The Year of Wonder and Miracles

Another Texas author recently put a question up on one of those interminable LinkedIn author discussion forums; which, of all the years in the 19th century was the most exciting, the most pivotal, the year where everything happened, the most significant when it came to what America was and what it would be. There’s a case to be made and argued for at least a dozen or more, but I put up an argument for 1876. That was that Centennial year; the United (and occasionally dis-united) States observed a hundred years of existence. American citizens looked back on a hundred years and were generally pleased and satisfied with what had been accomplished; an independent country, a democratic republic, based on the active participation of engaged and responsible citizens; no hereditary ruling class, no established nobility or royalty, just a from-the-bottom-up administration drawn from the local and state level, feeding into a relatively restrained federal establishment! And it had managed to last a hundred years! It had succeeded politically, militarily, socially, and technologically, establishing dominion over a large swath of the American continent, from sea to shining sea. Much of the evidence of this was on proud display at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, America’s very first World’s Fair. It is estimated that visitors to the Exposition amounted to about a fifth of the U.S. population of the time. One exhibit, of an authentic colonial period kitchen, kicked off an enthusiasm for architecture and interior decorating in what had then been an archaic style.

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