The commencement of the Gilded Age after the end of the Reconstruction period in 1877 sparked domestic change and reform for the United States that transformed the nation in economic, social, and political aspects. The economy flourished due to the expansion of railroads and industrial and agricultural development, creating jobs for citizens and an efficient method to produce and transport goods throughout the United States (Calhoun, 1996). Social advancements such as Jane Adam’s foundation of the Hull House in 1889 and the establishment of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890 reveals the achievements made for America that profited the citizens of society. Despite the progression of the nation economically and socially, the political perspective of America plunged due to dishonest governmental figures and disagreements over how to restructure domestic issues. In comparison to 1877, the differences in American reform until the year 1900 overall benefitted society and impacted the future of the nation (Dobson, 1972).
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The modifications made to America since the start of the Gilded Age in 1877 demonstrate how advancements in the economy benefited the nation as a whole.
The rise of industry, the dominance of wage labor, and the growth of cities gave numerous job opportunities for skilled and unskilled workers, introduced an abundance of raw materials such as coal and oil, and manufactured improvements in transportation, communication, and labor-saving devices that saved productivity. The development of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad in 1869 unified the east and west and allowed for more of the interstate transportation of goods to travel across the country in an efficient amount of time. The establishment of the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887 provided reasonable rates for railroads to operate and regulated the industry and its monopolistic practices (James, 2013). Enhancement in agriculture in the 1880’s such as the use of steel plows, the McCormick reaper, and fertilizer enabled farmers to cultivate vast tracks of American land and produce more goods with less labor in a shorter period of time. The Titans of Industry including John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan built monopolies in oil and steel companies which revolutionized business practices and contributed to the growth of cities and labor for citizens (The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age, 93). In contrast, many view the development of the economy throughout the Gilded Age as a negative progression due to the harsh working conditions faced by men, women, and children, and how the freedom and relaxed regulations granted to society by the capitalistic laissez faire theory contributed to a disorganized economy run by greed of the people (James, 2013).
However, the technological advances, growth of cities, improved transportation, financial innovation, and new business practices expanded the population and overall combined to fuel the major economic growth throughout the Gilded Age by modernizing the production of goods and made shipment of products more efficient. The expansion of industry and agriculture enhanced the nation and demonstrates the development of the economy since the end of 1877 (Calhoun, 1996).
The development of social reforms and the effects they had on society demonstrate how the Gilded Age contributed to a socially better nation. The Gilded Age also experienced a huge social change. Immigration brought lots of Polish, Ukrainians, and other Eastern Europeans (Dobson, 1972). This new infusion of social diversity brought over a new culture and many were regretful of this migration. Immigrants that arrived before the Gilded Era were called old immigrants. They usually consisted of skilled workers who came in relatively small numbers with some money and were willing to adopt the culture and the language. The immigrants that came during the Gilded Era were called new immigrants (Calhoun, 1996). They were looked down upon, they were generally unskilled and came with no money. These immigrants usually lived in tenement houses which are apartments that were usually one room and surrounded by filth. They also held on to their culture and beliefs (James, 2013).
In response to the discrimination and the restriction of the rights of immigrants, social activist, Jane Addams founded the Hull House in 1889 to provide counseling, day-care services, and adult education classes to assist poverty-stricken immigrants. The success of the Hull House prompted Lillian Wald to open the Henry Street Settlement House in New York in 1893 to aid the needy and fight for women’s suffrage, temperance, and improved labor laws. The establishment of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890 unified the women’s rights organizations of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and pushed for the ratification for women’s suffrage. Despite the segregation condemned to blacks as a result of the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896, Harvard educated black sociologist, W.E.B. DuBois pressed for social and economic equality for blacks (The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age, 93).
In contrast, many view that the social developments of the Gilded Age hindered the growth of the nation due to the progressing issue of immigration and reforms such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 working to restrict the levels of immigrant travel to the country, and the racism affecting society due to the Plessy v. Ferguson case that enforced the separate but equal theory to segregate the two major races of the nation (Calhoun, 1996).
However, the actions made to reform the growing issues of the nation, such as improving the lives of immigrants and advocating women’s rights, portray the incentive of America to improve and overall demonstrate the progression of the country in social aspects. These reforms have united America in differing races and ethnicities to overall show how the Gilded Age benefitted the social perspective of the nation (James, 2013).
On the contrary to the progression of the economic and social aspects of the nation since 1877, the political factor of America proved detrimental to development of America. The corrupt ambitions of the presidents of the Gilded Age can be reflected in William Boss Tweed’s mastery in assisting his constituents and business partners in return for votes, money, and power, which caused a significant rise in the national debt (Calhoun, 1996). The administration of Ulysses S. Grant proved ineffective due to the effects of the Whiskey Ring of 1875 which raised federal liquor taxes after the years following the Civil War to help pay off war debt, and caused opposition to his authority due to his bribes to officials within the Department of Treasury to avoid the high tax (Dobson, 1972). The assassination of James A. Garfield by Charles Guiteau in 1881 convinced policymakers that the United States government was in dire need of civil service reform to combat the spoils system that granted appointive offices to loyal members of the prevailing party and demonstrated how officials disagreed of how to reform society and run the nation as a whole (Calhoun, 1996).
In contrast, many view the establishment of the Populist Party in 1891 as a benefit to American development due to their desire to assist the farmers and push for innovations that best benefitted citizens of America (James, 2013). However, the indecision and corruption between officials and the forgettable presidents of the Gilded Age demonstrate how little of an impact politicians had on the transforming America, and show how the perspective of the political aspect of the nation deteriorated since 1877 (Dobson, 1972). These negative influences given by the nation’s government poorly represent the industrial and social success of America, and overall show the detrimental qualities of societies officials. Domestic change in economic, social, and political aspects overall contributed to the development and reform of American society throughout the Gilded Age. The rise of industry and agriculture, and advancements in technology and business practices, contributed to financial gain, faster production rates, work for the unemployed, and overall economic growth (Calhoun, 1996).
Despite segregation and harsh working conditions faced by citizens, social activists including Jane Addams and W.E.B DuBois pushed for the rights of women, blacks, and immigrants (Dobson, 1972). In contrast, many view the Gilded Age as a detriment to society due to the corruption and indecision between officials over how to reform the nation, which brought opposition and anger to citizens by how the forgettable presidents failed to compete with the developments in economic and social reform (James, 2013). However, the success and modernizations of the economy, such as the growth of cities and industry, and social perspective, including the reforms to support human rights, overall demonstrate the progression of America since the start of the Gilded Age in 1877 (Calhoun, 1996). In comparison to 1877, the reforms made in economic and social aspects show the overall progression of the nation, and how the Gilded Age benefited society as a whole.
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