The Gilded Age: A Reflection of the Current Era

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” – Attributed to Mark Twain

What struck me while reading through this chapter, is how similar the Gilded Age was from our current political and economic situation. While women and people of color are much more integrated into the politics, the system works about the same as it did back then.

Wealth and Poverty

The Gilded Age was marked by the simultaneous existence of extreme poverty of the many and excessive wealth of the few. While workers toiled to get what pittance they could from the collective value they produced, their employers took the rest and lived lavishly.

While the poor lived in squalor in cramped tenement buildings, the rich were hosting incredibly expensive parties where they liked to pretend that they’re European royalty. Ironically enough, they were doing the very thing that prompted the French Revolution over a century earlier which saw the end to the lives of many royals at the hands of angry, destitute peasants.

Two Parties of the Same

The two party system of the United States saw very little action in this era because they are both parties by and for the rich and powerful. As the textbook states, “Political paralysis stemmed from the power of corporate interests to use huge donations to political parties and bribery of lawmakers to stymie legislation they deemed harmful to their interests.”

Political machines took advantage of the devastating poverty at the time by giving the poor the illusion that they had someone on their side in politics. In reality, they simply bribed the poor by helping them pay for things they needed in exchange for votes.

The Creation and Destruction of Populism

As people began to see that the two old parties left a lot to be desired for the average person, many began to seek new politics. The People’s Party rose from this dissatisfaction. The party was founded upon acknowledging and solving the sources of many societal ills facing the average person as opposed to simply alleviating some of the symptoms.

Seeing the People’s Party’s potential to upset the status quo, both parties set out to destroy their credibility by describing them as idealists with lofty and impossible pursuits. Despite this, however, the party succeeded in making great gains in the 1892 election. As the text states, they elected “almost 1,500 candidates to state legislatures, three governors, and five senators and ten representatives to Congress.”

As promising as it was beginning to look, The People’s Party simply was no match for the established powers of the day and, in the end, dwindled and disappeared.

7 thoughts on “The Gilded Age: A Reflection of the Current Era

  1. It does seem as a lot of this still happens today. Politicians make promises they don’t keep, and corporations back candidates to help their own agenda’s. I was shocked to that one of the lavish parties during the Gilded age was $300,000. I could not imagine spending that amount of money on a party. People trying to outdo each other also still happens today. I am not much into politics but if I lived in that time I think I would be a people party supporter.

  2. The Gilded Age seems all too real in today’s society. The elites of our society still control just about everything, and enjoy partying and garnishing themselves with $10,000 Gucci and Givenchy clothing, while the poor in our country still struggle to get a single meal for the day.

  3. This issue will always remain in our society. Our upper class will always be flawed with greed, but I suppose that’s how they made it to the top. There will always be the wealthy, the poor, and the in between. It is the chronic condition of society. Not much will ever change if we keep using the same strategies (two party system).

  4. The amount of similarities between the Gilded Age and present time is shocking. It’s hard to believe that they are so similar. There are some differences between the two times, and one major aspect is the people involved. Women and people of color are more involved in politics nowadays. This is a change for the better, but there are still many similarities. The divisions in class has also been consistent throughout the times. There are the few rich and many poor while the rest are in the middle. We also still have a two party system which consists of the Democrats and Republicans. The People’s Party tried to infiltrate politics, but it ended up failing because of the two main parties. Overall, there are many aspects of society and politics today that are similar to the Gilded Age.

    1. You would think after more than 100 years there would be a huge difference in politics. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Although different races and women are allowed to vote, there is still corruption happening from both parties. People should be coming together to make this country better, yet we have never been more divided.

  5. The political machines back then have few similarities to the candidates we see run for office in recent history. Of course, they are not as crooked as the men back then, offering the poor things they did not actually give them. The similarity here though is that both promise many things to sway votes their way, even if they can not live up to what they offer.

  6. While that era has many differences in political “drama” some things have not changed. We have came a long ways especially with women and African Americans now being involved in politics not just being able to vote. Living in that era seems bizarre how people lived two completely different lifestyles. Some were “filthy” rich while others had absolutely nothing. A lot of the time those who were poor were the ones who made the other guys rich. It really is crazy how all of that works out. It is very sad though how the wealthy took complete advantage of the less fortunate when it came to politics. They bribed those who were considered “poor” by giving them a helping hand even if that meant finically. By the wealthy helping the poor out, the poor felt as if they meant well. Basically, the rich were taking advantage but put their money to good use. Even though they basically bribed others to be liked, that is the reality of an election and how I think our eras are relatable. I like your post a lot! It made me really think and compare about now and then!

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