CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE, “POLITICAL PARALYSIS IN THE GILDED AGE: 1869-1896”
“Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change.” – Tom Peters
MAIN QUESTION FOR CHAPTER:
Is it fair to call the era from 1869 to 1896 the “Gilded Age”?
Word or phrase Meaning in context
gild (506) cover with gold, providing a falsely attractive appearance
peccadilloes (506) slight offenses
partisan (511) someone who supports the position of another or strong support of a political party
lien (513) legal claim on someone’s property until a debt is paid
burgeoning (516) blossoming; expanding rapidly
plurality (519) the largest group
laissez-faire (520) doctrine supporting minimal government intervention in the economy
disenfranchise (525) to deprive of a legal right, privilege, or immunity, typically the right to vote
plutocracy (529) government by the wealthy
Relevant Identification Summary
1. The “Ohio Idea” was thought up by poor Midwestern delegates. It called for war
bonds to be repaid in greenbacks, or paper money, which would thus keep more money in
circulation and keep interest rates lower. This contradicted the wealthy easterners who
wished to have them redeemed in gold. It was like one of the many economic symptoms that
the disease of the Civil War had caused (NK).
2. Republicans raised enthusiasm for Grant by “waving the bloody shirt,” which meant
they revived gory memories of the Civil War. This helped gain support especially among the
war’s veterans. This was like John Kerry gaining support by repeatedly expressing the fact
that he received several Purple Heart awards in Vietnam (NK).
3. Boss Tweed was the leader of the Tweed Ring in New York City. He employed
bribery, graft and fraudulent elections to scam the city for as much as $200 million. Working
citizens were cowed into silence and protestors found their tax assessments raised. Boss
Tweed was like a bully on the playground, taking people’s money and doing whatever he
4. Thomas Nast was a cartoonist who attacked “Boss” Tweed. Tweed became upset
because everyone, even illiterate people, could understand the pictures. He was like CNN
because he spread news in innovative ways, reaching a broader audience (CC).
5. In the Crédit Mobilier scandal, Union Pacific Railroad workers created the Crédit
Mobilier construction company and hired themselves to build the railroads at inflated prices.
In order to keep Congress quiet, they distributed shares of its stock to key congressmen. It
was like a deep wound to government, not only was it ugly on the economic surface, it cut
deep into the political controversy (NK).
6. In 1874-1875, the sprawling Whiskey Ring robbed the Treasury of millions in excise
tax revenues. At first determined to punish the guilty, when his own private secretary turned
up among the culprits he volunteered a written statement to the jury to help exonerate him.
This was like the ultimate form of hypocrisy; claiming something is wrong and unjust until you
realize you were involved (NK).
7. Horace Greeley was the fearless editor of the New York Tribune who was nominated
for the presidency by the newly formed Liberal Republican party. He was dogmatic,
emotional, petulant and notoriously unsound in political judgment. He was like a young sports
captain, full of potential and energy, but just not cut out for the job (NK).
8. “Hard money” advocates won a victory when they got the Resumption Act of 1875
passed. This act called for the withdrawal of all greenbacks from circulation and redemption
of all paper money in gold at face value, beginning in 1879. This was like a recall on a faulty
product in hopes to fix the situation and keep things from getting worse (NK).
9. Due to the government-imposed low value of silver (1/16 that of gold), silver miners
stopped offering their product to the federal mints. With no silver flowing, Congress dropped
the coinage of the silver dollar in 1873 and embraced the “gold standard.” Later in the 1870s,
however, new silver discoveries shot production up and forced silver prices down, killing
hopes of widespread inflation. Silver-mining westerners joined debtors in calling this the
“Crime of ’73.” This is like when I bought a rare baseball card, only to have the item
devalued when someone discovered a whole stockpile of them in his attic (PDeR).
10. The GAR, Grand Army of the Republic, was a politically potent fraternal organization
of Union Civil War veterans. This group provided an important bloc of Republican ballots. It
was like a fan club for a music group, dedicated to helping the cause (NK).
11. A “Stalwart” faction was led by Roscoe Conkling that employed the process of
trading civil-service jobs for votes. Those that were against the faction were called Half-
Breeds, led by James G. Blaine (Maine). The conflicts over civil-service reform led the
Republican Party into a deadlock. These groups were like feuding important families that
prevented their town from progressing (MK).
12. The Compromise of 1877 resolved the election deadlock as the Electoral Count Act
was passed. Democrats agreed to give Hayes the presidency provided that the remaining
federal troops would be withdrawn, and the Republicans appeased them with a subsidy of a
southern transcontinental line. This compromise was like taping a broken vase together, only
providing temporary relief for a political struggle that continued long after (MK).
13. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 promised to guarantee equal accommodations in public
places and prohibited racial discrimination in jury selection, but was later ruled largely
unconstitutional. This was like the law for wearing your seatbelt: it was put into place legally
but many people still ignore it (MK).
14. The Civil Rights Cases in 1883 pronounced much of the Civil Rights Act of 1875
unconstitutional, declaring that only government, not individual violations of civil rights were
prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment. This was like an overruling of an objection (the Civil
Rights Act), making it nullified, but not after it had been heard by the courtroom (MK).
15. The “Redeemers” were Democrats that resumed political power in the South, and
excised it ruthlessly. Because of them, many blacks faced unemployment, eviction, and
physical harm. They were similar to Jim Crow because they prohibited blacks from enjoying
their freedom and forced them into unfavorable jobs and positions (MK).
