Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 9. Introduction
Working for Freedom

The United States had much to celebrate on its one-hundredth birthday in 1876. The American experiment in democracy had endured. A flood of immigrants and a burst of invention had made the nation a world industrial power. Determined and courageous men and women would address America's problems-the failure of Reconstruction, the unfair treatment of African-Americans and Native Americans, the lack of woman suffrage, and the plight of exploited workers.

Susan B. Anthony argued that the Constitution, natural rights, and Fifteenth Amendment declared that all citizens-and therefore women-could vote. Her arrest and conviction for the crime of voting stirred the suffrage movement, but failed to give women access to the ballot box.

During the last decades of the nineteenth and the first decade of the twentieth century, America struggled to balance the needs of its workers-many of whom were immigrants and children-with the greed of Gilded Age capitalists. These men used unscrupulous tactics and exploited their workers but gave generously to charity. Carnegie gave away his entire fortune, Rockefeller distributed exactly half of his, and Morgan founded the library that bears his name.

As America became a more urban, industrialized nation, workers-often women and children-toiled at hard physical labor for long hours, six days a week, for low pay. They often faced dangerous and unsanitary working conditions without safety regulations or protection. The early labor movement clashed violently with the industrialists' power. The American Federation of Labor, led for thirty-eight years by its founder and president , and the International Workers of the World (I.W.W.) or "wobblies," a more militant labor union of socialists, anarchists, and trade unionists under William "Big Bill" Haywood, fought important battles in the early labor movement.

As the population became more disparate and the chasm between the fabulously wealthy and the common worker widened, the American experiment in democracy was stretched. But through the turbulent growing years of the nation's second century, the country remained united and grew.

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