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Politics in the Gilded Age City Bosses, Political Machines, and Populism


Politics in the Gilded Age City Bosses, Political Machines, and Populism – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Politics in the Gilded Age City Bosses, Political Machines, and Populism

Politics in the Gilded Age City Bosses,
Political Machines, and Populism
Political Machines
  • Political machines controlled the activities of
    political parties in the city. Ward bosses,
    precinct captains, and the city boss worked to
    ensure that their candidates were elected and
    that city government worked to their advantage.

Role of the Political Boss
  • The Boss (typically the mayor) controlled jobs,
    business licenses, and influenced the court
    system. Precinct captains and ward bosses, often
    1st or 2nd generation immigrants, helped new
    immigrants with jobs, housing, and naturalization
    in exchange for votes.

Boss Tweed ran NYC
Municipal Graft and Scandal
  • Some political bosses were corrupt and their
    political machines practiced election fraud by
    using fake names and voting multiple times to
    ensure victory. Bribes were common and
    construction contracts often resulted in
    kick-backs. Because the police were hired by the
    boss, there was no close scrutiny.

The Tweed Ring Scandal
  • William M. Tweed, known as Boss Tweed, was head
    of Tammany Hall, NYCs powerful Democratic
    political machine. Between 1869-1871, he led the
    Tweed Ring of corrupt politicians in defrauding
    the city. Convicted of 120 counts of fraud
    extortion, he was sentenced to 12 years in jail,
    but released after one. Rearrested, he escaped to

Civil Service Replaces Patronage
  • Nationally, some politicians pushed for reform in
    the hiring system, which had been based on
    Patronage (giving jobs and favors to those who
    helped a candidate get elected). Reformers pushed
    for adoption of a merit system (hiring the most
    qualified for jobs). The Pendleton Civil Service
    Act of 1883 authorized a bipartisan commission to
    make appointments for federal jobs based on

Applicants for federal jobs are required to take
a Civil Service Exam
The Plight of Farmers
  • In the late 19th century, farmers struggled to
    survive. Between 1867 and 1887 the price of a
    bushel of wheat fell from two dollars to 68
    cents, railroads conspired to keep transportation
    costs artificially high, and farmers were caught
    in a cycle of debt.

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The Grange
  • Farmers demanded help from state and federal
    governments. When this relief did not come,
    Midwestern farmers banded together in 1867 to
    form the Grange. By 1875, the Grange had more
    than 800,000 members.

Education and Fellowship
  • The Grange offered farmers education and
    fellowship through biweekly social functions, at
    which farmers shared their grievances and
    discussed agricultural and political reforms.

Cooperative Action
  • To increase farm profits, Grangers negotiated
    deals with machinery companies and set up
    cooperatives and grain storage facilities. They
    also fought against railroad companies for hiking
    prices for short-distance shipment. The efforts
    of the Grange played a big role in the passage of
    the 1887 Interstate Commerce Act.

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The Farmers Alliance
  • By 1880, the Grange had faded and was replaced by
    the more political Farmers Alliance. Beginning
    as a local group in Texas in the late 1870s,
    alliances spread throughout the South and
    Northwest, and by 1890, boasted a membership of
    1.5 million nationwide.

The Populist Party
  • In 1892, Alliance members helped found the
    Populist Party, which drew support from urban
    laborers as well as farmers.

Proposed Economic Reforms
  • Populist economic reforms included
  • An increase in the supply of money
  • A rise in crop prices
  • Lower taxes
  • A federal loan program
  • An 8-hour workday
  • Reduced immigration

Proposed Political Reforms
  • Populist political reforms included
  • Direct election of senators
  • Single term presidencies

Populists Made Small Gains
  • In the 1892 Presidential election, the Populist
    party candidate won only 9 of the vote. However,
    in the West, the party elected five senators,
    three governors and 1,500 state legislators.

The smallest specimen yet (Populist party
candidates showing in the election)
Note Democratic states are red and Republican
states are blue.
Support for Populists Grew
  • The Panic of 1893 gave the Populist Party new
    life. Railroads went bankrupt, the stock market
    lost value, 15,000 businesses and 500 banks
    collapsed. Three million people lost their jobs
    putting unemployment at 20.

The Election of 1896
  • The 1896 presidential election, which pitted
    Republican William McKinley against Democrat
    William Jennings Bryan, was a crucial turning
    point in U.S. history. Many contemporaries
    considered it the most important political event
    since Abraham Lincolns election in 1860.

Silver or Gold?
  • The central issue of the campaign was which metal
    to use as the basis for the nations monetary
    system bimetallism (gold and silver) or gold
    alone. The Republicans preferred gold and the
    Democrats favored free silver (bimetallism at a
    ratio of 16 units of silver to one of gold).

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Bryans Cross of Gold Speech
  • The Democrats hoped that free silver would
    increase the supply of money and provide more
    credit to farmers and workers. But despite
    Bryans stirring words, You shall not crucify
    mankind upon a cross of gold, McKinley won the
    1896 election.

Republican Dominance
  • Because the Populists had joined the Democrats in
    supporting William Jennings Bryan, they lost
    their ability to bring about constructive change.
    McKinleys victory established Republican
    dominance in Washington for over a decade.

An Environment for Jim Crow
  • Bryans defeat was a loss for the West and the
    South, but the realignment of 1896 helped create
    favorable conditions for Jim Crow segregation and
    the disfranchisement of black voters in the

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The End of Populism
  • With McKinleys victory, Populism collapsed,
    burying the hopes of the farmer for a better
    life. The Populist Party was short-lived but left
    an important legacy
  • A message that the downtrodden can organize and
    be heard
  • An agenda of reforms that would be enacted in the
    20th century.
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