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Reflective Essay On “The Robber Barons-The Great American Capitalists” by Matthew Josephson

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Author’s Viewpoint
  • Persons Named as Robber Barons
  • Gilded Age
  • Barons Influencing All the Institutions of the country
  • About Morgan
  • Again Barons
  • Conclusion with a personal viewpoint


“The Robber Barons” describes the emergence of men of a small class during American Civil War period, and they grabbed the power. They were angry, and under crises, almost all of them performed the things which were against the norms established among the ordinary people of the society. Also, many of them demonstrated courage. Like the medieval figures, the robber barons were quite influential personalities of rapid industrial revolution age. These Robber Barons were the people who drove the modernisation of American economic life at a fast pace (Josephson). They set the foundation of mass production which took over the dispersed level of production. Further, industrial projects were refined from the stage when they were based on individuals and were uneconomical. Managing and grabbing resources of the whole country, turning farmers into producers, and the purpose of doing so was to make the profit is a huge contradiction and is catastrophic which results in chaos and anger all over.

Author’s Viewpoint

The writer Matthew Josephson highlights the process of industrial concentration that took place in America. This is further discussed with the help of the financial situations and personalities that were involved from 1861 to 1901. This book also sheds light on the tactics through which nation’s resources were acquired in advance. The political institutions were controlled and manipulated. New barons changed the overall socio-economic structure. So, in this context, this is an interesting study of American culture of Capitalism.

Matthew Josephson wrote “The Robber Barons” in 1934, but under the current situation, it seems a bit outdated regarding the enjoyable study of history. The writer tried to elaborate the concept of leadership in the late nineteenth century. However, one would feel that the books that are authored by today’s writers about that era are more exciting as compared to the book that was written back in 1934. Josephson’s inspiration from the events that were taking place in Russia during the time of writing is evident. The pattern of power and world dynamics had changed at the time when he was writing. However, he was reviewing the period in which civil war began, and many individuals had the power and skill to develop power ranks in their fields, they were able to achieve this through the massive expansion of United States during that time.

Persons Named as Robber Barons

Some known names brought second industrial revolution to the United States at colossal scale, and their names are Morgan, Carnegie, Astor, Armour, Vanderbilt, Gould, Rockefeller. The new term “Captains of the industry” coined for these wealthy nineteenth-century industrialists. They were ambitious in revolutionising America. The whole process was not simple, and it was not an economic front rather the industrial revolution has seen a lot of bloodsheds. Josephson describes the exciting stories that how men faced their competitors, their involvement in bloody wars over a railroad line or its cargo, damaging their health in power struggle, manipulatively changing fortunes from nowhere using borrowing and inflating. This industrial revolution gave rise to corporate greed, low wages to employees with long hours, headed by people who would give you an impression that they are all doing this for the benefit of the country but they are doing this to make bucks. Josephson describes as to how politicians are purchased, deliberate policies that were adopted to make sure the system of trade Union and development fails. This whole exploitation aimed to turn the balance of power in their favour, which was their ultimate objective. In the decades of 1870 and 1880 such moves were carried out openly and proudly. When the twentieth century was approaching, the next generations of barons started lobbying professionally; they also became public relation experts to justify their engagement in rule violations that they committed whenever it suited them. This book contains learning material for those who want to get information about the time between Civil War and Gilded Age of the 1890s as this topic has remained uncovered in many other books despite the fact that it was a significant part of American history.

Gilded Age

Gilded age is known as improved and increased mechanisation process in manufacturing.

Businesses were looking for the ways to manufacture products abundantly through efficient systems. Corporate heads adopted various techniques to raise the productivity level. They timed their workers with the help of stopwatches. Machine shops saw rapid growth as skilled workers and engineers were employed there. Modern management concepts were developed through railroads. Statistical data and other relevant reports become the part of the corporate environment. Young people aged 18 to 21 were hired, and later they were promoted. Career opportunities were offered to blue collar workers and white collared managers. Colossal management, communication and transportation networks were created. Corporation emerged as a dominant force in America by the end of the nineteenth century.

