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Trusts & Monopolies

John D. Rockefeller, creator of Standard Oil, in the 1870s.

Business and industry were undergoing enormous changes in the U.S. during the 1890s. The first class of multimillionaires had made their fortunes in the Civil War, and during subsequent decades they began to consolidate holdings in a number of industries with national and international reach. Among the most famous were Carnegie Steel and John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company.

John D. Rockefeller, (right) creator of Standard Oil, in the 1870s. This portrait appeared in Ida Tarbell's History of Standard Oil (McClure's, 1904), a muckraking investigative work that stirred public opinion. Tarbell's book also contained portraits and profiles of other leading industrialists, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt. Nalinda Sapukotana of the University of Rochester has placed Tabell's History online.

The Sherman Anti-Trust Act, passed in 1890, was the first important federal measure to limit the power of companies that controlled a high percentage of market share. Ironically, in the 1890s the Act was used primarily to block strikes, since it prevented any 'conspiracy to restrict trade,' and businesses like the Pullman Railcar Company argued that labor unions were such conspiracies. They won the support of state and federal militia to enforce this anti-labor view. At the same time, the Supreme Court ruled in 1895 that many forms of business combination did not constitute "trusts" that restrained interstate trade, and thus could not be prosecuted under federal law. The Interstate Commerce Commission had been created, but it did not yet have the powers it obtained in a later era, and critics considered it ineffectual.

Antagonism toward "trusts" and "monopolies" was wide-ranging. Critics of "The Trusts" often targeted silver and gold mines in the West and other large companies whose employees faced hazardous conditions and low wages. Others attacked "The Trusts" and "Wall Street" in the same breath, identifying J. P. Morgan and other financiers as the agents of industrial consolidation. In rural areas, the most dangerous monopolies appeared to be the railroads, which controlled shipping rates along their lines. Railroad magnates like Jay Gould and C. P. Huntington were among the targets of free-silverites ire. Farmers also denounced grain elevators and speculators: the rise of agricultural futures markets, accompanying mechanization of harvesting and processing, caused many farmers to feel increasingly helpless in the face of large institutions beyond their control. In short, denunciation of "The Trusts" symbolized broad fears about the size and power of big business in America.

Trusts also became a central issue in the 1896 campaign because of the fundraising activities of Mark Hanna and the Republican National Committee. Hanna collected large sums from leading industrialists, most of whom were terrified at the prospect of a Bryan victory. While such men opposed free silver, their fear of pro-labor and anti-trust legislation probably played a greater role in inspiring their donations. In calling attention to the connections between Republicans and industrialists, Silver Democrats and other anti-McKinleyites were not exaggerating. The Republican National Committee raised and spent (by its own accounting) at least $4,000,000 during the campaign--a staggering sum for the day, assembled largely from major gifts by industrialists and financiers. In addition, some of McKinley's allies, notably Whitelaw Reid of New York, solicited J. P. Morgan's advice in drafting the financial planks of the Republican platform.

The Democrats' Chicago platform called for greater regulation of trusts and pools. On Labor Day, Bryan gave a widely noted speech (see right) in which he suggested that one of the purposes of government was to put 'rings in the noses of hogs'--a reference to regulation of trusts, though Bryan suggested that such 'hogs' should still be allowed to get 'fat.' Both Democrats and Republicans responded with cartoons identifying other 'hogs' to be controlled (see Rocky Mountain News, September 9; National Reflector, September 26).

The strength of anti-trust sentiment was suggested by Republicans' adoption of the issue, late in the campaign, to criticize the silver mining money that the 'silver trust' added to Democratic coffers. Anti-trust sentiment continued to grow after 1896 and became a central political issue of the Progressive Era.


Can Mr. Hanna buy the voters of the Midwest? The Standard Oil Company, the great railroad corporations, the big manufacturing trusts, the bond syndicates, Mr. Carnegie, Mr. Pierpont Morgan, Mr. Huntington, and all the rest of the high-minded patriots who are furnishing Mr. Hanna with the means to defend the national honor, think he can. —New York Journal, 13 October 1896

John Quincy Adams had been elected as a Democrat, but he abandoned the party, repudiated the principles to which it had pledged his administration, and eneavored to revive the Federalistic party whose fundamental maxim, as defined by Daniel Webster himself, was that all stable and orderly government must be based on property.

