chapter  9
20 Pages

The Apples and Tree

WithJames R. McGovern

To parents of the post-atomic age for whom “generation gap” has become such a familiar reality in their dealings with their children, the continuity in values across generations of the “Yankee Family” must seem strange indeed. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries American society had experienced horizontal cleavages between divergent religions, ethnic groups and races, political factions and even sections of the country, but it did not experience a pervasive vertical cleavage between generations. The rapid growth of the cities in the late 19th century foretold a beginning schism, especially in manners and morals, as did the gulf between children of immigrants with their parents who had not become Americanized. But even these developments were subsumed in a larger consensus in values which allowed parents and their children to share views on the importance of making money and entering upon business activity. The residue of Puritan family values which had stressed harmonious interpersonal relations and communal goals gradually gave way during the nineteenth century to values acquired by families which had succeeded in urban business and commerce or had been on the Frontier and who confidently manipulated their material environment. America’s vast technological potentialities in the nineteenth century, especially after 1840, provided societal reinforcement for those frontiersmen already conditioned in the ethics of risk, independence and material manipulation. 1 Since the period 1840 to 1900 witnessed a rapid acceleration in the American economy facilitated by the growth of railroads, the appearance of national, urban markets and the development of efficient organization in big business, parents could instruct children on the prime importance of economic and competitive values, a fact well supported by the content of children’s readers in this period. 2