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Reforms in the Gilded Age Essay

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Updated: Nov 18th, 2018

In America, gilded age refers to the period between the years 1860 and 1900. Mark Twain and Charles Warner coined the term to refer to the years after the civil war (Twain & Warner). Twain and Warner were concerned with the widespread corruption and greed in America during the late 19th century.

During this period, North America’s economy grew drastically attracting numerous immigrants from Europe and Asia. With increased immigration, America achieved an unmatched growth in infrastructure (Twain & Warner). Across the country, railroads, telephone lines and factories were constructed creating numerous opportunities.

As a result, consumers were able to access cheaper goods and services. Similarly, improved infrastructure and increased markets offered entrepreneurs with numerous opportunities. With an increased economy, American society subdivided into the following social classes: lower class, middle class and upper class. The Upper class and the middle class celebrated the growth of the American economy, while the lower class lamented over it (Walker 145).

As a result, American aristocrats were faced with numerous challenges from the poor workers who struggled with abject poverty. In the South, African Americans were denied the chance to exercise their civil rights. I noted that the American politics, at the period, were remarkable despite of the widespread corruption in the political arena. Reformers adopted several approaches to end social injustices, demand for better labor rights, and denounce corrupt politicians.

After analyzing the American history, I identified that it was during this period that the first labor unions in America were organized. I noted that the period was characterized by low wages, hostile working environments and long working hours. Equally, entrepreneurs worsened the labor situations by subdividing the unskilled workforce. Similarly, I recognized that with the mass usage of machines, skilled and unskilled laborers ended up with limited occupational mobility.

Through the labor unions, workers collectively campaigned for better labor rights (Trachtenberg & Eric Foner). In this regard, I believe that the current labor rights, enjoyed by American laborers, could not have been achieved without the efforts of the gilded age laborers. All through the unrests, I noted that the middle class were greatly affected by the unrest, and in turn intervened between the workers and the entrepreneurs. Following the unrest, entrepreneurs worked tirelessly to suppress the labor unions.

To repress the employees, employers sorted to intimidations. It was not until the early 20th century that the labor rights were fully acknowledged by the factory owners (Shrock 123). Though the unions’ goals took longer to be achieved, I believe that the current American labor rights are as a result of continuous efforts by the activists since the gilded age. In my opinion, the approach taken by the employees through strikes and unrests was effective in ensuring that their goals were met.

To emphasize the need for social change in the gilded age, I noted that the middle class and the lower class worked collectively to achieve the needed civil reforms. In the year 1881, an angered citizen assassinated President James Garfield (Schlesinger 45). The assassin had earlier missed an employment opportunity he felt he deserved.

As a result, the killer assassinated the president blaming his government for his misfortunes. Following the death of President James Garfield, calls for reforms in the patronage system were initiated. Consequently, in the year 1883, Pendleton act was passed into law. Through this act, fair methods were introduced to enhance the selection of job seekers.

With these incidences, I realized that the gilded politicians were not only unfair but also and unjust. Although I disagree with the killing of President James Garfield, I do feel that the approaches taken by the civil reformists were warranted for the fulfillment of their goals.

In my studies, I realized that most of the gilded Age reformists were from the middle class. These reformists opposed the Social Darwinism theory asserted by the gilded age elites. Instead, they were actively involved in slums up gradation and poverty reduction programs within their communities.

Through this, the lower class adopted the values of the middle class, and in turn took progressive steps towards ending poverty (Morgan 125). In my view, the gilded age middle class philanthropic acts should be a challenge to us to advocate for all efforts aimed at reducing poverty levels and unemployment rates within our societies.

In my opinion, not all the approaches used by the reformists were effective. During the period, reformers blamed alcohol consumption for most the social problems in their societies (Morgan 78). As a result, several regions in America banned alcohol consumption within their jurisdictions.

I noted that American women supported this temperance in huge numbers. By analyzing this approach, I identified that most of its proponents had their own vested interests. In my opinion, the proponents were only after damaging the catholic immigrants’ image.

During the period, most drunkards were catholic immigrants. Through the studies, one cannot clearly comprehend the connection between the gilded age social problems and alcohol consumption. For this reason, I believe that the social reformists never achieved their goals through banning alcohol consumption in America.

In the year 1887, the congress was pushed to pass the Interstate Commerce Act. The law regulated the railroad companies. In the year 1890, it was realized that the law was ineffective. Another ineffective law was the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. This act was signed into law in the year 1890 with the aim of illegalizing trusts in America (Johnson & Harvey 95). In my view, these approaches were only effective in their theoretical forms and not in their practical forms. As such, the authorities found it hard to implement them.

To sum up, we should all accept that the gilded age reformists’ approaches shaped and helped America attain its global economic dominance. During the gilded age, America witnessed industrious entrepreneurs who helped industrialize America (Horgan 34).

While we acknowledge the deplorable conditions the gilded age Americans workforce underwent through, we should not fail to acknowledge the efforts played by their entrepreneurs. It is through these entrepreneurs’ efforts that we enjoy better goods, better services, reduced unemployment rates and improved lifestyles. In my opinion, we should acknowledge that the current reforms our country enjoys were initiated by the gilded age reformers.

Towards the end of the gilded age, Americans began to recognize the need to elect morally upright leaders into public offices (Foner & John 67). In this regard, we should recognize and acknowledge the efforts played by the gilded age reformists in ensuring that America attains just and fair political system. In general, most of the approaches taken by reformers to the problems of an industrial society were effective in meeting their goals.


Foner, Eric, and John A. Garraty. The Reader’s companion to American history. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1991. Print.

Horgan, Paul. Conquistadors in North American history. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1963. Print.

Johnson, Thomas Herbert, and Harvey Wish. The Oxford companion to Am history. New York: Oxford University Press, 1966. Print.

Morgan, H. Wayne. The gilded age, a reappraisal.. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1963. Print.

Morgan, H. Wayne. The gilded age. Rev. and enl. ed. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1970. Print.

Schlesinger, Arthur M.. The cycles of American history. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986. Print.

Shrock, Joel. The Gilded Age. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004. Print.

Trachtenberg, Alan, and Eric Foner. The incorporation of America: culture and society in the gilded age. New York: Hill and Wang, 1982. Print.

Twain, Mark, and Charles Dudley Warner. The gilded age. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.

Walker, Robert Harris. The poet and the gilded age; social themes in late 19th century American verse. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1963. Print.

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