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Nineteenth Century Businessmen – Robber Barons Essay

In the 19th century, the United States experienced a rapid industrial revolution and economic growth. The U.S. was transformed from a country of rural farms and small towns to a modern industrial nation dominated by large cities and factories. Leading the way throughout the industrial boom were big businessmen notoriously known for their ruthless business tactics, so should history portray these business leaders as creative industrial pioneers or greedy robber barons? According to Howard Zinn, “Robber Barons” was accurate in describing these businessmen. He stated “the new industrialists such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan adopted business practices that encourage monopolies and used the powers of government to control the masses from rebellion.” (Zinn). Whereas, John S. Gordon argues that such “the 19th century men of big business such as Rockefeller and Carnegie developed through the oil and steel industries’ consumer products that improved the lifestyles of average Americans” (Gordon).

In my view, Howard Zinn presents a more convincing argument of why 19th-century businessmen should be dubbed “robber barons”. Zinn calls attention to numerous examples of robber barons paying off government officials to pass legislation that would benefit their businesses. The magnitude of corruption becomes evident as Zinn describes President Cleveland’s involvement. President Cleveland appointed chief advisor William Whitney, a millionaire and corporation lawyer, who just so happened to be involved with Standard Oil. After Whitney was appointed to Secretary of Navy he immediately set about to create a “steel navy,” buying steel at artificially high prices from “Robber Baron” Andrew Carnegie’s plants (Zinn). John S. Gordon offers little defense to such allegations of corruption and even admits big businessmen utilized secret railroad rebates to dominate their competitors (Gordon). Zinn continues…

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