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Gina Tangelo

AP US History
January 29, 2018

Document Based Question

During the 1865-1900 period, there was a very large problem in regard to who had the

power and how the people were using the power. Many people believed that the people in power

were abusing their power with their wealth and initial popularity amongst the people. Based on

the historical evidence, this characterization is justified by these leaders wanting the control and

concentration of power for their own status and the status of their “race” as well as for the benefit

of their own companies on top of their monopolies.

These “robber barons” more than anything did not care about the public. Nothing they

did was done in thoughts of the people of the towns or cities of the American people at all but

rather for their own status. William H. Vanderbilt, for example, stated in an interview that the

railroads were not for the “dear public” but rather were built for the benefit of men who invested

their money to get a fair percentage of the same (Document 1). He also believed in the idea that

the investors should not be working for anyone’s good but their own (Document 1), this

interview portraying some of the ideas of the great industrial leaders and how they viewed the

pubic in perspective to their own benefits in society. Andrew Carnegie supported this idea and

called is “great inequality of environment” (Document 3). This idea was also the foundation of

the political machines who appealed to immigrants and the poor for their own political benefit

which was also driven by wealth and power. They were trying to insure their positions in

legislatures and this caused for corruption because they wanted to be the best. Carnegie had

similar ideas and thought that the law of competition was essential for the progress of the race

(Document 3) which showed that rather than wanting to fix the corruption of the system he

suggested that the whole race should be benefiting from it. Thomas Alva Edison also agreed with

this idea of competition since he created a laboratory so that it was “incomparably superior to

any other” (Document 2). The leaders wanted nothing more than to earn a name for themselves

so they could use it to their advantage and control the wealth in the cities.

Another huge part of their desire to control and concentration of power was for the

benefit of their own companies along with their monopolies. Trusts, especially, were a great

problem during this time period because their main weapons were threats, intimidation, bribery

and more (Document 4). The trusts were also said to have been with the purpose of making

money and destroying competition and once they have this situation, they control the situation

(monopolies) and can say whatever they want to the two great classes (Document 4), this idea

supporting why these leaders would want trusts in the first place. An example of this is Pullman

and his war between the other competitors in his business. Since he owns all the houses,

schoolhouses, and churches of God in the town with his name, he can give the revenue of these

wages from these properties to one of his companies and take back with his other association

(Document 6). Another example is John D. Rockefeller and his major gifts he gave before he

died. Some of the highest donations he made were to associations and an institute all with his

name on is (Document 7), all for his own personal benefit even though his death was nearing.

Both of these men donated to their own organizations with the money they already earned from

their monopolies just to add on to the lasting impact they already had on the towns they were

from and to put emphasis on how much power and wealth they really had.

The system where the business and industrial leaders was very corrupt and they used this

corruption to their advantage to stir the wealth into their favor. They used extreme methods of

gaining all the status and money to be able to control and be superior to all the other competition

that tried to stand in their way, thus leading to the characterization of them as “robber barons”.