Inspired by Mary Shelley’s novel about a man-made monster who turned upon its creator, this cartoon depicted the railroad trampling the rights of the American people. “Agriculture, commerce, and manufacture are all in my power,” the monster roared in the cartoon’s caption. “My interest is the higher law of American politics.” Through large subsidies and land grants to railroads, the federal government helped create the nation’s first large, powerful corporations. Growing rapidly after the Civil War, these corporations and the men who ran them quickly transformed their enormous economic power into political influence, winning for themselves even more subsidies, land grants, and protection from regulation and taxation. Confronted with a new industrial oligarchy, many Americans doubted the future of their nation.
Source: Frank Bellew, New York Daily Graphic, April 14, 1874—American Social History Project.