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The best president in the Gilded Age

The post Civil War era known as The Gilded Age took place from approximately 1870 until about 1896. This period of time possibly received its name from a novel by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner. In this novel, they told that underneath the diplomatic and successful eminence of the late nineteenth century lurked dishonesty and greed in American society. There were five presidents in and out of the White House during those twenty-six years; and although so much time went by, not much seemed to be accomplished. Consequently, none of the presidents in the Gilded Age were looked very highly upon.

However, he one that achieved the most was Grover Cleveland, whose reform efforts seemed to be the most dedicated. The six presidents who took office between the years of 1870 and 1896 were Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison. These presidents are among the nations least-known chief executives. A reflection of the times, they were nicknamed, the lost Americans. Philosopher and historian, Henry Adams, wrote of this era: No period so thoroughly ordinary had been known in American politics since Christopher Columbus first disturbed American society.

The period was poor in urpose and barren in results. (Smith 19) Some of these presidents shared similar backgrounds from home-states to their Civil War experiences, but All generally shared a limited view of the presidencys role in national life. (Smith 19) In 1876, the Republicans thought they found a candidate who would fit the billRutherford B. Hayes. Running against Samuel Tilden, they both had reputations of honest politicians in the era of widespread corruption. After a confusing election, Hayes stole the presidency and became the nineteenth president of the United States. (Kent 39) Hayes faced challenges as president.

In July 1877, a massive strike by railroad workers halted trains all over the country. Many politicians and railroad executives urged Hayes to put the railroads under federal control or to use troops to break up the strike. Hayes did send federal troops to keep order in several cities, but he refused to take sides. The president also refused to sign legislation aimed at keeping Chinese immigrants out of the country. Hayes was a semi-accepted president, and he may have won a second term. But Hayeswho called the presidency, this life of bondage, responsibility, and toildecided not to seek reelection. Kent 55)

From the very beginning James Garfield looked upon his victory with worry. He stated, I know I am bidding good-bye to my old freedom,(Brown 49) he wrote after the election. I know many will be disappointed with me. (Brown 104) His worries turned out to be justified. Two hundred days later, President Garfield died at the age of forty-nine after being shot five weeks earlier by assassin, Charles Guiteau. Therefore, the president was barely able to accomplish anything. (Brown 91) Chester Arthur changed his political style when he was in office, but not his personal style.

He loved to party at the White House, and often did not oncentrate enough on his job. (Stevens 25) Arthurs commitment to end political corruption surprised many. He was not afraid to veto politically popular bills, including the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1882. Although Arthur turned out to be a much better president than most Americans expected, his policies angered many Republicans, and he was not renominated in 1884. (Stevens 88) In the White House, Benjamin Harrison made good on his promise to support high tariffs; the McKinley Tariff Act, passed by Congress in 1890, raised tariffs to the highest level ever.

He also supported two other major pieces of conomic legislation: the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. (Clinton 17) His presidency marked the beginning of change in American foreign policy. Harrison was renominated in 1892, although he had angered many party members by refusing to grant jobs and favors to political allies, but he lost the election to a better manGrover Cleveland. (Clinton 60) Forgettable, but not completely unaccomplished, Grover Cleveland is remembered as the twenty-second and twenty-fourth president of the United States.

It all began during the campaign of 1884 when Cleveland ran against James G. Blaine, also known by Clevelands Democratic supporters as, Blaine! Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine! (Shenkman 125) Not to be outdone, Blaines Republican supporters chanted, Ma, Ma, wheres my Pa? (Kent 53) that refers to a scandal brought out about Cleveland in the election. After a mudslinging election, his honesty impressed enough Americans to make Grover Cleveland the first Democrat elected president since James Buchanan in 1856, and the Democrats replied, Gone to the White House!

