The Gilded Age thrived on the power of industry and the excess of the wealthy; robber barons like Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and J.P. Morgan were able to build empires out of arising inventions and factory labor. The same time, America was also expanding its borders and filling it with these presumed reaps of the American Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, this came at a cost. Even with the additions of continental railroads, America’s attempt at maintaining a prominent sense of unification and interconnection under broadened borders was unsuccessful. The country still fell apart to divisions; there was the North, South, and West.
James Madison and John Locke foresaw the temptation that would arise out of such circumstances. Great divisions meant many tribulations for the government to overcome; politicians would have to build immunity against the desire for a centralized seat of power as a counter to control the vast lands that America populated; centralization warranted a weak republic, easily left to the mercy of powerful interest groups. Unfortunately, the government that arose out of Reconstruction and that was born out of the Gilded Age was exactly that - centralized.
Anyone who dared oppose such corruption, or obvious display of labor of representative exploitation, were often silenced by the affluent powerhouses of the Gilded Age. Most famously, these said powerhouses harbored an expressive fear of labor unions who were the primary opposers of labor inequality - a social issue that was often ignored by government officials due to their associations with victimizing corporations.
Labor unions, the only safeguards against corporate corruption, were ineffective during the Gilded Age. They were silenced by powerhouses like robber baron, Andrew Carnegie. In general, politicians like Beveridge, Cleveland, and Hill too, were impervious to the struggles of those in the factories, railroads, and farms. They were resistant to their plights, even when events like the Homestead Strike occurred, and when journalists like Upton Sinclair, came about with stories broadcasting the harsh conditions in which they labored under. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, was published in 1906 during the height of the Industrial Revolution. His book focused on the new immigrants of America, a demography primarily composing the working class of America, and how they were exploited without regard. In his novel, he perfectly surmised the population which Beveridge and other politicians neglected:
"Here was a population, low-class and mostly foreign, hanging always on the verge of starvation, and dependent for its opportunities of life upon the whim of men every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as the old-time slave drivers under such circumstances immorality was exactly as inevitable, and as prevalent, as it was under the system of chattel slavery...only they did not show...difference in color between master and slave" (Sinclair 151).
Sinclair saw with clear eyes the frightening truth of what was happening to America, saw that “the great corporations which employed you lied to you, and lied to the whole country,” - he saw and wrote what was happening, yet nothing was done to save the corrupted democracy which America had fallen into (88).
Unfortunately, the end of the Gilded Age did not mean the extinction of corruption. To this day, there is still a disparity between social classes as a preference for the wealthy is still prevalent. American policymaking is still biased towards the elite and disregards the middle and lower class. Higher wage occupations and rewards are still being given out to those with elite, professional jobs and are inaccessible from those starting from the bottom of the ladder. Those at the lower end of the professional world are subjected to lower salaries, weaker unions, and expendable positions.
The Founding Fathers of America based off the government from John Locke’s idea of a Social Contract. They believed that human beings did need a government which they would give some of their individual rights to, in return for them agreeing to essentially protect the people from their worst vices. The economy of the Gilded Age was unstable and unequal; it saw a preference for the wealthy and a brutal disregard for those beneath them. It created a hierarchy that gave power to to the affluent elite, which in turn gave them the ability to influence political decisions that were advantageous for them and their businesses. Journals, such as those analyzed by William Reuter, and novels, like The Jungle, were ignored by the majority of those they were preaching to. Both Robber Barons and conniving businessmen, like Carnegie and Tweed, were able to evade persecution and correction for unfair labor conditions and illegal monetary decisions respectively, because politicians willingly overlooked them to preserve their precious relationship with the companies. Politicians, like Albert Beveridge, pushed for repeals and policies unfavorable and inconsiderate of the effects it would have on the working class who were already suffering. Locke’s government was superseded by an industrial government and failed to protect the American public because political parties looked towards “large capitalists who, in turn, expected subservience from the politicians, especially on issues affecting their businesses," said Leon Fink, the author of Major Problems in the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era: Documents and Essays.
Today's society is built on capitalist ideals, and while there is no fault on that, there is a fault on how it is thriving. As the majority, it is up to today's citizens to proactively be aware of any labor affronts and to be able to both address and rectify them. Only then might there be a truly stable and justified capitalist society.