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Unformatted text preview: 12/22/11 H102 Lecture 06: The Social Philosoph of American Businessmen Stan le K. Sch u lt , Pro fes s o r o f His to r
W illiam P. Tis h ler, Pro d u cer Lec re 06 The Social Philosoph of American
Co rp o ratio n s , an d th e b u s in es s men wh o were th eir reco g n i ab le h ead s , came u n d er in creas in g attack at th e en d o f th e
n in eteen th cen tu r . M an A merican s wh o h ad o n ce as s o ciated " lais s e -faire" with in d iv id u al freed o m n o w lin ked th e
term to u n fettered co rp o rate p o wer, b u ll in g tru s ts , an d an u n p reced en ted lo s s o f in d iv id u al freed o m. A merican
b u s in es s men fo u n d th ems elv es res o rtin g to n ew id eo lo g ies an d " s cien tific" termin o lo g to d efen d th ems elv es fro m
an g r A merican s wh o felt th e tru s ts were d es tro in g trad itio n al wa s o f life. S ome ques tions to k eep in mind:
1 . What was S ocial Darwinis m and wh did s o man American bus ines s men find it appealing during the Gilded
2 . How did bus ines s men jus tif their actions between 1 8 7 0 and 1 9 0 0 ?
3 . What did man Americans think about corporations ? "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are
created eq u al, th at th e are en d o wed b th eir Creato r with certain u n alien ab le Rig h ts , th at amo n g th es e are Life,
Lib ert an d th e Pu rs u it o f Hap p in es s ..." (Th o mas Jeffers o n , " Declaratio n o f In d ep en d en ce," 1776). W h en Th o mas Jeffers o n s u b s titu ted " Pu rs u it o f Hap p in es s " fo r p h ilo s o p h er Jo h n Lo cke's o rig in al term, " Pro p ert ,"
h e ma h av e fo res een th e co n tro v ers o v er th e mean in g o f freed o m th at wo u ld d o min ate Gild ed A g e p o litics . Two
co n tras tin g id eals o f freed o m clas h ed d u rin g th is p erio d . A in tellectu al co n tes t en s u ed b etween A merican s wh o
b eliev ed th at th e " Pu rs u it o f Hap p in es s " was th e d riv in g fo rce in A merican h is to r , an d o th ers , s u ch as A n d rew
Carn eg ie an d Jo h n D. Ro ckefeller, wh o ch amp io n ed th e " Pu rs u it o f Pro p ert " as th e s o u rce o f A merican g reatn es s .
Bo th s id es co n s tru cted lo g ical arg u men ts to ju s tif th eir p o s itio n s . Ev en tu all , h o wev er, ad v o cates o f th e " Pu rs u it o f
Pro p ert " ap p lied th e " s cien tific" les s o n s o f So cial Darwin is m an d lais s e -faire eco n o mics to win o v er th e p u b lic. us.histor .wisc.edu/hist102/lectures/lecture06.html 1/7 12/22/11 H102 Lecture 06: The Social Philosoph of American Businessmen Pursuit of Happine ss
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2. S 3. P Social Darwinis m Charles Darwin C
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W H S Herbert S pencer H S us.histor .wisc.edu/hist102/lectures/lecture06.html , E ,
3/7 12/22/11 H102 Lecture 06: The Social Philosoph of American Businessmen took Darwin's theories out of the realm of
biolog and applied them to human
societ . Spencer, not Darwin, was the first
person to coin the phrase "survival of the
fittest." He believed that government
intervention in the "natural" processes of
human evolution, such as welfare for the
poor, public education, and government
healthcare, helped weak humans survive
and, in the process, undermined the health
of the entire race. Spencer, of course,
never defined what he meant b the
"natural" process of evolution.
Nevertheless, his books sold over
He b e Spenc e (1820-1903), Engli h
400,000 copies in the United States alone,
C op right 1997 S tate Historical S ociet of W isconsin
and he became one of the most influential
thinkers of the late- nineteenth centur . William Graham S mner
Su mn er was Sp en cer's A merican co u n terp art.
" In h is eco n o mic an d s o cial o u tlo o k, Su mn er
was a So cial Darwin is t, h o ld in g th at d is tin ctio n s
o f wealth an d s tatu s amo n g men were th e d irect
res u lt o f in h eren tl d ifferen t cap acities , th at th is
s tratif in g ten d en c wo rked to th e g o o d o f
s o ciet b elimin atin g weaker an d en co u rag in g
s tro n g er s train s (as n atu ral s electio n d o es
amo n g an imals an d p lan ts ), an d th at th is
ten d en c s h o u ld n o t b e in terfered with b
s en timen tal, u n in tellig en t attemp ts to h ed g e th e
free p la o f eco n o mic fo rces an d p ers o n al
ab ilities . Su mn er th u s ch amp io n ed lais s e -faire
as th e o n l tru e p rin cip le o f b o th eco n o mics an d
g o v ern men t; in lectu res an d written wo rks with
s u ch titles as " Th e A b s u rd A ttemp t to M ake
th e W o rld Ov er" an d Wh a t S o cia l Cla sses O e W illiam G aham S mne (1840-1910),
Yale oc ial c ien i
Ea ch Oth er (1883), h e d ecried an an d all
C op right 1997 S tate Historical S ociet of W isconsin
mo v emen ts th at p o in ted to a welfare s tate..."
