Abstract: Sitting on the Lid: The National Association of Manufacturers and the Legislative Branch, 1902-1948

Vilja Hulden


The National Association of Manufactures (NAM) is well known for its pro-free enterprise, anti-statist rhetoric. The noisiness of that rhetoric, however, has in part obscured the fact that the NAM never objected to state power per se; rather, its attitude toward state power depended on who controlled that power and in whose behalf it was exercised. The bulk of the paper focuses on the early years of the twentieth century. It examines the major areas of government policy that the NAM engaged with in this period, and concludes that in the majority of cases the NAM promoted the expansion rather than the limitation of state power. The paper then analyzes the NAM's early twentieth-century critique of state power, and finds that it was almost exclusively directed at legislatures and their vulnerability to democratic demands. The NAM's rhetorical condemnation of government "interference" became broader during the New Deal and postwar years, and began to particularly target the federal government. I suggest in this paper that this rhetorical shift reflected a strategic cultivation of anti-statist sentiment in a period when the Association increasingly doubted its ability to decisively influence the state.