New social and economic processes such as changing political parties, questioningcitizenship, and formations of labor unions disrupted older ways of organizingAmerican society, challenged traditional ways of thinking about what itmeant to be an American, and led Americans to look for ways to cope withthese changes. The Gilded Age proved to be an era which America appearedgreat on the outside, when in reality the country was internally strugglingto deal adapt to the many changes economically and socially. This paperwill discuss the ways in which changes disrupted traditional American ideasand structures and how Americans clashed over coping with this massivechange by looking at Robert Cherny’s American Politics in the Gilded Age,”The River Ran Red” and the fourteenth amendment. Cherny discussed many of the changes thatoccurred during 1877-1895 in his book American Politics in the Gilded Age. Cherny’s focus early in the book on the role of the political parties duringthe time period. He does not scratch the surface, but tries to dig deepthe Gilded Age of politics.
Cherny also addresses social and economic changes. He said that progress merely provided a “gleaming surface of the GildedAge. Just below that golden surface, however, lay twelve-hour workdaysin factories, the widespread use of child labor, and large-scale businessdealings. .
. ” (Cherny 4). During the gilded age, parties changedtheir traditional ways of voting and elections. Parties were at war togain political majority in order to have control in government decisions,so they began tactics to insure victories at the polls. Parties discouragedattendance at primaries by meeting at late hours and dangerous areas, developedbargaining tactics like “logrolling” (trading of influence or votes amonglegislators to gain passage of certain projects), and voters found it difficultto split a ticket when party organizers left no space to fill in nameson the ballot.
In Cherny’s book, Richard Jensen said that “Elections weretreated like battles in which the two main armies (parties) concentratedon fielding the maximum number of troops (voters) on the battlefield (polls)on election day” (Cherny 12). America was supposedly a country where aman could choose freely who he wanted to represent him, but in realityparties choose the candidates. In the video “The River Ran Red,” the eventsof the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892 showed the myths of America beingdestroyed by giants like Andrew Carnegie who tried taking away his workerseconomic independence. The Union wanted to keep short workdays and goodworking conditions. Carnegie wanted to gain control of the factory fromthe Union and then implement lower wages.
America struggled to maintainindustrial progress and also allow workers to have time outside work. TheUnion and talks of strike was not welcome in the world of Carnegie, andwas not a change the nation was willing to accept. America portrayed amyth of economic independence and boundless opportunity during the industrialprogression, when in reality a worker was controlled by executive tyrantsbelow the gilded surface. The fourteenth amendment centralized onestablishing that the federal government was more powerful than the stategovernment, something that American citizens were not going to accept.
The amendment gave blacks citizenship, which then also gave them the rightto vote. Legally it gave some rights to blacks, but in reality Americanswere fearful of losing political power, especially in the southern states. According to the amendment, no “state deprive any person of life, liberty,or property. . . nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protectionof the laws,” (Fourteenth Amendment, 1868).
The amendment targeted southerners,who in turn were unwilling to accept the new given rights to blacks northe governments power over the state. Although America on the outside showedgilded signs of progress, the country was battling as political corruption,labor strikes, and southerner’s who continued to cling to their old waysby refusing to comply with the federal government. Political parties mockedthe myth that America was a classless/democratic society. The labor uniondisputes dispelled the myths that America was ideal of economic independenceand that it was the land of boundless opportunity. Finally, all menwere not equal or have basic citizenship rights, despite the fourteenthamendment.
All the problems that America had was covered by a golden surfacelabeled as progression while its citizens suffered and battled. .