Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 10. Introduction
Yearning to Breathe Free

The Statue of Liberty, a symbol of America's promise to her own people and to generations of new immigrants, arrived in 1885-a time of special challenge to keep the promise of liberty for all.

Some remarkable citizens played leading roles in meeting the challenge. In the labor movement, Mary "Mother" Jones fought to improve the plight of American workers caught in the wake of the nation's second industrial revolution. Jane Addams founded Hull House in Chicago's worst immigrant slum. She epitomized the social and political reform spirit through her settlement work, her writing, and her international efforts for world peace.

Not every prominent citizen of the late nineteenth century worked for the liberty of all. John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan used liberty to amass tremendous fortunes in oil, railroads, and steel, at the expense of many others who lived and worked in hopeless poverty and squalor. Shameful business and political secrets, however, did not go undetected. The muckrakers, determined and talented journalists including Ida Tarbell, Nelly Bly, Upton Sinclair, and Lincoln Steffens, exposed unethical and unlawful practices.

The American promise seemed especially shaky in 1893, when economic depression quickly followed financial panic. Much to the chagrin of some Americans, President Cleveland turned to J.P. Morgan to shore up the government with gold from private banks. This stabilized the currency, and prosperity returned.

Much political debate in the presidential election of 1896 centered on whether gold or both gold and silver should back American currency. Democratic-Populist candidate William Jennings Bryan believed in the free coinage of silver, tariff reform, and an income tax. William McKinley favored tight money and a high tariff to protect American business. His victory clearly decided the nation's future course in favor of big business. And the nation's citizens would continue to meet the challenge America's promise.

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