I. The “Bloody Shirt” Elects Grant
- The Republicans nominated Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant, who was a great soldier but had no political experience.
- The Democrats could only denounce military Reconstruction and
couldn’t agree on anything else, and thus, were
- The Republicans got Grant elected (barely) by “waving the
bloody shirt,” or reliving his war victories,
and used his
popularity to elect him, though his popular vote was only slightly
ahead of rival Horatio Seymour. Seymour
was the Democratic candidate
who didn’t accept a redemption-of-greenbacks-for-maximum-value
platform, and thus
doomed his party.
- However, due to the close nature of the election, Republicans could not take future victories for granted.
II. The Era of Good Stealings
- Despite the Civil War, the population still mushroomed, partially
due to immigration, but during this time, politics
became very corrupt.
- Railroad promoters cheated gullible customers.
- Stock-market investors were a cancer in the public eye.
- Too many judges and legislators put their power up for hire.
- Two notorious millionaires were Jim Fisk and Jay Gould.
- In 1869, the pair concocted a plot to corner the gold market that
would only work if the treasury stopped selling gold,
so they worked on
President Grant directly and through his brother-in-law, but their plan
failed when the treasury sold
- The infamous Tweed Ring (AKA, “Tammany Hall) of NYC, headed
by “Boss” Tweed, employed bribery, graft,
elections to cheat the city of as much as $200 million.
- Tweed was finally caught when The New York Times secured evidence of his misdeeds, and later died in jail.
- Samuel J. Tilden gained fame by leading the prosecution of Tweed,
and he would later use this fame to become the Democratic
the presidential election of 1876.
- Thomas Nast, political cartoonist, constantly drew against Tammany’s corruption.
III. A Carnival of Corruption
- Grant, an easy-going fellow, apparently failed to see the
corruption going on, even though many of his friends wanted
his cabinet was totally corrupt (except for Secretary of State Hamilton
Fish), and his in-laws, the Dent
family, were especially terrible.
- The Credit Mobilier, a railroad construction company that paid
itself huge sums of money for small railroad construction,
- A New York newspaper finally busted it, and two members of Congress
were formally censured (the company had given some
of its stock to the
congressmen) and the Vice President himself was shown to have accepted
20 shares of stock.
- In 1875, the public learned that the Whiskey Ring had robbed the
Treasury of millions of dollars, and when Grant’s
secretary was shown to be one of the criminals, Grant retracted his
earlier statement of “Let no guilty
- Later, in 1876, Secretary of War William Belknap was shown to have pocketed some $24,000 by selling junk to Indians.
IV. The Liberal Republican Revolt of 1872
- By 1872, a power wave of disgust at Grant’s administration
was building, despite the worst of the scandals not
revealed yet, and reformers organized the Liberal Republican Party and
nominated the dogmatic Horace Greeley.
- The Democratic Party also supported Greeley, even though he had
blasted them repeatedly in his newspaper (the New York
Tribune), but he
pleased them because he called for a clasping of hands between the
North and South and an end to Reconstruction.
- The campaign was filled with more mudslinging (as usual), as
Greeley was called an atheist, a communist, a vegetarian,
and a signer
of Jefferson Davis’s bail bond (that part was true) while Grant
was called an ignoramus, a drunkard,
and a swindler.
- Still, Grant crushed Greeley in the electoral vote and in the popular vote was well.
- In 1872, the Republican Congress passed a general amnesty act that
removed political disabilities from all but some
500 former Confederate
V. Depression, Deflation, and Inflation
- In 1873, a paralyzing panic broke out, the Panic of 1873, caused by
too many railroads and factories being formed than
could bear and the over-loaning by banks to those projects.
Essentially, the causes of the panic were
the same old ones
that’d caused recessions every 20 years that century: (1)
over-speculation and (2) too-easy
- It first started with the failure of the New York banking firm Jay
Cooke & Company, which was headed by the rich
Jay Cooke, a
financier of the Civil War.
- Before, the greenbacks that had been issued in the Civil War were
being recalled, but now, during the panic, the
supporters wanted greenbacks to be printed en
mass again, to create inflation.
- However, supporters of “hard-money” (actual gold and
silver) persuaded Grant to veto a bill that would
print more paper
money, and the Resumption Act of 1875 pledged the government to further
withdraw greenbacks and made
all further redemption of paper money in
gold at face value, starting in 1879.
- Debtors now cried that silver was under-valued (another call for
inflation), but Grant refused to coin more silver
dollars, which had
been stopped in 1873, and besides, new silver discoveries in the later
1870s shot the price of silver
- Grant’s name remained fused to sound money, though not sound government.
- As greenbacks regained their value, few greenback holders bothered
to exchange their more convenient bills for gold
when Redemption Day
came in 1879.
- In 1878, the Bland-Allison Act instructed the Treasury to buy and
coin between $2 million and $4 million worth of silver
- The minimum was actually coined and its effect was minimal on creating “cheap money.”
