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THE GILDED AGE. The era from 1870 to 1890 is the only period in American history commonly known by a derogatory name – the Gilded Age, after a title of.

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Presentation on theme: "THE GILDED AGE. The era from 1870 to 1890 is the only period in American history commonly known by a derogatory name – the Gilded Age, after a title of."— Presentation transcript:

1 THE GILDED AGE

2 The era from 1870 to 1890 is the only period in American history commonly known by a derogatory name – the Gilded Age, after a title of an 1873 novel by mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warren. “Gilded” means covered with a layer of gold, but also suggests that the glittering surface covers a core of little real value and is therefore deceptive.

3 THE GILDED AGE Twain and Warner were referring not only to the remarkable expansion of the economy in this period but also to the corruption caused by corporate dominance of politics and to the oppressive treatment of those left behind in the scramble for wealth. “Get rich, dishonestly if we can, honestly if we must.” was the era’s slogan, according to The Gilded Age.

4 POLITICS IN THE GILDED AGE

5 To modern eyes, the nature of the American political system in the late 19 th century appears in many ways paradoxical. The two political parties enjoyed strength and stability during those years that neither was ever to know again. Yet the federal govt was doing relatively little of importance. Most Americans engaged in political activity less because of their interest in national issues than because of broad regional, ethnic, or religious sentiments. Party loyalty had less to do with positions on public policy than the way Americans defined themselves culturally.

6 THE PARTY SYSTEM The most striking feature of the late 19 th century party system was its remarkable stability. From 1877 until the late 1890s, the electorate was divided almost precisely evenly between the Republicans and Democrats. 16 states were solidly and consistently Republican. 14 states (most of them in the South) were solidly and consistently Democrat. Only 5 states were usually in doubt, and it was there that national elections were commonly decided, often on the basis of voter turnout.

7 THE PARTY SYSTEM The Republican Party captured the presidency in all but two of the elections in the era, but the party was not really as dominant as that suggests. In the five presidential elections beginning in 1876, the average popular-vote margin separating the Democratic and Republican candidates was 1.5%.

8 THE PARTY SYSTEM The congressional balance was similarly stable. Between 1875 and 1895, the Republicans generally controlled the Senate and the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. In any given election, the number of seats that shifted from one party to the other was very small.

9 THE PARTY SYSTEM As striking as the balance between parties was the intensity of public loyalty to them. Voter turnout in presidential elections between 1860 and 1900 averaged over 78% of all eligible voters. Even in non-presidential years, from 60 to 80% of voters turned out for congressional and local candidates.

10 THE PARTY SYSTEM Large groups of potential voters were disenfranchised during the era:  Women in most states  Almost all blacks and many poor whites in the South. But for all adult white males outside the South, there were few franchise restrictions. The remarkable turnout represented a genuinely mass- based politics.

11 THE PARTY SYSTEM Party politics in the Gilded Age occupied a central position in American culture. Political campaigns were often the most important public events in the lives of communities. Political organizations served important social and cultural functions.

12 THE PARTY SYSTEM Political identification was almost as important to most individuals as identification with a church or ethnic group. Partisanship was an intense, emotional force, widely admired and often identified with patriotism.

13 THE PARTY SYSTEM WHAT EXPLAINS THIS REMARKABLE LOYALTY TO THE TWO POLITICAL PARTIES?  It was not that the parties took distinct positions on important public issues.  Both were solidly committed to the growth of the corporate industrial economy.  Both were hostile to all forms of economic and social radicalism.  Both were committed (at least until the 1890s) to a “sound currency” and to the existing structure of the financial system.

14 THE PARTY SYSTEM What determined party loyalties was less concrete issues than other factors. REGION was perhaps the most important. To white Southerners, loyalty to the Democratic Party was a matter of unquestioned faith. For white Southerners, the Democratic Party was the vehicle by which they had triumphed over Reconstruction. For them, the Democratic Party was the vehicle for the preservation of white supremacy.

15 THE PARTY SYSTEM To many old-stock northerners, white and black, Republican loyalties were equally intense for opposite reasons. The party of Lincoln had freed the slaves. For them, the party of Lincoln had preserved the Union. For them, the Republican Party was a bulwark against slavery and treason.

16 THE PARTY SYSTEM RELIGIOUS AND ETHNIC DIFFERENCES also shaped party loyalties. The Dem. Party attracted most Catholic voters, most recent immigrants, and most of the poorer workers. These three groups often overlapped.

