The term "Gilded Age" refers to the post-Reconstruction era in the late 1800's. The phrase originally began with Mark Twain. Gilded means "covered with a thin layer of gold," and so the Gilded Age implied that while this time period seemed to be a prosperous one for America, only a thin layer of prosperity covered the poverty and corruption of the time period. While many labels have been used to describe the time period, the "Gilded Age" is the most accurate when describing the time period.
The largest economic issue concerning in the Gilded Age was determining the Federal government's role in the business sector of America. In the late 1800's, businesses operated for the most part without government regulation. This hands-off approach to economic matters is known as "Laissez-fare," and holds that government should play a very limited role in business. This was the predominant economic theory in the late 1800's, but it quickly acquired opposing factions.
Supporters of this strategy maintained that if government does not interfere, the strongest businesses would succeed and bring wealth to the nation as a whole. Opponents of this theory proclaimed that if government did not regulate the business sector, it would become corrupt.
The strongest political issue of this time involved the spoils system, in which elected officials appointed friends and supporters to government jobs, regardless of their qualifications. Politicians liked the spoils system because it ensured them a loyal group of supporters in future elections. However, government as a result was filled with unqualified, dishonest employees. This issue was made pertinent during the brief Garfield administration. Garfield was elected primarily through Stalwart Republicans, the faction of the Republican Party that was a strong advocate for the spoils system. A man named Charles Guiteau, who was a strong supporter of the...