AP U.S. History Notes: Period 6

January 12, 2023

Supplement your AP studies with these APUSH Period 6 Study Notes. Get an overview of what happened in Period 6 of APUSH as well as essential vocabulary, key exam topics, and more. Looking for more APUSH study resources? Check out Barron’s AP U.S. History Premium Test Prep Book and our AP U.S. History Podcast. 

AP U.S. History Notes: Period 6 Timeline

This graphic gives a brief timeline of key events that took place during AP U.S. History Period 6.

AP U.S. History Notes: Period 6 Overview

The sixth period covered on the AP U.S. history exam took place between the years 1865-1898 and is referred to as “The Challenges of the Era of Industrialization.” The transformation of the United States during the last decades of the nineteenth century from an essentially rural and agrarian society to an increasingly industrial and urban one brought about a host of economic, political, diplomatic, social, cultural, and environmental changes.

The United States economy expanded tremendously in the late 1800s as the country experienced a rapid industrialization. The era of industrial expansion after the Reconstruction period is known as the “Gilded Age.” Although the nation as a whole enjoyed an increase in its wealth, that wealth was not equally distributed. The owners of big businesses, labeled “robber barons” by their critics, enjoyed unparalleled wealth, whereas many of the workers lived in squalid conditions in working-class slums. The contrast between the mansions of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Frick along New York City’s Fifth Avenue and the tenements depicted in Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives (1890) startled many Americans.

The era of rapid industrial and economic expansion in the late nineteenth century dramatically transformed American culture and society. Americans experienced new cultural products, new patterns of work and leisure, and new class and ethnic divisions. These new aspects of American life were most evident in the growing cities. Cities became centers of industrial production and magnets for the large number of immigrants coming into the United States. At the same time, agriculture was becoming more mechanized, requiring fewer people in rural areas. New York retained its stature as the largest American city, with Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and other cities of the Midwest and the Northeast also growing rapidly.

In addition, during the decades between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the twentieth century, a series of important developments transformed the South and the West. White and African-American southerners both shaped the “new” South, as the region left behind plantation slavery. Ultimately, white southerners were able to create a series of laws and customs that relegated African Americans to a second-class status. At the same time, government policies and economic opportunity encouraged waves of settlers to make their way west. The Midwest became a major agricultural region and the center of a politicized and determined farmers’ movement. As settlers ventured farther west, clashes ensued with American Indian groups who lived on coveted lands. These clashes led to the demise of autonomous native peoples within the United States borders.

12 Things to Know About AP U.S. History Period 6

1. Economic opportunities and government policies encouraged the development of the West in the decades after the Civil War. Farmers in this period found themselves drawn into the world of mechanized agriculture. In many cases, these farmers formed local and regional organizations in order to resist the power of railroads (which controlled the price of shipping crops) and corporate interests.

2. A variety of economic opportunities drew waves of settlers to the West. As settlers moved westward, American Indians were increasingly threatened. The reservation system, the destruction of the buffalo, military actions, and assimilationist policies worked to circumscribe Indian options and culture.

3. Promoters of a “New South” encouraged industrialization and modernization in the southern states. Although some segments of the southern economy experienced industrialization, overall the South remained predominantly agrarian, with sharecropping and tenant farming dominating the region. The limited industrial growth that occurred in the “New South” offered few opportunities for African Americans. White supremacy and “Jim Crow” policies relegated African Americans to a second-class citizenship in the post-Reconstruction South.

4. Innovations in technology in the period following the Civil War allowed for greater access to natural resources. These innovations were essential for the expansion of industrial production that came to define the Gilded Age.

5. During the last decades of the nineteenth century, the United States experienced unprecedented changes in production as large-scale industry and business consolidation replaced older forms of production. These changes were accompanied by expanding international communications networks and pro-business government policies. The age was marked by new forms of consumption and marketing.

