From the era
of Reconstruction to the end of the 19th century, the United States
underwent an economic transformation marked by the maturing of the
industrial economy, the rapid expansion of big business, the development
of large-scale agriculture, and the rise of national labor unions
and industrial conflict.
An outburst of technological innovation in the late 19th century
fueled this headlong economic growth. However, the accompanying
rise of the American corporation and the advent of big business
resulted in a concentration of the nation's productive capacities
in fewer and fewer hands. Mechanization brought farming into the
realm of big business as well, making the United States the world's
premier food producer--a position it has never surrendered. But
still the land hunger of white Americans continued unabated. This
led to wars against the Native Americans of the Plains and the "second
great removal" of indigenous peoples from their ancient homelands.
Indispensable to this growth and development were an unprecedented
surge in immigration and urbanization after the Civil War. American
society was in transition. Immigrants arriving from southern and
eastern Europe, from Asia, Mexico, and Central America, were creating
a new American mosaic. And the power of Anglo-Saxon Protestants--once
so dominant--began to wane.
What many thought of as progress, however, others regarded with
apprehension. Agricultural modernization disrupted family farms,
for example, provoking the country's farmers to organize protest
movements as never before. And the social problems that accompanied
the nation's industrial development fueled the rise of national
labor unions and unprecedented clashes between capital and labor.
This discontent captured the attention of reformers and politicians
who began to challenge traditional party politics through third-party