Gilded Age Essay

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The latter part of the 19th century (1870-1900) is generally viewed as a dark time in American History. Called the “Gilded Age” this was a time in which increasing wealth was plagued by many problems under the surface. The Gilded Age saw increasing industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and the problems associated with them. Many people during this time period blamed these problems on the government for being “laissez-faire;” for not taking steps against industry in order to benefit the interests of the people. Although the people were correct in the fact that the government was not taking steps in order to benefit them, the claim that the government during the Gilded Age was laissez-faire is completely false. Through their decisions on court cases during this time period, the Supreme Court had a profound effect on the economy of this nation, almost exclusively for the benefit of businesses. The interventionist tendencies in favor of business that the Supreme Court displayed during the Gilded Age were the antithesis of the laissez-faire ideology. The ideas of laissez-faire economics were popularized in the 18th century by the Scottish Adam Smith. In his works An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations1 and The Theory of Moral Sentiments2, Smith defined what has become the standard for laissez-faire ideology. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith first used the metaphor of the “invisible hand” in order to explain how free-market systems function: The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable. They consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from ... ... middle of paper ... ... federal court case in regards to the economy during the Gilded Age was U.S. v. E.C. Knight Co (1895). The E.C. Knight Company was an enormous sugar production company. At the time of the case, this one company controlled 98% of the country’s total sugar production. The State brought up a case against E.C. Knight, citing the Sherman Anti-trust Act for their prosecution. They claimed that by controlling such a large amount of the production in the country, E.C. Knight Co was restricting commerce. The Supreme Court decided in favor of E.C. Knight Company. The justices claimed that a monopoly control over manufacturing was different than a monopoly over commerce which is what was outlawed by the Sherman Anti-trust Act3. Through the manipulation of existing legislation, the Supreme Court was able to intervene in the economy, protecting abusive business monopolies.

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