This week at In The Past Lane, the history podcast, we present Part 2 of our multi-episode examination of the Gilded Age. In this episode, we take a hard look at the dark side of the Gilded Age – all the troubling trends that challenged the ebullient celebration of progress in the late 19th century. We’ll start by talking about the broad fear that the US was becoming Europeanized – not ethnically, but rather politically and socially. If the great fear in the 20th century was that America might descend into communism, the 19th century equivalent was that America would regress towards Europeanism – that is, become a society dominated by an entrenched aristocracy, fixed social classes, stifled opportunity, and incessant social unrest. Then we’ll examine the key trends that stoked this fear of creeping Europeanization – the rise of powerful corporations, the extraordinary and undemocratic political power wielded by industrialists, the sense among workers and farmers that upward mobility was diminishing due to manipulation of the economy by big business, the troubling arrogance of “robber baron” industrialists, and the soaring incidence of labor-capital conflict.
Among the many things discussed in this episode:
What troubling trends in the Gilded Age challenged the notion that it was an era of progress?
What was different about the modern corporations that emerged in the Gilded Age.
Why some Americans have always feared monopoly power.
Why did many Americans in the Gilded Age fear the US was regressing towards a European-style society of inequality, aristocracy, and stifled opportunity?
How and why the wealthy of the Gilded Age adopted the opulent lifestyles of European aristocrats.
Why many Americans in the Gilded Age were concerned about the soaring number of labor strikes.
Why American workers and farmers in the Gilded Age believed that big business was stifling their opportunities for success and upward mobility.
How Gilded Age Americans came to fear the undemocratic political power of Big Business.
Sven Beckert, The Monied Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850-1896 (2001)
Rebecca Edwards, New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age: 1865-1905 (2006)
Michael McGerr, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920 (2003)
Edward T. O’Donnell, Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age (2015)
Nell Irvin Painter, Standing at Armageddon: A Grassroots History of the Progressive Era (1987)
Heather Cox Richardson, The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Civil War North, 1865-1901 (2001)
Richard White, The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 (Oxford, 2017)
PBS’s American Experience documentary, “The Gilded Age”
Related ITPL Podcast Episodes:
Episode 052 What Was the Gilded Age? Part 1
Episode 44 with Richard White on the Gilded Age and Reconstruction
Music for This Episode
Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (JayGMusic.com)
Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)
Jon Luc Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)
The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)
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