The Oxford History of the United States is the most respected multivolume history of the American nation. In the newest volume in the series, The Republic for Which It Stands, acclaimed historian Richard White offers a fresh and integrated interpretation of Reconstruction and the Gilded Age as the seedbed of modern America.
At the end of the Civil War the leaders and citizens of the victorious North envisioned the country's future as a free-labor republic, with a homogenous citizenry, both black and white. The South and West were to be reconstructed in the image of the North. Thirty years later Americans occupied an unimagined world. The unity that the Civil War supposedly secured had proved ephemeral. The country was larger, richer, and more extensive, but also more diverse. Life spans were shorter, and physical well-being had diminished, due to disease and hazardous working conditions. Independent producers had become wage earners. The country was Catholic and Jewish as well as Protestant, and increasingly urban and industrial. The "dangerous" classes of the very rich and poor expanded, and deep differences -- ethnic, racial, religious, economic, and political -- divided society. The corruption that gave the Gilded Age its name was pervasive.
These challenges also brought vigorous efforts to secure economic, moral, and cultural reforms. Real change -- technological, cultural, and political -- proliferated from below more than emerging from political leadership. Americans, mining their own traditions and borrowing ideas, produced creative possibilities for overcoming the crises that threatened their country.
In a work as dramatic and colorful as the era it covers, White narrates the conflicts and paradoxes of these decades of disorienting change and mounting unrest, out of which emerged a modern nation whose characteristics resonate with the present day.
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Richard White’s epic treatment of the Gilded Age and Reconstruction is a magnum opus on every level. No other historian has previously linked the history of Reconstruction in the South with the story of the United States’ expansion into the West and industrial transformation in the North. He peoples his narrative with fascinating characters rarely heard of, and viewpoints often overlooked. What emerges is a vision of a nation bubbling over with energy and players. And yet also brimming over with corruption, greed, and inequality.
What is especially disturbing is seeing how every crisis and issue we are dealing with in contemporary America was present then as well: unregulated capitalism, anti-immigrant backlash, retreat from racial progress, dire poverty, and an environmental disaster. Like now, the country was slipping into an oligarchy that strangled the economic and political life of the vast majority of citizens.
White charts how the dream of Abraham Lincoln and the triumphant North at the end of the Civil War—a dream for economic and political independence for every American family—was betrayed by the rise of corporations and great fortunes, plunging millions into permanent wage slavery and buying the government for themselves. This is the greatest book on the Gilded Age ever written and it is unforgettable.
A terrible addition to an otherwise outstanding series.
If you want to know how the United States grew from the ravages of the Civil War to become an impending power in both economic and world affairs this is NOT the book for you.
It is an unyielding attempt to recast this period through the politically correct lens of the twenty-first century. We already know who the villains are — any white, Anglo Saxon American who either invented something worthwhile or who became rich by, of course, unfair competition or downright illegality.
And, just to be sure, we have to know who the victims are, since the Progressives always need victims, they are the Blacks, the Indians, the Women, the Immigrants and most of the Labor Class.
To prove the point, first read Chapter 4, The Home, to get a sense of just how puerile and absurd this entire volume is.
How did it get past the editors of this outstanding series? Who is in charge now?
If you really want to know what happened during this formative period, read H. W. Brands, “American Colossus.”