As the fundamental tenet of Democracy is that all just government must be based on manhood right and on the consent of the governed, the massed of the Democratic party felt the same hot resentment against the Adams administration which they now feel when they see Federal officeholders controlling the action of conventions called at the instance of Mr. Whitney of the Standard Oil Co. and Mr. Belmont, American agent of the Rothschild banks.

...Against plutocracy and class government the Democratic party has made its "appeal to Caesar." And in America there is no king but Caesar and no Caesar but the people. —St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 13 September 1896

Silver-Mine Owners Buy the Popocratic Party.
Colorado Chips in a Half-million Dollars--Utah, Montana, Idaho and Nevada Will Furnish Much More to the Pool.

—Los Angeles Times, 14 September 1896

In regards to trusts in general Mr. Bryan is sound. What has Mr. McKinley to say on the subject? He knows that the trusts are not myths. He must have seen the list of 139 of them published in The World. He must be aware of the purely arbitrary advance of $1.50 a ton in the price of coal by the great Coal Trust. He cannot be ignorant of other extortions and robberies by these monopolies. He has seen Senator Sherman's opinion, telegraphed to The World, that "no doubt the existing Anti-Trust law can be enforced by a President and vigorous Attorney-General in sympathy with it."

...What do you think about the trusts? Speak out, Mr. McKinley!

—New York World, October 6, 1896

What is the difference between Mark Hanna and a silver-mine owner? One is a shining Mark and the other is a mining shark. —Charles E. Farrell in New York World, 11 October 1896

From Bryan's Labor Day Speech in Chicago I was passing through Iowa some months ago, and I got an idea from some hogs. [Laughter.] ... As I was riding along I noticed these hogs rooting in a field, and they were tearing up the ground, and the first thought that came to me was that they were destroying a good deal of property. And that carried me back to the time when as a boy I lived upon a farm, and I remembered that when we had hogs we used to put rings in the noses of the hogs, and then the thought came to me, 'Why did we do it?' Not to keep the hogs from getting fat. We were more interested in their getting fat than they were. [Laughter.] The sooner they got fat the sooner we killed them; the longer they were in getting fat the longer they lived. But why were the rings put in the noses of those hogs? So that, while theywere getting fat, they would not destroy more property than they were worth. [Laughter and great applause.] And as I thought of that this thought came to me, that one of the duties of the government, one of the important duties of government, is the putting of rings in the noses of hogs. [Applause.]

To the Editor of The World:

I desire to express for our people in this section our approval of your attacks upon the trusts and McKinley's and Hanna's participation in and sympathy therewith. We believe that it is an issue in the present campaign, and that this and the using of money to the extent that it is intended to be used by the Republican National Committee in this campaign are of far more importance to our people than the issue between gold and silver. —"S.," North East, Pennsylvania, New York World, September 21, 1896


The following is a list in part of the members of the Union League Club Committee that has been appointed to provide funds to combat the free silver sentiment. Each man is possessed of great wealth and in control of much more:

NAME: John D. Rockefeller
OCCUPATION: Manufacturing
WORTH: $125,000,000

Cornelius Vanderbilt, Railroads

C. P. Huntington, Railroads

J. Pierpont Morgan, Banker

Joseph Milbank, Banker

Andrew Carnegie, Manufacturer

William D. Sloane, Carpets

John Sloane, Carpets

David Dowes, Banker

Herman O. Armour, Provisions

Brayton Ives, Banker

John H. Starin, Transportation

George Bliss, Banker

Samuel Thomas, Contractor

Charles L. Tiffany, Jeweler

LeGrand B. Cannon, Railroads

Henry H. Cook, Financier

... (If the wealth of this committee were converted into metallic money it would absorb all the gold in the United States and about $75,000,000 of the silver.) —Raleigh News and Observer, September 6, 1896, reprinted from New York Journal, 3 August 1896

