Law and the Conditions of Freedom in the Nineteenth- Century United States

By James Willard Hurst | Go to book overview

III
THE BALANCE OF POWER

MEASURED by patterns of legal policy, our "nineteenth century" began with the constitution-making years, 1776-1800, and ended about the time Theodore Roosevelt left the White House ( 1908). This was the span of fashioning a continental nation. In this length of years legal history moved from prime concern with the political challenge of social environment ( 1776-1800), into preoccupation with the economic challenge of physical and social circumstance ( 1800-1870), and then to a renewed political focus upon the general organization of power. True, the post-Civil War generation introduced changes of such order that they made a new nation, with a life qualitatively so different as to demand consideration within its own frame of reference. But these changes were inseparably linked both to the defined objectives and the unforeseen consequences of earlier nineteenth-century policy. The painful effort to understand what was happening to us and the redefinition of policy under the sheer pressure of events formed the necessary conclusion of one chapter of policy in order that we might open another.

Four clusters of fact of primary significance to law marked the emergence of a new order of society in the United States after 1870: (1) big industry, with rising productivity; (2) big finance, with the growth of the rentier interest as a subsidiary element; (3) continued large growth in population, accompanied by the relative growth of urban living; (4) increasing interdependence of activities.

Capital put into manufacturing doubled every decade up to 1900 and thereafter increased more slowly. Net national product grew about three times from 1870 to 1900, while population less than doubled, so that national income per capita increased. The percentage of the labor force engaged in nonagricultural work rose from 28 per cent in 1820 to 36 per cent in 1850, to 47 per cent in 1870, to 62 per cent in 1900. Factories became larger, but in the last quarter of the century the larger firms grew at the faster rate. By 1904 manufacturing companies producing over $1 million of value added in manufacturing were less than one per

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Law and the Conditions of Freedom in the Nineteenth- Century United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword v
  • Contents ix
  • I - The Release of Energy 3
  • II - The Control of Environment 33
  • III - The Balance of Power 71
  • Notes 109
  • Index 131
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