding a better place to work. Immigrants discovered that although they had truly come to a great industrial superpower, that their working conditions and treatment by their bosses was actually not at all better, or were even worse, than in their mother countries.
For the settlers out West, eventually the major industry in the West became mining. The West became full of company-owned “boomtowns” full with working-class folk, many of them immigrants, hired by big mining corporations and paid measly wages, all the time deducting wages from their pay. They never made simple straight wages; essentially, they were wage slaves. The promise of the American West, for the vast majority, other than the farmers who had settled there and prospered beforehand, wasn’t realized.
The Industrial Revolution was revolutionary indeed in itself, but it would also lead to a social revolution, one that would turn out to be very costly in human life. The revolution would really pick up in these “boomtowns,” where the business owners treated their working-class laborers quite poorly, with unfair wages and doing little to improve working conditions, especially in the always dangerous venues of the mines.
America in the Industrial Revolution was an incredibly profitable place for big business owners, entrepreneurs, and a good number of middle-class folk. However, for the vast majority of Americans, a social revolution was necessary to fix the social and economic divide that occurred during this time. Reforms and progressive movements would have to start to narrow that gap between the rich and poor.
It was not a pretty time for many people, but it was necessary in bringing the American nation along to the point at which we know it today. The conflicts which ensued did great things for workers throughout America, but it was still a very turbulent time in American history. It was indeed a prosperous time for America as a nation, but at a high cost for the poor working class.