The Gilded Age

By Ian Ziller
Political Science Major

Through the 19th century and early 20th there was a period in U.S. political history known as the “Gilded Age,” which was a time marked by political corruption and where corporate interests dominated the political system. For example, patronage and the powerful political machine dominated the political system, and the way it worked was like this: the wealthy political machine world run candidates who supported them, then they would pay voters to vote a certain way on election way. Sometimes they would provide housing to the poor and expect votes, and then once their candidates got in power they would perform public building projects that cost money and they would pay money in exchange for the building. Contracts for these projects were given to the machine, and the contracts favored the political machines, often giving them a great deal with them being paid by the government (which was controlled by their supporters) many times what the projects were worth.
That was one part of the corruption during this period. Another part of the system was the civil service or government jobs, in which after elections politicians would give these jobs to their political supporters. To address this corruption, the system had two reforms. One was the invention of the secret ballot, and the second reform was a change in the government jobs so that people got jobs based on qualifications and not based on knowing elected leaders.
These reforms were good. We still have some problems today, but the reforms were for the best.


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