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chapter 23 political paralysis in the gilded age

Chapter 23Political Paralysis in the Gilded Age

Grant…had no right to exist, he should have been extinct for ages…that, two thousand years after Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, a man like Grant should be called—and should actually and truly be—the highest product of the most advanced evolution, made evolution ludicrous….the progress of evolution, from President Washington to President Grant, was alone evidence enough to upset Darwin…Grant…should have lived in a cave and worn skins.

Henry Adams,

The Education of Henry Adams,


election of 1868
Election of 1868
  • Grant nominated by Republican Party
    • No political experience
    • Scandal
  • Democrats nominated Horatio Seymour
  • “Waving the Bloody Shirt”
    • ‘Vote as you shot’ became cry of Republicans
    • Grant won, but only through votes of former slaves in the South
    • Republican Party needed to continue to control the South to maintain power
    • Ushered in ‘Era of Good Stealings”

Election Campaign Baton Rouge, Louisiana, c. 1868

era of good stealings
Era of Good Stealings
  • Railroad Corruption
  • Stock Market Manipulation
  • Corrupt Judges and Politicians
    • Many put their power up for hire
    • Critics defined an honest politician as one who, once bought, stayed bought
  • Financial Peccadilloes
    • Jay Gould and ‘Jubilee Jim’ Fisk, millionaires who plotted to corner the gold market
    • Worked on President Grant and his family to prevent the Treasury from selling gold
    • On “Black Friday”
      • Fisk and Gould bid up the price of gold
      • Facing financial ruin, people demanded government action
      • Treasury released gold
      • Congressional investigation absolved Grant of actual wrongdoing (called his action stupid and indiscreet)
tammany hall
Tammany Hall
  • Political Machines
    • Informal political groups designed to gain and keep power
    • Developed because cities grew faster than governments
  • Party Bosses
    • Ran political machines
    • Used graft and fraud to control elections and city finances
    • Paid voters, politicians, and policemen
  • Tammany Hall
    • Most notorious of all Gilded Age political machines
    • Located in New York
    • Supported Democratic Party
william marcy boss tweed1
William Marcy “Boss” Tweed
  • Party boss of Tammany Hall
  • Used bribery, graft, and ‘fixed’ elections to control New York City
  • Cheated the city out of estimated $200 million
  • New York Times obtained evidence against Tweed in 1871 and published it (offered $5 million not to)
  • Political cartoonist Thomas Nast satirized Tweed constantly, though offered bribes to desist (commented that his illiterate supporters could not help seeing those ‘damn pictures’)
  • Tweed went to jail in 1874 and died behind bars
credit mobilier scandal
Credit Mobilier Scandal
  • Union Pacific stockholders, including Congressman Oakes Ames, established corporation, Credit Mobilier
  • Investors signed contracts with themselves, overcharging Union Pacific for work (since the investors controlled both companies, they paid the inflated bills)
  • Investors made millions while the company, after exhausting all federal grants, verged on bankruptcy
  • To convince Congress to bail out the company, Ames gave Union Pacific stock to other members of Congress at lowball prices
  • New York Times broke the story during the election campaign of 1872, prompting investigation
  • Investigation implicated several members of Congress, including the Speaker of the House James G. Blaine and James Garfield (future president) as well as Vice President Schuyler Colfax
election of 1872
Election of 1872
  • Liberal Republicans
    • Reform minded citizens banded together under the slogan “Turn the Rascals Out”
    • Supported oust of corrupt Grant administration and end of military Reconstruction
    • Nominated Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Times
  • Democrats
    • Endorsed Greeley after his appeal for both parties to clasp hands across “the bloody chasm”
  • Republicans
    • Renominated Grant
  • Campaign
    • Republicans, fearing defeat, ‘cleaned house’ by passing (mild) civil service reform
    • Passed a general amnesty act, which removed political disabilities from all but @500 former Confederate leaders
    • Reduced high Civil War tariffs
panic of 1873
Panic of 1873
  • Economic downturn of Grant’s second term
  • Result of overexpansion
  • Sparked by collapse of major railroad company
  • Businesses went bankrupt
    • 15,000+ went under
  • Bankers held ‘bad’ loans
  • Stock market crashed
  • Unemployment rampant
    • Riots in New York City
    • Blacks hit hardest
hard money vs cheap money
‘Hard Money’ vs. ‘Cheap Money’
  • Agrarian and debtor groups called for increase in greenbacks, reasoning that more money meant cheaper money – and rising prices and easier to pay debts
  • Creditors opposed inflation
  • ‘Hard money’ advocates convinced Grant to veto bill that increased greenbacks
  • Resumption Act of 1875
    • Withdrew even more greenbacks from circulation
    • Committed the U.S. government to redeeming all paper money IN GOLD at face value
  • “Dollar of Our Daddies”
    • Debtors called for coinage of more silver (‘sacred white metal’) as another way to drive up inflation
    • Treasury Department unrealistically argued that 1 ounce of silver was worth only 1/16 value of same amount of gold
    • Silver miners stopped production, forcing Congress to stop minting silver coins
    • New silver discoveries shot price of silver down in late 1870s
    • ‘Contraction’, contributed to deflation, worsened depression, restored government’s credit rating, brought value of greenbacks up to full face value
  • Political Backlash
    • Republican monetary policy helped elect Democratic House of Reps in 1874
    • Led to creation of Greenback Labor Party in 1878 (received 1 million+ votes and elected 14 members to Congress)
carnival of corruption continued
Carnival of Corruption Continued
  • Whiskey Ring Scandal (1874-1875)
    • Group of government officials and distillers in St. Louis cheated the government out of millions in excise tax revenues by filing false tax reports
    • Grant responded with “Let no guilty man escape”
    • Investigation implicated Grant’s personal secretary, Orville E. Babcock
    • Grant wrote letter to jury to help exonerate Babcock, further tarnishing his reputation
  • William Belknap
    • Grant’s Secretary of War
    • Accepted bribes from merchants operating at army posts in the West (supplied Indian reservations)
    • Belknap resigned in 1876, which Grant accepted “with great regret”

