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Discuss Politics in the Gilded Age. Include major political events and issues, and the roles of the "bloody shirt," corruption, patronage, and reform movements. The term Gilded Age was named for a Mark Twain book. It meant covered with gold, and was applied to this period as a whole. This was a period of corruption in sordid politics. The Republicans and Democrats didn't really have strong opposing beliefs during this period.
The Republicans supported high tariffs and sound money. The Democrats supported lower tariffs and expanded currency. Both rural and urban classes supported each party. They worked with spoils and local issues. Both parties worked to please everyone, and to attract voters. Since both parties were so close in strength, it caused the elections to be fought harder.
The Republicans used the waving of the bloody shirt tactic. This meant that they brought back the past in order to avoid the real issues. They portrayed the Democrats as rebel traitors. The Republicans were against alcohol. The Stalwarts were led by Senator Conkling from New York and were the hard core machine of elections. Senator Blaine led the Half-Breeds from Maine, and they wanted to be in control of it all.
The mugwumps were a group that turned Democrat because of the corruption of the Republican presidential nominee, Senator Blaine. One president was Grant during this period. He was elected into office for his past war experience. He had little knowledge of politics, and depended on his fellow politicians. These men, in turn, involved in scandals to embezzle money from the government. One was the Great Mobilier scandal; it dealt with the Union Pacific Railroad. The Construction Company hired themselves at inflated prices to build railroad lines, and distributed shares of stock to congressmen. A scandal during Grant's second term, was the Whisky Ring.
This scandal was uncovered in St. Louis, and consisted of selling whiskey without the excise tax. In return it defrauded the government out of millions of dollars. Belknap was selling goods and trading with the Indians for lower prices. During Grant's administration the monetary issues were inflation, cheap money, and greenbacks. The debtors, especially farmers, wanted cheap money.
However, Grant vetoed the bill to print more money, and supported withdrawing greenbacks from circulation. Hayes won the disputed election. Four states submitted irregular returns. It was disputed if the Republican president of the Senate or the Democratic Speaker of the House should count them. It was decided that an electoral commission made up of fifteen men. There were eight Republicans and seven Democrats, so the Republicans won. The Democrats would only accept this with conditions, one of which was to remove troops from the south. The next president was a political "unknown". His name was James Garfield.
A disturbed politician shot him in the back at a railroad. This demonstrated the corruption in the patronage system and led to reform. In the next presidential election the Republicans nominated James Blaine and the Democrats supported Grover Cleveland. Both parties were the same on issues and both agreed on tariff and corporate abuses, so it came down to personal issues. Cleveland won the election and was the first Democratic President since before the Civil War. His philosophy of government was almost entirely negative.
He believed that the government should not support people. He wanted to reform tariff, but congress postponed it. The Republicans described Cleveland's tariff reform as a free trade policy that would ruin American industries and put Americans out of work. The Republicans regain the White House with Benjamin Harrison. The payoffs for industries were high tariffs. The downside was increased government spending.
The Sherman Silver Purchase Act was passed to help the silver minors and economy. During President Cleveland's reelection, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act drained the treasuries. Paper notes were traded for gold, then reissued, and the process would be repeated. The worst depression of that century occurred during Cleveland's second term. Cleveland tried to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, but it was too late. Gold was almost depleted, so he borrowed $62 million in gold from J.P. Morgan.
The Wilson-Gorman Act reduced tariff slightly, and had a provision that the Populist favored. It was a 2% income tax on incomes over $4000 a year. In all Cleveland was unable to deal with the economic crises in his second term. There was too much corruption during this period. Honest politicians and businessmen might have prevented the depression. The big businesses were really in charge.
The quality of Presidents played a major role in the ruin of this period. Bibliography:.
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