How the Gilded Age's Top 1 Percent Thrived on CorruptionBreaking News
tags: Gilded Age, corruption, wealth gap, economy history
As the United States grew into the world’s leading industrial power during the late 19th century, those atop the economic ladder in America’s Gilded Age accumulated spectacular fortunes. By 1890, the country’s 4,000 millionaires held 20 percent of the country’s wealth, and with that enormous affluence came colossal political corruption.
Corporate titans could buy anything they wanted—including politicians. Richard White, professor emeritus of history at Stanford University and author of The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896, says the Gilded Age was among the most corrupt eras in American history primarily because of “the rise of corporations and the growth of modern means of communication that intensified the way corruption can work.”
“This is a government of the people, by the people and for the people no longer,” former president Rutherford B. Hayes wrote in his diary in 1886. “It is a government by the corporations, of the corporations and for the corporations.” Politicians took spectacularly handsome bribes from corporations and demanded kickbacks as the helping hand they extended often came with an open palm.