6. The United States experienced unprecedented economic growth in the last decades of the nineteenth century, but the fruits of that growth were not equally distributed. The era witnessed a growing gap between the wealthy and the poor. As the working class expanded, a series of pitched conflicts over wages and working conditions occurred at industrial worksites. Workers suffered some major setbacks in these conflicts and failed to significantly alter the distribution of wealth in the Gilded Age.

7. During the age of industrial expansion, the population of urban centers grew dramatically. Migrants from abroad and from within the United States flooded into American cities and created a new urban culture.

8. The large-scale immigration to the United States in the last decades of the nineteenth century generated a variety of responses from different individuals and groups. Immigrants themselves negotiated between the cultures of their homeland and of the United States. Americans already living in the United States debated whether immigrants should be welcomed or rejected. The ideas of social Darwinism emerged during this era and were at odds with reformers who sought to aid recently-arrived immigrants.

9. The spread of the corporate model and the consolidation of major businesses led to a managerial revolution. This revolution required a host of managers, clerical workers, salespeople, and accountants. The new urban industrial economy also required a host of support services—such as health care, education, and legal services. The expansion of the middle class and the growing amount of leisure time led to a new consumer culture. In addition, some business leaders asserted that the wealthy had an obligation to improve society through philanthropic work.

10. During the last decades of the nineteenth century, a variety of individuals and groups put forth ideas about the age they were living in. Reformers and intellectuals challenged the prevailing social structure of the day. Many women in this era broke with Victorian-era gender expectations to participate in social change movements.

11. Critics of corporate power pushed the government to take steps to rein in the massive corporations of the Gilded Age. However, these efforts at regulation were vigorously opposed by industrial leaders. Debates also ensued over calls for overseas expansion.

12. A number of political issues, mostly around economic issues, came to dominate the Gilded Age. The economic changes of the era generated political debates around tariffs and currency. Corruption seemed rife on all levels of government despite efforts of reformers. Farmers grew increasingly frustrated with the policies of the two main political parties and sought political solutions outside of the traditional two-party system.

AP U.S. History Notes: Key Topics in Period 6

Westward Expansion: Economic Development

  • The Greenback Party: An early political formation with agrarian roots that sought an expansion of the currency supply was the Greenback Party. Founded in 1878—during the economic downturn following the Panic of 1873—the party advocated issuing paper money that was not backed by gold or silver.
  • The Grange: The National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry, more commonly known as the Grange, is a farmers’ organization that pushed for state laws to protect farmers’ interests. Founded in 1867, it led the fight in many Midwestern states to pass laws that regulated railroad freight rates and made certain abusive corporate practices illegal.
  • Granger Laws: These laws came to be known as Granger Laws. Initially, the Supreme Court, in Munn v.Illinois (1877), upheld these laws, asserting that it was within the government’s permissible powers to regulate private industry. Later, the Court reversed itself.
  • Telephone: In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was granted a patent for the telephone. As is the case with many innovations, a host of individuals were working simultaneously on developing the telephone. Within a year, the Bell Telephone Company was established. By the end of 1880, almost 50,000 telephones were in use in the United States. These developments greatly aided the development of corporations with a national, and even international, reach.
  • Pacific Railroad Acts: The Pacific Railroad Acts, passed in the 1860s, promoted government bonds and land grants to railroad companies to complete rail lines to the Pacific Ocean. The completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869 was a milestone in the development of a network of railroad lines that connected the far reaches of the country.

