Politics in a Gilded Age

Report
POLITICS IN A GILDED AGE
 “Gilded” means covered with a layer of gold, it also suggests that the
glittering surface covers a core of little real value and is therefore
deceptive.
 This era was characterized by:
 Economic expansion
 Corporate Corruption
 Oppression of workers (and minorities)
 Political Corruption:
 New York’s Tweed Ring (stole millions from city)
 Credit Mobilier (railroads paid off Congress)
 Whiskey Ring (defrauded millions from feds)
WAS THE GILDED AGE POLITICAL SYSTEM
EFFECTIVE IN MEETING ITS GOALS?
 Probably not
 Between 1876 and 1892 a political stalemate paralyzed the house,
Senate
 Presidents made little effort to mobilize public opinion or exert
executive leadership
 Federal Government did not deal with problems created by the
economy’s rapid growth
 Local and state governments regulated education, medical care, business,
civil/criminal prosecutions
FEDERAL LEGISLATION
 High Tariff (tax on imported goods and services)
 Reduced Federal Spending
 Withdrew greenbacks (paper money in circulation)
 1879-set the gold standard (which limited money in circulation to that
which could be backed by gold in the US treasury
 Put banks in control of issuing money
 These policies favored big business and hurt Southern and Western
farmers
FEDERAL REFORMS
 1883 Civil Service Act
 1887 Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)
 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act-Tried to prohibit the creation of
monopolies
FREEDOM IN THE GILDED AGE
 Theory of Social Darwinism
 1859-Darwin’s Origins of Species
 Theory of Natural Selection or survival of the fittest
 Interpreted as: Evolution was a natural process in human society as in
nature, and governments must not interfere
 Deserving vs. Undeserving poor
 Modern rich elite vs. primitive poor
WILLIAM GRAHAM SUMNER
 “Government existed only to protect the property of man and the
honor of women, not to upset social arrangements decreed by nature.”
p. 664
 Government would not end “laissez faire” until FDR came to office
PRINCIPLE OF NEGATIVE FREEDOM
 Favored limited government and unrestrained free market
 The principle of free labor, which originated as a celebration of the
independent small producer in a society of broad equality and social
harmony was translated into a defense of the unrestrained operations
of the capitalist marketplace (p. 664)
 14th Amendment was reinterpreted to defend the “right to labor”
instead of equality for former slaves
 Lochner vs. New York voided state law that established a 10 hour day for bakers, said
the law infringed on freedom of contract
LABOR AND THE REPUBLIC
 1877-Great Railroad strike, put down by feds
 Revealed worker solidarity
 Close ties between Republican party and industrialists
 Knights of Labor-800,000 members in 1886
 Strikes, boycotts, political actions, education, social actions
 Membership rapidly grew in the next few decades
 See textbook for authors that criticized big business and sympathized with
laborers: Henry George, L. Gronlund, E. Bellamy
 These works revealed a “wide spread consciousness that something is radically wrong with
the present organization.”
 How would it be possible to protect the freedom of both industrialists and workers?
LAISSAZ FAIRE ECONOMY
 Under attack by:
 Labor movements
 Authors
 Preachers
 Anarchists

Strikes:
 Haymarket Affair, 1886
 Homestead Strike, 1892
 Coxey’s Army, 1894
 Pullman Strike, 1894

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