The presidency seemed to be in an almost dormant state from Grant's tenure and the end of Reconstruction through the terms of Hayes, Garfield and Arthur. The conflicts of the war and sectionalism, and the challenges of the freedman and the Indian together with the intrusions by foreign powers receded in prominence and in memory as the nation grew and prospered. Power was becoming vested in massive organizations of industry, business and finance, overshadowing the presidency and the federal government in general. Almost three million immigrants came to the United States in the 1870's and an additional five million arrived in the next decade. Many of these new arrivals moved to the West, significantly expanding that region. Manufacturing thrived and the corporation became still more powerful, expanding their influence to monopolize whole industries. Railroads crisscrossed the nation opening wide the nation and the perspective of its people. The worker began to form unions to match the authority of the ever expanding work force with that of even more powerful businesses interests.
Mark Twain referred to it as a "Guilded Age" depicting the appearance and pomp of the newly wealthy. There was great expansion of urban living, resulting in severely overcrowded cities. Although industry and manufacturing flourished in the East, farmers of New England were faced with the impact of more productive land in the Midwest and West forcing many off their farms. Meanwhile the South achieved a remarkable comeback in its restoration of productive farming, but it also attracted textile mills and other manufacturing to its economic base.
While industry, finance and big business flourished, the new immigrants moved West and so did farmers from the Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania attracted by more fertile land. The nation grew from 50 million in 1880 to over 62 million in 1890, as the railroads and grange roads provided access to such newly opened western areas as Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota. Banks were lending money freely, and rainfall provided unexpected fertility. But disaster hit the farmers in the late 1880's when a severe draught and the onslaught grasshoppers destroyed the crop of many of those who had experimented with the new West. Farms were foreclosed, while prices dropped for those who survived. Money flowed from the borrower in the Midwest to bankers in the East as interest rates spiraled. The railroads, subject only to state regulation, charged far more for short hauls than for long ones. The farmer, customarily conservative and self-reliant, turned to the federal government to regulate the rates of railroads which were in fact engaged in interstate commerce. They demanded the unlimited coinage of silver, which would make money cheaper for the borrower and more available to western farmers. A radicalization of mood was to overtake the nation from the 1880's through 1920, with the farmer joining the laborer and the urban dweller demanding that the federal government redress their grievances.