The Gilded Age

By: Jean Choi 5th period

Part A: The Gilded Age

  • The period following the Civil War (late nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries) was called "The Gilded Age." The word "gilded" means "covered thinly with gold leaf or gold paint." It was called the Gilded Age to suggest the tarnish that lay beneath the layer of gold and it was the era of political machines and "bosses." Immigrants only heard of the "gold" part of the United States, such as the new innovations, new jobs, newfound wealth and etc. but in reality, U.S was going through a time of cheap commercialization, shoddiness, and fakery. It was also an age of such extremes of both wealth and poverty, opportunity and disaster, high standards and low practices.

Part B: Election of Grant and the "Bloody Shirt" Campaign

In 1868 Ulysses Grant was nominated as the Republican candidate in 1868, replacing Andrew Johnson. Grant did little campaigning while Seymour, the Democrat nominee, traveled the country trying to reassure the public that the South wanted to fully return to the Union and that they were pledged to total loyalty. This was unsuccessful, as the Grant campaign waved "the bloody shirt," a euphemism for reminding the voters about what the South, and the Democratic Party, did to the nation. Grant won 53% of the popular vote and 214 of a possible 294 electoral votes. His promise to return the nation to peace sounded more convincing following such a tumultuous decade.

Scandals: While Grant was a trustworthy and honest person, his friends were not.

Credit Mobilier (1872): This was fradulent, pricate construction company that fleeced the United States government by padding federal contracts and skimming off the profits of the Union Pacific Railroad. The scandal involved several leading Republicans, including Schuyler Colfax, Grant's vice president.

Whiskey Ring: Group of distillers who bribed federal officials and tax collectors to avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes on their product. Among the 238 men indicted in this scandal was the president's private secretary.

These scandals diverted the public's attention away from the postwar conditions in the South.

Part C: Corruption During the Gilded Age

During the Gilded Age, industrialization and commercialization began to grow which led to the development of bussinesses and companies. Governments were naive about business and the ways people made money, both illegally and legally. Because they were not able to keep up with these practices, these were allowed to continue. They adopted to the concept of "lasissez-faire" which meant the governemt should keep out of business. Even when it became clear that some regulation was necessary, especially of credit and corporate practices, government did not know where or how to apply controls. This led for many people such as the company owners to abuse or take advantage of many businneses.

William "Boss" Tweed was one of the most notorious among the political bosses of the time. By using his own "special" strategies he was able to systematically plunder New York City of sums estimated at between $30,000,000 and $200,000,000. In 1860 he was the head of Tammany Hall's general commitee and controlled the Democratic Party's nominationd to all city positions. He opened a law office through which he received large fees from various corporations for his "legal services." His supporters, also known as the "Tweed ring", continued to take advantage over the city with faked leases, padded bills, unnecessary repairs, and overpriced foods and services bought from suppliers controlled by the ring. Then in 1871, the New York Times published sufficient evidence of misuse of public funds and was able to convict Boss Tweed and some of his supporters. Because most immigrants were illiterate, political cartoonist Thomas Nast was able to convey Tweed's abuses so that everyone was able to understand.

Part D: Compromise of 1877

After the presidential election of 1876, it was evident that the outcome depended largely on disputed returns from Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina. These were the only three states in the South with Reconstruction-era Republican governments still in power. The bipartisan congressional commission debated over the outcome early in 1877 and then the allies of the Republican Party candidate Rutherford Hayes met in secret with the Southern Democrats in order to negotiate acceptance of Haye's election. This led to the Compromise of 1877 which stated that if Rutherford B. Hayes won the presidential election, he would end military reconstruction and pull federal troops out of South Carolina and Louisiana, thereby enabling Democrats to regain control of those states, effectively marking the end of the Reconstruction era.