Reform and the Gilded Age

  1. Politics and Corruption
    1. The 1870s and 1880s were marked by weak presidents, a strong Congress, and widespread corruption
    2. Patronage at the root of most politics
      1. Powerful politicians doled out favors - money, jobs, contracts, in exchange for loyalty and votes
      2. Government money was used to fund campaigns, and government workers were forced to contribute an volunteer in campaigns
    3.  Corruption rampant in local politics
      1. In most large cities, power went to party "bosses" who could deliver the growing immigrant vote through power of patronage
      2. The result was political "machines," where neighborhood party officials distributed cash, booze, and patronage to deliver votes
      3. The most effective of these was Tammany Hall, the political machine led by George Washington Plunkitt that ran New York City
    4.  Emphasis on patronage and resulting corruption did little to resolve social problems
      1. The rapid industrialization of the the late 19th century produced a large urban poor and many social problems
      2. Pollution, crime, urban poverty, and labor violence were common problems, and growing
    5. Civil Service reform
      1.  President James Garfield was assassinated in 1881 by a supporter who did not get the patronage job he felt he deserved
      2. This led to calls for reform of in the patronage system
      3. Pendleton Act (1883)
        1. an early effort at replacing patronage with merit examinations for jobseekers - initially only covered 10% of government jobs
        2. Parties increasingly would turn to big business for funding
    6. Many elites saw no need for fundamental reform
      1. Official attitude of both major parties was that government had little role to play in social reform an should take a hands off approach
      2. Social Darwinism
        1. popular among many elites in the Gilded Age
        2. Herbert Spencer took Darwin's ideas about survival of the fittest in biology and applied them to human society
        3. In Social Darwinism, people naturally rise or fall in social position based on their moral, physical and intellectual fitness
        4. Any social reform would interfere with this natural process, and allow the weak to survive, retarding societies ability to progress
      3. Andrew Carnegie and the Gospel of Wealth
        1. One of the wealthiest men in America, Carnegie promoted a version of Social Darwinism
        2. People with large fortunes like his had them because of their greater skills, intelligence, etc.
        3. Wealth concentrated in the hands of the few was good, because these more fit individuals could manage this wealth for the benefit of all
  2. Reformism
    1. Many in the middle class did not fully accept Social Darwinism, and demanded social and political reform
    2. Middle class reformers, like Social Darwinists, saw social problems as mainly the fault of the poor, but that they could be reformed
    3. Some were motivated by the Social Gospel, a belief that Christian piety demanded that Christians assist the less fortunate
    4. Settlement houses were one product of the Social Gospel
      1. Social reformers wanted to address the underlying causes of poverty and other social problems
      2. Middle class reformers moved into the slums, setting up centers to provide social services
      3. Sought to bring the values of small-town, middle class America to the inner city, as a way of eliminating poverty
      4. Most famous was Hull House, founded by Jane Addams in Chicago in 1889
    5. Temperance movement
      1. Many Gilded Age reformers felt that alcohol consumption was the main source of social problems, and sought to have it banned
      2. Alcohol consumption had skyrocketed since the Civil War
      3. Women were the strongest proponents of temperance
      4. Temperance was also seen as a way to break the political power of Catholic immigrants, who were regarded as heavy drinkers
      5. Bans on alcohol were passed in some areas -- movement would grown in the early twentieth century
    6. Women's suffrage
      1. Many middle class women felt social and moral reform depended on women getting the right o vote
      2. In 1890, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) formed from a union of the main suffrage groups
      3. Downplayed earlier efforts to gain a broad equality for women in favor of focusing on the single issue of voting
      4. Argued that women needed the vote to protect themselves, and could use the vote to make society more moral and counteract the votes of immoral immigrants
  3. People's Party - a more radical approach to reform
    1. Founded by western farmers 1892 - also known as the Populist Party
    2. Sought to break the power of the traditional parties and of big business
    3. Goals
      1. Direct democracy, including direct election of Senators
      2. Labor reform, including the eight hour day
      3. Graduated income tax
      4. Cheap credit (in the form of silver money)
      5. Government ownership of railroads and utilities
    4. Tried to reach out to blacks, poor farmers, and urban laborers
    5. Got a million votes and won four states in the 1892 presidential election, but unable to forge a winning national alliance




Politics and Reform




Identification Terms: Pendleton Act of 1883, temperance movement, , settlement house movement, l, NAWSA, People’s Party



Essay Question: Trace the development of national politics in America during the “Gilded Age” and explain the dynamics operative during this age that persuaded middle-class reformers to turn their attention to creating social change. Who were the reformers and what were their purposes? Discuss the various reformist philosophies for confronting the problems associated with growing inequalities of wealth in the society.