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Robber Barons in American History

The period in American history from 1865 to 1900 was marked by a great national expansion, both in physical and economic terms. From the nearly crippled state of a Civil War-racked society, the United States rose to the brink of becoming a world power. Within such a context, contradictions were inevitable: it was the age of Horatio Algerian opportunity for the individual entrepreneur; it was the era of monopolistic repression of the individual laborer and businessman. This paper will examine some of those contradictions found in the lives of three "robber barons" of the era - Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and J. Pierpont Morgan - men whose parallel careers exemplified both the wide-eyed hopes, and close-fisted realities, of that period.

Before discussing the individuals, however, examination of the context in which they flourished is necessary. Like all historical periods defined by later observers, the social and economic transformations marking the post-Civil War/pre-20th Century era do not actually fit so neatly into the chosen thirty-five year time frame. True, the Civil War is the great dividing line between the ideals of a nascent experiment in democratic government and the mature, division-scarred political pragmatism that emerged from the battlefields of Gettysburg, Antietam, et al. Still, the identity crisis that the Civil War inflicted upon the nation did little to change the perspective in which the mainstream of Americans viewed themselves throughout the entire 19th Century; that is, that the United States was a frontier society, one marked by the physical opportunity to expand beyond the confines of any immediate situation or problem. Indeed, this point-of-view about ourselves is still so pervasive that, although Frederick Jackson Turner defined the frontier as "closed" in the early 1900s, American politics (i.e., the gun control issue) still resort to 19th Century images as icons of the national ideal ...

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Robber Barons in American History. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:54, December 07, 2021, from