The late nineteenth century was a period of rapid industrialization and extreme economical expansion and wealth for America. Many businessmen such as J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt among others reached the pinnacle of wealth and amassed huge amounts of money. Many individuals developed contrasting attitudes and views on this newly created wealth. Among these individuals were Andrew Carnegie, Eugene V. Debs, and Booker T. Washington. Seemingly similar people, and yet they were almost completely different.
One was a well-known philanthropist who was one of the richest men in world, another was an educator and an advocate of Black advancement and the last a socialist and labor activist (Encarta). Their attitudes on the wealth of America during the late nineteenth century may have looked different, since they seemed to be completely different people and with different attitudes on wealth. But in reality, all of these three men’s attitudes toward the wealth created in America during the late nineteenth century were exactly the same: they all believed that this huge, new wealth should be redistributed back into society’s most needy areas.
Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was one of the most famous American philanthropists and industrialists (Encarta). He was a Scottish immigrant who had worked his way up from “rags to riches” in the railroad and steel industry. And by 1901, he was one of the richest men in the World and one of the few men who actually achieved the American ideal of “rags to riches” (Brinkley, Alan, et al 518). He amassed a huge fortune in the steel industry and in 1901 simply quit the business life and lived the rest of his life as a philanthropist.
Following the principles laid down in his book, The Gospel of Wealth, Carnegie donated over $300 million back to society, primarily through foundations and trusts. In this book, he believed that “People of wealth should consider all revenues in excess of their own needs as “trust funds” that they should administer for the good of the community, the person of wealth was “the mere trustee and agent for his poorer brethren,” (Brinkley, Alan, et al 523). But he didn’t believe in simply donating charity to the poor and needy, fearing they would become dependent on it.
He wanted to have this money fund primarily libraries, so that the poor could help themselves, exactly the way he had done. He believed all excess money was simply a blessing and an entrustment from the public that was to be redistributed back into society and in a way that would better it (Brinkley, Alan, et al 523). The Carnegie Corporation sums up Andrew Carnegie’s beliefs, “Many persons of wealth have contributed to charity, but Carnegie was perhaps the first to state publicly that the rich have a moral obligation to give away their fortunes.”
But to achieve this amazing wealth, Andrew Carnegie employed ruthless tactics as a businessmen. But his wealth was a double-edged sword in that “what he had done to get that money would forever weigh on his conscience,” (Video). It was the lives of “his underpaid steel workers and his ruthless business ethics that drove him to become a philanthropist of unusual fervor”, often saying, “The man, who dies rich, dies disgraced,” (Video). Almost exactly opposite of Carnegie, was Eugene Victor. Debs. Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) was “one of the greatest and most articulate advocates of workers’ power to have ever live,” (Marxist).
He led the formation of the American Railway Union (ARU) and the American Socialist Party. He also ran as the candidate for the Socialist party five times in 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912 and in 1920, losing all five (Marxist). Debs believed in socialism and in the equal distribution of wealth. This contrasted Carnegie because he believed everyone should be equal (at least economically), while Carnegie believed the rich were obligated to give back to society, but still supported capitalism as an economic system .
Debs worked much of his life to improve worker’s lives and fight the huge corporations that had amassed so much wealth, but had not allowed this wealth to be given out equally. Ironically, Debs was fighting for the rights of workers, many of these workers being of Carnegie, who later regretted his treatment of workers and was a big reason why he became such an avid philanthropist. And yet, despite these differences, Carnegie and Debs were similar in their attitudes as to what the new wealth in America should be used for.
Carnegie believed in the rich giving back all of their “excess” money to improve society, while Debs believed in economical and social equality, and therefore believed the government should redistribute the wealth to the people equally(CLPGH). Despite all of the many differences between these two men, that was the one thing that tied them together: the belief in the redistribution of wealth. This concept also ties in a third man, an advocate of Black economical advancement, educator and reformer, Booker T. Washington.
Booker Taliaferro Washington (1865-1915) was an educator, reformer and one of the most influential Black leaders of his time (PBS). He was regarded as “the national leader for the betterment of African Americans in the post-Reconstruction South,” (PBS). He advocated economic and industrial improvement of Blacks while at the same times accommodating Whites on voting rights and social equality. Washington also founded several organizations, including the National Negro Business League, in 1900, to help Blacks create their own businesses and to aid existing ones.
Because Washington accepted inequality and segregation for blacks in exchange for economic advancement, there were many Blacks who opposed him, most notably W. E. B DuBois. Washington also never publicly supported black political causes that were unpopular with the South. Despite this, Washington secretly financed lawsuits opposing segregation and upholding the right of blacks to vote and to serve on juries. He also owned and supported financially Black newspapers and urged Whites to donate to Black causes (PBS). All of Booker T. Washington’s efforts were for one goal; to improve the lives of Blacks and their economic conditions.
This was a form of the belief in the redistribution of wealth that Carnegie, Debs and Washington shared. Washington wanted to redistribute the wealth of America more evenly; specifically to the Black population. He urged blacks to “elevate themselves through hard work and material prosperity,” (PBS). He believed in the “education in the crafts, industrial and farming skills and the cultivation of the virtues of patience, enterprise and thrift,” (PBS). This was similar to Carnegie’s idea of creating libraries and other institutions for which the needy could educate themselves.
He also similar to both Debs and Carnegie in that they all believed that this new wealth in America could better society as a whole and all wanted to be redistributed back into society. Andrew Carnegie, known for his great contributions to society; Debs for his radical socialism beliefs; Washington for beliefs in working towards wealth all played a key role in shaping nineteenth century history. Andrew Carnegie believed the rich had a moral obligation to donate all of their excess wealth to society and to help others improve their lives (Video). Eugene V.
Debs believed in worker’s rights and unions and also supported a Socialist government as a way of distributing wealth equally (Marxist). Booker T. Washington believed in advancing Black economic status through education and hard work “as well accepting discrimination from Whites for the time being,” (PBS). All of their ideas were very contrasting, but however they each overlapped each other in a unique way which all advocated redistribution of wealth created in the United States during the late nineteenth century to the needy and to bettering society as a whole.
Works Cited Brinkley, Alan, et al. American History: A Survey. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. , 1991:pgs. 518-523 “Bridging the Urban Landscape: Andrew Carnegie: A Tribute. ” CLPGH. org. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. 13 February 2005 Cannon, James P. “Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive. ” Marxists. org. Marxists Internet Archive. 13 February 2005 “Carnegie, Andrew. ” http://encarta. msn. com. Microsoft® Encarta® Premium® Online Encyclopedia 2005. 13 February 2005 “Carnegie Corporation – About. ” http://carneige. org. The Carnegie Corporation of New York.
13 February 2005 “Debs, Eugene Victor. ” http://encarta. msn. com. Microsoft® Encarta® Premium® Online Encyclopedia 2005. 13 February 2005 “Frontline: the Two Nations of Black America: Booker T. & W. E. B. ” PBS. org. 1998. PBS Online. 13 February 2005 “The Video Collection – Andrew Carnegie. ” videocollection. com. Video Collection Classics. 13 February 2005 < http://www. videocollection. com/product. html? product_id=2713> “Washington, Booker T(aliaferro). ” http://encarta. msn. com. Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2005. 13 February 2005