Gilded Age Politics “The Era of Good Stealings” 1869 to 1896
Political Issues • In addition to Reconstruction (previous chapter), 4 key issues were prominent at the national level. However, uncertainty and an ever changing political landscape led to little achievement in these areas: • “The Bloody Shirt” (suppressed southern political interests) • Civil Service Reform (desire to “clean up” Gov. corruption) • Currency Reform (Bimetalism, silver, “greenbacks,” etc.) • Tariff Reform (Some wanted lower rates) • National politics became paralyzed and ripe with corruption, graft, and mudslinging, but also high voter turnout.
Transforming City Governments • The rapid growth of industry and immigration led to booming cities and unprecedented problems: • Sanitation • Transportation • Utilities • Crime • Housing • Etc.
Transforming City Governments • Cities became ethnically segregated (wards) • Neighborhood “Ward Bosses” emerged • Example: Tammany Hall and “Big Tim Sullivan” • Out of this system emerged the “City Bosses” • The Irish, being the largest ethnic group in most of these cities, soon dominated • Example: New York’s William Marcy Tweed and his “Tweed Ring” • Extorted tens of millions of dollars in two yrs. (1869-71) • Lacked organization and commitment to the whole
The Presidents • Ulysses S. Grant – (Republican, 1869-1877) • Reconstruction (see previous chapter) • Administrative scandals (see previous assignment) • Depression of 1873 & troubles with currency reform • Overspeculation – unpaid loans caused the credit system to collapse which froze up the economy. This especially hurt debtors who then wanted inflation. (In theory, they could then pay off debt faster. • “Greenbackers” wanted the government to stop withdrawing paper money (not backed by gold) and instead print more. • “Hard money” advocates convinced Grant to veto a money printing bill. • Resumption Act of 1875 angered greenbackers again by resuming the withdrawal of greenbacks
The Presidents • Ulysses S. Grant – (Republican, 1869-1877) (continued) • Depression of 1873 & troubles with currency reform • Debtors then held inflationary hope in silver • Grant & most Republicans wanted to protect the stability of gold backed currency and suppressed silver coinage with an unrealistic 16 to 1 ratio • “Crime of ‘73” – Congress formally stopped coinage of silver. Western “Silver Senators” dubbed this a “crime.” • Huge silver finds in Nevada then doubled silver supply but the ratio stayed 16 to 1 thus hurting the value of gold notes • With many people wanting to capitalize on this the government bought up a large amount of gold to “protect” the currency. This actually reduced money supply (“contraction”) • Effects: Short-term – worsened depression and helped Democrats. Long-term – restored government’s credit rating and stabilized value of the dollar
Presidents & the Issues • Rutherford B. Hayes – (Republican, 1877-1881) • Reconstruction (see previous chapter) • Compromise of 1877 – ended Reconstruction • Used Federal troops to end the Great Railroad Strike in 1877 (covered in later chapter) • The book points out that this failed strike exposed the weakness of the labor movement. Many workers blamed immigrants, especially Chinese railroad workers • Led to hatred and violence toward Chinese “coolies” and the eventual Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 – 1st ever immigration restriction in the United States
Presidents & the Issues • James Garfield – (Republican, 1881-1881) • Replaced “Rutherfraud” Hayes on Republican ballot • Immediately caught in the middle of the conflict between Conkling and his Stalwarts, and Blaine’s Half-breeds. • Assassinated at a D. C. railroad station by a deranged Stalwart, Charles Guiteau • Death caused Congress to do the previously improbable and pass the first act of civil-service reform, the Pendleton Act of 1883 (classified 10% of Gov. jobs)
Presidents & the Issues • Chester Arthur – (Republican, 1881-1885) • Former New York Customs House Collector where he benefited significantly from “honest graft.” • Made him perhaps the most unlikely president to sign the first act of civil service reform (Pendleton Act) • Made him pretty “useless” to the Republican party machine who did not nominate him for the ticket in 1884 • He died two years after leaving office (cerebral hemorrhage)
Presidents & the Issues • Grover Cleveland – (Democrat, 1885-1889) • Won a bitter & close election over Blaine in 1884 • Mudslinging attacks over Blaine’s corruption and the bachelor Cleveland’s alleged affair • Staunchly laissez-faire “Though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.” • Civil Service Reform: At first, supported the reform efforts of the Mugwumps who had helped get him elected. He soon caved to the Democratic party bosses and their desire for spoils. • Vetoed many corrupted military pension bills lobbied by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)
Presidents & the Issues • Grover Cleveland – (Democrat, 1885-1889) • Tariff Reform: Upon taking office, Cleveland took notice that tariffs had been jacked up during the War and not really reduced since. The government was also running embarrassing surpluses. He then pushed for lower rates to increase competition and lower consumer prices. • His proposal to Congress forced Democrats there to push for something that the majority Republicans would not support and could use against the Dems and Cleveland in the election. • This likely led to Cleveland’s defeat to Benjamin Harrison (“Tippecanoe’s” grandson) in 1888 • Cleveland actually won the popular vote but lost electorally • Cleveland will later return to the White House by defeating Harrison in 1892
Presidents & the Issues • Benjamin Harrison – (Republican, 1889-1893) • The high tariffs led to problematic huge surpluses • “Czar” (Thomas) Reed and the first “Billion Dollar Congress • To offset, his Congress gave pensions to Civil War Vets and purchased more silver (Silver Purchase Act 1890) • To protect Republican industrialists, passed the McKinley Tariff, 1890 (highest level ever - 48.4%) • Hurt farmers and other rural residence. Giving rise to the emerging Farmer’s Alliance, Granger Movement, and Populist Party. (All covered in a later chapter) • Lost bid for reelection in 1892 to Cleveland • Backlash to McKinley Tariff • Populists ran third party candidate. Gen. James Weaver got 22 EVs
Presidents & the Issues • Grover Cleveland – (Democrat, 1893-1897) 2nd term • Inherited an immediate Depression (2nd worst in American history • Causes: • Overbuilding and speculation, monopolies, labor disputes, the ongoing agricultural depression, the Silver Purchase Act/depleted gold reserves, reduced credit from abroad/weak European economy • Effects: • 500+ banks failed in 1st year • 15,000 businesses failed • 1 in 5 lost their jobs • 750,000+ went on strike • Congress repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1894 which only slowed the depletion of Gold • J. P. Morgan ultimately bailed out the government by lending it $65 million in gold – thus allowing the U. S. to stay on the gold standard. This also began the slow stabilization of the economy
Presidents & the Issues • Grover Cleveland – (Democrat, 1893-1897) 2nd term • Most Democrats were not “hard money” supporters so Cleveland’s deal with J. P. Morgan damaged him politically. • Even worse for him was the Wilson-Gorman Tariff. Cleveland had campaigned on lower tariffs and simply allowed his Democratic Congress’s bill to become law without his signature. It did not really lower tariffs and included the first income tax in American history (2% on incomes over $4000). The income tax was then struck down by the Supreme Court in Pollack v. Farmer’s Loan & Trust, 1895