Monopolies In The United States: The Gilded Age

1971 Words8 Pages
The period from 1865 to 1900 was characterized by an astronomical boom in industry and manufacturing, economic growth for the rich, financial turmoil for the poor, and political corruption. As a result, the era has been named “The Gilded Age.” Just as something gilded is gold on the outside but worthless metal on the inside, these years seemed prosperous from an outside perspective, when in reality, the wealth gap was increasing at an alarming rate and big business had power over government officials. As a result of this, a lot of federal legislation was influenced by monopolies and often catered to the desires of businessmen. Since regulation of certain business practices would cause these trusts to lose money, Congress shied away from regulating…show more content…
Since they could no longer offer jobs to donors, politicians had to find other sources for campaign money. As a result, these politicians often turned to big business for funding, which led to corruption in the government. An 1889 political cartoon by Joseph Keppler titled “Bosses of the Senate” showcases this fact. It depicts heavy men sitting in the Senate, each with the names of different monopolies with a money symbol written on their shirts. For example, one says “Standard Oil Trust” while another says “Steel Beam Trust.” The senators are looking to the monopoly men, presumably for guidance, while a sign hanging on the wall reads “This is a Senate of the monopolists, by the monopolists, for the monopolists.” There are two entrances to the Senate Floor: an entrance for the people, which is marked as closed, and an entrance for the monopolists, which is wide and packed with heavy-set men. This cartoon shows how a lot of legislation (or lack thereof) was passed with big businesses in mind. Since many of these monopolies donated generous sums of money to politicians during their campaigns, they could essentially control what legislation Congress passed. Otherwise, the politicians would…show more content…
Most notably, the Sherman Antitrust Act was passed in 1890, which stated that “Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is hereby declared to be illegal,” according to Those who broke this law were to be charged with a misdemeanor and could serve up to a year in prison and/or be charged with a fine of up to $5,000. Though the law was passed in order to bust trusts, the courts rarely ever enacted it for such a purpose, because judges could interpret what constituted as “trade or commerce among the several States.” Instead, the Sherman Antitrust Act was used mostly to bust unions, as they were considered to be illegal combinations in the eyes of the courts (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017). This is just one example of how the government tended not to regulate industry and market capitalism during this time period. Another example is the Interstate Commerce Act. This law was introduced following public outcry for the regulation of railroads. According to, railroad companies previously had the ability to control virtually every aspect of the business. They could set low prices, which often drove out smaller competitors who couldn’t afford to compete with the prices. This led to these companies controlling the market in several

More about Monopolies In The United States: The Gilded Age

Get Access