Honors History Seminar
Rockefeller: The Wrongfully Accused Robber Baron
For decades, many have argued whether John D. Rockefeller was a robber baron or simply a captain of industry. Matthew Josephson argues that Rockefeller is a robber baron because he became successful through deception, bribery and illegal manners that enabled him to obtain control over the entire oil business. Ron Chernow, on the other hand, argues that Rockefeller is wrongfully accused of being a robber baron because many of the allegations made against him were false. Chernow’s argument is correct. Although he used certain robber baron tactics to achieve success, Rockefeller is wrongfully included in the group of robber barons because many of the accusations against him ignored contrary facts. Moreover, Rockefeller’s philanthropy helps to remove him from the ranks of the robber barons. Comment by Shawn Clybor: Not an inspiring introduction. Try to think of an interesting story or example that somehow connects to the bigger picture that you will be discussing. Also, an introduction should be setting up the topic at hand. You should be discussing the late 19th century in the US, or industrialization, or some other larger issue. Comment by Shawn Clybor: Not entirely. Some may have been false, some he argues simply neglect to acknowledge that he did not act much differently than anyone else, given the chance. That’s different than just saying the charges are “false.” Comment by Shawn Clybor: I’m not entirely sure how this, as an argument really ties into the topics that were discussed in the articles. I think your argument should deal with the issues at hand more.
Before discussing whether Rockefeller was a robber baron, the term robber baron needs to be understood. A robber baron has been defined as, “an American capitalist at the turn of the 19th century who enriched himself upon the sweat of others, exploited natural resources, or possessed unfair government influence.”[footnoteRef:1] Another definition of a robber baron can be found in Merriam Webster, which defines the terms as, “a business owner or executive who acquires wealth through ethically questionable tactics.”[footnoteRef:2] Under the first definition, Rockefeller is generally considered a robber baron because of stories that claim he advanced his own fortunes at the expense of others and because his company, Standard Oil, exploited natural resources. Rockefeller’s alleged exploitation of others is widely considered unethical. Comment by Shawn Clybor: Never state: “According to dictionary X.” It looks bad. Just define a term and then footnote the source. Comment by Shawn Clybor: I would have liked to see specific evidence to back this claim. I cannot just take you on your word that this is true. [1: “The New Tycoons: John D. Rockefeller.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, www.ushistory.org/us/36b.asp.] [2: “Robber Baron.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,...