Digital History

The Political Crisis of the 1890s

Looking Backward Previous Next
Digital History ID 3123



Only Uncle Tom's Cabin and Ben-Hur sold more copies during the 19th century. Published in 1888, Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, 2000-1887 sold more than a million copies. When the book appeared, the nation was still suffering from a financial contraction in 1883 and the aftermath of the 1886 Haymarket Square bombing in Chicago.

The book's main character, Julian West, lives in Boston in 1887, a time of wrenching poverty, labor strikes, and ostentatious wealth. One night, while he is in a hypnotic trance, his house burns and the servant, the only person who knows about the underground chamber, dies. He is not awakened until the year 2000. By then, all companies have merged to form one giant trust. Less attractive jobs are made more desirable by shorter hours. At the age of 45, all men and women retire.

Politicians and corruption have disappeared. So too have lawyers, since in a society without want or inequality, there is no need for laws. War has also been abolished. A world body regulates international relations and nations' "joint policy toward the more backward races, which are gradually being educated up to civilized institutions."

The Atlanta Constitution feared that the novel might bring "a new crusade against property and property rights in general."

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