What were the major political issues during the Gilded Age?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In addition to those items mentioned above, other major political issues of the Gilded Age were:

  • Civil Service Reform: After the assassination of President James A. Garfield by a disappointed office seeker, Congress passed the Pendleton Civil Service Act which required all applicants for non-appointive government positions to sit for a competitive Civil Service Examination.
  • Farm Problems. Farmers who were in desperate straits, banded together with workers from Eastern industrial factories to begin the Populist Movement. The leading spokesman for this movement was William Jennings Bryan, often called the "Great Commoner" who ran unsuccessfully for President of the United States in three separate elections. The Populist Movement also saw the rise of such local heroes as "Sockless Jerry Simpson," and Mary Kennedy Lease who advised farmers to "raise less corn and more hell." Brian epitomized the farmer's position on the issue of the coinage of silver and was rocketed into national prominence by his famous "Cross of Gold" speech:

I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty—the cause of humanity. . . . We have petitioned, and out petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, but our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer, we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!

Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold

  • Political corruption: The election of 1884 between Grover Cleveland and James G. Blaine is considered to be one of the dirtiest and most corrupt in American History. Blaine's supporters said that Democrats were the party of "rum, Romanism and rebellion." Grover Cleveland was accused of fathering an illegitimate child. His detractors often mocked him with a ditty:

Ma, Ma, where's my Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha! Ha! Ha!

The corruption and self-serving politics of the time gave the era its title as the Gilded Age.


pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There were a number of major political issues during this time.  Among the most important were:

  • Tariffs.  This was a dispute between those who wanted high tariffs to protect manufacturers and those who wanted low tariffs to help consumers.
  • Regulation of business.  These were issues in which populists wanted government to restrict the power of big business.  They called for things like regulation of railroad prices.
  • Gold and silver.  Especially late in the Gilded Age, there was a great debate over whether to allow the use of silver in making money.  This was a debate between the rich who wanted "hard money" and the people (typically farmers) who wanted silver to be allowed so it would be easier to pay off debts.