Discussion #3: The late 19th-century self-made man.


Industrialization brought great wealth to America, but the price was  quite high. The growing extremes of poverty and wealth that were being  exhibited at the end of the 19th century, caused some to seek ways to  make possible a just and humane society, while others sought  justification for the emerging social order. The promise of success was  made, promoting the idea that America was the land of opportunity and  that hard work led to success. Social Darwinism was used to provide a  scientific explanation for why some acquired great wealth while others  barely survived. Rags-to-riches stories presented a picture of the  opportunities that were available to all, and the success of the  self-made man.

In order to prepare for this discussion forum:

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  • Review and identify the relevant sections of Chapter 19, that support your discussion.
  • Review background information on the works of Horatio Alger Jr., and read one of his short stories: Ragged Dick, available on this linked site. http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/gilded/people/text3/alger.pdf
  • Read this selection from Andrew Carnegie’s the Gospel of Wealth on this link.
  • Read this brief selection on Social Darwinism,  written by Herbert Spencer, 1857, who applied Darwin’s theories of  evolution to society. He also coined the phrase “survival of the  fittest.”

After you have completed your readings post your response to ONE of the topics in the following question:

  1. How would you respond to someone who presents you with the arguments proposed by Social Darwinists, OR the stories written by Horatio Alger, OR Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth (choose ONLY ONE of these),  to explain the success or failures of individuals in the society? What  evidence would you use to support your position? For this discussion,  you must first identify and present their arguments, and then your  counterargument. As you collect your information for this discussion you  should keep in mind the opportunities that were available to many, but  also the climate of racism that permeated parts of the American society  and the legalized discrimination that existed.

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