Chicago in the Age of Capital

Chicago in the Age of Capital: Class, Politics, and Democracy during the Civil War and Reconstruction

John B. Jentz
Richard Schneirov
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 328
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt2ttbkb
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Chicago in the Age of Capital
    Book Description:

    In this sweeping interpretive history of mid-nineteenth-century Chicago, historians John B. Jentz and Richard Schneirov boldly trace the evolution of a modern social order. Combining a mastery of historical and political detail with a sophisticated theoretical frame, Jentz and Schneirov examine the dramatic capitalist transition in Chicago during the critical decades from the 1850s through the 1870s, a period that saw the rise of a permanent wage worker class and the formation of an industrial upper class._x000B__x000B_Jentz and Schneirov demonstrate how a new political economy, based on wage labor and capital accumulation in manufacturing, superseded an older mercantile economy that relied on speculative trading and artisan production. The city's leading business interests were unable to stabilize their new system without the participation of the new working class, a German and Irish ethnic mix that included radical ideas transplanted from Europe. Jentz and Schneirov examine how debates over slave labor were transformed into debates over free labor as the city's wage-earning working class developed a distinctive culture and politics._x000B__x000B_The new social movements that arose in this era--labor, socialism, urban populism, businessmen's municipal reform, Protestant revivalism, and women's activism--constituted the substance of a new post-bellum democratic politics that took shape in the 1860s and '70s. When the Depression of 1873 brought increased crime and financial panic, Chicago's new upper class developed municipal reform in an attempt to reassert its leadership. Setting local detail against a national canvas of partisan ideology and the seismic structural shifts of Reconstruction, Chicago in the Age of Capital vividly depicts the upheavals integral to building capitalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09395-1
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In 1821, james madison predicted that, with the exhaustion of the country’s reservoir of open land, Americans would face the prospect of rising inequality, including “a dependence of an increasing number on the wealth of a few.” Madison thought the main form of dependency would arise from “the connection between the great Capitalists in Manufactures and Commerce and the members employed by them.” Like other founders, he believed that wage labor promoted servility and dependence and that a balanced distribution of landed property and the independence it provided was necessary for a viable republic. It was hardly conceivable that a...

  6. 1 The City
    (pp. 13-52)

    During the winter of 1869, an article in the Chicago Daily Tribune found that “in our principal thoroughfares the richly-dressed lady of the avenue magnificently sweeps by her thinly-clad sister of the alley who, with scanty clothing, hurries from her fireless garret to perform her daily fourteen hours labor for a pittance too small to pay rent and purchase sufficient food, much less comfortable raiment, for this inclement season. Worse than this, there are houseless wanderers in our streets who in vain seek for employment, and whose mode of existence is a mystery. Worst of all, there are many among...

  7. 2 The Internationale of the Citizen Workers: From Slavery to the Labor Question
    (pp. 53-80)

    Reflecting on the imminent Fourth of July celebration in 1865, the Chicago Tribune felt that a bridge had been built between the two great revolutionary periods of American history, 1776–88 and 1860–65. During both periods, “the American people have risen to the grandeur of the recognition of the right of all to freedom and political equality.” Now, in 1865, the truths of the Founding Fathers as expressed in the Declaration of Independence—that “irrepressible argument for radicalism”—were real and vital again: “The Gospel which they uttered we are fulfilling. What on their lips was prophecy, from ours...

  8. 3 The Eight-Hour Day and the Legitimacy of Wage Labor
    (pp. 81-116)

    On a sunny wednesday, May 1, 1867, over five thousand workers marched to the lakefront in Chicago to support the eight-hour working day recently written into Illinois law. The sidewalks were thronged with workingmen, who “loudly cheered” the procession at several points, but “in general a strict silence prevailed, if indeed that can be called silence which is marked by the low, ceaseless murmur of a multitude as restless as a bag of fleas.” At the end of the march, Mayor John B. Rice addressed the crowd. His sympathy was mixed with anxiety about disorder.¹

    The mayor noted that proponents...

  9. 4 Chicago’s Immigrant Working Class and the Rise of Urban Populism, 1867–73
    (pp. 117-154)

    In january 1872—three months after the Great Fire—Anton Hesing, Chicago’s German political boss, organized a protest against the city government’s effort to ban new wooden housing in the city as a fire control measure. The protesters thought that the added expense of brick housing would prevent the city’s workers from building their own homes, and they marched on city hall to make their point publicly. The crowd got disruptive, creating a sensation in the English-language press, which called for a grand jury investigation.

    Hesing and his allies portrayed themselves as representing the “real” working people of Chicago. He...

  10. 5 Class and Politics during the Depression of the 1870s
    (pp. 155-193)

    The economic depression combined with Chicago’s notorious cold weather to make the winter of 1873–74 especially severe. On the afternoon of December 31, 1873, a crowd of about two thousand gathered outside of C. L. Woodman’s bakery factory to receive free bread donated by a local bank and an insurance company to help the families of the unemployed. “There were several policemen present, and, by much cursing and pushing, they succeeded in making a lane through the crowd, through which the men, women, and children escaped after receiving their loaves. The majority of the crowd were women, and children,...

  11. 6 Combat in the Streets: The Railroad Strike of 1877 and Its Consequences
    (pp. 194-219)

    In the summer of 1877, the United States experienced its first national strike, an unorganized, spontaneous rebellion of working people in cities from Baltimore and Pittsburgh to St. Louis and Chicago. The Great Strike produced a fundamental change in public awareness. Beforehand, according to George Schilling, a Socialist and labor leader, “the labor question was of little or no importance to the average citizen. The large mass of our people contented themselves with the belief that in this great and free Republic there was no room for real complaint. The idea that all Americans were on an equal footing seemed...

  12. 7 Regime Change
    (pp. 220-246)

    More than any single person or institution, Democratic Mayor Carter Harrison pacified class relations in Chicago, freeing the city’s capitalists to accumulate wealth without governing directly. Harrison was neither a native-born evangelical Protestant with roots in New England or New York, like most of Chicago’s upper class, nor an immigrant machine politician. Rather, he was a one-term congressman who had been born in Kentucky and proudly displayed the southern political style of a popular aristocrat. Harrison arrived in Chicago politics at a critical moment when his outsider status gave him freedom to maneuver politically, when his cosmopolitan cultural style gave...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 247-294)
  14. Index
    (pp. 295-310)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 311-317)