The Gilded Age

Stephanie Teffeteller

The History of the Name

Author, Mark Twain, who co-wrote a novel entitled The Gilded Age is accredited for the name of the era. Gilded age refers to obsession with appearances. The word “gilded” literally means covered with gold leaf or gold paint which masks a cheap, less attractive inside. It also carries connotations of cheap commercialization, shoddiness, and fakery.“Gilded Age” also suggests a fascination with gold itself and with the wealth and power that gold symbolizes. Twain’s novel is about social climbers and get-rich-quick schemers who manipulate and scam much like William Tweed who thrived during this era.


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The Election of 1868 and The Bloody Shirt Campaign

Ulysses S. Grant ran against Horatio Seymour. After Grant and President Johnson disputed in 1867 when Grant refused to back Johnson in his struggle with Congress, Grant began leaning towards radical republican views. He believed that the federal government had the responsibility of protecting the African Americans from post war rasism and oppressive southern governments. Grant also supported the idea of keeping former confederate leaders from holding public office. Even without any significant campaigning, Grant was the most popular candidate and won the majority of the popular and electoral votes. The strategy of the bloody shirt campaign was first introduced in the election of 1868. The Grant and the Radical Republicans employed this method to appeal to voters by reminding them of the struggles and passions of the Civil War. It targeted Northern war veterans but also build general resentment towards the democratic party. Finally it assisted Republicans to focus public attention on the reconstruction still at hand which won over votes from many former slaves.
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Corruption of the Gilded Age

Machine Politics

William Marcy Tweed ran Tammany Hall, which was infamous for its machine politics. Boss Tweed used bribery, graft, kickbacks and rigged elections to steal $200 million from the city of few York. Citizens who recognized this abuse taking place were unable to complain because they would have to endure raised taxes and death threats. Thomas Nast began exposing Tweed's corruption through his political cartoons, which help illiterate or non-english speaking immigrants to understand Tweed's misuses. However, it was not until 1871, when the New York Times published significant evidence of the misuse of public fund, that Boss Tweed was eventually convicted.

Thomas Nast's Political Cartoons against Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall

Influx of immigrants and corruption in the workforce

Unfortunately, the significant rise in immigration after the Civil War made workers dispensable. There were so many unskilled workers seeking jobs, esspecially in factories, that factory owners were able to exploit their employees. They provided tenements for the workers to dwell in. They also gave them low wages and often raised prices in the towns where the workers lived so that they would stay indebted to the company. If the workers dare to go on strike or ask for better wages or conditions, they were fired and black listed so that they were unable to find work elsewhere.


Spoils System

The Neopotism was a method government officials used and gave public office jobs to their relatives. Patronage was also an issue when officials also gave jobs as payment for political favors. A combination of these two forms of corruption left the government filled with uncualified workers. Improvement came when Chester A. Arthur took over and supported civil service reform. The Civil Service Comission was created during Aurthur's term and sought to bring government under the merit system (when compentency had to be evaluated prior to being granted a federal position). Unfortunately, at first, it only affected 10% of government jobs.


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Businesses would form duplicated boards

Corporations would form a duplicated board for two companies. All of the assets from the companies with transferred to the parent company and the other filed for bankruptcy. This left all of the investors and stockholders of the bankrupt company with nothing while the owners gain a hefty profit.


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Compromise of 1877

This compromise was between the Democrats and the Republicans immediately following the election of 1876. Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina were the only three states remaining outside the union at the time and were the only ones with radical republicans still in power. Republican candidate Rutherford Hayes met in secret with Southern democrats to negotiate the acceptance of Hayes' election. The Democrats eventually agreed not to dispute Hayes election as long as federal troops were removed from the South. Former slaves saw this compromise as the "Great Betrayal" because it eliminated hopes of forcing the South to respect the rights of all citizens. This marked the end of reconstruction.


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