Are you rich? If yes, how did you get rich? Is somebody else poor because you are rich? Are you rich because somebody else was willing to work while you loafed around? Did you get rich by taking from the man who worked for you four-fifths of all he produced? If yes, is that sort of thing creditable to you? When you started out to get rich why didn't you do it by working yourself? Couldn't you get rich without stealing what another produced? —The Coming Nation, August 1, 1896

Cartoons on the Trusts

  • 19 March, People’s Advocate
  • 15 April, Sound Money
  • 22 July, Rocky Mountain News
  • 5 August, Rocky Mountain News
  • 18 August, Rocky Mountain News
  • 20 August, Sound Money
  • 22 August, The Ram’s Horn
  • 3 September, New York Journal
  • 12 September, New York Journal
  • 17 September, Rocky Mountain News
  • 20 September, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • 21 September, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • 1 October, St. Paul Pioneer Press
  • 13 October, New York Journal
  • 15 October, Rocky Mountain News
  • 17 October, The Coming Nation
  • 21 October, The Coming Nation
  • 22 October, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • 30 October, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • 31 October, New York Journal
  • 14 November, The Coming Nation

© Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press

© 2010 Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press

click a pic to learn more

Major events of the campaign,
in cartoon and story. (Click date)

  • Feb 27: People’s Advocate: Reading Tillman's Speech
  • Mar 19: People’s Advocate: Pitchfork
  • Apr 4: The Ram’s Horn: Rescued
  • Apr 15: Sound Money: History Repeats Itself
  • Apr 25: The Ram’s Horn: The Stranger at Our Gate
  • May 28: Prohibitionist’s convention, Pittsburgh, PA
  • June 16: Republican convention, St. Louis, MO
  • June 21: Denver New Road: Cleveland's Romance
  • June 28: L.A. Times: Bucking a Wall
  • July 4: Socialist convention, New York, NY
  • July 11: Democratic convention, Chicago, Illinois
  • July 9: Rocky Mountain News: A Soliloquy
  • July 11: Harper’s Weekly: Gold Bugs
  • July 12: L.A. Times: The Old Lady and Her New Wheel
  • July 16: People’s Advocate: McKinley's Evil Sprit
  • July 18: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Bryan
  • July 22: Silver convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 25: People’s Party convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 22: Rocky Mountain News: Wall Street's Private Studio
  • July 25: Harper’s Weekly: Farmer McKinley
  • July 25: Judge: The Silver Candle
  • July 27: Chicago Record: Bryan's Tightrope
  • Aug 5: Rocky Mountain News: The Plain English of It
  • Aug 6: Sound Money: Spain and Rothschilds
  • Aug 8: McKinley accepts Republican nomination
  • Aug 9: Denver New Road: Bryan's Romance
  • Aug 12: Bryan accepts Democratic nomination
  • Aug 13: American Non-Conformist: Farmer Hanna
  • Aug 15: Rocky Mountain News: Bryan the Lion
  • Aug 16: L.A. Times: Aesop's Fox
  • Aug 18: Rocky Mountain News: Hanna the Wizard
  • Aug 20: Sound Money: The Cross of Gold
  • Aug 20: L.A. Times: Popocratic Witches
  • Aug 22: The Ram’s Horn: A Double Burden
  • Aug 29: Harper’s Weekly: McKinley the Veteran
  • Aug 29: Labor Advocate: Look at This
  • Aug 30: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Dime Museum
  • Sept 2: National (Gold) Democratic convention, Indianapolis, IN
  • Sept to Nov 1: McKinley front-porch campaign, Canton, OH
  • Sept 3: New York Journal: Li Hung Chang
  • Sept 5: Harper’s Weekly: The Crown of Thorns
  • Sept 5: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Just the Bare Facts
  • Sept 6: L.A. Times: Comrades in Arms
  • Sept 6: St. Paul Pioneer Press: A Bryan Dollar
  • Sept 8: Early election day in Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 9: Rocky Mountain News: John Bull
  • Sept 10: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 11 to Nov 1: Bryan travels 13,000 miles by train, stump-speaking around the nation.
  • Sept 11: St. Paul Pioneer Press: The Divorcee
  • Sept 11: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Uncle Sam Diagnoses