Westward Expansion: Social and Cultural Development

  • Chinese immigrants: Chinese immigrants were initially drawn to North America by the gold rush in California. By 1852, 20,000 Chinese immigrants had moved to California; by 1870, over 63,000 lived in America, with nearly eighty percent in California.
  • Chinese Exclusion Act: The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act represents the first discriminatory federal law that targeted a particular national group. It banned Chinese immigration, with the exception of a small number of job categories, for ten years. The law was later renewed and in 1902 made permanent; it was finally repealed in 1943.
  • Boomtown: Bustling towns seemed to grow overnight in parts of the West during the post–Civil War period. These towns were often populated by prospectors trying to strike it rich. As the towns grew, many women began to arrive, finding employment as boarding house owners, washerwomen, cooks, and maids. A typical boomtown was Virginia City in present-day Nevada.
  • The Indian Peace Commission: In 1867, Congress tried to negotiate an end of warring on the Great Plains by establishing the Indian Peace Commission. Although several treaties were negotiated, Congress did not consistently fund or enforce agreements made by the commission. Further, the government did not understand nor recognize the decision-making process of the different Indian groups. A primary goal of the commission was to further confine Indian groups to reservations and pursue a policy of assimilation. The commission was seen as a failure, as fighting on the Great Plains continued over the next decade.
  • The Battle of Little Bighorn: The discovery of gold in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory in 1874 brought a new wave of settlers into the northern Plains region and brought tensions to a peak. These tensions resulted in the Great Sioux War in 1876. Sioux warriors, along with Cheyanne allies, achieved a major victory over American forces at the Battle of Little Bighorn. 
  • Custer’s Last Stand: The Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, resulted in the death of General George Custer along with 225 of his men. Subsequently, U.S. forces led by General Philip Sheridan soundly defeated American Indian forces. The Lakota Sioux, the largest and most powerful tribe of the Plains Indians, were then confined to a reservation in the Dakota Territory. The defeat of the Sioux was a major turning point in the long campaign by the government of controlling the previously autonomous American Indian tribes of the Great Plains.
  • Wounded Knee: The last “battle” of the “Indian Wars” was a massacre at the Lakota reservation near Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota in 1890. U.S. forces attempted to peacefully disarm a group of Lakota Sioux Indians camped there, but soon the U.S. troops opened fire on them. More than two hundred Lakota men, women, and children were killed.

The “New South”

  • “New South:” The most prominent spokesman for a “New South” was Henry Grady, an Atlanta journalist. He argued for a mixed economy in the South that would include industrialization. He wanted to move away from the single-crop plantation agriculture of the “Old South.” There were pockets of industrialization in the South, especially textile production. However, for the most part, the promise of a “New South” proved to be hollow. For the remainder of the nineteenth century, and well into the twentieth century, the South remained mired in poverty and underdevelopment.
  • Plessy v. Ferguson: In the case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Supreme Court decided that racial segregation did not violate the equal protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision was a setback for those who sought an end to the Jim Crow system of racial segregation in the South.

Technological Innovation

  • Steel production: Steel production was key to the industrialization of the United States. Iron production grew throughout the nineteenth century and was used extensively as the railroad system developed in the United States.
  • Bessemer process: The development of the Bessemer process by the Englishman Henry Bessemer greatly reduced the cost of steel and made it available to a wide variety of industrial operations. The process, which involved blowing air into molten iron, was patented by Bessemer in 1856. By the late 1860s, a more efficient production method, called the open-hearth process, replaced the Bessemer process.

The Rise of Industrial Capitalism

  • Managerial Revolution: Large corporations developed management systems that separated top executives from managers who were responsible for day-to-day operations. This managerial revolution included modern cost-accounting procedures and the division of responsibilities. A new class of middle managers evolved in the post–Civil War period, supervising the various departments, such as purchasing, accounting, marketing, and sales. The managerial revolution also created the need for secretaries and other office workers, opening up new opportunities for women in the workforce
  • Andrew Carnegie: Andrew Carnegie came to dominate the steel industry by investing in all aspects of steel production. Carnegie Steel Company (which was sold to United States Steel in 1901) controlled not only the mills where the steel was made, but also the coal mines that supplied the coal used in steel production and the iron ore mines that supplied the base metal of steel.
  • Horizontal integration: Horizontal integration entails the merging of companies that create the same or similar products. This process can lead to a monopoly if a company captures the vast majority of the market for a particular product or service.
  • Foreign trade: Foreign trade was rapidly expanding in the Gilded Age. In 1870, American exports totaled just under $400 million. A decade later, the figure had more than doubled to over $850 million. By the turn of the twentieth century, it was $1.4 billion. In the 1880s and 1890s, several companies including Standard Oil, Eastman Kodak, and American Tobacco had established branches in other countries.

