What political issues concerned the American people in the late 19th century?

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The late 1800s, defined, perhaps, as the time from the end of Reconstruction until 1900, were not a time of very many major political differences between the two parties.  The two parties each had roughly half of the support among the people and elections tended to be very close.  Much of politics involved local issues rather than national issues.  That said, there were a few major issues at play in those days.

The best-known of these issues was the issue of gold and silver money.  The Republicans were strongly in favor of the gold standard.  The Democrats were more concerned with helping the common people.  They tended to support the farmers, who wanted the coinage of silver money was a way to make it easier for farmers to pay their debts. 

There were also debates over the proper level of tariffs.  As the party that was generally representing the “haves” in the country, the Republicans were in favor of tariffs.  They felt tariffs would help American manufacturing companies.  Democrats were more likely to be in favor of lower tariffs.

Another issue that was relevant to some degree was government regulation of big business.  Again, the Republicans were generally in favor of big business and did not want to regulate it.  The Democrats wanted to do things like preventing railroads from charging “excessive” prices to farmers who had to use them as ways of getting crops to market.  By the end of the century, the Democrats were also pushing for anti-monopoly legislation.

These were some of the most important issues in politics in the late 1800s.

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The slavery issue remained one of the most divisive and politically charged subjects in the United States. The Union was on the verge of a split before Abraham Lincoln was even voted in as the president. Seven southern states observed that the new president threatened their wish to continue with slavery and declared their secession from the Union. 

These states the formed Confederate States of America. The resulting unrest began the Civil War. The Confederate army drew first blood after they attacked Union forces at Fort Sumter. The war raged on for four bloody years, ending with many deaths on each side. However, the Union emerged victoriously, and the nation was preserved. 

Slavery was abolished, and the Reconstruction Era took effect. However, gains made after the Civil War with regards to slavery were quickly reversed through the Jim Crow laws that initiated segregation. Reconstruction was followed by the Gilded Age, which saw rapid economic growth toward the end of the 1800s. The Gilded Age was followed by the Progressive Era (1890-early 1900s), which sought to rectify challenges in politics and industry. Corrupt political leaders were targeted by supporters of the Progressive movement.