Lesson Plans

The American Nation: A History of the United States ©2000

by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes

Focus Lesson 16

Chapter 21: "Politics: Local, State, and National"

AP* Course Description

  • National Politics, 1877–1896: The Gilded Age
    • A conservative presidency
    • Issues
      • Tariff controversy
    • Agrarian discontent
    • Crisis of the 1890s
      • Populism
      • Silver question
      • Election of 1896: McKinley versus Bryan

Key Components

  • Instructor's Manual: pp. 204–211
  • Study Guide, Vol. II: pp. 79–91
  • Test Bank: pp. 348–364

Key Web Sites

Given the changing nature of the Internet, you may wish to preview these sites. Check the Online Companion Web site for updated links to U.S. history sites.

Key Words and Terms

  • political platform
  • civil service reform
  • "free silver"
  • Tammany Hall
  • Half-Breeds
  • Farmers Alliance
  • "Crime of '73"
  • Rutherford B. Hayes
  • Charles J. Guiteau
  • Benjamin Harrison
  • Mary E. "Mother" Lease
  • William Jennings Bryan
  • political boss
  • "subtreasury plan"
  • "front-porch" campaign
  • Stalwarts
  • Pendleton Act
  • Caesar's Column
  • William Marcy Tweed
  • James A. Garfield
  • James G. Blaine
  • Roscoe Conkling
  • James B. Weaver
  • Mark Hanna

Suggested Pacing

As mentioned in the previous Focus Lesson 14 and Focus Lesson 15, Chapters 18 to 21 examine one theme each of the late-nineteenth century. Chapter 21 highlights the growth of government and politics at the local, state, and national levels. Allow approximately three-and-a-half weeks of study for these four chapters.

Test Strategy

Remind students that in answering the essay questions, they should answer the question asked, not the one they think is being asked. In order to be clear about what is being asked, students need to read the question prompt carefully, underlining, bracketing, or in some way highlighting the core components of the question. They should then restate the question in their own words and check this restatement against the original question prompt to be sure they understand what is being asked. A minute or two spent clarifying the question will reap the reward of a focused essay.

Key Concepts

  • Undistinguished Presidents
    The latter half of the 19th century saw a series of undistinguished men serve as President of the United States. The President during this period was considered a chief administrator rather than an active policy maker. The change of the President into the shaper of the legislative agenda did not come about until Franklin Roosevelt's first term in office. This is a theme that will be taken up again in Chapter 27.

  • The election of 1896
    The election of 1896 can be looked at as a conflict over three solutions to the economic problems that the nation faced. Republicans saw the depression of 1893 as the result of overproduction and threats to the gold standard and wanted to maintain the gold standard and increase international trade. The Democrats believed the depression was the result of the gold standard and wanted free silver in its place. Populists believed the depression resulted from an undemocratic economy and wanted to adopt free silver and other reforms, such as government ownership of the railroads, a graduated income tax, and direct election of senators.

Summing Up Student Understanding

To reinforce the importance of the Populists and the silver issue, have students do research on the symbolism in Frank Baum's book The Wizard of Oz. A Web site to aid in the search is listed above. Students should look for information about gold versus silver, the labor movement, politicians of the period, and Coxey's Army. Have students answer the following questions: In the book, what color were Dorothy's shoes? Why?


You might also find these additional readings useful in developing students' background knowledge or for DBQ activities:

  • American Issues: Vol. II Since 1865, edited by Unger and Tomes—Chapter 3
  • The Power of Words: Vol. II From 1865, edited by Breen—Chapter 5
  • American Experiences: Vol. II From 1877, edited by Roberts and Olson (secondary source readings)—Part Two