For many years, historians thought that the development of capitalism had not faced serious challenges in the United States. Writing in the early twentieth century, Progressive historians sympathized with the battles waged by farmers and small producers against large capitalists in the late nineteenth century, but they did not question the widespread acceptance of laissez-faire (unregulated) capitalism throughout American history. Similarly, Louis Hartz, who sometimes disagreed with the Progressives, argued that Americans accepted laissez-faire capitalism without challenge because they lacked a feudal, precaptialist past. Recently, however, some scholars have argued that even though laissez-faire became the prevailing ethos in nineteen-century America, it was not accepted without struggle. Laissez-faire capitalism, they suggest, clashed with existing religious and communitarian norms that imposed moral constraints on acquisitiveness to protect the weak from the predatory, the strong from corruption, and the entire culture from materialist excess. Buttressed by mercantilist notions that government should be both regulator and promoter of economic activity, these norms persisted long after the American Revolution helped unleash the economic forces that produced capitalism. These scholars argue that even in the late nineteenth century, with the government’s role in the economy considerably diminished, laissez-faire had not triumphed completely. Hard times continued to revive popular demands for regulating business and softening the harsh edges of laissez-faire capitalism.
The author of the passage mentions the Progressives as examples of historians who