16. Through the “crop-lien” system, storekeepers provided sharecroppers with credit for
food and supplies while taking a portion of their harvests, as a “lien” (to help pay back some
of the debt). Unfortunately, the creditors manipulated the system so that the sharecroppers
were in perpetual debt. It was like Charlie and the MBTA. Once on the T, he never had
enough money to get off (PDeR).
17. The Jim Crow laws were legal codes of segregation that set literacy requirements,
voter registration laws, and poll taxes. They made it extremely difficult if not impossible for
blacks to vote, even though the 15th Amendment legally allowed them to. This is like the rule
that immigrants are not allowed to vote the United States until they are citizens (MK).
18. In the Plessy v. Ferguson case (1896), the Supreme Court validated the South’s
segregationalist social order. It ruled that “separate but equal” facilities were constitutional
under the “equal protection” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It was like a divorce in
which one kid goes with the mom and the other goes with the dad. Both kids are supposed to
get equal treatment, but in reality the dad is nicer than the dad toward the kids (KH).
19. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred the Chinese from the United States for
six decades. Many Chinese in America were bachelors, and anti-Chinese sentiments
developed, particularly in California, which had a larger Asian population. This forced the
Chinese to form small, hardworking communities. This is similar to the negative feelings
toward all Japanese in America following the bombing of Pearl Harbor (MK).
20. The Pendleton Act of 1883 was the “Magna Carta” of civil-service reform that
followed Garfield’s murder. It made compulsory campaign contributions from federal
employees illegal and established the Civil Service Commission to make appointments for
federal jobs on the basis of examinations. It drove money-seeking politicians to join huge
corporations. It was similar to when a teacher decides to start enforcing rules more strictly- it
cuts down on the worst rule breaking, but the students find new ways to continue to do what
they want (Naomi).
21. Mugwumps were reform-minded Republicans who didn’t want James Blaine as their
presidential candidate in 1884 because of his dishonest behavior, which included the fishy
“Mulligan letters.” They bolted to the Democrats, receiving their nickname of Indian derivation
that suggested that they were “sanctimonious” or “holier-than-thou.” They were like tattletales
because they, too, were mocked for running to another group when their friends did
something bad (Naomi).
22. Passed by the “billion-dollar Congress,” the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890 boosted tariff
levels to their highest peacetime level ever at an average of 48.4 percent. The act protected
Republican industrialists from foreign competition, while forcing debt-burdened farmers to buy
high-priced American goods. The tariff was like a wall, enclosing the debtors in a financially
unsound position (PDeR).
23. Formed in 1892, the Populist party was the “people’s party.” It wanted a one-term
limit on the presidency, direct election of senators, government-owned railroads, telegraphs,
and telephones, and inflation. They were like jumbo shrimp; while they were the people’s
party, they wanted more federal control, which is oxymoronic (AD).
24. At Carnegie’s Homestead steel plant in 1892, company officials had to call in 300
armed Pinkerton detectives to crush a strike by steelworkers angry over their pay cuts. The
strikers fought back and eventually troops were summoned, breaking the strike and the union.
This incident raised the prospect that the Populist party might be able to weld together a
coalition of workers and farmers to challenge the capitalist order. It was like a professional
football team playing a high school one- one of the sides has a very unfair advantage and
uses it to crush the other side (Naomi).
25. The Farmers’ National Alliance was a militant organization of farmers in the great
agricultural belts of the West and South, and included black farmers. For a time it promised to
overcome race issues as they strove for common economic goals. The group was the root of
the new Populist party. It was like the Iroquois Confederation because different groups tried to
overcome their past struggles so they could get benefits and protect each other (Naomi).
26. The “grandfather clause” exempted southerners from voting requirements such as
literacy tests and poll taxes if their forebear had voted in 1860. Since black slaves had not
voted at all at this time, it exempted only whites and also prevented large numbers of blacks
from voting. It was like one of those unfair club rules that kids make- its sole purpose is
excluding kids they don’t like from their tree house (Naomi).
27. Thomas Edward Watson was a Populist leader who began his career promoting
interracial political cooperation, but eventually succumbed to racism. He was like a bruised
apple because he started off good but got knocked around so much by the bad apples
(racists) that he turned bad as well (Naomi).
28. William Jennings Bryan was a Democratic congressman and later a presidential
candidate who championed the cause of free silver with his famous “Cross of Gold” speech in
1896. Cleveland alienated Bryan and other Democratic silver advocates when he broke the
silver filibuster in the Senate. He was like a typical Model UN delegate who, though
longwinded and passionate, rarely got what he wanted. (PDeR).
29. The Democrats had pledged to lower tariffs, but by the time the Wilson-Gorman
Tariff of 1894 made it through Congress, it was so loaded with special-interest protection that
it hardly made a difference in the McKinley Tariff rates. Cleveland allowed the bill, but the
Supreme Court, much to the dismay of the Populists, struck down the income tax provision of
the tariff. It was like saving pennies, because it seems like a good idea at first, but eventually
you realize that the money hardly helps pay your bills (Naomi).
30. The Gilded Age presidents- Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, and Cleveland- are often
referred to as the “forgettable presidents” because of their bland personalities and their
blanks or blots on the America’s political record. They were like the producers of a movie
because they worked hard and had a powerful position in the movie, but no one remembers
them when they watch the movie (Naomi).
Other Questions to Consider
A. To what extent might we compare the election of 1824 and the election of 1876? The election of 1876 and 2000?
B. What would a Chinese immigrant or an African American say about America in this era?
C. What would a farmer or an urban laborer say about America in this era?
D. Why is it significant that historians often call Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, and Cleveland the “forgettable
FOOD FOR THOUGHT! Is it appropriate to call the era from 1869 to 1896 the Gilded Age? What else might we call this era?