American Politics in the Gilded Age, 1868-1900

American Politics in the Gilded Age, 1868-1900

American Politics in the Gilded Age, 1868-1900

American Politics in the Gilded Age, 1868-1900

Synopsis

Often Gilded-Age politics has been described as devoid of content or accomplishment, a mere spectacle to divert voters from thinking about the real issues of the day. But by focusing too closely on dramatic scandals and on the foibles of prominent politicians, many historians have tended to obscure other aspects of late nineteenth-century politics that proved to be of great and long-term significance.

With the latest scholarship in mind, Professor Cherny provides a deft and highly readable analysis that is certain to help readers better understand the characteristics and important products of Gilded-Age politics. Topics covered include: voting behavior; the relation between the popular will and the formation of public policy; the cause and effect of the deadlock in national politics that lasted from the mid-1870s to the 1890s; the sources of political innovation at state and local levels; and the notable changes wrought during the 1890s that ushered in important new forms of American politics.

Excerpt

Visiting Washington in 1869, young Henry Adams, the grandson and great grandson of presidents, was surprised to hear a member of the cabinet bellow: “You can't use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!” Though surprised at the outburst, Adams soon found himself in agreement. Senators, he decided, were worse—they were grotesque, extravagant, egotistical, even comic, and they were doing “permanent and terrible mischief” to the nation. “The most troublesome task” for any president, he declared, was “bringing the Senate back to decency.”

Adams was not alone in disparaging the politicians of the late nineteenth century. James Bryce, an English scholar who studied American politics in the 1880s, spent one full chapter of The American Commonwealth (1888) explaining “why great men are not chosen president” and another chapter on “why the best men do not go into politics.” The critical views of Adams, Bryce, and others among their contemporaries found reflection in the views of many twentieth-century historians who described the politics of the period as devoid of content or accomplishment, as a mere spectacle to divert voters from thinking about the real issues of the day.

By focusing too closely on dramatic scandals and on the foibles of prominent politicians, however, the work of some histo-

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