- The Republican hard-money policy, unfortunately for it, led to the
election of a Democratic House of Representatives
in 1874 and spawned
the Greenback Labor Party in 1878.
VI. Pallid Politics in the Gilded Age
- “The Gilded Age,” was a term coined by Mark Twain
hinting that times looked good, yet if one scratched
a bit below the
surface, there were problems. Times were filled with corruption and
presidential election squeakers,
and even though Democrats and
Republicans had similar ideas on economic issues, there were
- Republicans traced their lineage to Puritanism.
- Democrats were more like Lutherans and Roman Catholics.
- Democrats had strong support in the South.
- Republicans had strong votes in the North and the West, and from
the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), an organization
made up of
former Union veterans.
- In the 1870s and the 1880s, Republican infighting was led by rivals
Roscoe Conkling (Stalwarts) and James G. Blaine
bickered and deadlocked their party.
VII. The Hayes-Tilden Standoff, 1876
- Grant almost ran for a third term before the House derailed that
proposal, so the Republicans nominated Rutherford
B. Hayes, dubbed the
“Great Unknown” because no one knew much about him, while
the Democrats ran Samuel
- The election was very close, with Tilden getting 184 votes out of a
needed 185 in the Electoral College, but votes
in four states,
Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, and part of Oregon, were unsure and
- The disputed states had sent in two sets of returns, one Democrat, one Republican.
VIII. The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction
- The Electoral Count Act, passed in 1877, set up an electoral
commission that consisted of 15 men selected from the
House, and the Supreme Court, which would count the votes (the 15th man
was to be an independent, David
Davis, but at the last moment, he
- In February of 1877, the Senate and the House met to settle the
dispute, and eventually, Hayes became president as
a part of the rest
of the Compromise of 1877. True to a compromise, both sides won a bit:
- For the North—Hayes would become president if he agreed to
remove troops from the remaining two Southern states
where Union troops
remained (Louisiana and South Carolina), and also, a bill would
subsidize the Texas and Pacific rail
- For the South—military rule and Reconstruction ended when the military pulled out of the South.
- The Compromise of 1877 abandoned the Blacks in the South by
withdrawing troops, and their last attempt at protection
rights was the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which was mostly declared
unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in
the 1883 Civil Rights cases.
IX. The Birth of Jim Crow in the Post-Reconstruction South
- As Reconstruction ended and the military returned northward, whites once again asserted their power.
- Literacy requirements for voting began, voter registration laws
emerged, and poll taxes began. These were all targeted
at black voters.
- Most blacks became sharecroppers (providing nothing but labor) or tenant farmers (if they could provide their own tools).
- In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson
that “separate but equal” facilities
- Thus “Jim Crow” segregation was legalized.
X. Class Conflicts and Ethnic Clashes
- In 1877, the presidents of the nation’s four largest
railroads decided to cut wages by 10%. Workers struck back,
work, and when President Hayes sent troops to stop this, violence
erupted, and more than 100 people died in
the several weeks of chaos.
- The failure of the railroad strike showed the weakness of the labor
movement, but this was partly caused by friction
especially between the Irish and the Chinese.
- In San Francisco, Irish-born Denis Kearney incited his followers to terrorize the Chinese.
- In 1879, Congress passed a bill severely restricting the influx of
Chinese immigrants (most of whom were males who
had come to California
to work on the railroads), but Hayes vetoed the bill on grounds that it
violated an existing
treaty with China.
- After Hayes left office, the Chinese Exclusion Act, passed in 1882,
was passed, barring any Chinese from entering the
States—the first law limiting immigration.
XI. Garfield and Arthur
- James A. Garfield
- In 1880, the Republicans nominated James A. Garfield, a man from
Ohio who had risen to the rank of major general in
the Civil War, and
as his running mate, a notorious Stalwart (supporter of Roscoe
Conkling) was chosen: Chester A. Arthur
of New York.
- The Democrats chose Winfield S. Hancock, a Civil War general who
appealed to the South due to his fair treatment of
Reconstruction and a veteran who had been wounded at Gettysburg, and
thus appealed to veterans.
- The campaign once again avoided touchy issues, and Garfield
squeaked by in the popular vote (the electoral count was
wider: 214 to
- Garfield was a good person, but he hated to hurt people’s feelings and say “no.”
- Garfield named James G. Blaine to the position of Secretary of the
State, and he made other anti-Stalwart acts, but
on September 19, 1881,
Garfield died after having been shot in the head by a crazy but
disappointed office seeker, Charles
J. Guiteau, who, after being
captured, used an early version of the “insanity defense”
to avoid conviction
(he was hanged anyway).
- Chester Arthur
- Chester Arthur didn’t seem to be a good fit for the
presidency, but he surprised many by giving the cold shoulder
Stalwarts, his chief supporters, and by calling for reform, a call
heeded by the Republican party as it began to
show newly found
enthusiasm for reform.
