The Antitrust Movement

 

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Concern about "the trusts" and the rise of big business was not new in 1912. The trust issue went back at least to the 1880s.

Americans were often ambivalent about "the trusts" and the phenomenon of the rise of big business.  On the one hand, Americans admired the efficiencies that large businesses provided.  Department stores, for instance, grew at the expense of small merchants because department stores were popular.  The large stores provided attractive spaces for customers, as well as a wide range of different goods arranged in "departments" such as clothing for women and men, dry goods, appliances, hardware, and so forth.

On the other hand, Americans worried that the growth of large firms eliminated many opportunities for individuals to go into business.  The limitation of those opportunities seemed somehow to lessen freedom itself and to have potentially dangerous implications for republican society and democratic government.  Here the department store appears as a pig, keeping out the hungry small business person.

Frank Beard and other cartoonists expressed this ambivalence well before 1912.  The ambivalence resulted in a long history of antitrust activity before the election of 1912.