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Unit I: Economic and Geographic Expansion and the Social and Political Response: 1877-1920


From the era of Reconstruction into the beginning of the 20th century, the United States underwent an economic transformation that involved the maturing of the industrial economy, the rapid expansion of big business, the development of large-scale agriculture, the rise of national labor unions, pronounced industrial conflict, the progressive movement ,and the expansion of America into new territories.

Students can begin to see a resemblance to possibilities and problems that our society faces today. The late 19th century marked a spectacular outburst of technological innovation, which fueled headlong economic growth and delivered material benefits to many Americans. Yet, the advances in productive and extractive enterprises that technology permitted also had ecological effects that Americans were just beginning to understand and confront. In the last third of the 19th century, the rise of the American corporation and the advent of big business brought about a concentration of the nation's productive capacities in many fewer hands. Mechanization brought farming into the realm of big business and turned the United States into the world's premier producer of food--a position it has never surrendered.

This period also witnessed unprecedented immigration and urbanization, both of which were indispensable to industrial expansion. American society, always polyglot, became even more diverse as immigrants thronged from southern and eastern Europe--and also from Asia, Mexico, and Central America. As newcomers created a new American mosaic, the old Protestant European Americans' sway over the diverse people of this nation began to loosen. Related to this continuing theme of immigration was the search for national unity amid growing cultural diversity. How a rising system of public education promoted the assimilation of newcomers is an important topic for students to study.

Students should appreciate the cross-currents and contradictions of this period. For example, what many at the time thought was progress, was regarded by others as retrogressive. Paradoxes abound. First, agricultural modernization, while innovative and productive, disrupted family farms and led American farmers to organize protest movements as never before. Second, the dizzying rate of expansion was accomplished at the cost of the wars against the Plains Indians, which produced the "second great removal" of indigenous peoples from their ancient homelands and ushered in a new federal Indian policy that would last until the New Deal. Third, muscular, wealth-producing industrial development that raised the standard of living for millions of Americans also fueled the rise of national labor unionism and unprecedented clashes in industrial and mining sites between capital and labor. Fourth, after the Civil War, women reformers, while reaching for a larger public presence, suffered an era of retrenchment on economic and political issues. Lastly, the wrenching economic dislocations of this period and the social problems that erupted in rural and urban settings captured the attention of reformers and politicians, giving rise to third-party movements and the beginning of the Progressive movement. Progressives were a diverse lot with various agendas that sometimes jostled uneasily, but all reformers focused on a set of corrosive problems arising from rapid industrialization, urbanization, waves of immigration, and business and political corruption. Students can be inspired by how fervently the Progressives applied themselves to the renewal of American democracy. They can also profit from understanding the distinctively female reform culture that contributed powerfully to the movement.

All issues of American foreign policy in the 20th century have their origins in the emergence of the United States as a major world power in the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century and further involvement in imperialism. Students can learn much by studying America’s motivation in acquiring the role of an economic giant with global interests and while fervently wishing to export democracy around the world.
Enduring Understandings:

  • The Civil War and Reconstruction resulted in Southern resentment toward the North and Southern African Americans, and ultimately led to the political, economic, and social control of the South by whites

  • In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, economic opportunity, industrialization, technological change, and immigration fueled American growth and expansion.

  • Expansion was accomplished through wars against the Plains Indians leading to new federal Indian policies

  • Industrial development brought great fortunes to a few and raised the standard of living for millions of Americans, but also brought about the rise of national labor unions and clashes between industry and labor.

  • Social problems in rural and urban settings gave rise to third-party movements and the beginning of the Progressive Movement.

  • Many 20th century American foreign policy issues have their origins in America’s emergence as a world power at the end of the 19th century.

  • The growing role of the United States in international trade displayed the American urge to build, innovate, and explore new markets.

Essential Questions:

  • To what extent was Reconstruction successful in reunifying the nation and creating an equal society?

  • Did the movement of settlers Westward help or hurt the economic development of all Americans in the United States?

  • Were the new industrialists captains of industry or robber barons?

  • Did life in the United States live up to the images offered to attract immigrants to the nation?

  • Were labor unions successful in achieving solutions to the problems of industrialization?

  • During the Populist Era, to what extent was the federal government successful in addressing the problems of farmers and industrial laborers?

  • Assess the validity of this statement: The Progressive movement brought drastic and permanent changes to American politics and society.

  • Was imperialism justified based on American principles?

Curriculum Framework


Learning Outcomes


Key Concepts

Effects of Reconstruction

  1. Interpret economic and social problems in the post-Civil War era that faced the South; African Americans in particular

(H) Evaluate to what extent post-Civil War southern political, economic, and social policies attempted to create a permanent black underclass.

