The Gilded Age

By Caroline Rogers

Definition of "Gilded"

Gilded: To cover with a thin layer of gold

The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today

An 1873 novel by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner that discusses the greed and political corruption after the civil war in the era now referred to as the Gilded Age.

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Election of Grant / Bloody Shirt Campaign

Ulysses Grant was nominated as the Republican candidate in 1868, replacing the Andrew Johnson. The Democrats,staggering after the damage done during the Civil War, nominated Horatio Seymour of New York to run for president. 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 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 was reassuring following such a tumultuous decade.

Bloody Shirt:

Bloody Shirt was part of the expression "waving the bloody shirt," referring to a political plan used in campaigns during the Reconstruction period, following the Civil War. This term described the attempts made by radical northern Republicans to defeat southern Democrats by talking about bloody sacrifice designed to keep alive the hatreds and prejudices of the Civil War period. During the most forceful attacks, in the campaigns of 1872 and 1876, orators would literally wave a bloody shirt to remind audiences of the Civil War casualties.

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The Corruption

Corruption during the Gilded Age was found in all levels of government. The Presidents power was at an all time low. Congress was also corrupt and operated on the "spoils system" which gave government money to friends of political leaders for favors or kickbacks. The country began fragmenting into different groups broken up along ethic and economic lines. The rich got richer and lived like royalty and exploited the poor to make their fortunes. Immigrants poured into the US and tended to stay with people from their own county. Cities became more and more crowded and soon immigrant groups elected their own members to political office. These people were called "bosses" who had loyalty to their own group. They formed "machines" because they could turn out votes like a machine. The biggest example occurred in New York City where William "Boss" Tweed ran the city using bribery, kickbacks and intimidation. A cartoonist named Thomas Nast showed the city how corrupt Tweed was using his cartoons in the newspaper. Eventually Nast and The New York Times caused Tweed to be jailed for his crimes.

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Compromise of 1877

The Compromise of 1877 was an unwritten deal that settled the 1876 U.S. presidential election by making Republican Rutherford B. Hayes President over Samuel Tilden. This election was so close it had to be decided in the House of Representatives. The House worked out a compromise which allowed Hayes to be president under these conditions:

  • The removal of all Federal troops from the former Confederate states. (Troops only remained in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida, but the Compromise finalized the process.) Hayes had already promised to do this.
  • The appointment of at least one Southern Democrat to Hayes' cabinet (David M. Key of Tennessee was appointed Postmaster General.) Hayes had already promised this.
  • The construction of another transcontinental railroad using the Texas and Pacific in the South (this had been part of the "Scott Plan" which initiated the process which led to the final compromise)
  • Legislation to help industrialize the South

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