Business Issues In The Gilded Age

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The period from 1865 to 1900 was characterized by an astronomical boom in industry and manufacturing, economic growth for the rich, financial turmoil for the poor, and political corruption. As a result, the era has been named “The Gilded Age.” Just as something gilded is gold on the outside but worthless metal on the inside, these years seemed prosperous from an outside perspective, when in reality, the wealth gap was increasing at an alarming rate and big business had power over government officials. As a result of this, a lot of federal legislation was influenced by monopolies and often catered to the desires of businessmen. Since regulation of certain business practices would cause these trusts to lose money, Congress shied away from regulating…show more content…
These ties date back to the passing of one particular piece of legislation: the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. This act stated that government jobs could only be awarded to a person based on merit. Since they could no longer offer jobs to donors, politicians had to find other sources for campaign money. As a result, these politicians often turned to big business for funding, which led to corruption in the government. An 1889 political cartoon by Joseph Keppler titled “Bosses of the Senate” showcases this fact. It depicts heavy men sitting in the Senate, each with the names of different monopolies with a money symbol written on their shirts. For example, one says “Standard Oil Trust” while another says “Steel Beam Trust.” The senators are looking to the monopoly men, presumably for guidance, while a sign hanging on the wall reads “This is a Senate of the monopolists, by the monopolists, for the monopolists.” There are two entrances to the Senate Floor: an entrance for the people, which is marked as closed, and an entrance for the monopolists, which is wide and packed with heavy-set men. This cartoon shows how a lot of legislation (or lack thereof) was passed with big businesses in mind. Since many of these monopolies donated generous sums of money to politicians during their campaigns, they could essentially control what legislation Congress passed. Otherwise, the politicians would lose the…show more content…
Business and capitalism became a vital part of everyday life for the average American, and it’s remained that way since. Unfortunately, with that growth came the inevitable abuse of power associated with it. Even today, people debate over whether or not it’s the government’s place to regulate industry and the market in order to keep corporations in check. To answer that question, it’s important to examine history and learn from it. Reflecting back on one of the most notoriously corrupt times in American history, it’s clear to see that there was very little regulation, and this had dire consequences for those other than the one percent. The government typically went out of its way to cater to big corporations. When citizens spoke out against the ill effects this had on them, legislation designed to fix the issues and protect consumers was often weak and seldom effective. The government did attempt to regulate industrial development and market capitalism to some extent, but often failed and tended to favor big business. It’s important to recognize this fact and take note of how it affected everyday people. If the United States wants to become better and be a government by the people, for the people instead of one led by monopolists, as Keppler claimed in his cartoon, it is crucial to reflect on the past.
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