At the turn of the century, cities were on the rise. Since manufacturing and mechanized agriculture eliminated the need for human labor, many men and women seeked job opportunities in the city. Even African Americans migrated to northern cities in hope to escape the poverty, racism, and violence of Jim Crow Laws in the South. With cities came crime, poverty, overcrowding, and disease. City political machines associated with the Democratic party began to grow very powerful, which horrified many wealthy and native born Americans. These political machines mobilized large blocs of working class and immigrant voters and started to develop relationships with real estate and business interests. Because of the rapid growth of cities and the development of the working class, the political world began to form.
Unfortunately, the growth of cities was not a good thing in all aspects of society because more than half of the population were still deprived of their rights. Although women were able to take on significant roles in the public, gender roles emphasized the need for women to stay in the home, while men were the ones involved in business and politics. This meant that women were not allowed to vote. Many activist women joined women’s suffrage movements, but African American women were excluded from these movements. In fact, African Americans were still being discriminated everywhere. Even farmers and industrial workers struggled to find their voice in the political world. They saw themselves as victims of big corporations and quickly found out that elected officials were doing nothing to address the problems due to their belief in a non intrusive government and laissez-faire philosophies. Although the government was little to no help, women, minorities, and working men sought ways to impact the political process.
First, farmers and industrial workers formed the People’s Party to challenge Republicans and Democrats. In the 1870’s, the Farmers alliance was formed was formed to ease the trouble of farmers plagued by rising costs and falling prices of their products. However, African American farmers were excluded and formed their own Colored Farmers alliance. The Northern and Southern Farmers alliances formed a National Farmers alliance to combat the power of monopolies and trusts by transforming it into a political movement to elect pro farmer candidates to office. Trusts were a major threat to American liberty, so the Sherman Antitrust Act was supposed to slow the growth of big businesses, but failed to do so. Coxey’s Army was formed to save the Republic from trusts and laissez-faire policies, but they were arrested. Therefore, it is very evident that women, minorities, and working men tried to impact the political process, but struggled to find their voice.
The public expressed severe revulsion over the wealthy in a time where America was going through a depression, for example, the period was marked by some of the most violent strikes, like the Pullman strike. Republicans, or businessman and the wealthy, favored “hard money” or gold because they thought free silver would cause inflation. On the other hand, Democrats, or farmers and workers, favored “soft money” or free silver because more money would raise the price of their goods and diminish the burden of their debts. In the election of 1896, Republicans nominated William McKinley, who favored the gold standard, while Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan, who supported free silver. The People’s Party convinced millions of Americans that free coinage of silver would end depression and curb monopolies and trusts. Although the People’s Party worried the leaders of political parties, faced many challenges and were no match. McKinley, who the wealthy voted for, ended up winning the election.
The political process during that time was something that not everyone could find harmony in and it still is like this today regarding President Trump. With women not having the right to vote and African Americans severely discriminated against, only white men were involved in politics. Even then, the political world was split because the wealthy and the working class. Women, minorities, and working men tried to impact the political process, but faced many challenges. White women and African American women joined separate suffrage movements, white farmers and African American farmers formed separated Farmers alliances, workers for the People’s Party, Sherman Antitrust Act, Coxey’s Army, etc., but nothing ever seemed to overthrow the wealthy. After the outcome of the election of 1896, it started to seem like politics was only an arena for the wealthy because workers and farmers struggled to find their voice in the political world.
Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward T. Visions of America: A History of the United States, Volume2, 3rded. 2019.