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History of the United States (1865–1918)
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"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."
The history of the United States from 1865 until 1918 covers the Reconstruction Era, the Gilded Age, and the Progressive Era, and includes the rise of industrialization and the resulting surge of immigration in the United States. This article focuses on political, economic, and diplomatic history.
This period of rapid economic growth and soaring prosperity in the North and the West (but not in the South) saw the U.S. become the world's dominant economic, industrial, and agricultural power. The average annual income (after inflation) of non-farm workers grew by 75% from 1865 to 1900, and then grew another 33% by 1918.With a decisive victory in 1865 over Southern secessionists in the Civil War, the United States became a united and powerful nation with a strong national government. Reconstruction brought the end of legalized slavery plus citizenship for the former slaves, but their new-found political power was rolled back within a decade, and they became second-class citizens under a "Jim Crow" system of deeply pervasive segregation that would stand for the next 80–90 years. Politically, during the Third Party System and Fourth Party System the nation was mostly dominated by Republicans (except for two Democratic presidents). After 1900 and the assassination of President William McKinley, the Progressive Era brought political, business, and social reforms (e.g., new roles for and government expansion of education, higher status for women, a curtailment of corporate excesses, and modernization of many areas of government and society). The Progressives worked through new middle-class organizations to fight against the corruption and behind-the-scenes power of entrenched, state political party organizations and big-city "machines". They demanded—and won—women's right to vote, and the nationwide prohibition of alcohol 1920-1933.
In an unprecedented wave of European immigration, 27.5 million new arrivals between 1865 and 1918 provided the labor base necessary for the expansion of industry and agriculture, as well as the population base for most of fast-growing urban America.
By the late nineteenth century, the United States had become a leading global industrial power, building on new technologies (such as the telegraph and steel), an expanding railroad network, and abundant natural resources such as coal, timber, oil, and farmland, to usher in the Second Industrial Revolution.
There were also two very important wars. The U.S. easily defeated Spain in 1898, which unexpectedly brought a small empire. Cuba quickly was given independence, as well as the Philippines (in 1946). Puerto Rico (and some smaller islands) became permanent U.S. possessions, as did Alaska (added by purchase in 1867). The independent Republic of Hawaii voluntarily joined the U.S. as a territory in 1898.
The United States tried and failed to broker a peace settlement for World War I, then entered the war after Germany launched a submarine campaign against U.S. merchant ships that were supplying Germany's enemy countries. The publicly stated goals were to uphold American honor, crush German militarism, and reshape the postwar world. After a slow mobilization, the U.S. helped bring about a decisive Allied Forces victory by supplying badly needed financing, food, and millions of fresh and eager soldiers.