The Gilded Age


What Exactly does "Gilded" Mean?

The term gilded refers to the covering up of an ugly or inexpensive interior with a thin coating of gold. It creates the illusion of wealth and value, while maintaining a low-grade interior. The term gilded can be used to describe the American society in this time period, as it maintained an outward image of prosperity and increasing wealth while in reality society was not nearly as bright and prosperous as it appeared. The term "The Gilded Age" to describe the are was coined by the author Mark Twain in a book of the same name,

The Election of Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses Grant was the Republican candidate in 1868, replacing the unpopular Andrew Johnson. The Democrats, nominated Horatio Seymour of New York to run for president. Grant did very little campaigning, while Seymour traveled the country asserting that Democrats supported the full reunification of the North and the South, trying to win enough support to win the election despite the unpopularity of the Democratic party. He was unsuccessful, due to the "Bloody Shirt" campaign of the Republicans. This was a euphemism for reminding the voters about what the Democratic party, and the entire South, did to the nation during the Civil War, and reminded everybody of the military success of Grant. Grant won the election with 53% of the popular vote and 214 of a total possible 294 electoral votes.

Corruption and William "Boss" Tweed

The population of America after the Civil War ballooned with a huge wave of immigration bringing thousands of unskilled, uneducated laborers to the US. While farmers and agricultural workers barely maintained their numbers, business and industry boomed. Although a small number of immigrants were able to be successful if they had a skill or a bit of education, the vast majority were unskilled and desperate to find a job. When the immigrants arrived on American shores, they gravitated toward established enclaves of people with the same language and customs. Cities became filled with tens of thousands of people who, because they could not afford the cost of public transportation, had to live within walking distance of their employment. As a result, huge factories and industries were ringed with multistory tenements that offered workers a bit of shelter but nothing more. The law was supposed to protect people from being wronged, but beyond that they were responsible for their own fate. That is where William "Boss" Tweed and Tammany Hall came into play. He helped a large number of immigrants by providing necessities for families in distress, aiding new arrivals in employment, and even legal assistance. But the system became corrupt, as the contractors and suppliers, and anyone else doing business in the city, had to give kickbacks to the bosses in order to stay in business. Many machine bosses, including Boss Tweed, amassed fortunes as a result of kickbacks and bribes. Yet despite the corruption and immoral dealings of Tweed, he remained popular, as his business did a lot of good for the poor laborers of the time. It wasn't until Thomas Nast began drawing comics about him that the public finally realized the extent of his deceptions.

Compromise of 1877

The Compromise of 1877 was a deal in which, after the disputed 1876 Presidential Election, Southern Democrats in Congress agreed to allow the Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes to become the president, in return for the removal of all Federal troops from ex-Confederate states. This effectively ended Reconstruction, and Republican political control of Southern states.