17 THE PARTY SYSTEM The Republican Party appealed to northern Protestants and citizens of old stock.

18 THE PARTY SYSTEM Among the few substantive issues on which the parties took clearly different stands were matters concerning immigrants. Republicans tended to be more nativist and to support measures restricting immigration. They also tended to favor temperance legislation. Catholics and immigrants viewed such proposals as an assault on their culture and lifestyle and opposed them. The Democrats followed their lead.

19 THE PARTY SYSTEM For many Americans party identification was usually more a reflection of vague cultural inclinations than a calculation of economic interest. Individuals might affiliate with a party because their parents had done so, or because it was the party of their region, church, or their ethnic group. Most clung to their party loyalties with persistence and passion.

20 THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT

21 One reason the two parties managed to avoid substantive issues was that the federal government (and for the most part state and local govts as well) did relatively little. The govt in Washington was responsible for  Delivering the mails  Maintaining a national military  Conducting foreign policy  Collecting taxes and tariffs.

22 THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT The federal government had few other responsibilities. And it had few institutions with which to engage in additional responsibilities even if it chose to do so.

23 THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT The USA in the Gilded Age was a society without a modern, national state. The most powerful national institutions were:  The two political parties  The federal courts In a very real sense the American govt of the era was a state of courts and political parties. The national leaders of both parties were primarily concerned with winning elections and controlling patronage – not policy.

24 THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT Both parties were dominated by powerful bosses and machines chiefly concerned with controlling and dispensing jobs. The Democrats relied on big city organizations such as Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall in NYC. These machines helped them to mobilize the voting power of immigrants.

25 THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT The Republicans tended to depend on strong statewide organizations such as those of Senator Roscoe Conkling in New York.

26 THE GILDED AGE PRESIDENTS

27 The power of the party bosses had an significant effect on the power of the presidency. The office had great symbolic importance, but its occupants were unable to do very much except distribute government appointments. A new president had to make almost 100,000 appointments – most of them in the post office, the only large government agency at the time. Even in making appointments, the president had very little latitude, since they had to avoid offending the various factions within their own parties. The administrations of Hayes, Garfield, and Arthur reflected the political stalemate and patronage problems of the Gilded Age. All in all, it was an age of forgettable presidents.

28 THE PRESIDENCY OF RUTHERFORD B. HAYES The issue of patronage played a big role during the Hayes presidency. Hayes was the winner of the disputed Election of He was harried by angry Democrats – who called him “His Fraudulency” – from the beginning of his term to the moment he left. He was crippled as well by his own party – the Republicans.

29 THE PRESIDENCY OF RUTHERFORD B. HAYES By the end of his term – two groups – the Stalwarts led by Roscoe Conkling of NY and the Half-Breeds, led by James G. Blaine of ME. – were competing for control of the Republican Party and threatening to split it. The dispute between these two groups was characteristic of the political battles of the era.

30 THE PRESIDENCY OF RUTHERFORD B. HAYES The dispute had virtually no substantive foundation. Rhetorically, the Stalwarts favored traditional, professional machine politics. The Half-Breeds favored reform. Neither group was much interested in political change. Each wanted a larger share of the patronage pie. Hayes tried to satisfy both and ended up satisfying neither.

31 THE PRESIDENCY OF RUTHERFORD B. HAYES The battle over patronage overshadowed all else during Hayes’ unhappy presidency. His one important substantive initiative – an effort to create a civil service system – attracted no support from either party. His early announcement not to seek re-election only weakened him further.

32 THE PRESIDENCY OF RUTHERFORD B. HAYES Hayes had no power in Congress. The Dems. Controlled the HoR throughout his presidency, and the Senate during the last two years of his term. Senate Republicans, led by Conkling, opposed his efforts to defy the machines in making appointments. Hayes’s presidency was a study in frustration.

33 THE PRESIDENCY OF JAMES GARFIELD The Republicans retained the presidency in 1880 in part because they managed to agree on a ticket that made it possible for the two factions to briefly paper- over their differences. The nominated James A. Garfield – a Half-Breed His VP running mate was Chester A. Arthur - a Stalwart.

34 THE PRESIDENCY OF JAMES A. GARFIELD Garfield won a decisive electoral victory. However his popular vote margin was very thin. The Republicans also captured both houses of Congress.

35 THE PRESIDENCY OF JAMES A. GARFIELD Garfield soon found himself in an ugly public quarrel with Conkling. But before it could be resolved, Garfield was victimized by the spoils system in a more terrible sense. 7/2/1881: Only four months after his inauguration, Garfield was shot twice was standing in the DC railroad station by an apparently deranged gunman and unsuccessful office seeker. Garfield lingered for three months then died – a victim as much of bungled medical treatment as of the wounds themselves.

