Adam Choquette Period 4 US History The Gilded Age DBQ Emerging from the shadows of the Civil War prosperous, many ‘shoddy millionaires’ profited through schemeful enterprising, cheating the US government of millions of dollars. Unlike true patriots, such profiteers furnished union soldiers with ‘shoddy rather than virgin wool, and sold the United States government cardboard soles of shoes rendering many Union soldiers illequipped during the Civil War.
In the context of capitalism, these so called titans of industry grew more and more affluent, exploiting the American worker in order to reap the fruitful rewards of exploitative, monopolistic enterprise. Consequently, the ‘Gilded Age’ ensued, its name inspired by the delicate mask of gold camouflaging the political, social, and economic peril which threatened to erupt underneath. The influx of immigrants from east Europe served to cultivate such a system providing even cheaper labor for which the titans to employ and providing even more votes legitimizing corrupt officials’ rule.
The appallingly low wages fostered the emergence of labor unions, though these unions rarely unified and it was not until later that their effect would be fully appreciated. While characterized by rapid economic growth, the ever-widening stratification between ordinary American workers and the monopolistic titans of industry threatened conventional social, economic, and political equality. Although labor unions sought to amend such economic maltreatment, sectional interests rendered their efforts futile.
America, however, remained the land of opportunity, continuously attracting immigrants and providing the laissez faire framework for captains of industry to propel the United States to its subsequent position as a global superpower. The influx of Irish immigrants in the mid 19th century inspired a system of patron-clientelism, facilitating the rise of corrupt officials such as the famous Tammany Hall. With each new boat of immigrants that arrived at New York’s harbor, ‘bosses’ promptly provisioned them with food, shelter, and jobs.
A mutualistically dependent relationship thus arose, whereby immigrants voted for men like Boss Tweed in turn for their continued welfare. Many public works projects undertook by bosses masked the intense corruption which followed. In fact, the building of the Tammany Courthouse valued at 11 million raked in countless more millions of dollars pocketed by corrupt officials (C). Such projects, however, were simply a facade for which the bosses used to camouflage their inner-failures. Indeed, the conditions many of these immigrants endured were appalling.
Jacob Riis, a (muckraker) journalist and social reformer detailed such living conditions, describing a total of 239 families crammed into a tenement apartment. Such ‘dumbell apartments featured an air shaft throughout, intended to provide air to families on each floor, though in actuality serving as a ‘garbage’ shaft where immigrants dumped their garbage breeding horrid odors and bacterial colonies (D). NYC Commissioner Waring expanded on Rii’s description, recounting the streets as “universally in a filthy state… covered with slime. ” Such administrative negligence ultimately precipitated the Shirtwaist fire nearly a decade later.
This fire connotes the apathy not only on the part of corrupt officials but also of employers towards the hapless immigrant women workers contradicting his assertion that many changes’ within New York occurred (K). As a commissioner of the city, Waring probably would exaggerate the extent of which his city improved and while undoubtedly some infrastructural aspects of the city did improve, the Shirtwaist fire implies that government enforcement of policies was lax. Even children could not escape the exploitative measures businesses employed to maximize their profits.
Document B depicts a child laborer in a sewing shop. Employers often tasked children with the most arduous of duties while paying them paltry amounts, driving wages down and causing competition for the ordinary adult worker. Accordingly, movements such as the education movement fermented. Orchestrated by Horace Mann, the intent behind educating children was to keep them out of the factories and to cultivate a more informed citizenry. Likewise, the cult of domesticity emerged after women created competition for jobs driving wages lower.
Just as children underwent compulsory education, women were placed upon a pedestal and granted with the special job of educating the country’s youth at home. With a new influx of immigrants in the 1880s from southeastern Europe and east Asia, nativists reacted analogous to such education reformers and proponents of the cult of domesticity in years prior. Immigrants, just like women and children, were willing to work for lower wages which inspired the nativist movement to push for acts such as the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) which “suspended… the coming of Chinese laborers.
This act represented the first in US history that the government regulated immigration from a particular region. Subsequent Supreme Court Case US v. Kim Wong Ark, however, affirmed the 14th amendment’s citizenship clause asserting that the act must be “construed and executed in subordination” to the 14th amendment. While both Congress and the President worked together to appease public backlash over the Chinese immigrants stealing American jobs, it was the Supreme Court, not up for reelection and independent from the sway of public opinion which upheld the US Constitution (F).
Unfortunately, the corruption first bred at Tammany Hall extended to DC, comparatively affecting the chambers of congress and even the office of the President. This time, however, it was not the votes of immigrants but the pockets of the captains of industry which facilitated such graft. In his political cartoon “The Bosses of the Senate,” editor and cartoonist Joseph Keppler epitomizes the susceptibility of the Senate to the interests of big business trusts. In it, one can discern the intimidating faces of the large trusts overlooking their browbeaten puppets(G).
A sign hangs above them proclaiming “this is a Senate of the monopolists and for the monopolists. ” Because monopolists donated to politicians ensuring their election, they expected a return investment therefore intimidating them into protecting the trusts and such horizontal integration which enables their profiteering. A prime example of said monetary expenditures is the election of 1896 which fostered the emergence of the fourth party system. Marcus Hanna was the monopolist responsible for greasing McKinley’s election into the White House through his donations of $16 million.
Industrial tycoons undermined the virtues of capitalism, overwhelming smaller competition by bribing railroads and the government alike. Indeed, George Rice, a competing oil company owner to Rockefeller’s Standard Oil described how Rockefeller colluded with railroad companies which offered Standard Oil lower rates to transport his oil (). Congress’ futile attempt to curb such trusts manifested itself in the Sherman Antitrust act which was riddled with legal loopholes and used mostly to suppress labor unions rather than trusts.
In 1904, however, President Theodore Roosevelt ushered in the beginning of the Progressive Era, determined to break up the Northern Securities Corporation’s trust. In Northern Securities Co. V. US, the court legitimized the Sherman Antitrust Act, ruling that Northern Securities Corporation had violated it. Although the Gilded Age is characterized by pro-monopoly laissez faire government policy enabling businesses to compete on the international stage, TR ushered in a new era of government oversight, trimming back such rapid economic growth in the hands of a few while also nurturing more economic equality.
Just as the minimal enforcement of trusts throughout the 19th century reigned monopolists supreme, minimal steps to curb the exploitation of the laborer yielded analogous results. Monopolists exploited the laborer to maximize their profits, affording workers no compensation for injury received working on the rickety factory machines and providing paltry wages for dangerous work. Average wages of industrial workers between 1875 and 1879 dropped significantly, most likely due to the effects of the Panic of 1873 (1).
When companies cut wages, however, they often maintained the costs of workers’ rent and retained prices in the company store in the company store. When the workers couldn’t pay off the debts, they either were laid off or remained in perpetual debt to their employer. In 1894, following the depression of 1893, the Pullman Railroad Company slashed workers wages 1/3 yet retained company town prices. Resultantly, Eugene V Debs, founder of the American Railway Union and a subsequent socialist reformer organized a strike of the Union’s 150,000 members.
Other labor reformers such as Samuel Gompers, founder of of the American Federation of Labor declined to participate in the Pullman strike (which contributed to the AFL’s respectability). Gompers advocated to reduce hours and increase wages accpomplished by “organizing for self and mutual protection (A). ” Through its use of strike funds to compensate workers for taking up strike without pay and through its status of a federation (meaning that separate unions could join and still retain autonomy) the AFL was comparatively more successful to other labor interests.