  • Sept 12: Labor Advocate: Their Argument Misses Fire
  • Sept 12: The Ram’s Horn: Building Up His Business
  • Sept 12: Harper’s Weekly: Populist Supreme Court
  • Sept 12: New York Journal: Hanna's Funds
  • Sept 13: Boston Globe: The Silver Dog
  • Sept 13: L.A. Times: Uncle Sam's Circus
  • Sept 14: L.A. Times: Populist Pandora
  • Sept 14: Rocky Mountain News: Playing Upon a Single String
  • Sept 17: Rocky Mountain News: Chinese Immigration
  • Sept 18: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Against Turkey
  • Sept 18: Rocky Mountain News: A Horrible Suspicion
  • Sept 19: Judge: Bryan's Cross
  • Sept 19: Labor Advocate: How They Love The Farmers
  • Sept 19: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Election-Year Friend
  • Sept 20: Boston Globe: Writ of Replevin'
  • Sept 20: L.A. Times: Populist Delilah
  • Sept 20: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: The Sultan Laughs
  • Sept 20: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: John Bull's Theft
  • Sept 21: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Robber And His Victim
  • Sept 24: L.A. Times: Resurrecting Secession
  • Sept 24: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Treachery
  • Sept 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Democratic Jonah
  • Sept 26: Harper’s Weekly: Silver Bullfight
  • Sept 26: L.A. Times: For Sale
  • Sept 26: National Reflector: Rings On The Hog
  • Sept 26: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Bicyclist Bryan
  • Sept 29: L.A. Times: Poor Circulation
  • Oct 1: Pioneer Press: Silver Trust Hog
  • Oct 3: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Workingman's Friend
  • Oct 4: Raleigh New and Observer: Hanna and Dixon
  • Oct 6: Election Day in the state of Florida (not all states voted on the first Tuesday in Nov).
  • Oct 6: Chicago Times: X-Ray of Bryan's Brain
  • Oct 6: Pioneer Press: Silver Conversation
  • Oct 6: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Florida's Lifeline
  • Oct 8: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Democratic Florida
  • Oct 8: New York Journal: Confident Hanna
  • Oct 10: Harper’s Weekly: Three Witches
  • Oct 10: The Coming Nation: The Worker's Treadmill
  • Oct 11: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Resurrection
  • Oct 13: New York Journal: Hanna and Workers
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Bryan as Jack Cade
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Gold Balloon
  • Oct 15: Coxey's Sound Money: Uncle Sam Enslaved
  • Oct 15: Rocky Mountain News: Elected McKinley
  • Oct 16: Boston Globe: Bryan the Salesman
  • Oct 17: Coming Nation: Labor Exploitation
  • Oct 20: L.A. Times: Burning Cross of Gold
  • Oct 21: The Coming Nation: Socialism
  • Oct 22: Sound Money: The Old Party Scale
  • Oct 22: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna's Crown of Thorns
  • Oct 24: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Guiteau
  • Oct 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Bryan's Balloon
  • Oct 25: Omaha World Herald: Getting Women to Register
  • Oct 27: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna, Trusts, and Morgan
  • Oct 28: Puck: A New Civil War
  • Oct 30: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna in Lehigh Valley
  • Oct 31: Republicans announce “Flag Day,” then argue with Democrats and Populists over meaning of the flag
  • Oct 31: Harper’s Weekly: Democratic Wind-Up Toys
  • Oct 31: New York Journal: Buncombe Brigade
  • Oct 31: The Ram’s Horn: Ignorance, Stupidity, and Fraud
  • Nov 2: McKinley wins presidential election
  • Nov 2: L.A. Times: Clown Bryan
  • Nov 4: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: Knock-Out Punch
  • Nov 4: St. Paul Pioneer Press: Elephant on the Silver Pillow
  • Nov 5: Sound Money: Prediction for 1900
  • Nov 14: Judge: Republican Tam O'Shanter
  • Nov 14: Coming Nation: Our Farmers Situation
  • Dec: Overland Monthly: Uncle Sam Looks Abroad
New Spirits
New Spirits
Perceptions and Realities: The Victorian Age Inventions of the era Tramps and Millionaires Yellowstone Park Journals of the era White City/1893 Worlds Fair The Civil War President McKinley