What important laws were passed at the national level during the Gilded Age?

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  • The Chinese Exclusion Act 1882—Increasing numbers of Chinese immigrants had been coming to the United States in search of work, usually to labor on large-scale engineering projects such as the First Transcontinental Railroad. However, when the economy went into decline in the 1870s, competition for labor became more fierce and other workers blamed Chinese immigrants for driving down wages and pricing them out of a job. In response to growing anti-Chinese sentiment, Congress passed the 1882 Act, putting a halt to the immigration of Chinese laborers.
  • The Dawes Act 1887—This was an attempt by Congress to integrate more Native Americans into mainstream society by abolishing ancient tribal and communal rights. The Act's overriding objective was to be achieved by dividing up tribal lands into plots for individuals. Anyone who accepted such plots of land and lived away from their tribes were automatically granted American citizenship. The Act severely reduced the overall landholdings of the various Native American tribes and undermined the very fabric of tribal society, turning individuals against their families and their cultural heritage.
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Notable federal laws enacted during the Gilded Age (1870–90) include:

  • the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, which established federal regulation of the railroads. It outlawed collusion between railroads and prohibited many types of price discrimination. Wealthy business leaders in the Northeast opposed the legislation, but farmers and small business owners, particularly in the West, supported it.
  • the McKinley Tariff of 1890, which raised tariffs (taxes on goods that cross national borders). Tariffs were a controversial issue because many business leaders and citizens supported tariffs as a way to support American businesses and increase U.S. economic growth. Cotton and tobacco growers in the South, however, strongly opposed tariffs because other countries retaliated by placing tariffs on U.S. cotton and tobacco exports.
  • the silver coinage acts, the Bland-Allison Act of 1878 and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, which increased the federal government’s minting of silver coins. The resulting increase in the nation's money supply helped farmers and workers pay their debts, counteracting 30 years (1865-1895) of deflation (a decrease in the general price level). Wealthy business leaders feared the Act would lower faith in U.S. currency and harm the nation's economy.
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