America’s Antebellum Capitalists: Captains of Industry or Robber Barrons?

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More often than not, America’s antebellum capitalists are accused of being the “robber barons” of industrial America. The misconception is that these men took advantage of a naïve and growing economy and reaped its benefits without giving anything in return. True, the majority of America was poor in comparison to the few elites, but the philanthropist efforts and contributions of these men can not be denied. If not for these men and their efforts, there would have been no one to pave the road to America’s industrial domination.

Successful capitalists of the late 1800s were referred to as “robber barons” because of the common belief that they were responsible for the farmers’ grievances (doc. D). The weapon of these “robber barons” was
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However, if these men did not create such methods to harness the industry, there would have been no other alternative for America as a whole to grow. The South had already proved that dependence on a one-crop economy was a failing gamble, and all other innovations were too primitive and needed these men’s wealth and power to grow anyway.

The laboring class argues that work conditions were horrible; they were unsanitary, overbearing, exhausting, and the list continues (doc. F and G). While this argument holds true, it can not be denied that if more money had been spent on salaries and the beautification of the working environment, the manufacturers would have had no wealth to redistribute to philanthropist purposes. If Rockefeller had not “stolen” from his workers, who then would have contributed to the University of Chicago’s educational and enlightenment funds? If Carnegie had not donated his funds to the creation and prosperity of Carnegie University, how then would the University’s present day achievements have come alive? The fact of the matter is that if it were not for these “robber barons” and their philanthropy, there would be no solid educational basis for America to grow from. And without some form of education, the innovations that America’s greatest inventors created would have not found their way to industrial success and popularity.

So while it is true that these capitalists’ wealth widened the gap between the rich and poor,
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