The Gilded Age will be remembered for the accomplishments of thousands of American thinkers, inventors, entrepreneurs, writers, and promoters of social justice. The Gilded Age and the first years of the twentieth century were a time of great social change and economic growth in the United States. Roughly spanning the years between Reconstruction and the dawn of the new century, the Gilded Age saw rapid industrialization, urbanization, the construction of great transcontinental railroads, innovations in science and technology, and the rise of big business.
Afterward, the first years of the new century that followed were dominated by progressivism, a forward-looking political movement that attempted to redress some of the ills that had arisen during the Gilded Age. Progressives passed legislation to rein in big business, combat corruption, free the government from special interests, and protect the rights of consumers, workers, immigrants, and the poor. During the Gilded Age I believe the presidents were more successful with domestic affairs.
Domestic affairs, in relation to presidents refer to things that are happening in politics and government in the US – the opposite of domestic affairs is foreign affairs, and that involves international politics.
Domestic affairs, no president ever came to power who was better equipped to handle the management of a federal bureaucracy than Chester Arthur. Some of the affairs he would take care of are: reforming civil service policies, reducing tariffs, limiting expenditures and Chinese immigration, and renovating the White House.
Some historians have dubbed the presidents of the Gilded Age the “forgotten presidents,” and indeed many Americans today have trouble remembering their names, what they did for the country, or even in which era they served. These six men—Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison—had relatively unremarkable terms in office and faced few if any major national crises during their presidencies.
Some historians have suggested that these Gilded Age presidents were unexciting for a reason—because Americans wanted to avoid bold politicians who might ruin the delicate peace established after the Civil War. This is not to say politics were unimportant in the Gilded Age. On the contrary, Americans paid more attention to politics and national elections during the post–Civil War period than at any other time in history, because each election had the potential to disrupt the fragile balance—and peace—between North and South, Republican and Democrat.
Voters turned out in record numbers for each presidential election in the late nineteenth century, with voter turnout sometimes reaching 80 percent or greater. The intensity of the elections also helps explain why Congress passed so little significant legislation after the Reconstruction era: control of the House of Representatives constantly changed hands between the Democrats and the Republicans with each election, making a consensus on any major issue nearly impossible.
The increase in voter turnout was also partly the result of machine party politics, which blossomed in large U. S. cities during the Gilded Age. Powerful political “bosses” in each party coerced urban residents into voting for favored candidates, who would then give kickbacks and bribes back to the bosses in appreciation for getting them elected. Bosses would also spend money to improve constituents’ neighborhoods to ensure a steady flow of votes for their machines. In this sense, party bosses and machine politics actually helped some of the poorest people in the cities.
Many politicians elected during the Gilded Age were the product of machine party politics. Driven by the North, which emerged from the Civil War an industrial powerhouse, the United States experienced a flurry of unprecedented growth and industrialization during the Gilded Age, with a continent full of seemingly unlimited natural resources and driven by millions of immigrants ready to work. In fact, some historians have referred to this era as America’s second Industrial Revolution, because it completely changed American society, politics, and the economy.
Mechanization and marketing were the keys to success in this age: companies that could mass-produce products and convince people to buy them accumulated enormous amounts of wealth, while companies that could not were forced out of business by brutal competition. Railroads were the linchpin in the new industrialized economy. The railroad industry enabled raw materials, finished products, food, and people to travel cross-country in a matter of days, as opposed to the months or years that it took just prior to the Civil War. By the end of the war, the United States boasted some 35,000 miles of track, mostly in the industrialized North.
By the turn of the century, that number had jumped to almost 200,000 miles, linking the North, South, and West. With these railroads making travel easier, millions of rural Americans flocked to the cities, and by 1900, nearly 40 percent of the population lived in urban areas. By the twentieth century, the rise of big business and the large migration of Americans from the countryside to the cities caused a shift in political awareness, as elected officials saw the need to address the growing economic and social problems that developed along with the urban boom.
Progressives believed that the government needed to take a strong, proactive role in the economy, regulating big business, immigration, and urban growth. These middle-class reformers hoped ultimately to regain control of the government from special interests like the railroads and trusts and pass effective legislation to protect consumers, organized labor, and minorities. Politics in the Gilded Age were intense. In the years between 1877 and 1897, control of the House of Representatives repeatedly changed hands between the Democratic and Republican parties.
Political infighting between the Stalwart and Half-Breed factions in the Republican Party prevented the passage of significant legislation. During this era, the political parties nominated presidential candidates that lacked strong opinions—possibly to avoid stirring up sectional tensions so soon after the Civil War. Some historians have dubbed Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison the “forgotten presidents. ” Indeed, it might be argued that the most notable event that occurred during the Gilded Age was the assassination of President Garfield in 1881.
