The Growth of American Thought

By Merle Curti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XX Business and the Life of the Mind

You can't keep such men down. They are very shrewd men. I don't believe that by an legislative enactment or anything else, through any of the States or all the States, you can keep such men down. You can't do it! They will be on top all the time. You see if they are not.

-- WILLIAM H. VANDERBILT, 1879

If liberty, science, property, and labor are to continue to work together in the future as in the past for the advancement of civilization, the institutions of higher learning must be extended to the limits of their possibilities.

-- ABRAM S. HEWITT, 1896

Of the forces creating a new nation in the years between the Compromise of 1850 and the last decades of the century, the rapid advance of the business class was unquestionably one of the most important for American intellectual life. The advance of business was, to be sure, inextricably associated with the more basic transition from a society mainly rural and decentralized to one largely urbanized, mechanized, and centralized. The men of big business, the organizers of the new integrated economy, did not effect this transition, but in the sphere of intellectual history they were dramatic symbols of it. Even before the Civil War business itself or its spokesmen had begun to develop a rationale or justification for capitalistic enterprise, but intellectual leadership in the country had lain with professional men, with cultured representatives of old and established mercantile families, and with educated interpreters of the agricultural way of life. This leadership and the values associated with it were now challenged by the great economic and political power that a new type of entre, preneur came to wield in the third quarter of the century. The tri-

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