The post-civil war era in the United States of America saw enthusiast capitalist enter reconstruction era. The capitalists were determined to transform America at any cost and individualism, greed and survival of the fittest ruled the air. The politicians and the leaders believed in the ordained superiority destined for America and could not stop at anything less, no matter the consequences or cost. This led to rapid economic growth but with widening the gap between the poor and the rich. Poor working conditions and low wages were the order of the day, with extreme measures like Dawes Act put in place (Horsman1981). The gilded term was used satirically to criticize the actions of the leaders, politicians and capitalist using the poor in the society as stepping stone while accumulating wealth. This paper seeks to evaluate the Dawes Act, Manifest Destiny and other events that surrounded the gilded era.
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The Dawes Act of 1887 was passed by the Congress to facilitate the assimilation of the Native Americans. The government took the treaty land from the owners who were Indians and sold it to whites. The Indians who accepted the offer for the land division were then granted American citizenship. Private ownership of land was a new concept to these Indian tribes since the community communally owned the Land. With greed fueling the whites, Dawes Act was adopted so that the whites could obtain Indians’ land by forcing them to be civilized (Bartel, 2006). Another reason for this act was to dissolve the tribal setup by separating the Indians, those who accepted citizenship and land allocation lived separately from their tribe. Additionally, the government could only give the deed to the landowners after 25 years.
Gilded age was marked by social Darwinism. Individualism ruled the air and survival for the fittest was the new theme to live by. Poor working conditions and displaced American Indians did not bother the determined capitalist who saw a world of opportunity. The coal miners worked in dehumanizing environments. Poor ventilation, the risk of methane gas exploding in the coal tunnel, low wages while working 12-14 hours for 6 days a week was the best the capitalists could afford to give the coal miners. Gold mining was mainly left for the Japanese building the railroads (Bartel, 2006). The American got agitated to learn that the Native Americans who had been previously moved had discovered silver. The only limitation was moving them, again. The trade boom during this era, especially because railroad connected most parts of the country.
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Manifest destiny greatly shaped values concerning race, economy, and culture. Americans believed that they were destined to rule others, mainly because they were more stable. Socially, American culture was more established and developed so others could only follow suit. Forced slavery, labour, and exploitation were not a major issue since the peasant was from a lower class. Politically, United States believed they had to dominate more vastly and could never be colonized or dominated by any means. Therefore, this political move could be achieved by all means (Horsman, 1981).
In conclusion, whether all Dawes Act and Manifest Destiny were necessary will always be a debate. The powerful in the society believed that they did what they had to do while the oppressed believed other mechanisms could happen used to attain the same if not better result. Our motives direct our actions and shapes history. People and government make and shape their values.
- Horsman, R. (1981). Race and manifest destiny. New York, NY: Harvard University Press.
- Bartels, L. M. (2016). Unequal democracy: The political economy of the new gilded age.New York: Princeton University Press.