Elizabeth Fitton

February 21, 2006


Affairs of State: Public Life in Late Nineteenth Century America by Morton Keller 

Morton puts forth his questions in the preface: What impact did the Civil War and subsequent industrialization have on American public life? “How did American politics, law, and government respond to the Civil War and then to the rise of a new social and economic order?” (ix) 


  • is not revolutionary as far as spurring systematic government change
  • nationalism was part of a nineteenth century trend
  • increased importance of American on the international scene—Europeans looked to war as a contest “between separatism and nationalism, oppression and freedom, oligarchy and democracy” (5)
  • expands power of state—presidency, military—but does not change Americans’ tendency to prefer limited government.

    --Lincoln not only asserting power and unity: “Lincoln’s achievement was not so much to resolve the conflict between localism and centralism as to keep that conflict from fatally crippling the war effort.” (20)

  • massive economic fallout, especially in the South
  • consolidation of political parties

Part One: The Postwar Polity, 1865-1880 

  • immediately after CW, State is strong and active but as Reconstruction and the 1870s continue, its powers are reigned in
  • conflict over what to do with freedmen—example of the polarizing forces between centralism and localism
  • Divisions within the Republican Party during Reconstruction:

    --economic concerns especially between Midwestern/Western Republicans and Eastern Republicans

    --how much time and energy to forcing the South to comply

    --full agreement over the full equality of black Americans

  • Reconstruction struggle between Congress and President Andrew Johnson revealed:
    1. ideological conflict between Conservatives and Radicals
    1. political realities such as constituencies and elections
    2. “institutional struggle between the executive and legislative branches” (62)
    3. reflected also in debates over 14th and 15th Amendments—ultimately as long as laws remained fair on the books, individuals who abused black civil right could go unpunished
  • Supreme Court under Chief Justice Salmon Chase recovers from Taney period and accepts for the most part the results of the Civil War—national dominance over state dominance, end of slavery, and “legitimacy of congressional Reconstruction” (74)
  • Strength of union encourages expansion territorially and in government

    --westward expansion, Canada

    --growth of the city of Washington, D.C. and governmental departments—e.g. Justice, Interior

  • Rise of voluntarism and societal improvement

    --“American social reform always was the product of a complex mix of often conflicting desires: to create a new society, to preserve the existing one, to recapture a utopian past” (126)

    --growing agreement (but still contested) over public education

      -funding issues

      -curriculum issues—teaching Bible—a problem for many Catholics who feared Protestant indoctrination

  • Economic Issues:

    --postwar northern economy—government can support growth and interests are harmonious

    --local—Democrats and Republicans both have strong economic interests esp. in railroads—“by 1873 about a thousand state court and twenty Supreme Court decisions upheld state and local railroad aid” (166)

    --labor unions becoming better organized

    --also tendency to regulate—as companies such as railroads and insurance companies grew nationally, they preferred federal control to state control.

    --economic ideals clashed with realities of “prevailing belief in laissez-faire economics and…powerful class, sectional, and individual clashes of interest” (181)

  • The South

    --Republicans make inroads in the South by appealing to disenfranchised whites—and newly freed blacks—but any power in South is shortlived

    --Black Codes—put blacks “in their place”

    --Southerners as much interested in economic development as northerners

    --Redeemers—holding on to the glory of the past—Lost Cause

  • Organizational Politics

    --power of state not as strong as power of political organization

    --elections more systemized and organized

    --exceptionally high voter turnout in the 1870s and 1880s despite lack of pressing major issues

    --increase in scandal—not just due to moral decay but to the expanding nature of politics—“way of getting things done”( 245)

    --organization intertwined with ideology

    -rise of political machines—polarization of political parties

    -political patronage—locally and nationally—e.g. U.S.Grant and finally Compromise of 1877

    -little real powerful political dissent—however, some—Greenback party

Part Two: The Industrial Polity, 1880-1890 

  • Important issues of the Civil War like nationalism and equality gave way to economic and social effect of industrialization
  • State legislatures, courts and political parties exerted more power than Congress and President
  • However, traditional values of individualism, localism and limited government still at work
  • Rise in importance of legal profession as more and more conflicts had to be resolved in the courts

    --lawyers active in “development of corporate capitalism…the most prestigious and remunerative legal work came to be advising corporate clients rather than courtroom argument” (350)

    --Supreme Ct—activist—increasingly struck down laws as unconstitutional

  • Economy

    --massive growth in GNP and industrial production

    --1890 census—90% of wealthiest owned 29% of wealth, 9% controlled remaining 71%

     - raises questions about meaning and social impact

            -- traditional issues of tariff and currency still important

               -- Land and eminent domain—Head v. Amoskiag (1885)—restricted eminent domain—interesting growth in value of land for its own sake, not just for it potential development

  • Labor

    --railroad strikes in 1877, 1886 1894, coal mines 1887-1888

    --union organization did not grow as fast as labor force

    --traditional beliefs in localism and laissez-faire severely hampered union growth

    --still labor had some political clout

    --there existed a belief, despite critics, that states could regulate working conditions

  • Regulation

    --Trade Marks, patents, Interstate Commerce Commission

    --Railroads—where gov’t slacked, competition excelled—states and courts feared too much RR regulation would slow interstate commerce

    --concerns over trusts and poolsàSherman Act of 1890

  • Definition of Status

    --meaning of national unity

    --many looking to the past

    --women, black, immigrants facing many constrictions on their freedoms

    --segregationà Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

    --Indian affairsà Dawes Severalty Act of 1887—Indians could have homesteads and American citizenship if they adjust to American civilization

    --social reformers

  • Social behavior

    --connected to social status

    --rise in school reform—but disparities between wealthier and poorer school districts

    --school became more professional by 1900

    --Sen. Henry Blair of NH—advocate of fed. $ to schools but for the American-Protestant cause

      --Response to Violence and crime—more scientific—hereditary issues


    --charity organizations like public morality to crime and violence—try to legistlate—liquor laws, blue laws, Senator Blair

                   --carried over into the debates about what to teach in school

              --also linked to privacy

  • Politics

    --by end of 19th century, politics extremely organized by political professionals.

    --corrupt votingàgets attention of government

    --attempts to restrict electorate with literacy—Federal Elections Act of 1889-1890—only fed. Circuit courts could oversee elections—attempt to help blacks

    --Australian ballot—uniform

    --Democratic president Grover Cleveland

    --Republicans linked to industrialism, but it more complex than that—still maintained the social agenda

    àPopulism grew because of economic hardship in the West and South and also because of the growing power of urban centers and corporation

         --reflection of social anxiety

         --free silver—William Jennings Bryan

       1896 election à McKinley—gold, high tariff, patriotism—well organized 

  • --Market forces and expansion increased American activity in foreign affairs

    --Imperialism vs. anti-imperialismà Cuba, Spain and anti-Catholicism

    --Spanish-American War—no one that enthused about it— “the issue of imperialism, intense as it was, did not substantially affect political alignments. Rather, it resembled the questions of the tariff and free silver in that it gave voice to ambitions and anxieties that reflected the changing character of the late nineteenth century American life” (598)

  • The tensions and anxieties of the 19th century did not disappear in the 20th