36 THE PRESIDENCY OF JAMES A. GARFIELD

37 THE PRESIDENCY OF CHESTER A. ARTHUR Chester A. Arthur succeeded Garfield. Arthur had spent a political lifetime as a devoted, skilled, and open spoilsman and a close ally of Conkling. But as president, he tried to follow an independent course and even to promote reform.

38 THE PRESIDENCY OF CHESTER A. ARTHUR The terrible circumstances which brought him to the presidency had undoubtedly shaped his behavior. He realized that Garfield’s assassination had to some degree discredited the traditional spoils system. The “new” Arthur dismayed the party bosses. He kept most of Garfield’s appointees in office. He also supported civil service reform, aware that the legislation was likely to pass whether he supported it or not.

39 THE PRESIDENCY OF CHESTER A. ARTHUR 1883: Congress passed the Pendleton Act. The nation’s first national civil service measure. It identified a limited number of federal jobs to be filled by competitive written exams rather than by patronage. Relatively few offices fell under civil service at first. But its reach extended steadily so that by the mid-twentieth century most federal employees were civil servants.

40 THE ELECTION OF 1884: THE RETURN OF THE DEMOCRATS

41 The unsavory election of 1884 was typical of national political contests in the late 19 th century in its emphasis on personalities than policies. The Republican Party repudiated Arthur – who was in any case already suffering from an illness that would kill him two years later.

42 THE ELECTION OF 1884: THE RETURN OF THE DEMOCRATS The Republicans instead chose their most popular and controversial figure, James G. Blaine of ME. To his adoring supporters he was known as the “plumed knight.” To thousands of Americans, he was a symbol of seamy party politics.

43 THE ELECTION OF 1884: THE RETURN OF THE DEMOCRATS An independent reform faction, known derisively by their critics as the “mugwumps,” announced they would bolt the party and support an honest Democrat.

44 THE ELECTION OF 1884: THE RETURN OF THE DEMOCRATS Raising to the bait, the Democrats nominated Grover Cleveland, the “reform” governor of NY. He differed from Blaine on no substantive issues but had acquired a reputation as an enemy of corruption.

45 THE ELECTION OF 1884: THE RETURN OF THE DEMOCRATS The campaign of 1884 was filled with personal invective. What may have decided the election was the last minute introduction of a religious controversy. Shortly before the election, a delegation of Protestants ministers called on Blaine. Their spokesman, Dr. Samuel Burchard, referred to the Democrats as the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.” Blaine was slow to repudiate Burchard’s indiscretion.

46 THE ELECTION OF 1884: THE RETURN OF THE DEMOCRATS Democrats quickly spread the news that Blaine had tolerated a slander on the Catholic church. Cleveland’s narrow victory may well have been the result of a heavy Catholic vote for Democrats in NY. Cleveland won 219 electoral votes to Blaine’s 182; his popular vote margin was only 23,000 votes.

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48 THE PRESIDENCY OF GROVER CLEVELAND Cleveland was the embodiment of an era in which few Americans believed the federal govt could, should, or do very much. Cleveland believed in frugal and limited government in the Jeffersonian tradition. No one should forget, he explained, that “though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people.”

49 THE PRESIDENCY OF GROVER CLEVELAND Cleveland did grapple with one major economic issue: protective tariffs. He doubted the wisdom of protective tariffs. He concluded that the existing high rates were responsible for the annual surplus in federal revenues, which was tempting Congress to pass the “reckless” and “extravagant” legislation he frequently vetoed. 12/1887: He asked Congress to reduce the tariff rates. Democrats in the HoR approved a tariff reduction. But Senate Republicans defiantly passed a bill of their own actually raising the rates. The resulting deadlock made the tariff an issue in the election of 1888.

50 THE ELECTION OF 1888

51 The Democrats renominated Cleveland and supported tariff reductions. The Republicans settled on Benjamin Harrison of ID. Harrison was obscure but respectable and the grandson of President William Henry Harrison. The campaign was the first since the Civil War to involve a clear questions of economic difference between the parties. It was also on of the most corrupt and closet elections in American history.

52 THE ELECTION OF 1888 Harrison won an electoral majority of 233 to 168. But Cleveland won the popular vote by 100,000 votes – making this one of only three presidential elections in American history (1876 and 2000) in which the loser in the popular vote was the victor in the electoral vote.

53 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN HARRISON Harrison’s record as president was little more substantial than that of his grandfather, who died a month after taking office. One reason for his failure was the intellectual drabness of the members of his Admin – beginning with the president himself and extending through his cabinet.

