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Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900by Jack Beatty
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter 1: Annihilating Space
There have been two great dispensations of civilization, the Greek & Christian and now comes the railroad.
southern textile mill owner, 1853
Julius Caesar regularized the calendar in 46 B.C. Pope Gregory XIII reformed it in 1582. King George III subtracted eleven days from the British calendar nearly 200 years later. On November 18, 1883, America's railroad corporations stopped time.
In the 1850s Americans set their watches to eighty local times-thirty-eight in Wisconsin alone, twenty-seven in Indiana, twenty-three in Illinois. Noon in Chicago was 11:27 A.M. in Omaha, 11:50 A.M. in St. Louis, 12:09 P.M. in Louisville, and 12:31 P.M. in Pittsburgh. An 1883 railway gazetteer included time conversion tables for over 8,000 stations. Fingers plowed the ink off dark columns of type, plotting a route across the temporal Babel.
Yet, perhaps because few Americans traveled far, most of them tolerated this time quilt, to judge by the letters column of the New York Times, which printed seven letters of travelers' complaints in fifteen years. Basically, Americans took nature's word for time: Noon arrived when the sun looked nearest to being overhead, at times that differed with locations. (A movement of one degree around the earth's surface-about 48 miles due east or west in the United States—changes local time four minutes, according to one authority.) Town clocks, to be sure, were set not by sundials but by almanacs that averaged the sun's variations over months and years. A scattering of localities rented astronomically precise time from observatories, which wired them through Western Union.
These innovations, however, only welded time more firmly to place. I]t would appear to be as difficult to alter by edict the ideas and habits of the people in regard to local time, a U.S. Senate report concluded in 1882, as it would be to introduce among them novel systems of weights and] measures.” The Senate failed to reckon with a self-sovereign power that, having annihilated space-a railroad-boomer verb phrase—sought dominion over time. The sun told time from Genesis to 12:01 A.M. on November 18, 1883, when the railroads dispensed with it. The sun, the Indianapolis Centennial commented, “is no longer to boss the job.” Fifty-five million people “must eat, sleep, and work as well as travel by railroad time. . . . The sun will be requested to rise and set by railroad time. The planets must, in the future, make their circuits by such timetables as railroad magnates arrange. 1]
Those magnates rode the mystique of progress. The founding of the Greenwich observatory in 1848 stimulated a worldwide movement to standardize time in zones of longitude. That Greenwich promoted itself as the prime meridian consternated the French, who urged Paris. 2] American time chauvinists likewise objected to “John Bull's time.” The railroads themselves only slowly came around to the idea. Rate wars undermined their will to cooperate. As competition yielded to consolidation, resistance weakened.
At an 1883 railway time convention, William F. Allen, the editor of the Traveler's Official Guide to railways, used two maps to show railroad managers the advantages of standardizing time. One depicted the prevailing forty-nine
Capturing a world of social unrest and upheaval, a study of America's Gilded Age offers a fresh analysis of a post-Civil War era marked by corrupt politicians, racism, a tyranny of wealth, the power of the business world over the rights of workers, labor unrest, violence, and the corporate rule of government. 40,000 first printing.
Age of Betrayal is a brilliant reconsideration of America's first Gilded Age, when war-born dreams of freedom and democracy died of their impossibility. Focusing on the alliance between government and railroads forged by bribes and campaign contributions, Jack Beatty details the corruption of American political culture that, in the words of Rutherford B. Hayes, transformed “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people” into “a government by the corporations, of the corporations, and for the corporations.” A passionate, gripping, scandalous and sorrowing history of the triumph of wealth over commonwealth.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and news analyst for On Point, a National Public Radio news and public affairs program. He is the author of The Rascal King, winner of an American Book Award, as well as the editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America. He lives in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Table of Contents
Annihilating space — Rome of the railroads — "Vote yourself a tariff" — "Vote yourself a farm" — The inverted Constitution — The scandal of Santa Clara — Anti-democracy — Tom Scott, political capitalist — Bread or blood — The politics of the future — Revolution from above — Mississippi and the American way.
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