The Face and Disguise of Postwar America

Postwar America

The XIX century is marked by the Civil War and the beginning of reformation of the American society. The 4-year combat between the South and the North resulted in hundreds of thousands of victims and long-awaited abolition of slavery. The end of the war was expected to become a starting point for the establishment of cordial relationships between all the states and diverse layers of the society. However, under the light blanket of peace America remained split by contradictions, prejudices and social inequality. Consciousness of many people preserved a traditional vision of rights and privileges that elevated certain groups or classes of people above others. Rich white men remained the embodiment of the ruling power in the society. Other residents of the country that belonged to a different race or gender or had lower financial capabilities were doomed to exist in the shadow of the white sun. Apart from careless attitude towards basic human rights, people experienced persecutions and slaughter without any trials and investigation. Owing to the significant divergence inside the society, the American community faced unprecedented manifestations of cruelty, injustice and indifference that were covered by progressive achievements and good intentions.

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In spite of all expectations and hopes, after the end of the Civil War, America was under the rule of “unwritten law”. It represented the rules established by arrogant and selfish wealthy white people who became in charge of the country’s life. There was observed a great development of cities that were expected to become the hearts of progress and new life. The slaves achieved freedom; the right to vote was given to the representatives of various social classes, and it seemed that the society was a step closer to their dreams. However, having barely buried the victims of the war, a new wave of violence covered America. Certain groups of people united in organizations revolved against the proclamation of freedom and equality. The enrooted opinion about “white supremacy” gave rise to excessive feelings of hatred and anger (Roediger 5). Lynching was selected to be the main tool of dealing with nonwhites. It was carried in the most violent ways: “Men were taken from their homes … stripped, beaten, and exiled” (Wells-Barnett).

The greatest aggression was streamed against African Americans. After the Civil War these people were announced to be free and achieved rights that were compared to the status of free white Americans. The book “The wages of whiteness” states that “white supremacy undermined not just working class unity but the very vision of many white workers” (Roediger 13). African Americans were commonly associated with the hardest jobs, and with the act of their liberation the society could not accept their new status. This evoked a great wave of discontent and indignation that resulted in the appearance of special unions. Organizations including “Red Shirts” and Ku Klux Klan had an aim “to intimidate, suppress, and nullify the negro’s right to vote” (Wells-Barnett). Persecution of African Americans was conducted on the political level caused by acquirement of the right to vote. Furthermore, representatives of this socio-cultural community could have been killed for disputing with a white employer about work (Wells-Barnett). They were accused of most crimes and punished without any investigation or trial. Absence of justice and excessive anger resulted in hundreds of victims whose innocence was established only after death. The necessity of harsh “unwritten law” was justified by the claim that it aims to protect women from threat carried out by black people (Wells-Barnett). Disregarding statement that no man can be guilty until the guilt is proven, American citizens had turned law into farce and life of minorities into hell.

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The harshest and most merciless deeds were committed by people belonging to Ku Klux Klan. This was an organization founded in 1866 that mostly consisted of veterans of Confederation who did not want to give up their convictions (History Matters). With the abolition of slavery the owners of big plantations lost the cheap working force and thus could not allow their ex-workers to have free life. The report about Ku Klux Klan’s violence in Georgia provides the records of witness of one of the victims of the Klan’s activities, a woman called Maria Carter. The woman reports about the cruel murder of her neighbor and his wife: “they made her put her arms around his neck and then they whipped them both together. I saw where they struck her head with a pistol and bumped her head against the house, and the blood is there yet” (“Ku Klux Klan Violence in Georgia, 1871”).

The second half of the XIX century was marked by rise of crime among white Americans as well. It was connected with great divergence that existed between classes. Intensification of urbanization contributed to the division of people. The growth of big cities resulted in accumulation of financial capital in the hands of a few individuals who played the major role in the society. According to Mark Twain, people were focused on self-enrichment and as a result became blind to everything else: the chief goal of men was to get rich regardless of what honest or dishonest ways it involved (Twain). Suchlike blindness and indifference resulted in a race for gold and even greater deepening of the gap between classes. It is Larson’s story about the White City that provides evidence of the quick rise of single men and carelessness about other people belonging to the lower economic class. The White City was a child of all workers who were engaged in its construction; however, the world’s fame, recognition and money were received only by two. Larson writes: “Burnham and Root became rich men. Not Pullman rich, not rich enough to be counted among the first rank of society… or to have their wives’ gowns described in the city’s newspapers, but rich beyond anything either man had expected, enough so that each year Burnham bought a barrel of fine Madeira and aged it by shipping it twice around the world on slow freighters” (40). Apart from depiction of construction and functioning of the Fair, there developed a parallel story of indifference and cruelty that depicted crimes committed by a heartless murderer who terrorized the visitors. When police managed to catch Holmes, he confessed to thirty murders; however, the actual number was much higher. All these people became victims of a cold-blooded maniac just because the public institutions and societal controls were busy with managing the Fair.

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While the Southern states were sinking in the blood of persecuted African Americans, the central regions faced violence against indigenous population. The postwar America did not manage to become a safe place for the representatives of the native community. The XIX century assimilation process resulted in the development of hostility between the Indian tribes and white colonizers. A book by Charles Eastman refers to the experience of a white person who faced a new culture. From the very beginning of the book Indians are referred to as “ancestral enemies” (Eastman). The book expresses common attitude to the indigenous dwellers as people with lower intellectual abilities who had no alternative occupations apart from physical work – hunting, planting crops, etc. The great hollow was felt even by children who grew in different surroundings: “I was something like a wild cub caught overnight, and appearing in the corral next morning with the lambs” (Eastman). Civilization had offered great privileges, but white people demanded a very high price. The contraction of territories had driven the community into deserted rocky lands. The author claims that behind the fake disguise of religiosity white people performed actions that are far from Christian norms. Indians were forced to leave their homes and experienced the mockery on their culture and beliefs. Those who tried to put up resistance were killed.

There were numerous attempts to cover the savagery of the society by drawing public attention to great achievements of humankind. The end of the XIX century entered the world’s history under the title of the Gilded Age. Named after a famous book written by Mark Twain, it referred to the time of glorification of human intelligence, ambitions and imagination. One of the most exciting achievements of that time is known as the World’s Columbian Exposition. Opened in 1893, it was constructed in honor of Christopher Columbus and the day his foot stepped on the American land. The architect of the Fair, Burnham, turned it into “something enchanting, known throughout the world as the White City” (Larson 17). The name “White City” appeared due to similarities in the style shared with the Roman architecture that was painted in dazzling white color. Becoming a majestic symbol of Chicago, the Fair was a monument to the greatness of true Americans. Its bright white color dazzled the society and made it incapable of noticing cruel crimes and poor living conditions of the majority of people surviving in the outskirts of the White City.

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To conclude, the end of the Civil War did not mark the beginning of a peaceful and progressive era in the history of the United States. The country suffered from inner contradictions caused by selfish and egoistic human nature. The law was dictated not by consciousness or justice but by groups of rich and influential white men. Great oppression and violence were spread toward the representatives of the most vulnerable social categories – racial minorities and lower economic classes. The South was moaning from cruel slaughters of African Americans; the Center experienced violence against Indian communities, and the North suffered from local crimes against financially insecure residents. A rotten system of judgments and indifference resulted in hundreds of victims whose lives were taken without any hesitations or rational reasons.

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