Gilded Age Politics
Gilded Age politics was dominated more by big business than by anything. Owners of large corporations used their wealth to buy political positions and sway legislation to favor their interests. "Special Interests," businesses bought favors from government officials, which dominated politics during the Gilded Age. During this time period, in order to belong to a political party, members paid dues and large businesses were expected to donate to political party campaigns. A corporation could have a lot power within a political party based on the amount of money it donated to the party.
In cities crowded with new immigrant voters, politics was usually controlled by "rings" or small groups who shaped policy and managed the nomination and election of candidates. Each ring typically has a powerful "boss" who used his "machine" or network of neighborhood activists and officials, to govern. Colorful figures such as New York City's William "Boss" Tweed shamelessly ruled, plundered, and sometimes improved municipal government, often through dishonest ways and frequent bribes. Tweed used the Tammany Hall ring to dominate the nation's largest city.
The party in power expected the government employees it appointed to become campaign workers and to do the bidding of party bosses. Those bosses decided who the candidates would be and commanded loyalty and obedience by rewarding and punishing their party members. They helped settle local disputes, provided aid for the poor, and distributed government jobs and contracts to loyal followers and corporate donors through the patronage system. Almost all government jobs were filled this way (ones that did not require an election), especially the postal service.
Political Parties in the Gilded Age
Democrats - all of the South and various parts of the North and Midwest. They stood for limited government, states' rights, and white supremacy. Republicans tended to favor high tariffs (taxes on goods brought to the U.S.) on imports, civil rights, and stronger government. Third parties such as the Greenbackers, Populists, and Prohibitionists, appealed to specific interests and issues, such as currency inflation, railroad regulations, or legislation to restrict alcohol consumption.
President Rutherford B. Hayes
President Rutherford B. Hayes took office in 1877. Hayes set out to reform the Republican Party, which had developed somewhat of a reputation for corruption during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. He wanted to implement civil service (government jobs) reform. He appointed a committee to create a "merit system" for hiring government, he even fired some leaders in his party that used their positions as a means to get personal gains.
President James A. Garfield
President Hayes chose only to run for one term. James A. Garfield won the Republican nomination and became president in 1880. Garfield was very much in favor of civil rights for all, including African-Americans. He never got to do much as president because only four months after taking office he was assassinated by a crazy and disgruntled member of his party who said that Garfield promised him a position in government, but did not come through with it.
President Chester A. Arthur
Promised to be a civil servicer reformer. He began by saying that he would not dismiss civil service employees that were hired during prior presidential administrations unless they proved to not be able to do the job. In 1883, George H. Pendleton introduced what became known as the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. This act created the Civil Service Commission, which supervised how federal jobs were filled. It have potential candidates for jobs take tests to ensure they were qualified, called the "merit system." This would enable qualified people to fill jobs and not be filled based political favoritism. It also prohibited government employees from contributing to a campaign.
President Grover Cleveland
President Cleveland was a Democrat who believed that the federal government should play a smaller role in the lives of Americans. During his first term as president he vetoed over 400 pieces of legislation created by Congress. He believed that the people should support the government, not the government should support the people. In 1887, Cleveland signed the Interstate Commerce Commission, the first federal regulatory agency (showed that the government's role was expanding), this law empowered the ICC's five members to ensure that railroad freight rates "reasonable and just." Many people thought the organization was a sham since many railroad executives worked on the committee. The commission had little control over enforcing interstate shipping prices.
Populism & Farming Problems
The nation's money supply during the Gilded Age had not grown as the economy had grown. When not enough money was in circulation (out among the public), that meant that money became deflated, which means money was scarce and those that had it, could charge higher interest rates to those who wanted to borrow it (interest is the money you pay over a loan, the charge a bank charges the borrower for lending them money). This was bad for farmers because they rarely had money and were always borrowing it in order to buy what they needed to put a crop in. Farmers wanted more paper money printed and more silver coins made.
