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Labor History, Volume 4, Number 1 (Winter 1963), page 3.

Entrepreneurial Liberty and the Fourteenth Amendment

By John P. Roche

In the last quarter of the Nineteenth century and well on into the Twentieth, so the legend runs, the United States was dominated by a “conservative,” “individualist,” laissez-faire elite which succeeded in rewriting the Constitution and notably the Fourteenth Amendment to impose its ideology upon the nation.  This notion has a certain superficial persuasiveness, but regrettably it is hardly sustained by a close analysis of the history of the period. There was clearly an elite of businessmen, but it was neither ruggedly individualistic, in terms of classic liberal economic thought, nor “conservative,” in any acceptable definition of that much-abused term.  On the contrary, this elite lived at the public trough, was nourished by state protection, and devoted most of its time and energies to evading Adam Smith’s individualistic injunctions.  In ideological terms, it was totally opportunistic: It demanded and applauded vigorous state action in behalf of its key values, and denounced state intervention in behalf of its enemies.  The Constitution was not, in short, adapted to the needs of laissez-faire “conservatism”—which is a respectable, internally consistent system of political economy—but to the exigent needs of the great private governments.  The “Robber Barons” had no ideology, they had interests.  They had no theory of the state, but they knew what they wanted from it.  Their key value, entrepreneurial liberty, might require a strong state one day (to combat trade unions) and a weak state the next (which would not pass wage and hour legislation), and this inconsistency troubled them not.  If some scribe wanted to make them into “industrial statesmen,” or “pillars of conservatism,” that was merely one of the eccentricities of the division of labor.

The article continues and is very good, but I’m not copying it all down here.  Some definitions, in alphabetical order, may aid understanding the above:

adj. 1. Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.
n. A person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business veture. [From Old French entreprendre, undertake]
n. 1. A pressing or urgent situation.  2. Urgent requirements
n. Noninterference, especially an economic doctrine that opposes governmental involvement in commerce. [From French, “let do”

The editors of Labor History provided this information about the author, circa 1963:

John P. Roche, Morris Hillquit Professor of Labor and Social Thought at Brandeis University, is spending the current year as Visiting Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.  This essay is extracted from his forthcoming volume in The New American Nation series, The Constitution in the Industrial Age, to be published by Harper & Bros.
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