The growing industrialism of the Gilded Age was indeed a threat to American Democracy. The American Government stood idly by as the Industrialists became more and more powerful. The Preamble of the document that is the foundation of this great country, The Constitution of the United States, reads:
‘We, the people of the United States, in order to form a perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.’
The American Government was not doing its best to ensure domestic tranquillity or to promote general welfare. Major Industrialists of the time were not kept in check, and the working class citizen paid for it big time. Company towns, the presence of monopolies, and an inactive government all contributed to this threat to American Democracy.
During the Gilded Age many large companies took over entire towns. Everybody in that particular town worked for that company. These were called company towns. The large companies replaced all the stores that already existed in that town with their own stores. To keep the citizens of that town from going to other towns to buy supplies they printed their own money and the workers were paid with that. This allowed the large companies to charge an unfair amount for the goods sold in their stores. All competition was eliminated in that town. Competition is the major principle behind the American economy and ultimately the American Democracy. Without competition, weather it be between companies for a profit or politicians for a political office, this great American Democracy would fail.
Company towns were also a center for political corruption. Many immigrants that came to this country were given a job and a home in a company town. In exchange for these gifts they were made to vote for candidates that the company supported. This undermines the basic selling point of American Democracy which was that government was of the people, by the people and for the people. At this point American Democracy was more like a government of the Industrialists, by the Industrialists and for the Industrialists.
Industrialists’ monopolies were not limited to the control over towns. The major Industrialists also extended their monopolies into businesses. If ABC corporation manufactured steel, they would buy out all of the other businesses that manufactured steel. ABC corporation might also buy out businesses that sold them the supplies to make steel. With this monopoly in place, ABC corporation would now essentially be able to manufacture steel for only the cost of labor.
Because so many powerful Industrialists such as Carnegie and Rockefellar controlled monopolies, the working class was once again punished. Not only could these men charge unfair amounts for their products, they could also pay the workers unfair wages. If a worker was tired of working for unfair wages and quit his job, he would be unable to find another job with better wages. Because there were no other better jobs to be found large corporations also forced workers to work in unsafe work environments. In these monopolies, that important concept of competition was once again eliminated and American Democracy was threatened by this.
Through all of this, the American government did nothing. The government did little to stop the forming of monopolies. Because government did not step in and stop the major Industrialists competition was virtually eliminated. It is well known that competition is the backbone of America’s economy and always has been. It is competition that allows America to have a free-market economy. However, it is as equally true to say that competition is an important part in government. Politicians were able to compete for the votes of only the major Industrialists, and still win an election.
Those major Industrialists were so powerful that they were able to control who people voted for, as stated previously. The Industrialists had the politicians in their back pocket. If a politician wanted to get elected, he could most likely do that by siding with major Industrialists on important issues. The lower could be completely ignored. Because of this, politicians competed for the votes of only the major Industrialists and ignored the middle and lower classes.
Many people may say that it is not governments job to do anything. However, those people should refer back to the Preamble of the Constitution. The Preamble states that one of the purposes of this union is to promote the general welfare of the people. By allowing the major Industrialists to eliminate competition in business and in government, the American Democracy was threatened. It became increasingly obvious that American Democracy was not promoting the general welfare of the nation, thus not doing its job.
Courtney from Study Moose
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