- The Pendleton Act of 1883, the so-called Magna Charta of
civil-service reform (awarding of government jobs based on
just because a buddy awarded the job), prohibited financial assessments
on jobholders, including lowly
scrubwomen, and established a merit
system of making appointments to office on the basis of aptitude rather
- It also set up a Civil Service Commission, charged with
administering open competitive service, and offices not
by the president remained the fought-over
footballs of politics.
- Luckily, Arthur cooperated, and by 1884, he had classified nearly 10% of all federal offices, or nearly 14,000 of them.
- The Pendleton Act partially divided politics from patronage, but it
drove politicians into “marriages of convenience”
XII. The Blaine-Cleveland Mudslingers of 1884
- James G. Blaine became the Republican candidate, but some
Republican reformers, unable to stomach this, switched to
Democratic Party and were called Mugwumps.
- The Democrats chose Grover Cleveland as their candidate but
received a shock when it was revealed that he might have
father of an illegitimate child.
- The campaign of 1884 was filled with perhaps the lowest mudslinging in history.
- The contest depended on how New York chose, but unfortunately, one
foolish Republican insulted the race, faith, and
patriotism of New
York’s heavy Irish population, and as a result, New York voted
for Cleveland; that was the difference.
XIII. “Old Grover” Takes Over
- Portly Grover Cleveland was the first Democratic president since
James Buchanan, and as a supporter of laissez-faire
delighted business owners and bankers.
- Cleveland named two former Confederates to his cabinet, and at
first tried to adhere to the merit system (but eventually
gave in to
his party and fired almost 2/3 of the 120,000 federal employees), but
he had his problems.
- Military pensions plagued Cleveland; these bills were given to
Civil War veterans to help them, but they were used
give money to all sorts of people.
- However, Cleveland showed that he was ready to take on the corrupt
distributors of military pensions when he vetoed
a bill that would add
several hundred thousand new people on the pension list.
XIV. Cleveland Battles for a Lower Tariff
- By 1881, the Treasury had a surplus of $145 million, most of it
having come from the high tariff, and there was a lot
of clamoring for
lowering the tariff, though big industrialists opposed it.
- Cleveland wasn’t really interested in the subject at first,
but as he researched it, he became inclined towards
tariff, so in late 1887, Cleveland openly tossed the appeal for lower
tariffs into the lap of Congress.
- Democrats were upset at the obstinacy of their chief while Republicans gloated at his apparently reckless act.
XV. The Billion Dollar Congress
- The new Speaker of the House, Thomas B. Reed, was a large, tall man, a tremendous debater, and very critical and quick
- To solve the problem of reaching a quorum in Congress, Reed counted
the Democrats who were present yet didn’t
answer to the roll
call, and after three days of such chaos, he finally prevailed, opening
the 51st, or “Billion
Dollar” Congress—one that
legislated many expensive projects.
XVI. The Drumbeat of Discontent
- The Populist Party emerged in 1892 from disgruntled farmers.
- Their main call was for inflation via free coinage of silver.
- They called for a litany of items including: a graduated income
tax, government regulation of railroads and telegraphs/telephones,
elections of U.S. senators, a one term limit, initiative and
referendum, a shorter workday, and immigration restriction.
XVII. Cleveland and Depression
- Grover Cleveland won, but no sooner than he had stepped into the
presidency did the Depression of 1893 break out. It
was the first such
panic in the new urban and industrial age, and it caused much outrage
and hardships. This completed
the almost predictable, every-20-year
cycle of panics during the 1800s (panics occurred during 1819, 1837,
- About 8,000 American business houses collapsed in six months, and dozens of railroad lines went into the hands of receivers.
- This time, Cleveland had a deficit and a problem, for the Treasury
had to issue gold for the notes that it had paid
in the Sherman Silver
Purchase Act, and according to law, those notes had to be reissued,
thus causing a steady drain
on gold in the Treasury—the level
alarmingly dropped below $100 million at one point.
- Meanwhile, Grover Cleveland had developed a malignant growth under
the roof of his mouth, and it had to be secretly
removed in a surgery
that took place aboard his private yacht; had he died, Adlai E.
Stevenson, a “soft money”
(paper money) man, would have
caused massive chaos with inflation.
- Also, 33 year-old William Jennings Bryan was advocating “free
silver,” and gaining support for his beliefs,
but an angry
Cleveland used his executive power to break the filibuster in the
Senate—thus alienating the silver-supporting
XVIII. Cleveland Breeds a Backlash
- Cleveland was embarrassed at having to resort to J.P. Morgan to bale out the depression.
- He was also embarrassed by the Wilson-Gorman Tariff. He’d
promised to lower the tariff, but so many tack-ons
had been added, the
result was nill.
- Further, the Supreme Court struck down an income tax. It looked like all politicians were tools of the wealthy.
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