From the nineteenth century to the present, the United States has been hailed as a "land of opportunity" where individuals could achieve personal, political, religious, and economic freedoms. The image of the "land of opportunity" was true to different degrees for the African-American sharecropper in the postwar South, the immigrant at Ellis Island, and the wealthy capitalist or manager in the period from eighteen-sixty five to nineteen-fourteen with the African-American being at the low end of the rung and the capitalist being at the top. The newly freed African-American in the postwar South had the hardest time achieving freedoms due to white men considering them as inferior. As on southerner of the time said, the "ex-slave was not a free man; he was a free Negro." This is best exemplified in the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws of the time.
If we look at the African-American of the time and compare them to the rest of the citizens of United States then they were seriously lacking in the basic freedoms granted to American Citizens. However, if we take a different approach and compare them to what they were only decades earlier, then we see that they had gained many freedoms which they formerly did not have which Reverend E. P. Holmes, a black Georgia preacher best stated when he said "Most anyone ought to know that a man is better off free than as a slave, even if he did not have anything, I would rather be free and have my liberty." African-Americans established their own churches, schools, social clubs, and even businesses which provided services such as insurance, banking, hair cutting, and funerals to the black community.
With the help of the federal government they took great steps in gaining more freedoms. The Freedmen's Bureau was the first step congress took to aid the newly freed slaves. The Freedmen's Bureau's main purpose was to help negotiate labor contracts, provide medical care, and help set up schools for the freedmen. The second step congress took was in passing the Civil Rights act of 1866 which states that "all persons born in the United States... excluding non-taxed Indians, were citizens entitled to full and equal benefits of all laws." Two years later, congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment which reaffirmed citizenship for all persons- regardless of race-born or naturalized in the United States and forbade any state from abridging the privileges and immunities of citizens; to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; or to deny any person equal protection of the laws. Another two years later congresses passed the Fifteenth Amendment which forbade the states to deny any citizen the right to vote on grounds of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
The immigrant at Ellis Island had an easier time finding his freedoms, once he was finally admitted into the country, than the newly freed African-American did in the post war South. Much like the newly freed slave, the immigrant at Ellis Island found more freedoms in the United States than they did in their homelands. These people were seeking freedom from famine, cholera, lack of economic opportunities, persecution, and mandatory military service. This is why so many immigrants came to the United States. The poem The New Colossus' by Emma Lazarus, best exemplifies why so many immigrants ended up on Ellis Island and various other immigration stations in the United States. They came seeking the numerous jobs that were brought about by the industrial revolution.
Just as the freedmen in the south faced racial tension so did the immigrants. These immigrants found jobs in mines, mills, and sweatshops in major cities. Due to their lack of English speaking skills and no knowledge of American customs they were normally exploited by the people whom they worked for. They normally lived in the same neighborhoods as others of their kind and were free from the racial, religious, and political persecution which caused them to flee their homelands. The wealthy capitalist or manager would have to be the one who benefited the most from the "land of opportunity." The most prosperous of these would be the entrepreneurs who were referred to as "robber barons" because of their ruthlessness in business. The three most notable entrepreneurs of the time would be John D.
Rockefeller with his oil trust, Andrew Carnegie with the steel industry, and J. Pierpont Morgan the financier. Both Rockefeller and Carnegie were born into poor families. Rockefeller developed the standard oil company.
With his systematic organization, self-discipline, and obsession with precision, order, order and tidiness his company became the biggest. With his ruthless business practices he took control of ninety to ninety-five percent of the market. With his financial success he donated over five hundred million dollars to charity in his life. Carnegie made his fortune in the steel industry and just as Rockefeller had done he either bought out his competition or forced them out due to his obsession with efficiency and innovation. Just as Rockefeller had done he also dispensed his fortune for the good of the public. His philosophy was "The man who dies rich dies disgraced." Morgan was different from Carnegie and Rockefeller because he was born into a wealthy family.
Through his financial dealings he managed to gain a controlling portion of the railroads in the United States, controlling one-sixth of the railway system. He later bought out Carnegie steel and iron holdings which he turned into America's first billion-dollar corporation. Altogether, all three sets of people realized the dream of the "land of opportunity" in their own way. The African-Americans shed the chains of slavery and became citizens, the immigrants found a place where they were free from persecution, and the capitalist economic freedom and became some of the wealthiest men in the United States which granted them all of the freedoms that they wanted.
All had the freedom of upward movement.