In Chapter 20, we focus on the interaction of the political, economic, and social forces within American society during the Gilded Age. This period is characterized by high public interest in local, state, and national elections, political balance between Democrats and Republicans at the national level, and factional and personal feuds within the two parties. Democrats and Republicans in Congress were split on the major national issues: sectional controversies, civil service reform, railroad regulation, tariff policy, and monetary policy. Though Congress debated these issues, factionalism, interest-group politics, and political equilibrium resulted in the passage of vaguely worded, ineffective legislation such as the Pendleton Civil Service Act, the Interstate Commerce Act, and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Combined with a conservative Supreme Court, weak presidential leadership, and political campaigns that focused on issues of personality rather than issues of substance, these factors caused the postponement of decisions on major issues affecting the nation and its citizens.
The political impasse built up frustration within aggrieved groups in the nation. Southern blacks, who lived under the constant threat of violence and who remained economically dependent on whites, had to endure new forms of social oppression in the form of disfranchisement and "Jim Crow- laws. This oppression was, in turn, upheld by the Supreme Court, which interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment narrowly. Women were frustrated in their attempts to gain the right to vote by the sexist attitudes prevalent in the male-dominated power structures of the era. Aggrieved workers turned to organized labor, to strikes, and, at times, to violence (discussed in Chapter 18). Aggrieved farmers also began to organize. In "Agrarian Unrest and Populism,"" we examine the reasons for agrarian discontent and trace the manifestation of that discontent from the Grange, through the Farmers' Alliances, to the formation of the Populist Party and the drafting of the Omaha platform in 1892.