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Chicago in the Age of Capital

Class, Politics, and Democracy during the Civil War and Reconstruction

John B. Jentz

Publication Year: 2012

In this sweeping interpretive history of mid-nineteenth-century Chicago, historians John B. Jentz and Richard Schneirov boldly trace the evolution of a modern social order. Combining a mastery of historical and political detail with a sophisticated theoretical frame, Jentz and Schneirov examine the dramatic capitalist transition in Chicago during the critical decades from the 1850s through the 1870s, a period that saw the rise of a permanent wage worker class and the formation of an industrial upper class._x000B__x000B_Jentz and Schneirov demonstrate how a new political economy, based on wage labor and capital accumulation in manufacturing, superseded an older mercantile economy that relied on speculative trading and artisan production. The new social movements that arose in this era--labor, socialism, urban populism, businessmen's municipal reform, Protestant revivalism, and women's activism--constituted the substance of a new post-bellum democratic politics that took shape in the 1860s and '70s. When the Depression of 1873 brought increased crime and financial panic, Chicago's new upper class developed municipal reform in an attempt to reassert its leadership. Setting local detail against a national canvas of partisan ideology and the seismic structural shifts of Reconstruction, Chicago in the Age of Capital vividly depicts the upheavals integral to building capitalism.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The Working Class in American History

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

In its conception and its writing, this book has been a collaborative project with continuous and systematic interaction between the authors. Over time, we have developed a bond...

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pp. 1-12

In 1821, James Madison predicted that, with the exhaustion of the country’s reservoir of open land, Americans would face the prospect of rising inequality, including “a dependence...

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1. The City

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pp. 13-52

During the winter of 1869, an article in the Chicago Daily Tribune found that “in our principal thoroughfares the richly-dressed lady of the avenue magnificently sweeps...

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2. The Internationale of the Citizen Workers: From Slavery to the Labor Question

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pp. 53-80

Reflecting on the imminent Fourth of July celebration in 1865, the Chicago Tribune felt that a bridge had been built between the two great revolutionary periods of American...

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3. The Eight-Hour Day and the Legitimacy of Wage Labor

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pp. 81-116

On a sunny Wednesday, May 1, 1867, over five thousand workers marched to the lakefront in Chicago to support the eight-hour working day recently written into Illinois law. The sidewalks were thronged with workingmen, who “loudly cheered” the procession...

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4. Chicago's Immigrant Working Class and the Rise of Urban Populism, 1867–73

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pp. 117-154

In January 1872—three months after the Great Fire—Anton Hesing, Chicago’s German political boss, organized a protest against the city government’s effort to ban new wooden housing in the city as a fire control measure. The protesters thought that...

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5. Class and Politics during the Depression of the 1870s

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pp. 155-193

The economic depression combined with Chicago’s notorious cold weather to make the winter of 1873–74 especially severe. On the afternoon of December 31, 1873, a crowd of about...

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6. Combat in the Streets: The Railroad Strike of 1877 and Its Consequences

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pp. 194-219

In the summer of 1877, the United States experienced its first national strike, an unorganized, spontaneous rebellion of working people in cities from Baltimore and Pittsburgh to St. Louis...

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7. Regime Change

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pp. 220-246

More than any single person or institution, Democratic Mayor Carter Harrison pacified class relations in Chicago, freeing the city’s capitalists to accumulate wealth without...


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pp. 247-294


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pp. 295-310

About the Author, Further Reading, Production Notes, Back Cover

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p. 311-311

E-ISBN-13: 9780252093951
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252036835

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: The Working Class in American History

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Labor -- Illinois -- Chicago -- History -- 19th century.
  • Working class -- Illinois -- Chicago -- History -- 19th century.
  • Capitalism -- Illinois -- Chicago -- History -- 19th century.
  • Industrialization -- Illinois -- Chicago -- History -- 19th century.
  • Chicago (Ill.) -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Chicago (Ill.) -- Economic conditions -- 19th century.
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