Many issues from the time of 1865 to 1900 in the United States, more commonly referred to as the Gilded Age, stemmed from the notorious unregulation of the era. The progression of industrialization with the development of more refined technologies and methods, and consequently the furthering of urbanization with the growth of cities and the rapid influx of Eastern European and Asian immigrants, were a few of the elements that contributed to the primary characteristics of Gilded Age politics. The impact of a lasseiz-faire and hands off approach to economics also led to a rather lackadaisical government that took few actions to address the looming problems at hand that were even less effective.
Socioeconomic issues pervaded the working class, from their deplorable living conditions to the equally disheartening ones in the work place. The ignored complaints of farmers in regards to unfair railroad costs also spiralled into a much larger conflict that was poorly dealt with by the passive government of the time. The control large businesses also had over politics was yet another a dilemma many Americans had with the way the political machines ran, one that the politics failed to completely resolve. Although a few measures were taken to handle the plight of the working class, the disparity in railroad rates and the overwhelming influence of monopolies and trusts on politics, they were largely ineffective in their intended goals. Gilded Age politics could very accurately be described by the complete disregard it had for the citizens of the era via the blatant unregulation in nearly all the aspects of government sanctioned establishments and private corporations. James Bryce, a British political commentator, demonstrates in his statements the total abandonment of political decorum by the American government as they had become too consumed in their unceasing pursuit of industrialization Doc 1. Bryce’s commentary, almost certainly aimed towards a foreign audience, attempts to convey the extent to which the American government failed to resume their involvement in political affairs as it had become too invested in the success of domestic manufacturing and commerce. The policies that made up the party platforms were difficult to distinguish and isolate as the primary objective was to have their respective candidates elected into office to maintain the power of the political machines that had gotten them their position.
The spoils system and party patronage were, in part, responsible for the ineffectiveness of administrations during the late nineteenth century as notable individuals who lent their support to a political party were sometimes rewarded with government positions, despite whether or not they were actually qualified. Party loyalty had trumped the idea of an active government that would put an end to the different social and economic issues that developed, skewing the priorities of the United States in the eyes of other countries. The Pendleton Civil Service Act was inevitably enacted to that the privilige of a government office would be granted on merit alone, but nonetheless, corruption was still considered the norm, depicted by the Credit Mobilier Scandal. The problems the working class faced were both large in scope and inextricable from nearly all aspects of their life, both personally and professionally.
In the workplace, emplyees were often children who ought to have been in school, and not only were they not receiving an adequate education, they were also not being taught an individual trade, rather than being subjected to a solitary function within a factory. The development of different technologies and productions methods had arose, such as the assembly line and scientific management, the former establishing a more efficient process of production and the latter causing the deskilling of workers and majorly contributing to their expendability Doc 5. Though this report may have been meant by the author to neautrally describe the conditions and specifcations of the workers in that specific New York factory, it exposed the demoralization that was rife within facotry culture.
The influx of immigrants made up a great number of the workers as well, which did in fact anger many American born citizens as it was no secret that foreigners were willing to perform the same job with the same responsibilities for less pay. Immigrants from Eastern Europe and Asia took jobs in factories and other industrialized jobs, living in the urban areas closer to their place of employment. These enclaves became commonplace, even though the living conditions often consisted of cramped quarters with little circulation of fresh air and natural light. Circumstances were typically similar at work, as they were often confined to builidng until the end of their shift Doc 6. Doctor Timothy Stow highlights in this case that the health of the workers often deteriorated more rapidly those with white collar professions, more often than not owed to the unsanitary conditions in which they lived and worked. The government took virtually no action to rectify these social issues that plagued the working class during the Gilded Age.
Another economic issue that transpired during the late nineteenth century was that of the currency and the standardization of railroad costs. These two issues were the major tenets for the founding of the Populist Party, a group mostly comprised of farmers who were frustrated with the lack interference from behalf of the government in regards to the rates of railraods and the disparity in rates and their desire for the free coinage of silver. Following the establishment of the gold standard, or “The Crime of ’73,” the Populists were incenseed at the demonetization of silver, as it reduced the money supply overall, which in turn increased the interest rates for the farmers. This was interpreted as yet another slight against the citizens who felt their best interests where being ignored in favor of the large businesses and trusts Doc 7. Members of the Populist Party direct their rhetoric towards their elected representatives in politics to take some form of action in favor of the farmers and working class citizens rather than monolithic enterprises.
The question of the railroads was yet another issue the Populist Party demanded to be addressed. The monopolization of the railroad industry began to eliminate competition in what was originally meant to be a free market, causing a disparity in rates between companies, rates farmers had to pay in order to efficiently transport their crops. Although this particular conflict was dealt with to a degree through the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, it ultimately failed as it was never truly enforced due to the contradictory and vague nature of the legislation Doc 4.
This writ was signed into law by Congress under the administration of President Benjamin Harrison who claimed that it was most certainly constitutional for the federal government to extend their jurisdiction into regulating interstate commerce, following the outcry from farmers who spoke sharply against the unfair rates that were being imposed upon them.The overwhelming influence of monopolies and trusts, like the ones established by Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, and Carnegie’s US Steel, led to abundant economic disputes that were never fully resolved satisfactorily. The utilization of horizontal integration by John D.
Rockefeller allowed for him to simply buy smaller oil companies and merge them with his own, eliminating the competition in addtion to ammassing more resources and employees at a preexisting company Doc 2. This crippling system was enabled by a laissez-faire approch wherein in exhange for judicial leniency and the government’s cooperation to be tacitly absentee for the most part, major corporations would be able to then fund campaigns and other endeavors the politicians may have previously considering. Lloyd, a financial writer and social reformer, targeted politicians to point out that the only two avenues left to choose from is to either join a trust or to actively speak out against them, exposing the corruption of the system in the process. Keppler’s 1899 political cartoon also points out that the undeniable influence the trusts and monopolies have on the politics of the era, in this case, specifically the senators.
The artist’s intent was concise; the corruption that lied at the crux of Gilded Age politics resided within the bribery and manipulation of government officials by businesses such as DuPoint and JP Morgan. An inevitably poor attempt to correct the issue of monopolies was the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 which fell through due to the poor wording and vagueness that allowed for many easy loopholes to be found and easily used.The circumstances that defined the Gilded Age such as increased industrialization and urbanization, in addition to decreasing the overall cost of products and increasing the efficency of the processes used to make them, brought about many problems that the politics of the time failed to do justice when trying to solve them. Despite occasional pieces of legislation being signed into law, the passivity and general corruption of the government ultimately denied the passage of reform when it came to social and economic issues. Although a few measures were taken to handle the plight of the working class, the disparity in railroad rates and the overwhelming influence of monopolies and trusts on politics, they were largely ineffective in their intended goals.