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The Gilded Age (1870–1900)

The Gilded Age (1870–1900)

How They Were Governed

The Civil Service Commission

The Civil Service Commission was created in 1883 to oversee the hiring of government employees by using a merit system. It was intended to replace the “spoils system”—a practice of rewarding political supporters by appointing them to government positions—which had grown consistently since the administration of President Andrew Jackson (1767–1845).

The Reformers’ Zeal

Although proponents of the spoils system claimed it made government more responsive and opened government service to the widest variety of candidates, reformers thought it fostered corruption. The administration of Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885), in particular, provided fuel for the reformers’ zeal. Grant had appointed many loyal friends to federal jobs—he knew many of them from his days as a general in the army—without regard for experience or competence. As it turned out, many of his closest associates were corrupt. When several of them—including cabinet secretaries—became implicated in financial scandals, the reform movement stepped up its efforts.

In 1871 Congress authorized the president to set regulations for filling civil-service positions. Grant appointed an Advisory Board of the Civil Service, which created and administered the first civil-service exams in 1872. However, Congress had provided no appropriations for the new commission, so it lasted only three years.

Reformers decided that regulation could not rest upon the will of individual presidents; instead, they pushed legislation to standardize federal employment. In 1865 Thomas Jenckes (1818–1875), a Republican representative from Rhode Island, introduced a reform bill patterned on the British government’s employment system. It sought to establish competitive examinations for all federal positions, except for appointments made by the president with the consent of the Senate. Jenckes’s legislation did not pass.

President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893) used executive orders to institute moderate reforms: he prevented federal civil servants from taking an active role in politics, and he created a system that based federal appointments on competitive examinations. When Hayes’s successor, James Garfield (1831–1881), was assassinated by a disgruntled office-seeker, legislation to impose civil-service reform got renewed attention.

Although his successor, Chester A. Arthur (1829–1886), had earlier been a proponent and practitioner of the spoils system, as president he became a strong advocate of reform. In his first address to Congress he called for an objective standard for civil-service appointments. He also investigated abuses in awarding post office contracts and worked for passage of the Pendleton Act, which established the Civil Service Commission.

The Pendleton Act

In 1881 the National Civil Service Reform League was established to lobby for legislation to implement civil-service reform. The league was gaining public support, but its efforts did not bear fruit until Garfield was assassinated. The secretary of the league, Dorman Eaton (1823–1899), was called upon to draft a reform bill. That legislation was introduced in the Senate by George Pendleton (1825–1889), a Democrat from Ohio.

The Pendleton Act created a modern merit system for many offices and authorized the president to expand the system. The law originally affected only one-tenth of federal employees; successive presidents expanded its coverage so that, by 1900, nearly 60 percent of federal civil-service jobs were filled on the basis of merit.

Implementation of the Law

Although Eaton, who crafted the Pendleton Act, was the first chairman of the Civil Service Commission, the most energetic and enthusiastic early administrator was Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), who was appointed chairman in 1889. Roosevelt, who would later be president of the United States, had begun his reform efforts in 1881 as a member of the New York Civil Service Reform Association. He had promoted passage of the New York State Civil Service Act of 1883, the first state civil service law in the nation. As head of the new federal commission he zealously investigated corruption and fraud. After one week in office, he fired examination board members in New York, who had been caught selling test questions to the public. He had postal employees arrested for buying votes for the re-election of President Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901)—who had appointed him four years earlier. “Government jobs,” Roosevelt declared, “belong to the American people, not politicians and shall be filled only with regard to public service.”

Roosevelt demonstrated that civil-service laws were going to be enforced regardless of political affiliation. When he resigned in 1895, the civil-service system had become an important and accepted part of the U.S. government.

See also Chester A. Arthur

See also The Spoils System

The Interstate Commerce Commission

The Interstate Commerce Commission, established by Congress in 1887 to oversee the railroad industry, was the first regulatory commission in U.S. history. Although it was initially ineffective, the commission did establish a precedent for federal regulation of commerce.


Although the massive expansion of the railroads after the Civil War (1861–1865), including the completion of the transcontinental railroad, was accomplished with land grants and government subsidies, the government had little say in how the railroads were run. The industry had immense impact on the economy, but its practices tended to serve railroad owners and not always the nation.

Several questionable practices had aroused public outrage. For example, through secret agreements railroad companies guaranteed reduced rates to large shipping companies that promised to ship goods on their trains. The lower rates allowed those shippers to undercut their competitors, get more business, and, in turn, give more business to their railroad partners. The rate concessions tended to drive out competition and eventually raise consumer prices.

In addition, railroads frequently charged different rates for the same service, depending on their competition in a particular area. Some railroads had established price-fixing “pools” to maintain artificially high rates. Many railroads gave free passes to politicians. And some railroad owners had manipulated the prices of their companies’ stock, creating greater profits for themselves than for ordinary investors.

Local Regulation

The railroads’ practices, although disliked by much of the public, had their most negative effects on farmers and small businessmen. These groups pressured—through such organizations as the Grange, a farmers’ movement that worked for political and economic change—for regulations that would protect them. The states responded first, starting in Illinois in 1871. Other states in the Midwest and the South soon passed regulatory legislation as well. At first, in Munn v. Illinois (1876), the Supreme Court upheld the right of states to regulate railroads. Ten years later, however, the court ruled in Wabash, St. Louis, and Pacific Railroad v. Illinois that a state could not regulate commerce when it went beyond that state’s boundary. Only the federal government could regulate the railroads.

Interstate Commerce Commission Act

John Reagan (1818–1905), a Democratic representative from Texas and chairman of the House Committee on Commerce, introduced legislation to outlaw specific unfair business practices of railroads. Shelby Cullom (1829–1914), a Republican senator from Illinois, proposed legislation to establish a regulatory commission that could investigate and prosecute the railroad companies for those unfair tactics. A joint committee crafted the final legislation that became the Interstate Commerce Commission Act of 1887. President Grover Cleveland (1837–1908) signed the bill.

The authority for the creation of the commission came from in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to “regulate commerce…among the several states.” The commission, made up of five members, was charged with investigating unfair business practices in the railroad industry and bringing the railroads to court for illegal actions.

Although the law sought to establish guidelines for how the railroads could do business, the regulators were slow to develop specific rules and methods for their implementation. Deciding, for example, which rates were discriminatory was technically and politically difficult. Furthermore, the commission’s first chairman, Thomas Cooley (1824–1898), appeared to cater to the railroads’ interests. Until 1911 the commission brought only sixteen cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. The court also seemed determined to undermine the power of the regulatory act. Of those sixteen cases, the railroads won fifteen.

Later legislation strengthened the law, providing the commission with the tools and direction needed to regulate the railroads effectively. Still, the original act, which established the first federal regulatory commission, was a legislative landmark.

Ellis Island

When Ellis Island, a small island in New York Harbor, was designated as the first federal immigration station in 1890, the United States was experiencing unprecedented immigration. Starting in 1865 a great wave of immigrants had arrived, primarily from England, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and Wales. By 1890 a new wave of immigration had begun, mostly from eastern and southern Europe—including Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Russia. Ellis Island was the depot for most of the new arrivals.

Immigrant Patterns

Late nineteenth-century immigration was greatly influenced by the development of transportation networks. Railroads spread throughout Europe, connecting to places with access to seaports. Ocean transport changed dramatically as well. As late as 1856 more than 95 percent of European immigrants came to the United States by sail; just twenty years later more than 95 percent came by steamship.

Most immigrants, in that era, settled in cities. Initially, they chose to live in the northern states, but by 1890 many moved on to the western states. Ethnic groups preferred specific regions: Irish favored New England; Italians and Russians, the mid-Atlantic states, Germans, the eastern north-central states, and Scandinavians, the western north-central states. Families frequently arrived together, but young men often traveled on their own to find work. They would then either send for their wives and children or, in some cases, return to their families in Europe with the wages they had saved.

The Immigrant Experience

Nearly 12 million immigrants arrived in the United States between 1870 and 1900. Some had fled land shortages, unemployment, famine, military service, natural disasters, and oppressive taxes. They saw the United States as the land of economic opportunity. Others sought relief from political and religious persecution. They saw the United States as the land of equality. Many arrived with hope, and often little else.

First- and second-class passengers, if they were not ill, were given cursory examinations aboard ship and allowed to disembark. The steerage passengers, however, were ferried to Ellis Island. On the island they would undergo medical and legal inspections conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service and the Bureau of Immigration. More than 98 percent were admitted.

Whenever they could, new immigrants lived in neighborhoods populated by their own ethnic groups. There they were able to speak their own languages, worship with familiar rituals, and find familiar foods. Their city neighborhoods were filled with overcrowded housing, called tenements, that frequently lacked kitchens and bathrooms.

New immigrants usually had to take the hardest, most dangerous, and lowest-level jobs. They often found employment through friends or relatives, so people from one country tended to work in the same businesses. Russians became steel workers; Greeks were employed by small businesses; and Jews got jobs in clothing factories.

Immigration Laws

After certain states passed immigration laws following the Civil War (1861–1865), the Supreme Court in 1875 declared that regulation of immigration was a federal responsibility. That year Congress passed the first restrictive immigration statute, which barred convicts and prostitutes from admission. Other restrictive laws were passed because the public had begun to view immigration as an economic threat. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, for example, grew out of worker unrest—and cultural suspicion—in California, where Chinese immigrants made up a large portion of the workforce. The law—the first to restrict immigration on the basis of race or ethnicity—prohibited Chinese immigration to the United States for ten years. Its provisions were later extended. A series of Alien Contract Labor Laws made it illegal for U.S. employers to seek workers in other countries. Other immigration laws imposed a fifty-cent head tax on all immigrants and excluded from entry anyone who was insane, had a contagious disease, or was likely to become dependent on the government.

The individual states, rather than the federal government, processed immigration until 1891, when the Bureau of Immigration was established. Ellis Island became the first and the most important immigrant-entry station. Nearly half of the population of the United States can trace its heritage back to immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island. In 1954 the Ellis Island immigration station was closed. Today it houses a museum of its history.

See also The Chinese Exclusion Act

Important Figures of the Day

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), who was born a slave, became a fervent abolitionist, noted reformer, accomplished writer and orator, and respected statesman. He remains one of the most influential African-American leaders in U.S. history.

Childhood Slavery

Douglass, the child of Harriet Bailey, was born in a slave cabin on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He never knew the identity of his white father and was separated from his mother when he was a few weeks old. Raised by his grandmother until he was six years old, he was then sent to live on the plantation of his master, Aaron Anthony, where he first experienced the hardships and deprivations of slavery. At age eight he was dispatched to Baltimore to be a houseboy for Anthony’s relatives, Hugh and Sophia Auld.

Although it was unlawful to teach slaves how to read, Sophie Auld instructed Frederick until her husband found out and forbade it. Frederick decided to educate himself. He eventually purchased a copy of the Columbian Orator, which impressed upon him the power of the word, written and spoken, to inspire change.

At the age of fifteen Douglass was sent back to the Eastern Shore to work as a field hand. Hired out to Edward Covey, a local farmer known as the “Negro-breaker,” Douglass was whipped almost weekly. During that same period Douglass began teaching other slaves to read and write, even though it was forbidden.

When he was eighteen Douglass made an unsuccessful attempt to escape slavery. He was jailed briefly and then returned to the Aulds. They hired him out to work in the Baltimore shipyards, which gave him the chance to associate with the free black community. He participated in a secret debating society, which developed his oratorical skills and provided social contacts. Among the many people he met was his future wife, Anna Murray (1813–1882), a free black woman.

In 1838 Douglass escaped from slavery by impersonating a sailor. Murray joined him in New York. They were married and then moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Fugitive Years

In Massachusetts, where he worked at odd jobs, Douglass became involved in the growing antislavery movement. He attended abolitionist meetings and subscribed to the Liberator, an antislavery newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison (1895–1879). In 1841, after he made a moving presentation at an abolitionist convention in Nantucket, Douglass was asked to become a speaker for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. For the next four years Douglass toured the northern United States, lecturing on his experiences as a slave and on the evils of slavery.

In 1845 Douglass wrote the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which reveals details of his life as a slave and as a fugitive. To avoid being recaptured, Douglass left the United States and, along with Garrison, lectured throughout England and Ireland. His English friends eventually raised the money for Douglass to purchase his freedom: $711.66.

A Reformer’s Life

In 1847 Douglass returned to the United States and moved, with his family, to Rochester, New York, where he published the North Star, an abolitionist weekly. During the next several years Douglass provided shelter for fugitive slaves making their way north on the “underground railroad”; campaigned against segregation in the public schools; joined advocates for women’s rights at their convention in Seneca Falls, New York; and published his second autobiographical work, My Bondage and My Freedom.

Douglass’s work had connected him to many well-known reformers, including the militant abolitionist John Brown (1800–1859). Douglass disagreed with Brown’s violent tactics and refused to join him in 1859 in an attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. When Brown was captured in the raid, the authorities found a letter from Douglass in Brown’s possession. While no charges were ever brought against him, Douglass feared arrest for aiding and abetting Brown. He fled to Quebec and then to England, returning to the United States six months later after learning of the death of his young daughter.

Civil War and Reconstruction

When Douglass returned to the United States, he campaigned for Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), the Republican candidate for president. Then, when the Civil War began and Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery in “the rebellious states,” Douglass recruited for the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry, the first regiment of African-American soldiers. As the war progressed he advocated equal pay and better treatment for the blacks who had enlisted with the Union forces.

Douglass endorsed the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery; the Fourteenth Amendment, which declared that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens; and the Fifteenth Amendment, which banned race-based voting qualifications. During Reconstruction, the period following the war, he began publishing the New National Era, a newspaper supporting the new political role of African-Americans.

The Statesman

In the 1870s Douglass held a number of important positions: U.S. marshal of the District of Columbia; the Equal Rights Party nominee for vice president; recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia; and U.S. consul general in Haiti and chargé d’affaires in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. All the while Douglass continued to write—he published a third autobiographical work, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass—and lecture. He opposed racism, advocated women’s rights, attacked the “Jim Crow laws” that supported racial segregation, denounced lynching, and preached his singular version of American ideals. On February 20, 1895, after speaking at a meeting of the National Council of Women, Douglass died suddenly.

