How Corporations and Businesses Grew in Post-Civil War America

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Although the antebellum period of the Civil War can be remembered as a period where America was still a largely agricultural society, the post-Civil War period is remembered as a period where corporations grew in many ways. This can be explained by the way that corporations started to consolidate with each other in order to prevent being put out of business by the 'boom and bust' cycle of economy. However, this widespread corporate consolidation did not happen without change, and although some people in the American Mainstream benefited from corporations' influence in American economy and politics, even more people did not.

Despite a net negative to American mainstream society, the emergence of large corporations did have some positives, mainly in the form of companies such as Henry Ford's Motor Company, and other trusts deemed 'good trusts' by Theodore Roosevelt. Ford, with the development of his moving assembly line, needed more workers, and started his 'five dollar day' salary raise, raising all his employees' salaries to just that.

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This was a response to the mass industrialization and technological advances in other places, with Ford justifying this pay raise by saying that his employees would need to have enough money to purchase the goods they produce, as well as the goods in other places. However, this high salary came at a price: the job was monotonous and boring.

However, not all companies were as benevolent as Ford's, and many companies had horrid conditions and just as horrid pay, barely allowing a person to scrape out a living, and forcing them to rent out rooms in their houses in order to make some extra money.

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In this way did companies indirectly influence the creation of Labor Unions. Because of these horrid conditions, employees got together and organized strikes for better wages and working conditions. Although some of these strikes were successful, many others were at best ineffective, and at worst put down by force. Although horrible working conditions were eventually mitigated (to a certain extent) in 1906 by the reaction to The Jungle, the fact that it took so long for working conditions to get better is a direct comment on how the common people were helpless to change things.

Lastly, many companies had a large influence in politics, causing politicians to grow corrupt and to make decisions that may have benefited corporations- or even themselves- more than the general public. For example, there were a few senators that had stock companies, and some were even on the director's board of some railroad companies. Because of this, Congress was more likely to pass legislation favoring the businesses instead of the people, such as laws passed to prevent restriction of legal working hours. Although Congress did have some legislation preventing the formation of monopolies such as the Sherman Antitrust Act, loopholes and lack of enforcement by Congress did not make the Sherman Antitrust Act effective until the late 19th century and early 20th century. An example of a company circumventing the Antitrust Act can be seen in the Supreme Court Case US v. E.C. Knight. By ruling in favor of E.C. Knight, the Supreme Court set a precedent for allowing companies to consolidate into monopolies.

Although the creation of consolidated companies many have caused some positives for the mainstream American consumer in the form of technological advances and higher pay, these positives were outweighed by the way in which Americans were exploited by the largecompanies and the reinforcement of this exploitation by the Government. Formation of Labor Unions such as the International Workers of the World (IWW) and the publication of books such as The Jungle did improve working conditions. However, these happened early in the 20th century instead of late in the 19th century if the government had taken a larger role in the regulation of the economy and protection of the more middle-and-lower-class Americans.

Updated: Dec 19, 2022
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How Corporations and Businesses Grew in Post-Civil War America. (2022, Dec 19). Retrieved from

How Corporations and Businesses Grew in Post-Civil War America essay
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