2. Democrats dominated the South and Catholic votes 3. The parties were closely divided, and national elections were very close 4. Gilded Age presidents made little effort to mobilize public opinion or exert executive leadership 5. In some ways, American democracy in the Gilded Age seemed remarkably healthy C. Government and the Economy
1. The nation’s political structure proved ill- equipped to deal with the problems created by the economy’s rapid growth a. Tariff policy was debated b. Return to gold standard in 1879 2. Republican economic policies strongly favored the interests of eastern industrialists and bankers 3. The Civil Service Act of 1883 created a merit system for federal employees 4. Congress established the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) in 1887 a. Sherman Antitrust Act D. Political Conflict in the States 1. State governments expanded their responsibilities to the public 2. Third parties enjoyed significant, if short- lived, success in local elections a. The Greenback-Labor Party 3. Farmers responded to railroad policies by organizing the Grange 4. Some states passed eight-hour-day laws IV. FREEDOM IN THE GILDED AGE A. The Social Problem 1. As the United States matured into an industrial economy, Americans struggled to make sense of the new social order 2. Many Americans sensed that something had gone wrong in the nation’s social development B. Freedom, Inequality, and Democracy
1. Many Americans viewed the concentration of wealth as inevitable, natural, and justified by progress 2. Gilded Age reformers feared that with lower-class groups seeking to use government to advance their own interests, democracy was becoming a threat to individual liberty and the rights of property C. Social Darwinism in America 1. Charles Darwin put forth the theory of evolution whereby plant and animal species best suited to their environment took the place of those less able to adapt 2. Social Darwinism argued that evolution was as natural a process in human society as in nature, and government must not interfere 3. Failure to advance in society was widely thought to indicate a lack of character 4. Social Darwinist William Sumner believed that freedom required frank acceptance of inequality D. Liberty of Contract 1. Labor contracts reconciled freedom and authority in the workplace 2. Demands by workers that the government help them struck liberals as an example of how the misuse of political power posed a threat to liberty E. The Courts and Freedom 1. The courts viewed state regulation of business as an insult to free labor
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