The Gilded Age Corruption
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Throughout the late 1800s, there were countless instances of corruption in American history. Business leaders were concerned first and foremost with making a profit; individuals were only looking out for their own needs. In an era when America was beginning to experience profound growth and development, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner published a novel that came to be symbolic of the culture at that time, entitled The Gilded Age. This title was eventually adopted by historians to describe the era as a whole. While, on the surface, America might appear to be a bright, shining, prosperous entity, it is only a thin layer of gold coating a corrupt, rotten society underneath.
The gap between rich and poor was astronomical during this time period: newly-arrived immigrants to the United States lived in utter squalor. Crowded tenements, prone to outbreaks of fire and disease alike, were common throughout the nation’s cities. At the same time, though, the wealthy were living in mansions that can only be described as ostentations; they held parties that demonstrated the vastness of their disposable income. This wealth did not come without a price, though it was paid by the lowest classes. Working conditions were deplorable, rents were astronomical, and individuals were cheated at every turn. Those in power in American society, whether in Washington, D.C. or in the upper echelons or urban society, lived lavishly off the blood, sweat, and tears of everyone else, and little was done to stop this corruption. It would not be until the turn of the 20th century, and even into the first decade of this new period, that the Progressive Era would begin, and that society would start to demand changes to business practices, the abuse of workers, and the division of wealth in American society.