His persuasive voice for social justice helped Douglass achieve international fame as an orator and writer. He is considered not only one of the most influential African-Americans in U.S. history, but also one of its most courageous and principled reformers.

See also Jim Crow Laws

Reunion of a Former Slave and His Master

In his autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817 to 1882, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), who was born a slave, describes a meeting with his former master:

To me, Capt. [Thomas] Auld had sustained the relation of master—a relation which I had held in extreme abhorrence, and which for forty years, I had denounced in all bitterness of spirit and fierceness of speech. He had struck down my personality, had subjected me to his will, made property of my body and soul, reduced me to a chattel, hired me out to a noted slave-breaker to be worked like a beast and flogged into submission; he had taken my hard earnings, sent me to prison, offered me for sale, broken up my Sunday-school, forbidden me to teach my fellow slaves to read on pain of nine and thirty lashes on my bare back; he had sold my body to his brother, Hugh, had pocketed the price of my flesh and blood without any apparent disturbance of his conscience.…I had made his name and his deeds familiar to the world by my writings in four different languages, yet here we were after four decades once more face to face—he on his bed, aged and tremulous, drawing near the sunset of life, and I, his former slave, [now] United States Marshal of the District of Columbia, holding his hand in a friendly conversation with him, in a sort of final settlement of past differences, preparatory to his stepping into his grave, where all distinctions are at an end, and where the great and small, the slave and his master, are reduced to the same level.…I had no business with this man under the old regime but to keep out of his way. But now that slavery was destroyed, and the slave and the master stood upon equal ground, I was not only willing to meet him, but was very glad to do so.…He was to me no longer a slaveholder either in fact or in spirit, and I regarded him as I did myself, a victim of circumstances of birth, education, law, and custom.… We addressed each other simultaneously, he calling me, “Marshal Douglass,” and I, as I had always called him, “Captain Auld.”…Though broken by age and palsy, the mind of Capt. Auld was remarkably clear and strong. After he had become composed, I asked him what he had thought of my conduct in running away and going to the North. He hesitated a moment as if to properly formulate his reply, and said: “Frederick, I always knew you were too smart to be a slave, and had I been in your place I should have done as you did.”


Frederick Douglass. The LIfe and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817 to 1882, edited by John Lobb. London: Christian Age Office, 1882.

Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906), an abolitionist and temperance activist, was one of the foremost figures in the fight for women’s suffrage. Although she did not live to see the passage in 1920 of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, it was called the Susan B. Anthony Amendment in her honor.

Early Years

Anthony was born into a Massachusetts Quaker family with a long tradition of activism. Her father, a staunch abolitionist, worked with such important figures as Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) and William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879) to end slavery in the United States. After attending a Quaker School, Anthony began teaching at age fifteen. In 1846, when her family moved to a farm in Rochester, New York, Anthony became, at age twenty-six, headmistress of the nearby Canajoharie Academy.

Early Activism

Anthony’s early activism focused on her family’s antislavery work, as well as the effects of drunkenness on families. She eventually became involved in the temperance movement, a crusade to ban alcohol—Anthony made her first public speech at a Daughters of Temperance supper in 1848. She was elected president of the organization’s Rochester branch in 1849.

Even though her family had attended the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, Anthony did not concentrate on women’s issues until the Sons of Temperance refused to accept women members. They also would not allow Anthony to speak at their state convention. So she began campaigning on women’s rights, giving her activism a new focus. She forged a lifelong friendship with Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902), whose beliefs and activism paralleled Anthony’s own.

Women’s Rights

In 1853, at the New York state teachers’ convention, Anthony called for women teachers to be recognized as professionals and to be given better pay. She also requested that women be given a voice at the convention and be able to assume committee positions. In other forums she advocated college education and equal pay for women, as well as coeducation. At the same time she worked to improve the rights of married women and was instrumental in obtaining the passage in 1860 of the New York State Married Women’s Property Bill, which allowed married women to own property, enter into legal contracts, keep their own wages, and have custody of their children. She also campaigned for more liberal divorce laws.

Before and during the Civil War, Anthony continued to work for the emancipation of slaves and strongly supported the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlawed slavery. Her abolitionist efforts led to encounters with angry mobs, threats of violence, and being hung in effigy. However, while she supported the Thirteenth Amendment, she also campaigned to have the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments—which gave citizenship and the right to vote to former slaves—applied to women. When that effort did not receive the support of her abolitionist allies, she focused her activism almost entirely on women’s issues.

Women’s Suffrage

Although some American women had been demanding voting privileges as early as 1648, women’s suffrage did not become a prominent issue until the mid nineteenth century. In 1848, during the first convention in support of women’s rights, which was organized by Stanton and other feminist activists, the participants passed a resolution calling for women’s right to vote.

In 1869 Anthony and Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), which took a militant stand on women’s suffrage. Its publication, The Revolution, stated on its masthead, “Men their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.”

In the 1872 presidential election, Anthony decided to test her interpretation of the Constitution. Neither the Fourteenth nor the Fifteenth Amendment assigned gender to the citizens given the right to vote, so Anthony contended that the amendments applied to women and cast a ballot in Rochester, New York. She was immediately arrested. At her trial Anthony was not allowed to speak. The judge instructed the jury, without discussion, to find her guilty of illegally voting. Anthony was fined $100. Because he did not imprison her when she refused to pay, the judge denied her the chance to appeal to higher courts.

Anthony spread her campaign for women’s suffrage throughout the country. She attended political conventions and labor meetings; made speeches; and wrote books, including, with other activists, the History of Woman Suffrage. From 1869 to 1906 she appeared before every session of Congress, requesting passage of a suffrage amendment.

Later Years

In 1890 the NWSA—the group formed by Anthony and Stanton—joined with the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), a suffrage group whose members had had policy and strategy differences with the NWSA. In 1892 Anthony became president of the united group, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and served for the next eight years. She embarked on a campaign in the West to guarantee that territories where women had been given the vote, such as Utah and Wyoming, were not blocked from statehood. She also traveled to Europe in support of women’s suffrage and lived to see New Zealand and Australia give women the right to vote.

At age eighty-six Anthony ended her last public speech on suffrage by saying, “Failure is impossible.” She did not live to see success, but when the Susan B. Anthony Amendment finally passed in 1920, she was proved right.

Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893), the nineteenth president of the United States, was committed to restoring the image of the presidency, which had been damaged during the scandal-plagued years of Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885). However, the final election result was disputed, so Hayes took office at a highly partisan time, rife with bitterness and accusations of corruption. In his single term, however, he did manage to strengthen the presidency and initiate moderate reforms.

Early Life

Hayes was born on a farm in Delaware, Ohio, ten weeks after his father died. He was raised with the support of his wealthy uncle, Sardis Birchard. After graduating from Kenyon College and Harvard Law School, he practiced law in Lower Sandusky (now Fremont), Ohio.

Initially a member of the Whig Party, Hayes, along with many northern Whigs, became a Republican in the 1850s. He served as city solicitor of Cincinnati from 1858 to 1860. When the Civil War began, he joined the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteers and fought in several campaigns, including the important Virginia campaigns of 1864. Hayes was wounded four times during the war, once seriously, but he continued to serve until 1865. He was given the rank of brevet major general—an honorary title—for his gallant services.

Hayes’s war record helped him in politics: he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1864, while still in the army. He was reelected in 1866. Then, in 1868, he was elected governor of Ohio, where he acquired a reputation as an able and courageous administrator, instituting prison reforms, combating election fraud, and making appointments based on merit, rather than political patronage. In 1876, as a war hero, a resident of a state that was crucial to winning an election, and a politician with a clean record, Hayes made a good candidate for president.

The 1876 Election Dispute

Hayes faced a tough campaign. The economy was in poor shape, the previous Republican administration was marked by scandal, and Hayes’s opponent, Samuel Tilden (1814–1886), had developed a reputation as a reformer in New York. The popular vote count was 4,288,546 for Tilden and 4,034,311 for Hayes. However, Tilden had only 184 certain electoral-college votes and needed one more to win. Twenty electoral votes—in Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina—were disputed. Hayes needed all twenty of those votes to be elected.

Congress set up a special commission, composed of eight Republicans and seven Democrats, to resolve the contested election. The commission declared the final electoral vote: 184 for Tilden, the Democrat, and 185 for Hayes, the Republican. After a bitter debate the Senate confirmed Hayes’s election. Furious Democrats dubbed Hayes “Rutherfraud” and “His Fraudulency.” Reportedly Hayes’s representatives had convinced southern Democrats to accept his election by making a series of bargains, often called the Compromise of 1877. The deal included promises that the Texas and Pacific Railroad would be built; funds would be allocated to support the southern economy; and federal troops would be withdrawn from the southern states, formally ending the Reconstruction era. The southerners, for their part, gave assurances that the political rights of blacks would be protected.

The Presidency

Because he took office under a cloud, Hayes had to be satisfied with small gains in his reform agenda. To appear less political, he pledged not to run for a second term. However, that led many legislators to view him as a powerless interim president, so they did little to advance his initiatives.

With Democrats running the House of Representatives and Republican holding only tenuous control of the Senate, Hayes made few legislative efforts. Instead, he frequently used executive orders and his veto power to implement his policies. For example, he consistently vetoed legislation intended to ease the supply of available money. The measures would have helped those, such as farmers, who were in increasing debt, but Hayes, like many other Republicans, believed the legislation would have dangerously decreased the stability of the nation’s currency. One major money measure—the 1878 Bland-Allison Act, which concerned the coinage of silver—became law when Congress overrode his veto. Hayes then used executive orders to limit its effects. He also used executive orders in support of civil-service reform, first by forbidding federal civil servants to take an active role in politics and then by initiating a merit system of competitive examinations for federal employment. He also vetoed the first congressional attempt to limit Chinese immigration.

The time of the Hayes administration was also the beginning of the organized labor movement. In the faltering economy of 1877, railroads initiated severe wage cuts. Employees first went on strike against the Baltimore and Ohio line. When a judge declared that the strikers were in contempt of court, Hayes reluctantly sent in federal troops. However, worker protests spread across the country until they became the Great Strike of 1877. By the time the strike was over more than a hundred people had died and more than a thousand strikers had been jailed. Some historians believe that Hayes’s restrained response to the strike saved both lives and property.

Hayes kept his pledge not to run for a second term and, in 1881, retired to Fremont, Ohio. He returned to his law practice and worked for international peace, public education, the temperance movement, and prison and civil-service reform.

See also Labor Strikes and Riots

The Electoral College and the Gilded Age

The electoral college, which was established by the U.S. Constitution for the indirect election of the president and vice president, encountered some of its most questionable moments during the Gilded Age. In 1872 one of the candidates died between the general election and the time when the electoral college was scheduled to cast its votes. In 1876 and 1888, the candidates who won the popular vote lost the presidential elections.

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention designed the electoral college for several reasons. They thought a system that provided each state with a number of electors based on the number of senators (each state has two) and the number of representatives (each state has a number based on its population) would give the smaller states a slightly greater voice in the electoral college. That would help to balance the respective power of the small and large states in choosing the president. They also hoped, in an era when it could take a long time to get information, that electors would have a better opportunity to learn about the candidates and make informed decisions.

By the 1820s—as in most states today—the votes for each state in the electoral college were cast on a winner-takes-all basis. Whoever got the majority of the popular votes in each state, no matter how narrow the margin of victory, got all the votes that the state cast in the electoral college. Although it was not one of the expectations of the founding fathers, electors have usually pledged their votes to the candidate of a particular political party. Throughout the nation’s history they have rarely voted for anyone else.

In the 1872 election, Horace Greeley (1811–1872), the Democratic candidate, received almost 3 million popular votes and should have received sixty-six electoral votes. Greeley died on November 29, 1872, and the electors pledged to him had not yet voted. Despite his death, three electors cast their ballots for him anyway. The victory of the Republican candidate, Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885), was unaffected.

In 1876, during an economic depression and after the scandals of the Grant administration, the Republican electoral fortunes were not so assured. Samuel Tilden (1814–1886), the Democratic candidate, seemed to have achieved the first Democratic victory since the Civil War. However, despite a popular vote margin of more than two hundred fifty thousand votes and because of contested votes in four states, Tilden was short, by just one vote, of a majority in the electoral college. A congressional commission with a Republican majority—and an alleged deal with southern Democrats—gave Rutherford Hayes (1822–1893), the Republican, all the contested electoral votes and an election victory.

In 1888 the election of Republican Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901) provided an undisputed example of the electoral college results clearly contradicting the popular vote. Harrison’s opponent, incumbent president Grover Cleveland (1837–1908), racked up enormous majorities in the eighteen states that supported him. In the twenty states Harrison won, he had much smaller margins. Cleveland won the popular vote by more than one hundred thousand votes but lost the electoral college by sixty-four votes.

Chief Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull (c. 1831–1890) was a warrior, medicine man, chief, and political leader. He led the Indians of the northern plains in their resistance to the U.S. government’s military power and the incursions of white settlers into Indian territory. He was present at the Battle of Little Bighorn, which is sometimes called Custer’s Last Stand.

Childhood and Youth

Sitting Bull, whose Indian name was Tatanka Iyotanka, was born near the Grand River in present-day South Dakota. He was a member of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux tribe. At age fourteen, he joined his first war party against the Crow Indians. He became known for his fearlessness in battle as he fought to keep buffalo hunting grounds available to his tribe.

As a young man Sitting Bull became a leader of the Strong Hearts, an influential warrior society. Later he became a well-respected member of the Silent Eaters, a group concerned with tribal welfare. He first encountered U.S. soldiers in 1863. The army, under Generals Henry Sibley (1811–1891) and Alfred Sully (1821–1879), had pursued members of rebellious eastern Dakota Sioux tribes as they fled west, seeking refuge with the Lakota Sioux. From 1863 to 1868 Sitting Bull fought the army’s encroachments into Sioux territory, including the Battle of Kildeer Mountain in 1864. He also led an attack on Fort Rice in 1865. Respected for his courage and insight, Sitting Bull became chief of the Lakota nation around 1867.

