The American Pageant (12th Edition)

Chapter 23 – Page 525-26

Our Critique

525–26 “Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, and Cleveland are often referred to as the ‘forgettable presidents.’ Bewhiskered and bland in person, they left mostly blanks—or blots—on the nation’s political record, as issues like the tariff, the money question, and the rights of labor continued to fester. What little political vitality existed in Gilded Age America was to be found in local settings or in Congress, which overshadowed the White House for most of this period. But before the century ended, down-and-out debtors and disgruntled workers would make one last titanic effort to wring reform out of the political system—in the momentous election of 1896.”

Bailey’s biases are on full display here in this closing paragraph of his chapter on Gilded Age politics. He calls the six Gilded Age presidents “forgettable” (perhaps Harrison was) and yet they helped slash almost two-thirds of the national debt; they stabilized the monetary system; they reformed the civil service; they laid the foundation for voting and civil rights for blacks; and they oversaw a remarkable economic expansion that vaulted the United States into world leadership.

In the last sentence, Bailey shows further biases. In the 1896 election, the Democrats and the Populists would nominate William Jennings Bryan, who campaigned hard for more taxes, more federal spending, more inflation, and more silver subsidies. Bailey, rather than being skeptical of these ideas, calls them “one last titanic effort to wring reform out of the political system.”