Chester A. Arthur
(1829 - 1886) Chester A. Arthur became the 21st president (1881 - 1885) of the United States upon the death of President James A. Garfield, who died six months after being shot by assassin Charles Guiteau. Due to his work as New York's port collector and his association with the Stalwarts, Arthur was deeply mistrusted on entering office, but surprised many by devoting his administration to civil service reform.
Bland Allison Act
The Bland-Allison Act was passed in 1878 over the veto of President Rutherford B. Hayes. This law allowed the treasury to buy silver metal and circulate it as silver dollars and was lobbied for heavily by silver interests in the West.
William Jennings Bryan
(1860 - 1925) William Jennings Bryan was a prominent politician and member of the Democratic party at the turn of the 20th century. As the Democratic presidential nominee, he lost to William McKinley in the 1896 and 1900 elections but was appointed Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson. Bryan was particularly known for his rousing speeches, including his famous "Cross of Gold" speech at the 1896 Democratic Convention, which decried linking the value of the American dollar to gold alone.
(1837 - 1908) Grover Cleveland was the only U.S. president to serve two non-consecutive terms — the first from 1885 to 1889 and the second from 1893 to 1897. Cleveland's first term was marked by his commitment to fighting corruption and the spoils system in Washington; his second by economic depression and union unrest such as the Pullman Strike. In contrast to leaders who followed him, Cleveland exhibited restraint regarding American expansion. He was the only Democratic president during the period from the beginning of the Civil War until Woodrow Wilson was elected in 1913.
Cross of Gold
The Cross of Gold speech, delivered by William Jennings Bryan at the Democratic National Convention of 1896, was in favor of bimetallism — that is, linking the value of the U.S. dollar to either a fixed amount of gold or a fixed amount of silver, thus increasing the amount of money in circulation. Its name comes from the ending line in Bryan's speech: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."
Election of 1896
The presidential election of 1896 was dominated by the question of currency. Republicans and their candidate, William McKinley, supported the gold standard, while Democrats were split on the matter. The split worsened with the selection of William Jennings Bryan, a staunchly pro-silver Democrat, as the party nominee. While Bryan toured the country, using his rhetorical gifts to draw crowds, the McKinley campaign received supporters only at his home in Ohio, sending out other speakers to attack Bryan as a radical and Communist. Ultimately the tactic worked, and McKinley won with 271 electoral votes to Bryan's 176.
Farmers' Alliances grew out of the Granger Movement, but in addition to their goals of educating rural residents, the alliances had an explicitly political side. The movement was strongest in the South and Midwest, where regular droughts, debts, and market decline spurred farmers to band together for collective action. Although their success was short-lived, many consider the alliances to be the forerunners of American populism.
The free silver movement was one of the most contested political issues in late 19th- and early 20th-century America. Gold had traditionally been the standard against which the U.S. dollar was valued, but with the discovery of large amounts of silver in the West, miners and other interests began to press to back the dollar with silver as well as gold. If large amounts of silver-backed dollars were introduced into the system, some thought, the money supply would increase and bring about an end to deflating price levels.
James A. Garfield
(1831 - 1881) James A. Garfield was the 20th president (1881) of the United States and the second president to be assassinated. He was nominated to the Republican ticket as a dark-horse candidate when the Stalwarts and the rest of the party came to a deadlock. Only four months after taking office he was shot by Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled Stalwart. His term, which lasted only six months, was the second shortest in U.S. history.
The Gilded Age, an 1873 novel by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, quickly lent its title to describe the boom in industry, population, and related wealth experienced by the United States in the decades following Reconstruction. The Gilded Age was characterized by an inert and often corrupt political system, unregulated business growth, and an increasing polarization between rich and poor. It looked good on the surface but was corrupt at its center.
The granger movement was founded in 1867 as a government effort to reduce the isolation experienced by many American farmers. A Grange (the word itself an old word for granary) chapter would offer educational classes and social events in rural areas, and would often form a farmers' co-operative for buying and selling merchandise. Eventually, the Grange became involved in farm policy, such as the Munn v. Illinois case of 1877.
