History USA- Part one 1865-1890 - end of the frontier

  • post CW economy = dominated by the ideas of laissez-faire - free comp., individual enterprise, minimum state interference also interlinked with social Darwinism
  • social Darwinism applied Charles Darwin's theory of evolution through survival of the fittest to values of commercial competition and free markets
  • 1865-1890 laissez-faire capitalism drove massive expansion of economy & ride of great 'barons' in steel, oil, sugar, tobacco, public utilities and rail
  • laissez-faire linked to frontier values of rugged individualism and self-reliance, hard work, thrift and US as land of opp
  • 1865-1890 laissez-faire ideas reigned supreme
  • most prominent ideas of Social Darwinism/extreme laissez-faire from William Graham Sumner - regarded millionaires as 'naturally selected agents of society', his positive views of laissez-faire supported  by leading churchmen argued 'Godliness is in a league with riches' (views like these reinforced by lavish philanthropy of super-rich (Carnegie/Rockefeller))
  • LAissez-faire supposed to ensure anyone great or small could make fortune, have right abilities, work ethic, luck - similarly allowed everyone an equal right to fail
  • free competition was often an illusion
  • some areas - textiles and garment industry, small/medium sized firms competed and prospered in competitive markets
  • the dominant tendency was consolidating competing enterprises into large scale units becoming monopolies
  • big business did not succeed because of comp.- they limited genuine comp. by merging/driving out small firms - example = Vanderbilt's consolidation of NY central line and Hudson river rail into integrated monopolistic network
  • Rockefeller admitted Standard Oil Trust 'wanted only the big ones, only those who have already proved they can do big business. As for the others, unfortunately, the will have to die'
  • Rockefeller's words reflect brutal realities rigged in favour of large scale enterprises, by no means free of 'state interference'
  • Big busin. fought hard, mostly successfully to avoid state reg. but depended heavily on gov. support
  • State and fed. govs. set tariffs at levels business wanted, laws to approve railroad/banking schemes turned a blind eye to corruption
  • By 1880s a strong reaction against such ideas as critics of laissez-faire called its materialism & corruption as trampling the 'little man'
  • rising power of railroad and big busi. caused criticism and opposi. with demands for state reg.
  • several state gov= pushed to pass reg. legisl. by pressure from small farmers (Granger movement) and trade unions (Knights of labor)
  • legisl. was rarely effective, & undermined 1886 by conservative judgement of supreme court in favour of rail


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