Toward the end of the 19th century, the number of Americans who utilized their right to vote was much higher than the previous years, jumping from 50-60% in the early/mid-1800s to almost 80% between 1876 and 1896 (17.4.1 Out of Touch Politics). However, the political process was still inefficient and partial. The two main political parties (Democratic and Republican) split the governmental power evenly between the two parties dominated by white males. The political process during this time was heavily influenced by large companies and took laissez-faire (a philosophy that argued that the government should impose no restraints on business, Glossary) approach.
At the time, large companies had a strong hold on the market and wanted politics done their way. They created political machines (a powerful urban political organization that mobilized large blocs of working-class immigrant voters and often engaged in corrupt and illegal activity) in order to control who won political offices. They did things such as provide their voters’ jobs, construction contracts and provided needy voters a variety of favors and services (17.1.4 The Political Machine- “Boss Rule”). Whomever the machine helped they expected to vote in their favor, which created fear in voters because those in political machines could be very violent. Political machines terrified several native-born, wealthy Americans because they changed the attitude and philosophy associated with voting. Prior to the machines, candidates were successful based upon their family’s last name and wealth instead of their political abilities.
The political process treated women and minorities very similar. Neither group was able to hold an office and were very rarely involved in politics. As time went on, both groups began to create movements of their own in order to gain freedoms and rights. Working men had the ability to participate in politics but often could not invest much of their time into it because they had to provide for their families. Rich, white men often held political offices because they could afford to. Eventually, things became more inclusive to working, white males, and then to women, and finally to minorities.
Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward T. Visions of America: A History of the United States, Volume 2, 3rd ed. 2019.