After the soaring ideals and tremendous sacrifices
of the Civil War, the postCivil War era was generally one of disillusionment.
Politicians from the White House to the courthouse were often surrounded by
corruption and scandal, while the actual problems afflicting industrializing
America festered beneath the surface.
The popular war hero Grant was a poor politician
and his administration was rife with corruption. Despite occasional futile
reform efforts, politics in the Gilded Age was monopolized by the two patronage-fattened
parties, which competed vigorously for spoils while essentially agreeing on
most national policies. Cultural differences, different constituencies, and
deeply felt local issues fueled intense party competition and unprecedented
voter participation. Periodic complaints by Mugwump reformers
and soft-money advocates failed to make much of a dent on politics.
The deadlocked contested 1876 election led to
the sectional Compromise of 1877, which put an end to Reconstruction. An oppressive
system of tenant farming and racial supremacy and segregation was thereafter
fastened on the South, enforced by sometimes lethal violence. Racial prejudice
against Chinese immigrants was also linked with labor unrest in the 1870s
Garfields assassination by a disappointed
office seeker spurred the beginnings of civil-service reform, which made politics
more dependent on big business. Cleveland, the first Democratic president
since the Civil War, made a lower tariff the first real issue in national
politics for some time. But his mild reform efforts were eclipsed by a major
economic depression that began in 1893, a crisis that deepened the growing
outcry from suffering farmers and workers against a government and economic
system that seemed biased toward big business and the wealthy.