The Gilded Age

Satisfactory Essays
The Gilded Age gets its name from a book by Mark Twain called The Gilded Age: a Tale of Today. It was written in 1873, and unfortunately was not that successful. While the Gilded Age conjures up visions of ostentatious displays of wealth and decorative parties, the over all topic was politics. The book gives an extremely negative assessment of the state of American democracy at that time. Which does not come as a huge surprise coming from Twain, who famously said "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” So when faced with sweeping changes in the American economy after the Civil War, the American political system both nationally and locally dealt with these problems in the best way possible, by inevitably and incredibly becoming corrupt.

Former House speaker Tip O'Neil once said that all politics is local, and while that isn't actually true, local politics is a grate example of common corruption. Specifically, one of America's greatest inventions, the political machine. A political machine is most easily explained as an organization that works to win elections so that the machine can exercise political and civil power. The most notorious political machine was New York City's Tammany Hall, which dominated Party politics in the late 19th century, survived until the 20th, and is most associated with wide spread corruption.

"Boss" Tweed of Tammany Hall ran New York in the 1860s and early 1870s and some of his feats of swindling helps explain how the machine system works. It mostly centers around the, then new, county courthouse. The building of the courthouse was initially estimated to cost $250,000, but ended up costing well over $13,000,000. Inclu...

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...w York bankers. In short, both parties could be considered "pro-business", but they were actually “pro-different-businesses." Despite all of this, some national reform legislation actually did take place. The Civil Service Act of 1883, created a merit system for 10% of federal employees, who were chosen by competitive examination. And then in 1890 the Sherman Antitrust Act forbade combinations and practices that restrained trade, but again, it was almost impossible to enforce. More often than not, it was used against the labor unions which were seen to dampen trade in their "radical" lobbying for, stuff like, health insurance and hardhats.

But all and all the national Congress was extremely dysfunctional at the end of the 19th century, stop me if that sounds familiar, state governments expanded their responsibility to public health. Cities invested in public works.