Imagine talking to a very attractive person on social media, just to meet up with them in person and realize their appearance is nothing like their profile. This has become commonly known as a “catfish,” and relates to the Gilded Age (1860-1890) because this era introduced supposed “improvements” which came up short of their expectations. The term “gilded” refers to something of lesser value overshadowed by a thin coating of gold. This affected the nation economically, socially, and politically, as all three aspects sought their own version of catfishing. The Gilded Age was an appropriate name for the era because the changes introduced in these three major aspects of the nation seemed promising to the lower classes but would barely improve their situation.
First, economics in the Gilded Age deemed promising until actually executed. The Second Industrial Revolution took place during the Gilded Age, and the nation saw many opportunities for labor increase. Many factory jobs were obtained by immigrants because it was cheap to pay workers and required no skill to work. This era also saw many technological advancements. An important technological advancement would be the installment of railroads. There would be 170 million acres dedicated to railroads which would connect the U.S together and also help with westward expansion. However, as attractive as both increasing labor and technological advancements may have been, it backfired on the economy. Both exposed the poor working conditions and unfair pay, which led to strikes.
One of the most famous strikes was the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. During this nationwide strike, workers’ wages, as well as the amount of days they work per week were cut. There were hundreds killed, and there was millions of dollars lost in damages and revenue. In the end, nothing really came out of the strike which revealed that the power of the upper class was too much for any other in the social hierarchy, exposing the flawed system.. The labor and technological opportunities introduced to the economy during the Gilded Age seemed like it was gearing the nation in the right direction, but would come up short of actually improving anything because there was still a noticeable disconnect between the worker union and the owners.
Next, the social structure was meant to be improved after the Civil War. With the Reconstruction amendments (13th-15th) passed after the end of war, the United States surely headed in the direction of equality … however, that would be far from happening. Specifically during Presidential Reconstruction (1865-66), Black Codes were implemented in society. They would keep the colored man in agricultural and plantation practices, and states such as Mississippi enforced this by making blacks sign yearly wage contracts to keep them in this field of labor. They were barely paid and these Black Codes essentially re-created slavery, since blacks were still subjugated with no freedom to develop, showing that the Gilded Age was a time of bluff and false hope because society did not advance.
Another example of how the social spectrum was flawed was because wage gaps still existed even throughout the wave of “equality.” Prior to the Gilded Age, landowners and owners in general were the most wealthy, and though the Second Industrial Revolution would supply more labor opportunities for society, many who were still at the bottom of the social class would stay there. Andrew Carnegie – an immigrant who achieved the “American Dream,” wrote the Gospel of Wealth which expressed his philosophy that overwhelming wealth only being handled by a few was beneficial, since families have shown wealth being maintained throughout generations. This concept showed just how much the Gilded Age was flawed because Carnegie did not come to America rich, but still subordinated the working and lower classes when he was once a part of it too.
Finally, the politics in the Gilded Age was highlighted by corruption and scandals. Though there were quite a few presidents throughout this time period, there was none more famous than Ulysses S. Grant. Grant, a Radical Republican and Civil War hero, seemed solid to lead the country during this time period with his impressive war resume. He was an honest and solid candidate, but was also indirectly affiliated with many scandals throughout his presidency. One of the major scandals was the Whiskey Ring. In this scandal, many liquor associates and contributors tried to scam the government of millions from liquor taxes. It was led by one of Grant’s own, Orville Babcock. But he would be acquitted with the help of Grant. Seeing how many people within Grant’s administration were caught in scandals, his reputation was diminished and these issues would overshadow his accomplishments in the country.
The Gilded Age was an appropriate name for the time period from 1860-1890 because while the new policies or people introduced were appealing, they would come up short of their expectations. Whether it was the Second Industrial Revolution, the passing of the Reconstruction amendments, or Grant taking office, there was disappointment in all three major aspects of the country. It was an era highlighted by corruption and stagnance, and will be remembered for it.