  1. Describe major impacts of political and social changes stemming from Reconstruction

(H) Analyze varying historical interpretations of the impact of political and social changes in the U.S. stemming from Reconstruction.

  • Sharecropping

  • Tenant farming

  • Jim Crow Laws

  • 13th, 14th, 15th amendments

  1. Presidents Lincoln and Johnson had different plans for Reconstruction than the Congress.

  2. The election of 1876 halted government Reconstruction in the south.

  3. The economic and social structure in the South prohibited true equality for the newly freed blacks.

Westward Expansion

  1. Describe the motives that influenced settlement in the West.

  2. Summarize the military, economic, political and cultural interaction among the US government and the Plains tribes

  3. Contrast the lives and contributions of women, blacks, Native Americas, immigrants, farmers, miners and ranchers in the settlement and development of the West.

  • Homestead Act

  • Dawes Act

  • Plains Wars

  • Manifest Destiny

  • Push/ pull factors

  1. The building of the railroads, as well as the mining and cattle industries, motivated people to settle in the west.

  2. When white settlers moved West, there was a clash of values with the Native Americans.

  3. There were many technological innovations that made settling in the West easier.

Industrialization, Immigration, Urbanization

  1. Describe significant innovations in technology that changed the quality of life and transformed the way people worked.

(H) Analyze the issues surrounding the range wars of the late 1800’s as they relate to the controversy surrounding urban sprawl and “Smart Growth” today.

  1. Explain how government policies encouraged the rise of big business.

  2. Explain the causes of industrialization and how it changed the standard of living

  3. Analyze how industrial leaders conspired to control segments of the country’s economy.

(H) Justify the necessity for government regulation of private business enterprise at the turn of the 19th century.

  1. Use maps and globes to identify the origin, motives and patterns of new immigrants.

  2. Explain urbanization and the major features of cities and urban life.

(H) Trace the factors that lead to urban growth in the late 19th century, urban decline of the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s to urban revitalization of the late 20th century.

  1. Evaluate background of immigrants and how they responded to assimilation.

  2. Describe the working conditions in the late 19th century and how they led to the growth of labor unions

  • Laissez-faire

  • Capitalism

  • Tariffs

  • Sherman Anti-Trust Act

  • Monopoly

  • Trust

  • Social Darwinism

  • Gospel of Wealth

  • Assimilation

  • Push/ Pull factors

  • Immigration restrictions and organizations

  • Tenements

  • Strikes

  • Unions

  1. Carnegie, Rockefeller, Morgan and other entrepreneurs helped contribute to the birth of large corporations

  2. There were several new inventions and consumer products that changed the way people lived during this era

  3. There were many pull factors that attracted immigrants to move to America and push factors that made them want to leave their home countries.

  4. There was a new group of immigrants moving to American at the turn of the 20th century that was viewed very differently by the American public from the group that arrived in the mid 19th century.

  5. Many Americans went to great lengths to try to limit the new immigrants that were coming to America

  6. People living in urban settings tended to stay in ethnic neighborhoods where the standards of living were not always up to societal standards

  7. There were public sanitation and health issues plaguing many cities that lead to an effort to fix infrastructure and public health problems.

  8. Working conditions in many factories were very poor which lead to many strikes and riots.

  9. Workers formed unions to advocate for their rights.

Populism and Progressivism

  1. Explain the origins and impact of Populism.

(H) Analyze the gold versus silver standard controversy of the Populist era through a literary context.

  1. Relate the problems of the turn of the century to the proposed solutions of the Progressive Era.

(H) Identify, analyze, and evaluate current political, social, ad economic issues that would ignite another era of progressive reform on the local, state, national levels.

  1. Evaluate the political, social and economic impact of the Progressive Era.

  2. Explain the resurgence of the women’s movement in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

  • Grange and Farmers’ Alliance

  • Omaha Platform

  • Social Gospel

  • Suffrage

  • Muckrakers

  • Political machines

  • Temperance

  • 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th Amendments

  • Trust-busting

  • Conservation

  • Federal Reserve

  1. Although Populists did not win the election of 1896, parts of their platform were soon adopted into legislation.

  2. Machine Politics began to corrupt local and federal government, which lead to electoral reforms.

  3. Booker T Washington and W.E.B. Dubois were both African American activists who spoke out in favor of black rights.

  4. Many people during the Progressive era felt that America was in need of moral reform.

  5. Muckrakers worked to expose corruption in industry that lead to legal and social changes.


  1. Describe the major motives for American imperialism.

  2. Trace the changing economic and political roles that contributed to the emergence of the US as a world power.

  3. Relate the principles of American foreign policy to the events in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

(H) Compare the principles of American foreign policy in an era of imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th century to American foreign policy in the 21st century.

