Philosophy of Industrialism

Why was America’s philosophy “right” for economic development?

Ninety-eight out of one hundred of the rich men in America are
honest. That is why they are rich.

-Rev. Russell Conwell

-from his sermon
Acres of


The Reverend Russell Conwell made that statement over 6000 times.
It was part of an attempt to preach a certain philosophy about
success. Andrew Carnegie, onee of America’s leading industrialists
also preached hard work and frugality in his
“Gospel of Wealth.”
Americans had certain philosophies that drove them to hard work,
philosophies begun by the Puritans a hundred years before. America
was to become, as John Winthrop had foretold, “A City Upon A Hill.”

The rapid industrialization of the late nineteenth century was not
begun by machines. It was begun by men and women working towards the
creation of a new and different powerful nation. It was, in reality,
a search for the attainment of money, wealth and power. That was the
American dream. No longer was success a small plot of land to farm on
the prairie. This was big business. None of this would have been
possible if the nation had not created certain conditions that made
industrialism possible. Today we will examine those philosophical

There were primarily three philosophies that drove America towards
industrial greatness. Each of these philosophies had Puritan values
as their foundation. Values such as hard work and the notion that God
destined some to greatness and others to a life of toil are laden
throughout these philosophical principles.

Laissez Faire Capitalism

Laissez faire capitalism is capitalism in its purest
form. As an economic philosophy it literally means “hands free” or
government hands off of business. The notion was that the best way
for government to help business and promote industrialization was to
leave it alone, to do nothing. This meant no regulations, no laws

governing business, nothing. In this unfettered environment industry
was free to expand unchecked and take whatever actions it deemed
necessary. If workers or the public were hurt in the process, so be
it. It was not the governments role to help, they should help

Rugged Individualism

This was the idea that it was a persons responsibility
to help themselves. If a person was down on their luck they had to
“pick themselves up by the bootstraps” and make something of their
lives. There would be no government safety net, no welfare. This
philosophy instilled and reinforced the hard work ethic.

Social Darwinism

This was the application of Charles Darwin’s
philosophy of “survival of the fittest” to humanity. It was the basic
belief that those that deserved and were strongest would become
wealthy and those that were poor were obviously not fit enough. This
philosophy did not allow for peoples circumstances as an excuse.
Either you were fit, or you were not…overcome the obstacles or
become a member of the nations underclass.

It should be clear that all of these philosophies have a similar
tone. Small , non intrusive government was the theme of the day. Hard
work and personal achievement were the methods and the goals. America
was to be a “meritocracy,” or a nation where people earned their
achievements based upon their merits. Nobody summed up these ideas
better than
Alger’s books told the stories honest , hard working young men who
made their fame and fortune through these traditional values. His
books were the best selling books of the time.