The issue of government involvement was a major one around the time period from 1865 to 1900. People began to officially believe the government was violating their laissez-faire policy around 1877, however the critical point of controversy began with the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. Before this act which resulted in many violent strikes, government was simply expected to practice minimal governmental intervention in the American economy. This policy was clearly understood in the eyes of most Americans as an existence, but the extent to which each individual understood the exact idea of laissez-faire I highly questionable. Laissez-faire is in itself unstable as to the guidelines that government is supposed to follow and the lines that Americans cannot cross. There was not an official document, like the Constitution, which one could turn to in the event of a controversy. Therefore controversy was inevitable.
American citizens undoubtedly favored the general principle of laissez-faire, but each to a varying extent. Some wanted the government to be cut off completely, and some still believed solid government interaction as a major advantage to the success of the nation. Certain state matters were brought up at times that allowed for argument over the involvement of the federal government. For example, in 1877,Daniel Knowlton testified before the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, and emphatically questioned the proper functions of government and ?how far, if at all, it may interfere with the natural laws governing commerce, manufacturers, and agriculture.? He acknowledged the only rights of the federal government to be things like maintaining domestic tranquility, and defending the people of invasion. These are legitimate thoughts and opinions, but that is exactly what they are- thoughts and opinions. He even admits that in saying he ?conceives? them to be the proper functions of governmen, and goes on to question the real ones, implying further the fact that he, a typical American., has no idea what the actual principle of laissez-faire is. However his last statement is one which is of some value and conveys the typical American's point of view on the whole matter and the pure reason for any of the controversy preceding or following the time period of this statement: ?It is better always to leave individual enterprise to do most that is to be done in the country.? ( DOC A1) This idea is reinforced in the court case of Munn vs. Illinois, in which it is officially stated that ?owners of property in which the public has an interest must submit to be controlled by the public for the common good.? (DOC B) After this court case it should be clearer to everyone the extent which is meant by the idea of laissez-faire.
The questions of the importance and seriousness of laissez-faire now answered, there is not much more controversy until about 1886. Many problems in the railroad system developed, concerning the issue of costs and claimed attempts of the larger trade dealers to take advantage of the smaller ones. Some major issues included the attempt to ?make capital count for more than an individual credit and enterprise , to concentrate business at great commercial centers, to necessitate combinations and aggregations of capital, to foster monopoly,??? The railroad committee struggled greatly through these accusations, the united states having ?the most efficient railway service and the lowest rates known in the world.? Meanwhile the federal government has been pressuring the railway committee to let them help in working out the solution, and the railroad committee soon accepts, all their efforts being ineffective. (DOC C) Consequentially, the Interstate Commerce bill is passed in congress, and described as ?a long stride in the direction of paternal government?(DOC D) meaning the Americans are sensing a complete end to laissez-faire, and do not like this change. Soon following this ?long stride? a huge amount of unhappy Americans began strikes, which ended extremely violently and ruined the society of America.(DOC L)
In reality, government did not violate any principles during the questioned time of 1865 to 1900. This is proven in the non-existence of official documents stating the controversial topic of laissez-faire until 1877(Munn v. Illinois), and the fact that, after this case was resolved, congress did not interfere in any way that violated the statements made, and provided aid only