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Summing Up, Looking Forward


Summing Up, Looking Forward As the 19th century came to a close, prominent figures and institutions offered up their assessments as to how it would best be remembered and predicted what the 20th century held in store.

Comparing 1900 to 1800, Americans were reminded that at the beginning of the 19th century there were no railroads, telegraphs, steamboats, electricity, kerosene, telephones, reapers, plumbing, or photography. The world had changed more over those 100 years than ever before. And change was happening at such a rate as to make many people uneasy. Historians speak of people being made to feel small in the face of systems that confounded their intelligence. Opinion varied as to what the most beneficial legacy of the 19th century would be. The Reverend Newell Dwight Hillis delighted in observing that "for the first time government, invention, art, industry, and religion have served all the people rather than the patrician classes." Elihu Root was certain the finest achievement of the century had been the discovery of the process for making Bessemer steel. The Indianapolis Journal opined, "No single feature of 19th century progress has been more remarkable or more significant of advancing civilization than the improvement in the condition of the working classes." The Washington Post cautioned that despite "all our progress of luxury and knowledge...we have not been lifted by so much as a fraction of an inch above the level of the darkest ages... The last 100 years have wrought no change in the passions, the cruelties, and the barbarous impulses from the savagery of the Middle Ages. We enter a new century equipped with every wonderful device of science and art...(but) the pirate, the savage, and the tyrant still survives."

In gazing into the future, there were made rosy proclamations and stern warnings. Writing in the Atlantic Monthly, historian Brook Adams predicted that the US's leadership role in the world would be both a blessing and a burden: "There is not room in the economy of the world for two centers of wealth and empire. One...in the end will destroy the other." On a similar note, the Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal warned of Russian expansion: "Europe is not yet all Cossack, but danger seems as great as it did to Napoleon."
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