The transition in Maryland from a slave to a free society, Fuke argues, presented to black Marylanders opportunities to achieve previously inaccessible goals. Blacks were able to realize some goals, such as greater land ownership, control over the labor of their children, education, and the formation of independent cultural and social organizations, through their own intrepidity combined with the support of white radicals as well as with the assistance of the Freedmen's Bureau, the United States Army, and some state-controlled agencies. Other goals--such as social equality, economic opportunity and advancement, and suffrage--remained beyond the reach of blacks, not only because of conservative white opposition, but also, Fuke argues, because of the attitudinal limitations of white radicals unable to confront the full range of post-emancipation possibilities. Calling upon a very broad range of sources, Fuke demonstrates that after emancipation, "Black Marylanders neither enjoyed total freedom nor suffered absolute coercion, but their struggle made two things clear: much of whatever they might accomplish, they would have to do by themselves; and such efforts would remain confined by white attitudes determined to regulate them."
A radical and immensely popular voice in antebellum New York, Walsh spoke in the unvarnished language of class conflict. Admired by Walt Whitman and feared by Tammany Hall, Walsh was an original, wildly unstable character who directed his aptly named Spartan Band against the economic and political elite of New York City and New England. As a labor organizer, state legislator, and even U.S. Congressman, the leader of the Bowery Boys fought for shorter working hours, the right to strike, free land for settlers on the American frontier, against child labor, and to restore dignity to the city's growing number of industrial workers.
The saga of Duffy's Cut focuses particularly on the Irish laborers who built the railroads. Who were these men? Who hired them? Why did they come? Perhaps most important, why did they die? Based on archaeological digs at the site and meticulous historical research, the authors argue that the annihilation of the work crew came about because of the extreme conditions of their employment, the prejudice of the surrounding community, and the vigilante violence that kept them isolated. In shedding light on this tragic chapter in American labor history, "The Ghosts of Duffy's Cut" also illuminates a dark side of America's rise to greatness.
Along with the likes of Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Morgan, Alexander T. Stewart made his fortune during the years when America industrialized. By the time of his death in 1876, Stewart, known as the Merchant Prince of Manhattan, had amassed a fortune estimated between $40 and $50 million. Snubbed by other Manhattan elites, he died lonely and miserable, his body interred in a vault at St. Mark's churchyard in Manhattan, awaiting relocation to the Long Island suburb he had dreamed of planning. But on the morning of November 7, 1878, the vault was discovered to have been emptied, the body gone. Few clues remained at the scene, and the public and press began speculating about the identity of the culprits. Grave robbing was not uncommon in the 19th century, as medical schools needed cadavers for their experiments but were often barred from using them; grave robbers seized the opportunity. Others speculated that a ransom was the motive, or that the stunt was meant as a political statement,a backlash against the wealthy. The newspapers fought fiercely for exclusive coverage and stories that could outdo their rivals. Suspects were arrested, but released when it was revealed that publicity had motivated their false confessions. And local clergy took the opportunity to equate the grave robbery with other sinful behavior, such as drinking and prostitution. Spiritualists and clairvoyants offered their services, but were quickly dismissed by the police and the press. The police continued to bungle the investigation, and ultimately the body was never recovered.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was a booming coal-and-steel town filled with hardworking families striving for a piece of the nation’s burgeoning industrial prosperity. In the mountains above Johnstown, an old earth dam had been hastily rebuilt to create a lake for an exclusive summer resort patronized by the tycoons of that same industrial prosperity, among them Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon. Despite repeated warnings of possible danger, nothing was done about the dam. Then came May 31, 1889, when the dam burst, sending a wall of water thundering down the mountain, smashing through Johnstown, and killing more than 2,000 people. It was a tragedy that became a national scandal.
Graced by David McCullough’s remarkable gift for writing richly textured, sympathetic social history, The Johnstown Flood is an absorbing, classic portrait of life in nineteenth-century America, of overweening confidence, of energy, and of tragedy. It also offers a powerful historical lesson for our century and all times: the danger of assuming that because people are in positions of responsibility they are necessarily behaving responsibly.
Mining a broad array of sources on nineteenth-century New York City’s interlocking network of private benevolence and municipal relief, SenGupta shows that these institutions promoted a racialized definition of poverty and citizenship. But they also offered a framework within which working poor New Yorkers—recently freed slaves and disfranchised free blacks, Afro-Caribbean sojourners and Irish immigrants, sex workers and unemployed laborers, and mothers and children—could challenge stereotypes and offer alternative visions of community. Thus, SenGupta argues, long before the advent of the twentieth-century welfare state, the discourse of welfare in its nineteenth-century incarnation created a space to talk about community, race, and nation; about what it meant to be “American,” who belonged, and who did not. Her work provides historical context for understanding why today the notion of "welfare"—with all its derogatory “un-American” connotations—is associated not with middle-class entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, but rather with programs targeted at the poor, which are wrongly assumed to benefit primarily urban African Americans.