GILDED AGE POLITICS • Gilded Age- a time period in American history marked by rampant greed, corruption, exploitation, and inequality in American society, business, and government. • In 1879, young college student Woodrow Wilson described the state of the American political system: “No leaders, No principles, No parties.” • Wilson’s contemporary, Henry Adams agreed. “The period was poor in purpose and barren in results.”
GILDED AGE POLITICS • On the national issues of the day the major parties pursued for the most part a policy of evasion. • Only on the tariff were there clear-cut divisions between protectionist Republicans and low-tariff Democrats, but there were individual exceptions even on that. • RULE OF THUMB: HIGH TARIFFS BENEFIT INDUSTRIALISTS;LOW TARIFFS BENEFIT FARMERS
GILDED AGE POLITICS • On questions of the currency, regulation of big business, farm problems, civil service reform, internal improvements, and immigration, the parties differed very little. • The parties themselves comprised vast coalitions. In a country so large and diverse, James Madison had long ago argued in The Federalist No. 10, no one group, no one region, no one idea, no one interest could hope to constitute a majority. • Such a situation would preserve liberty, he asserted. • Any party with an expectation of governing had to include a variety of groups, interests, and ideas. The process was not unknown to European parliaments.
GILDED AGE POLITICS • BOTTOM LINE: The American political system is bent toward a two-party system. • Gilded Age politics featured an American political system where there were few differences between the parties. According the Madison, this threatens liberty.
WHY? • Two factors accounted for the muddled politics of this period. • Americans had before them the fearsome lesson of what happened in 1860, when parties had taken clear-cut stands on a deeply moral issues, with bloody consequences. • The more compelling cause of political inertia was the even division between the parties. • 1869-1913- With exception of the two non-consecutive terms served by Grover Cleveland, the Republicans dominated the White House • Between 1872-1896, no president won a majority of the popular vote. • 1888- Benjamin Harrison couldn’t achieve plurality over Cleveland • GOP usually controlled the Senate; Dems controlled the House • GOP President = Dem. Congress • Dem President = GOP Congress • Most bills required bipartisan support in order to pass; legislators tended to vote along party lines.
GILDED AGE POLITICS • No president between Lincoln and TR could be described as a “strong” president. • None seriously challenged the prevailing view that the formulation of policy belonged to Congress. • The function of the Presidency according to these presidents was simply to administer the government. • The ideal presidential candidate displayed an affable personality, a willingness to cooperate with the bosses, and an ability to win votes from various factions; resided in a pivotal state; and boasted a good war record. He had no views that might alienate powerful voting blocs, and few or no political enemies. • The VP candidate was chosen to balance the ticket, improve the parties chances in a key state, or to placate a disappointed faction.
GILDED AGE POLITICS • With very little getting done, the parties became machines for seeking office and dispensing patronage in the form of government jobs and contracts. • What is patronage? Graft?
GILDED AGE POLITICS • An alliance between big business and politics characterized the period. This alliance was not necessarily corrupt since many a politician favored the interests of business out of conviction. Nor was the public so sensitive to conflicts of interest as it would be later.
GILDED AGE POLITICS • In a time of political futility in which the parties refused to confront “real issues” as the growth of an unregulated economy and its attendant social injustices, it was nonetheless clear that the voters at the time thought more was at stake. • Gilded Age voter turnout-70-80% • Political rallies and parades- HEAVY TURNOUTS