What are monopolies, and did Progressives object to them?
Many progressives were not in favor of monopolies. These people believed monopolies often acted in their self-interest, not in the best interests of the country or of the common person. Progressives like Teddy Roosevelt believed it was necessary to go after monopolies that weren’t considering the needs of the public. For example, when the Northern Securities Company formed, its formation nearly led to a financial panic. There was a big stock battle for control of a railroad company. This stock battle was led by E.H. Harriman, James Hill, and J.P. Morgan. President Roosevelt was so upset these men would only think of themselves that he took them to court. The Supreme Court ruled the Northern Securities Company violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Part of the reason why progressives didn’t eliminate all monopolies is that they couldn’t agree on how to handle the growth of big businesses. President Roosevelt felt that monopolies were acceptable if they acted fairly. He believed the government should regulate them instead of trying to eliminate them. Other progressives like Woodrow Wilson didn’t trust monopolies at all and supported eliminating them. Another issue with eliminating monopolies is that there were too many of them. It would have taken too much time and effort to go after every monopoly. It wouldn’t have been possible for the government to do this. Additionally, some monopolies were necessary. It wouldn’t make economic sense to have competing electric companies in an area. The set-up costs for these businesses are so high, it isn’t reasonable to expect there to be multiple electric companies. For the most part, progressive presidents were able to regulate monopolies but not eliminate them. Agencies like the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Bureau of Corporations, and the Federal Trade Commission all monitored the actions of big businesses. Laws such as the Hepburn Act and the Clayton Antitrust also helped to control the actions of big businesses.
An example of a monopoly would any public utility. People in an area generally get their electric power from the only power company in a region. The government regulates these companies so they don’t charge rates that are too high. A company like We Energies is an example of a monopoly in the Milwaukee area. Some people would say the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball are examples of monopolies. There is only one professional football league in our country. The same is true for baseball and basketball. These industries are free from competition and are able to operate without much fear of competitors.