How Important Was Social Class in the 19th Century?

Social class was key in the development of 19th-century America due to the establishment of the middle class and prominence of the racial divide. Land was made available to all free men who would claim it, and the Civil War brought the issues of race and slavery to the forefront.

With the Industrial Revolution fully under way in the 19th century, a distinction occurred between those who performed manual labor and those with office jobs such as clerks and workers who handled paperwork and sales. Middle-class life pioneered a new ethical standard in which people seeking employment relied less on friends and family for connections and obtained jobs based on their education and abilities.

Because of opportunities for land ownership in the west, a balance was struck in which frontiersmen treated one another as equals. While the East Coast held to a more European class structure for some time, the advancements in the West created greater equality in social and economic classes.

Slavery became a prominent issue in the 19th century with the onset of the American Civil War. Issues of race and class combined as Union states strived for more equality between whites and African Americans, while Confederate states fought to continue the institution.

Following the completion of the railroad system, Asian Americans were driven to create their own separate communities within the United States. After the Mexican-American war, the population of legal Hispanic American citizens vastly increased in areas of New Mexico and Texas.