Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900

Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900

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A brilliant reconsideration of the Gilded Age in America, when an oligarchy of wealth triumphed over democracy, when dreams of freedom and equality died of their impossibility. Jay Gould, the “Mephisto of Wall Street,” never runs for office, but he rules. This was his time (and John D. Rockefeller’s and Andrew Carnegie’s), and this was his country.
At the end of the Civil War, with the rebellion put down and slavery ended, America belonged to Lincoln’s “plain people.” But “government of the people” and economic democracy were betrayed by political parties that fanned memories of the war to distract Americans from government of the corporation.

Synthesizing the research of a new generation of scholars, Jack Beatty gives us a fresh look at the “revolution from above” of industrialization that forged modern America. In Age of Betrayal, Supreme Court justices turn the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of “equal protection of the laws” to the freed slave into the shield of the corporate “person.” The presidents of the Pennsylvania and Southern Pacific railroads engage in a bidding war for congressmen. A depression brought on by railroad speculation throws millions out of work, the hungry riot for bread in Buffalo, the homeless sleep on Chicago’s streets, “tramps” are arrested, strikers are shot, and the nation’s presidents avert their eyes.

In the 1890s the Populist revolt from below challenges the revolution from above. Entrepreneurial capitalism ends in the early 1900s, as 1,800 giant firms are compacted into 157 behemoths.A God instructs President McKinley to invade Cuba and seize the Philippines from Spain; turning from liberators to occupiers, U.S. troops slaughter and starve the (Roman Catholic) Filipinos in the name of “Christianizing” them. In perpetrating this “infamy,” William James cries out, “We have puked up our traditions”—revealing how these sordid decades had remade us.

A passionate, gripping, often shocking history of wealth over commonwealth—thirty-five years of American history in which we see the reflection of today’s gilded age.