Victorious candidates used the spoils system to give government positions to friends and supporters. But many of these people lacked the qualifications necessary for doing a good job.
Voters Don’t Select Candidates
Candidates running for office were usually chosen by a small group of party leaders. Voters had no say in who the candidates would be.
Political leaders often lined up voters who were willing to be bought and gave them ballots on easily identifiable colored paper. Counterfeiting ballots, stuffing ballot boxes, and other illegal practices were widespread.
Political Machines & Party Bosses
In New York City and other large urban areas, party bosses controlled strong political machines. Favors were done for people in return for their votes. Bribes were regularly accepted. “Boss” Tweed of New York was the worst of the corrupt politicians, stealing an estimated $30 million or more of the taxpayer’s money.
High Railroad Rates
In spite of the Interstate Commerce Act, railroad rates remained excessively high. Railroad companies found ways to avoid charging lower rates set by Interstate Commerce Commission.
Poor Working Conditions
Workers, including women and children, were on the job 12 to 14 hours a day, six or seven days a week. Wages were terribly low. Bad working conditions often caused illness and accidents.
Problem Before the Reform
Tainted Food and Medicine
Terrible conditions existed in the food processing industry. Upton Sinclair, a muckraker, told how packing houses often kept meat on dirty floors. He found that chopped meat sometimes contained rat hairs, wood splinters, bits of rope, or pieces of spoiled meat.
Many big businesses became monopolies or trusts. One company, or several companies working together, gained control of an industry, such as oil. They charged high prices because there was no competition to hold prices down.
Pollution & Environmental Destruction
Wilderness areas were being ruined. Great buffalo herds disappeared, the passenger pigeon became extinct, and other forms of wildlife were threatened. Government land and mineral resources were either sold cheaply or given away.
Unfair Taxation System
Taxes were usually based on the amount of property a person owned. But many wealthy people hid some of their property from the government. Consequently, they did not pay their fair share of the taxes being collected.
Indirect Election of Senators
The two Senators that each state sent to Congress were chosen by the members of the various state legislatures.
Suffrage Restricted to Males
Only male citizens 21 or older could vote. In 1869 Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association which campaigned for the right of women to vote.