Standing at Armageddon

A discussion of N.I. Painter’s book, Standing at Armageddon: the United States, 1877-1919.

The end of the 19th century in the United States brought immense change: the exponential growth of industrialization and decline of farming; the influx of immigrants into the factories and second-generation integration into socio-economic arenas; the awakening of women as equal partners; a radical change in political outlook; the emphasis on social reform; the rise and fall of civil rights; the increasing impact of organized labor; and the interaction between international issues and domestic policies. In short, it was a time of total unrest, upheaval, and movement. This paper shows how, in less than 400 pages, Nell Irvin Painter captures the turmoil of moving from an agrarian society to an urban, industrial one, leaving the reader greatly impressed with the accomplishments of this age, but saddened as well with the negative consequences.
However, difficulties arose when trying to pass legislation. Essentially, the farmers were a very heterogeneous group, from poor sharecroppers to well-to-do planters, whose ideas often conflicted. As a result, the Populists or people’s party was formed to support such issues as government ownership of railroads and telegraphs, more land grants given to settlers, flexible currency based on silver, graduated income tax, postal savings banks, direct elections and an eight-hour day. The corporation has been placed above the individual, stressed Populist presidential candidate General Weaver, and an armed body of cruel mercenaries permitted in times of public peril to discharge police duties which clearly belong to the State (Painter, 99).