Gilded Age Politics

•Intense voter loyalty to two major political parties led to increased voter turnout during the Gilded Age

•Straight ticket voting was the rule

well defined voting blocs
Well Defined Voting Blocs

Democratic Bloc

Republican Bloc

Northern whites(pro-business)

African Americans

Northern Protestants (many of whom traced ancestry to Puritanism and stressed strict codes of morality/believed government should regulate economic/moral affairs of society)

Old WASPs (supported anti-immigrant laws)

Most of middleclass

  • White southerners(supported preservation of white supremacy)
  • Catholics and Lutherans (who generally took less stern view of morality)
  • Recent immigrants(especially Jews)
  • Urban working poor (pro-labor)
  • Most farmers
election of 1876
Election of 1876
  • Republicans chose Rutherford B. Hayes, former governor of Ohio
  • Democrats nominated Samuel Tilden, former governor of New York
  • Election Results
    • Tilden won 184 electoral votes (1 short of majority)
    • Hayes won 165 electoral votes
    • 20 disputed electoral votes (nineteen of which were from South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana)
compromise of 1877
Compromise of 1877
  • Congress set up electoral commission of 15 men who would be selected from Congress and the Supreme Court (8 Republicans; 7 Democrats) to decide
  • Voting proceeded along party lines, but had to be approved by Congress
  • Finally, several southern Democrats joined with Republicans to support Hayes in exchange for his removing remaining federal troops from the South, a bill to subsidize the southern transcontinental railroad, et al
  • Reconstruction Ended
    • Hayes pulled last federal troops from South Carolina and Louisiana in April, 1877
    • Republican governments collapsed, allowing southern Democrats to ‘redeem’ the South
the new south
The ‘New South’
  • New Industry
    • Alliance between powerful white Southerners and northern financiers brought new system of economics to the South
    • Included building new railroads and starting new businesses
      • Thriving iron and steel industry in Alabama
      • Tobacco processing in North Carolina
      • Cotton mills throughout the region
  • Crop Lien System
    • Return to the ‘Old South’
      • Region remained agrarian (in 1900 only 6% of Southern labor force worked in manufacturing)
      • Blacks had no political power and were forced to labor under harsh conditions
    • Tenant farming
      • Blacks and poor whites rented land, often from former plantation owners
    • Sharecropping
      • Paid a share of crop yield to land owner to cover rent and cost of farming supplies
    • Furnishing merchants
      • Stores and local suppliers provided sharecroppers with supplies on credit at high interest
      • Merchants allowed by law to put liens on crops
    • Debt peonage
      • Sharecroppers could not make enough money to pay debts and leave
      • Trapped former slaves in circumstances that mimicked slavery
the birth of jim crow
The Birth of Jim Crow
  • Jim Crow Laws
    • Systematic state-level legal statutes that enforced segregation (separation of the races)
    • Probably derived from slave-era blackface minstrel who crudely imitated slave behavior
    • Led to segregation of all public places
  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
    • Supreme Court ruling that upheld Southern segregation
    • Called the ‘separate but equal’ ruling
    • Quality of black facilities never equal to that of whites
  • Disfranchisement of Black Voters
    • Literacy tests required that voters be able to read and write to vote
    • Poll taxes required voters to pay a fee to register to vote
    • Grandfather Clause protected poor whites, allowing men to vote who had an ancestor on the voting registry in 1867
  • Lynching
    • Southern Democrats used harsh methods to enforce new political and social order in the South
    • Mob violence, usually in the form of lynching, increased
railroad strike of 1877
Railroad Strike of 1877
  • Railroads Cut Wages
    • Panic of 1873 caused deflation and depression
    • Companies forced to cut back
    • Presidents of ‘big four’ railroad companies collectively decided to slash employee wages by 10%
  • Labor Unrest
    • Railroad workers launched a strike, the first example of a nationwide labor protest in American history
    • Strike eventually involved 80,000 railroad workers in 11 states
    • Affected 2/3 of nation’s railways
    • Strikers smashed equipment, tore up rails, and blocked service
  • Response
    • Several state governors called in militias to stop violence
    • President Hayes ordered federal troops to open railways and stop the strike
    • Over 100 people killed and millions of dollars in property loss

