7.3 Politics in the Gilded Age

7.3 Politics in the Gilded Age
Who controlled the nation’s major
cities and how did reformers try to
end corruption?
The Emergence of Political
• During the late 1800s, many cities were
run by a political machine, which was an
organized group, headed by a city boss,
that controlled the activities of a political
party in a city
• The machine offered services to voters
and businesses in exchange for political
and financial support
• The boss controlled the city government, as well
as jobs in the police, fire, and sanitation
• Bosses also controlled city agencies that
granted licenses to businesses, and funded
construction projects
• By controlling the cities’ finances, and by solving
problems for voters, bosses won loyalty and
• Many bosses were immigrants who’d worked
their way up in politics, so that other immigrants
were more likely to trust them and vote for them
Graft and Scandal
• As they gained power, many bosses
became corrupt
• They became rich through graft, or the
illegal use of political influence through
personal gain
• To win elections, some bosses filled the
list of eligible voters with the names of
dogs, children, and people who’d died,
and then cast votes for themselves
• Another illegal practice were kickbacks
and bribes
• Workers would charge higher prices for
services and then ‘kick back’ part of the
fee to the bosses, who also took bribes
from businesses for allowing illegal
• One of the most powerful bosses was
William Marcy Tweed, or Boss Tweed
• He became the head of Tammany Hall,
NYC’s most powerful Democratic political
• People were exposed to his corrupt
practices through cartoonist Thomas Nast,
and eventually became outraged by what
he’d done and he was sentenced to prison
in 1871
Civil Service Replaces Patronage
• For many decades, presidents had
complained about the problem of
patronage, or the giving of government
jobs to people of the same party who
helped a candidate get elected, regardless
of how qualified you were
• Reformers wanted to end the system and
give jobs based on merit in civil service, or
government administration
• President Rutherford B. Hayes tried to
reform civil service, but failed and didn’t
run for re-election
• The next candidate for the Republican
party was James A. Garfield, who was a
reformer who wanted to change the
system, and was assassinated shortly
after he was elected
• Chester A. Arthur succeeded him, and became a
reformer in office
• He pushed through a civil service reform bill
known as the Pendleton Civil Service Act of
1883, which created a civil service commission
to give government jobs based on merit, not
• This was good and bad; it lessened the money
politicians received so they turned to wealthy
business leaders to support them, which
strengthened ties between govt. and business
Business Buys Influence
• Tariffs, or taxes, were an issue in 12 years of
presidential elections during the late 1800s
• President Grover Cleveland tried to reduce
them, but failed
• In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed the
McKinley Tariff Act into law, raising tariffs to their
highest level ever; Cleveland defeated Harrison
for President in 1892 but couldn’t reduce taxes
once they’d been raised

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