Gilded Age

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AP U S History Document Based Question

The years after the American Civil War have been characterized by Mark Twain and others as “The Gilded Age.” Generally, historians have emphasized the decline of human values, the low state of public morality, greed, corruption and crass materialism. Do you feel this characterization presents an accurate overall picture of the years 1865-1890? If so, what caused this marked departure from the past in a nation with such strong religious and moral cultural traditions? Use the documents and your knowledge of U S History to answer the question.

Document A

“Our agricultural products have been abundant for the last few years. The crops of cotton, four-fifths of which have been raised by the colored people since the close of the Rebellion, have been increasing annually in quantity, till that of 1880 was the largest ever made. Our exports to Europe have taken an annually wide range. . . . . So great have these exports been for the last few years that the balance of trade has been in our favor on an average of 150,000,000 dollars a year. For many years the value of our exports has been many millions in excess of our imports.” Harper’s Weekly, 1881.

Document B

“As an evidence of the increasing interest in material progress in the southern section of the country, may be cited two Expositions: one held in Atlanta, Georgia, in which were exhibited remarkably fine specimens of productions of that section, agricultural and otherwise. The Exposition partook almost of a national character, as so many of the products of mechanical industries were sent from the manufacturing centers of the northern section to be placed on exhibition. The other and similar Exposition was held in New Orleans in the winter (1884-85); the latter in its design was more comprehensive than the former. One object was to demonstrate the importance to the foreign trade of the Great Valley, in having a port so accessible as that of New Orleans; another to encourage the development of the peculiar agricultural resources around the Gulf, and also to stimulate the enterprise of our neighbors, the inhabitants of the sister republics south of the Rio Grande.” The American Pageant.

Document C

“Congress. . . . .passed a revised tariff to take effect on July 1, 1883. The main features may be summed up: in respect to imported articles of luxury and of great value the tariff was not diminished, but sometimes increased; on many articles of general use it was reduced. . . . The prosperity of the country had been so great that the people were able to purchase more than usual of high-priced foreign articles, while their industrial energy produced more than usual of home manufactures, the lower tariff on the cheaper grades not having been changed enough to make any difference either in volume of importations or in home prices; in consequence, the revenue from both sources was diminished only forty-two million instead of the seventy anticipated.” Harper’s Weekly, 1885.

Document D

". . . . . A due regard for the interests and prosperity of all the people demands that . . . our system of revenue shall be so adjusted as to relieve she people of unnecessary taxation, . . . . .and preventing the accumulation of a surplus in the Treasury to tempt extravagance and waste. . . . The people demand reform in the administration of the Government, and the application of business principles to public affairs. As a means to this end Civil Service reform should be in good faith enforced. . . . In the administration of a government pledged to do equal and exact justice to all men, there should be no pretext for anxiety touching the protection of the freedmen in their rights or their security in the enjoyment of their privileges under the Constitution and its Amendments. . . . The fact that they are citizens entitles them to all the rights due to that relation, and charges them with all its duties, obligations and...
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