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American Cultural History
19th Century - 1850 - 1859
Presidents: Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan | Population: 23,000,000 | Statehood: California, Minnesota, Oregon
About the 19th Century Decades Pages
In 1800 everyday life had changed little since the year 1000. By 1900 the Industrial Revolution had transformed the world's economy. To see the whole picture, we encourage users to browse all the way through these decades. Then visit the suggested links for more information. As librarians, we must point out that the best way to immerse oneself in a topic is to use both Internet and the library. ENJOY!
It was mid-century and the states were brewing over slavery. | The population in 1850 was 23,000,000 - 3.2 million were black slaves | Stowe published Uncle Tom's Cabin | The harsh Fugitive Slave Bill was passed | A Supreme Court decision on the Dred Scott v Sandford case was a setback for antislavery forces | In 1859 the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry was seized by John Brown and 21 followers | The first oil well was drilled in Titusville, Pa. | A transcontinental railroad survey was authorized | A world's fair was held at the newly opened Crystal Palace in New York City | William Stuart of Connecticut became one of the best-known counterfeiters in American history | Immigration from Europe increased | 2 million people arrived in America, mostly from Europe | Gambling and baseball continued as favorite American pastimes.
During the 1850s American artists were acquiring reputations in Europe. Greek architecture and sculptures dominated. Hiram Powers, sculptor, exibited his marble Greek Slave in 1851 at London's newly completed Crystal Palace. Henry Kirke Brown's equestrian sculpture masterpiece, George Washington, was unveiled in NYC. The funding was provided by $500 subscriptions from art patrons. Horatio Greenough continued creating his sculptures during the period. Greek Revival architectural style came to its end with a new wing to the Capitol in Washington, designed by Thomas U. Walter. New York's Crystal Palace was built in 1853. It was constructed of cast iron and glass and had the largest dome yet erected in the U.S. One of the first fireproof buildings was constructed for Harper & Brothers publishing headquarters. St. Patrick's Cathedral , Gothic style, was begun by James Renwick (completed in 1879.) Elisha Graves Otis invented the first trustworthy elevator.Taller buildings built with iron and steel were the trend.
Artists traveled west and used lithographs to record what they saw. Men like John Woodhouse Audubon, and Charles Koppel became well know for their illustrations. Isaac Augustus Wetherby lithographed caricatures of members of the Democratic Party and sold them at seven cents each. He also experimented in early daguerreotypes and painted portraits of subjects live and dead. Mathew Brady published his daguerreotypes, Gallery of Illustrious Americans. Landscapes continued to grow in popularity. They depicted American scenes by artists as Frederic Church, Thomas Moran and others. A vogue for romantic and emotional paintings was begun. The works of Thomas P. Rossiter included Miriam Dancing before the Hosts, Return of the Dove to the Ark and Morn, Noon, and Evening in Eden. American decorative arts included Sandwich glass. The Hudson River School continued during this period. Winslow Homer began his artistic career with wood engravings printed in Harpers Weekly.
The Uniting States: The Story of Statehood for the Fifty United States "JK2408 .U65 2004
Books which altered the thinking of the time:
The Columbian Orator pub. Caleb Bingham
My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass
Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth
The Promise of the Father by Phoebe Palmer
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin
Henry David Thoreau published Walden, or Life in the Woods. Longfellow's poetry was popular, poems like The Song of Hiawatha and The Courtship of Miles Standish. Walt Whitman wrote and published Leaves of Grass. Oliver Wendell Holmes published the witty Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. In 1855, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations was published by John Bartlett, a Cambridge, Mass. bookstore owner.
Sentimental or domestic fiction grew even more popular, especially with women readers. A popular male author in the sentimental (romantic) genre was Donald Grant Mitchell, who wrote Reveries of a Bachelor: A Book of the Heart, which sold more than a million copies by the end of the century. Mary Jane Holmes published 39 novels during her lifetime, including the sentimental Tempest and Sunshine; or Life in Kentucky and later Lena Rivers, which sold over 1,000,000 copies. Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth, the popular novelist, published The Hidden Hand which sold nearly 2,000,000 copies.
William Andrus Alcott wrote more than 100 home health books, including The Home Book of Life and Health. Religious tracts (brochures) were everywhere in the nineteenth century and anti-abolition tracts began being published in both the north and south. A novel, Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and What I Saw There by Timothy Shay Arthur, promoted temperance and sold over 1,000,000 copies in the first few years of publication..
Harper's Monthly Magazine began its publication and contained serializations of novels of Dickens, Trollope, George Eliot and Thackery, British authors, who were paid more by Harper's than by British publications. The Atlantic Monthly was founded in 1857. The first issues of newspapers were published in the west, included the The Weekly Oregonian and The Deseret News in Salt Lake City, published by the Mormon Church. The New York Times (first known as the New York Daily News) began publication. Una was published in Washington, D.C. by Paulina Wright Davis and was a magazine supporting women's suffrage.