This engraving depicts striking railroad workers in Martinsburg, West Virginia, as they stop a

freight train on July 17, 1877, in the opening days of the great railway strike of that year.

Engravings such as this, which show the strikers to be heavily armed, may or may not have been

accurate depictions of events. But the photography of that day could rarely capture live action,

and the technology of the day could not reproduce photographs in newspapers, so the public's

understanding of events such as the 1877 strike was formed through artists' depictions.

(Library of Congress)

labor organization
Labor Organization
  • Exposed weakness of labor movement
  • Labor unity fractured by racial and ethnic clashes
  • Convinced labor organizers that workers needed better organization
  • Knights of Labor created
    • First nationwide industrial union
    • Called for 8-hour workday and bureau of labor statistics
    • Supported equal pay for women and the end of child labor
    • Preferred boycotts and arbitration rather than strikes (in early years)
class conflicts
Class Conflicts
  • Immigration
    • Large numbers of immigrants came to U.S. during late 1800s
    • Many were Chinese, who settled along the West Coast
      • Made up 9% of California population by 1880
      • Worked on railroads, then in menial jobs
  • Ethnic Clashes
    • Chinese faced discrimination, particularly from Irish immigrants who resented competition for jobs
    • Denis Kearny encouraged Irish immigrants (called Kearneyites) to persecute the Chinese
    • Kearney organized the Workingman’s Party of California
    • American Protective Association created to stop immigration
  • Chinese Exclusion Act
    • Congress responded to anti-immigrant sentiment with new law in 1882
    • Banned Chinese immigration for 10 years
    • Prevented Chinese immigrants in U.S. from gaining citizenship
    • Not repealed until 1943
election of 1880 republicans
Election of 1880 - Republicans

Half Breeds


Senator James G. Blaine Senator Roscoe Conkling (Maine) (New York)


James A. Garfield Chester A. Arthur

the death of a president
The Death of a President


shot on

July 2, 1881…

died on

September 19,


Charles Guiteau: I am a Stalwart. Arthur is now President…United States!

chester arthur as president
Chester Arthur as President

A fox in the chicken coop?

pendleton act of 1883
Pendleton Act of 1883
  • Civil service reform legislation
  • “Magna Carta” of civil service reform
  • Banned mandatory campaign contributions from federal employees
  • Created Civil Service Commission
    • Appointments to federal jobs based on competitive exams
  • 1883  14,000 out of 117,000 federal government jobs became civil service exam positions
  • 1900  100,000 out of 200,000 civil service federal jobs exam positions
election of 1884
Election of 1884

Grover Cleveland James Blaine

Democrat Republican

  • Reformers, mostly disgruntled Republicans, refused to support nomination of Blaine
  • Supported Cleveland in 1884
  • Considered themselves moral leaders who were more concerned with helping the nation than with helping a party
  • Social Darwinists
  • Laissez Faire Government
    • Favoritism and spoils system seen as government intervention in society
    • Target was political corruption, not social or economic reform

