The Reaction to Corporate Industrialism: 1882-1887

Politics of the period

Republicans nominated James Blaine of Maine as president and the Democrats nominated Governor Grover Cleveland of New York. Republicans became suspicious about Blaine’s honesty and changed their vote during the 1884 election from Blaine to Cleveland which ultimately cost Blaine the election. However, Cleveland barely defeated Blaine, by a margin of only forty electoral votes and a paltry 30,000 popular votes.

Presidential Succession Act of 1886

The death of Vice-President Hendricks in 1885 led to a decision to change the line of succession (established in 1792) from the president pro tempore of the Senate to the Cabinet officers in order of creation of their departments to maintain party leadership.. This system lasted until 1947 when the Speaker of the House was declared third in line.
Vice President
Secretary of State
Secretary of Treasury
Secretary of War
Other cabinet secretaries...

Executive Appointments

President Cleveland insisted that executive appointments and removals were the prerogative of the executive and not the Senate. This was the first time since Andrew Johnson that a president had strengthened the independence of his office.

The Economy

The Economy during this period was booming for a very small group of the American population. Large corporations and monopolies prospered and provided jobs. However, there was still a large gap between social classes. Robber barons such as John D. Rockefeller in oil, J.P. Morgan in banking and Andrew Carnegie in steel, put together major industrial empires.

Big Business

There was a concentration of wealth and power in the hands of only a very small group of people which led to monopoly capitalism that minimized competition. This process, in turn, led to a demand by smaller businessmen, farmers and laborers for government regulation of the economy in order to promote capital competition for the salvation of free enterprise economics.

Interstate Commerce Act 1887

Popular resentment of railroad abuses such as price fixing, kickbacks and discriminatory freight rates created demands for state regulation of the railway industry. When the Supreme Court ruled individual state laws unconstitutional because only Congress had the right to control interstate commerce, the Interstate Commerce Act was passed providing that a commission be established to oversee fair and just railway rates, prohibit rebates, end discriminatory practices and require annual reports and financial statements.

Farming Issues

Agrarians continued their westward expansion. The amount of land under cultivation between 1870 and 1890 had nearly doubled from 400 to 800 million acres. Transcontinental railroads and modern farming machinery contributed to national prosperity. However, many farmers were concerned about low farm prices resulting from surplus production, railroad rate discrimination and the lack of sufficient silver currency to promote price inflation. There was so much agricultural overproduction that the American farmer produced far too much for his own good. As more and more crops were being dumped onto the American market, it depressed the prices farmers could demand for their produce. Farmers also fell victim to the tariff policy. They were forced to buy all the manufactured goods they needed for survival on a market protected by tariff legislation at artificially high prices while selling they produced on a largely unprotected and highly competitive market at low prices because of oversupply and foreign competition. Farmers were growing more and more but making less and less. Agrarian groups called for government regulation of the economy to help their problems. Many of their problems were determined by the participation of American agriculture in global markets.

American Federation of LaborAFLSymbol.gif


The AFL was founded by Samuel Gompers in 1886 and concentrated on better wages, working conditions, shorter work days and the creation of all-union workplaces for its members. The federation grew quietly, coordinating efforts for several dozen independent labor unions. Unlike the National Labor Union and Knights of Labor, the AFL only represented skilled white male craftsmen in the cities. Despite their limitation in members, the AFL would become one of the most powerful labor unions.

Tariff Policy

The aim of American protective tariffs was to try to guarantee the American market to the American manufacturer of finished products at a profit. The federal government consciously sought to achieve this aim as a means of encouraging the industrial revolution. By putting an import tax on manufactured foods being imported into the US by foreign manufacturers, the government hoped to make them more expensive. Although still protecting many American industries, the tariff of 1883 lowered duties by an average of 5 %. Tariffs were one of the many reasons why American industry grew so quickly.

Social and Cultural Developments

The Economy during this period was booming for a very small group of the American population. Large corporations and monopolies prospered and provided jobs. However, there was still a large gap between social classes. Robber barons such as John D. Rockefeller in oil, J.P. Morgan in banking and Andrew Carnegie in steel, put together major industrial empires.


Newspapers and Magazines

The linotype machine was inventred by Otto Mergenthaler in 1886 and it cut printing costs dramaticlinotype.jpgally. Press associations flourished and publishing became big business. In 1884, Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian –born immigrant, was the first publisher to reach a mass audience when he sold 100,000 copies of the New York World. Another New York publisher, William Randolph Hearst pushed scandal and sensationalism to new heights. Magazines also became widely popular. New magazines such as Forum and Ladies’ Home Journal appeared in 1886.

Education: higher, public

Colleges and universities expanded and introduced more of a modern curriculum because of the change from an agricultural to an industrial economy and from rural to urban living. There was an increase in the number of U.S. colleges because of land grant colleges established under the Morrill acts of 1862 and 1890, universities founded by philanthropists such as the University of Chicago by John D. Rockefeller, and the founding of womens colleges. By the end of the 19th century the number of women students had increased greatly. Colleges such as Smith, Bryn Mawr and Mount Holyoke were founded. Higher education was broadened by the rise of women's colleges and the admission of women to regular colleges and universities. In 1870 an estimated one fifth of resident college students were women. By 1900 this had increased to more than one third.

Public School

  • o The number of children enrolling in public school dramatically increased. Elementary schools continued to teach reading, writing, arithmetic and the traditional values. Literacy rose to 90% of the population by 1900. There were also tax-supported public high schools. These schools followed the college preparatory curriculum like private schools but soon changed to emphasize vocational and citizenship education for a more modern urban society.



Realism was the style of art during the 1880s and can be seen in the artistic works of Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer and James Whistler. Museums and art schools expanded. The wealthy spent fortunes on their own art collections.