In 1850, the
mean-center of population in the United States was no longer Baltimore,
Maryland, but the town of Parkersburg on the Ohio River in what was then western
Virginia. This trend continued. The beginning of the decade had
seen 44,000 people make the trek to California, and by 1852 that state's population had increased
fifteen times in only four years. The settlers in Michigan
pushed northward toward the Great Lakes. The discovery of gold in Colorado
precipitated the Pike's Peak
Gold Rush in 1858 as people were once more lured to an area by the hope
of instant riches. These moves were never easy. Diseases such as smallpox, typhoid,
and malaria, and accidents such as drownings, shootings, and wagon mishaps were the main killers on the overland trails. Only 4% of the about 10,000 fatalities were due to Indian raids. The pioneer's choice of a final place to settle
often hinged on whether a particular location
was considered healthy. One result of population shift in the country
was increased tension between the North and the South. With the admission
of Minnesota and Oregon to the Union, there was no longer a balance between
free and slave states.
Between 1851 and 1860, 2,639,752 souls sought a new life in America. Most were still of European origin, but many Chinese came to the West Coast during the gold rush period. Most settled in the San Francisco area. The two nationalities coming to the United States in the largest numbers continued to be the Irish and the Germans. The Irish mainly entered the country at New York City or Boston. Unable to afford further transportation, they remained in these cities, often in deplorable conditions. They worked at menial jobs - the men as ditch diggers, miners, or construction workers; the women as maids, clothes washers, or cooks. Germans settled in farming communities in the midwest and were slow to assimilate. Nativism, or hostility to immigrants, continued to be prevalent in American culture.
The 1850's saw more states providing free public education as the Indiana (1852), Ohio (1854) , Illinois (1855), and Minnesota (1858) legislatures passed the necessary laws. Massachusetts enacted the "Compulsory Attendance Act of 1852" which required that all children between the ages of eight and fourteen attend school at least three months of each year.
Three years later, in 1855, Massachusetts abolished segregation in its schools, the first state in the Union to do so. Margarethe Schurz founded the first kindergarten in the United States in 1856 at Watertown, Wisconsin. Her German speaking kindergarten class was based on the ideas of Friedrich Froebel. Henry Barnard began the American Journal of Education in 1854. 1857 saw the founding of the National Teachers Association, forerunner of the National Education Association, by 45 teachers and educators in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Charles Loring Brace, a missionary for the Children's Aid Society in New York City, advocated sending slum children to live on farms in the West as an alternative to the state reform schools. These relocations were known as the Orphan Trains. By 1860 as many as 5,000 children had been sent to the West under this program. Public education in the South continued to lag behind that in the rest of the country. Only four of the states in that region (North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama) had public schools. Most poor white children attended one-room school houses or were taught the basic 3 "R's" in their homes. Most black children received no education at all.
Antoinette Brown became the first woman in the country to complete courses for a degree in theology but was denied her college degree in the subject by Oberlin College in 1850; she finally received it 28 years later. In Philadelphia, the Female Medical College was founded by the Quakers. The Cooper Union in New York City became the first college to ban discrimination based on race, religion or color. Michigan State University became the first land- grant college in 1855. A plethora of universities had their beginnings between 1850 and 1859. Among them were University of Utah (1850), Oregon State University (1850), Northwestern University (1851), University of Minnesota (1851), College of the Pacific (1851), Antioch College (1852), College of California which became the University of California (1855), and Iowa State University (1858). Higher education was becoming available all across the country.
IN THE NEWS
FLASH! Lincoln makes speech stating, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."FLASH! Fugitive Slave Bill introduced FLASH! The Arabia, a Cunard steamer, crosses Atlantic in nine and a half days! FLASH! Chicago baseball teams formed! FLASH! Fire in San Francisco destroys 2500 buildings.FLASH! Horace Greely wins contest for "The Philosophy of Advertising." FLASH! Matrimonial agencies gain popularity. Ad reads, "CHEAP WIVES for poor and deserving young men"...particular attention paid to the matching of temperaments. Another, "Two well-educated young men would like to make acquaintance with two young ladies with a view to matrimony." FLASH! Tightroper walker, Charles Blondin, crossed Niagra Falls, alone, then with a man on his back, pushing a wheel barrel and then walking on stilts. Yikes! FLASH! Godey's Lady's Book features a section called "Employment for Women."
P. T. Barnum coaxed Jenny Lind to the US with the astronomical sum of $187,000. His publicity campaign included her virtuous Christian character, the prestige of opera singing, and reports of huge enthusiastic crowds and the scarcity of tickets despite the cost, $225 on opening day. Her popularity was immense until she married her accompanist, Otto Goldschmidt. When a French pianist, Henri Herz, performed in San Francisco, the box office had to have scales to weigh the gold dust with which spectators bought their tickets. Heinrich Steinweg moved from Germany to the US in 1853 and established his piano manufacturing business in New York.
