Antitrust activity occurred in courts and in legislative bodies.
The English common law expressed admonitions against combinations in restraint of trade among businesses. These expressions continued in American courts through the 19th century. State governments after the Civil War sometimes sued companies for anticompetitive activities, or for price-fixing. Courts sometimes acted against large businesses, and businesses that wanted to cooperate knew that they could not do so contractually. There was a growing literature about "monopoly, such as an Atlantic Monthly article by Henry Demarest Lloyd."
Both the Republican and Democratic platforms of 1888 contained calls for antitrust action.
In 1890 Congress enacted the first federal antitrust statute, the Sherman Act. The key part of the law read:
"Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal."
During the years between 1890 and 1912 Americans discussed and debated "the trust issue." The courts also wrestled with the meaning of the Sherman Act.
[ Early Trust Prosecutions ]