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Gilded Age

This term applies to the period in American history from 1865 to 1900. The period includes depictions of weak and forgettable presidents, corrupt politicians, and corporate magnates, or "robber barons." The name itself indicates a time in which greed and corruption ran rampant, while displays of respectability, generosity, and reform provided a distracting overlay to that decadence. In fact, Mark Twain's first novel lent its name to the era.

Waving the Bloody Shirt

This was a campaign tactic used by post-Civil War Republicans to remind northern voters that the Confederates were Democrats. The device was used to divert attention away from the competence of candidates and from serious issues. It was also used to appeal to black voters in the South.

Grand Army of the Republic

This organization was founded by former Union soldiers after the Civil War. It lobbied Congress for aid and pensions for former Union soldiers. It was also a powerful lobbying influence within the Republican party.

Civil Rights Cases

In this group of five similar cases, the Supreme Court held that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which provided that "all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations" was unconstitutional. The Court held that the language of the 14th Amendment, which prohibited denial of equal protection by a state, did not give Congress power to regulate these private acts. The decision put an end to the attempts by Republicans to ensure the civil rights of blacks and ushered in the widespread segregation of blacks in housing, employment and public life that confined them to second-class citizenship throughout much of the United States until the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

Booker T. Washington

This former slave became a major spokesperson for his race in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1881, he became principal of a new school for African Americans at Tuskegee, Alabama. Tuskegee offered training in a variety of skilled trades and emphasized the practical applications of learning rather than learning for its own sake. He delivered his most famous speech at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta in 1895. He believed that African Americans should advance through education and effort instead of seeking social and political equality with whites. Critics called this "Atlanta Compromise" a policy of submission.

Atlanta Compromise

This term was used by cirtics to refer to a speech given by black leader Booker T. Washington in 1895. He urged blacks to concentrate on learning useful skills. He viewed black self-help and self-improvement, not agitation over segregation, disfranchisement, and racial discrimination, as the surest way to social and economic advancement for blacks.

Burlingame Treaty

This treaty with China was ratified in 1868. It encouraged Chinese immigration to the United States at a time when cheap labor was in demand for U.S. railroad construction. It doubled the annual influx of Chinese immigrants between 1868 and 1882. The treaty was reversed in 1882 by the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Sand Creek Massacre

This term refers to the 1865 massacre of more than 200 Cheyenne Indians, many of them women and children. The attack was led by U.S. Army Colonel John M. Chivington, who ordered his troops to slaughter every Indian in the village and to accept no prisoners. Chivington's order was even more diabolical as the Indians had previously surrendered to the U.S. government and were ostensibly under U.S. protection at the time. The massacre compelled the Cheyenne to break off peace talks with the Americans and led to a vicious war during 1867-1869.

Little Big Horn

In 1876, Colonel George A. Custer and 260 of his men were killed by Sioux Indians led by Sitting Bull at this battle in southern Montana. "Custer's Last Stand" became enshrined in American mythology as a symbol of the brutality of the Indian wars, although there is substantial evidence that Custer acted recklessly in attacking the large Indian encampment.

Chief Joseph

He was chief of the Nez Perce Indians who conducted one of the most epic retreats in military history. Across 1,700 miles of foreboding terrain, they evaded 10 columns of U.S. Army troops and beat them in 18 skirmishes, only to succumb to exhaustion. This leader's surrender to the US Army marked a turning point in Native Americans' attempt to maintain their sovereignty. The Nez Perce were then sent to reservations in Oklahoma.


This Apache chief was a skillful, fearless guerrilla warrior who thwarted thousands of American soldiers. His capture in 1886 helped bring a close to the late nineteenth-century suppression of Indian resistance to white migration into the Trans-Mississippi West.

Dawes Severalty Act

This 1887 law revised official government policy with regard to Indian lands. The law terminated tribal ownership of land and alloted some parcels of land to individual Indians. By dividing reservation lands into privately-owned parcels, legislators hoped to complete the assimilation process by forcing the deterioration of the communal life-style of the Native societies; it was hoped that Natve Americans would learn the benefit of owning and cultivating property. Most allotment land, which could be sold after a statutory period of 25 years, was eventually sold to non-Native buyers at bargain prices.

Comstock Lode

This was the first major U.S. deposit of silver ore, discovered under what is now Virginia City, Nevada. After the discovery was made public in 1859, prospectors rushed to the area to stake their claims. Excavations yielded about $400 million in silver and gold.

transcontinental railroad

The Pacific Railroad Act, passed in June 1862 by the U.S. Congress, authorized the building of this--a railroad across the continental United States. The Union Pacific Railroad worked westward from Omaha, Nebraska to meet the rails of the Central Pacific, which had built eastward from Sacramento, California. The railroad was completed on May 10, 1869, when crews of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroad lines met and joined tracks at Promontory Summit, Utah.

Joseph Glidden

This American farmer patented barbed wire, a product that forever altered the development of the American West. Barbed wire made it affordable to fence much larger areas than before, so intensive animal husbandry was practical on a much larger scale. Within 25 years, nearly all of the open range had been fenced in under private ownership. For this reason, some historians have dated the end of the Old West era of American history to the invention and subsequent proliferation of barbed wire. The inventor gave 63 acres of his homestead as a site for a small school that would become Northern Illinois University.

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