2.7 – The Gilded Age, Unions, and Populists

In the first section of class, I will lecture on the Gilded Age, income inequality, and corruption in American politics and economic life. There are no assigned readings for that section. Instead, focus on the rise of Labor Unions and the Populists and consider the ways that wealthy capitalists sought to defeat reform efforts.

Readings

PBS, The Gilded Age and Millionaires’ row
“Politics in the Gilded Age”
Learn NC, Rise of Labor Unions
Carnegie and Homestead (video) or Homestead Strike
History Matters, Broken Spirits: Letters from the Pullman Strike
Populism and Agrarian Discontent
Omaha Platform
William Jennings Bryan, “Cross of Gold” speech (1896)

Discussion questions

What are some of the most conspicuous examples of “conspicuous consumption” by wealthy Americans in the late 19th century?

What were conditions like for factory workers in the United States in the late 19th century?

For those factory workers who sought to improve their conditions, what reforms did they promote and what strategies did they use to attempt to achieve those goals?

Identify three major Labor Unions from the late 19th century and early 20th century. 

Identify three major examples of violent clashes between Labor Unions and capitalists.

Section II

What were conditions like for farmers in the United States in the late 19th century?

For those farmers who sought to improve their conditions, what reforms did they promote and what strategies did they use to attempt to achieve those goals? 

How much political success did Populists (and sympathetic Democrats such as William Jennings Bryan) have?

What strategies did wealthy capitalists use to attempt to defeat reform efforts by Unions and Populists?

Optional extra credit essay question (see syllabus for details):

In your view, should the Populists be seen as a more successful political movement than Labor Unions? Why or why not?

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