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The Gilded Age - Richard Hofstadter

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The Gilded Age was a period in the history of the United States when business controlled all aspects of life. These businesses were controlled by wealthy tycoons who were staunch supporters of the capitalist system. Hofstadter presents numerous tycoons such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, William Vanderbilt, and Jay Gould as stereotypical tycoons of this era, whose motivations, actions, and in many cases their justifications of these actions were similar to one another. Also, politicians in this era held similar ideologies as these tycoons, such as Oaks Ames, Roscoe Conkling, and James G. Blaine.

To understand, where their ideologies come from, one must look at the origins of these tycoons and look at how they made their wealth. In the case of Andrew Carnegie, as Hofstadter states, "[Carnegie] was the son of a painfully poor Scottish weaver." Jay Gould was born into a humble farming family, and Rockefeller's father was essentially a traveling salesman. The only one of these men who came from wealth was Vanderbilt, whose father had been a commodore. These men all sought to create "great industrial empires" as Hofstadter puts it. And honestly, with the exception of Gould, these men, for the most part, played by the rules in their actions. Gould was extremely corrupt and exploitative in his business ventures. However, the other three mentioned, as well as the majority of business tycoons at this time, did not follow the same path Gould did. The one action taken by a company during this era that seems somewhat corrupt was the creation of the Crédit Mobilier by Union Pacific. Basically this company was "a construction company organized by the directors of the Union Pacific." This allowed for Union Pacific to create high constructions prices so that they would have exclusive rights to the construction materials, and their stockholders would gain stock in the Crédit Mobilier. This, in turn, would allow the stockholders to turn a bigger profit then would normally be gained. This profit could then be put back into Union Pacific. This is just one case, but Congress was constantly bribed by even the most seemingly incorrupt people such as Carnegie and Rockefeller.

Collis P. Huntington stated his justification for bribery. "If you have to pay money to have the right thing done, it is only just and fair to do it." Another main justification of the actions taken by all tycoons is Social Darwinism. The premise of this theory is that, in business, those who are smarter and do more work should get paid more than those who are less intelligent and put in "less effort." For a person like Carnegie, this sort of ideology was very easy to fall back on given his origins. In reference to why he monopolized the steel industry, Carnegie states "The man had arisen who could manage and the tools belonged to him." Rockefeller was also quoted saying "The good



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