The Gilded Age

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The gilded age represented as one of the dark periods in the American History.  Mark Twain represented the period as one that would be characterized by greed, hypocrisy, and folly of ordinary citizens.  The Gilded Age has been portrayed as one of the dark periods in American history. A period filled with greed, corruption, harsh exploitation of labor and brutal industrial competition. Buried beneath the one-dimensional portrait is a complex set of facts that possessed positive elements. The Gilded age was also characterized by rapid industrialization that altered the nation from an agricultural based economy to an urbanized and industrial nation whose values changed changing speedily due different factors. Monopolies brought efficiency and order. Wealth encouraged philanthropy efforts. There are various events introduced in the post-civil war era that closely represent Twain’s Imagery of the “Gilded Age”. This paper discusses these events.

Events closely represent Twain’s Imagery of the “Gilded Age”.

The Gilded Age was a dynamic, volatile and contentious periods in the history of America. It was accompanied by what many saw as a harsh era of incredible economic exploitation and an equally staggering disparity between the rich and the poor. By early 1870s, the federal government stopped signing treaties with Native Americans and replaced the treaty system with a law providing individuals with the right to own land that had previously been tribal property.  Senator Henry Dawes was a solid believer in the civilization of private property. His belief in the premise was so strong that he sponsored federal legislation allowing for the allotment of individual land among Indians. The consequences of Dawes Act were disastrous as it broke up communally owned tribal land almost destroyed Indian traditions, communities, and culture.  Approximately a million acres of land was dispossessed leaving the community with fewer ways to sustain them.  Indian land also became open for white European settlers who were eager to fulfill the mandates of Manifest Destiny. In the long run, the Dawes Act became an effective way to realize the imperialist and colonial strategy against Indigenous Peoples using divide-and-conquer approach. The strategy made use of economic, military and political tactics to gain power over breaking other powers (Otis, 2014).

Opportunities in mining and trade out significantly impacted values during this period. On the other hand, they were also influenced by values that characterized this period. The most obvious are the distraction of culture and way of Indians. Through the Dawes Act, reformers anticipated breaking down tribal bonds and influence Indians to adopt sedentary agriculture. During the Gilded Age, there was significant industrialization and Large-Scale Exploitation of Natural Resources. The age was characterized by imaginative and ambitious capitalists looking for commerce opportunities.  The country’s country’s industrial base grew rapidly while business moved erratically from upswings to slumps. Mines and Factories labored heavily to provide necessary raw materials and finished goods required in the expansion of the transport system.

Individual prospectors explored different parts of the country and desert basins for minerals.  Using eastern-trained engineers and hired laborers, the mining corporations took over. Mining set a mood of optimism in the United States despite widespread suffering by displaced American Indians, industrial workers, and southern sharecroppers.The period also saw a small number of large firms dominate the country. With a monopoly, came large and complex problems. These problems influenced the creation of Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887 to curtail cutthroat competition and ensure reasonable and just competition (Trachtenberg, 2007).

Values also considerably influenced Commerce activities. By taking a closer look at Gilded Age, it is clear to see considerable discomfort experienced by Americans. During the period that Twain and Warner wrote their satire, other reform politicians, and social critics appeared. There was an increasing voicing of concerns on political corruption and economic exploitation that characterized the period.  Agrarian reformers and labor organizers began experimenting with a range of political and organizational and approach to increase their own power.  These had a positive influence on the values of successful players in the economic order of the Gilded Age.  For example, being the most powerful industrialist of the era, John D. Rockefeller recognized the importance of defending his practices and the vastness of his oil empire. Also, Andrew Carnegie realized the significance of articulating a philosophy that protected the enormous personal fortunes accumulated. These are two examples of Americans who represent a change in values. The essence was that America’s traditions had to be mollified rather than recklessly ignored. As a result, philanthropy and philosophy were sought to soften the rough edges of the period.

Manifest Destiny was inspired by nationalist as well as an idealistic vision of human perfectibility.  One of the goals of manifest destiny was to explore factors that encouraged that transition between economies. Changing the manufacturing and industrial sectors became a factor in achieving this goal. Governments found it necessary to provide essential services to the public but restrain from taking responsibility for individual welfare. People were responsible for their own fate. These values can be traced in Gilded Age. The path of Manifest Destiny underscores the white man’s belief that civilization of its native peoples and settlement of the land was preordained. These values are reflected in Gilded Age through Dawes Act (Prince, 2016).


Otis, D. S. (2014). The Dawes Act and the allotment of Indian lands (Vol. 123). University of Oklahoma Press.

Prince, M. J. (2016). 6 The myth of the American West,“Manifest Destiny,” and the frontier. Approaches to American Cultural Studies.

Trachtenberg, A. (2007). The incorporation of America: Culture and society in the gilded age. Macmillan.

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