Ha, Ha, Ha! (Kent 54) Clevelands first term began with a fierce political battle. During the Civil War, Congress had enacted high tariffstaxes on imported goodsto protect American industries from overseas competition. In the years after the war, the tariffs brought in so much money that the federal treasury had a large surplus. Many congressmen wanted to reduce this surplus by giving aid to farmers and increasing pensions for Civil War veterans. Cleveland, who was conservative on economic issues, vetoed all these measures. Collins 113)

In December 1887, the president announced that he wanted the tariffs lowered, and he made tariff reduction the chief issue of his campaign for re-election in 1888. The Republicans, who supported high tariffs, spent millions of dollars on the campaign of their candidate, Senator Benjamin Harrison of Indiana. In a close election, Cleveland won about 100,000 more popular votes than Harrison, but lost the Electoral Collegeand the election– to his Republican challenger. Smith 78)

On the day Grover and his wife, Frances, Cleveland left the White House in 1889, the First Lady told the White House doormen that they would be back, just four years from today. (Collins 64) Her prediction turned out to be true. Clevelands comeback came in 1892 when he defeated his opponent from his ast election, Benjamin Harrison, and became the only former president reelected to a second, non-consecutive term. Even before he took office, Grover Clevelands second administration suffered a bad blow. In February 1893, the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad went bankrupt, and four more major railroads followed.

This touched off a financial panic that soon turned into the worst economic depression in decades. (Kent 83) By the end of Clevelands first year in office more than four million Americans were out of work. (Collins 77) A growing financial crisis added to Clevelands problems. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act, passed in 1890, required the federal government to purchase silver s well as gold for the federal treasury, and citizens could exchange paper currency for either silver or gold. As the depression worsened, many Americans converted their paper money into gold, which was more valuable than silver.

This led to a steep drop in the amount of gold in the federal treasury, which in turn caused the U. S. dollar to lose value. (Kent 86) Cleveland, a hard-money man, believed that the bad times would end if the country made gold alone the standard for U. S. currency. (Collins 65) To accomplish this, he launched a etermined effort to get Congress to repeal the Silver Purchase Act. The president won this battle after a special session of Congress repealed the act in November of 1893, but the repeal campaign cost Cleveland the support of the many Democrats who supported the Populist demand for more coinage of silver.

In the summer of 1894, railroad workers halted trains around the country to support a strike by workers at the Pullman railroad car factory near Chicago. The strike stopped mail service, and Cleveland decided to intervene. In the first use of presidential power to halt a labor dispute, Cleveland issued an rder to end the strike, and ordered federal troops to Chicago to keep the peace. (Smith 51) By the election year of 1896, Cleveland was unpopular with both the American people and Democratic Party leaders.

A political cartoon published just before the election of 1896 depicts Cleveland as a fool whose policies have wrecked the economy, increased the national debt, and ruined the prosperity of the country. (Smith 62) The cartoonist, Victor Gillam, measures Cleveland against earlier presidents from Washington to Benjamin Harrison on a sliding scale, implying that the nation’s presidents had become increasingly less capable. At the Democratic Partys 1896 convention, the delegates ignored Grover Cleveland and nominated William Jennings Bryan. Collins 90)

No president was ever so persistently and malignantly lied about as Grover Cleveland has been,(Smith 103) exclaimed the Indianapolis Sentinel in June 1896. Although he honestly did his best to help the economy, jobless Americans, striking laborers, and political enemies all blamed him for the countrys troubles. Even the Democrats turned against their hardworking leader. Nonetheless, the legacy of the Cleveland presidencies stands firm. A political system that had wallowed in muck created by those who would reward riends and supporters with jobs was lifted onto a higher plain. Kent 67)

Despite the countless battles he fought and lost over the tariff system, Cleveland alerted Americans to the dangers of overprotecting themselves from imported goods. He steered the country away from an imperialistic attitude that might have caused irreparable damage in the eyes of the world. He did it by emphasizing that America must demonstrate a good conscience in whatever it does. Ironically, the combined results of his actions lost him the support of his own political party as well as much of his own personal popularity. Others would have made different choices, not Grover Cleveland.

I shall make whatever decisions I must with as much wisdom as I possess,(Miller 227) he said once. No outcry from those around me will cause me to alter my course. No newspaper editorials or election will tell me whether I have decided correctly. For that, I shall listen to My Maker when He chooses to call me home. (Shenkman 317) This statement made by Grover Cleveland, himself, shows that he possessed strong beliefs, commendable morals, dedication, and leadership abilities capable of making him the finest of the forgettable presidents.

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