0905hw-1.jpgTable of Contents
I. Overview
Electoral Map from the Election of 1896

II. Leading up to the Depression and the Social Crisis
III. The Gilded Age
IV. The Populist Party
V. The Depression
VI. The Election of 1896

I. Overview
Before the late 1800s, America had been a rural country. People in this time owned their own farms and worked for themselves and not for wages. This meant that there was not a large gap between the rich and the poor. In the late 1800s America began to change. This change resulted in industrialism in the North, fast growing cities with large populations, and a greater gap between the rich and the poor. The shift went mostly undisputed due to the preoccupation with the division between the North and South and the Civil War. However, by the 1890s the change could no longer go unseen and America experienced the panic and depression of 1893 and the social crisis that arose soon after.

II. Leading up to the Depression and the Social Crisis
a. The Railroads
The major development of railroads in the late 1800s were an imperative factor in the of the American economy. Railroads made a market for goods that was larger in scale than anything that had previously existed. With railroads came mass consumption, mass production, and economic specialization. Railroads spurred America ahead into mass industrialization and opened up nationwide markets that expanded the economy.
b. Technology
The mass industrialism that helped change America's economy was aided by new technologies and innovations. These new technologies made work faster so that more could be done and this led to mass consumption. Due to the fact that industries were putting out more and more products and the worlds market was expanding, new businesses were created to sell these new goods.
c. Concentration of Wealth
Industrialization and mass consumption lead , a concentration of wealth that was new to America. There were new and sharply felt class divisions that resulted in the very rich, the middle class, and the very poor. This new class of millionaires and business monopolies led to laissez- faire capitalism, social gospel, and social darwinism.

III. The Gilded Age
a. Politics of the Gilded Age
Free Silver

Politics in the Gilded Age were largely unimportant and the American people turned to focus on the newly changing economy. The government was relatively inactive during this period and it practiced the new laissez-faire economics and social Darwinism. The two political parties at this time remained fairly neutral and did not take stands on any hot topics. The presidents of the Gilded Age were relatively insignificant and they failed to serve second terms. The main issues that were addressed in the politics of the Gilded Age were civil service reforms, currency and tariff problems, the money question, and the new demands for silver money.

IV. The Populist Party
a. The Omaha Platform
In the 1890s there was a great unhappiness in the South and West that originated from agrarian issues. In 1892 The Farmer's Alliance sent delegates from numerous states to Omaha, Nebraska where they established the Omaha platform. At the meeting a new political party called the People's or the Populist party was established. The Populist Party was mainly focused on breaking up the economic power that the large trusts and bankers held. The Omaha platform called for a direct election of senators, the enacting of state laws by the voters themselves, unlimited silver coinage, graduated income tax, telegraph and telephone systems that were owned by the government, loans for farmers to help them stabilize prices, and a shorter work day for factory workers.
b. The Election of 1892
In the election of 1892 a candidate from the Populist Party, James Weaver ran against Cleveland and Harrison. Although James Weaver lost the election he still obtained one million votes and made the Populist Party the first third party to win votes from the electoral college. Cleveland won the election.
V. The Depression
In 1893 the stock market crashed resulting in the panic of 1893. The stock market crashed because of over-speculation and the bankruptcy of many railroads. The panic grew into a depression that lasted for four years. President Cleveland tried to combat the depression by praising the gold standard and maintaining laissez-faire economics.
a. The Gold Reserve and Tariff Issue
Due to the depression there was a decline in silver prices which influenced people to exchange their silver dollars for gold dollars. Because of this rapid exchange, the gold reserve dropped to an extremely low level. President Cleveland's first act in response to the gold drain was to repeal Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890. When the drain did not stop, Cleveland borrowed sixty five million dollars in gold from a Wall Street banker to help the gold standard flourish. The Continued depression led to many jobless people and in 1894, Populist Jacob Coxey led a march on Washington.

You men who work from sea to sea,
All our country through, Under the flag that flutters free Its burning stars and field of blue,You want no coin but gold, gold, Gold as in the days of old,
You want no coin but gold.
. . . . Thus guard the honor of your land,
Honest hearts and hands,
Keep faith, for hearth and home demand
The care of patriot bands
Whose standard shall be gold, gold,
Gold, like a shield of old,
standard shall be gold.

--Ruth Lawrence, Bar Harbor, Maine, in New York World, 11 October 1896 (Anti-gold standard.

VI. The Election of 1896
William Jennings Bryan

By 1896 American politics were making a turning point with the repeal of the silver act and the Populists gain
William McKinley
ing ground. In the 1896 election, the Democrats became divided between those who valued the gold standard and those who were prosilver. At the Democratic Convention, William Jennings Bryan pushed himself into the spotlight with a very powerful speech. The Democrats and Populists both nominated Bryan as their candidate and therefore had to combine their campaigns to become one unified front. The Republicans nominated William Mckinley who was known for his support of high tariffs. The Republican campaign pushed the idea of a strong and prosperous nation and they used the fact the when a Democrat was president the nation entered into a four year long depression. The Republican campaign also vowed to keep up the gold standard. William McKinley won the election of 1896 at the last minute because Bryan's campaign was hit with a rise in wheat prices which made the farmers less desperate for change and employers made their workers promise not to vote for Bryan. Just as McKinley took office the economy took a turn for the better and the gold standard was revived. The election of 1896 was quite significant for numerous reasons. First, the insignificant politics of the Gilded Age ended with the presidency of McKinley. Second, the Democratic dominance was over and the Republicans took back power in Congress and thirdly, the Republicans now represented business and industry while the Democrats represented the South and the Populist supporters. After 1896 the Populist Party lost a large amount of its supporters and it slowly died out. The Republican win meant a win for industry which further pushed America into new, urban ways of life. McKinley also brought America out of isolation and into the world wide market and foreign affairs, changing the direction of American politics.