Cities And Problems Grow

In this new industrial order, the city was the nerve center, bringing to a focus all the dynamic economic forces: vast accumulations of capital, business and financial institutions, spreading railroad yards, smoky factories, and armies of manual and clerical workers. Villages, attracting people from the countryside and from lands across the sea, grew into towns and towns into cities almost overnight. In 1830, only one of every 15 persons lived in communities of 8,000 or over; in 1860, the ratio was nearly one in every six; and in 1890, three in every 10. No single city had as many as a million inhabitants in 1860, but 30 years later New York had a million and a half, and Chicago and Philadelphia each had over a million. In these three decades, Philadelphia and Baltimore doubled in population, Kansas City and Detroit grew fourfold, Cleveland sixfold, Chicago tenfold. Minneapolis, Omaha, and many communities like them - hamlets when the Civil War began - increased 50 times or more in population.

Grover Cleveland, a Democrat elected to the Presidency in 1884, understood the forces that were transforming the country and made some effort to control them. Several railroad abuses demanded redress. The practice of extending cheaper rates to large shippers by rebating a portion of the charge, operated to the disadvantage of small shippers. Also, some railroads charged arbitrarily higher rates to some shippers than to others between certain points, irrespective of distance.

Moreover, while competition held down freight charges between cities with several rail connections, rates were excessive between points served by only one line. Thus it cost less to ship goods 1,280 kilometers from Chicago to New York than to places a few hundred kilometers from Chicago. And by joint action to avoid competition - pooling - rival companies divided the freight business according to a prearranged scheme that placed the total earnings in a common fund for distribution.

Popular resentment at these practices stimulated state efforts at regulation. These had some salutary effect, but the problem was national in character and demanded congressional action.

In 1887, President Cleveland signed the Interstate Commerce Act, which forbade excessive charges, pools, rebates, and rate discrimination, and created an Interstate Commerce Commission to guard against violations of the act and to regulate railroad charges and practices.

Cleveland was also active in combatting the high tariffs which, adopted originally as an emergency war measure, had come to be accepted as permanent national policy. Cleveland regarded this as responsible, in large measure, for a burdensome increase in the cost of living and for the rapid development of trusts. After many years, during which the tariff had not been a political issue, the Democrats, in 1880, demanded a "tariff for revenue only," and soon the clamor for reform became insistent. In his annual message in 1887, Cleveland, despite warnings to avoid the explosive subject, startled the nation by denouncing the extremes to which the principle of protecting American industry from foreign competition had been pushed.

The tariff became the issue of the next presidential election campaign, and the Republican candidate, Benjamin Harrison, defending protectionism, won. The Harrison Administration, fulfilling its campaign promises, passed in 1890 the McKinley tarif bill, a measure designed not only to protect established industries but also to foster infant industries and, by prohibitory duties, to create new ones. The new tariff's generally high rates were shortly reflected in high retail prices, and before long there was widespread dissatisfaction.

During this period, public antipathy toward the trusts increased, and the gigantic corporations, subjected to bitter attack through the 1880s by such reformers as Henry George and Edward Bellamy, became a hotly debated political issue. To break the monopolies, the Sherman Antitrust Act, passed in 1890, forbade all combinations in restraint of interstate trade and provided several methods of enforcement with severe penalties. Couched in vague generalities, the law itself accomplished little immediately after its passage. But a decade later, in the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, its effective application earned the President the nickname of "trust-buster."

Despite these significant trends, the political picture of the period was largely negative.One distinguished historian has written:

"Between 1865 and 1897 there were put upon the federal law books not more than two or three acts which need long detain the citizen concerned only with those manifestations of political power that produce essential readjustments in human relations."
The vitality of the people was directed elsewhere, as most clearly reflected in the history of the west. In 1865 the frontier line followed generally the western limits of the states bordering the Mississippi River, bulging outward to include the eastern sections of Kansas and Nebraska. Behind this thin edge of pioneer farms there was still much unoccupied land, and beyond that stretched the unfenced prairies, merging finally in the sagebrush plains that extended to the foothills of the Rockies. Then, for nearly 1,600 kilometers, loomed the huge bulk of mountain ranges, many richly stored with silver, gold, and other metals. On the far side, untouched plains and deserts stretched to the wooded coastal ranges and the Pacific Ocean. Apart from the settled districts in California and scattered outposts, the vast inland region was peopled only by Indians.