Reflecting realities of United States in the late 19th century

Introduction

In the late 19th century, many immigrants flooded into American cities, in search of green pastures. While others run from civil war, some were in search of wealth and the start of a new life.[1] The population figure grew rapidly in urban cities as a result of the immigrants.

Many immigrants were rendered homeless and urban crime increased as a result of poverty and an increase of slums. This was the shocking revelation among the immigrants who had come in search of a better life. This paper seeks to study how Horatio Alger, in his book Ragged Dick that reflects the realities of urban life, economic security and social mobility in the late 19th century.

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Urban life

Most people found the city remarkable due to the high capacity buildings and the American cities had expanded though haphazardly. The leaders then began to call for some order and organization of the cities to provide a plan for the congesting cities.[2] As both the buildings and parks were increased, the numbers of slums were also increasing. Housing was one of the greatest challenges faced by the new city dwellers. Most of the immigrants had come with no money and could not afford housing in the city or in the suburbs.

The tenements later became popular and turned to slum dwellings due to the overpopulation and poor conditions of living.[3] As more immigrants kept streaming in the tenements became more over populated, since the building capacity was not expanded. Transportation also was a challenge in urban areas due to the increase of population. The cities had not been prepared to harbor such large populations and now that the new population was city dwellers, the people had to struggle for the limited number of transportation.

The increase in urban population was one challenge that authorities were not well equipped to handle. Over population caused adequate access to public services such as Medicare and good housing. As a result, problems like outbreak of diseases kept recurring, and it was uncontrollable due to the poor living conditions most of the people lived in.

Crime was also on the increase with high rates of unemployment and the desperation to survive. Gangs were formed in metropolitans were crime was common as a means to make ends meet. The schools around also lacked capacity to take in the immigrant’s children and the government felt pressure to respond to the situation.[4]

Social mobility

During the civil war, there was a lot of immigration with many immigrants coming from abroad. Some of the immigrants came from Latin America, Canada, Europe, China and Japan, with Europe carrying the greatest numbers.[5] Most of the Europeans who migrated to America came in with some education and enough money to support them.

The Germans and Scandinavians arrived through major ports of the Atlantic coast. However, the rest of the immigrants came in with lack of both capital and a good education. Some of the immigrants coming in hardly spoke English and with lack of proper education they worked in unskilled jobs.[6]

The influx of foreigners into America led to the founding of immigration restriction league that vetted all immigrants coming in through the various ports. The government responded and set screening mechanisms among the immigrants. The officials would screen immigrants based on literacy levels, and other standards such as health status and native background.[7]

Congress at that time barred the Chinese from entry and tagged them as undesirable candidates. Other candidates denied access was the paupers, mentally challenged and ex-convicts from other states.[8] The government imposed tax charge to every person admitted to limit the number of immigrants into the state. This was to regulate the number of immigrants to ensure that the public resources were not exhausted.[9]

Adjusting in the city life however, was not simple. The various ethnicities formed ethnic groups to help each other in the transition process.[10] The communities lived close to each other forming ethnic ghettos, forming close ties with their ethnic countries. The communities kept their cultures as they also adopted the new cultures.

Industrialization however, led to assimilation of the different ethnic groups, this was a time industries were developing in the cities and most immigrants were hired to work in these industries.[11] The Europeans for example felt superior because they were more skilled than most of the ethnic groups like the Irish immigrants.[12]

Despite the various differences the immigrants shared the same experiences of living in urban areas and facing the same experience of urban life. The natives however, encouraged assimilation the more in the various settings.[13] Schools for example, taught in English and insisted that all classes should be conducted in English.

Employers in both private and public institution also looked for English-speaking employees, and this forced most immigrants to learn English to secure jobs in the various companies.[14] The stores sold only American products and this forced the immigrants to adapt to using American products. They also were assimilated in the American way of worship; most religious leaders were Native Americans and practiced their native religion.

Economic security

Economic security was an issue of concern among individuals who had just immigrated to America.[15] Most people were looking forward to accumulating enough wealth and create opportunities for their fellow colleagues back at home[16] .The well-to-do credited their wealth to the hard work they had put and they took advantage of their early arrival to form monopolies in the capital industry. These businessmen rooted out competition in the market place and put controls to ensure that they still got their profit returns.