Battles for the Indian Territories

In 1868, in an effort to change its policy on the northern plains, the U.S. government decided to make peace overtures to the Indians. As negotiator they sent Father Pierre-Jean de Smet (1801–1973), a Jesuit priest who had spent much of his life living with Native Americans. Although Sitting Bull admired Smet, he never signed the resulting Treaty of Fort Laramie. But Red Cloud (c. 1822–1909), the most important Sioux chief at that time, accepted the treaty, which promised that the Black Hills of South Dakota would be the permanent lands of the Lakota, the Arapaho, and the northern Cheyenne. During the next few years Sitting Bull and his warriors conducted intermittent raids against settlers along the Yellowstone River.

In 1874 an army expedition, led by General George Custer (1839–1876), discovered gold in western South Dakota. A year later more than a thousand prospectors were illegally camped in the Black Hills, which many tribes considered to be a sacred place and had been forbidden to white settlement by the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The government, unwilling to honor the treaty in the face of the prospectors’ greed, tried to buy the land from the Indians. When the Indians refused, the commissioner of Indian affairs set aside the treaty and declared that all Indians not on reservations by January 31, 1876, would be considered hostile. The Sioux, led by Sitting Bull, ignored the demand. In March three columns of federal troops, under General George Crook (1828–1890), General Alfred Terry (1827–1890), and Colonel John Gibbon (1827–1896), set out to defeat the Indians.

Sitting Bull, by then the leading chief among all the Lakota, realized that his tribe could not defeat the army alone. To make an alliance, he brought Oglala Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho to his camp at Rosebud Creek. There Sitting Bull led a sun-dance ritual, a form of religious practice that included self-torture. Emerging from a trance, Sitting Bull described a vision in which he saw soldiers falling from the sky.

Shortly thereafter the Oglala war chief, Crazy Horse (c. 1840–1877), took five hundred warriors and surprised Crook’s troops in the Battle of the Rosebud; the army was forced to retreat. Sitting Bull then moved the three thousand allied Indians to a camp on the Little Bighorn River. The army and their Indian agents did not know that the Indians had joined forces and changed their tactics, so the soldiers underestimated the dangers they faced.

On June 25, 1876, troops under Custer attacked the Indians. As if in fulfillment of Sitting Bull’s vision, Custer and all his men were killed in a historic defeat for U.S. troops.

Sitting Bull hoped that the Indian victory at Little Bighorn would signal an end to the army’s attacks. However, reaction to the military catastrophe actually increased aggression against the tribes. Thousands more cavalrymen were dispatched to the area, and they pursued the Lakota relentlessly. Many members of Sitting Bull’s tribe surrendered, but Sitting Bull refused.

Later Years

In May 1877 Sitting Bull led his followers across the Canadian border to be safe from the U.S. Army. Terry followed him north and offered Sitting Bull a pardon if he would settle on a reservation, but Sitting Bull angrily declined. For four years Sitting Bull and his people struggled to survive, without the aid of the Canadian government, which was reluctant to alienate the United States, or access to buffalo, which were by then almost extinct. Finally, in July 1981, Sitting Bull and his remaining followers, who were near starvation, returned to the United States and surrendered to the army.

Fearing that Sitting Bull would inspire an uprising, the army kept him in Fort Randall, on the Missouri River, for two years. He then joined the Sioux on the Standing Rock reservation, where many of his tribe lived. By that time Sitting Bull was world famous. In 1885 he traveled nationally with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. However, he still tried to maintain Native American culture and traditions and resisted the government’s efforts to assimilate the Indian tribes by turning them into farmers.

The Ghost Dance

In the fall of 1890 a Lakota named Kicking Bear (1846–1904) told Sitting Bull about the Ghost Dance, a ritual that had rapidly gained favor with the tribes. The Ghost Dance promised that a redeeming leader would come to the Indians, the whites would disappear, and the buffalo would return to the plains. Concerned that Sitting Bull would join the Ghost Dance, U.S. authorities dispatched forty-three Lakota policemen to arrest him. On December 15, 1890, in a predawn raid on his cabin, Sitting Bull was shot in the head and killed.

Sitting Bull is remembered as a brave warrior, spiritual prophet, and inspirational leader who consistently resisted the white settlers’ and soldiers’ attacks on the his people’s lands and way of life. In Mobridge, South Dakota, a granite shaft marks his grave.

See also Indian Wars in the West

George Armstrong Custer

George Armstrong Custer (1839–1876), a general in the Civil War and the Indian Wars of the West, is best known for his death, at age thirty-six, in the Battle of Little Bighorn, where his entire unit of 210 men was killed by thousands of Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors. Alternately portrayed as a brave and clever soldier or a violent, vain and reckless self-promoter, Custer continues to be a controversial figure in U.S. history.

After a childhood in Ohio and Michigan, Custer obtained an appointment to West Point. His career at the military academy was marked by little study and much mischief, and he graduated in 1861 at the bottom of his class. Soon thereafter he was threatened with court-martial. In that instance, as at several other times in his career, the proceedings were suspended, and Custer was sent into active duty.

During the Civil War Custer distinguished himself in the Virginia and Gettysburg campaigns and fought at the battle of Bull Run. Custer’s unit was instrumental in forcing the Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) to retreat. Custer accepted the Confederate flag of truce.

After the Civil War Custer was sent west to campaign against the Indians. His performance was lackluster, and he again faced court-martial, but his victory over a band of Cheyenne, in the battle of the Washita, redeemed him. After leading an expedition in 1874 that discovered gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota—on land guaranteed to the Lakota Sioux by a treaty made with the United States only six years earlier—Custer was given command over a unit sent to defeat the Sioux and their allies.

The original strategy called for three large army forces, under Custer, General George Crook (1828–1890), and Colonel John Gibbon (1827–1896), to converge on the Indian tribes and trap them. Custer, however, advanced more quickly than planned. On June 25, 1876, he neared what he thought was a large Indian village. He ordered an immediate attack, dividing his unit into three groups to prevent any Indians from escaping. Custer had not expected the overwhelming Indian force he encountered. Quickly surrounded by their enemy, Custer and the companies under his immediate command were slaughtered in less than an hour.

Partly in response to the killing of Custer and his men, the army then launched its most relentless campaign against the Indians. By the following year most of the Indians present at the battle of Little Bighorn had been forced to surrender.

Chester A. Arthur

Chester A. Arthur (1829–1886), the twenty-first president of the United States, assumed office upon the assassination of James Garfield (1831–1881). When Arthur was elected vice president he supported the spoils system, which provided government jobs to those loyal to their political party. As president he became the surprising champion of civil-service reform.

Early Years

The son of an abolitionist Baptist preacher, Arthur spent much of his childhood moving throughout Vermont and New York. He graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York, in 1848, and then worked as a teacher, studied law part-time, and passed the bar examination 1854. As a clerk in a prominent New York City law firm, Arthur worked on two cases that focused on African-American rights: one involved fugitive slaves; the other led to the integration of New York City streetcars.

In 1861, having been connected to Republican politics for several years, Arthur was appointed to the general staff of New York Governor Edwin Morgan (1811–1883). During the Civil War he served as quartermaster-general of New York state and acquired a reputation as an able administrator. When a Democrat was elected governor, he returned to private law practice, although he remained active in Republican politics. He was considered a loyal supporter of Senator Roscoe Conkling (1829–1888), head of the Stalwart, or conservative, faction of the Republican Party and a proponent of the “spoils system” of political patronage.

Under Republican President Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885), Arthur was appointed collector of customs of the Port of New York, a position that was central to New York’s patronage system. Although Arthur was credited with running his office efficiently and honestly, his staff of more than a thousand was padded with Conkling party regulars. In 1878, in an attempt to undermine the spoils system, President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893) removed Arthur from the job.

The Vice Presidency

Arthur was one of the leading members of the Stalwart faction of Republicans who supported Grant’s third-term bid in 1880. But James G. Blaine (1830–1893) and the Half-Breed faction—they got the name because their opponents considered them to be half-Democrats—helped Garfield win the nomination for president. Arthur was put on the ticket to maintain the support of the Stalwarts. As vice president Arthur continued to support Conkling and the spoils system. In fact, he broke with the president over a candidate for Arthur’s old job as collector of customs of the Port of New York: Garfield appointed a man who was not under Conkling’s control. On July 2, only a few months into his presidency, Garfield was shot by a disappointed federal office seeker, who claimed he was a Stalwart and wanted Arthur to be president. Garfield died on September 19, 1881.

President Arthur

Arthur astonished many when he assumed the presidency. He is noted for looking the part—he was tall, well built, and impeccably dressed—and acting the part—he made the White House a center of elegant entertaining. He did not, however, invite his old companions in political patronage to reap the rewards of his new position. Perhaps shocked by the Garfield assassination, Arthur demonstrated unexpected independence by investigating abuses in the civil service, especially in the granting of post office contracts. In his first address to Congress he made civil-service reform a priority; he later became a staunch advocate of the Pendleton Act, which established a bipartisan Civil Service Commission and required competitive exams for federal appointments.

In 1882 Arthur signed the nation’s first law to restrict immigration into the United States on the basis of race or ethnicity, the Chinese Exclusion Act. The legislation grew out of cultural suspicion and worker unrest, especially in California, where Chinese immigrants made up a large portion of the workforce. Arthur vetoed the first version of the bill; however, when Congress reworked the legislation and reduced the time period during which Chinese immigration would be prohibited, Arthur agreed.

During his presidency Arthur supported efforts to modernize the navy, recommending appropriations that would help transform it into one of the world’s great fleets. He also refurbished the White House, hiring Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933), the famed New York designer, to create a presidential showplace. His administration, ushered in with tragedy and disbelief, proved to be an able and surprisingly effective one.

In 1884, without the support of either the Stalwarts or the reform Republicans, Arthur did not receive his party’s nomination. Still mourning the death of his wife in 1881 and suffering from Bright’s disease, a chronic kidney ailment, Arthur did little to pursue it. He died on November 18, 1886.

See also The Civil Service Commission

See also The Chinese Exclusion Act

James A. Garfield

James Abram Garfield (1831–1881), the twentieth president of the United States, was shot by a disappointed federal office seeker on July 2, 1881, less than four months after he was inaugurated. He died on September 19. While his presidency was too brief to have much impact, his death provided the impetus to reform the system for appointing candidates to civil service.

Garfield, who was born in a log cabin in Ohio, lived a childhood of poverty. After working on canal boats and at other odd jobs, Garfield decided to become a teacher and eventually graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts. He worked first as a teacher and then as president at Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later Hiram College). He was elected to the Ohio Senate in 1859. A Republican, he spoke out against slavery and secession from the Union.

When the Civil War broke out, Garfield enlisted in the Union Army and earned distinction, rising to the rank of major general. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1862 and served there from 1863 to 1880, including several years as House minority leader. During his rise to political power, Garfield was implicated in several political scandals. He denied the charges and was regularly reelected.

In 1880 he was elected to the U.S. Senate. However, before he could take his Senate seat Republicans nominated him for president—a move intended to break a deadlock between the supporters of other better-known candidates. He won the national election by a small margin.

After his election Garfield appointed a man to the powerful position of collector of customs of the Port of New York who was not the choice of the New York Republican chieftain, Senator Roscoe Conkling (1839–1888). Conkling expected to be consulted on government appointments in return for his support. Instead, Garfield asserted his presidential authority. Soon after that political victory, however, Charles Guiteau (1841–1882), an attorney who had unsuccessfully sought a federal appointment, shot Garfield.

Garfield’s death roused the nation to the need for reform of the “spoils system,” which rewarded political loyalty with government jobs. In 1883 Congress passed the Pendleton Act, which established a bipartisan Civil Service Commission to enforce a system that selected federal employees on merit, rather than patronage.

Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland (1837–1908) was the first Democrat elected president after the Civil War and the only president ever to serve two nonconsecutive terms of office (1885–1889 and 1893–1897). Cleveland was known as an honest and impartial administrator who took unpopular stands on some of the major issues of his day, including protective tariffs, imperialism, civil-service reform, and the gold standard. He tried, somewhat successfully, to assert the independence of the executive branch after decades of congressional interference. Although not always popular, Cleveland was well respected and is memorable more for his integrity than for any particular accomplishments.

Early Life and Career

The son of a Presbyterian minister, Cleveland studied law in Buffalo, New York, and was admitted to the bar in 1859. Shortly thereafter he joined the Democratic Party. For the next two decades Cleveland mixed private law practice with public office, including stints as Erie County assistant district attorney and sheriff, and developed a reputation for diligence and honesty.

In 1881, on a reform platform, Cleveland was elected mayor of Buffalo. In his brief term Cleveland demonstrated the decency and efficiency the Democrats were looking for in a candidate for governor. He was elected to that post in 1882 by a wide margin. Two years later his impeccable reputation as a political reformer got him nominated as the Democratic candidate for president.

Cleveland’s opponent was James G. Blaine (1830–1893), who was viewed by many, even within his own party, as beholden to powerful railroad interests and lacking any interest in reform. In an effort to tarnish Cleveland’s reputation, his opponents accused him of fathering a child out of wedlock. After Cleveland acknowledged that the charges were true, he won the election by a slim margin.

First Presidential Term

Although Cleveland was the first Democrat elected president in twenty-four years, his conservative political philosophy did not differ fundamentally from that of his Republican counterparts. He considered his role as president to be that of a watchdog, preventing governmental corruption, political favoritism, and the awarding of benefits to any special-interest groups.

Cleveland was not noted for initiating any major legislation—he promoted his policies by negative control rather than activism. He exercised the veto power much more frequently than any of his predecessors. Chester A. Arthur (1829–1886), the previous president, had vetoed legislation twelve times; Cleveland vetoed 414 congressional bills.