54 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN HARRISON Another reason for failure was Harrison’s unwillingness to make any effort to influence Congress. And yet during his dreary term, public opinion was beginning to force the govt to confront some of the pressing social and economic issues of the day. Most notably, perhaps, sentiment was rising in favor of legislation to curb the power of trusts. Mid-1880s: 15 western and southern states had adopted laws prohibiting combinations that restrained competition. But corporations found it easy to escape limitations by incorporating in states like NJ and DL that offered them special privileges.

55 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN HARRISON If antitrust legislation was to be effective, it would have to come from the federal govt. 1890: Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act, almost without dissent. The Act prohibited any “contract, combination, in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy in restraint in trade or commerce.” Most members of Congress saw the Act as largely symbolic to help deflect public criticism, not likely to have any real effect on corporate power.

56 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN HARRISON For over a decade after its passage, the Sherman Act had virtually no impact. 1901: The Justice Department had instituted only 14 suits under the law against business combinations and had obtained few convictions. It used the law much more frequently against labor union.

57 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN HARRISON The courts weakened the act considerably. 1895: United States v. E.C. Knight Co.:  The govt. charged that a sugar trust controlled 98% of refined sugar mfg.  The Supreme Court rejected the govt’s case.  It ruled that the sugar trust was engaged in mfg, not in interstate commerce.  Thus the Court ruled that the Act applied to commerce not to mfg.

58 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN HARRISON The Republicans were more interested in the issue, they believed had won them the Election of 1888: the tariff. Rep. William McKinley (OH) and Nelson Aldrich (RI) drafted the highest protective measure ever proposed in Congress.

59 THE PRESIDENCY OF BENJAMIN HARRSION 10/1890: The McKinley Tariff became law. It raised the tax on foreign imports over 48%. Politically, it hurt the Republican Party. They misinterpreted public sentiment. The party suffered a stunning reversal in the 1890 congressional election. Their majority in the Senate was slashed to 8. In the HoR, they retained only 88 of the 323 seats.

60 THE ELECTION OF 1892

61 The Republicans were unable to recover from the political fallout over the McKinley Tariff. Benjamin Harrison once again supported protection, and Grover Cleveland, renominated by the Democrats, once again supported it. Only a new third party, the People’s Party, which James B. Weaver as its candidate, advocated any serious economic reform.

62 THE ELECTION OF 1892 RESULTS:  Cleveland: 277 electoral votes  Harrison: 145 electoral votes  Weaver: 22 electoral votes  Cleveland won the popular vote by 380,000 votes.  For the first time since 1878, the Democrats won a majority of both houses of Congress.

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64 CLEVELAND’S SECOND TERM The policies of Cleveland’s second term were much like the first term:  Devoted to limited govt  Hostile to active state measures to deal with social or economic problems.

65 CLEVELAND’S SECOND TERM But this time, a major economic crisis (the Panic of 1893) created popular demands for a more active government. For the most part, Cleveland resisted those pressures. Again, he supported a tariff reduction, which the HoR approved but the Senate rejected. Cleveland denounced the result but allowed it to become law as the Wilson-Gorman Tariff.

66 CLEVELAND’S SECOND TERM The bill also included a 2% income tax on incomes of over $4,000. But the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. Only after approval of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913 was the federal govt able to tax incomes. Pressure was also growing for regulation of the railroads. The Courts limited the powers of the states to regulate commerce even within their own boundaries. Railroad regulation had to come from the federal government.

67 CLEVELAND’S SECOND TERM 188&: Congress responded with the Interstate Commerce Act:  It banned discrimination in rates between long and short hauls.  Required railroads to publish their rate schedules and file them with the govt.  Declared that all interstate rail rates must be “reasonable and just” – although the bill did not define what this meant.

68 CLEVELAND’S SECOND TERM The Act established the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC):  A five-person agency  Purpose: to administer the Interstate Commerce Act  But it had to rely on the courts to enforce its rulings  The Act was haphazardly enforced and narrowly interpreted by the courts – thus rendering the Act and ICC useless.

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70 THE GILDED AGE The controversies over the tariff, the trusts, and the railroads were signs that dramatic changes in the American economy were creating problems that much of the public considered too important and dangerous to ignore. But the govt’s response to that agitation reflected the continuing weakness of the American state. The govt lacked institutions adequate to perform any significant role in American economic life. And not enough Americans had yet embraced a political ideology that would justify any major expansion of govt responsibilities.

71 THE GILDED AGE The effort to create such institutions and to promote such an ideology would occupy much of American public life in the coming decades. Among the first signs of that effort was a dramatic dissident movement that shattered the political equilibrium the nation had experienced for the previous twenty years.


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