After the soaring ideals and tremendous sacrifices of the Civil War, the post-War era of the United States was generally one of political disillusionment. Even as the continent expanded and industrialized, political life in the Gilded Age was marked by ineptitude and stalemate as passive, rather than active, presidents merely served as figureheads to be manipulated rather than enduring strongholds. As politicians from both the White House to the courthouse were deeply entangled in corruption and scandal during the Gilded Age, the actual economic and social issues afflicting urbanizing America festered beneath the surface without being seriously addressed.
During this time, general American attention had shifted away from national politics and more towards economic change concerning the development of the West, urbanization of cities, and industrialization. Accompanying this transition was corruption in government policy, evident through immense government subsidies and land grants. The Senate was acutely involved in this corruption, most clearly seen in the Credit Mobilier scandal of 1872. Though laws were passed in an attempt to mollify government interventions, most notably the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 (E), these were often too vaguely worded to actually be effective.
In response to intervention, thousands of groups of people became defiant. Laborers living off the bare minimum often assembled into organized groups to enforce their demands upon the government, making a notable push for reform (D) while educated men such as Henry Demarest Lloyd promoted virtue, not land, as the ideal focus of government (B). Dissatisfaction continued within the middle class. As new industrial machines emerged, designed for mass production and the generation of more profit, they undermined the skill of able workers and apprentices who were without government sympathy. (F) Men such as Carnegie and Rockefeller prospered enormously under this system at the expense of foreigners, women, and children, who were simultaneously "dwarfed" due to harsh working conditions. (G) While 10% of the population reached new economic pinnacles, the remaining 90% struggled to maintain a steady income. Lacking government support, the common man suffered while the rich man thrived.
Though the two political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, aged differently in region, ethnicity, and religion, one similarity was prevalent: neither was willing to take strong stands on the most sensitive topics (H). The sectionalism that had been rife prior to the Civil War was still alive. Since neither side wanted to take risks, for fear of upsetting the balance of power, complex issues such as the tariff and money bills moved forward slowly and thus benefited the public too little or too late. The smaller peoples, including farmers, laborers, and small businessmen, were left out of the political equation except at the local machine level. Presidential cabinets were marked by the...