Labor in the Gilded Age

  • Gilded Age: The decades after the Civil War, often referred to as the Gilded Age, saw the growth of a well-to-do class that greatly surpassed previous wealthy classes in terms of money, cohesiveness, and power. These wealthy businessmen built gaudy mansions in exclusive urban neighborhoods and equally sumptuous summer “cottages” in Newport, Rhode Island, and other exclusive spots.
  • Child labor: Because wages for working-class men remained relatively low, families often had to supplement their incomes with children and women entering the labor force. In turn, the influx of women and children into the labor force depressed overall wages. From the 1870s until World War I, child labor grew each decade. By 1900, children, aged ten to fifteen years old, made up eighteen percent of the industrial workforce.
  • Labor battles: The fierce labor battles of the Gilded Age were almost exclusively won by management, with its near monopoly on weaponry, the support of the government and the courts, and vast numbers of poor, working-class men willing to serve as strikebreakers. These battles often occurred in the wake of announced pay cuts during the economic downturns of the 1870s and of the 1890s.
  • The Knights of Labor: A significant early union was the Knights of Labor, founded in 1869. This union welcomed all members, regardless of race, gender, or level of skill. The Knights, led by Terence V. Powderly in the late 1880s, had a broad agenda that included not only improvements in wages and hours for their workers, but also social reforms such as better safety rules and an end to child labor.
  • The American Federation of Labor: The American Federation of Labor, formed in 1886, differed from the Knights of Labor in that it included only skilled workers, the “aristocracy of labor.” It did not permit unskilled workers to join, nor did it allow African Americans or women to join. It was known as a craft union, in distinction from the Knights, which was an industrial union.

Immigration and Migration in the Gilded Age

  • The “Exoduster” Movement: Starting in the late 1870s, a movement of approximately 40,000 African Americans—labeled the “Exoduster” movement—departed from states along the western tier of the former Confederacy, crossing the Mississippi River to settle in Kansas. Smaller numbers settled in Oklahoma and Colorado. Some “Exodusters” made it only as far as Missouri.
  • New York City: In New York City, the wealthy moved uptown; elsewhere, they moved away from the urban core. In the bifurcated city, the working-class districts tended to become utterly squalid, while the wealthier areas had the nicest amenities—wider streets, large parks, and sunlight.
  • Tenement housing: Despite modest increases in wages, the working class and the poor were often crowded into substandard tenement housing in slumlike neighborhoods. The densest neighborhood in the world in the late 1800s was the Lower East Side of New York City.

Responses to Immigration in the Gilded Age

  • “Free labor” ideology: The “free labor” ideology of the pre–Civil War era put forth the idea that working for another person was a temporary condition; eventually each employee would accumulate enough money to start his own farm or shop. However, with the army of unskilled workers flooding into the emerging factory system of the late nineteenth century, it became increasingly clear that these people, and their offspring, were not going to rise to become independent entrepreneurs.
  • Social Darwinism: Social Darwinism was one attempt to defend the new social order. Social Darwinists sought to apply Charles Darwin’s ideas about the natural world to social relations. The theory was popularized in the United States by William Graham Sumner. Sumner was attracted to Darwin’s ideas about competition and “survival of the fittest.” He argued against any attempt at government intervention into the economic and social spheres, a position that favored laissez-faire (or hands-off) economic policies.
  • Settlement houses: By 1911, more than 400 settlement houses existed in the United States, usually run by women. These houses offered classes, set up employment bureaus, provided childcare facilities, and helped victims of domestic abuse. Jane Addams founded and ran Hull House in Chicago. Addams challenged prevailing societal expectations around gender and family life.

