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Robber Barons or Captains of Industry DBQ

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While ruthless capitalists all played a critical role in America’s rise as a super power, the actions they had taken to do so were not only corrupted and greedy but also easily avoided. Through the use of lower wages, union exterminations, and channeling money towards buildings rather than people, robber barons abused their positions. Today’s views of fairness prove that these employers were exactly that-thieves and exploiters.

Industrialists of the time period abused their positions to justify cutting wages through political machines, forcing their employees into twelve hour work days, and firing bottom line workers, in the belief that this was vital for the growth of the United States. They believed that without lowering the wages of their employees, products like steel would not be affordable. However, lowering wages was never an essential measure to make steel affordable; this was all a plot to squeeze any possible revenue from the business. In Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science by E. Lavasseur [Doc F], Lavasseur introduced a weaver in England who said that “he had worked seventeen years in England, and that conditions were much better than in America.” If England had treated its workers as well as this weaver suggested and remained an industrial giant, America could have followed in its footsteps and achieved the same prosperity through better means.

In his 1889 essay “The Gospel of Wealth”, Andrew Carnegie [Doc C] states that it is up to the rich to bring to the poor their “superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer.” However, the high class failed to “do better for the poor than they would for themselves” as Carnegie promised. Robber barons did not empathize with their workers; those same workers did not approve the amounts of money their bosses spent on libraries and universities rather than pay raises. In Document F, Levasseur again emphasizes that the rich would never understand how difficult they were making life for the poor.

“The manufacturers judge that the movement to mechanize has been advantageous to workmen…The laboring class do not share this optimism. They reproach the machine with degrading man by transforming him into a machine.”The robber barons robbed their workers of a vital right when they took away their unions. James B. Weaver gives an example of the ruthless tactics involved in the process of removing unions in “A Call to Action” [Doc E]. “Take one well-authenticated instance in the history of the Oat Meal Trust. In 1887 this trust decided that a part of their mill should stand idle. They were accordingly closed. This resulted in the discharge of a large number of laborers who had to suffer in consequences…” When these laborers revolted in response, they were defeated by military force. Labor unions were therefore futile for some time.

While most capitalists of the 19th century would consider themselves to be captains of industry, a very small number of their workers would agree. Most workers of the time period would most likely claim that their bosses tore away their unions and squeezed any excess profits that workers did not “rightfully deserve”. The Industrial Age could have been the Age of the Working Class, but instead it was a time where smoke poured out from factories in the form of corruption, greed, and a few ruthless businessmen controlling the entire country’s economy.

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