Thoughts of August

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright Aug 2014


The Reconstruction Era 1865-77


A civil war is a bitter experience for any community to go through. This is well recognized. What is not so well recognized is that the era following the civil war is often just as bitter and just as hard an experience on the community. This was certainly so for the United States in the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War.

What was being reconstructed?

The Civil War in the US decided who was going to decide the issues: The winners, the North. It did not decide how the issues would be solved. Solving the issues would be an uncertain process that took many years following the war. This is usually the case in long, bitter civil wars. The mess in Iraq and Syria is a contemporary example.

In the case of the Reconstruction Era South many issues were waiting resolution. The treatment of Blacks gets the most attention these days, but in that era how the economy would develop, how education would be handled, and how urban and rural relations would be handled were also hot topics with uncertain outcomes.



The Gilded Age 1870-90


As the grand distraction of the Civil War and Reconstruction ended, America got serious about industrializing again. And this time it came out differently than it had pre-Civil War. There were new impressive tools available, such as railroads and telegraphs, and new tools steadily being invented and perfected as the era when along, such as electricity and refrigerators.

The result was a whole lot of growth, a whole lot of new ways of doing things, a whole lot of wealth created, and a whole lot of complaining about how that wealth should be distributed.

Something to keep in mind as we look back is that this was all brand new at the time. This was the first time anyone anywhere on the face of the earth was dealing with this cascade of new possibilities being opened up by all these disruptive technologies being invented and then exploited.

It's not surprising that there were a lot of growing pains. What I find fun to do is see how these challenges were met at the time, and compare those solutions to how we deal with similar disruptive technology challenges today.

Familiar faces

After reading this chapter, it is impressive how familiar the issues sound to those which are being discussed in current events of the 2010's -- the time following the Great Recession of 2008. In both eras there is a lot of talk about the harm being done by inequal distribution of wealth.

There is a lot of talk about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. In both cases this was not true: the rich were getting richer, but the poor were also getting richer. In the Guilded Age the poor were moving from subsistence farming in the US and overseas into "wage slave" manufacturing jobs in the newly opening factories and infrastructure across the US. In the 2010's there is a lot of social security safety net and entitlement payment going on.




--The End--