Robber Barrons

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To what extent was it justified to characterize the industrial leaders of the late 19th century as either “robber barons” or “captains of industry”? Document A

Q: How is the freight and passenger pool working?
W.V.: Very satisfactorily. I don’t like that expression “pool”, however, that’s a common construction applied by the people to a combination which the leading roads have entered into to keep rates at a point where they will pay dividends to the stockholders. The railroads are not run for the benefit of the “dear public” – that cry is all nonsense—they are built by men who invest their money and expect to get a fair percentage of the same. Q: Does your limited express pay?

W.V.: No; not a bit of it. We only run it because we are forced to do so by the action of the Pennsylvania road. It doesn’t pay expenses. We would abandon it if it was not for our competitor keeping its train on. Q: But don’t you run it for the public benefit?

W.V.: The public be damned. What does the public care for the railroads except to get as much out of them for as small consideration as possible? I don’t take any stock in this silly nonsense about working for anybody’s good by our own…. Interview with William H. Vanderbilt,

Chicago Daily News, October 9, 1882

Document B

Document C

Document D
The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmony. The conditions of human life have been revolutionized within the past few hundred years. The contrast between the palace of the millionaire and the cottage of the laborer with us today measures the change which has come with civilization.

This change, however, is not to be deplored, but welcomed as highly beneficial. It is essential for the progress of the race that the houses of some should be homes for all that is highest and best in literature and the arts, rather than none should be so. Much better this great inequity that universal squalor…

The price which society pays for the law of competition, like the price it pays for cheap comforts and luxuries, is also great; but the advantages of this law are also greater still. For it is to this law that we owe our wonderful material development which brings improved conditions. While the law may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it insures the survival of the fittest in every department. We welcome, therefore, as conditions to which we must accommodate ourselves, great inequality of environment, the concentration of business, industrial and commercial, in the hands of a few; and the law of competition between these, as being not only beneficial, but essential for the future progress of the race.

Andrew Carnegie, “Wealth,” North American Review, 1889

Document F
I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich. How many of my pious brethren say to me, “Do you, a Christian minister, spend your time going up and down the country advising young people to get rich, to get money?” “Yes, of course I do.” They say, “Isn’t that awful! Why don’t you preach the gospel instead of preaching about man’s making money?” “Because to make money honestly is to preach the gospel.” The men who get rich may be the most honest men you find in the community…

Let me say here clearly, and say it briefly…that ninety-eight out of one hundred of the rich men in America are honest. That is why they are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. That is why they carry on great enterprises and find plenty of people to work with them. It is because they are honest men….

Russell H. Conwell,
Acres of Diamonds, 1900
Document E
It is clear that trusts are contrary to public policy and hence in conflict with the common law. They are monopolies organized to destroy competition and restrain trade…
It is contended by those...
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