Barons Influencing all the Institutions

The newly rich men robber barons who quickly entered the highest power of economic corridors received a worldwide acknowledgement for almost twenty years after the end of Civil War. They attained the glory of the top level. They indeed succeeded to turn general perception in their favour. The pendulum was swinging in their favour. They enjoyed the great relationship with the press. These successful industrialists then portrayed themselves as humans of the highest order in the American environment. They wanted to take command of every single institution and society of the country. They were eyeing fashion society which was termed as a kept class. In short, the merchants, steel industrialists, copper barons became senators, penetrated into the highest ranks of national governments. Their acquisition of power doesn’t end here, and they also became leaders of churches, established partnerships and ownership in mainstream media, became trustees of educational institutions and got themselves recognised as notable personalities of fashion societies. In this way, they worked for the advancement of their policies and strengthened their principles, directly as well as using indirect means. Apparently, they all had an image of a superior human beings, great worshippers, genuinely pious people who were born to rule with the implementation of their policies for the welfare of humanity. Josephson was of the view that these people were money lords which subsequently helped them influencing and controlling other walks of life. The capitalist system is described as the hierarchical system of master and slave, dominant and subservient, derived from an early method of exploitation where powerful controlled weak. The whole procedure was suitable for Frick or Morgan.

About Morgan

Morgan was known to be extremely proud, and he had rude and undemocratic behaviour towards his associates, he would treat them very harshly in case they took time to obey his orders. In 1879, Morgan with the help of this colleagues earned a considerable profit of $ 3,000,000 as a commission out of the sale of 250,000 shares of New York Central stock that was entrusted by William Vanderbilt. Further, Morgan held the position of director of New York Central. After a year, Drexel, Morgan and Co. were involved in bankers association that elevated $ 40,000,000 in bonds for damaged Northern Pacific Railroads, at the rate of 10%. These are only two of the major operations that Morgan performed with technical ability. The wealth that Morgan had gathered was enormous, he could’ve easily given money to needy borrowers, and the best utilisation of that would’ve been on common people.

Again the Robber Barons

The master of businesses and top-notch industrialists are still at the helm, and they are the people who control the schools, churches and even the opinion of people. The captains of the industry worked hard to get political mileage. Their philosophy and ideology prevail in every part of the country. Also, as nations’ fiscal policy they supported the concept of stable currency. For the better living standard of masses, they introduced Protective Tariff. To keep pirates and other races away, they also emphasised on big Navy. After grabbing all the economic advantages, they willingly gave people civil rights and all the liberties.



Finally, the whole book describes power struggle of barons. Their sole purpose was to achieve grab might by any means. For this purpose, bloody wars were fought. The nations’ resources were grabbed to gain personal gains. Moran and Co. multiplied their wealth through banking channels. Through their manipulative tactic, barons were accepted worldwide during the post-civil war period. In the book, a writer makes the point the whole system of capitalisation is based on exploitation. During the industrial revolution, the focus was on increasing production. For that purpose, labour was employed to work for long hours by setting the timer during their working hours. Once barons acquired power, deliberate measures were taken to lessen the effectiveness of labour and trade unions. With time they controlled media, journalists, purchased politicians, set feet in fashion society. The gave impression as if they were working for the welfare of people, but the sole purpose behind the whole struggle was to keep power in hand and leave the legacy for their generations to come. They always considered themselves above the law and to justify the actions they controlled and manipulated the press. In the year 1934 when the book was written situation was more or less the same. Same people were controlling the country and its resources with their agenda. A corporation was the dominant factor at the time. Different taxes were levied on the people in the name of raising the standard of living. The whole system made rich, the richer. In the book Morgan’s personality was assessed as well, his rude behavior with his fellows was criticized.

Personal viewpoint

I agree with the writer’s viewpoint. The robber barons exploited the whole system for their gains. So much exploitation was done during those days. The idea behind the entire system capitalisation is to develop private partnerships and ownerships for accumulating wealth, that is what the robber barons did, they controlled financial institutions, universities, press and even fashion society and even churches. Morgan’s attitude was undemocratic and how can such people implement the democratic values in the country. A businessman sees the resources of the nation as an opportunity to further his wealth. The whole system was corrupted. The ordinary people who form the majority of the country were not financially established. The distribution of wealth was unfair and unequal. Also, the mindset of ruling elite was same in the 1930s. If all the institutions of the country are under the control of few influential people, it implies that such people are above the law. The robber barons considered themselves as fortune makers.

Works Cited




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