In his role as governmental guardian, however, Cleveland did support many reforms. For example, he devoted an entire annual message to Congress to attacking the high protective tariff on imported goods, which he considered an objectionable government subsidy of business. He also opposed the unsubstantiated awarding of veterans’ pensions; doubled the number of government jobs that fell under the Civil Service Commission, a governmental agency created to award federal jobs on the basis of merit rather than political patronage; and persuaded Congress to repeal the Tenure of Office Act, which had restricted presidents from removing incompetent officeholders.

Some major legislation was passed during Cleveland’s first term. The Dawes Act of 1887 attempted, by distributing tribal lands to individual Indians, to encourage the breakup of the tribes and promote the assimilation of Indians into the rest of society. The act did not achieve its goal—most of the land was soon controlled by non-Indians and further impoverished the decreasing Native American population. The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 created the nation’s first regulatory agency, the Interstate Commerce Commission, which was designed to give the government oversight of the railroads, a major industry. Among its requirements was the stipulation that railroad charges be “reasonable and just.”

Cleveland’s first term was also noted for his marriage to Virginia Folsom, which made him the only president married in the White House. The couple had two sons and three daughters. Their daughter Esther was the only child born in the White House.

Cleveland had alienated many of his supporters by backing lower tariffs, expanding reform of the civil service, and vetoing a bill that increased pension benefits for veterans. Although he was renominated by the Democrats, Cleveland did not receive the support, as he had in 1884, of the Mugwumps, a Republican faction that supported reform. The Republicans nominated Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901), who ran on a platform of higher tariffs. Harrison won, defeating Cleveland in the electoral college by sixty-four votes, although Cleveland received about one hundred thousand more popular votes.

At first Cleveland withdrew from politics. He returned shortly, however, still attacking protective tariffs and opposing the expansion of currency through silver-based coins. Although these positions angered the financiers who favored the tariff and farmers in the West and South who favored the currency expansion, Cleveland won his party’s nomination and defeated Harrison in the next election.

Second Presidential Term

Cleveland had barely begun his second term when the country experienced a severe depression. Although the causes of the decline were complex—including overexpansion of industry, economic distress in Europe, and agricultural failures—both Cleveland and the public focused on monetary issues as the solution. Cleveland blamed the depression on the Sherman Silver Purchasing Act of 1890, which added substantially to the amount of money in circulation but threatened to undermine the country’s gold reserves. This perspective was favored by the nation’s businessmen, but strongly opposed by Democrats from the West and South. In a special session in 1893, Cleveland persuaded Congress to repeal the act. Cleveland also continued to fight for lower tariffs. The Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act, supported by a group of Senate Democrats who joined with high-tariff Republicans to raise rates in certain categories, became law without Cleveland’s signature. During 1893 and 1894 the depression became worse.

Then unionized railroad workers, in sympathy with the striking employees of the Pullman Car Company, began a nationwide boycott of trains using Pullman cars. Cleveland called in federal troops to keep the trains moving and to break the strike, prompting violence and looting in Chicago. Union leaders, including Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926), were arrested and the strike collapsed. Advocates of states’ rights and supporters of organized labor attacked Cleveland, whose popularity was already declining.

Cleveland’s anti-imperialist foreign policy had more support. He took a strong stand on a boundary dispute between Great Britain and Venezuela, and he refused to encourage rebel movements in Hawaii and Cuba.

By 1896 Cleveland had few allies, and the Democratic Convention nominated William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) as their presidential candidate. Bryan ran on a platform supporting unlimited coinage of silver and gold.

Later Years

Cleveland retired to Princeton, New Jersey, feeling betrayed by his own party. He took little role in political battles and spent his time writing and providing legal consultation. However, out of office he became increasingly recognized for the qualities that had brought him to the presidency: honesty, independence, and diligence.

See also Labor Strikes and Riots

See also The Interstate Commerce Commission

Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901), the twenty-third president of the United States—and grandson of the ninth president, William Henry Harrison (1773–1841)—was sometimes called dull and sometimes brilliant, sometimes an inept politician and, at other times, an accomplished executive. However his single presidential term is evaluated, it was, in terms of legislation, one of the busiest administrations of the late nineteenth century.

Early Years

Born in North Bend, Ohio, Harrison was the descendant of a distinguished colonial Virginia family. He graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, studied law in Cincinnati, and moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, where he established a successful law practice and became involved in local Republican politics.

During the Civil War Harrison was appointed commander of the Seventieth Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He served under General William T. Sherman (1820–1891) during his campaign through Georgia and at the Union victory in Nashville. Harrison rose to the rank of brigadier general.

Back in Indiana Harrison served as reporter of the Indiana Supreme Court and maintained a private law practice. In 1876 he ran unsuccessfully for governor. In 1880 the Indiana legislature appointed him to the U.S. Senate (until 1913 senators were appointed, not elected).

National Politics

During his time in the Senate Harrison supported many of the causes he would advocate during his presidency, including regulation of the railroads, high protective tariffs, civil-service reform, pensions for Civil War veterans, and conservation of western lands. For the most part he was a solid conservative and party regular; however, unlike most of members of his party, he opposed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese immigration to the United States. It was the first law to exclude a specific nationality from immigration.

When the Democrats gained control of the Indiana legislature, they did not appoint Harrison to second term as senator. In 1888 he won the Republican nomination for president on the eighth ballot. In the national election, Harrison beat the incumbent president, Grover Cleveland (1837–1908), by sixty-four electoral votes, although Cleveland had garnered more than one hundred thousand more popular votes.

The Presidency

Harrison favored high tariffs, so he firmly supported the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, which imposed high duties on imported goods. The measure protected U.S. businesses, but it also resulted in higher prices for domestic products. Harrison lobbied for the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, which required the U.S. government to buy silver for use in federal coinage. That plan nearly depleted the U.S. Treasury of its gold reserves. The economy seemed to be equally exhausted. Some historians believe that Harrison’s economic policies may have contributed to the Panic of 1893 and the severe depression that struck the nation’s economy shortly after his presidency. However, Harrison backed the Sherman Antitrust Act, which is often viewed as the most important legislation of his administration. That law, which prohibited any contracts or corporate combinations that were “in restraint of trade,” was the first legislation aimed at limiting the power and influence of huge corporations. It remains in effect, more than a hundred years after its passage.

Harrison staunchly advocated the conservation of western forest reserves; expansion of the navy; and subsidies for steamship lines. He endorsed several bills designed to prevent southern states from denying African-Americans the right to vote and to ensure educational opportunities for southern blacks, although Congress failed to pass them.

In foreign affairs Harrison’s administration took the nation’s first steps toward international expansion. He had appointed James G. Blaine (1830—1893), a proponent of an aggressive foreign policy, as secretary of state. Blaine presided over a conference that led to the formation of the Pan-American Union; helped established a U.S. protectorate in Samoa; negotiated a treaty for the annexation of Hawaii; and, after a Chilean mob killed several U.S. soldiers, demanded an apology and compensation of $75,000. The Hawaiian treaty was immediately withdrawn when Harrison left office.

Although he had lost much party support when the Republicans were badly defeated in the elections of 1890, his party renominated him in 1892. Cleveland, his opponent in 1888, defeated him by a considerable margin.

Throughout his life Harrison’s personality often threatened to overcome his accomplishments. He was known for his cold attitude—he was referred to as the “human iceberg”—and was considered colorless and plodding. Harrison is not usually ranked among the most distinguished chief executives, but his administration witnessed significant domestic and foreign developments.

See also The Sherman Antitrust Act

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919), a Scottish-born industrialist and philanthropist, was one of the wealthiest men of his time. Carnegie’s enormous success and his business methods led some historians to identify him as a “captain of industry” and others to criticize him as a “robber baron.” At age sixty-five, he sold the Carnegie Steel Company and devoted his fortune and the rest of his life to endowing educational, cultural, scientific, and technological institutions.

Early Years

Carnegie, the son of a weaver, was born in Dunfermline, Scotland. In 1848, when his father’s trade was displaced by the steam-powered loom, Carnegie and his parents left for the United States and settled near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At age thirteen he began working in a cotton mill. After a succession of other jobs, he became a telegraph operator for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Eventually he worked as an assistant to—and succeeded—Thomas Scott, superintendent of the railroad’s Pittsburgh division. During the Civil War Carnegie worked as an aide to Scott, who was hired to supervise military transportation for the Union Army.

At the Pennsylvania Railroad Carnegie learned about railroads and about finance. He began making investments in such companies as Keystone Bridge, the Superior Rail Mill and Blast Furnaces, the Union Iron Mills, and the Pittsburgh Locomotive Works. In 1865, at age thirty, Carnegie resigned from the railroad to begin his own business enterprise.

Captain of Industry

For the next thirty years Carnegie would make huge amounts of money, largely through the Carnegie Steel Company, which revolutionized the steel industry in the United States. It utilized technology to manufactured steel easier and faster and introduced new business concepts to increase profits. Unlike earlier businesses, Carnegie’s companies were structured so the ownership was separate from the management. Sophisticated accounting systems lowered production costs while increasing productivity. The company’s structure came to be known as “vertical integration”—for every step of the process, Carnegie owned exactly what he needed. He got the raw materials by leasing iron-ore fields; established alliances to assure a steady supply of coal; and acquired ships and railroads for transporting the final product. By 1889 Carnegie Steel Corporation was the largest of its kind in the world. By 1900 it produced more steel than all of Great Britain.

The Robber Baron

Some historians have referred to the entrepreneurs and bankers who dominated their industries and amassed great wealth as “robber barons.” They have included Carnegie in that group, often citing his treatment of labor as a prime example of his robber-baron business practices.

Carnegie declared himself a supporter of the rights of laborers to unionize and to protect their jobs. However, his actions did not always match his speech. In 1892, when the union contract at his Homestead steel mill expired, the workers organized a strike. Carnegie, who was on vacation in Scotland, knew of his manager’s intent to smash the union. As three hundred private armed guards from the Pinkerton agency were dispatched to break the strike, Carnegie did nothing. In a bloody encounter on July 6, 1892, nine union workers and three Pinkerton agents were killed, and many more on both sides were injured. The plant operated under military protection for the next two months until the strike was called off. Carnegie’s reputation with labor was tarnished, and the steel mills were not unionized again until the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The Philanthropist

In 1889 Carnegie developed a list of what he called the “wisest” forms of philanthropy—universities, free libraries, hospitals, parks, concert halls, swimming baths, and church buildings. Two years later he sold Carnegie Steel to J. P. Morgan (1837–1913), a rival in the steel business, for $480 million. The sale made Carnegie possibly the richest man in the world. He spent the rest of his life using his philanthropy guidelines to give away his fortune.

Because he was opposed to charity, Carnegie preferred to provide opportunities for people to help themselves. Few public libraries existed, so Carnegie began setting up a system of free libraries. By his death in 1919 he had built 2,509 libraries. He also endowed several institutions in Pittsburgh: the Carnegie Technical Schools (the beginnings of Carnegie Mellon University), the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Music Hall, and the Carnegie Science Center. Other philanthropic efforts included churches; the Carnegie Institution of Washington, a national research resource for all universities; and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a public-policy institution that focuses on issues of war and peace.

See also Labor Strikes and Riots

Eugene V. Debs

Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926), a prominent labor leader and political activist, was the Socialist Party candidate for president five times. He popularized ideas that were then considered radical—equal pay for women, the abolition of child labor, a graduated income tax, women’s suffrage, unemployment insurance, pensions for workers—but are now accepted public policy.

Early Career

Born in Indiana to French immigrants, Debs went to work for the railroad at age fourteen. At first he scraped grease off locomotives; by 1871 he had become a locomotive fireman. In 1875 he joined the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and began his efforts as a union organizer. His views at the time were far from radical, however. In fact, he opposed the 1877 railroad strikes. He soon became the union’s national secretary and editor of its magazine.

In 1880, running as a Democrat, Debs was elected Terre Haute city clerk. He also briefly served in the Indiana state legislature. As he continued his work as a union organizer in the 1880s, his ideas about unions evolved. At first he was a firm proponent of organizing workers by their separate crafts. After a while, however, he found that such a system left the labor movement unnecessarily divided and weak. In 1893 he helped found the American Railway Union (ARU) to unite workers from across the entire industry.

The ARU attracted thousands of members and, in April 1894, won a noted victory against the Great Northern Railroad. A few months later, and against Debs’s advice, the ARU participated in a disastrously unsuccessful strike against the Pullman Palace Car Company. Federal intervention defeated the strike—one of the most famous in the history of U.S. labor—and crushed the union. Debs, as president of the ARU, was sentenced to six months in jail for contempt of court for violating a federal injunction. Debs’s lawyer, Clarence Darrow (1857–1938), appealed his case unsuccessfully to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Debs was sent to prison in Woodstock, Illinois.

Prison Conversion

While in prison Debs spent much of his time reading and was particularly influenced by the works of Karl Marx (1818–1883), which made him question whether trade unions could successfully battle the economic power of capitalism. Debs argued that the profit system should be replaced by economic cooperation, a move that would prevent permanent divisions between the wealthy and the workers. He looked upon socialism as the answer to problems faced by an unbalanced society. Although he campaigned for the Democratic-Populist nominee, William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) in 1896, Debs declared himself a socialist in 1897.

Presidential Candidate

In 1898 Debs helped form the Social Democratic Party (it was renamed the Socialist Party in 1901) and became the foremost U.S. spokesman for democratic socialism. He advocated radical change, but rejected violence, preferring to present his case politically. Debs was the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party in 1900, and received ninety-six thousand votes. He ran again in 1904, 1908, and 1912—when he won more than nine hundred thousand votes, about 6 percent of the total cast. In 1920 Debs ran again—this time from jail—and received almost a million votes.

Debs’s beliefs were rooted in the needs of working people. He insisted that unionism in industry, combined with socialism in politics, offered the best protection for workers’ interests. His dramatic and colorful presidential campaigns helped to introduce the public to many of his ideas: laws that would protect men and women workers, prevent child labor, extend the rights of women, and alter some of the systems and functions of government, including the direct election of U.S. senators, a graduated income tax, and a national department of education.

