Digital History

The Gilded Age

Politics During the Gilded Age Previous Next
Digital History ID 3114



In recent years, it has become commonplace to characterize politics in the Gilded Age as corrupt and issueless. The major parties "divided over spoils, not issues" and over "patronage, not principle," in the words of the historian Richard Hofstadter, and maintained voter loyalty by waving the bloody shirt (i.e., appealing to Civil War loyalties) and playing on religious, ethnic, and regional divisions.

This view is quite misleading. An era of intense partisan fervor, the Gilded Age had a higher level of voter turnout than at any other time in American history. The federal government assumed greater authority and power over banking and currencies, taxes and tariffs, land and immigration. This period also witnessed the rise of a number of highly politicized movements--including the temperance and women's rights crusades and the Populist insurgency--that sought to address the wrenching social transformations of the age.

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