Development of the Middle Class

  • White-collar employees: In the last decades of the nineteenth century, a class of white-collar employees became essential to the successful functioning of industrial capitalism. White-collar employees saw their wages rise faster than working-class (blue-collar) men and women, and their average workday was shorter than that of laborers and factory workers.
  • New York’s Central Park: The most important park project of the nineteenth century was New York’s Central Park (1858). The design competition was won by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. The park embodies some of the contradictions of the parks movement. On the one hand, Olmsted sought to create a democratic meeting place where the city’s different classes could congregate and enjoy the benefits of nature. On the other hand, working-class advocates wondered aloud why the park was built so far from the working-class districts of the city.
  • “Gospel of Wealth:” Andrew Carnegie asserted, in his essay “Wealth” (1899), that the rich have a duty to live responsible, modest lives and to give back to society. This “gospel of wealth” asserted that successful entrepreneurs should distribute their wealth so that it could be put to good use, rather than frivolously wasted.

Reform in the Gilded Age

  • “Single tax:” Henry George was a writer, economist, and politician who was critical of the persistence of poverty in a nation of such technological and industrial progress. In his bestselling book, Progress and Poverty (1879), he criticized the vast resources, especially land, controlled by the wealthy elite. He argued for the elimination of all taxes, except for a “single tax” on the value of land. Land becomes valuable, he argued, due the activities of the society around the land; the benefits of these social activities should therefore accrue to the public, not to idle land owners.
  • Anarchism and Socialism: Many Americans began to question the basic assumptions of capitalism and embraced alternative ideologies, such as anarchism and socialism. These radical ideas never gained the number of adherents in the United States that they did in Europe. Occasionally, conservative newspapers and politicians exaggerated the strength of these movements in the United States. Newspapers often conflated the labor movement in general with these “dangerous” movements in order to delegitimize or stigmatize the labor movement.

Controversies Over the Role of Government in the Gilded Age

  • Laissez-faire: In the face of calls for reform and regulation of industrial capitalism in the Gilded Age, opponents of regulation argued that laissez-faire policies promoted economic growth. The French phrase laissez-faire means “to let alone.” It describes a government policy that would take a hands-off approach to regulating economic activities.
  • The Sherman Antitrust Act: The Sherman Antitrust Act (1890) was the first attempt by Congress to keep monopolistic practices in check. The act made it illegal for firms to make agreements with one another that limit competition. Also it became illegal for a particular firm to engage in practices that are designed to establish a monopoly in a particular field. The idea of the law was to encourage competition in the economy and to protect consumers from abusive practices.

Politics in the Gilded Age

  • The Populist Party: The Populist Party, which was born in 1892, was able to harness growing discontent following the Panic of 1893 and gave a voice to a radical program for change that included increased democracy, a graduated income tax, regulation of the railroads, and currency reform. The Populists insisted that the amount of currency in circulation was insufficient.
  • “Cross of Gold” speech: William Jennings Bryan ran for president in 1896 on the ticket of the Democratic Party. He broke with the more conservative elements in the party and endorsed the call for the “free and unlimited coinage” of silver. In his famous “Cross of Gold” speech, he promised not to let the American people be crucified “upon a cross of gold.”
  • Civil-service reform: Civil-service reform became a major issue in the late nineteenth century. The civil service is the workforce of government employees. Attempts were made to remove nepotism and cronyism from government hiring practices. Reformers in the 1880s pushed for civil-service jobs to be allocated to the most qualified people rather than to allies and relatives of powerful politicians.
  • The Pendleton Act: Congress finally passed the Pendleton Act in 1883 to set up a merit-based federal civil service, a professional career service that allots government jobs on the basis of a competitive exam. This system still covers most of the bureaucratic jobs in the federal government.
  • “Political machines:” Politics in major cities came to be dominated by “political machines.” In the aftermath of the Civil War, political parties on the local level created smooth-running organizations whose purpose was to achieve and maintain political power. Political ideology was barely a concern in these bare-knuckled electoral contests.
  • The Temperance Campaign: The movement to ban alcohol from American society was one of the largest reform movements in the nineteenth century. The Anti-Saloon League (founded in 1895) and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (founded in 1874) headed the temperance campaign in the early twentieth century. The temperance movement was especially popular among women.