Archive for the 'Gilded Age' Category


Big Business Trusts: The Past and the Present

Rockefeller formed a trust in order to allow his business to grow even larger. In today’s world, many companies that you think are independent are in fact owned and controlled under one big umbrella operated by a single corporation (Viacom, AOL-Time-Warner, Clear Channel). Is it fair for one business player to control many separate entities, gobbling up such a huge portion of the market, and conclusively making it increasingly difficult for smaller independent companies to flourish and grow? On the other hand, are these huge conglomerates just being smart in the world of capitalism, the economic model our country has prided itself on?

As a result of a suit filed in 1974 under the Sherman Antitrust Act, the American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) monopoly was broken up in 1982. Recently AT&T proposed a $39 billion takeover of  T-Mobile, but the U.S. Justice Department said the combination of the country’s second- and fourth-largest wireless carriers would violate antitrust law and “substantially lessen competition”.

ASSIGNMENT: Answer the following Poll about the proposed AT&T and T-Mobile merger:


The Progressive Era Big Picture Question

The Progressive Movement was an effort to cure many of the ills of American society that had developed during the great spurt of
industrial growth in the last quarter of the 19th century. The frontier had been tamed, great cities and businesses developed, and an overseas empireestablished, but not all citizens shared in the new wealth, prestige, and optimism.

Progressivism was rooted in the belief, certainly not shared by all, that man was capable of improving the lot of all within society.
As such, it was a rejection of Social Darwinism, the position taken by many rich and powerful figures of the day.

Progressivism also had strong political overtones, and specific goals included:

  1. The desire to remove corruption and undue influence from government through the taming of bosses and political machines
  2. the effort to include more people more directly in the political process (initiative, referendum, recall)
  3. the conviction that government must play a role to solve social problems and establish fairness in economic matters.

The success of progressivism owed much to publicity generated by the muckrakers, writers who detailed the horrors of poverty, urban slums,
dangerous factory conditions, and child labor, among a host of other ills.

Successes were many, beginning with the Interstate Commerce Act (1887) and the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890). Progressives never
spoke with one mind and differed sharply over the most effective means to deal with the ills generated by the trusts; some favored an activist approach to trust-busting, others preferred a regulatory approach.

A vocal minority supported socialism with government ownership of the means of production. Other progressive reforms followed in the
form of a conservation movement, railroad legislation, and food and drug laws.

The progressive spirit also was evident in new amendments added to the Constitution (16th, 17th, 18th, 19th) which provided for an income tax, a new means to elect senators, protect society through prohibition and extend suffrage to women.

Urban problems were addressed by professional social workers who operated settlement houses as a means to protect and improve the
prospects of the poor. However, efforts to place limitations on child labor were routinely thwarted by the courts. The needs of African Americans and Native Americans were poorly served or served not at all — a major shortcoming of the progressive movement.

Progressive reforms were carried out not only on the national level, but in states and municipalities. Prominent governors devoted
to change included Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin and Hiram Johnson of California. Such reforms as the direct primary, secret ballot, and the initiative, referendum, and recall were effected. Local governments were strengthened by the widespread use of trained professionals, particularly with the city manager system replacing the frequently corrupt mayoral (political boss) system.


The Civil War, the most traumatic event in American history, produced three Amendments to the U. S. Constitution. The Progressive Era produced four. What  was it about this time period that demanded such drastic and permanent changes in the basic structure of American society?


Immigration Poll

first_illegal_immigrantsIn their desire to live the great American dream, millions of people from all across the globe immigrate to the United States every year. We all know how controversial the issue of illegal immigration is after listening to the debate over the new Arizona illegal immigration bill. However, legal Immigration to the United States can also be a controversial issue. For a long time now, there has been debate about how many if any immigrants should come into the United States each year, and the debate will probably continue. Think about the following questions and answer the poll question below about legal immigration.

  • Why have people come to the United States in the past?
  • Why do people come to the United States today?
  • What are the benefits for immigrants and for the country when people from other lands settle here?
  • What complications sometimes develop for immigrants and for the country?


Gilded Age: Civil Service Reform Cartoon

Pendleton ActAdding to the problems in Gilded Age politics was the spoils system, whereby a newly elected official distributed favors to his friends, relatives, and political supporters. Often these favors came in the form of government jobs. Nepotism, or giving jobs to one’s relatives, combined with patronage, or giving jobs in payment for political favors, sapped the vitality of government. Besides passing out political jobs to more than the usual number of party cronies, Grant reportedly installed several dozen of his wife’s relations in jobs with the federal government.

In spite of the opposition of many people and organizations, including President Hayes who won the election of 1876, the spoils system continued unabated until disaster struck. By the election of 1881, the Republican Party had divided into two factions, the Stalwarts and the Half-Breeds. The Stalwarts supported Grant, radical reconstruction in the South, and the patronagejames-garfield-picture system. The Half-Breeds opposed Grant and radical policies for the South and advocated civil service reform.

The 1881 Stalwart Republican candidate, James A. Garfield, won the election but was fatally shot just six months later by a lawyer named Charles J. Guiteau, who was distraught at not being given a government job. Garfield‘s successor, Chester A. Arthur, supported civil service reform in the wake of public demand for an overhaul of the spoils system of filling government posts through patronage rather than merit. The Civil Service Commission was created during Arthur’s tenure as president, but originally affected only about ten percent of all government jobs. It had a provision, however, that the president could expand the categories of jobs protected by Civil Service. Each new president then had an incentive to enlarge this percentage in order to protect his own appointments from being replaced by the next president. Much of government thus came to be under Civil Service and the merit system. (hippocampus)

Directions: Analyze the Civil Service political cartoon above [remember to look at all images (people, objects, and symbols), captions or titles, labels, the emotions of the characters, what actions are taking place], and then go to Hippocampus and analyze the Civil Service Reform political cartoon (with the elephant) and answer the following questions:

1. What is the message of the cartoon and who do you think the artist was trying to influence?

2. What is the significance of the homely muzzled dog in the lower left corner?

2. What special interest groups would agree/disagree with the cartoon’s message? Why?


Gilded Age: Tweed Political Cartoon

BossTweeNast_fullThe most infamous example of machine politics was Tammany Hall, headquarters of the Democratic Party in New York City. Headed by William Marcy Tweed, the Tammany Hall political machine of the late 1860s and early 1870s used graft, bribery, and rigged elections to bilk the city of over $200 million. Some of this money went to create public jobs that helped people and supported the local economy. Some went into constructing public buildings at hugely inflated expense thus lining the pockets of building contractors and suppliers of materials. But contractors and suppliers, and anyone else doing business in the city, had to give kickbacks to the bosses in order to stay in business. Many machine bosses, including Boss Tweed, amassed fortunes as a result of kickbacks and bribes. (hippocampus)

Directions:  Analyze the Boss Tweed political cartoon above [remember to look at all images (people, objects, and symbols), captions or titles, labels, the emotions of the characters, what actions are taking place], and then go to Hippocampus and analyze the Boss Tweed political cartoon “The Ring Arithmetic” and answer the following questions:

1. What is the message of the cartoon and who do you think the artist was trying to influence?

2. What special interest groups would agree/disagree with the cartoon’s message? Why?

February 2014
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