When Stephen Foster, still relatively unknown in 1851, wrote "Old Folks at Home," he asked the more famous E. P Christy of the Christy Minstrels to claim the composition. By 1855, Foster was the best known composer in America. Most composers received little if any remuneration. Minstrel music helped to humanize blacks in the eyes of the northerners, feeding the growing antislavery movement. At the same time, slavery was no longer a joking matter and songs became less contentious, more likely to show an idealistic life back on the plantation such as "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Darling Nelly Gray." Soon after Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, it was adapted for stage.
John Sullivan Dwight, father of American musical criticism, established Dwight's Journal of Music in 1852. He tried to improve American musical taste, championing Beethoven, Bach, Mozart & Chopin. Popular music included:
Picnics were popular in the 1850’s. Food might include crackers, cold boiled ham and tea. Fried potatoes, or potato chips, would be a welcome treat. Tin plates and cups were used for serving the picnic food. In 1855, baking powder was patented by Eben Horsford. A delicious cake could be served at the picnic or at home.
During this decade, fabrics with stripes and patterns were used in fashionable clothing. Women also began wearing hoops or cage crinolines under their dresses. Bo Peep or poke bonnets were popular throughout this period, and older women continued to wear them for decades afterward. Frankness and easiness of manners were considered desirable traits. Temperence, abolitionism and women's rights were the focus of attention and pastimes were frowned upon as wasteful. Women, however, could indulge in knitting and feel that their time was well used. When Texan Nancy Millar Alley passed away, she left a trunkful of unworn socks.
As more of the country was explored and settled,
many states launched
geological surveys to determine what they had for natural resources. G. K. Warren
compiled all known geographic information into a map of the United States from
the Mississippi to the Pacific. Oil was
discovered in Pennsylvania. Camels
were tried as a means of transportation in Texas but they found the rocky soil
Rudimentary contraception [such as douching, or the pessaire or pisser] and abortion [with cathartic powders and the "infallible French female pills"] aside, the birthrate for an average American couple was 5.42. At the same time, Doctors were not very adept at diagnosing coma, and fear of premature burial led to bizarre funeral customs, including shovels and pickaxes in the coffin to allow the dead person to dig himself out, and Bateson's Revival Device, a bell above ground with a pull rope attached to the deceased's hand.
Elias Howe revolutionized the manufacture of clothing with the invention of the sewing machine. In 1852, the Studebaker Company was formed to build wagons. Throughout the decade, the brothers used their Yankee ingenuity to build wagons better and faster. Elisha Otis designed the Safety Elevator in 1853, demonstrating its security by standing atop the elevator and cutting its cable, and the first Translantic Cable was laid from Ireland to Newfoundland in 1858. On a more personal note, William Campbell and James Henry took out a patent in 1857 for a Plunger Closet, now known as a toilet.
Missionaries and migration went hand in hand across the west, reaching California during the
gold rush period when thousands of people from all walks of life settled
the new territory. Diversity of culture
was a natural result of the mix of people. California
was a vital hub for the extension of Protestantism
to the Orient. By challenging evangelical
missions, the California
experience set the stage for theological shifts later in the century. In
also called the Know-Nothing Party or the American
party, swept the California state elections. Black churches were important
to the newly forming black communities in California and other western
areas. Jewish bankers and merchants helped establish stability in
newly forming communities. Anti-semitism was less apparent in the West
than other regions. Lack of structure made all outsiders, insiders.
Overall, what dominated the American West was the democratization of American
The religious terrain was populist. Religion responded
to the spiritual needs and life circumstances of ordinary people. The
right to choose one's faith was empowering, not liberating. Spiritualists of all types flourished between 1850-1859. Temperance societies continued
to grow during the 50's. The Young Men's
Christian Association began in Boston in 1851 and New York City in
In Utah, a different form of migration had created a type of isolation from the other American territories. Brigham Young's Mormon settlement in the Salt Lake valley had grown and prospered. Polygamy was publicly encouraged by Brigham Young and treated as both incumbent upon members and a privilege. In 1857, fearing an invasion by federal soldiers, Mormons and their allies, the Utes, attacked a wagon train and killed 120 California bound settlers. In 1858, President Buchanan ordered an expedition of 2,500 soldiers to Utah in order to assert federal authority over the Mormons until they were being recalled at the beginning of the Civil War. Buchanan later pardoned the Mormons.
Abolitionists and pro-slavery groups continued to clash in the already established states of the Union. Part of the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act, required citizens to assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves and denied a fugitive's right to a jury trial. This added to the resolve of abolitionists to end slavery in America. Religions would divide over slavery. Women of color supported the women's rights movement in speeches such as Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I A Woman?" given at the 1851 Women's Rights convention in Akron, Ohio. Men also supported the women's movement.
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