Gilded Age and Populism Readings (in order of discussion)



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Mr. Levin Spring 2012
American Political Thought POLS 5025

Gilded Age and Populism

Readings (in order of discussion):

William Graham Sumner, What Social Classes Owe to Each Other, 703

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “Dissent in Lochner v. New York,” 1052

Andrew Carnegie, “The Gospel of Wealth,” 730

Russell H. Conwell, “Acres of Diamonds,” 737

Henry Demarest Lloyd, Wealth Against Commonwealth, 764

Lester Ward, Sociocracy, 773; Plutocracy and Paternalism, 779

James Baird Weaver, “A Call to Action,” 791

National People’s Party Platform, 801

Lorenzo Dow Lewelling, Speech at Huron Place, 806

William Jennings Bryan, The “Cross of Gold” Speech, 809

Booker T. Washington, Atlanta Exposition Address, 946

W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others,” 957
Major Themes for Discussion:

Questions for Readings:

William Graham Sumner, in What Social Classes Owe to Each Other, goes where many feared to go: a discussion of the United States as a society with distinct classes. Yet Sumner’s conclusions reject the idea of social class in the United States as essentially incompatible with political doctrines of equality. What are the consequences of what Sumner labeled a “social structure … based on contract [where] status is of the least importance”?

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s dissenting opinion in Lochner v. New York,” (p. 1052) is best known for his declaration that “The Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics …a constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory, whether of paternalism and the organic relation of the citizen to the State or of laissez-faire.” How does Holmes’ argument answer those of Social Darwinists like William Graham Sumner?
Andrew Carnegie is still the model of the self-made man and of the great philanthropist. When Carnegie writes “The price which society pays for the law of competition … is … great; but the advantages of this law are also greater still,” what does he mean? What are the limits of Carnegie’s understanding of social obligation?

Russell H. Conwell was a Baptist minister who is in many ways responsible for what is today called the “Prosperity Gospel.” In his “Acres of Diamonds,” Conwell makes the case that one of the principal goals of a good Christian is to attain personal wealth. How Christian does Conwell’s “Prosperity Gospel” seem to you?


In Wealth Against Commonwealth Henry Demarest Lloyd clearly rejects the idea that individual success was necessarily the result of individual merit or desert. He is particularly critical of monopolies and other forms of economic privilege. To what extent does Lloyd deserve to be called a socialist, or would you call him a “democratic egalitarian”?
Lester Ward, in both his Sociocracy and Plutocracy and Paternalism, argued against what he saw as a form of fatalism found in laissez-faire economics and the Social Darwinist and instead argued for forms of social experimentation intended to lessen poverty and inequality. What forms would Ward’s “Sociocracy” take and how is it different from “Plutocracy”?
James Baird Weaver, in his “A Call to Action,” identifies the enemies of American democracy as the trusts. How does he conceive of the overthrowing of the power of the trusts and what is his concrete plan for doing so?
What were the demands found in the National People’s Party Platform and how do they make clear the political philosophy of the populists? What are the primary principles behind this political platform?
Lorenzo Dow Lewelling, in his Speech at Huron Place, made the claim that working men and women were analogous to the slaves under slavery. While this is not a new claim, and certainly echoes claims made by Southern defenders of slavery, what is at the heart of Lewelling’s complaint?
William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” Speech is considered the most famous and important expression of the Populist creed. Why, for Bryan, are “hard money” policies so evil that they amount to an attempt to “crucify mankind upon a cross of gold”? What would Bryan have instead?
Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Exposition Address is a plea to white Southerners for a new relationship with freed African-Americans? To modern ears it seems highly deferential. Why does Washington choose this tone and this mode of appeal? How effective is it?
W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others,” is a direct response to Washington? Do you believe that Du Bois or Washington got the better of this exchange? To what extent are Du Bois’s criticisms of Washington fair given the context of the times?


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