The political climate of the Gilded Age resembled much of a placid atmosphere than a time of unrest. This was due to the two main parties in America experiencing a time of strength and stability despite the wins and losses each side incurred. Both factions controlled the government in the House, Senate, and the Presidency in a relatively equal amount, but there was one outlier. Approaching the turn of the century came a powerful grass roots movement known as the Grange, which would eventually form the Populism movement. This first real attempt at reforming the federal government into a citizen friendly organization was bold in its actions. Despite its power, it would dissolve and the nation would reform again a sense of political equilibrium.
The key point of importance of the Gilded Age was the idea of the Political Machines and Bosses. Each party had its own set of political "henchmen" that would assign jobs, set up funds or arrange control of states, but this would form the basis of serious corruption in the government. The continuing growth of patronage that sprang from this method led many officials to run for a government job merely for the money and not for the political issues at hand. In fact, each party had quite similar ideas and neither had any real logical platform. Elections were mainly based on emotional, religious or cultural cross cutting cleavages than governmental matters. This however, led to one of its highest periods of voter turnout even during non-presidential electing years.
With emotional ties so closely related to actions of the nation, it became increasingly difficult to pass any laws or perform any political action without upsetting one party. This situation became so bad that presidents ended up having little to no power during their term in office due to the constant pressure. This problem was stated in one of Garfield's speech he made about the mixed intentions of the multi-faction parties.
With the election of Cleveland, the issue of tariffs, trusts and railroads arose. Many people felt that the high protective tariffs currently in place were necessary while others saw them as oppressive. Movements made by the Democrats to lower this tariff were quickly countered by the senate passing equal laws raising it. Thus, the issue of tariffs would fluctuate throughout the period. The railroads however, remained a hot topic as farmers and others fought to get them federally regulated. This issue manifested into the Interstate Commerce Commission or the ICC that had some power to force railroads to report their rates, make then fair and not to discriminate between long and short hauls. In addition, the long battle between laborers and trusts amounted to little as the Sherman Antitrust Act was passed, which did little to help anyone as it commanded no real legal power.
However, one ray of hope did exist in the form of the third party movement, the Grange or the People's Party. This co-op of workers, mainly farmers and some miners, fought to achieve a better living condition for workers by stimulating the government into helping the American citizens. The party quickly attracted many members as depression set in and achieved many political positions like governorships and legislatures in many states. Construction of companies intended to circumnavigate the fierce middlemen were also made, as well as silos to store crops for collateral that allowed farmers to take out loans when the crop was worth enough. This movement eventually formed the Populism movement, which would ultimately disappear when the party fused with democrats over the issue of the silver standard. This problem of money coinage eventually dissolved when the Republicans made gold the true standard, however.
As on can see, the political affairs of this period were full of unrest and equilibrium. Both parties stood equal on political issues, while campaigns ran rampant just for patronage. Tariffs, trusts, and railroad commerce also flared up as a serious issue. Farmer activism also developed in the form of the Grange and Populism movements. Finally, the bimetallism issue also arose and was quickly calmed after the election of McKinley.