Prices for crops dropped during the Gilded Age because farmers were producing too much of the same crops and there were more crops being grown outside the U.S. which made their crops even more cheap. Loans they had to be able to buy seeds, fertilizer, tools, and etc., however did not get cheaper, matter of fact interest rates were higher, and many farmers could not pay back loans and lost their farms. Many farmers blamed middlemen, railroads, warehouse owners, and food processors, for eating up their profits. It cost so much to ship crops, warehouses charged farmers to store their harvested crops, and food processors would not pay much for the crops because they said they had to spend a lot of money to make the food available for people to eat.
Many people believed that farmers were only suffering the same thing that many businesses suffered. The idea that farms that were not run properly or were not profitable should fail, was an idea put out by the social darwinists. Social darwinists get their name from the famous scientist, Charles Darwin, who created the theory of evolution. One of the main ideas of evolution is that only the strong animals in nature will survive and evolve into something greater, all weaker animals will die, it was just the way nature intended it. According to people who applied that theory to business and economics, farms and businesses that failed, failed because they were not strong enough to survive, whether that meant they did not offer products that were in demand, or because there was only so much room for successful farms or businesses.
Most people understood that a lot of farmers were unsuccessful because the system was set up for them to fail. They believed that if certain changes were made, especially if the government made those changes law, farmers would be more likely to be able to be successful. Many farmers decided to band together so that they could have a louder voice in their ideas. In 1886, they formed the Farmers' Alliance. This organization was like a union that pushed for political action to make sure that economic hardships caused by declining crop prices, droughts, and unfair businesses like railroads, were address and solutions found. By 1890, there were over 2.5 million members (black and white farmers) in the Farmers' Alliance. They called for the federal government to take ownership of railroads and create an income tax on wealthy Americans.
The Populist's Party
In 1892, many members of the Farmers' Alliance formed a third political party to go against the Democrats and Republicans. Called the Populist Party, they ran on a platform (a platform is what a political party stands for) that called for unlimited coinage of silver, an income tax based on wealth, and government ownership of railroads. They were for an eight hour work day and wanted to limit immigration for fear that foreigners would take American jobs. In 1893, an economic depression occurred, mostly in part due to the lack of money in circulation (the coinage of silver would have helped this situation). 750,000 people went on strike in many industries across the U.S. President Grover Cleveland did not listen to the populists and instead, decided not to coin silver, but only use gold (which no poor person had access to), this did nothing but make problems worse.
For more information on the Populist Movement in Stoddard County, click on the link:
William Jennings Bryan
Most Americans in the late 19th century (late 1800s), wanted to stay out of European conflicts, but a growing number wanted to expand the influence of the U.S. outside of its borders. The idea of "manifest destiny" the country used to settle the American West was now being used to expand to other areas in the Western Hemisphere and in the Pacific and Asia. Manifest Destiny became the new justification for American imperialism. Imperialism is when a nation (usually a large nation) takes control of regions outside of its borders with the intention of possibly converting the smaller nation to same religion as the larger nation, using the smaller nation as a military base to use as a springboard for military operations, uses the smaller nation's natural resources or labor to make money for the larger nation. America was a little late in the game of imperialism by the late 1800s. The British, French, Germans, Spanish, and many others had already created colonies in Africa and Asia, America wanted to have colonies like those countries.
The Pacific Ocean
American imperialists turned their attention to obtaining islands in the Pacific Ocean that might benefit America. In 1878 and 1889 it created agreements with Samoa that allowed the U.S. to place an American naval base there. In 1875, the U.S. signed a trade deal with Hawaii in which the U.S. would allow Hawaii to ship and sell sugarcane in the U.S. without paying a tax on it, in return, Hawaii would not allow any other nation to have a port there. American sugarcane investors started sugar cane farms on the island. Small pox soon followed and killed a large number of Hawaiians. After a brief conflict with the Hawaiians, they agreed to sign an annexation (to join) plan to the U.S. in 1898.