(1833 - 1901) Benjamin Harrison, grandson of President William Henry Harrison, was the 23rd president of the United States (1889 - 1893). He defeated incumbent president Grover Cleveland in the election of 1888. Though he promoted civil service reform on the party ticket, Harrison continued the spoils trend of assigning cabinet positions to supporters. Among the lasting legislation he passed is the Sherman Antitrust Act, the first U.S. law to limit monopolies.
Rutherford B. Hayes
(1822 - 1893) Rutherford B. Hayes was the 19th president of the United States (1877 - 1881), winning the 1876 election despite losing the popular vote to Democrat Samuel Tilden. With many electoral votes under suspicion for fraud, a congressional committee was created to decide on the victor. As part of the bipartisan compromise ending in Hayes' election, Republicans agreed to withdraw troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction.
Interstate Commerce Act
(1887) The Interstate Commerce Act established the Interstate Commerce Commission, which had the power to regulate and supervise the business practices of railroad companies.
(1843 - 1901) William McKinley was the 25th president of the United States (1897 - 1901), and served two terms spanning economic recovery, Progressive reform, and the Spanish-American War. During his terms, the United States pursued expansion aggressively, annexing Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. He was assassinated in 1901 by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz.
"Mugwumps" was the name given to Republicans who defected from the party ticket to support Grover Cleveland in the 1884 presidential election. The word itself is Algonquin and translates roughly as "great chief." It was applied in jest.
Munn v. Illinois
In Munn v. Illinois (1877), the United States Supreme Court held that in cases where a private business is used for the public good, such as in the case of grain elevators, it lies within the power of the state to regulate that business. This ruling was an important step in the growth of federal business regulation.
Drafted at the first Populist Party national conventional in 1892, the Omaha Platform formalized the party's beliefs. It supported free silver, graduated income tax, and the eight-hour workday, and called for nationalized railroad, telephone, and telegraph service and civil service reform.
Pendleton Civil Service Act
(1883) The Pendleton Civil Service Act was a milestone piece of legislation toward ending the spoils system. The act established the Civil Service Commission, which determined government employment on the basis of merit as opposed to patronage. Competitive tests were used to assign government jobs, rather than working for a winning candidate.
The People's Party, also known as the Populist Party, grew out of the political wing of the Grangers and Farmers' Alliances. In 1892, the party formally adopted a platform — known as the Omaha Platform — and nominated a candidate, James B. Weaver, for the presidential election. Though major parties still dominated the political stage, the Populists carried Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, and Idaho, bringing attention to agrarian and labor issues.
Populism is a political philosophy that privileges the "common people" above the "elites." In the late 19th century, an American Populist Party grew through farmers and pro-agrarians who wanted to challenge unfavorable economic and social policies such as railroad control and the gold standard.
Sherman Anti-Trust Act
(1890) The Sherman Antitrust Act was the first U.S. legislation to limit the growth of cartels and monopolies. It gave the government the power to investigate and prosecute businesses suspected of forming a trust. It could punish companies if they limited competition.
Sherman Silver Purchase Act
The Sherman Silver Purchase Act (1890) expanded on the Bland-Allison Act of 1878, increasing the amount of silver the U.S. Treasury was required to buy every month. Those who sold the silver received bank notes that could be redeemed for either silver or gold. With foreign investors demanding payment in gold, however, most redeemed their notes for gold, depleting supplies in the treasury and creating economic instability.
The term "spoils system" originates from a comment made by Senator William L. Marcy in 1832: "To the victor belong the spoils." The spoils system, also known as "patronage," rewards party supporters with civil service positions, contracts, or other forms of bribery. This system characterized American politics through much of the 19th century. It was limited by civil service reform acts such as the Pendleton Act.
Stalwarts and Half-Breeds
The terms "stalwarts" and "half-breeds" referred to the factions within the Republican party at the end of the 19th century. The Stalwarts were conservatives who favored continuing the spoils system propagated by political machines, while the Half-Breeds, a more moderate group, supported civil service reform.
(1856 - 1922) Tom Watson was a Georgia politician and lawyer elected to the House of Representatives by the Farmers' Alliance, and an early Democratic defector to the Populist Party. He worked to unite farmers across racial lines, encouraging blacks to join Alliance groups and bring down controlling interests.