What were main political issues of the Gilded Age (1877–1900)?

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There were a number of major political issues during the Gilded Age, which was once characterized as a period of factional maneuvering without an ideological basis. Many of these issues pitted establishment politicians in both parties against a group of reformers led by agrarian politicians from the West in particular.

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There were a number of major political issues during the Gilded Age, which was once characterized as a period of factional maneuvering without an ideological basis. Many of these issues pitted establishment politicians in both parties against a group of reformers led by agrarian politicians from the West in particular.

One important issue was the tariff. Banking interests and American manufacturers desired a high tariff, while agriculturalists and many ordinary Americans did not. This old debate in American history became particularly intense during this period, because high tariffs basically favored manufacturers with artificially inflated prices. Debates over currency, or monetary policy, broke along similar lines. Many ordinary Americans, especially farmers, wanted more money in circulation, while financiers and business interests favored the contractionary monetary policy that characterized the post-Civil War period.

Another major (related) issue that became political was how the government should deal with the powerful monopolies that came to dominate the American economy. Regulating the monopolies was a major campaign issue for Populist politicians, who advocated government control of railroads and telegraph companies, for example. Some other politicians were already advocating the breakup of large monopolies, and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 was passed by Congress to this end.

Other major issues included civil service reform, a movement that took place in both major parties. This was seen as a means of fighting the corruption and malfeasance that characterized the politics of the period, from the municipal to the national level. Immigration was also an important issue. Many Americans advocated for immigration restrictions, especially in the American West. This led to one of the most flagrantly discriminatory federal laws in the history of the nation, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

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Probably the most important political issue of this period was the issue of the gold standard versus free silver.  This pitted business interests against farmers.  The farmers wanted silver money to be coined so that the value of the dollar would decline and it would be easier for them to pay off their loans.  Business interests wanted a strong and stable currency.  This issue played out over a number of presidential elections.

A second important issue was the issue of regulation of railroads and other major utilities.  This was another major issue for populists.  The populists (mainly farmers) wanted the government to regulate railroads because the farmers needed the railroads to get their crops to market.  Because of this, the railroads could charge very high prices to farmers.  The farmers felt that they were being unfairly exploited and wanted the government to prevent this.

These were the two most important political issues of the time you are asking about.

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