The Spanish American War
After Hawaii, the U.S. turned its attention to an island ninety miles off the coast of southern Florida that was controlled by the Spanish, named Cuba. Ironically the U.S. decided to help out the Cubans who had dealt with years of cruel Spanish imperialism. American investors of sugar cane in Cuba began to become concerned for their investments. Beginning in 1895 the Cubans revolted against the Spanish and bloody three year war followed. Two U.S. newspapers detailed the events that were occurring in Cuba, William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. Hearst believed that it was the job of newspapers to shape public opinion and legislation. Hearst's determination to manipulate (or shape) public opinion came to be called yellow journalism. Journalists were sent to Cuba and told to distort, exaggerate, or even make up stories to attract readers. Hearst wanted the U.S. to make war on Spain so that he could claim responsibility of the power of his newspaper.
In early 1898, the U.S.S. Maine was docked in Havana, the Cuban capital. It was there as an observer of the U.S. to the war. On the night of February 15, 1898 at 9:40PM, the Maine suddenly exploded. Within a short time it sank, 260 of the 350 sailors on board died in the sinking. Although it was later ruled an accident, at the time, the U.S. was convinced it was an act of war by the Spanish government. Public sentiment for a war against Spain grew with the battle cry becoming, "Remember the Maine." Spain gave in to almost every demand made by the U.S., but it still was not enough, on April 24, 1898, America declared war on Spain and declared Cuba independent.
The Spanish-American War in Cuba lasted only 114 days, but it set the course of the U.S. toward overseas imperialism that would transform the role of America in the world. The U.S. sent ships to Cuba and Philippines, another Spanish controlled colony. On April 30, the U.S. defeated the bulk of the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay, Philippines. While the U.S. fleet under Commodore George Dewey had destroyed the Spanish fleet in one stroke, he had no troops to embark on a land campaign in the Philippines. While he awaited the arrival of U.S. marines and soldiers, German and British warships patrolled just outside the harbor like vultures waiting to see what the U.S. would do and if they did nothing, would themselves take over the Philippines. Dewey sent a handful of marines he had on board his fleet to meet up with Filipino revolutionary, Emilio Aguinaldo, who declared the Philippines independent from Spain. Part of the agreement Dewey made with Aguinaldo in order to have his support on land against the Spanish was that when the war with the Spain was over, the Philippines would be returned to the Filipinos and the U.S. would leave...when the U.S. refused to leave, Aguinaldo turned against the Americans and launched a guerrilla warfare campaign that would last until the U.S. finally won in 1902.
The Cuban Campaign
When the war began, the Spanish Army in Cuba was five times larger than the U.S. Army was overall. President William McKinley called for volunteers in the U.S. and hundreds of thousands from all over the country volunteered to go. In Stoddard County, the 6th Missouri, Company D formed and reported for duty. Over 10,000 African-Americans, mostly from the North, volunteered to fight for the U.S. in Cuba. Most blacks in the South were not as eager to fight because they suffered much as the Cubans had under the Spanish and did not feel the excitement to go to war for a country that treated them so badly.
One unit that would become famous for their participation in the Spanish-American War was the 1st Volunteer Cavalry under the leadership of Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, the regiment was made up of former Ivy League athletes, ex-convicts, western cowboys, Texas Rangers, and Indians from at least five different tribes. The regiment quickly gained a reputation for its toughness and eagerness to fight in battle, it quickly earned the nickname of Rough Riders. In July, Roosevelt and his men attacked Spanish forces on San Juan Hill, with help from the African-American 24th Infantry Regiment, U.S. forces gained the heights and won the battle. A few days later the U.S. Navy destroyed the Spanish fleet off the coast of Cuba and then captured the nearby island of Puerto Rico. The Spanish sued for peace seeing the futility of further resistance. On December 10, 1898, the U.S. and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris and ended the Spanish-American War. The terms of the treaty said that Cuba would become independent, while Puerto Rico and the Philippines would be annexed by the U.S. The U.S. lost only 379 soldiers and sailors killed in action, but lost over 5,000 to disease. The Spanish lost over 60,000 killed, while the Cubans lost a little over 10,000 killed. One U.S. official called it, "a splendid little war." The victory showed Europe that the U.S. was a force to be respected on the world stage.
President McKinley outlined his motivating ideas of American imperialism: 1. National Glory, 2. Commerce, 3. Racial Superiority, and 4. Evangelism (religion). In total, the U.S. gained Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island.
