By Brian Roberts
California through the gold rush used to be a spot of disputed claims, shoot-outs, playing halls, and prostitution; a spot populated by means of that tough and rebellious determine, the forty-niner; in brief, a spot that turns out completely unconnected to middle-class tradition. In American Alchemy, notwithstanding, Brian Roberts deals a shocking problem to this assumption.
Roberts issues to a long-neglected fact of the gold rush: the various northeastern forty-niners who ventured westward have been in truth middle-class in foundation, prestige, and values. Tracing the reports and adventures either one of those males and of the "unseen" forty-niners--women who stayed again East whereas their husbands went out West--he exhibits that, no matter what else the gold seekers deserted at the street to California, they didn't easily flip their backs on middle-class culture.
Ultimately, Roberts argues, the tale instructed the following unearths an ignored bankruptcy within the historical past of the formation of the center classification. whereas the purchase of respectability displays one level during this background, he says, the gold rush constitutes a moment stage--a uprising opposed to criteria of respectability.
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Extra resources for American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class Culture
But here is where they faced a serious problem. For according to many observers of the time, gold seeking was not an activity for respectable men, and California was no place for the reﬁnement of parlor culture. As one article in a Newark paper described it, ‘‘vice of every kind, and in the most horrible forms’’ prevailed throughout the gold country. There, claimed the article’s author, the easy availability of wealth had unleashed a cycle of greed and debauchery. The pattern would be36 D california gold and filthy lucre come familiar with repetition: typical miners, in this case ‘‘runaway sailors,’’ were gathering gold dust, returning to town, paying eight dollars per bottle of liquor, having sprees, going broke, and returning to the foothills to start the process again.
Thirty of these men—again, about one-third of the whole—were deﬁnitely married prior to the rush. All had solid social, economic, and family moorings in the East. Statistics revealing that a high percentage of gold seekers had ﬁrm economic ties, that many were married or came from white-collar or skilled occupations, may not be true indicators that they were members of a solid middle class. Occupation was a ﬂuid concept at this time, and frequently not a measure of economic or social position. Many of the men who listed artisanal trades as their occupations might have already made a transition to middle-class status, becoming employers of shoemakers rather than cobblers themselves.
Upstairs, he had his living quarters, along with quarters for his family and workers. Here this diverse household slept, ate, talked, and lived together as a type of extended family. ∞Ω In the 1830s and 1840s, the traditional ties of this corporate family structure underwent a slow process of fragmentation. Traditional concep- california gold and filthy lucre d 25 tions of a wider, extended family broke down, to be replaced by new standards emphasizing privatization and the separation of work, along with workers, from the home.
American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class Culture by Brian Roberts