THE GILDED AGE

An Age That Was Gilded

What does "gilded" mean?

As defined by Merriam-Webster, "to gild" means "to cover (something) with a thin layer of gold." This description is fitting for the time period known as the Gilded Age, as a layer of wealthy families, thriving industry, and extreme extravagance -- metaphorical "gold" -- hid America's dark underbelly, consisting of brutal child labor, discrimination of immigrants, atrocious living conditions, and political corruption.


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Grant and the Bloody Shirt Campaign

During the years of Reconstruction following the conclusion of the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination, Andrew Johnson, the new President, butted heads numerous times with Congress. Although impeachment efforts proved futile, Johnson had become unpopular enough to lose his status as the Republican candidate in 1868 to Ulysses S. Grant, a hero of the Union in the Civil War who had become tied up in the conflicts with Johnson during the impeachment proceedings.


Grant did very little to advertise his campaign for Presidency, whereas the Democratic candidate, Horatio Seymour, traveled all through the country striving to sway voters to his favor. He ultimately failed, and Grant swept into victory by "waving the bloody shirt," a euphemism for reminding America of the negative impact that the South and the Democratic Party had recently had on the country's overall welfare.

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Political Corruption

An important aspect of America's darkness during the Gilded Age was the presence of widespread political corruption. Among the most notorious corrupt politicians was William "Boss" Tweed, who exploited desperate immigrants for votes. By trading jobs, housing, and other necessities that the massive immigrant population lacked for support in elections, Tweed ensured a rapid increase in his standing in New York's "Tammany Hall Machine."



Ultimately, Boss Tweed's illegal campaign was brought to a screeching halt by a series of exposés ran in the New York Times. These primarily consisted of political cartoons drawn by caricaturist and editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast. His goal in printing these simple and direct strikes against Tweed was to educate an ignorant population to a dangerous machine of corruption that they were blindly fueling. Immigrants began to become more hesitant to accept Tweed's offers, and when the higher government received word of the situation, they captured Tweed, who had attempted to flee to Cuba, by using one of Nast's drawings as a means of identifying him.

Compromise of 1877

The Presidential election of 1876 was very controversial, as it was immediately apparent that the outcome rested on three states that still possessed Reconstruction-era Republican governments: Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. To settle the dispute, Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes and his allies met secretly with moderate southern Democrats, hoping to convince them to accept Hayes's election to Presidency. The Democrats agreed to recognize Hayes's victory on the condition that all Republican federal troops be pulled from the South, thus establishing Democratic control in that part of the country. The terms were accepted, and the Compromise of 1877 was a success; as a result, Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina became Democratic states, and the Reconstruction finally reached an official end.


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