The Gilded Age, which ran roughly from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to the turn of the century, was a time of great industrial growth in the United States and a period in which a few people were able to amass vast fortunes. The federal government during...
The Gilded Age, which ran roughly from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to the turn of the century, was a time of great industrial growth in the United States and a period in which a few people were able to amass vast fortunes. The federal government during this period (and up until the New Deal, which began in 1933) did not define its role as protecting the well-being of the average American worker. There was no minimum wage, no forty-hour work week, no unemployment insurance, no safety standards, no laws to prevent children leaving school to begin work at a very early age, no legal unions—in fact, there was nothing in place to protect the American worker. Further, immigrants were flooding in from poor or persecuted sections of Europe with little understanding of how to shield themselves from exploitation. As you can imagine, with the government providing no protection and the workers unable to protect themselves, workers were not in a good position to enjoy prosperity. One might call them lambs led to the slaughter.
With no labor laws and an uninformed workforce, it is not hard to see how business owners could make a fortune. They used this money, in part, to corrupt the political system and consolidate their power. The very wealthy simply had so much money they could buy politicians outright.
With the politicians beholden largely to the wealthy, they naturally sided with and protected the political interests of the wealthy. As such, they used the power of the government to enforce pro-business policies and refused to enact policies that would have helped the workers—or farmers—have better lives. Though there was much unrest and a call for a better deal for workers, with many innovative ideas floated, the average workers did not have the political leverage until later to bring change to fruition.