Gilded Age – The Gilded Age lasted from the 1870s to the early 1900s and was an era of rapid economic growth, especially in the North and West. As American wages were much higher than those in Europe, especially for skilled workers, the period saw an arrival of millions of European immigrants. However, the Gilded Age was also an era of wretched poverty and discrimination as millions of immigrants, many from impoverished European nations, flooded into the United States, and the high concentration of wealth became more clear and antagonistic.
The Gilded Age also saw the emergence of Political Machines in major cities that were characterized by their corruption, bribery, and greed, as well as the continued effort of women activists for better rights. The Gilded Age was significant in that it was characterized by increasing populations, industrialization, and racism and segregation. Spoils System – In a government, a spoils system (also known as a patronage system) is a process where after a political party is elected, they award their government civil jobs to the supporters of the party, as well as the leader’s friends and relatives.
This process gave those selected more incentive to join the party, as well as motivated others to join the political party so they would get jobs too. Significance: The politics of the US ran on a spoils system, giving many people unfair jobs and counting others out of jobs as well. This sparked a civil service reform movement, due to citizens unhappiness with their opportunities due to the spoils system. This led to the Pendleton Civil Service Act. Stalwarts, Half Breeds, and Mugwumps – Stalwarts refers to the faction of the republican political party that opposed reformation (of the spoils system).
Half Breeds, in contrast, were the members of the Republican party in favor of reform. Mugwumps were political activists that eventually left the Republican party to join the Democrats due to their support of Grover Cleveland. Significance: These opposing views led to more conflict between the political parties. They contributed to the push for reform in 1883 as the Patronage system grew further unpopular, and provided different viewpoints on the spoils system. The Half Breeds really advocated for reform and different laws, eventually leading to the Pendleton Civil Service Act of 1883.
Pendleton Civil Service Act – The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act was a United States Federal Law imposed in 1883. This Act established that positions and jobs in the federal government must be awarded based on merit, not by personal or political affiliation or favoritism. Significance: The Pendleton Civil Service Act essentially abolished the spoils system that the US had in place and instead began a government system based on merit, not pardons. This paved the way for more political competition in the US and more work for those in politics. Munn v Illinois (1877)- Munn v.
Illinois was a Supreme Court Case in 1877 in which the awarded the power to regulate industries to the federal government. The Illinois legislature was convinced by farmers’ pressure to set maximum rates that companies could charge for agriculture and transport of agricultural products. A Chicago warehouse firm “Munn and Scott” violated this rate, and the case was brought to the Supreme Court. Significance: The Supreme Court ruling that the federal government had regulations over industries gave the federal government an immense amount of power compared to what they had before.
This means that the government could egulate private businesses, railroads, and other things that may affect public interest. This also contributed to the spark of the Populist movement of the 19th century. Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)- The Interstate Commerce Commission was an agency in the United States that was a direct outcome of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. The original purpose of the ICC was to regulate railroads for fair well as to attempt to minimize racial discrimination in different areas of life. The ICC was expanded in 1906 to regulate other areas of commerce, but it was disbanded in 1995.
The Surface Transportation Board assumed its purposes in the 21st century. Significance: The ICC had effect in many different aspects. When focusing on eliminating racial discrimination, the ICC initiated racial integration on public transport (ie. trains) and addressed many complaints made by citizens. However, the ICC’s limitation of railroad rates led to the panic of 1907, which eventually got resolved. McKinley Tariff of 1890-William McKinley was a member of the US House of Representatives in 1890. McKinley was from Ohio. He imposed a tariff bill that would impose tariffs on imports.
McKinley, a Republican, was a big protectionist, essentially meaning that he wanted to preserve United States production value versus foreign resources. The tariff raised the average duty on imports to the United States. Significance: This tariff raised average duty on imports to the US by nearly 50 percent. McKinley’s method was to increase the prices of imports and make it so many could not afford them, therefore strengthening internal US production. This act also protected domestic companies and industries from foreign companies and industries, reducing the amount of external sources necessary for well being in the US.