Men may come and men may go, but the work of reform shall go on forever

a dirty campaign
A Dirty Campaign
  • Cleveland, apparently had an illegitimate child
  • “Mulligan Letters” linked Blaine to railroad corruption
  • Democrats chanted, “Burn, burn, burn this letter!”
  • Republicans jeered, “Ma…Ma…where’s my pa?” and were answered by Democrats, “He’s going to the White House… Ha! Ha! Ha!”
rum romanism and rebellion
“Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion”
  • Republican clergyman called Democrats the party of ‘Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion’ at a rally for Blaine in New York City
  • Blaine was present, but did not immediately repudiate the remark
  • Insulted large Irish population, many of whom voted for Cleveland
  • Narrow victory forCleveland [he won NYby only 1149 votes!].

Dr. Samuel Burchard

cleveland as president
Cleveland as President
  • The “Veto Governor” from New York (had earned a reputation for honesty as a lawyer in Buffalo)
  • First Democrat elected since Buchanan in 1856
  • Attempted to end patronage, but eventually caved in to demands of Democratic Party
  • Believed ‘A public office is a public trust’
  • Opposed bills to assist the poor as well as the rich
  • Vetoed over 200 special pension bills for Civil War veterans
tariff issue
Tariff Issue
  • After Civil War, Congress raised tariffs to finance the war and protect U.S. industry
  • Big business wanted to continue this (mostly Republicans); consumers did not
  • Mugwumps opposed high tariffs
  • President Cleveland opposed tariffs, believing that lowered rates would bring down prices and help deter monopolies
  • Tariffs became the major issue in the presidential election of 1888
election of 1888
Election of 1888

Grover Cleveland Benjamin Harrison Democrat Republican

coming out for harrison
Coming Out for Harrison

Harrison defeated Cleveland, largely the result of questionable

voting by ‘repeaters’ and ‘floaters’, even though Cleveland received

more popular votes .

billion dollar congress
Billion Dollar Congress
  • Thomas B. Reed, new Republican Speaker of the House, dominated Congress with intimidation and sheer will
  • Congress elected in 1888 became 1st to appropriate more than $1 million
  • Increased pensions to Civil War veterans, worsening the federal deficit
  • Increased government purchases of silver
mckinley tariff
McKinley Tariff
  • Sponsored by William McKinley of Ohio
  • Boosted tariff rates to highest peacetime level EVER
  • Cut rates on tobacco and raw sugar but raised rates on virtually everything else
  • Transformed budget surplus into budget deficit
  • Hit farmers hardest
  • Backlash from rural America cost Republicans in Congressional elections of 1890 (even McKinley lost his seat)
  • Movement to increase farmers’ political power
  • Organized as the People’s Party
  • Populist Platform
    • Free and unlimited coinage of silver
    • Graduated income tax
    • Government ownership of railroads, telegraph, and telephone
    • Direct election of U.S. senators
    • Single term limit on presidency
    • Adoption of initiative and referendum
    • Shorter workday
    • Immigration restriction
  • Sherman Silver Purchase Act
    • Passed by Congress to prevent farmers from voting for Populists
    • Allowed U.S. government to purchase 4.5 million ounces of silver per month
    • Reduced deflation
  • Nominated General James Weaver for president in 1892
    • Most popular in Midwest
    • Divided by race in South
homestead strike
Homestead Strike
  • Company officials at Carnegie’s Homestead Plant cut wages
  • Strikers organized and gathered at the factory entrance gates
  • The company hired Pinkerton detectives to break the strike
  • Strikers used rifles and dynamite to force the Pinkertons back
  • Troops called in
  • Resulted in brutal end to the strike and the union
    • 10 killed
    • 60+ wounded
election of 1892
Election of 1892

Grover Cleveland Benjamin Harrison Democrat Republican


cleveland as president again
Cleveland as President - Again
  • Only President to serve two non-consecutive terms
  • Blamed for the Panic of 1893
  • Defended the gold standard
  • Forced repeal of Sherman Silver Purchase Act through Congress
  • Used federal troops in the 1894Pullman strike
  • Allowed Wilson-GormanTariff of 1894 to become law without his signature (part of law struck down by Supreme Court later), which went back on the Democratic promise to lower tariff rates
  • Borrowed money to support the U.S. government from J.P. Morgan, the ‘robber baron’ banker