When the United States entered World War I, Debs was outspoken in his opposition. In a 1918 speech in Canton, Ohio, Debs asserted that workers always made the greatest sacrifices in times of war and that wealthy businessmen were profiting from the conflict. He also protested that those who spoke out against the war were being charged with sedition—inciting resistance against a lawful authority. The government then charged Debs with sedition for obstructing the U.S. war effort. Debs was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison.

Unrepentant, Debs conducted his fifth presidential campaign from his Atlanta prison cell. His posters said “From the Jail House to the White House,” and his campaign buttons declared “For President, Convict No. 9653.” He received almost one million votes. Responding to public pressure, President Warren Harding (1865–1923) commuted Deb’s sentence on December 25, 1921.

After prison Debs’s health declined. He continued his speaking tours but his personal popularity could not stop the decline in Socialist Party membership. Until he died in 1926, he remained constant to his principals and consistent in his efforts to improve the lives of workers.

See also Labor Strikes and Riots

See also Grover Cleveland

Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington (1856–1915), writer, educator, and political leader, was one of the most influential African-American leaders of the nineteenth century. Washington was respected for his accomplishments, which included the founding of Tuskegee Institute and the National Negro Business League, but he was also criticized for speeches that seemed to promote black acceptance of segregation.

Early Years

Washington was born a slave in Hale’s Ford, Virginia. Emancipated as a child, but raised in poverty, Washington worked from the age of nine in coal mines and salt furnaces in Malden, West Virginia, and as a houseboy to a white family. Curious and anxious to learn, he attended school part-time until, at age sixteen, he was able to enroll at the Hampton Institute (later Hampton University), one of the earliest schools for free blacks.

At the Hampton Institute Washington’s education was imbued with the philosophy of the school’s founder, Samuel Chapman Armstrong (1839–1893), who had been a general in the Union Army. Armstrong equated technical and industrial training with the advancement of the black race and believed in teaching trades, economic development and self-help. Washington paid for his schooling by working as a janitor. When he graduated after three years, he began teaching African-American students in his hometown. In 1879, after additional study at the Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C., he became an instructor at the Hampton Institute.

Soon thereafter Armstrong recommended Washington to an Alabama group that wanted to form a school on the Hampton Institute model. Initial space for the school was provided by Butler Chapel AME Zion Church in Tuskegee. Washington became its first principal on July 4, 1881, and remained there until his death in 1915.

Tuskegee Institute

The state of Alabama had provided two thousand dollars for teachers’ salaries but nothing for land, buildings or equipment. In 1882, with a two hundred dollar loan from the treasurer of the Hampton Institute, the school purchased a hundred acres of abandoned farmland, the core of the current university campus. Despite such meager beginnings, Tuskegee was able to implement Washington’s goals. For example, he wanted teachers trained by the institute to return to their homes and show their pupils how to “put new energy and ideas into farming, as well as into intellectual and moral and religious life.” He also wanted his students to develop skills for jobs in agriculture and trades.

Tuskegee prospered, gaining national prominence partly because Washington gathered widespread support. He was an effective orator, so he gained the respect and backing of such wealthy philanthropists as John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937), Collis P. Huntington (1821–1900), and Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919). Tuskegee had its detractors, too. Some activists believed that vocational training for blacks kept them in subordinate roles and preferred to emphasize the benefits of more traditional higher education. This conflict affected much of Washington’s later years.

Atlanta Compromise Speech

In a 1895 address to the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta, Washington spoke about the social and economic conditions that blacks faced in a society more and more dominated by “Jim Crow laws,” which mandated separation of the races and disenfranchised blacks. He encouraged blacks to consider that prosperity came in proportion to their hard work and that their economic independence could be found in such fields as agriculture, mechanics, and domestic service. The races, he asserted, could be “as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”

Although the speech was greeted by thunderous applause and praised enthusiastically by southern and northern whites as well as by many African-American leaders, Washington’s words also stirred strong criticism. For example, W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), a black activist educated at Harvard University and the University of Berlin, saw Washington’s ideas as acquiescence to an inferior status for blacks. Du Bois encouraged blacks to achieve the highest levels of education and to launch unhesitant legal and scholarly attacks on racism in all forms.

Final Years

From 1895 until his death Washington was considered by many to be the most powerful black man in the United States. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) and William Howard Taft (1857–1930) both consulted him on political appointments and policies. Although Washington publicly advocated working for the black community in nonpolitical ways, he also worked behind the scenes to fight segregation. For example, he supported boycotts of segregated streetcar lines and financed lawsuits to block Jim Crow laws. In 1900 he founded the National Negro Business League to promote black economic advancement. In 1901 he published an autobiography, Up From Slavery, which became a best seller.

See also The Civil Rights Cases

See also Jim Crow Laws

Political Parties, Platforms, and Key Issues

The Spoils System

The spoils system—the practice of rewarding faithful political party members with public jobs—began most blatantly during the administration of Andrew Jackson (1767–1845), increased in scope throughout the mid nineteenth century, and was finally challenged by the Pendleton Act of 1883.

How It Began

The early presidents, although frequently pressured by their followers to provide federal positions to those who had supported them, usually resisted. As John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), the sixth president, complained: “There is something so gross and repugnant to my feelings in this cormorant appetite for office, this barefaced and repeated effort to get an old and meritorious public servant turned out of place by a bankrupt to get in, that it needed all of my sense of the allowances to be made…to suppress my indignation.” Soon though, presidents would not exhibit such scruples.

Claiming that office holding should be “plain and simple,” Andrew Jackson began his administration by replacing large numbers of federal employees. He declared that a policy of rotating public workers would help to curb corruption and make officeholders more responsive to the will of the people. It also assured loyalty to the president and gathered party support for future elections. In 1832 William Marcy (1768–1857), the Democratic senator from New York, saw no need for justification when he explained Jackson’s policy: “To the victor belongs the spoils.” That is how the system got its name.

The presidents after Jackson generally followed his policies in making federal appointments. Although William Henry Harrison (1773–1841) pledged to reform the system during his campaign, he died after only a month in office. His successor, John Tyler (1790–1862), continued the spoils system. Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) used it effectively to gather support for both the Republican Party and the Civil War (1861–1865).

Up to that time popular sentiment seemed to be that public office was a just reward for party loyalty. After Lincoln, however, the excesses of the spoils system changed public perception. The administration of Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) became synonymous with scandal, corruption, and patronage. Grant, at age 46, was then the youngest man to serve as president and was also politically inexperienced. He appointed loyal friends to federal jobs without regard for their experience or competence. Many of his closest associates were corrupt. Several cabinet secretaries and other high-level officials became implicated in financial scandals. His secretary of war, William Belknap (1829–1890), accepted bribes for patronage jobs and became the first cabinet member ever to be impeached. Brigadier General Orville E. Babcock, Grant’s trusted private secretary, and General John McDonald, an old friend Grant had appointed to a job with the Internal Revenue Service in St. Louis, were accused of conspiring with distillers of whiskey to avoid paying the government millions of dollars in taxes. Most famously, Grant’s two vice presidents, Schuyler Colfax (1823–1885) and Henry Wilson (1812–1875), were implicated in the Crédit Mobilier scandal, which involved defrauding the government of more than $23 million during construction of the Union Pacific railroad.

Despite Grant’s reputation for indiscriminate patronage appointments, the first civil-service reform bill was passed during his administration. It created the Advisory Board of the Civil Service, which administered the first civil-service exams in 1872. The board lasted only three years, however, because Congress did not provide funding.

Local Spoils

Federal jobs were not the only, or even the most pervasive, prizes of the spoils system. By the time Jackson took office, several states had well-developed systems of political patronage. New York is perhaps the best example.

After the American Revolution, many patriotic societies were founded to promote the political causes and economic interests of their members. One of them was New York’s Tammany Society, founded in the 1780s. Initially, Tammany opposed the political faction headed by DeWitt Clinton (1769–1828), who would later become New York’s governor. Clinton was a member of the Council of Appointment, which influenced the selection of candidates for a vast number of state, county and municipal positions. Clinton used his position on the council to dispense political patronage and, as a result, has generally been regarded as the founder of the spoils system in New York.

However, Tammany learned well from its opponent. It soon dominated the Democratic Party in New York City and often in New York state. It regularly delivered enormous majorities that influenced the outcomes of city, state, and even national elections. As a result of its power over elections, Tammany Hall—as it came to be known—controlled patronage employment in government and dispensed city contracts.

Tammany continued to gain strength by helping immigrants to get food, fuel, and jobs. In exchange, the newly naturalized citizens were often willing to vote for their benefactors and overlook the graft and corruption that characterized Tammany Hall’s operations. As the immigrant population increased, so did the power of Tammany Hall.

By 1872, however, the more flagrant abuses of the spoils system had led many politicians to start pressuring for reform. William M. “Boss” Tweed (1823–1878), then leader of Tammany Hall, had gained immense power over the Democratic Party in New York City, controlling party nominations and political patronage and using it to amass a personal fortune. Samuel Tilden (1814–1886), a reformer and state Democratic chairman, gathered evidence of Tweed’s corruption and successfully spearheaded his prosecution. Reform politics began gaining strength.

National Reform

By the 1870s the call for reform of the spoils system was a regular part of electoral politics on both the local and national level. Grant had unsuccessfully supported a competitive-exam system for civil-service jobs. Rutherford Hayes (1822–1893), his successor, issued executive orders to achieve moderate reforms. For example, one such order forbade federal civil servants from taking an active role in politics. Hayes also won a long battle with New York Senator Roscoe Conkling (1829–1888), a fellow Republican, over the state’s patronage appointments, which gave the reform movement new impetus.

When James Garfield (1831–1881), the next president, took office, the members of his party were battling over cabinet appointments and the distribution of federal patronage. He, like Hayes, rejected Conkling’s expectation that electoral support would give Conkling a say in dispensing patronage. Shortly after this political victory over the spoils system, however, Garfield was shot by a disappointed office seeker.

This shocking event mobilized the reformers. The new president, Chester Arthur (1829–1886), had benefited from the spoils system and had always supported it. However, once he was president, Arthur began investigating abuses in the civil service, especially in the granting of contracts at the post office. In his first address to Congress he called for reform of the civil service, including the use of competitive civil-service exams.

Congress, too, was moved to reform the civil service and control some of the more flagrant abuses of the spoils system. In 1883 it passed the Pendleton Act, which required competitive exams for appointees to federal offices. This civil-service system, however, still had many congressional opponents, particularly a faction of the Republican Party known as the Stalwarts. They relied upon the spoils system to maintain power and accused the Mugwumps—the Republican faction that advocated reform—of elitism in requiring competitive exams for public jobs. The party’s split on the issue contributed to the electoral victory in 1884 of a Democrat, Grover Cleveland (1837–1908).

The Pendleton Act established a bipartisan Civil Service Commission to oversee the operations of the civil-service system. The law also allowed presidents to transfer federal jobs into the civil-service system, providing protection for the current officeholders and limiting the jobs available for future patronage appointments. The portion of federal workers who were civil-service employees rose from about fourteen percent in 1883 to about forty percent in 1900. The Pendleton Act had effectively created a new career bureaucracy.

The spoils system, however, continued for many federal, state, and local offices. After the imprisonment of Tweed, Tammany Hall returned to power under the rule of John Kelly (1822–1886), and later Richard Croker (1843–1922), who in 1901 was investigated for corruption. The control of Tammany Hall over New York City government, exercised most effectively through the spoils system, was not effectively diminished until the 1930s.

Some historians argue that the spoils system was not completely objectionable, for it made government office available to a broad range of citizens—many of whom might not otherwise have been able to serve the public—and increased the government’s responsiveness to the needs of voters. Most observers argue, however, that the efficiency and integrity of the civil service was an effective way to stop the abuses of political patronage.

Boss Tweed

William Marcy “Boss” Tweed (1823–1878) was both the best known and most reviled figure in New York City politics during the Gilded Age. He came to symbolize the corruption of an entire era. As the head of Tammany Hall—the control center of the city’s Democratic political machine—Tweed ruled the patronage system that awarded city jobs and contracts based on party loyalty. He profited by it enormously and was eventually prosecuted for it.

Tweed was born in New York City and was known, even as a child, as an unquestionable leader. He left school the age of eleven to serve several apprenticeships and, by seventeen, was working for his father as a bookkeeper. In 1848 Tweed joined a volunteer fire company—firehouses were frequently centers of political activity—and began his political career. He became a local alderman and then, from 1853 to 1855, served in the U.S. House of Representatives.

During the 1850s and 1860s Tweed steadily exerted more influence over New York City politics, becoming a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors, serving in key administrative posts, and assuming leadership of Tammany Hall.

Tweed was in charge of nominations and party patronage, so he filled offices with associates who would support his schemes. For example, he had contractors submit excessive bills for work they did for the city; the extra cost would be kicked back to Tweed and his cronies. For a time the “Tweed Ring,” which included the mayor, controlled the city absolutely and defrauded the taxpayers of at least $30 million. In 1868 Tweed became a state senator and increased his influence in the state, selecting both the governor and many of the legislators.

Tweed’s connections unraveled when other politicians, such as Samuel Tilden (1814–1886) and Horatio Seymour (1810–1886), began to agitate for reform. The New York Times published evidence of Tammany graft, revealed by a new county bookkeeper. Cartoons by Thomas Nast (1840–1902), graphically portraying Tweed’s corruption and greed, had perhaps the most powerful impact of all. As Tweed himself said, “My constituents can’t read, but, damn it, they can see pictures!”

In 1871 a Committee of Seventy was formed to fight Tweed and Tammany Hall. Most of the committee’s candidates were elected—although Tweed was also reelected to the state senate. Eventually he was arrested and charged with larceny and forgery. The first trial resulted in a hung jury; Tweed was convicted in the second trial. Originally given a twelve-year sentence, he was released after serving one year.

Arrested again on a civil warrant, Tweed escaped to Spain. He was eventually extradited and returned to jail in New York. He died there on April 12, 1878. Tweed’s corrupt tenure as the boss of Tammany Hall and his dramatic public downfall helped move governments on all levels away from political patronage.

