Exam preparation materials

The Gilded Age, 1877-1900

Things to Know

1. Developments in the West and South: successive frontiers — mining frontier and cattle kingdom; relations with Native Americans and development of federal policy; status of African-American — rise of segregation and African-American response — for example, W. E. B. Du Bois vs. Booker T. Washington.

2. United States as industrial power: advances in technology and rise of new industries — oil and steel; development of new forms of business organization; regulation of business; industrialization and labor — rise of early labor unions; labor disputes of the period — railroad strikes, Haymarket Square riot, Homestead steel strike, Pullman strike.

3. Fanners revolt: farmer organizations — Grange, fanner alliances; position on inflation — Greenbacks and silver; Populist party.

4. Politics in the Gilded Age: party positions and issues in presidential elections, 1876-1896; urbanization and urban politics — boss system; reform movements of the late nineteenth century.

Key Terms and Concepts

Comstock Lode

Central Pacific Railroad

Union Pacific Railroad

Promontory Point

long drive

Joseph Glidden

Great American Desert

Sand Creek massacre

Battle of the Little Bighorn

Nez Percé

Chief Joseph

Helen Hunt Jackson

Wounded Knee

Jim Crow laws

1883 Civil Rights Cases

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

Thomas Edison

John D. Rockefeller

Standard Oil

Andrew Carnegie

J. Pierpont Morgan

Horatio Alger

horizontal/vertical combinations

Social Darwinism

Sherman Anti-Trust Act

National Labor Union

Knights of Labor

Terence Powderly

American Federation of Labor

Samuel Gompers

company town

closed shop

The Grange

long vs. short haul

Munn v. Illinois

Interstate Commerce Commission

subtreasury plan

William Jennings Bryan

spoils system/merit system

Greenback party

Pendleton Civil Service Act

Grand Army of the Republic

Sherman Silver Purchase Act

McKinley Tariff

William Marcy Tweed

Social Gospel

Salvation Army


New Immigration

Chinese Exclusion Act

Important Definitions

Atlanta Compromise: Argument put forward by Booker T. Washington that African- Americans should not focus on civil rights or social equality but concentrate on economic self-improvement.

craft unions: Labor organizations whose members were skilled workers in a particular craft — for example, carpenters, masons, or cigar makers. The American Federation of Labor was composed of individual craft unions.

“Crime of ’73”: Through the Coinage Act of 1873, the United States ended the minting of silver dollars and placed the country on the gold standard. This was attacked by those who supported an inflationary monetary policy, particularly farmers, and believed in the unlimited coinage of silver.

Dawes Act (1887): Changed the reservation system by granting 160 acres and U.S. citizenship to Native American heads of families who agreed to give up their tribal allegiance.

Gilded Age: The name applied to the 1870s and 1880s during which national politics was characterized by party rivalries, the spoils system, and unregulated business competition. The term comes from the title of a novel written by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner.

long vs. short haul: The railroad practice to charge higher rates on lines where there was no competition than on routes w'here several lines were operating. This often meant that the cost of shipping goods a short distance was greater than over a long distance.

Mugwumps: Reform Republicans who refused to support James Blaine, the party’s candidate in the election of 1884.

“Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion”: An insult made against New York Irish-Americans by a Republican clergyman in the 1884 election; Republican candidate James Blaine’s failure to repudiate this statement lost him New York and contributed to his defeat by Grover Cleveland.

Social Gospel: Religious response to the problems created by industrialization and urbanization in the late nineteenth century; supporters of the Social Gospel supported child labor laws, civil service reform, and control of the trusts.

Stalwarts and Half-Breeds: Factions in the Republican party that emerged by 1880; the Stalwarts, led by Senator Roscoe Conkling, supported the spoils system, while the Half- Breeds claimed to represent the idea of civil service reform.

trust: A form of business organization in which a group of corporations in the same industry gave their stock in the individual companies to a board of trustees in return for stock certificates that earned dividends. The trust effectively eliminated competition by giving control to the board. The earliest example is the Standard Oil Trust that controlled ninety percent of the oil refineries and pipelines.

Turner Thesis: The historian Frederick Jackson Turner argued that the frontier was the key factor in the development of American democracy and institutions; he maintained that the frontier served as a “safety valve” during periods of economic crisis.

Readings on the Gilded Age, 1877-1900

Billington, Ray Allen. Westward Expansion (1967).

Foner, Philip. Women and the American Labor Movement (1979).

Hays, Samuel P. The Response to Industrialism, 1884-1914 (1957).

Hicks, John D. The Populist Revolt (1931).

Hofstadter, Richard. Social Darwinism in American Thought (1955).

Kaufman, S. B. Samuel Gompers and the Origins of the American Federation of Labor (1973).

Morgan, H. Wayne. From Hayes to McKinley: National Party Politics, 1877-1896 (1969).

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