Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5




1890. By John A. Garraty. (New York:

Harper & Row, 1968. xv ?? 364p.; edi-

tor's introduction, preface, illustrations,

bibliographical essay, and index. $7.95,

$2.25 paper.)

With the welcome appearance of Profes-

sor Garraty's masterful synthesis and re-

evaluation of the Hayes to Harrison period

of our national development, we have the

most important study of these highly sig-

nificant, but long neglected years since the

1930's when Ida M. Tarbell and Arthur M.

Schlesinger, Sr., wrote companion volumes

covering 1878 to 1898 for the pioneering

History of American Life series.

Garraty's work is richly documented, evi-

dences a thorough grasp of primary sources

and secondary materials, and offers greater

detail than Robert Wiebe's more broadly

conceived and thought-provoking The

Search for Order, 1877-1920 (1967). The

New Commonwealth, 1877-1890 is also far

better balanced in its approach than either

of two other recent interpretations repre-

sentative of the growing revival of interest

in the 1870's and 1880's: Ray Ginger's The

Age of Excess (1965) and Fred A. Shan-

non's posthumously published The Centen-

nial Years (1967). The present work estab-

lishes a major turn in our historical under-

standing of an era traditionally portrayed

as one wholly dominated by an economic

revolution, tragically handicapped ineffec-

tive politicos, and cultural deprivation.

This harsh appraisal is considerably soft-

ened by Garraty who terms these years the

time when the United States became a mod-

ern nation.

The New Commonwealth, a volume in

The New American Nation Series, bears

scant resemblance to its predecessor in the

old American Nation set of the early

1900's, which concentrated heavily upon

political history and foreign affairs. The

extent of the broadening of the concept of

history during the last sixty years and the

impact of issues relevant to today's society

upon historical writing is clearly reflected

in Garraty's organization and emphasis. In

eight lengthy chapters, brimming with sta-

tistics and examples, he pictures first, the

social milieu, and then turns to the great

forces working beneath "the glitter and the

gold" of the age which transformed iso-

lated, rural, agrarian, and nativist America

into the urban and industrial world of the

twentieth century. He stresses a growing in-

stitutionalization of American life, whether

the trend away from individualism toward

increased reliance upon group action was

in agriculture, industry, corporate develop-

ment, the rise of unions, or the growth of

government bureaucracy. Urbanization and

immigration receive extended analysis. Fi-

nally, the author includes an excellent re-

visionist resume of presidential politics and

changing patterns of social thought in the

Gilded Age. In his massive sweep through

a busy and formative age, one misses only

an in-depth discussion of the cultural and

artistic achievements of the time, purposely

excluded because these topics will be cov-

ered in a forthcoming volume by John Wil-

liam Ward.

In his reassessment Garraty inclines to

the side of the industrial statesman rather

than the robber baron thesis, cites as de-

cided accomplishments the prevalence of

large-scale philanthropy and the spread of

mass education, and praises the achieve-

ments of science and technology. He singles

out great painters, like Eakins and Homer,

and able architects, like Richardson and

Sullivan, to counteract charges of cultural

poverty. Two of his best chapters deal with

political history, supposedly a topic better

left alone for the period in question. He

deftly explains the remarkable party equi-

librium of the era, and re-ranks the Presi-

dents, with Hayes and Garfield gaining in