Political Cartoons in the Gilded Age

The Gilded Age is often considered to be the golden age of the political cartoon. The graphic commentaries on current issues, party politics, elections, and well-known figures both represented the beliefs of the era and molded its opinions.

Although political cartoons had become a recognized form of commentary by the eighteenth century, certain factors contributed to their popularity and power during the Gilded Age. An increase in newspaper and magazine circulation provided an environment in which the cartoon could flourish. New York alone had more than fifty-four magazines, and lower postal rates and widening railroad access promoted greater distribution of these publications. In addition, cartoons could very effectively reflect the battles and promote the causes within the intense partisan politics of the Gilded Age, even to an audience with limited reading abilities.

In this fertile atmosphere, several magazines and cartoonists were particularly influential. Perhaps the most famous Gilded Age cartoonist is Thomas Nast (1840–1902), well known for creating the images that continue to this day to represent the two major political parties—the donkey for the Democrats, and the elephant for the Republicans. Nast was first celebrated for his illustrations inHarper’s Weekly that conveyed the miseries of the Civil War. But as political battles replaced military confrontations, Nast’s drawings became cartoons that reflected his views of the corruption and greed in the political arena. He was most noted for the cartoons that lampooned William Marcy “Boss” Tweed (1823–1878), the infamous political chieftain of New York’s Tammany Hall, a center of power for the Democratic Party. Nast’s cartoons eventually led to Tweed’s downfall.

Another important cartoonist was Joseph Keppler (1838–1894), who co-founded several humor magazines, most notably Puck. Keppler caricatured many of the political figures of the day, including Ulysses Grant (1822–1885) and Rutherford Hayes (1822–1893). He also regularly lampooned the supporters of women’s suffrage and labor unions.

The cartoons of the Gilded Age not only expressed political and social opinions, but reflected the attitudes and prejudices of the age. Denigrating images of women, Chinese, African-Americans, Irish, and Native Americans represented the beliefs of the white, Protestant, middle-class majority, and were typically used by Gilded Age cartoonists. These political cartoons, communicating powerful ideas in a direct and often humorous way, echoed both the dynamism and the limitations of the Gilded Age, supporting reform while perpetuating stereotypes and appealing to a large audience while preserving the attitudes of the more privileged few.

Current Events and Social Movements

Indian Wars in the West

The Indian Wars in the West, which erupted sporadically between 1860 and 1890, marked the end of the long conflict between European colonists and their descendants and the indigenous Native Americans. When the armed struggle was over, the land had been conquered and the Indians subjugated.

Early Conflicts

From the time of the first European settlements in North America, colonial powers had encountered and overcome native resistance. The French had fought against the Iroquois Confederacy, the Spaniards had suppressed the Pueblo uprising, and the British had battled Indians throughout the colonies along the Atlantic coast.

After the American Revolution, the young U.S. government faced continued resistance from Indian tribes, who feared the encroachment of white settlements in the Northwest Territory (the present-day states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin). The government sent General Anthony Wayne (1745–1796) to suppress the tribes’ revolt. After Wayne’s victory, the Indians were moved westward from Ohio and given, by treaty, land in Indiana. However, white settlers soon began moving there as well, so several tribes rebelled. They were readily defeated. By 1815 Indian resistance in all of the Northwest Territory had been put down.

The government then began relocating whole tribes to reservations west of the Mississippi River, into what was referred to as Indian Territory. That policy was made law in the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Despite several wars of Indian resistance, by 1860 most of the tribes had been moved.

Wars in the West

The westward movement of white settlers continued, however, so between 1860 and 1890 the tribes tried again and again to stop the occupation of their lands by white settlers. Sporadic attempts were made to resolve the disputes with treaties, but the army and the settlers regularly ignored them.

Between 1869 and 1878 more than two hundred battles were fought between Native Americans and the U.S. Army. The series of battles are collectively called the Indian Wars, but they rarely involved a unified force of Indian tribes fighting the organized army. The Indians, who had a different understanding of war and its aims, approached most battles as individual tribes. Despite their renowned skill as individual warriors, they rarely conducted unified campaigns. In only a few instances, as in their victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, did they transcend tribal boundaries and form a fighting alliance. The tribes proved to be no match for the numbers, consistency, strategies, and superior weapons of the U.S. military.

Battles in the Southwest

The Apaches—the name was applied to a number of related tribes in the Southwest—were subjected to regular military attempts to move them to different reservations. They frequently resisted. In 1876 one of the Apache leaders, Geronimo (1829–1909), incensed by the government’s shifting policies, refused to move to the San Carlos reservation and fled to Mexico with half of his tribe. He returned to the reservation the following year, freed many of the remaining Apaches, and led them to Mexico. In 1883, after being promised reforms, Geronimo was persuaded to return with his tribe to the reservation. Frightened by demands for his death in a local paper, Geronimo and a small band of warriors went back to Mexico. In April 1886 General Nelson Miles (1839–1925) coordinated the efforts of more than five thousand soldiers and six hundred Indian scouts against Geronimo and his twenty-four warriors. When he was captured, Geronimo and many Apaches were sent to Fort Marion in Florida.

Battles in the Northwest

In 1870 a Modoc chief named Kintpuash (1837–1873)—he was known as Captain Jack to the white settlers—led about one hundred twenty members of his tribe off the reservation and back to their homeland near what is now the California-Oregon border. Attempts to force them to return to the reservation precipitated the Modoc wars of 1872–73. The Modocs retreated to a naturally fortified area of lava beds where, for several months, they successfully resisted all efforts to capture them. In one skirmish, in which they were attacked by more than four hundred troops, they killed ten soldiers and injured twenty-eight. Negotiations were attempted, but the Indians killed the army’s representatives. Finally, a force of more than a thousand soldiers succeeded in penetrating the Indian stronghold, with a loss of some eighty men. Kintpuash and two other leaders were hanged, and the rest of the tribe was sent to present-day Oklahoma.

Battles on the Great Plains

Beginning in the 1860s the U.S. government sought to uproot the plains tribes, which included the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe, and relocate them to reservations. Many settlers saw the Indians as an intolerable obstacle to progress and the fulfillment of the nation’s destiny. The advance of white settlers; the slaughter of the buffalo herds on which the Native Americans depended for their survival; corrupt Indian agents; violations of tribal lands by prospectors seeking valuable minerals; and consistently broken treaties—all fueled Indian resistance.

In 1862 the Dakota Sioux, confined to a reservation one hundred fifty miles long and ten miles wide, were unable to collect the promised price for the land they had ceded to the government. They attacked and burned the town of New Ulm, Minnesota. When the Indians were captured, 307 were sentenced to death. President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) approved the sentence for thirty-eight of them. They were all hanged simultaneously in the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

In 1864, prompted by Cheyenne skirmishes with white settlers, a volunteer force led by Colonel John Chivington (1821–1892) swept into an Arapahoe-Cheyenne village in southern Colorado. The soldiers killed more than one hundred fifty Indians, including women and children, in a bloody attack that came to be known as the Sand Creek Massacre. In response to the slaughter, Lincoln replaced Colorado’s territorial governor. The Cheyenne and Arapaho were promised reparations in an 1865 treaty, but they were never paid.

Beginning in 1866 Red Cloud (1822–1909), a Lakota Sioux chief, launched a series of attacks on forts that had been built along the Bozeman Trail, which led through Lakota lands to the gold fields of Montana. Red Cloud’s campaign was so successful that the U.S. government agreed, in the Treaty of Fort Laramie, to abandon the forts on the Bozeman Trail and to guarantee the Lakota possession of their sacred lands in the Black Hills, in what is now South Dakota. However, the treaty was repeatedly violated. After an army regiment discovered gold in the Black Hills, white prospectors made repeated incursions onto the Indians’ sacred lands—under military protection.

The Lakota decided to fight the invasion. Sitting Bull (c. 1831–1890), by then leading chief of the Lakota, realized that his tribe could not defeat the army alone. He invited Oglala Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho to his camp to form an alliance. More than three thousand warriors gathered along the Little Bighorn River. On June 25, 1876, in the best-known battle of the Indian Wars, troops under General George Armstrong Custer (1839–1876) attacked the Indian camp, unaware that the alliance had been formed and that they faced such a huge number of warriors. Custer and all his men were killed, a historic defeat for U.S. troops. The army reacted with increased aggression and, by the summer of 1877, many of the Sioux—although not Sitting Bull, who had fled to Canada—were back on reservations.

In October 1877 Chief Joseph (1840–1904), head of the Nez Perce Indian nation, surrendered to the army with a small band of men, women, and children. Refusing to settle on a reservation, he had led his people on an eleven-week journey covering more than one thousand four hundred miles. He had hoped to reach Canada. Although he only had two hundred warriors, along the way Chief Joseph had engaged in four major battles and several skirmishes, defeating or eluding the army’s superior forces. When Chief Joseph finally surrendered, he said: “Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.” Although Joseph was assured that he would be allowed to return to his home, he and his people were taken to a reservation.

In 1890 the last battle of the Indian Wars was fought at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Like so many others, it was a massacre. More than three hundred Lakota were killed, among them women, children, and old men.

War by Administration

While the U.S. military policy was to deprive the Indians of their lands, the legislative and administrative policy was to eradicate Native American culture. The prevailing view in the last part of the nineteenth century was that Indians should be assimilated as quickly as possible into white society. To achieve that end, in 1871 Congress approved the Indian Appropriations Act, which ended the practice of treating Indian tribes as sovereign nations. It was a giant step in dismantling the tribal structure. In 1887 Congress passed the Dawes Act, which forced private and individual land ownership upon the Indians, who for centuries had lived on communal land. The intent of the law was to encourage the Indians to become farmers and ranchers. However, the provisions of the law exposed the Indians to wholesale theft and reduced the amount of land held by Indians from 155 million acres in 1881 to 77 million acres in 1900, and less thereafter. The laws completed what the wars had begun.

Buffalo Soldiers

After the Civil War Congress commissioned the first peacetime regiments of African-American soldiers. The resulting units, which were eventually converted into the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry and the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Infantry, became known as “buffalo soldiers.” How the units got their name is disputed, although many historians believe the name originated with Native Americans, who either referred to the hair of the black soldiers, which they thought resembled that of the buffalo, or to the toughness and power shared by the buffalo and the African-American military forces.

The all-black regiments, which formed one-fifth of the army’s forces west of the Mississippi, were often poorly equipped and had difficult and isolated assignments. Nonetheless, they had the army’s lowest desertion and court-martial rates and were known for their discipline and bravery. Between 1870 and 1890 eighteen buffalo soldiers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The buffalo soldiers guarded the pioneer wagon trains, protected railroad crews, built forts and roads, and supported the development of frontier towns. They served in campaigns against the Apache and skirmishes with the Cheyenne, Comanche, Ute, Kiowa, Arapahoe, and Sioux tribes. They fought rustlers and other outlaws.

Although the soldiers in the regiments were black, most of their commanding officers were white, at least initially. Eventually black officers, including the first three African-Americans to graduate from West Point—Henry Flipper (1856–1940), John Alexander (1864–1894), and Charles Young (1864–1922)—assumed command positions.

The Buffalo Soldiers also served in the Spanish-American War under Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), who would later become president; in the Mexican War of 1916 under General John Pershing (1860–1948); and in World War I and World War II. The all-black regiments continued to distinguish themselves until the army was integrated in 1952.

Labor Strikes and Riots

The Gilded Age was a period of massive industrial expansion and, along with it, the development of the American labor-union movement. The relationship among corporations, workers, and the government was in flux; their encounters often erupted in violence.


Many factors contributed to worker discontent in the late nineteenth century. The phenomenal corporate and industrial expansion that characterized the era had severed the personal relationship that had once existed between employer and employee. Improved technology and increased mechanization had allowed businesses to substitute unskilled and semiskilled workers for craftsmen. In addition the waves of new immigrants gave industrialists an ever increasing pool of laborers, so they had little reason to raise wages.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the average worker in the United States was unemployed for three to four months each year. Men made only four hundred or five hundred dollars each year, and both women and children often had to work so a family could survive. Factory work was usually repetitive and pressured, and work in the mines and on the railroads was often dangerous and dehumanizing. The stage was set for conflict.

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 lasted only a few weeks, but it spawned a nationwide labor movement and set the pattern for violent clashes between businesses and workers. In July 1877, responding to an economic depression, the nation’s largest railway, the Pennsylvania Railroad, twice cut employee wages by ten percent. It also doubled the length of trains without increasing the size of crews. Other railroads soon followed suit, including the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. In West Virginia, a number of Baltimore and Ohio railroad firemen refused to accept the cuts and walked off the job. Soon sympathetic employees of other rail lines went on strike in California, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Pennsylvania. Before long, more than half of the nation’s railroads were shut down.

The governors of several states were unable to get local militias to break the strike because the militias were sympathetic to the railroad workers. The governors requested assistance from the federal government, so President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893) dispatched troops to reopen the railroads. Violence erupted in a number of cities. In Pittsburgh federal troops fired into a crowd and killed ten strikers. The strikers then began destroying railroad property. In Baltimore the state militia fired on workers, leaving eleven dead and forty wounded. The shootings sparked a riot—at its height, more than fourteen thousand workers had taken to the Baltimore streets.

By the end of August 1877 the strike was over, primarily because of federal intervention, the use of state militias, and the employment of strikebreakers by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company. The availability of laborers to replace the strikers and government support for the railroads had limited the concessions that workers could gain from their employers.

Haymarket Square

In the spring of 1886 labor leaders organized rallies to increase public pressure for an eight-hour workday. Across the country thousands of workers demonstrated in support of the idea. On May 3, during a sympathetic strike at the McCormick reaper plant in Chicago, the city’s police captain, John Bonfield (1836–1938), ordered his men to attack the workers. Several workers were killed. To protest the police action, a group of anarchists—activists who generally repudiate all forms of government and often support violence as a form of protest—called for a mass meeting the following evening at Haymarket Square. The meeting began peacefully—even the mayor of Chicago, Carter Harrison (1825–1893), attended briefly and left. Then, acting against the mayor’s advice, Bonfield advanced with about one hundred eighty policemen and ordered the crowd to disperse. Someone—his identity was never determined—threw a bomb at the police, who began firing indiscriminately. When the melee was over, eight policemen and eight protesters were dead, and seventy others had been injured.

