The Gilded Age/Populism
1876-1901
Characteristics of the Gilded Age
Unstable economic growth
Frequent expansions and contractions of business
activity
Panics (1873/1893)
Major struggle between business and labor
Strikes become increasingly violent
Union membership falls (4% by 1900)
Laissez faire government policies (w/ notable exceptions)
Extremely conservative national politics
Elections tied to patronage/business
Few prominent issues
Strong party loyalty
Growing desire for reform
Gilded Age Presidents
Hayes (1876)
Known as “His Fraudulency”
Garfield (1880)
Assassinated by Charles Guiteau in 1881
Arthur
Known as “His Accidency”
Cleveland (1884)
Harrison (1888)
Cleveland (1892)
Known as the perpetual candidate (nominated 3x)
McKinley (1896/1900)
Assassinated in 1901 ending the era
Gilded Age Presidents
Presidents during the period took very little action
Distinct lack of major political issues
Political parties based on regional, ethnic, & religious
sentiment
Approx: 16 Rep. states vs. 14 Dem. States
Parties relied heavily on patronage/political
machines to win elections
Politics of Civil War still lingering
Presidents during this era often ranked among the worst by
historians
Civil Service Reform
Attempt to combat patronage
Split Republican party
Stalwarts—opposed any reform
Half breeds—favored reform, but continue system
Mugwumps—favored reform
Split leads to assassination of Garfield
Guiteau had been refused a job by Garfield
Arthur was a stalwart
Leads to Pendleton Act (1883)
Creates a merit based system for federal jobs (1/10 jobs)
Reduces dramatically power of political machines
Presidents forced to rely on business for support
Economic Policy
Rising tariffs
Generally high protective tariffs
Supported by the Republican North East
Cleveland briefly lowers tariffs, but raised again by
McKinley Tariff Act 1890 (highest tariff ever at this point
in history)
Protective tariffs will cause financial trouble in
Europe and then in the U.S.
Regulation of business
Passage of the Interstate Commerce Act (1887) &
Sherman Antitrust Act (1890)
Neither act accomplishes intended purpose
Result of court decisions and Presidential action
US v. E.C. Knight Co. (1895)
Economic Policy
Hard vs. Soft Money
Hard—Specie (Gold, Silver, etc. have known value)
Soft—Paper Money (Value determined by confidence)
Hard money is used to back soft money in order to keep
the value of paper money stable
Crime of 1873—the demonetization of silver
Silver is no longer recognized as legal currency
Can no longer be used to back paper money
preventing the growth of the paper money supply
Shortage of paper money increases the value of the
money
Economic Policy
People who like “cheap” money (oppose demonetization of
silver, “silverites”)
Debtors (more difficult to repay loans)
Farmers (sell their crops for increasingly less money)
Miners (produced silver)
People who like “expensive” money (pro-gold or “gold bugs”)
Banks (loans became increasingly valuable)
Industrialists (their fortunes increased)
Major Policy Shifts
Bland Allison Act (1878)—required purchase of silver for
coinage in specific amounts
Sherman Silver Purchase Act—increased previous
amounts for gov. purchase
Repealed by Grover Cleveland (1893)
Farmers Organize
Rising agrarian discontent in the late 19th century
Primary cause: lack of railroad regulation
Other factors: falling prices, increasing debt, & rising cost
of machinery
Major organizations
The Grange
Response to the Panic of 1873
Establish farming cooperatives
Eventually organize politically
Granger laws—regulated RR’s in many
Western states
Farmer’s Alliances
Attempted to free farmers economically from
Northeastern interests
Populism
Organized political movement in the 1890’s
Attempted to unite the agricultural South and West with
Northern working class
Never formed a majority coalition
Attracted primarily small Mid Western farmers and
rural middle class reformers
Omaha Platform (1892)
Gov. ownership of RR’s, telephones, and telegraphs
Reform of national banking system
Direct election of Senators
Graduated income tax
Free coinage of silver
Panic of 1893 created support for Populist party
Coxey’s Army
Election of 1896
Populist party merges with Democratic Party form
“People’s Party”
Populist William Jennings Bryan wins Dem. Nomination
“Cross of Gold” Speech
Party splits after nomination
Populists hurt by business and issues of race
Republican candidate McKinley easily defeats Bryan
Decline of the Populists
Increasing national prosperity helps farmers
Loss of identity after merge with Democratic Party
Attempt to draw in other groups causes many to feel
alienated