The United States government has become relatively divided politically. The reigns of power remain firmly within the control of only two major political parties, and this has come to congest the political system greatly. National corporations hold a disproportionate influence over America’s political leaders, eclipsing the individual voter. Fed by an ever increasing national supply chain and advancing telecommunication technology, these corporations would come to see never before seen levels of profit. You could possibly be thinking that I’m describing our modern political environment, but these factors are not exclusive to the present day. In the late Nineteenth century America experienced a very similar set of circumstances which has become known as the Gilded Age. The Gilded Age would receive this derogatory title because this is the political environment where many of these factors would establish themselves as the norm. While the Gilded Age started in the 1890s, it could also be argued that many of these same issues continue to this day and that the Gilded Age never ended entirely.
America’s Gilded Age was a time of rapid economic expansion at a pace never seen before. The completion of a national railroad system would come to support a robust national supply chain tasked with delivering agricultural and manufactured goods to previously unreachable populations. This newly established transportation network would allow the nations corporations to market to a national audience, opening up new sources of revenue. The completion of a nationwide network of telegraph lines would also come to enhance the efficiency of the nations economic engine. These levels of demand and productivity were previously unheard of and would come to generate massive fortunes for those in direct control of the nations capitol.
This rapid expansion in both the wealth and coordination of America’s corporations would come to influence the political system greatly as well. The immense influx of funds that would flow from the American public in exchange for merchandise was now going to fund the corruption of their own political system through sizable and seemingly necessary political campaign contributions by the nations largest corporations. The proletariat would come to denounce the American government as corrupt, tainted by the corporate interests of the bourgeois. The bourgeois argue for private property rights, free of intervention from the unions and government. The ideals of freedom would be used as weapons by both sides to advance their political agendas.
The proletariat would attempt to organize as well in the form of labor unions. These powerful organizations would generate their own influence on the political system. The threat of strikes from the labor unions impose an ever present danger. The economic stagnation that would ultimately result from the halt of these vital industries would bring unwanted public scrutiny and could potentially tarnish the legacy of any politician currently in office, and this effect would come to influence the future actions of the nations leaders. These methods of organized political activism would come to corrupt the political process of the nation by imposing a disproportionate amount of political influence on the progression of the nations politics. The level of influence these groups maintain over the political process would come to eclipse the influence of the unorganized middle or lower class Americans, effectively drowning out their voices from the body politic.
The gilded age was also marked by a political atmosphere in stalemate, as the nations two major parties held a mostly equal level of control over the American government. While the occasional third party candidate would rise and fall, the dominance of the Democratic and Republican parties would preserver through to the present day. Party divisions were strongly enforced by both sides, and this would serve to divide the nation politically along part lines. The politicians of the time would be in office during one of the most profitable times of our nations history, yet legislation would often become bogged down in the mire of political posturing on both sides of the isle.
Looking forward to the present day, the current political environment would probably seem very familiar to the citizens of the Gilded Age. The nation remains divided along part lines politically and America’s corporations continue to hold a disproportionate influence over the political process. Many of these factors were established during the gilded age, yet they continue to cause congestion and division even to this day. The reigns of government remain firmly within the grasp of the nations two major political parties with power regularly exchanged exclusively between the two. This has come to limit the potential political opportunities available to the American public.
The nations corporations continue to distribute merchandise across an ever expanding network of railroads, highways, and delivery services. The growing population and governmental budgets continues to provide the economic boost necessary to keep many of the corporations viable. The constant stream of profit from the American public continues to flow in providing these corporations with vast funds necessary to continue to hold a powerful influence over the modern political process. While there are many more protections for workers currently in place in the modern day, American society has yet to address the issue of income inequality between the proletariat, so often alienated from the fruits of their labor, and the bourgeoisie. With all of these characteristics of the gilded age continuing into the present day, the following question could legitimately be asked. Did America’s Gilded Age ever really come to an end?