The Impact of Social Darwinism on Living Standards of American Civilians

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Social Darwinism

Social Darwinism was a theory developed by Herbert Spencer, a British philosopher, which had the belief of survival of the fittest onto laissez faire, a policy that the government should not interfere with economic situations. Social Darwinists did not agree with controlled work hours and regulated factory conditions, because it affected natural economic laws, but supported subsidies, tax relief, and tariffs, because it encouraged business growth. Regarding the rise of American Industrialization, Social Darwinism was a theory that justified disadvantages that Industrialization created, such as harsh conditions for workers, which included long work hours and unsafe factory conditions. It also justified actions regarding racism, imperialism, and political conservatism.

Frances Willard and the ‘Maternal Commonwealth’

Frances Willard was the president of Woman’s Christian Temperance Union for twenty years; the group inspired women to join the movement to change their lives regarding both conservative issues and suffrage issues. Willard proposed a concept called “maternal commonwealth,” which basically proclaimed women influential in the role of polity due to the comparison of motherhood and political leadership. Maternal commonwealth suggests that women could have the role of purifying politics from men’s corruption and mismanagement.

American Exceptionalism

American imperialists were representatives of both big business and industrialization; they adopted the belief of American Exceptionalism, an idea that America is unique in comparison to other countries, embodying liberty and divinely chosen to lead the world towards the path of democracy. The idea included the belief that without American intervention and colonization, the inferior and backward nations would fall back into barbarism. Also, victims should be thankful for American conquest because the American nation is civilized, democratic, wealthy, and Christian.

The Automobile

During the Industrialization era, horsepower was replaced by automobiles. Henry Ford used technology from the internal combustion motor to produce the Ford Model T in large numbers, using the method of the assembly lines. The 1909 Ford Model T did a lot for the American economy, providing new mobility, being affordable, and doubling the wage rate of its workers. The new enclosed car helped lighten domestic responsibilities and allow workers to provide for their families.

(1) How did industrialization/urbanization improve the standards of living for the American working class? How did it diminish their standards of living?

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Industrialization and urbanization both improved and diminished the standards of living for the American working class. Industrialization increased wages, made working easier and more efficient with technological advancements, increased life expectancy and improved the economy due to rate of production. Industrialization brought quick urbanization, individuals moving to cities, which implied migration for a better life, progress, prosperity, and innovation. It helped with the growth of industry and wealth.
On the other hand, industrialization brought the working class harsh living conditions, poverty, and dangerous working conditions that lost workers’ fingers, limbs, or lives; it increased the cost of living and also had problems with child labor. The cities that they lived in were overcrowded, polluted, and unsafe, causing environmental hazards.

(2) How did the imperialists justify the creation of an American Empire? How did the anti-imperialist criticize American expansion and colonization?

To justify the creation of an American Empire, imperialists believed that businesses needed it to protect themselves due to increased business that took place overseas.They also believed it was America’s duty as the superior race to civilize, motivate, and convert natives towards Christianity and that it was mandated by God, which was rooted in the belief of Social Darwinism and American Exceptionalism.

On the other hand, anti-imperialist disagreed with the understanding that imperialism threaten American ideals and their main goal was to educate the public. They criticized imperialists ideas, calling expansion and colonization unjust, a waste of resources, and hypocritical of democracy that took place in America. They did so with printed work, lectures, and public meetings, but in the end, they could not achieve their primary goal.

Andre Siegfried on the ‘New Society’ (1928):

In 1928, Frenchman Andre Siegfried wrote a primary source called the “New Society”, comparing the America he remembered thirty years ago to the one in the 1920s; the intended audience was European and American natives, history majors, or any country or individual interested in the American shift from then and now. Siegfried illuminates the transition of American agricultural republic into industrial world power in the second paragraph when he mentions that the “western frontier” and “pioneer” have disappeared and that the new era primarily cares about the conception of production. In the third paragraph, he states that the U.S. driving force includes immense supply of natural produce and detailed organization of industrial production, all of which Europe does not have.

Siegfried believes that these forces have compromised American ideals of valuing work, which has shifted to a more consumer driven lifestyle, where people are going more into debt to afford luxuries. He questions American’s character and values because he is worried that Americans are willing to sacrifice morals and liberty for economic gain and self image. The irony of the document is that Siegfried calls the American economy “sound” because of its prosperity in 1928, but the Great Depression occurs just a year after on October 1929, which is the worst economic downfall in the history of the industrialized world.

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