  1. Describe the various domestic reactions to American imperialism.

  • Manifest destiny

  • Open door policy

  • Roosevelt Corollary

  • Market

  • Annexation

  • Yellow journalism

  • Anti-imperialism league

  1. Imperialism had many causes such as the feeling that it was America’s destiny to expand, industrial growth and consumer demand and European colonialism.

  2. The annexation of Hawaii to America was a controversial decision not supported by many native Hawaiians

  3. The Spanish American War was an American conquest that lead to America gaining more land and power

  4. Imperialism led to

Text Resources:




  1. The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction by Lincoln

  • Library of Congress: American Memory

  • Library of Congress: American Memory

  • Library of Congress: American Memory

  • University of Maryland: Freedman and Southern Society Project

Westward Expansion

  • Homestead Act, 1862

  • Interviews from Sand Creek Massacre

  1. National Park Service

  2. PBS

Gilded Age

  • “Wealth,” Andrew Carnegie

  • “Ragtime,” E.L. Doctrow,

  • Text from the Chinese Exclusion Act

  1. Modern History Sourcebook

  2. Scribd

  3. University of Houston: Digital History


  • “How the Other Half Lives”.  Writings and Photos.  Jacob Riis

  • Omaha Platform

  • Populist Platform

  1. Authentic History

  1. George Mason University: History Matters

  2. University of Houston: Digital History

  • Roosevelt Corollary comparison to Monroe Doctrine

  • Theodore Roosevelt Association

Suggested Media:



  1. Military Reconstruction Map

  1. University of North Carolina School of Education: LearnNC

  1. “The First Vote,” Harper’s Weekly, 1867

  • George Mason University: History Matters

  1. "The Union as it was / The Lost Cause, worse than slavery." Thomas Nast.

  1. Colonial Williamsburg:

  1. “American Progress”

  • Library of Congress: American Memory

  1. “The Last Spike” Images and editorials on the transcontinental railroad

  • The Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum

  1. Images from Haymarket Riot


  1. Child Labor, Images and Texts

  • The Lewis Hine Project

Suggested Resources



  1. The Civil War and Reconstruction: Lesson Plans with Primary Sources

  1. Stanford History Education Group

  1. The Gilded Age: Lesson Plans with Primary Sources

  1. Stanford History Education Group

  1. Progressivism: Lesson Plans with Primary Sources

  1. Stanford History Education Group

  1. American Imperialism: Lesson Plans with Primary Sources

  1. Stanford History Education Group

Unit II: The Great War and a New Economic Order, 1912-1932


The American intervention in World War I cast the die for the United States as a world power for the remainder of the century. Students can learn much about the complexities of foreign policy today by studying the difficulties of maintaining neutrality in World War I while acquiring the role of an economic giant with global interests and while fervently wishing to export democracy around the world.

In the postwar period the prosperity of the 1920s and the domination of big business and Republican politics are also important to study. The 1920s displayed dramatically the American urge to build, innovate, and explore--poignantly captured in Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927, which excited more enthusiasm than any single event to that time. The cultural and social realms also contain lessons from history that have resonance today. First, students should study the women's struggle for equality, which had political, economic, and cultural dimensions. Second, students should understand how radical labor movements and radical ideologies provoked widespread fear and even hysteria. Third, they need to study the recurring racial tension that led to Black Nationalism, the Harlem Renaissance, and the first great northward migration of African Americans on the one hand and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan on the other hand. Fourth, they need to understand the powerful movement to Americanize a generation of immigrants and the momentous closing of the nation's gates through severe retrenchment of open-door immigration policies. Lastly, they should examine the continuing tension among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, most dramatically exemplified in the resurgence of Protestant fundamentalism.

In its effects on the lives of Americans, the Great Depression was one of the great shaping experiences of American history, ranking with the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the second industrial revolution. More than Progressivism, the Great Depression brought about changes in the regulatory power of the federal government. It also enlarged government’s role in superimposing relief measures on the capitalist system, bringing the United States into a mild form of welfare state capitalism, such as had appeared earlier in industrial European nations. This era provides students with ample opportunities to test their analytic skills as they assay Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership, the many alternative formulas for ending the Great Depression, and the ways in which the New Deal affected women, racial minorities, labor, children, and other groups.
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