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Nobody Here But Us Capitalists:  Democracy, Big Business, and Progress at the turn of the 20th century

Day 5 - Discuss Solutions to society's problems

The five names were on the board. Then we came up with what each historical figure thought was needed. Below are what we agreed on in the honors class:

  • Carnegie = the wealthy should give back to the community
  • Riis = need public housing and laws to control landlords
  • Steffens = do away with political machines
  • Tarbell = government needs to enforce the Sherman Anti- Trust Act and control corruption
  • Addams = (in this piece) individual volunteers must give of their time and resources to aid the downtrodden

Joseph Keppler cartoon
"The Bosses of the Senate," 1889
Click on image for larger version.

Then we voted (anonymously, on paper) on who would have made society more democratic.

The vote worked well. The honors class voted:

  • Carnegie = 2,
  • Riis = 0,
  • Steffens = 8,
  • Tarbell = 10, and
  • Addams = 4.

The AP class voted:

  • George = 1,
  • Carnegie = 1,
  • Sumner = 2,
  • Lloyd = 6,
  • Gompers = 4,
  • Steffens = 9,
  • Tarbell = 2, and
  • Addams = 3.

This led to a discussion / debate of why students had voted as they had.

We discussed why George and Carnegie got votes; it turned out that they were sympathy votes by the people who had played them (and one other random vote in the honors class).

Next I asked them to vote (this time, just with a show of hands) on who they would want to be if they were to travel back to 1900.

The honors class voted:

  • Carnegie = 20,
  • Riis = 0,
  • Steffens = 2,
  • Tarbell = 0, and
  • Addams = 2.

The AP class voted:

  • George = 1,
  • Carnegie = 22,
  • Sumner = 0,
  • Lloyd = 1,
  • Gompers = 1,
  • Steffens = 2,
  • Tarbell = 1, and
  • Addams = 0.

This was something that I enjoyed very much. Both classes had agreed that Carnegie was not such a strong supporter of democracy; in fact, one might label him "anti-democratic". So why did they overwhelmingly want to be him? "Because he was rich!"

I noted that the other panel members were not poor by any stretch of the imagination, but that was clearly not enough. They tended to want unbelievable wealth.

When I pushed them about the importance of democracy and reminded them how they had been disturbed by Carnegie's Social Darwinist beliefs. This was a very satisfying moment for me. They had to confront the conflicts in their own opinions.

Of course, I am generalizing here. Many were stymied by this conflict. Some resolved it by saying that one could be wealthy and pay the workers better than Carnegie did. Some agreed with Carnegie that by giving back to the community the wealthy would help create opportunities for others to become wealthy. I would have to say, though, that as a class we agreed that the central problem is how to create a system with winners and no losers.

Homework - Read and highlight excerpt from the Progressive Party Platform (1912). (see Resources)

Before beginning the lesson
Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Day Six
Internet Resources
Worksheet:" Meet the Press"
MS Word version
pdf version

Urban Dreams
OUSD Curriculum Unit

"Nobody Here But Us Capitalists:
Democracy, Big Business, and Progress at the Turn of the 20th Century"

Subject: U.S. History
Grade Level: 11th

Lesson Plan Author:
Elizabeth Haugen
Organization: OUSD