Big Business vs. Labor, 1870-1925

Topics: Industrial Revolution, Labor, Employment Pages: 12 (4685 words) Published: September 13, 2007
Reunited by the Union victory in the Civil War, America faced an era of reconstruction during which the value of the individual was reanalyzed and redefined in law. After the reconstruction, a sense of peace and prosperity calmed the American people. Given hope by their success in maintaining the Union, the Progressive Era ensued. The previously forgotten vision of Alexander Hamilton was reborn and finally implemented. America was no longer the land of the yeoman farmer. Denizens of rural areas moved to the city and sought to work in the gradually industrializing regions of the country. As big business gained power, the laborers sought to achieve the American Dream of economic prosperity through self-improvement in a laissez faire economy. In response to the exploitation of monopolistic big business owners such as John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, laborers formed labor unions in attempts to gain political momentum and achieve reforms in labor. At first, the government sought to interfere minimally in the affairs of the powerful corporations and maintain a laissez faire economy. Theories such as Social Darwinism, Gospel of Wealth and Adam Smith's "invisible hand" attempted to justify the lack of government interference. After much conflict, and the staunch political support of many labor unions, the government's hand was forced and these conflicting interests fueled bitter debate and governmental intervention. American exceptionalism caused the industrialization of America and the rise of immoral, exploitative big businesses, consequently inciting class conflicts and the advancement of labor unions.

American exceptionalism provoked the industrialization of America by setting the standard for U.S. business owners and laborers. With passing years, many innovative men sought to achieve the American Dream at a level no other had accomplished before. American exceptionalism was simply a side effect of the American Dream. The overall growth of American business was fueled by the abundance of natural resources and land in America. Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. suggests that there were additional causes, including: "the westward expansion…; the building of railroads…; the growth of the national and urban market…; the coming of electricity and the internal combustion energy…; and finally, the growth of systematic and institutionalized research and development…." Using these major technological breakthroughs to their advantage, as well as their own creativity, intelligent men were able to raise their status to an unprecedented level. John D. Rockefeller is an excellent example. Rockefeller used the concept of horizontal integration to control and expand his oil monopoly, and eventually become the first billionaire. Andrew Carnegie implemented vertical integration, and also reached previously unimaginable levels of wealth. Both used trusts, pools and other now-illegal methods of monopolization to help reduce competition and attain larger amounts of capital. Seeing these men raise their position in society, laborers saw the opportunity presented by America and worked as hard as they possibly could. It seemed the Puritan work ethic was still a dear part of every American citizen. Many laborers rose up to meet the standards by demanding higher wages and benefits as a result of themselves increasing their own productivity. A vicious cycle of industrialization began. As wages increased, technological advancements were pursued in order to meet the increasing wages with the same or even more net revenue. As revenue increased, laborers demanded more and more for their work. The cycle continued endlessly until no further advancements occurred. The results were astonishing.

Fig. 1. : "Figure 17.2 Index of U.S. Manufacturing Production, 1864-1914." Chart. America and its Peoples: A Mosaic in the Making. An illustration taken from our textbook, showing the increase in manufacturing over the years 1864 - 1914.

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