Political Turmoil

Politics in the Gilded Age

At the turn of the 19th century, Americans celebrated the onset of the urban age. It was a time when steel, a product which greatly influenced the industrial revolution helped make designing the world’s largest suspension bridge possible. The Brooklyn Bridge symbolized rapid urban growth, and masked problems that came along with it. The Gilded Age reflected the notion that the amazing achievements of the period were like a thin gold layer that covered many unresolved social problems. (Keene, 498)  Urban life came with not only perks such as more leisure time, the “new women” label, settlement houses and the city of beautiful movement but it also entailed hazards such as poverty, increased crime rates, and epidemics.

 One of the disturbing conducts of Urban life was the political machines. These machines resorted to voter intimidation and election fraud. Political machines or “shoulder hitters” intimidated voters by letting them know they were watching to see how they voted. The moto “ In Counting There Is Strength” refers to the machines tactic of using the police and boards of election to manipulate the vote count to ensure victory for their party. (Keene, 504)  In Visions of America, Dr. Keene’s research shows the political process was for whichever party was in control of power at that time which supports my belief that politics were for people of authority and wealth.

 Most immigrants were restricted in what they could do or say. This was part of the Nativist impulse. The larger slums grew the strikes involving foreign born immigrants became more violent pushing the nativist to demand sharp restrictions on immigration. (Keene, 505) Middle class, women were given new roles and expectations during this time. Instead of politics being strictly a male role, women were becoming educated and involved in charities or clubs that provided them with opportunities to exert political influence, build leadership skills, and learn from networks of other activist, reform-minded women. (Keene, 512)  It was during this time that most were concerned with how ineffective our political system was. Politics stemmed from the power of corporate interest which led to anger and corruption.

Eventually, events such as the Pullman strike , Homestead strike, Coxey’s army march and turmoil caused by the depression all led to the republican party becoming the politically dominating party portraying themselves as the party to bring economic prosperity and international power. (Keene, 527)Therefore, upon reading In Visions of America, Dr. Keene’s research led me to believe that without wealth, authority, or a strike you were at a political stand still with no say in what was happening with your government. The political process wasn’t made easy or available to women, working class, immigrants, or minorities. Essentially during this time frame only, the corporations, wealthy class, and government officials had a say in how things were going to be run unless you went on strike and still that didn’t always produce the answers or result the workers wanted. Consequently, I’d say the political process during the Gilded Age was one of both enthusiasm and dismay, it was seeing growth and progress however, showed alarm over what could have come of our nation due to the lack of equality.

Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward T. Visions of America: A History of the United States, Volume2, 3rded. 2019.

2 thoughts on “Political Turmoil

  1. Good call including the different corruption areas that the U.S. faced during elections during this century. People were intimidated constantly into voting one way or another, but first you had to be allowed to vote to even have that happen. When looking at the population, only white rich men were allowed to vote, whereas every other race / gender was not allowed to vote and had no real participation in the politics arena yet.

  2. Political machines were disturbing in the Gilded Age. They corrupted the entire political process, as you mentioned. They turned politics into a game for the wealthy, in that the rich could buy political power to manipulate minorities and those that are less fortunate into voting for outcomes that may not benefit themselves.

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