During the 1800s, the United States began to
industrialize. Whole industries and companies grew large,
sometimes forming monopolies, or a company or group of
companies that completely controls a single industry. Often,
monopolies were created through mergers, where one
company obtains legal control over another. There were a
variety of types of business organizations that became
||A group of unrelated business owned by a
||Competing companies that agree to fix
prices and divide regions among members so that only one
company operates in each area.
||Companies in related fields agree to
combine under the direction of a single board of
trustees, which meant that shareholders had no say.
||A company that buys controlling amounts of
stock in related companies, thus becoming the majority
shareholder, and holding considerable say over each
company's business operations.
The idea that the government should not interfere
with economic development, or specific businesses, is known as
Laissez-faire. This idea originated with British
economist Adam Smith and was published in 1776 in The
Wealth of Nations. He believed that the laws of supply and
demand, combined with profit motive, would be the most efficient
type of economy. Many business leaders in the 1800s echoed
these sentiments and wanted the government to leave their
Two social philosophies also seemed to support
laissez-faire capitalism. Horatio Alger wrote popular fictional
books in which the protagonist poor boys became wealthy
through their honesty and hard work. These novels demonstrated
the idea of the Puritan Work Ethic which was
introduced by the Puritans during the Colonial Era. This ethic
held that hard work was its own reward and built character.
Social Darwinism stated that success in society was
determined by "survival of the fittest." This
interpretation of Charles Darwin's theory caused many
to believe that the poor were deceitful and lazy, while the
rich were honest and hard-working. This also explained how
healthy businesses thrived while unhealthy ones went bankrupt.
As the rich became wealthier, and the poor more so, people
began to question these philosophies, and some even attacked
leading industrialists calling the Robber Barons, while
others maintained that they were Captains of Industry.
Eventually a grass-roots movement to combat the abuses
of business was formed from the farmers' social organization
called the Grange. During their informal meetings,
members of the Grange discovered that many of their group were
being charged enormous amounts by the railroad companies for
short hauls, while big businesses like Standard Oil
were receiving rebates where they were charged less for
long hauls. Through the use of bloc-voting, this group
was able to get candidates elected to state legislatures who
supported railroad reform legislation. These state laws were
eventually challenged in Supreme Court, eventually forcing the
Federal Government to pass regulatory legislation.
Farmers decided to more formally organize their
political views and in doing so founded the Populist Party.
This third political party was largely unsuccessful, but
introduced ideas that were later adopted by the Republican and
Democratic parties during the Progressive
in the Populist Party Platform
Election of U.S. Senators
||Party bosses controlled state
legislatures that elected representatives to the U.S.
Senate. To limit this control, the Populists proposed
allowing citizens to directly elect U.S. Senators.
||Privacy at the ballot box
would ensure that citizens can cast votes without party
bosses knowing how they voted.
||Would allow voters to
petition state legislatures in order to consider a bill
desired by citizens.
||Would Allow voters to decide
if a bill or proposed amendment should be passed.
||Would allow voters to
petition to have an elected representative removed from
|Designed to ensure that
voters select candidates to run for office, rather than
The demise of the Populist Party after the
election of 1896 symbolized how the United States had changed
from an agrarian economy to an industrial one. The emerging
Middle Class had concerns that differed from those of the