Immigrants and Urbanization 267
Terms & NamesTerms & NamesMAIN IDEAMAIN IDEA
One American's Story
Politics in the
WHY IT MATTERS NOWWHY IT MATTERS NOW
•James A. Garﬁeld
•Chester A. Arthur
Local and national political
corruption in the 19th
century led to calls for
Political reforms paved the way
for a more honest and efﬁcient
government in the 20th century
Mark Twain described the excesses of the late 19th centu-
ry in a satirical novel, The Gilded Age, a collaboration with
the writer Charles Dudley Warner. The title of the book
has since come to represent the period from the 1870s to
the 1890s. Twain mocks the greed and self-indulgence of
his characters, including Philip Sterling.
A PERSONAL VOICE
MARK TWAIN AND CHARLES DUDLEY WARNER
“ There are many young men like him [Philip Sterling] in
American society, of his age, opportunities, education
and abilities, who have really been educated for nothing
and have let themselves drift, in the hope that they will
ﬁnd somehow, and by some sudden turn of good luck, the
golden road to fortune. . . . He saw people, all around
him, poor yesterday, rich to-day, who had come into sud-
den opulence by some means which they could not have
classiﬁed among any of the regular occupations of life.”
—The Gilded Age
Twain’s characters ﬁnd that getting rich quick is more difﬁcult than they had
thought it would be. Investments turn out to be worthless; politicians’ bribes eat
up their savings. The glittering exterior of the age turns out to hide a corrupt
political core and a growing gap between the few rich and the many poor.
The Emergence of Political Machines
In the late 19th century, cities experienced rapid growth under inefﬁcient govern-
ment. In a climate inﬂuenced by dog-eat-dog Social Darwinism, cities were receptive
to a new power structure, the political machine, and a new politician, the city boss.
behind a New
York City shanty-
town in 1889.
THE POLITICAL MACHINE An organized group that controlled the activities of
a political party in a city, the political machine also offered services to voters
and businesses in exchange for political or ﬁnancial support. In the decades
after the Civil War, political machines gained control of local government in
Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, and other major cities.
The machine was organized like a pyramid. At the pyramid’s base were local
precinct workers and captains, who tried to gain voters’ support on a city block or
in a neighborhood and who reported to a ward boss. At election time, the ward boss
worked to secure the vote in all the precincts in the ward, or electoral district. Ward
bosses helped the poor and gained their votes by doing favors or providing services.
As Martin Lomasney, elected ward boss of Boston’s West End in 1885,...