The rambunctious world of Gilded Age politics, with its boisterous partisan rallies and three-hour long declamations on the finer points of tariff schedules and monetary policy, passed from the scene of American politics rather abruptly about a century ago. Despite its superficial similarities with politics today — sex scandals, corporate influence, and partisan gridlock in Washington — the spirit and substance of Gilded Age politics was quite different from political discourse today. Politics was a national obsession to nineteenth century Americans. Partisanship was open and vigorous because common people believed the issues were important and political parties represented divergent viewpoints. Men (and in a few places women) of every ethnic and racial background, and from every walk of life, overwhelmingly participated in America's democratic experiment. This made Gilded Age politicians some of the greatest heroes and villains of the era.
Worth Robert Miller is Professor of History at Southwest Missouri State University. He is the author of “Farmers and Third-Party Politics in Late Nineteenth-Century America,” in The Gilded Age: Essays on the Origins of Modern America, ed. Charles W. Calhoun. His web site on Populism is located at http://historv.smsu.edu/wrmiller