The paper discusses politics in the Gilded Age. Include major political
events and issues, and the roles of the bloody shirt, corruption,
patronage, and reform movements. The term Gilded Age was named for a Mark Twain
book. It meant covered with gold, and was applied to this period as a whole.
This was a period of corruption in sordid politics.
The Republicans and
Democrats didnt really have strong opposing beliefs during this period. The
Republicans supported high tariffs and sound money. The Democrats supported
lower tariffs and expanded currency. Both rural and urban classes supported each
party. They worked with spoils and local issues. Both parties worked to please
everyone, and to attract voters.
Since both parties were so close in strength,
it caused the elections to be fought harder. The Republicans used the waving of
the bloody shirt tactic. This meant that they brought back the past in order to
avoid the real issues. They portrayed the Democrats as rebel traitors. The
Republicans were against alcohol. The Stalwarts were led by Senator Conkling
from New York and were the hard core machine of elections.
Senator Blaine led
the Half-Breeds from Maine, and they wanted to be in control of it all. The
mugwumps were a group that turned Democrat because of the corruption of the
Republican presidential nominee, Senator Blaine. One president was Grant during
this period. He was elected into office for his past war experience. He had
little knowledge of politics, and depended on his fellow politicians. These men,
in turn, involved in scandals to embezzle money from the government.
One was the
Great Mobilier scandal; it dealt with the Union Pacific Railroad. The
Construction Company hired themselves at inflated prices to build railroad
lines, and distributed shares of stock to congressmen. A scandal during
Grants second term, was the Whisky Ring. This scandal was uncovered in St.
Louis, and consisted of selling whiskey without the excise tax. In return it
defrauded the government out of millions of dollars.
Belknap was selling goods
and trading with the Indians for lower prices. During Grants administration
the monetary issues were inflation, cheap money, and greenbacks. The debtors,
especially farmers, wanted cheap money. However, Grant vetoed the bill to print
more money, and supported withdrawing greenbacks from circulation. Hayes won the
disputed election. Four states submitted irregular returns.
It was disputed if
the Republican president of the Senate or the Democratic Speaker of the House
should count them. It was decided that an electoral commission made up of
fifteen men. There were eight Republicans and seven Democrats, so the
Republicans won. The Democrats would only accept this with conditions, one of
which was to remove troops from the south. The next president was a political
unknown. His name was James Garfield.
A disturbed politician shot him in
the back at a railroad. This demonstrated the corruption in the patronage system
and led to reform. In the next presidential election the Republicans nominated
James Blaine and the Democrats supported Grover Cleveland. Both parties were the
same on issues and both agreed on tariff and corporate abuses, so it came down
to personal issues. Cleveland won the election and was the first Democratic
President since before the Civil War. His philosophy of government was almost
He believed that the government should not support people. He
wanted to reform tariff, but congress postponed it. The Republicans described
Clevelands tariff reform as a free trade policy that would ruin American
industries and put Americans out of work. The Republicans regain the White House
with Benjamin Harrison. The payoffs for industries were high tariffs. The
downside was increased government spending.
The Sherman Silver Purchase Act was
passed to help the silver minors and economy. During President Clevelands
reelection, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act drained the treasuries. Paper notes
were traded for gold, then reissued, and the process would be repeated. The
worst depression of that century occurred during Clevelands second term.
Cleveland tried to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, but it was too late.
Gold was almost depleted, so he borrowed $62 million in gold from J.
The Wilson-Gorman Act reduced tariff slightly, and had a provision that the
Populist favored. It was a 2% income tax on incomes over $4000 a year. In all
Cleveland was unable to deal with the economic crises in his second term. There
was too much corruption during this period.
Honest politicians and businessmen
might have prevented the depression. The big businesses were really in charge.
The quality of Presidents played a major role .