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The Growth of Corporate and Decline of Governmental Power
Some thirty or forty years ago American society discovered that this country lies remote from European complications. In this safety of isolation American society said: “We will lay aside the responsibilities and sacrifices of citizenship, and religiously ascribing all virtues and all growth and progress to a republican form of government, will allow our own to go to the dogs, devoting ourselves meanwhile to the business of getting rich.” The broadest views of duty were covered by the word “industry,” and of elevation by the word “wealth.” These ideas were flung about by the press, and caught up and adopted by society, so that every philanthropist who addressed a public school generally summed up his moral teachings in the prediction that all the good boys would work hard and get rich.
Such sayings as, “The world is governed too much,” “The less government you have, the better,” “Individual enterprise will accomplish everything, if you will only give it a chance,” were adopted as incontrovertible maxims, and society set itself to giving individual enterprise all the chance it asked. At the same time, the science of government, which had received so much attention from the earliest statesmen, was allowed to die out in this country, and the business of governing was gradually abandoned to a class of professional politicians contemptuously called office-holders and office-seekers, and the task of serving one’s country fell into general disrepute.
In a country so undeveloped on the one hand, and so rich in resources on the other, there were innumerable fields for individual enterprise—and fields of such vast extent as to be beyond the powers of any single fortune. Hence it was inevitable that individual enterprise should seek the aid of combined capitalists, and that these combinations should take the form of corporations. Such corporations were manifestly too small, too weak, and too local to control legislatures, or seriously conflict with the interests of the community which created them.They were practically, as well as theoretically, the creatures of the legislature, and created for the public convenience. In time, however, these several corporate links, with others of the great chain, became welded together, and since then consolidations here and “giant enterprises” there have brought great corporations upon the whole country. The immense power of great and concentrated wealth which is actively employed made itself almost immediately felt.
With such new forces springing into existence in every State, more numerous, if not intrinsically greater, than was ever known before in the history of corporate bodies, and growing rapidly into a magnitude that could never have been anticipated, and with the efficiency of American government constantly lessening, it is apparent that a time might, indeed must, come when Government would be really too inefficient to maintain the rights of society by duly restraining their aggressive powers. Such is not far from the condition of American society at the present moment. Corporations to a certain extent take the place in American society of the privileged classes in aristocratic Europe; for they constitute a feudal system which exacts service, if not homage, from an influential portion of every community, and which carries on a disguised warfare with the Government, sometimes in Congress, sometimes in State legislatures, in which warfare concentrated wealth and power are arrayed against the wishes and, in some cases, interests of society at large.