How did "boundaries of American freedom" grow narrower during the 1890s?

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Frederick Jackson Turner proclaimed the "end of the frontier" in the 1890s. While land was still quite cheap, there was less unclaimed land in the territories. Railroads, telephones, and telegraphs were linking the nation in ways never seen before, so it was harder for someone to move West and "disappear."

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Frederick Jackson Turner proclaimed the "end of the frontier" in the 1890s. While land was still quite cheap, there was less unclaimed land in the territories. Railroads, telephones, and telegraphs were linking the nation in ways never seen before, so it was harder for someone to move West and "disappear."

Plessy v. Ferguson made segregation legal as the court ruled in favor of "separate but equal" facilities; however, segregation had long been a custom in many parts of the South. The Supreme Court's ruling only legalized something that had existed for generations. This denied many African Americans opportunities, and the only jobs available to them were often in manual labor.

Workers felt constricted with the 1893 Depression. This would be one of the greatest economic disasters in history before the Great Depression. Workers were laid off in droves and many had their hours cut. Without the secret ballot, many workers were intimidated into backing gold-standard bearer William McKinley over William Jennings Bryan—who promised to champion the lower classes.

By 1890, nearly all Native Americans had been placed on reservations. The government attempted to assimilate them to white culture while giving them substandard equipment and accommodations. Indian schools tried to eradicate native culture and language from young Native Americans.

While there were still many freedoms available in the 1890s—as the government had not started to intervene in the economy—life was still quite harsh for people in the lower strata of American society.

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One way in which American freedoms were limited in the 1890s was the curtailment of American Indians' rights. In 1890, the 7th Cavalry killed many Indian women, men, and children from the Sioux tribe at Wounded Knee in South Dakota. As a result, the Sioux were effectively routed from some of their ancestral lands and were weakened as a tribe.

In addition, corporations triumphed over unions and workers during much of the decade. For example, in the Homestead Strike of 1892, striking steel workers were attacked by Pinkerton guards hired by Andrew Carnegie. Homestead was one of the factories he owned as part of the Carnegie Steel Corporation. As a result of the failed strike, the union workers were replaced by non-union workers, and the power of the union was weakened.

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One way the boundaries of American freedom grew narrower in the 1890s was through the 1896 Supreme Court decision in the case Plessy vs. Ferguson. This case challenged southern segregation laws, particularly a Louisiana law requiring people of different races to travel in separate railway cars. In what is considered one of the worst decisions the Supreme Court ever made, the justices decided that segregation was legal, as long as each race had facilities of equal quality.

Of course, blacks were not afforded facilities of equal quality, and their freedoms were narrowed by the decision that public segregation was constitutional. It would be almost another sixty years before the Supreme Court overturned this decision.

The 1890s were also a period of economic depression, in those days called "panic." The panic of 1893 was due to the collapse of overvalued railroad stocks. This led to economic hardship and a series of coal mine strikes as well as a Pullman strike which, in turn, led to violence on the part of businesses and restrictions on the union activities. Federal troops, for example, shut down the Pullman strike.

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The 1890s are not typically seen as a time of great repression.  However, if you want to argue that American freedom was limited during that time, you should focus on the rights of workers to form unions and fight for better wages and conditions.

There were major strikes during the 1890s that were crushed using violence as well as government action.  Important examples include the Homestead Strike and the Pullman Strike.  The Sherman Antitrust Act was used against unions, leading to things like a 6-month jail sentence for Eugene V. Debs.  The crushing on the unions through violence and through laws can be seen as a curtailment of American freedoms.

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