SocialDarwinismandAmericanLaissez.pdf

Laissez faire capitalism in america historians often

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Laissez-Faire Capitalism in America Historians often call the period between 1870 and the early 1900s the Gilded Age. This was an era of rapid industrialization, laissez-faire capitalism, and no income tax. Captains of industry like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie made fortunes. They also preached "survival of the fittest" in business. American scholars like sociologist William Graham Sumner praised the new class of industrial millionaires. Sumner argued that social progress depended on the fittest families passing on their wealth to the next generation. According to the Social Darwinists, capitalism and society itself needed unlimited business competition to thrive. By the late 1800s, however, monopolies, not competing companies, increasingly controlled the production and prices of goods in many American industries. Workers' wages and working conditions were unregulated. Millions of men, women, and children worked long hours for low pay in dangerous factories and mines. There were few work-safety regulations, no worker compensation laws, no company pensions, and no government social security. Although wages did rise moderately as the United States industrialized, frequent economic depressions caused deep pay cuts and massive unemployment. Labor union movements emerged, but often collapsed during times of high unemployment. Local judges, who often shared the laissez-faire views of employers, issued court orders outlawing worker strikes and boycotts. Starting in the 1880s, worker strikes and protests increased and became more violent. Social reformers demanded a tax on large incomes and the breakup of monopolies. Some voiced fears of a Marxist revolution. They looked to state and federal governments to regulate capitalism. They sought legislation on working conditions, wages, and child labor. Social Darwinism and the Law Around 1890, the U.S. Supreme began aggressively backing laissez-faire capitalism. Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Field asserted that the Declaration of Independence guaranteed "the right to pursue any lawful business or vocation in any manner not inconsistent with the equal rights of others . . . ." The Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional many state laws that attempted to regulate such things as working conditions, minimum wages for women, and child labor. The courts usually based their decisions on the Fifth and 14th amendments to the Constitution. These amendments prohibited the federal and state governments from depriving persons of "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." (The Supreme Court interpreted "persons" as including corporations.)
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© Constitutional Rights Foundation 4 In 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court used the "due process" reasoning to strike down a New York health law that limited the workweek of bakers to 60 hours. The majority of the justices held that this law violated the 14th Amendment's "liberty" right of employers and workers to enter into labor contracts. In a famous dissent, however, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes criticized the
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