Essay on Gilded Age

Submitted By frezzy1234
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Pages: 25

Gilded Age
Mark Twain coined the term Gilded Age in a book. Mark Twain wrote of the Gilded Age, a time of enormous wealth accumulated by a few. Their success spread a gleaming gold leaf over American society. Beneath that veneer, however, lay the pervasive misery of the working classes.
Laissez-Faire government was the norm. This form of government favors individual self-interest and competition, and opposes the taxation and regulation of commerce. Laissez faire reached its apex in the 1870s during the age of industrialization as American factories operated with a free hand. A contradiction developed, however, as competing businesses began to merge, resulting in shrinkage of competition.
Clearly the dominant figures of postwar American capitalism were John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and J. Pierpont Morgan.
A second tier of wealthy and unscrupulous businessmen were well-known in their day, but are less so today. These include Daniel Drew, James Fisk and Jay Gould.
With notable exceptions such as Carnegie, the wealthy elite cared little for the masses. They were on a mission to build a new society and no price was too high to pay for progress. Major Issues in the Gilded Age
1. Currency:
Specie Resumption Act
Acts, Bills, and Laws, 1875
The Specie Resumption Act was a triumph for the "hard money" forces over the "soft money" advocates during the second Grant administration.
The United States government had issued $450 million in greenbacks during the Civil War. These paper notes were not backed by specie (gold or silver) and maintained value only through trust in the government.
After the war the debtor elements, desiring inflation, wanted the greenbacks to remain in circulation and for new notes to be issued. Conservative forces, abhorring inflation, opposed these schemes and wanted all paper currency to be backed by gold.
Under the Funding Act of 1866, greenbacks in circulation were gradually reduced to $356 million on February 4, 1868, when further retirement was ended. The amount was temporarily raised to $382 million by 1872, but Grant vetoed the Inflation Bill, intended to increase the circulation of greenbacks permanently to $400 million.
On January 14, 1875, a Republican lame-duck Congress passed Senator George Edmunds' Specie Resumption Act, which provided:
1. That the U.S. Treasury be prepared to resume the redemption of legal tender notes in specie (gold) as of January 1, 1879
2. That gradual steps be taken to reduce the number of greenbacks in circulation
3. That all "paper coins" (notes with denominations less than one dollar) be removed from circulation and be replaced with silver coins.
Despite opposition from the Greenback Party, specie payments were resumed on the appointed date. The dire predictions of citizens storming the banks to demand gold for the greenbacks never occurred. As 1879 approached, the government prudently increased its specie reserves and the public became convinced that their paper notes were "as good as gold.
{Added notes from the instructor, which may be used in class: The value of the greenbacks, which were printed with green ink on one side, fluctuated with the war's progress. In early 1864, when Union prospects were dim, the greenback dollar held a value of under 40 cents; by the end of the war in 1865, it was around 67 cents. The original intention was for the greenbacks to hold the same value as regular gold-backed notes, but that result never occurred.
Pressure from business interests and creditors in the postwar period led to an effort to retire the greenbacks. These forces did not want to receive payments in cheap money and opposed any government policy that would lead to inflation.
By 1867, the wartime economic boom was over. Farmers and debtors, feeling an economic pinch, began agitation to halt the notes' retirement. It was in their interest to foster inflation, which would make it easier for them to pay off their