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National Civic Federation


NATIONAL CIVIC FEDERATION. The United States was a country of small businesses and family farms when the Civil War ended in 1865. Forty years later, however, railroads, gigantic industrial corporations, and financial institutions had transformed the nation. It was not a peaceful transformation, however. In 1877, starving workers furiously attacked railroad and other corporate property and were gunned down by company militias. Fifteen years later, southern and midwestern farmers rose against the political power of eastern banks and northern manufactures in the Populist revolt. By 1900, all such movements had been defeated, but the nation was still rife with social discontent.

After observing the hostility of Kansas Populists and Chicago Socialists toward corporate domination, Ralph M. Easley, a self-styled conservative Republican, became a crusader to rationalize and stabilize the new economic system. In 1900, he organized the National Civic Federation (NCF) to bring top business and labor leaders together in harmony. Above all, this was an organization of business leaders who believed, like J. P. Morgan's partner George W. Perkins, that unless the new trust system spread its benefits to workers, it could not survive. Agreeing, the coal baron and Ohio Senator Marcus A. Hanna, NCF's first president, hoped, by accommodating labor, to "lay the foundation stone of a structure that will last for all time." Top American Federation of Labor (AFL) leaders were happy to cooperate, including Samuel Gompers, NCF's first vice president. And prominent public figures, including former U.S. presidents Grover Cleveland and William H. Taft also joined this project of class cooperation.

Together—under the guidance of corporate leaders who had transcended a narrow interest-consciousness and were emerging as class-conscious leaders of the nation—these men sought to legitimize trade unions and foster cooperation between workers and employers. For almost twenty years—from 1900 to 1918—they had mixed success, until, during the war, the Wilson administration made them obsolete.


Weinstein, James. The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State, 1900– 1918. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981.


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