Written by: Newton Mathews


The Populist and Progressive reformers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought a lot of changes to American politics, economics, and society. America, at that time, was facing numerous political, economic, and social problems. The reformers took into consideration ethical and civic factors while undertaking these reforms. Some of these issues were black slavery, inequality of women’s rights, and low wages in labor.

After the Civil War, the Southern states were separated from the Union because some of the places laid in ruins. Also, they had the issue of accepting African Americans’ place in American society. In the fall of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln planned to reunify the United States. Lincoln issued a rule where allowing Southerners to take an oath of allegiance. He published the rule because since Union victory was approaching, he could turn the tide of the war by stoking Unionist support in the Confederate state. After taking the oath, the loyal Unionists would now establish governments.

Many of the governments rose to support the Union. Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation obligated the United States to abolish slavery. But it only freed slaves in areas where there was rebellion. To altogether abolish slavery, Congress passed the Thirteen amendments where it legally abolished slavery except as a punishment of a crime. By the end of the year, three-fourths of the states followed the bill, and four million people were free from slavery in North America.

However, after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, his policy ended. Vice President Andrew Johnson propelled into the office in 1865. Johnson did not follow the procedure of Abraham Lincoln, but instead, he was an unapologetic racist. He made a quick restoration of southern states back to the Union. Southern governments started to impose laws that regulate black behavior and impose social and economic control. Republicans in Congress responded with a spate of legislation aiming at protecting freedmen and restructuring political relations in the south.

The only thing to achieve this was to give hundreds of thousands of black men votes. Congress responded with the Civil Rights Act 1866, stating that all American-born residents are citizens. Even though President Johnson opposed the amendment, the Republicans overrode the veto, winning two-thirds of the majority. They passed the first Reconstruction Act and dissolved the state governments and dividing the south into five military districts. Six weeks later, the states approved the Fourteenth Amendment, ensuring birthright citizenship and equal protection of laws.

Within a short time, the southern part was transformed from an all-white, pro-slavery to a collection of Republicans with African Americans in a position of power for the first time.

Also, women sought out to redefine their roles within the nation. Both black and white women in the south had the challenge of making sense of a world of death and change. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a women rights advocate, took the opportunity and formed Women’s Loyal National League, which helped abolish slavery. After the Thirteen Amendment victory, it showed women’s political success and the possibility of radical change. Leaders now saw an open advance in transforming women’s status too.

Stanton chose her language “equal rights for all” and setting a list of universal suffrage. The National Women’s Rights Convention merged with the American Anti-Slavery Society to form The American Equal Rights Association (AERA). This Union let to the long partnership between abolitionists and women’s rights advocates.

In 1877, the Great Railroad Strike was the beginning of labor conflicts in the United States. Due to the stagnant economy during that year, rail lines slashed the labor’s wages. Long hours, dangerous working conditions, and low fees made armies of work fight against the power of capital. By the end of the century, wealthy industrialists and leaders embraced the new scientific management principles after Fredrick Taylor proposed it.

Through the improvement of industry and machines, Taylor said that firms need a scientific organization in production to have efficiency in labor. He suggested that manufacturers should increase productivity by subdividing tasks, where each laborer should be assigned different tasks each; this would also speed up the production rate. This method worked and helped in mass production and industrialization in the United States.

However, mass production and industrialization led to an increase in competition of different companies to be on top; this led to a monopoly. The Darwinian Theory that states “survival for the fittest” started to spread in the United States. The theory states that “the strong must grow stronger without uplifting the weak” This theory led to inequality among the people in the United States, favoring the wealthy people.

Also, American workers tailored in difficult jobs in long hours and given low wages. However, American socialists such as Karl Marx united farmers and workers in the struggle of economic life in the United States. Socialists argued that few individuals could only possess wealth, owners and investors grew rich while workers who produced their wealth still suffered from low wages. Even though American capitalism brought wealth and also poverty, all Americans adapted to the new industrial word.



Christopher Abernathy et al., “Reconstruction,” Nicole Turner, ed., in The American Yawp, eds. Joseph Locke and Ben Wright (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018).

Andrew C. Baker et al., “Capital and Labor,” Joseph Locke, ed., in The American Yawp, eds. Joseph Locke and Ben Wright (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018).

Lauren Brand et al., “Conquering the West,” Lauren Brand, ed., in The American Yawp, eds. Joseph Locke and Ben Wright (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018)