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December 17, 2012

Essay on America's Gilded Age

A Journey through America’s Gilded Age
I assume that I was a traveler who was roaming United States in Gilded age. During my journey I have found some interesting facts and their impact on the US society. The following Journal entries are the record of my observations during this journey.
First Journal Entry
What is Populism?
Populism is an ideology and philosophy which stresses on the social and political changes and urges that the social and political system should represent ordinary people’s needs (Canovan, p.5). It is the political discourse which discusses and appeals the masses.     
Causes of populist movement
Populist movement was started by the farmers and middle class workers. The falling of agriculture prices in 1873 was the event which triggered the unrest among farmers and an agitation was started for positive economic changes in national policy. This agitation, in the later part of 1880s, transformed into a political party; whose manifesto was to bring economic changes and reforms in the national policy. In 1892, Populist Party, in a meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, nominated candidates for national election (Khoros).      
Effects of populist movement
Although the movement was died soon but it had far reaching effects on US social and political environment. Many of the reforms suggested by the Populist Party would later introduce into the US system. For example the procedure of Senators election, universal use of secret ballot, initiative, referendum and recall, abolition of national banks, railroads and telegraph, adopt silver as the legal standard and so on and so forth.   
Primarily, populist movement was started to address the issues related to farmers and middle class workers which the political parties of that time failed to consider. For example, Republican Party had not passed the Force Acts which would give the right to vote to Blacks while Democrats had encouraged the Silver Purchase Act.
Second Journal Entry
Major Social Ideas of Gilded Age
One of the most important social ideas of gilded age was Social Darwinism. It refers to social struggle for existence for such people who did not support themselves. Social Darwinism was the idea of struggle between different ethnic groups as well as between individuals in free capitalist market (Bowler).  Social Darwinism stresses that, “There are underlying, and largely irresistible, forces acting in societies which are like the natural forces that operate in animal and plant communities” (Hodgson, p.428).
Women liberation movements also started at a rapid pace during gilded age. Women leaders who were disappointed over not giving voting rights to women became active in politics. Some of the women leaders reinvigorated the temperance movement and started Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) etc.
Major Political Ideas
In 1883 it has been established through Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act that government jobs would be given on merit basis. This act ensured that government employees should be selected through competitive exams instead of political affiliation. Political victimization of government employees had also been prohibited through this act. To select government employees on merit basis United States Civil Service Commission had been established.
Gilded age had also given rise to the labor unions. American Federation of Labor was established under the leadership of Samuel Gompers. American Federation of Labor continuously gained popularity and strength at a steady pace till 1919.
Third Journal Entry
After the civil war that ended in the 1865, all the African American slaves were freed of slavery and torture.  The south part of America was totally destroyed hence; it needed reconstruction, which took place in the year 1877. 11 associated states needed to be reclaimed and restored and the choices available for the African American slaves now had to be decided. Rapidly, the federal government was developing the civil rights for them. However, In Southern States, all the rights, even the right of voting, of blacks were segregated in the name of Jim Crow laws, and they were compelled to become the Second rate Citizens (Moody).
Plessy v. Ferguson is a landmark court decision regarding racial segregation in United States. This is the case which helped to lay the foundation of the ideology Separate but Equal. This case had actually legitimized the racial segregation already started in Southern States.


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