CT-N Civics Toolbox Logo (small) CT-N Toolbox: Campaign Finance
"The Election of 1896"

Developed by: Victor W. Geraci, Ph. D.

Click here for the Word Document version of this page.

Materials Needed:
• The Republican Platform pdf --- one packet for every two students
• The People’s Party Platform pdf --- one packet for every two students
• The Democratic Platform pdf --- one packet for every two students
• Pencil/Paper
• US History textbooks and internet access for supplementary data

Class Time: Two or three class periods.

Objectives: It is necessary to understand that the 1890s and 1990s have some common historical themes. Because a few business and government leaders controlled the nations booming political and economic growth, American writer Mark Twain dubbed the late 1800s the Gilded Age. Twain, and others, worried that the American industrial wealth was a facade covering up overcrowded cities filled with immigrants, rising crime, environmental problems (water, solid waste, sewage), and health and education crisis. On top of this, depressions in the middle of each decade since the Civil War resulted in the collapse of the small family farm. The analogy to the corroded/corrupted inner core grew to represent the majority of Americans struggling to live from day to day. As a result of the mal-distribution of wealth and political power many from the developing middle-class and rural Midwest and South formed the Populist Party that gave birth to the Progressive party. Today many are concerned that again a few wealthy business and government leaders have gained control of America by influencing elections and government policies with large campaign contributions. By the 1990s many proponents of campaign finance laws alluded to a second American Gilded Age.

Anticipatory Set:
• Video clip from the film The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg
• Have students read all or parts of Mark Twain’s The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg http://www.pagebypagebooks.com/Mark_Twain/The_Man_that_Corrupted_Hadleyburg/
• Use Mark Twain’s book The Gilded Age http://www.mtwain.com/The_Gilded_Age/index.html
• Internet quotes on corruption and politics from Twain are available online.

Day One;

  • Anticipatory Set
  • Either a lecture on the Gilded Age or reading assignment in textbook to set the context for the election of 1896 --- Click here for sample lecture
  • Break the class into three or six groups
  • Assign each group to study one of the 1896 Political Parties (Republican, Democratic, People’s Party) and distribute party platforms to each of the groups.
  • Each group is to read the platform and make a list of the key points of the party’s platform. Equally distribute the planks to the members of the group. Each group member is to then to prepare to discuss his or her planks.

Day Two;

  • Have each group list on the board the key points of the platform they read. Each member should briefly describe his or her planks.
  • Have students write these lists down on the left-hand side of a piece of notebook paper folded in half lengthwise.
  • Homework; Take the list from the other two groups and on the right hand side of your note sheets describe how your party felt about this plank/issue.

Day Three:

  • Using homework assignments as reference points execute a teacher led brainstorm (TABA exercise) about the key concerns addressed in the platforms.
  • Organize the brainstormed list into key groups of similarities.
  • Teacher Debrief; Do any of these topics/concerns appear today --- business is to powerful, government is to big and in the control of a few, need for campaign finance laws, no voice for the common voter, poverty, crime, immigrants…..
  • Pose this writing topic--- How did American’s in 1896 feel about who controlled their government and what changes/reforms were they proposing? Collect the next day.

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