The press immediately called the incident a riot. Popular fears of anarchist plots were fueled by prejudice against eastern European immigrants, who were believed to support radical philosophies. The Chicago police arrested more than two hundred anarchist suspects; eight eventually stood trial for murder and conspiracy. Although six of them had not been present at the rally and the state had no evidence linking any of them to the throwing of the bomb, seven of the defendents were convicted and sentenced to hang.

Many labor unionists, including Samuel Gompers (1850–1924), head of the newly founded American Federation of Labor, condemned Bonfield’s attack on the demonstrators and the flimsy evidence presented at the anarchists’ trials. Still, on November 11, 1887, four were hanged. One had already committed suicide. In 1893 John Peter Altgeld (1847–1902), a German immigrant who had become the new governor of Illinois, pardoned the two remaining prisoners and issued a statement in which he blamed police behavior for the violence. However, by then the movement for the eight-hour workday had collapsed because it had become associated with radicalism.

The Homestead Strike

As the steel industry expanded during the Gilded Age, so did the steel workers’ union: the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers grew from 3,755 members in 1877 to 24,068 members in 1891. A year later the organization went on strike at the Homestead Steel Works near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was the most disastrous strike in the organization’s history.

Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919), whose Carnegie Steel Company owned the Homestead plant, was an industrial innovator. He had installed open-hearth furnaces and electricity at the plant to boost its efficiency and reduce the need for skilled workers. He also claimed to be a supporter of the rights of laborers to unionize and to protect their jobs. However, in 1882 he went to Scotland on vacation just as the steel workers’s contract expired and union negotiations were scheduled. He left his openly antiunion associate, Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919), in charge.

Because the company was faced with declining steel prices, Frick, as Carnegie Steel’s superintendent, planned to cut wages and eliminate the union. When union workers attempted to set up negotiations, Frick refused to meet with them. In June Frick began closing down the mills and locked out about one thousand one hundred workers. Although only seven hundred fifty of the three thousand eight hundred workers at the Homestead plant belonged to the union, three thousand workers then voted overwhelmingly to strike.

Frick’s plan included hiring strikebreakers to keep the plant operating and armed guards from the private Pinkerton Detective Agency to provide security. In response, the strikers armed themselves with stones, bats, and rifles and prepared for the arrival of Frick’s team—by barge on the Monongahela River, which passed by the steel mill. Workers and their families, alerted to the detectives’ arrival, fought the Pinkertons for fourteen hours. Three detectives and nine workers were killed. The Pinkerton agents surrendered to the workers and, the following morning, were marched past Frick’s house.

Eventually the Pennsylvania governor dispatched the state militia, which took control of the town. The strike leaders were charged with murder and some one hundred sixty other strikers were charged with lesser crimes. (Sympathetic juries refused to convict any of the strikers.) Replacement workers, who were brought in on locked trains, got the steel mill running again. Eventually the union’s resources ran out, and the Homestead employees went back to work. Four months after the strike began, Carnegie Steel had successfully broken the union at Homestead.

The Pullman Strike

Less than two years after Homestead, on May 11, 1894, workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company went on strike. George Pullman (1831–1897), like Frick, refused to negotiate with his employees’ union. Feeling the economic pressures that had followed the Panic of 1893, Pullman had cut workers’ pay by some 25 percent. The Pullman employees lived near Chicago in a company town—where housing, goods, fees, and services were controlled by their employer—but Pullman refused to reduce rents along with wages.

The strike gained force when the American Railway Union (ARU)—against the advice of its president, Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926)—refused to work on trains with Pullman cars. The boycott of railroad operations spread from Chicago and soon the nation’s railways were almost brought to a halt.

Despite pressure from the railroad companies, Governor John Peter Altgeld (1847–1902) refused to call out the Illinois National Guard to break the strike. However, citing the strike’s interference with movement of the mail, U.S. Attorney General Richard Olney (1835–1917) obtained an injunction against the strike. In an ironic twist, he based his request on the Sherman Antitrust Act, which had been passed to limit the power of giant corporations. President Grover Cleveland (1837–1908) dispatched federal troops to suppress the strike. When the troops marched into Chicago on July 4, 1894, they were met with resistance from protestors; thirteen were killed and more than fifty wounded. Similar clashes occurred between strikers and troops in twenty-six states, resulting in thirty-four casualties. The strike ended on July 25, 1894. Pullman had conceded nothing, and the ARU’s leadership was arrested.

Unions in the Aftermath

The economic problems that accompanied the nation’s industrial development contributed to the rise of national labor unions and fueled unprecedented clashes between businesses and workers. The conflicts, often violent, resulted in the arrest of many labor leaders and widespread blacklisting—the names of workers who supported unions were placed on lists that prevented their being hired.

The unions’ leaders, in the aftermath of these defeats, disagreed about goals and tactics. Debs, following his imprisonment for the Pullman strike, advocated systemic political change and founded the Socialist Party. However, he remained an adherent of industrial unionism, uniting all kinds of workers within a particular industry. By contrast, Gompers, who believed that unions should be organized by skilled crafts, advocated “pure and simple” unionism, focusing on better pay and conditions, rather than fundamental change of the economic system. After the tumult of the union movement in the Gilded Age, however, unions were not able to establish any significant power until the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Henry Clay Frick and the Steel Workers

Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) was an American industrialist, noted art collector, and partner of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Frick served a leading role in the expansion of the Carnegie Steel Company; he had a formative role in the creation of the United States Steel Corporation when his partnership with Carnegie dissolved; and he played a decisive role in the controversial and violent Homestead Strike of 1892, which set the labor movement back for decades.

The grandson of a wealthy Pennsylvania distiller, Frick began working as his grandfather’s bookkeeper when he was nineteen. In his early twenties, he organized H. C. Frick and Company to operate coal ovens and, through buying out his competitors after the financial Panic of 1873, he became a leader in the coal industry. Andrew Carnegie, one of Frick’s best customers, began acquiring stock in Frick’s company and Frick, in turn, became a partner in the Carnegie Steel Corporation. From 1889 to 1900, Frick was chairman of the board at Carnegie Steel.

Frick and Carnegie had several significant policy differences during the years of their partnership, including Frick’s decision to lease the Mesabi iron range holdings despite Carnegie’s reluctance, and a dispute about a pricing agreement between Carnegie Steel and the Frick Coke Company. Some historians, however, trace the differences that led to the eventual dissolution of the partnership to the Homestead Strike in 1892. Frick’s anti-union sentiments were clearly opposed to Carnegie’s statements about the rights of labor and the social responsibility of the wealthy. In 1892, when the union contract at Carnegie Steel had expired and negotiations were scheduled, Carnegie went to Scotland and left Frick in charge. After Frick refused to meet with the union, the subsequent strike resulted in the deaths of both striking workers and armed Pinkerton guards hired by Frick to break the strike.

Public opinion was initially critical of Frick’s behavior and many considered him responsible for the violence at Homestead. But shortly afterward, Alexander Berkman, a Russian anarchist, attempted to assassinate Frick, by both shooting and stabbing him. Although severely wounded, Frick fought off the attack and insisted upon finishing his workday. Frick’s personal courage and tenacity inspired greater public sympathy for him. The union leaders at Homestead were charged with murder and other strikers were charged with lesser crimes. Frick’s opposition to unions became the accepted policy in the steel industry, and the labor movement did not recover until it was revitalized by the economic pressures of the 1930s.

Settlement Houses

Settlement houses, which were residential neighborhood institutions founded to address the social problems of the urban poor, became a significant part of the reform movement in the Gilded Age. The settlement-house movement and its leaders, such as Jane Addams (1860–1935) and Lillian Wald (1867–1940), embraced a new philosophy and new strategies to deal with political, educational, and economic impoverishment.


In the late nineteenth century massive industrial expansion, increased immigration, and the concentration of population in urban centers created significant new social and economic problems. To find solutions, reformers adapted the model of Toynbee Hall, an innovative institution in London’s poor East End. Well-educated staff, who lived in the settlement houses, hoped to share skills, knowledge, and culture with their poor neighbors and learn from them as well.

In 1886 the Neighborhood Guild of New York (later known as University Settlement) became the first U.S. settlement house. It was followed by Hull House in Chicago, South End House in Boston, Henry Street Settlement in New York, and Hiram House in Cleveland. By 1900 there were more than a hundred settlement houses in the United States.

Most early settlement houses were supported entirely by wealthy reformers, although many received smaller donations from individuals. The resident workers paid for their own room and board. Some settlement houses were associated with religious groups, but the main influences were nondenominational, and the workers did not proselytize. Later many religious organizations established settlement houses; the Catholic Church founded about twenty, and Jewish agencies were responsible for twenty-eight. The Young Men’s Christian Association and other national agencies carried on similar work.

In the United States the founders and workers of settlement houses were mainly women. Although more and more American women were being educated, they found few opportunities for meaningful employment. Settlement houses offered an acceptable alternative to living alone or remaining with one’s family; provided a community of support and stimulation; and offered real and significant work. Settlement houses were also pioneers in the development of new academic disciplines, most notably social work and occupational medicine.

U.S. settlement houses were usually in neighborhoods settled by recent European immigrants, few of whom spoke English. The immigrants were frequently Catholic or Jewish, so the settlement workers, who were usually Protestant, struggled to respect and preserve each group’s heritage as they helped them adjust to a new country, a new language, and new pressures. Settlement-house workers added new programs as the need arose. For example, they pioneered kindergartens and day care; taught English; gave citizenship classes; established theaters; provided courses in industrial education; offered legal aid; and sponsored music schools.

Political Advocacy

As the settlement-houses workers became more familiar with poverty and what contributed to it, many turned to political activism. Some became labor advocates—Mary O’Sullivan (1864–1943) organized the Chicago Women’s Bindery Workers Union. Some supported consumer protection—Florence Kelley (1859–1932) headed the National Consumer’s League. Some championed children’s protection—Julia Lathrop (1858–1932) helped found the first juvenile court in the United States. And others pioneered occupational medicine—Alice Hamilton (1869–1970) was the first woman professor at Harvard Medical School.

Although many settlement-house residents and alumnae sponsored practical political changes rather than sweeping reform, they were responsible, at least in part, for many of the social improvements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They successfully fought for improved sanitary conditions; better housing; women’s right to vote; an end to child labor; care for the mentally ill; a shortened workday; factory-inspection laws; and universal, compulsory education. Over time settlement-house workers became a respected force for social, economic, and political change.

Hull House

Hull House, one of the first settlement houses in the United States, was founded in 1889 in an immigrant slum in Chicago. Based on the radical idea that the most effective way to understand the needs of the poor was to live among them and learn from them, Hull House soon became a model for other settlement houses across the country. Jane Addams (1860–1935), its founder, was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Addams was raised by a Quaker father, who instilled in her a sense of integrity and moral responsibility. Despite the few career options available to women of her time, Addams sought a way to serve society effectively. On a trip to Europe in 1888, Addams and her friend Ellen Starr (1859–1940) visited Toynbee Hall, a settlement house in London’s poor East End. They resolved to start a similar settlement house in the United States. A year later Addams purchased a vacant mansion in a poor Chicago neighborhood and opened Hull House. She lived there until her death in 1935.

Hull House was a success from the beginning. Addams and Starr were joined by many of their peers who were eager to apply their skills and talents to help improve the lives of the urban poor. They adhered to a new model of social reform: they considered poverty to be a consequence of social and economic conditions rather than a result of individual failings, which was the prevailing nineteenth-century view. They also believed that they benefited from their work as much as their clients did.

Within a few years, Hull House was a neighborhood hub, providing housing, day care, a playground, a dispensary, vocational training, youth groups, a gymnasium, a theater company, a music school, classes to help immigrants become citizens, a library, an employment bureau, and an art gallery. It eventually included thirteen neighborhood buildings, as well as a camp near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

The staff used the positive reputation of the settlement house to campaign for larger social reforms. In fact, its impact was felt across the social and political spectrum. Women’s suffrage, civil rights, juvenile protection, international peace, public housing, court reform, public health, labor relations, and urban-planning movements—all found a home in Hull House.

Legislation, Court Cases, and Trials

The Chinese Exclusion Act

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first federal law to ban immigration to the United States on the basis of race or nationality. It prohibited Chinese from immigrating to the United States for ten years following its passage and denied Chinese resident aliens the right to obtain citizenship. The provisions of the law were extended in 1892 and made permanent in 1902. It was not repealed until 1943.


In the second half of the nineteenth century political and religious rebellions in China left that nation’s economy in chaos. At the same time, industries in the western United States—railroads, mining, timber, and canning—were expanding at a tremendous rate and needed many laborers. Initially the Chinese were accepted and even recruited to do the work. For example, Chinese crews were essential to the completion of the transcontinental railroad—they did the most difficult and dangerous work on the tracks. The Burlingame Treaty of 1868 established free immigration between China and the United States.

However, as the economy declined after the Civil War and competition for jobs increased, animosity increased toward foreigners in general and Chinese in particular. In California, where the heaviest concentration of Chinese immigrants lived—in 1880 they made up 8 percent of the state’s population and 30 percent of San Francisco’s population—that hostility was particularly fervent. Few other Californians understood Chinese culture, and many saw Chinese customs as opposing their values.

Workers, particularly those led by the Irish immigrant Denis Kearney (1847–1907), felt most threatened by the competition of Chinese laborers and participated in demonstrations against them. During the 1870s the Chinese became the frequent victims of mob violence. In 1878 the California Constitutional Convention prohibited the mentally ill, criminals, and Chinese from voting.

Under pressure from labor groups, Congress passed laws that prohibited employers from seeking workers in other countries and immigrants from seeking entry to work under contracts. These laws specifically banned the importation of “coolies”—a derogatory term used to identify low-paid, unskilled workers from China.