Monetary Policy and the gold standard – When increased industrial and agricultural production caused prices to fall after the Civil War, debtors and creditors had opposing reactions. Farmers suffered because the prices they received for crops were dropping, but because high demand for relatively limited amount of available money raised interest rates on loans, it was costly for them to borrow funds to pay mortgages and other debts. They favored schemes like the backing of silver to increase the amount of currency in circulation. Expanded money supply, they reasoned, wouldn’t reduce interest rates, making their debts less burdensome.
Small businessman, needing loans to start new operations, agreed with farmers. Large merchants, manufacturers, and bakers favored a more stable, limited money supply backed only by gold (gold standard). They feared that the value of currency not backed by gold would fluctuate; the resulting uncertainty would threaten investors’ confidence in the US economy. Pres. Rutherford Hayes – Rutherford B. Hayes had been a Union general and an Ohio congressman and governor before his disputed election to the presidency in 1876, an event that prompted opponents to label him “Rutherfraud”.
Though his party expected him to serve business interests, Hayes played a quiet role as a reformer and a conciliator. He emphasized national harmony over sectional rivalry and opposed racial violence. He tried to overhaul the spoils system by electing likeminded cabinet members to his presidency. Though averse to using government power to aid the oppressed, Hayes believed society should not ignore the needs of the American Chinese and Indians, and after retiring from the presidency he worked diligently to aid former slaves.
Hayes was significant in that he was a forward-thinking reformer who wanted to crack down on corruption and help elevate the groups being discriminated against. Pres. James Garfield- A solemn and cautious man, Garfield was elected as president in 1880, and spent most of his brief presidency trying to secure an independent position among party potentates. He hoped to reduce the tariff and develop economic relations with Latin America, and please civil service reformers by rebuffing some congressmen’s demands. But his chance to make lasting contributions ended in July 1881 when Charles Guiteau shot him in a Washington railroad station.
The significance of Garfield was that he was another president who wanted to reform and improve existing corrupt systems in the government but never got the chance to enact his plans. Pres. Chester Arthur – Garfield’s successor was Vice President Chester A. Arthur, a New York spoilsman whom Hayes had fired in 1878. Though his elevation to the presidency made reformers shudder, Arthur became a dignified and temperate executive. He signed the Pendleton Civil Service Act, urged Congress to modify outdated tariff rates, and supported federal regulation of railroads.
He wielded the veto aggressively, killing several bills that excessively benefitted railroads and corporations. But congressional partisans frustrated his plans for reducing the tariff and strengthening the navy. Arthur was significant in that although he didn’t seem like he would be a reformer he actually was, and actively tried to reform taxes, civil service, and railroads. Pres. Grover Cleveland – Cleveland, the first Democratic president since James Buchanan 91857-1861), was elected in 1885. He tried to exert vigorous leadership.
He expanded civil service, vetoed hundreds of private pension bills, and urged congress to cut tariff duties. He was significant as a President in his firm belief of standing up for causes you believe in regardless of the political outcome (like his strong position on cutting tariff duties). Pres. Benjamin Harrison – The first president since 1875 whose party had majorities in both houses of Congress, Harrison was elected in 1889. Harrison used a variety of tactics, ranging from threats of vetoes to informal dinners and consultations with politicians, to influence the course of legislation.
Harrison signed the Dependents’ Pension Act, which provided pensions for Union veterans who had suffered war-related disabilities and granted aid to their widows and minor children. The Pension Act and other bills in 1890 pushed the federal budget past $1 billion for the first time ever. Harrison was significant in that he was able to pass many legislations, mostly due his party’s majority in Congress, and increased the national debt to $1 billion dollars.
Billion Dollar Congress – The 51st U. S. Congress — referred to as the “Billion Dollar Congress” by the Democrats in 1890 — was what caused the federal budget to be pushed past $1 billion for the first time in the nation’s history under Benjamin Harrison’s presidency. After Congress had passed the Pension Act, unable to resist the pressures from special interests, as well as an additional 516 bills, money was given from the government to those for Union veterans who had suffered war-related disabilities. This bill doubled the number of welfare recipients from 490,000 to 966,000. This drastically affected the U. S. economy, putting them into a debt of over $1 billion.