Wikiquote:Transwiki/American History Primary Sources The Gilded Age



“In the New World man is born to conquer. Life is a perpetual struggle. A rivalry from which no one can exempt himself, a race in the open field across terrible obstacles, with the prospect of enormous rewards for reaching to goal. The American cannot keep his arms folded. He must embark on something, and once embarked he must go on and on forever; for if he stops, those who follow him would crush him under their feet. His life is one long campaign, a succession of never-ending fights, marches, and countermarches.

“In such a militant existence, what place is left for the sweetness, the repose, the intimacy of home or its joys? Is he happy? Judged by his tired, sad, exhausted, anxious, and often delicate and unhealthy appearance, one would be inclined to doubt it. Such an excess of uninterrupted labor cannot be good for any man.

“The woman suffers most from this regime. She sees her husband at most for half an hour, once in the day, and then in the evening, when, worn out with fatigue, he comes home to sleep. She cannot lighten his burden or share his anxieties and cares, for she knows nothing of his business; for want of time, there is little or no interchange of thought between them.

“As a mother, her share in the education of her children is of the smallest. As soon as her little ones can run alone, they pass their lives away from her, out of the house. They are entirely ignorant of the obedience or respect due their parents but, on the other hand, learn early to do without care or protection, to be self-sufficient. They ripen quickly and prepare themselves for the fatigues and struggles of the overexciting, harsh, adventurous life which awaits them.”

Josef Alexander, Graf von Hübner, was an Austrian diplomat who was the ambassador of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Italy. He took a world tour after leaving that position, and published his observations.


1868 “The galleries were packed, and an indescribably anxiety was written on every face. Some of the members of the House near me grew pale and sick under the burden of suspense. Such stillness prevailed that the breathing in the galleries could be heard at the announcement of each senator’s voice.” George Julian, account of the vote in the Senate not to convict impeached Pres. Andrew Johnson.

c. 1875 “The galleries and lobbies of every legislature are thronged with men seeking... an advantage.” A Northern Republican leader, complaining about people — now called lobbyists — wanting favors from lawmakers.

c. 1879 “We work through one campaign, take a bath and start in on the next.” Remark of a professional political campaign worker. 1879 “The only hope of exposing and breaking up the extortion an speculation by which a standing army of professional politicians corrupt the people whom they plunder [is action by] all honest citizens.” Henry George, author of Progress and Poverty.

1880 “It’s just like look’ ahead in Wall Street or in the coffee or cotton market... I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em.” George Washington Plunkett, of New York City’s corrupt Tammany Hall Democrat political organization, defending what he called “honest graft”.

c. 1880 “I believe in liberality. I am a thorough New Yorker and have no narrow prejudices. I never ask a hungry man about his past; I feed him, not because he is good, but because he needs food. Help your neighbor but keep your nose out of his affairs.” “Big Tim” Sullivan, popular machine political leader on New York’s Lower East Side.

1883 “Open, competitive examinations for testing the fitness of applicants for public service.” Aim of the Civil Service Commission, established under the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883, which was intended to eliminate the “spoils system” that had developed under Andrew Jackson 50 years earlier. 1890 “The largest executive bureau in the world.” Description of the Veterans Bureau, which came to employ some 25,000 government workers in 1900, which was responsible for providing for every veteran of the Union Army under the Pension Act of 1890. This was just the beginning of the growth of gigantic government bureaucracies. 1901 “Bully pulpit” President Theodore Roosevelt’s expression about the power of the presidency, especially its ability to persuade the people.