It had been a long day on the Tyler Farm in July of 1890. The summer heat had set in early; the Tylers had spent an exhausting day hoeing their corn crop by hand. They were resting on the porch for a few minutes before retiring for the day. The cooler night breeze felt good. Bullfrogs were heard as the stars were becoming more visible.
John Tyler said to his wife, Matilda, “I read in the paper today that President Benjamin Harrison has signed the Act to Protect Trade and Commerce against Unlawful Restraints and Monopolies.”
"As farmers become fewer and fewer in number, and our dependence on the money these agricultural powerhouses charge or pay us, it becomes definitely more difficult to even retain what independence we have."
“That’s good,” said Matilda, rocking their infant son. “That way John Jr. won’t have to deal with monopolies when selling crops or purchasing needed supplies.”
“Perhaps the price of sugar will come down,” said Matilda. “We won’t have to make as much sorghum each fall.”
“We’ll see,” said John.
They went to bed that night, envisioning how this legislative act we know as the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was going to prohibit monopolization of markets and consolidation of businesses. Even before the Civil War, corporate monopolies were growing. Wealthier industrialists were buying legislators votes.
Americans were becoming very concerned by the concentration of investment capital held by large corporations. One of the enticements for early immigrants to make the perilous ocean journey to America was the free market economic system. They knew far too well the tyranny when money capital and political power was held in too few of hands.
The idea was behind the Sherman Act was good, but there was no real effort by the government to enforce it. It didn’t matter that Standard Oil Trust controlled about 85% of the total output of petroleum in the United States. It simply reorganized.
Five years after its passage, the Supreme Court really mocked the Act by ruling that the American Sugar Refining Company had not violated the Act. Even though it controlled approximately 98% of all sugar refined in the United States of America, the Court did not believed that this affected the price of sugar one iota. Really?!
True, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act has been used throughout our country’s history at times, especially in regards to economic freedom. But it is not enforced as it should be. Later it was deemed that there were good and bad trusts–if a trust did not misuse its power, it could continue. That judgement was in the hands of the government. (Yeah–unbiased, right?)
I think that the Tylers would be in shock and utter dismay if they were to see what little effect this Act has had on maintaining a competitive free market system. Any descendent of theirs that might still be on a farm is affected by this lack of competition, whether in purchasing and selling.
Think of it when you are placing your unbelievably high price seed orders, who gets a percentage of almost every bag sold? Even something as simple and minute as the seeds for growing a garden is becoming more and more in the hands of a few.
Is it a whole lot different when it comes to the fertilizer put on the land?
Perhaps you say the bulk of your fertilizer comes from livestock. Well, that is probably where you see the monopoly the most. Almost all livestock is vertically integrated. The cattle market is owned by the “Big Four” packers: Tyson, Excel, JBS-Brazil and National Beef. If the laws already in place had been enforced, this would never have happened.
As farmers become fewer and fewer in number, and our dependence on the money these agricultural powerhouses charge or pay us, it becomes definitely more difficult to even retain what independence we have. There is always a clause to terminate the contract if a complaint or question is raised by the farmer, therefore ending the needed paycheck.
In a way, we have become slaves to industries that we grew.
Renae B. Vander Schaaf, freelance writer, lives on a real working farm in northwest Iowa, and authored a book titled "A Place Of Refuge". Contact her at [email protected].