Stoddard County in the Spanish American War
Company D, 6th Missouri Infantry was located in Dexter, Missouri and made up of men from across Stoddard County. It departed Bloomfield by rail for Jefferson Barracks on July 12, 1898. The company was presented with colors made and paid for by the citizens of Bloomfield.
The 6th Missouri was organized as part of President William McKinley's second call for volunteers on May 25, 1898. From the end of July until August 6, 1898, the regiment went through organization at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis where it mustered twenty-seven officers and 1,265 enlisted men. From there the regiment was sent south to Camp Cuba Libre in Florida. From there it was sent to Savannah, Georgia and on December 21, company D boarded the transport Roumanian for Havana, Cuba. From Havana the regiment marched to Camp Columbia-Quemados, Mariano, Cuba. The regiment drilled and participated in a large "practice march" in February of 1899. On April 8, 1899, the regiment boarded the steamer, Havana and traveled to Savannah, Georgia, arriving April 10, 1899. The unit was quarantined on Daufuskie Island for six days to prevent any diseases from spreading. April 16, it crossed over to Savannah and mustered out of service on May 10, 1899.
During service, the regiment lost one officer and twenty-three enlisted men to disease, one enlisted man died in an accident, one was court-martialed, twenty-four deserted, and thirty-two were discharged on disability.
The Philippine-American War (1898-1902)
Emilio Aguinaldo led Filipino forces that wanted independence and promoted nationalism, or love for one's country. The war soon became a bloody war where both sides committed acts of torture and atrocities. U.S. troops burned villages, tortured, and executed prisoners, and crowded civilians into concentration camps that bred disease. Filipino forces rarely took prisoners and used methods of psychological warfare to scare the Americans. Eventually the resources and brutality of the U.S. was too much for Aguinaldo and his guerrilla fighters. On April 1, 1901, Aguinaldo surrendered his forces and took the oath of allegiance to the U.S. Meanwhile many in the U.S. did not agree with the fighting in the Philippines and believed that the U.S. had no right to expand to foreign territories in such a way. In 1899 they formed the American Anti-Imperialist League. Led by Andrew Carnegie, he even offered to buy the independence of the Philippines for $20 million.
President Theodore Roosevelt
On September 6, 1901, President William McKinley was shot by an unemployed laborer named Leon Czolgosz (pronounced chol-Gots) who was anarchist that did not believe in government leaders or any government at all. With the death of the president, the vice president, Theodore Roosevelt became president. Roosevelt transformed the role of the U.S. in world affairs more than any other president up to his time. He stretched both the Constitution and executive power to the limit. Roosevelt had grown up a small sickly boy but was determined to be stronger and began hitting the weights as young boy. He wrestled, hiked, rowed, swam, boxed, and climbed mountains in an effort to become the smartest and strongest athlete that he could be. After his mother died in 1884, eleven hours later, his wife died after giving birth. Devastated, he handed his young daughter over to his sister to raise and moved to a cattle ranch in the Dakota territory. He learned to rope, brand steers, shoot buffalo and bears, captured outlaws, and fought Indians. After his two year self exile, he returned to New York and jumped back into politics. He was selected as secretary of the Navy under McKinley, then governor of New York and finally as his vice president. At age 43, he was the youngest president ever in the U.S. and he lived by his motto of, "speak softly and carry big stick."
The Panama Canal
After the Spanish American War, the U.S. paid more attention to the Caribbean region. The main focus became a canal at the isthmus of Panama that would link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by water. The U.S. paid $10 million dollars for a ten mile wide strip of land for a canal. Building the Panama Canal was one of the greatest engineering feats in history. Over ten years, some 60,000 mostly unskilled workers from Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean dug out and blew out a canal across the thick jungle and mountains. A third of all the workers died working on the canal, but it was finally finished on August 15, 1914, just before hostilities broke out in WWI.
After his election as President in 1904, Roosevelt celebrated by sending the U.S. Navy, the second largest fleet in the world (second only to the British fleet) on a fourteen month tour of the world. Called the "Great White Fleet" because of the color of the paint used on the sixteen state of the art warships, it was meant to show the might of the U.S. military. It docked at every major port around the world and became a symbol of American strength and engineering.