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The Struggle for America's Promise

The Struggle for America's Promise: Equal Opportunity at the Dawn of Corporate Capital

Claire Goldstene
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Struggle for America's Promise
    Book Description:

    InThe Struggle for America's Promise,Claire Goldstene seeks to untangle one of the enduring ideals in American history, that of economic opportunity. She explores the varied discourses about its meaning during the upheavals and corporate consolidations of the Gilded Age. Some proponents of equal opportunity seek to promote upward financial mobility by permitting more people to participate in the economic sphere thereby rewarding merit over inherited wealth. Others use opportunity as a mechanism to maintain economic inequality. This tension, embedded with the idea of equal opportunity itself and continually reaffirmed by immigrant populations, animated social dissent among urban workers while simultaneously serving efforts by business elites to counter such dissent.

    Goldstene uses a biographical approach to focus on key figures along a spectrum of political belief as they struggled to reconcile the inherent contradictions of equal opportunity. She considers the efforts of Booker T. Washington in a post-Civil War South to ground opportunity in landownership as an attempt to confront the intersection of race and class. She also explores the determination of the Knights of Labor to define opportunity in terms of controlling one's own labor. She looks at the attempts by Samuel Gompers through the American Federation of Labor as well as by business elites through the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Civic Federation to shift the focus of opportunity to leisure and consumption.The Struggle for America's Promisealso includes such radical figures as Edward Bellamy and Emma Goldman, who were more willing to step beyond the boundaries of the discourse about opportunity and question economic competition itself.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-024-2
    Subjects: History, Business, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE “This Haven of Equal Opportunity to All”
    (pp. 3-20)

    To celebrate the nation’s centennial in 1876, Harper & Brothers publishers compiled a series of essays to assess the country’s progress the past one hundred years and to point the way toward the next one hundred. Written by well-known social commentators, whom the described as “specialists in their fields,” including Edward Atkinson, David A. Wells, Francis A. Walker, and William Graham Sumner,The First Century of the Republicengaged topics from “Mechanical Progress,” “Educational Progress,” and “Agricultural Progress” to “Development of Our Mineral Resources,” “Progress in Manufacture,” and “Progress in the Fine Arts.” Compiled a little more than ten years...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Equal Opportunity as Landownership Booker T.Washington’s Quest
    (pp. 21-44)

    As tensions mounted in the Northeast and Midwest between expectations of upward mobility embedded in the promise of opportunity and concentrations of wealth amid the transition to an industrial economy that seemed to circumscribe that chance, similar tensions arose in the South, though with a distinctive regional cast. Laborers and farmers in this predominantly agricultural economy also endeavored to realize equal opportunity. And the efforts of southern to achieve upward mobility were complicated further by a history slavery and violent race relations. Despite attempts at the end of nineteenth century by proponents of “New South” economic to introduce manufacturing industries...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Equal Opportunity in Labor Producerism and the Knights of Labor
    (pp. 45-68)

    In a series of reports compiled by the Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics that documented the daily life of industrial workers during the late nineteenth century one reads of a shoemaker with a wife and three young children, who earned $700 per year with $797 in expenses; a streetcar conductor who worked fifteen hours a day year round and brought home $706 annually for a family of seven, just barely covering living costs; and yet another streetcar conductor who earned slightly more than his peer, $728 per year, though carried expenses of $756. In a similar report assembled by the...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Anarchism and Equal Opportunity Emma Goldman in America
    (pp. 69-98)

    “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what will.” On May 1, 1886, thousands of workers gathered in Chicago, nation’s industrial crossroads, to demand the eight-hour workday. Two days later, workers from the McCormick Harvesting Machine plant, who had been locked out since early February in a wage dispute, confronted the nonunion replacement workers at the end of a shift. In the ensuing clash, armed police, charged with protecting the employees, opened fire on the crowd, killing two picketers. Local quickly organized a rally in Haymarket Square for the following day, May 4, to protest the...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Equal Opportunity Remade I Samuel Gompers and the Pursuit of Leisure and Consumption
    (pp. 99-122)

    In his autobiography Samuel Gompers related fondly that his political and economic education began when as a teenager he worked alongside fellow cigar makers in New York’s Lower East Side and listened to coworkers read aloud from newspapers, magazines, and books. A cofounder and president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) from 1886 until 1924 (he lost the presidency for one year in 1894), Gompers had emigrated from London to the United States in 1863 as an adolescent and followed his father into the cigar trade. Ferdinand Laurrell, a Swedish-born socialist active in the International Working-men’s Association, introduced Gompers...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Equal Opportunity Remade II Business Organizes
    (pp. 123-152)

    In the midst of the contentious 1894 Pullman Strike, precipitated a decision during yet another economic downturn to cut wages no corresponding reduction in rents for company housing, the Civic Federation, founded the previous year, offered to mediate between the Pullman Palace Car Company and union officials. by Ralph Easley, who had encouraged the nonpartisan association various community interests to, among other things, negotiate between labor and capital, the Civic Federation consisted of leading Chicago citizens, including social activist Jane Addams, financier and future secretary of the treasury Lyman Gage, and socialite reformer Bertha Palmer.¹ Federationists maintained that such agreements...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Edward Bellamy and the Reimagining of Equal Opportunity
    (pp. 153-182)

    In 1887, Julian West, a wealthy Boston businessman and the protagonist of Edward Bellamy’s 1888 bestselling novelLooking Backward,falls into a hypnotic slumber in a sound-and fireproof chamber in the lower level of his home to alleviate his chronic insomnia. Shortly after, West’s doctor leaves town and Sawyer, his houseman and the only other person who knows where West sleeps, perishes in a fire that destroys the house and, it is presumed, West as well. One hundred thirteen years later the occupants of the rebuilt home discover West in the deep basement and he awakens in the year 2000,...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 183-228)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-242)
  14. Index
    (pp. 243-248)