National Politics in the Gilded Age
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National Politics in the Gilded Age
The Gilded AgeThe term "Gilded Age coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley in their 1873 novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. It refers to the decades between the end of reconstruction and the turn of the century (about 1877 to 1900). The three main themes: lassiez-faire versus government expansioneconomic and political corruption formation of modern political and economic norms
Gilded Age Timeline1868: Congress enacts an 8-hour workday for workers employed by the government.
1869: The transcontinental railroad is completed.
1870: Rockefeller forms Standard Oil of Ohio
1873: The Financial Panic of 1873 begins. 5,183 business fail.
1876: Bell patents the telephone.
1877: Edison invents the phonograph.
1879: Edison invents the light bulb
1894: The American Railway Unions strike and boycott of Pullman cars end in violence.
1886: The Haymarket riot occurs in Chicago following a demonstration of over 300,000 workers for 8 hour work days.American Federation of Labor Founded.
1890: Sherman Anti-Trust Act is passed and promptly ignored.
1892: The Homestead Strike at one of Andrew Carnegies steel works ends in violence.
The Election of 1880After 18 years in Congress, James Garfield became the dark horse Republican nominee for President .His running mate was Chester Arthur.The race between Garfield and the Democrat Winfield Hancock centered on the tariff issue. Republicans won favor with business, labor, and Northerners by advocating a protective tariff. Democrats sought to appease the interests of farmers and Southerners by opposing such tariffs as inflationary and anti-consumer.
The Election of 1880The pie graph of the popular vote on the electoral map below demonstrates the divided nature of the American electorate, which would continue throughout the 1880's and 1890's.
The Assassination of James GarfieldGarfields presidency was cut short after only four months, when a disappointed office seeker shot and mortally wounded the president. The assassination became a catalyst for Civil Service Reform Act, which officially made the United States bureaucracy a meritocracy instead of a system rooted in patronage and graft.
The Presidency of Chester ArthurChester Arthur became the twenty-first President of the United States after President Garfield was slain. He was a product of the patronage system. It was a surprise when Arthur proved himself an independent executive who was able to make unpopular decisions. He pushed for lower tariffs, though Republicans usually sought to appease corporate constituents.
The Pendleton Civil Service ActOne of Arthur's most surprising actions was his support of the Pendleton Civil Service Act of 1883, which created a new system for filling vacancies and outlawed political contributions from civil servants:
First, for open, competitive examinations for testing the fitness of applicants for the public service Second, that all the offices shall be filled by selections according to grade from among those graded highest as the results of such competitive examinations.
The Chinese Exclusion ActAnother of legislation that came during Arthur's presidency was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was the first federal restriction on immigration. Arthur vetoed a more restrictive version of the bill, which angered labor groups, but signed one that halted Chinese immigration for ten years and forbid citizenship for Chinese persons already in the country.
Mugwumps and the Election of 1884Democrat Grover Cleveland narrowly won the thanks to divisions within the Republican Party.Idealistic Republican "Mugwumps, voted for Cleveland because of their disgust over James Blaines implication in scandals.Cleveland became the first Democratic president since James Buchanan. The "honest" (Mugwump) Republican voter in this cartoon chooses the path of independence, following the brains end of the Republican elephant.
The Election of 1884This mass defection of reform-minded Republicans became known as the "Republican Revolt."
The First Cleveland AdministrationAs a "caretaker" president, Cleveland rarely proposed legislation on his own. However, he pushed civil service reform and opposed the costly pensions that Civil War veterans clamored for. He sided with creditors and conservatives as a proponent of the gold standard in the controversy over currency.
Cleveland and the Tariff IssueCleveland dedicated his 1887 State of the Union Address to one of the defining issues of his presidency and his time: tariff reform. After the Civil War, the government routinely ran a budget surplus.Manufacturers advocated the tariff because it allowed them to charge higher prices in the absence of foreign competition.Farmers opposed it for the same reason. Cleveland advocated a reduction in tariffs, which alienated the Republican faction that got him elected.
The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887In 1887, Cleveland signed the Interstate Commerce Act, which established the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). The ICC was first independent regulatory agency in the history of the United States Government. It was designed to regulate the monopolistic railroad industry, which employed discriminatory pricing practices and kickbacks to benefit big business, like Standard Oil, and politicians, like James Blaine.
The Election of 1888Cleveland's position on the tariff alienated the Republicans who supported him in 1884. The Republicans chose Benjamin Harrison of Indiana. The campaign was subdued and narrowly focused on the tariff issue. Cleveland narrowly won the popular vote, but Harrison won with a majority of the electoral vote.
The Presidency of Benjamin HarrisonThough he received 100,000 fewer votes than Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison became the nation's 23rd President.He was active in establishing trade relations with Mexico and Central America .He was the first president since 1875 to enjoy majorities from his party in both houses of Congress. Huge appropriations bills increased the national budget to over $1 billion. Democrats were able to campaign against the "Billion Dollar Congress" and win the midterm elections of 1890.
The Sherman Silver Purchase Act and the McKinley TariffIn return for passing the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, Republicans established the protectionist McKinley Tariff of 1890. The McKinley Tariff was the second highest in US History, raising duties by 50 percent. It also had the effect of raising prices for consumers. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act put more silver-backed money into circulation, but it also led to a depletion the government's gold reserves because an unexpectedly large number of citizens took advantage of a provision in the law that allowed holders of US Treasury bonds to redeem them for gold.
The Sherman Anti-Trust Act The Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 was the government's first intervention to remedy the restraint of trade caused by monopolies and trusts. Though the measure passed unanimously in both houses of Congress, it was vague in its definitions and depended on the courts for enforcement. It was not until the end of the 19th century that the Act was stringently enforced and interpreted.
United States v. E.C. Knight and Co.The opinion from the 1895 United States v. E.C. Knight and Co. is an example of the loose interpretation and enforcement of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in its early years. According to Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, Congress may, "regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states..." Thus, the federal government cannot control economic activity within one state. In the Knight case, court declined to apply the law to a refining corporation that controlled 98% of the nation's sugar because it did not consider manufacturing to be interstate commerce.
The Election of 1892In 1892, the Democrats nominated Cleveland and the Republicans nominated Harrison.Three third parties joined the race for the presidency as well. Grover Cleveland made history as the only president to be elected to two non-consecutive terms. He won by the largest margin of any other president during the Gilded Age.He was the first Democratic president to have majorities in both houses of Congress since before the Civil War.
The Election of 1892
The Second Cleveland Administration and the Depression of 1893As Cleveland took office for a second time, the country was on the brink of economic depression. Over 16,000 business went bankrupt, the unemployment rate exceeded 20 percent, and wage cuts led to violent labor unrest and declining standards of living. Cleveland, to the dismay of fellow Democrats, forced repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and a return to the gold standard as one remedy for the financial crisis.
The Election of 1896: William Jennings BryanPresident Cleveland's actions during the depression alienated Democrats, who were pro-silver. Instead they nominated the former Congressman and electrifying orator William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska.The populist People's party also endorsed him. Bryan was called The Great Commoner because of his commitment and appeal to working and middle class Americans.
Excerpt from Bryans Cross of Gold SpeechBryans support for the backing of currency with silver instead of gold was due to the presumed inflation that it would cause, allowing farmers to more easily pay back their debts. If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing mas