His death prompted Congress to pass the Pendleton Act, which created the Civil Service Commission two years later. This commission reformed the spoils system, which had rewarded supporters of a winning party with “spoils,” or posts in that party’s government. The Civil War had transformed the North into one of the most heavily industrialized regions in the world, and during the Gilded Age, businessmen reaped enormous profits from this new economy. Powerful tycoons formed giant trusts to monopolize the production of goods that were in high demand.
Andrew Carnegie, for one, built a giant steel empire using vertical integration, a business tactic that increased profits by eliminating middlemen from the production line. Conversely, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company used horizontal integration, which put competitors out of business by selling one type of product in numerous markets, effectively creating a monopoly. These “captains of industry” cared little for consumers and did anything they could to increase profits, earning them the nickname “robber barons. The Depression of 1873, which effectively dissolved the National Labor Union, also threatened many new settlers in the Midwest. Plagued by steep railroad fares, high taxes under the McKinley Tariff, and soaring debt, thousands of small farmers banded together to form the Populist Party in the late 1880s. The Populists called for a national income tax, cheaper money (what Populists called “free silver”), shorter workdays, single-term limits for presidents, immigration restrictions, and government control of railroads.
In 1892, Grover Cleveland defeated Republican incumbent Benjamin Harrison and Populist candidate James B. Weaver in 1892 to become the only U. S. president ever to serve two nonconsecutive terms. Although Cleveland’s first four years were free of any major change, his second term was a tumultuous one. The Depression of 1893 hit the U. S. economy hard, forcing Cleveland to ask Wall Street mogul J. P. Morgan for a loan of more than $60 million. In 1894, more than 500 protesters in “Coxey’s Army” marched on Washington demanding cheaper money and debt relief.
Despite Morgan’s loan, Cleveland was unable to put the economy back on track, and it cost him the Republican Party presidential nomination in 1896. The Spanish-American War McKinley’s greatest challenge as president was the growing tension between the United States and Spain over the island of Cuba. Spanish officials had suppressed an independence movement in Cuba, its most profitable Caribbean colony, and forced Cuban men, women, and children into internment camps. Yellow journalists” like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer published sensational stories about the atrocities in Cuba, partly to increase their papers’ circulation but also to provoke American ire for the Spanish. Although McKinley did not want go to war, he felt compelled to do so, especially after the mysterious explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor, which he blamed on Spain. The war itself was over within a matter of weeks, but during that time, the United States seized the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, thanks in part to future U. S. president Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders.
After the war, American forces withdrew from Cuba according to the Teller Amendment but also forced the new Cuban government to sign the Platt Amendment, giving the U. S. Navy a permanent military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The passage of the Foraker Act, meanwhile, granted Puerto Ricans limited government; they would not receive collective U. S. citizenship until 1917. Foreign Affairs (1865-1920) “The period included in the following summary of the foreign relations of the United States may be divided into three parts. In the first, from 1865 to 1898, U. S. oreign policy was determined principally by the attitudes and actions of foreign governments. U. S. foreign policy during these three decades was strongly nationalistic; it did not concern itself with world issues, nor did it enable the United States to play an important part in world affairs. As a result of the Spanish-American War, however, the United States acquired territorial possessions outside its continental area, giving the nation problems of colonial government and control that, together with other factors, compelled it to assume an increasing role in world affairs.
The outbreak of World War I in 1914 brought a period of diplomatic conflict between the United States and Great Britain and between the United States and Germany; in 1917 the United States was finally drawn into the war against Germany and its allies. The United States was influential in the writing of the Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended the war in 1919. The U. S. Senate’s rejection of the treaty and of U. S. membership in the League of Nations, the covenant for which formed part of the treaty, temporarily reversed the tendency toward U. S. involvement in world affairs. From the website: United States History: The Gilded Age (1890) to World War I http://www. emayzine. com/lectures/Gilded~1. htm Works Sited National Politics in the Gilded Age (1873-1896) http://theomahaproject. org/module_display. php? mod_id=148=yes#top (Accessed 6/10-19/2010) WWW-VL: HISTORY: UNITED STATES: THE GILDED AGE, 1876-1900 http://vlib. iue. it/history/USA/ERAS/gilded. html#Pres (Accessed 6/10-19/2010) United States History: The Gilded Age (1890) to World War I http://www. emayzine. com/lectures/Gilded~1. htm (Accessed 6/10-19/2010)
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