A simple, satisfying way of thinking beguiled many a mid-twentieth-century historian. An industrial revolution in the eighteenth century had transformed the mode of production, had brought modern capitalism into being, and had disrupted traditional ways of making goods. In the new order great factories housed machines run by power and operated by working people who did not own their own tools and who, therefore, depended entirely upon the employer for their livelihood. The teeming cities failed to provide the laborers with decent habitations or an adequate standard of living and also cut them off from nature. The net effect was brooding discontent and a sense of alienation-the spiritual and ideological counterpart of economic exploitation. Thus, the crucial element defining American culture appeared between “1820 and 1875, in the midst of the transformation of the American economy into the most powerfully aggressive capitalist system in the world.” 1