Economic History of the United States

By Chester W. Wright | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVI
THE STATE AND THE ECONOMIC ORDER

Introduction. In the interaction between the economic life and the political institutions of the country during this period two factors played a predominant part. One was the steadily growing demand for a more truly democratic and representative government. The ideals underlying the revolutionary movement had by no means been carried out to their logical conclusions in the political institutions that were afterwards set up, for the new Constitution reflected a fear of the masses; the same was true of the state governments. Yet those ideals were inherent in human nature; the whole trend of history reflects the never ceasing struggle toward their attainment, a struggle which only becomes the more determined as the economic advance of the people makes possible a higher civilization and, at the same time that it broadens and raises their ideal aspirations, gives them greater power to enforce their demands. These were ideals which, as has been previously pointed out, the whole social environment in the United States tended to accentuate. Just as in colonial times, so during this period, that influence was a potent factor in accentuating the demand for more democratic political institutions. The results are reflected in the marked broadening of the franchise and in the various changes designed to give the people more immediate and direct control in the affairs of the state.

The second factor was the rapid economic development of the country and the marked changes in the organization of industrial society. The state performs so numerous and such important functions in the economic life of a people that the interaction between political and economic institutions is very close and changes in either group of institutions generally necessitate changes in the other group so as to secure the proper coordination between the two. During most periods in the history of the United States the changes in the economic life of the people and in the organization of industrial society have been taking place more rapidly than changes in the political institutions and legislation; the former have commonly set the pace and the latter have tended to lag behind. In the period under review such changes as followed the opening up of the West, the introduction of railways, the rise of the factory system, the spread of banking, the increase of the laboring classes, the growth of cities, and the development of a national economy, created new problems

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