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Important Issues In The 19th Century

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Published: Mon, 24 Apr 2017

Historians called late 19th century America the “Era of Political Complacency.” Despite the political complacency, America was plagued with many issues that were vastly different from one another. Some of the most significant issues were the “silver issue” of the troubled economy, mass immigration, and America’s conflict with other countries during imperial age during the late 1900s. All of these issues had an effect on American society and impacted both presidential and government policies.

The United States’ economy experienced several issues throughout the late 19th century; one in particular was the “silver issue.” After the Civil war, America experienced a large deflation in the economy, as the production of goods was being produced faster than the current currency of that time. America up until then ran on a bimetallic standard, which was based on gold and silver; the dollar was minted at a 16 to 1 ratio (16 times as much as gold.) The main issue of silver was it didn’t reflect the market prices of the metals, which created an imbalance worth for both gold and silver. Back then, many thought inflation was the solution to the economic deflation (supporters of idea eventually formed the Greenback party in 1874.) The silver issue directly impacted presidential policies, as several presidents tried to ease the issue by placing several different acts throughout the last quarter of the 1800s. Due to “silver issue”, President Ulysses S. Grant and congress placed two acts that would attempt to either solve or relieve the problem. The two acts were the Coinage Act of 1873 and The Resumption Act of 1875. The Coinage Act of 1873 completely ceased the minting of silver dollars, while the Resumption Act of 1875 eliminates paper money not backed by the standard gold and silver. During the 1870s, new discovers of silver deposits drove prices back down, which led to the interest of minting silver at a 16 to 1 again. The Bland-Allison Act of 1878 was passed by congress (the bill was vetoed by President Rutherford Hayes); the act required the government to buy 2 to 4 million dollars worth of silver each month, which ended up doing nothing for the economy. A similar act was passed in 1890 by President Benjamin Harrison called the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which required the government to purchase 4.5 million ounces of silver each month to push for the improbable 16 to 1 again. The “silver issue” was one of the most important issues of the late 19th century because it affected every American citizen, especially the farmers. During the economic crisis, farmers had their share for problems due to the deflation of farm products such as wheat and cotton; the farmers simply weren’t making enough profit in order to meet their mortgage payments. The issue heavily affected presidential policies as it took an entire quarter of the 1800s to resolve, by passing multiple reforms passed by several different presidents. At the end, each act passed seemed almost counter-productive as the problem seemed to have gotten worst as America entered an economic depression in 1893.

In late 19th century, there was a huge rise in immigrants in the United States from several diverse backgrounds. It was a huge phenomenon, as people from all over world such as Europe and Asia; whom fled to the United States for more opportunities and a better life. The majority of these new immigrants were from South and Eastern Europe such as the Poles, Italians, Greek, Serbs, and Jews; also the Chinese from Asia. These immigrants migrated to the United States for a variety of reasons. During the late 19th century, Europe started to experience overpopulation due to recent advances in health care that increased life expectancies and less infant mortalities. Many of the European immigrants migrated to America for work and planned to go back to their homeland. Other immigrants fled to the United States to escape religious and ethnic prosecutions, especially the Jews who fled from Russia, as they experienced unimaginable hardship living there, due to extreme prejudice. The massive immigration led to prejudice from the native-born citizens, where there was high tension between the two groups. The immigrants were greatly discriminated against by the locals as the immigrants were claimed of stealing the locals’ jobs by flooding the work market and willingly to work on low wages, which put many Americans out of work. The immigrants were even used as scapegoats by the local citizens as the sole reason why America was experiencing an economic depression in the 1890s. Due to the rapid increase of immigrants, the government tried to limit new ones. For the Chinese immigrants, The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was passed, the purpose was to suspend any Chinese immigration for a decade, and even restrict rights of the Chinese that lived in the United States. Another act of limiting immigrants, esspically males; was to pass a literacy test, which rejected anyone who could not read or write in their own language. The mass immigration issue was such a big problem because it caused notable problems for American citizens, such as limited job opportunities and bigotry against the new aliens. These problems led the government to take action by implicating different reforms to limiting new immigrants. These restricting acts eventually influenced future presidential policies such as the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the National Origins Act of 1934, which depended on a nation-based quota system to accept new immigrants.

During the last quarter of the 19th century, America was beginning to imperialize other smaller and less developed countries. The concept of imperialism stem from the idea of American exceptionalism, which fueled the idea of the United States being the superior nation of the world. Back then, people endorse the theory of “Social Darwinism” as evidence of American exceptionalism due to the use of Darwinism phrases like “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest” to apply to social situations. These concepts led to the idea of the “white man’s burden”, which lead to the belief of Anglo-Saxon Americans being the superior race and nation, and it was their duty to enlighten other nations by insisting American ideas and values on them. These beliefs led to American Imperialism, which caused problems with other global powers.

One of the first issues with another nation was the conflict between the United States and Germany. The cause of conflict between the two nations was based on control of the Pacific Samoan islands during the 1870s, while the Samoan people were in the middle of the conflict. The conflict escalated after a meeting in 1887 between the three countries (America, Germany, and Samoa), which led to even more problems; as President Cleveland sent warships to the Samoan islands. The conflict was finally resolved when both countries ended Samoan independence, as German and America started to colonize the islands in 1899. Another international conflict was against the British, it started from the British and Venezuela’s land dispute, which the United States supported Venezuela. The United States government claimed the British were ignoring the Monroe Doctrine, which President Cleveland requested Congress to use military force on the British if necessary. The conflict between the United States and Britain was eventually resolved by splitting the claimed land. Both conflicts were considered a moral victory for the United States and directly impacted president policies, as the resolutions of these conflicts increased the President Cleveland and future president’s power over foreign affairs.

During the 1890s, the conflict between the United States and Spain was starting to heat up. It stemmed from the Cuban Revolution from Spain, whom the United States supported (Cuba). The conflict between the two nations escalated by two events first was undiplomatic letter sent by the Spanish minister Enrique Dupuy de Lome to William Randolph Hearst, which contained several insulting jabs at President McKinley. But on February 15, 1898, the U.S battleship named the Maine exploded for unknown reasons at the time, where afterwards America immediately blamed the Spanish. The United States eventually declared war on Spain and planned to aid Cuba’s independence; which started the Spanish-American war. The war ended up incredibly lop-sided, as the United States navy destroyed the Spanish in the Philippines (Spanish colonies), and afterwards Cuba was freed from Spanish rule. The conflict between the United States and the other global powers was an important issue because it showcased aggressive foreign policy from the United States, which would furthermore increased America’s sphere of influence and reputation as a world power. These conflicts directly affected presidential policies as the president and congress used a more aggressive take on dealing with foreign policies, which lead to many disputes (Germany and Britain) and even started a war (Spanish-American war). While America experienced many conflicts during this age, the president’s aggressive take on these conflicts increased America’s scene on a global scale.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, America experienced multiple extremely divisive issues, such as the troubled economy (silver issue), mass immigration, and multiple conflicts with other countries dealing with imperialism. All of these issues were unique in its own ways, but all had an astounding impact on American society and influenced several presidential policies.

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