Laissez Faire Dbq

Topics: United States Congress, Interstate Commerce Commission, United States Senate Pages: 3 (1097 words) Published: March 13, 2007
In the period after the Civil War, named the "Gilded Age" by author Mark Twain, big business blossomed, and a strong desire for free trade and the concept of self-interest flourished. Adam Smith, in his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, introduced the policies of free enterprise and laissez-faire, or minimal government intervention in the economy. While the government often upheld this policy during the period of 1865 to 1900, it also violated it at times. "Economically, it will ever remain true, that the government is best which governs least," declared American economist Amasa Walker in The Science of Wealth: A Manual of Political Economy (Doc A). This belief is supported by Social Darwinism, or the idea that only the strongest should flourish in society, which naturally goes hand in hand with the policy of laissez-faire. It is based on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, yet the phrase "survival of the fittest" was actually coined by English philosopher Herbert Spencer. In his testimony before the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, New York City merchant Daniel Knowlton agreed with this theory, having said, "It is better always to leave individual enterprise to do most that is to be done in the country" (Doc B). Numerous entrepreneurs adopted this mindset and used it to their advantage. James J. Hill, creator of the Great Northern Railroad and nicknamed the "Empire Builder," was one of those. He constructed the railroad from Lake Superior to Puget Sound without any government aid. Whereas the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads had received generous grants of land, the Great Northern did not. This subject of land grants created much controversy. Jay Gould, a railroad financier and official, was strongly for them, and claimed that land grants to railroads "has not been an unmixed evil" and that the railroads have "gone to work and instituted a system of settlement on those lands" (Doc H)....
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