The youthful American republic expanded dramatically
on the frontier in the early nineteenth century. Frontier life was often crude
and hard on the pioneers, especially women.
Westward-moving pioneers often ruthlessly exploited
the environment, exhausting the soil and exterminating wildlife. Yet the wild
beauty of the West was also valued as a symbol of American national identity,
and eventually environmentalists would create a national park system to preserve
pieces of the wilderness.
Other changes altered the character of American
society and its workforce. Old cities expanded, and new cities sprang up in
the wilderness. Irish and German immigrants poured into the country in the
1830s and 1840s, and the Irish in particular aroused nativist hostility because
of their Roman Catholic faith.
Inventions and business innovations like free
incorporation laws spurred economic growth. Women and children were the most
exploited early factory laborers. Male workers made some gains in wages and
hours but generally failed in unionization attempts.
The most far-reaching economic advances before
the Civil War occurred in agriculture and transportation. The early railroads,
despite many obstacles, gradually spread their tentacles across the country.
Foreign trade remained only a small part of the American economy, but changing
technology gradually created growing economic links to Europe. By the early
1860s the telegraph, railroad, and steamship had gone far toward replacing
older means of travel and communication like the canals, clipper ships, stagecoach,
and pony express.
The new means of transportation and distribution
laid the foundations for a continental market economy. The new national economy
created a pattern of sectional specialization and altered the traditional
economic functions of the family. There was growing concern over the class
differences spawned by industrialization, especially in the cities. But the
general growth of opportunities and the increased standard of living made
America a magnetic land of opportunity to many people at home