Gilded Age Essay
The period in the United States from around
1877 to 1895 was one in which American society underwent enormous change.Order now
New social and economic processes such as changing political parties, questioning
citizenship, and formations of labor unions disrupted older ways of organizing
American society, challenged traditional ways of thinking about what it
meant to be an American, and led Americans to look for ways to cope with
these changes. The Gilded Age proved to be an era which America appeared
great on the outside, when in reality the country was internally struggling
to deal adapt to the many changes economically and socially. This paper
will discuss the ways in which changes disrupted traditional American ideas
and structures and how Americans clashed over coping with this massive
change by looking at Robert Cherny’s American Politics in the Gilded Age,
“The River Ran Red” and the fourteenth amendment.
Cherny discussed many of the changes that
occurred during 1877-1895 in his book American Politics in the Gilded Age.
Cherny’s focus early in the book on the role of the political parties during
the time period. He does not scratch the surface, but tries to dig deep
the Gilded Age of politics. Cherny also addresses social and economic changes.
He said that progress merely provided a “gleaming surface of the Gilded
Age. Just below that golden surface, however, lay twelve-hour workdays
in factories, the widespread use of child labor, and large-scale business
.” (Cherny 4).
During the gilded age, parties changed
their traditional ways of voting and elections. Parties were at war to
gain political majority in order to have control in government decisions,
so they began tactics to insure victories at the polls. Parties discouraged
attendance at primaries by meeting at late hours and dangerous areas, developed
bargaining tactics like “logrolling” (trading of influence or votes among
legislators to gain passage of certain projects), and voters found it difficult
to split a ticket when party organizers left no space to fill in names
on the ballot. In Cherny’s book, Richard Jensen said that “Elections were
treated like battles in which the two main armies (parties) concentrated
on fielding the maximum number of troops (voters) on the battlefield (polls)
on election day” (Cherny 12).
America was supposedly a country where a
man could choose freely who he wanted to represent him, but in reality
parties choose the candidates.
In the video “The River Ran Red,” the events
of the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892 showed the myths of America being
destroyed by giants like Andrew Carnegie who tried taking away his workers
economic independence. The Union wanted to keep short workdays and good
working conditions. Carnegie wanted to gain control of the factory from
the Union and then implement lower wages. America struggled to maintain
industrial progress and also allow workers to have time outside work. The
Union and talks of strike was not welcome in the world of Carnegie, and
was not a change the nation was willing to accept.
America portrayed a
myth of economic independence and boundless opportunity during the industrial
progression, when in reality a worker was controlled by executive tyrants
below the gilded surface.
The fourteenth amendment centralized on
establishing that the federal government was more powerful than the state
government, something that American citizens were not going to accept.
The amendment gave blacks citizenship, which then also gave them the right
to vote. Legally it gave some rights to blacks, but in reality Americans
were fearful of losing political power, especially in the southern states.
According to the amendment, no “state deprive any person of life, liberty,
. nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection
of the laws,” (Fourteenth Amendment, 1868). The amendment targeted southerners,
who in turn were unwilling to accept the new given rights to blacks nor
the governments power over the state.
Although America on the outside showed
gilded signs of progress, the country was battling as political corruption,
labor strikes, and southerner’s who continued to cling to their old ways
by refusing to comply with the federal government. Political parties mocked
the myth that America was a classless/democratic society. The labor union
disputes dispelled the myths that America was ideal of economic independence
and that it was the land of boundless opportunity.
Finally, all men
were not equal or have basic citizenship rights, despite the fourteenth
amendment. All the problems that America had was covered by a golden surface
labeled as progression while its citizens suffered and battled. .