Abraham Lincoln asserted that "there is no permanent class of laborers among us ...if any continue through life in the condition of hired laborers, it is not the fault of the system, but because of a dependant nature which prefers it, or improvidence, folly or singular misfortune." During the decades that followed Lincoln and the American Civil War, two major developments in the American economic system proved that statement false, if not laughable; industrialization and the rise of corporations led to an oppressed urban labor force, and it also corrupted the Republican party and diverted it from charitable efforts like the Freedmans' Bureau. As the government became distracted, another oppressed labor force grew, but this time in a rural form: the sharecropping system.
In America right after the Civil War there were a number of factors, some coincidental, some not, that contributed to the tremendous growth of large scale corporations. Industrialization was devaluing the skilled laborer and putting the capabilities of manufacturing exclusively into the hands of very rich people. Wars and overcrowding in Europe (and China) were causing large influxes of poor people looking for jobs, which also devalued the labor. The Republican party had no real competition, so they were not forced to be very upright to look better than the other parties (Similar to a corporate monopoly); because of this, the politicians became very corrupt and heavily involved with the emerging big businesses, or as George Will calls it, a "coziness" with the corporations.
These factors led the expansion of huge corporations built on the backs of thousands of faceless and replaceable workers who lived like serfs or sewer rats while the owners made such huge profits that they lived in states of wealth unprecedented by anyone except the richest of emperors. The richer the rich are, the less room there is at the top, so, naturally, these rich corporate tycoons wanted to keep these spots for themselves, and keep the chasm between them and the rest of society as gaping as possible. And, obviously, because of their money, these people also had the most power in society. They could buy off politicians, police, the media, or anyone else whenever they wanted to, therefore they could influence if not control the laws, the enforcement of the laws, public opinion, or even the face of American culture. And they did all of those things.
In the South, as reconstruction died out, and especially after Rutherford B. Hayes was elected and the Union troops were pulled out, the North's false promises of reparations and the Southern whites' increasing feeling of white supremacy combined to prevent southern blacks from advancing their status, making money, or obtaining education or power. After the North stopped intervening, the Klu Klux Klan was free to take care of any blacks who tried to gain civil rights, and thereby scare any other blacks enough to not attempt such ambitious goals as gaining the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. But this was not only the domain of outlaws and terrorists such as the KKK, but also the state governments. Starting in Mississippi, Black Codes became increasingly popular in southern states. These laws restricted black peoples' public conduct and basic civil activities, similar to the later Jim Crow laws. And of course, without the mythical Forty Acres and a Mule, rural blacks had no choice but to become sharecroppers working for a new class of wealthy white landowners. The black sharecroppers had almost no control in their relation with the landowners, and their condition deteriorated to a kind of serfdom from which they had no means to escape.
This time of corporate growth, political corruption, and oppression of the working classes was one of the most important defining periods in American history. Our modern consumerist culture in which the great majority of politicians are heavily influenced, directly or indirectly, by the desires of Corporate capitalists could not have been without the amazingly lucky coincidence of the end of the Civil War, industrialization, and huge influxes of immigrants. They have produced an unparalleled system in which while it appears that there is an autonomous government, corporations have great control over it from both the top and bottom. From the top they bribe and influence the politicians in control in obvious manners, such as Enron being in control of America's energy policy and George W. Bush's blatant actions to assist his corporate big oil companions. From the bottom they control the voters directly by contributing huge amounts to various candidates campaigns, but more importantly they are able to indirectly control not only peoples' votes, but their opinions, tastes, dislikes, and attitudes through advertising and media. The usage of television shows and commercials, especially those intended for younger audiences, to develop certain attitudes and personality traits is becoming ever more important in corporate strategy to ensure a consumerist and pacified culture. American culture as we know it today could not exist without this corporate power, and this power could not exist without things like the Santa Clara VS. Southern Pacific Railroad, a supreme court decision ruling corporations have the same protection as people under the 14th amendment (it passed 9-0), and the villainization of union and workers' rights movements. Both of these were products of late 19th century political and economic system, a system where workers could not rise and often were often forced to remain "in the condition of hired laborers."
Thus, the system in which the hired laborers remained in their low condition through no fault of their own, but through fault of the system, produced a system where I am among the wealthiest people in the world, and will most likely almost never have to worry about finding my next meal, and will have enough money to live decently for the rest of my life. The rise of corporate capitalism is fine by me.
Note: This was written for history class, but I had e2 in mind somewhat while writing it.