Alger’s ragged Dick captured how the immigrants had to face desirable hardships just to make it in the city. The tycoons who owned industries paid the immigrants poorly and made them work under poor conditions and for longer hours.[17] The tycoons took advantage of the high unemployment rates and the immigrant’s lack of formal education.

The tycoons posed a threat to society because even though they paid the laborers, they ran the economy. The businessmen overcharged for goods and service and the people had no choice but to pay for them, as the economy was heavily run by a monopoly.[18] Most immigrants had escaped poverty and oppression from their native land only to find themselves in the same circumstances.

In the turn of the century new immigrants began streaming in and most of them from Europe. The immigrants had the privilege of some form of education and after undergoing poor working conditions and low wages the immigrants attempted to fight back. The immigrants began forming small crafted unions but they brought little success. However the immigrants were undeterred and they tried to form a nation labor organization.[19]

The steel and ironworkers formed a strong association, and were able to establish the first successful strike. The laborers demanded better pay and an improvement in working conditions in the industries. This alleviated to some point the living and working conditions of the laborers, who were also able to afford the cost of living in urban areas.[20]

With the great recession after the civil war the increase in wages hardly counted and many laborers later lost their jobs with no compensation. This was not what many immigrants had bargained for; most of the laborers had immigrated with the hope of making money and returning home. Despite the labor unions and increase of wages the immigrants felt the need to acquire a more secure source of income to sustain the expensive urban lifestyle.[21]

Conclusion

After the civil war many immigrants moved to American urban cities in search of greener pastures. Most were running away from poverty and harsh conditions back in their native countries. However, on arrival the immigrants faced great challenges unforeseen to them and a lot of them were frustrated.

Having to face unemployment, poor working conditions, keeping in tenements and racial segregation was in the least of their expectations. While some gave up along the way other became prosperous and assimilated to the urban life they envisioned.

Bibliography

Brinkley, Alan. The unfinished nation: the concise history of the American people. New York, McGrawHill, 2009. 453
Davidson, J. West, and Mark H. Lytle.After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection. Michigan: McGraw-Hill, 2009.204
Davidson, J. West, and Mark H. Lytle.After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection. Michigan: McGraw-Hill, 2009.204
Alger,Horatio. Ragged Dick. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2008.28
Davidson, J. West, and Mark H. Lytle.After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection. Michigan: McGraw-Hill, 2009.205
. Alger,Horatio. Ragged Dick. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2008. 34
. Davidson, J. West, and Mark H. Lytle.After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection. Michigan: McGraw-Hill, 2009. 207
Brinkley, Alan. The unfinished nation: the concise history of the American people. New York, Mc-Graw Hill, 2009.458
Davidson, J. West, and Mark H. Lytle.After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection. Michigan: McGraw-Hill, 2009, 207
Brinkley,Alan. The Unfinished Nation: The Concise History of the American People. New York: Mc-Graw Hill, 2009.436
Davidson, J. West, and Mark H. Lytle.After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection. Michigan: McGraw-Hill, 2009. 207
Brinkley,Alan. The Unfinished Nation: The Concise History of the American People. New York: Mc-Graw Hill, 2009.454
Brinkley, Alan. The unfinished nation: the concise history of the American people. (New York, Mc-Graw Hill, 2009) 458
Brinkley,Alan. The Unfinished Nation: The Concise History of the American People. New York: Mc-Graw Hill, 2009. 458
Alger,Horatio. Ragged Dick. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2008. 34
Brinkley,Alan. The Unfinished Nation: The Concise History of the American People. New York: Mc-Graw Hill, 2009.448
Davidson, J. West, and Mark H. Lytle.After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection. Michigan: McGraw-Hill, 2009. 211
Brinkley,Alan. The Unfinished Nation: The Concise History of the American People. New York: Mc-Graw Hill, 2009.437
Alger,Horatio. Ragged Dick. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2008.47
Brinkley, Alan. The unfinished nation: the concise history of the American people. (New York, Mc-Graw Hill, 2009) 445
Brinkley,Alan. The Unfinished Nation: The Concise History of the American People. New York: Mc-Graw Hill, 2009.449

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