After the Civil war, large businesses ruled America. Prior to the industrial revolution, the government upheld a hands-off approach towards business. Under the laissez-faire principle, free, unregulated markets led to competition, yet this system suffered under the wrath of growing corporations. The impact of big business on the economy and politics was immense during 1870 to 1899. Corporations were growing significantly in number and size, which had a domineering affect on American economy and defined American life. The growing corporations in America dominated most of the economy, creating a large gap between the rich and the poor.
During this time period food, lightening, and fuel prices declined significantly, and the cost of living only declined slightly (DOC A). Improved agricultural innovations led to reduced food prices, whereas mining and lighting innovations led to reduced prices for fuel and lightening. Mass production resulted in a lower cost of living. Also, railroad presidents had a lot of control over the economy, negatively impacting it (DOC B). They controlled freight prices and monopolized food and fuel industries, and used trusts to control many industries.
Big corporations ran almost all parts of their individual industries. For example, Rockefeller controlled most of the oil industry through trusts. People saw leaders such as Rockefeller as “robber barons,” because their wealth was at the expense of hard working laborers who gained little in return. Additionally, Rockefeller established trusts, which unified control of other oil companies under one group of people. Trusts incorporated control of many companies, horizontally and vertically, to gain control of markets and force out competition. The industrial revolution had an overbearing effect on politics.
Many monopolists controlled the senate, and it stayed that way because they were not elected popularly. “This is a Senate of the monopolists by the monopolists and for the monopolists. ” Document D shows the public entrance to the senate being closed, and monopolists are lined up at the monopolists’ entrance. This illustrates that the Senate is controlled by big business, and how easily wealthy people had power over the government. Moreover, the railroad presidents were seen as kings, they could delay lawsuits, control the government and the people, corrupt communities, and control the press (DOC B).
Important railroad companies dictated government policies because the legal system favored railroad interests. Further, trying to better the political system, the Populist Party made themselves known. Their platform demanded that the government be restored to the hands of the “plain people. ” They wanted to end oppression, injustice, and poverty (DOC F). Evidently, they were dedicated to political and social reform, and urged that the government be strengthened and take responsibility of the people. The harsh working conditions resulting from industrialization drove laborers to organize into unions.
Economist David A. Wells compares working in a factory to working in the military because workers are taught to perform one single task. Moreover, manufacturing has largely taken away workers’ pride in their work (DOC C). Mass production techniques led to specialization of labor, which subsequently decreased workers’ pride in their craft, as well as left workers largely unskilled. Further Samuel Gompers, founder of the AF to L, addressed the International Labor Congress in Chicago and stated that people should not be considered property. He advocated that labor should have shorter hours, and with that jail and almshouse populations will be reduced.
He urged that laborers should insist on adequate wages, and that carelessness or malevolence should not leave the worker without recourse (DOC G). This is the first example of welfare for workers; laborers insisted that if they got injured on the job they be taken care of. Laborers further demanded for workers’ compensation laws to be passed, and labor unions must be organized to protect the interest of the workers. In addition, George Rice says he is a victim of Rockefeller, because the Standard Oil Company offered the same quality of oil for one to three cents less than he could.
Also, he said that he found railroads were in league with Rockefeller and charged discriminatory rates (DOC H). This exemplifies how monopolists used ruthless tactics to put competitors out of business. Railroads gave big businesses rebates that helped them eliminate competition, which resulted in the request that the government protect small businesses against these unfair business practices. The economic changes were not negative for all; developing department stores were among the most efficient retail organizations (DOC I). They were appealing, and this urban glamour drew rural people to the city.
Improved urban transportation led to the expansion of department stores. Moreover, women were given the opportunity to work and support themselves financially. Document J Shows women typists in a large room, all dressed similarly, with the presence of electric lighting. Inventions like the typewriter and the telephone increased employment for white women. Clearly, the influence of big businesses economically and politically was powerful. It pushed Americans into a new ideal of labor unions and workers rights, as well as redefined American life, especially for women.