The Liberal Gilded Age

San Jose skyline

The vision embedded in the Founding documents of the United States was of a free and equal people. At the time of the nation’s founding, this was not so much a fantasy but—with the obvious and inhumane exception of slavery—empirical reality. Class distinctions were extant, but they were not necessarily pronounced. The same was true of inequality in wealth and status. Northeastern financial families like the Schuylers had an edge over the yeoman farmers of Shenandoah Valley, of course, but it was nothing compared to the rigid class divisions in continental Europe.