In 1879 Congress passed legislation that prohibited Chinese immigration. The bill had the support of both Republicans and Democrats who were wooing the western vote. However, President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893) vetoed the bill, citing its conflict with the Burlingame Treaty. In 1880 the treaty was revised so the United States could regulate, limit, or suspend Chinese immigration. That paved the way for new legislation.

The Exclusion Act of 1882

In early 1882 Congress passed a bill banning Chinese immigration for a period of twenty years. President Chester A. Arthur (1829–1886) vetoed the legislation, claiming that the extended period was not in keeping with the spirit of the renegotiated treaty. Congress swiftly drafted a new bill, reducing the ban to ten years but noting that the immigration of Chinese “endangers the good order of certain localities.” Chinese who were in the United States were required to obtain a reentry visa if they left the country and desired to return. The law also made Chinese immigrants ineligible for citizenship.

Subsequent legislation and court decisions extended the scope of the act. Chinese laborers who were lawful residents were required to obtain certificates of residence, and those who had legally come to the United States were prevented from returning if they went back to China for a visit. Chinese who challenged the new laws as discriminatory were unsuccessful.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was not repealed until 1943. Significantly, its repeal was not a repudiation of racially biased immigration laws; rather, the repeal was a gesture to acknowledge the alliance between the United States and China against Japan in World War II.

Mark Twain Observes Chinese Immigrants

In Roughing It, Mark Twain (1835–1910) commented on American prejudice toward the Chinese. He recorded his observations in 1882, the year Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese immigration to the United States. Here is an excerpt:

They are a harmless race when white men either let them alone or treat them no worse than dogs; in fact, they are almost entirely harmless anyhow, for they seldom think of resenting the vilest insults or the cruelest injuries. They are quiet, peaceable, tractable, free from drunkenness, and they are as industrious as the day is long. A disorderly Chinaman is rare, and a lazy one does not exist. So long as a Chinaman has strength to use his hands, he needs no support from anybody; white men often complain of want of work, but a Chinaman offers no such complaint; he always manages to find something to do. He is a great convenience to everybody—even to the worst class of white men, for he bears the most of their sins, suffering fines for their petty thefts, imprisonment for their robberies, and death for their murders. Any white man can swear a Chinaman’s life away in the courts, but no Chinaman can testify against a white man.…As I write, news comes that in broad daylight in San Francisco, some boys have stoned an inoffensive Chinaman to death, and that although a large crowd witnessed the shameful deed, no one interfered.… All Chinamen can read, write, and cipher with easy facility—pity but all our petted voters could.…They will raise surprising crops of vegetables on a sand pile. What is rubbish to a Christian, a Chinaman carefully preserves and makes useful in one way or another.…In California he gets a living out of old mining claims that white men have abandoned as exhausted and worthless—and then the officers come down on him once a month with an exorbitant swindle to which the legislature has given the broad, general name of “foreign” mining tax, but it is usually inflicted on no foreigners but Chinamen.… Chinamen hold their dead in great reverence—they worship their departed ancestors, in fact.…A Chinaman hardly believes he could enjoy the hereafter except his body lay in his beloved China; also, he desires to receive, himself, after death, that worship with which he has honored his dead that preceded him.…Every ship that sails from San Francisco carries away a heavy freight of Chinese corpses—or did, at least until the legislature, with an ingenious refinement of Christian cruelty, forbade the shipments, as a neat underhanded way of deterring Chinese immigration.


Mark Twain. Roughing It. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1871.

The Civil Rights Cases

The Civil Rights Cases (1883) consolidated five cases involving federal enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which prohibited racial discrimination in public accommodations. In a landmark decision the Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional and paved the way for states to enact the “Jim Crow” laws, which codified racial segregation and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans.


To protect the civil rights of African-Americans after the Civil War, Congress enacted and the states ratified three amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery; the Fourteenth conferred citizenship and equal protection under the law; and the Fifteenth barred discrimination in voting based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Constitutional amendments, Congress decided, provided greater protection than legislation, which could be more easily changed. However, Congress soon discovered additional guarantees and safeguards were necessary, so it passed Civil Right Acts in 1866, 1870, 1871, and 1875.

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 declared that “all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement.” Anyone who violated the law was subject to criminal prosecution. In 1883 the Supreme Court decided to hear five cases together: although they involved different theaters, hotels, and a railroad and had originated in Missouri, California, and New York, the cases all involved federal enforcement of the 1875 law.

The Supreme Court, protective of states’ rights, had already begun limiting the scope of federal civil-rights law. In the Slaughterhouse Cases (1873), the court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment only guaranteed federal privileges associated with citizenship, not state privileges. To comply, the court said, states merely had to apply their laws equally to nonresidents as well as residents. In United States v. Cruikshank (1876), a case based on the massacre of 280 African-Americans, the court threw out the federal indictments, stating that the Fourteenth Amendment allowed the federal government to act against state laws that denied blacks their rights, but did not allow federal action against individuals.

The 1883 Decision

The court ruled 8 to 1 that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was unconstitutional. The majority opinion, delivered by Justice Joseph Bradley (1813–1892), again declared that the Fourteenth Amendment only empowered Congress to prohibit actions taken by the states, not actions taken by individuals. The 1975 law, which authorized the federal government to prosecute private acts of racial discrimination, had attempted to make a black person “a special favorite of the laws,” according to the court.

Justice John Marshall Harlan (1833–1911), a former slave owner and the lone dissenter, argued for a less narrow interpretation of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. He claimed that the federal government had the authority and the responsibility to protect individuals from racial discrimination in public facilities, even if they were privately owned. Harlan stated, “Congress is not restricted to legislation for the execution of its expressly granted powers, but, for the protection of rights guaranteed by the Constitution, may employ such means, not prohibited, as are necessary and proper, or such as are appropriate, to attain the ends proposed.”

The Results

During the late nineteenth century the Supreme Court consistently ruled that the states had greater power to regulate the actions of their citizens than the federal government did. The southern states used that power to create a caste system—in which blacks were relegated to the status of second-class citizens—through various types of discriminatory legislation that were collectively known as “Jim Crow” laws. By the end of the nineteenth century, in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the court had endorsed the concept of “separate but equal” and upheld state-mandated segregation. The federal government would not develop an effective way to protect the civil rights of all citizens until well into the twentieth century.

See also Jim Crow Laws

Jim Crow Laws

“Jim Crow” laws provided a systematic legal basis for segregating and discriminating against African-Americans. The laws first appeared after the Civil War and the Reconstruction era and were enforced through the mid twentieth century.

Origins of the Term

The term “Jim Crow” is thought to have originated in the performances, around 1830, of Thomas “Daddy” Rice (1808–1860), a white minstrel player. Rice blackened his face and, while executing a mocking dance number, sang, “Ev’ry time I turn around, I jump Jim Crow.” This presentation, and the term, originally represented the image of black inferiority. By the end of the nineteenth century the demeaning image and term had been translated into laws and practices that effectively created an American caste system based on race.


After the Civil War the federal government had occupied the former Confederate states and worked to protect blacks’ rights, which had been guaranteed by three new amendments to the Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery; the Fourteenth guaranteed the rights of citizenship and equal protection under the law; and the Fifteenth barred discrimination in voting based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude. In 1875 Congress passed a Civil Rights Act that entitled all persons equal access to public accommodations.

Then, in what came to be known as the Compromise of 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893) reportedly secured his election as president by agreeing to withdraw all remaining federal troops from the southern states, effectively ending the Reconstruction era. In a series of decisions that followed, the Supreme Court consistently limited the power of the so-called Reconstruction Amendments and declared that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was unconstitutional. The brief experiment in biracial political equality had ended. Although slavery had been abolished, the era of Jim Crow had begun.

The Spread of Segregation

Jim Crow laws legalized racial segregation in every facet of life—from education to public facilities to religion. Separate, racially designated places were assigned on trains and buses, for residential areas, and in schools, churches, theaters, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, parks, and even cemeteries. Some states even prohibited black employees from working in the same rooms as white employees. Tennessee began requiring segregation on railroads in 1881. Soon every southern state began creating a legal system that denied African-Americans equal access.

As important, the system was often supported by intimidation and violence. Blacks who violated Jim Crow laws, by such acts as drinking from the “white” water fountain or trying to vote, risked their homes, their jobs, even their lives. Lynchings—public murders by hanging, carried out by mobs—increased by 63 percent in the late 1880s and continued to increase during the next decade. Blacks had little legal recourse against these assaults because the Jim Crow laws and the white justice system supported them.

In 1896, in Plessy v. Ferguson, perhaps the most influential decision supporting Jim Crow laws, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the “separate but equal” philosophy and declared that the Fourteenth Amendment “could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.” The ruling made segregation legal: the institutionalized structure of racial discrimination, primarily in the South but in other states as well, had the full support of law. It was not seriously challenged until the middle of the twentieth century. In Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954), the Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional. Afterward the modern civil-rights movement began dismantling Jim Crow laws.

See also Rutherford B. Hayes

See also The Civil Rights Cases

See also Booker T. Washington

Poll Taxes

Beginning in the late nineteenth century poll taxes—fixed amounts levied on specific individuals rather than on property or income—were used in some parts of the United States as a requirement for voting. They had the effect of disenfranchising the majority of African-Americans, as well as many poor whites.


In colonial America, men had to own a certain amount of property to have the right to vote (women were almost universally disenfranchised). After the American Revolution some states used poll, or head, taxes to extend suffrage by allowing men to vote if they paid any state tax. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, however, poll taxes were instituted in the southern states to limit voting rights and restrict the number of voters, particularly black voters.

When the Civil War began, free black males could vote in only four states—Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. With the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited discrimination in voting based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude, universal male suffrage, theoretically, had become law. However, the withdrawal of federal troops from the South, which ended the Reconstruction era, also ended the brief period of support for black voting rights.

Poll Taxes at Work

Between 1877 and 1904 all eleven former Confederate states enacted poll taxes as a prerequisite to voting. Even though the taxes did not discriminate against any particular group, they did in intent and in practice. The taxes not only placed a financial burden on blacks, many of whom lived in great poverty, but they were administered in ways that created further obstacles to voting. For example, some states made the tax due six to nine months before an election. In other states a penalty and collection fee were assessed for each year that a voter failed to pay the tax. Past-due poll taxes could accumulate from one year to the next; all the taxes owed had to be paid before voting was allowed. In some states only property owners were notified when a poll tax was due.

The effects on African-American suffrage were dramatic. In Georgia and South Carolina more than half of the blacks who had voted in 1880 had disappeared from the polls by 1888. In Alabama, where blacks made up more than half the population, none were elected to the legislature after 1876.

Not until 1964, following the passage of the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the Constitution, was the poll tax prohibited as a prerequisite for voting in federal elections. In 1966 the U.S. Supreme Court extended the prohibition to all elections. In Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections the court ruled that such a tax violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Sherman Antitrust Act

The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was the first federal law to prohibit trusts—several companies that are joined together to use their combined size and power to control competition. Although the law passed with bipartisan support and presidential agreement, its early enforcement was severely limited by the U.S. Supreme Court.


After the Civil War, industry underwent unprecedented expansion. Fortunes were made, partly by introducing new technology and partly by developing natural resources, such as oil. However, few laws controlled business practices, and few taxes were levied on profits. In this unregulated environment, companies introduced several new practices to maximize their earnings and minimize their competition. One of them was the formation of trusts.

A trust was a group of companies that joined together, transferring their properties and stocks to a board of trustees. The trustees, because they controlled multiple companies, could then dominate production and set prices in entire industries. They could even divide up the market, allowing individual companies in the trust to become regional monopolies. Other tactics the trusts used included buying out competitors; compelling customers to sign long-term contracts to get a product or service; instituting drastic price cuts to drive out competition and then raising prices when the competition was eliminated; and forcing customers to buy unwanted products if they wanted access to the products they needed.

Promoters of trusts claimed they made production more efficient and lowered prices. Their opponents argued that reduced competition placed small businesses, farmers, and the public at the mercy of the trusts, which could charge whatever prices they chose. Over time the trusts’ practices led to increasing support for government regulation.

The states made the first attempts to institute antitrust legislation. Kansas passed an antitrust bill in 1889; within a year fourteen other states had passed similar legislation. The states, however, could not regulate the largest monopolies, such as the Standard Oil Company, which controlled almost all oil production, processing, marketing, and transportation in the United States. In Wabash, St. Louis and Pacific Railroad v. Illinois (1886) the Supreme Court had ruled that Congress had the exclusive right to regulate interstate commerce.

The Law

When Congress decided to adopt antitrust legislation in 1890, it took its authority from the U.S. Constitution, which gave it the power to regulate interstate commerce. John Sherman (1823–1900), a Republican senator from Ohio, introduced the bill, which became known as the Sherman Antitrust Act. Others had helped draft it, especially two leading Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, George Frisbie Hoar (1826–1904) of Massachusetts and George F. Edmunds (1828–1919) of Vermont. The law, which underwent considerable negotiation, stated: “Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal.” It passed both houses of Congress by overwhelming margins and was signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901).

Enforcement of the Law

During the first decade after passage, the law was rarely used to regulate industrial monopolies. In the one important antitrust case of the 1890s, United States v. E. C. Knight Company (1895), the Supreme Court ruled against the government. The case involved a sugar-manufacturing company, which controlled 95 percent of its industry. However, the company did not illegally restrain interstate trade, the court said, because the Sherman Antitrust Act did not apply to companies located within a single state. The decision severely weakened the government’s ability to enforce antitrust laws against monopolies.

The law did, however, apply to labor unions. In the case In re Debs (1895) the court upheld an injunction that had been placed against the American Railway Union (ARU) using the authority of the Sherman Antitrust Act. From 1890 to 1904 only eighteen suits were filed under the Sherman Antitrust Act; four were against unions.

It required forceful executive action—the most prominent example was the “trust-busting” campaign of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919)—and additional legislation—such as the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914—to give federal regulation any real muscle. However, the Sherman Antitrust Act did set an essential precedent in establishing the federal role in regulating business practices.



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Public Broadcasting Service. “Sitting Bull.” New Perspectives on the West. (accessed May 25, 2007).

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