( So ur ce: Web ster's Am erica n Bio g ra p h ies, G. & C.
Mer r iam , 1 9 7 5 ) . A merican b u s in es s men ad o p ted eag erl th e
id eo lo g o f So cial Darwin is m in o rd er to d efen d
th eir b u s in es s p ractices as " n atu ral." James J.
Hill, a lead in g " Ro b b er Baro n " o f th e railro ad b u ild in g era, s aw th e ch an ce to ju s tif h is
us.histor .wisc.edu/hist102/lectures/lecture06.html 4/7 12/22/11 H102 Lecture 06: The Social Philosoph of American Businessmen actio n s with " s cien tific" termin o lo g : "T he fortunes of railroad
companies are determined b the
law of the survival of the fittest." -James J. Hill J ame J e ome Hill (1838-1916),
financ ie and ail oad magna e
C op right 1997 S tate Historical S ociet of W isconsin Th ere were, o f co u rs e, in flu en tial A merican s
wh o ch allen g ed So cial Darwin is m. On e s u ch
in d iv id u al was th e h is to rian Hen r A d ams , wh o
s aid , "T he progress of evolution from
P resident Washington to P resident
Grant is alone evidence enough to
upset Darwin." --Henr A dams Se lf-Adjus ting Econom
Along with Social Darwinism, man nineteenth- centur businessmen accepted the idea that the American
econom was "self- adjusting." This idea traced its roots back to Adam Smith and his conception of the
"invisible hand" of capitalism.
"The ideas of laisse - faire applied to economics appealed greatl to Scottish economist Adam Smith.
Using these ideas, Smith began another kind of revolution during the period in which the American
colonists were fighting their revolutionar war. In 1776, the ear that Jefferson wrote the Declaration of
Independence, Smith published one of the most important books in the histor of economics. The
book's full title is An Inquir Int o t he Nat ure and Causes of Wealt h of Nat ions. Most people simpl
call it The Wealt h of Nat ions. Smith wrote the book after discussing laisse -f aire beliefs with some of
the ph siocrats. Smith's book is an argument in favor of allowing people to engage in trade,
manufacturing or other economic activit without unnecessar control or interference from government.
The main argument in The Wealt h of Nat ions might be stated rather simpl : People are naturall selfish.
When the engage in manufacturing or trade, the do so in order to gain wealth and/or power. This
process should not be interfered with because, despite the self- interest of these individuals, their activit
is good for all of societ . The more goods the make or trade, the more goods people will have. The
more people who manufacture and trade, the greater the competition. Competition among manufacturers
and merchants helps all people b providing even more goods and probabl lower prices. This activit
creates jobs and spreads wealth."
T his document was provided b the UNIT ED S T AT ES INF OR MAT ION AGENC Y in the Ab ou t th e Un ited S tates series, which can be found at:
http://www. salsem. ac. at/csacl/as_modules/econom . htm
us.histor .wisc.edu/hist102/lectures/lecture06.html 5/7 12/22/11 H102 Lecture 06: The Social Philosoph of American Businessmen F A S ' , - A : 1. T ,
N G 2. T - 3. T
4. T A
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, - - " " , , . Profit motive was the onl re liable ince ntive for action F ,
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Andre Carnegie (1835-1919),
indus trialis t and philanthropis t
C 1997 S H S us.histor .wisc.edu/hist102/lectures/lecture06.html W 6/7 12/22/11 H102 Lecture 06: The Social Philosoph of American Businessmen themselves full."--Andrew Carnegie
In the end, Carnegie and other American business leaders often relied on science, economic theory, and
social philosophy to try and justify their business practices and their growing profits at the end of the
nineteenth- century. At times, businessmen faced extraordinarily difficult economic problems. The "boom- and- bust" cycle of
depressions and recoveries from 1873 to the turn of the century, in particular, made investing precarious
and competition fierce as companies struggled to survive. For all the difficulties that company directors
faced during this period, however, the common workers who labored in their factories dealt with much
more fundamental economic problems. As business leaders became wealthier and more powerful, the
men, women, and children who formed the nation's industrial workforce began to demand higher wages,
shorter working hours, and a greater voice in corporate decision- making. The story of these common
workers and their search for power is an important and fascinating aspect of American history; so
important, in fact, that we will continue it in the next lecture: Labor and the Workers' Search for Power. Lec re 06 Rela ed Web Link
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