The Issue of Federal Regulation in the Progressive Era

By Richard Abrams | Go to book overview

nomic activity is emphasized more strongly than negative regulation or the correction of abuses.". . . In the America [that the revisionists] described there was no particular disposition to question the propriety of public enterprise, where private efforts proved inadequate to meet public needs. . . . The need for capital was the factor that most frequently determined government entry into the field of enterprise; only public authorities could command sufficient credit at a reasonable interest rate for work of the size demanded. . . . Underlying every justification for state endeavor was the hope that by public effort businessmen of a locality would prosper, that land values would rise, and that the competitive position of the area would be improved. The whole business community was dependent on state execution of the general investment functions necessary to economic growth; it was by state endeavor that "idle resources could be brought into employment and the social income maximized." . . .

However varied the explanations for public sponsorship of enterprise, the facts supporting these stories can be summarized in one generalization: the movement was virtually unlimited both as to time and place. From Missouri to Maine, from the beginning to the end of the nineteenth century, governments were deeply involved in lending, borrowing, building, and regulating. Beyond this observation summary is difficult. . . . Massachusetts, for instance, used licensing laws to grant monopoly privileges to selected entrepreneurs; the pioneer glass manufacturers of the state were promised years of freedom from competition. Bounties were given quite freely by several states, particularly to agriculture. Maine paid out $150,000 in the year 1839 alone to wheat and corn producers; nine states subsidized silk culture; and Massachusetts aided fisheries and naval stores production. Tax exemptions and relief of workers from poll taxes or from militia and jury duty were other means by which industries in certain states were encouraged. Pennsylvania was active for a number of years after the Revolution in fixing prices for certain goods and services. Many states encouraged quality production by inspection laws. affecting in particular goods consigned to interstate commerce. Georgia maintained 30 public warehouses for the grading and marketing of tobacco by 1800; and Missouri inspected virtually all tobacco exported after she constructed a $25,000 tobacco warehouse at St. Louis in 1843. Stay laws, relief laws, and public loan offices were familiar phenomena after the Panic of 1819.

The authors cited have skirted warily around one type of major undertaking comparable in scope to the internal improvements effort. Enterprise throughout the union depended heavily on the credit provided by the investment of state capital in banking operations. Recent reappraisals of the operations of the Second Bank of the United States, however, have not been followed by more than casual summaries of the way in which states put their resources behind public or mixed banking systems. . . . No one, for instance, has developed the challenging conclusion offered by Guy S. Callender more than 50 years ago, to the effect that the southwestern states, in their large-scale grants of credit

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