The Gilded Age

Chloe Moino

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The Gilded Age

This was a period of time spanning from the 1870s (proceeding the Civil War/Reconstruction) to the turn of the twentieth century. This was an era of enormous growth, especially in the North and West. It attracted millions of immigrants from Europe. However, this was also an era of poverty. The term came from writers Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, satirizing what they believed to be an era of serious social problems disguised by a thin gold gilding.


Presidential Election of 1863

Ulysses Grant was nominated as the Republican candidate in 1868, who replaced the unpopular previous president Johnson. The Democrats who were reeling from the damage done during the Civil War, nominated Horatio Seymour to run for their party. Grant did little campaigning, while Seymour traveled the country trying to reassure the public that the South wanted to fully return to the Union and the Democrats were pledged to total loyalty. This was unsuccessful, as the Grant campaign waved "the bloody shirt," a symbol to remind the voters about what the South and the Democratic Party did to the entire nation. Grant obviously ended up winning the election.


Corruption

During this time, the government at all levels saw itself a provider of essential services such as roads and as an advocate of justice, but not as responsible for the welfare of individuals. Neighborhood and fraternal associations glued the gap between what government provided and what people needed. These organizations helped people in many ways; they gave material assistance to new arrivals, got people jobs, provided necessities for families in need, supported small businesses, and provided legal assistance. Many of these associations gained a lot of power. Some began to wield it by mobilizing large blocks of voters to influence candidates, elections, and local political parties. Eventually the association leaders, called bosses, began to run for office and get elected themselves. Their first loyalty, however, was not to their government posts or to any political party but to the associations through whose ranks they had risen and to whom they owed their political and personal success. In all the large industrial cities, such associations became embedded in city government. This new political landscape where the official government was supported and seized by a shadow government of bosses and associations became known as machine politics for its ability to call out the votes “like a machine” to sponsor any political agenda. It is important to remember that these associations sprang up to provide vital services to people who had no other recourse. But because shadow government operated outside the public eye, opportunities for graft and abuse of power disbanded. One example of the machine politics was Tammany Hall, headquarters of the Democratic Party in New York City. Headed by William Marcy Tweed, the Tammany Hall political machine of the late 1860s and early 1870s used graft, bribery, and rigged elections to bilk the city of over $200 million. Some of this money went to various projects at hugely inflated expense, that lined the pockets of building contractors and suppliers of materials. But 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. Thomas Nast was an American caricaturist and cartoonist who is considered to be the "Father of the American Cartoon". He caused the downfall of Boss Tweed and the Tammany Hall political machine. Nast's drawings were instrumental in the downfall of Boss Tweed and his corruption. Tweed led a ring that had gained total control of New York City's government. Nast's cartoons attacked the Tammany corruption and they had appeared in the newspapers occasionally since 1867, intensified his focus on the four principal players in 1870 and especially in 1871. Nast pressed his attack in the pages of Harper's, and he was removed from power in the election of November 7, 1871. Boss Tweed was arrested in 1873 and convicted of fraud. When Tweed attempted to escape by fleeing to Spain, officials were able to identify the fugitive by using one of Nast's cartoons. :)


Compromise of 1877

An unwritten deal that settled the 1876 presidential election tie between Republican Rutherford Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden. Hayes was awarded the presidency, on a couple of conditions. He had to exchange for the permanent removal of federal troops from the South. Also, he had to appointment of at least one Southern Democrat to Hayes's cabinet; construct another transcontinental railroad using the Texas and Pacific in the South; and legislation to help industrialize the South and get them back on their feet after the terrible loss during the Civil War. In exchange, Democrats would peacefully accept Hayes's presidency.


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