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National Civic Federation

national civic federation, american civic federation
The National Civic Federation NCF was an American economic organization founded in 1900 which brought together chosen representatives of big business and organized labor, as well as consumer advocates in an attempt to ameliorate labor disputes It favored moderate progressive reform and sought to resolve disputes arising between industry and organized labor


  • 1 History
    • 11 Background
    • 12 Establishment
    • 13 Development
    • 14 Decline
  • 2 Opposition
  • 3 See also
  • 4 Footnotes
  • 5 Publications
  • 6 Further reading
  • 7 External links



One of the earliest forerunners of the National Civic Federation was the Chicago Civic Federation CCF, which was also known as the Civic Federation of Chicago, established in 1893

Ralph M Easley, the CCF's gregarious head who wanted the NCF to "serve as a medium of sympathy and acquaintance between persons and societies who pursue various and differing vocations and objects, who differ in nationality, creed, and surrounding and who are unknown to each other" This federation of civic and reform leaders community took as its primary goal "to focus the new ideals of civic cooperation and social efficiency on the task of renovating Chicago society"

Easley was thrust into the public spotlight in 1899 when the CCF held a conference in Chicago on problems presented by the various monopolistic Trusts which dominated most of the key sections of the American economy1 This gathering was met by widespread acclaim in the press and provided the gravitas necessary for a larger organization drawing in the participation of top economic leaders from around the country1


In June 1900 Easley reestablished his civic federation idea on a broader basis with the formation of the National Civic Federation NCF2 The organization drew its membership in equal parts from the camps of business, labor, and members of the unaffiliated public2 Easley would serve as chairman of the NCF’s executive council throughout the federation’s forty-five-year history

Easley, a former teacher and journalist, was himself a staunch supporter of the Republican Party and conservative who sought social peace and the preservation of the current social system through cooperation between the various social classes3 Easley believed that such collaboration between the leaders of industry and labor was necessary to mitigate potential dangers associated with a continuation and expansion of the class struggle between these social groups3

The NCF's work was conducted through special subcommittees and in national conferences The group also produced publications, authored draft legislation, and engaged in lobbying of government officials2

Early activists included US Treasury Secretary Lyman Gage, the CCF’s two-time president; social worker Jane Addams; and social scientist and civic commissioner Edward Bemis The federation's first president was wealthy businessman-turned-United States Senator Mark Hanna, while its original vice-president was American Federation of Labor leader Samuel Gompers4

Other NCF founding members from trade unions included Daniel Keefe International Longshoremen's Association, John Mitchell United Mine Workers and J J Sullivan Typographers5 Over the years, the federation's Executive Council included representatives of employers such as Vincent Astor, Jeremiah Jenks, Seth Low, and George W Perkins


From the outset the NCF was dominated by the leaders of big business1 In addition to Mark Hanna, leading roles were played by utilities magnates Samuel Insull and George B Cortelyou, banker Franklin MacVeagh, and industrialist Andrew Carnegie1 By 1903 nearly one-third of the 367 American corporations with a capitalization of more than $10 million were represented in the NCF, as were 16 of the 67 biggest railroads in the country1

During its first years of existence the NCF mediated several labor disputes and helped to broker agreements between capital and labor2 The organization became active behind the scenes in a major strike of the coal industry in 1902, attempting to bring together coal operators and unionized miners to forge a solution to the work stoppage6 Employers backing the NCF's approach to the labor problem envisioned a mutually beneficial social peace springing from collective bargaining6 — a position sharply criticized by other employers organized in the National Association of Manufacturers, which sought a crushing of trade unions and the establishment of an open shop in American industry7

The National Civic Federation was instrumental in expanding and helping make uniform state laws regarding child labor, workmen's compensation, and factory safety2

The NCF is credited with the passage in 1913 of the Newlands Act for mediation of railroad disputes2 The group also helped pave the way for the Federal Trade Commission Act of 19142


With the coming of war in Europe and a drive for the armament of America under the slogan of "Preparedness," the National Civic Federation began to take on the character of a patriotic organization, agitating against pacifists, socialists, and sundry others characterized in the words of Theodore Roosevelt as "undesirable citizens"2

The death of Gompers in 1924 largely ended its relationship to the labor movement, and business leaders, too, withdrew their financial backing Easley was consumed by anti-communism, and in the 1930s attacked Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal Plagued by financial difficulties, hobbled by Easley's anti-Communism and pushed aside by a rising national consensus in favor of liberalism, the NCF — nearly bankrupt —shut down operations in 1950


The NCF's approach of bringing representatives of business and the labor movement together for negotiations drew criticism both from the anti-union conservatives of the National Association of Manufacturers, who opposed acknowledgement of any right of collective bargaining, as well as from socialists and syndicalists on the left, who saw in the NCF a concrete example of class collaborationism which would dull the desire of the masses for radical change2

One of the rivals to Samuel Gompers' American Federation of Labor AFL was the Western Federation of Miners WFM Formed on the western frontier of the United States, the WFM was "not yet 'broken in' to the discipline of business management"8 practiced by eastern labor leaders The WFM formed the Western Labor Union WLU as a rival to the AFL, because the miners feared that the AFL wanted to crush the anti-capitalist spirit of their organization Fred W Thompson and Patrick Murfin have written that the miners saw the purpose of the NCF as,

to housebreak unionism, to confine its growth to those fields where management could use it, and to emasculate it by a united front of labor leaders and captains of industry against all socialistic and insurgent elements9

According to this view, the NCF stood for "responsible unionism," in which union members were expected to follow the dictates of conservative union leaders whom Mark Hanna referred to as "the labor lieutenants of the captains of industry" Fully aware that lieutenants take orders from captains, more militant union leaders saw Gompers' participation in the NCF as a "sellout"9

See alsoedit

  • Melville E Ingalls —Former NCF President
  • Archibald E Stevenson —General counsel in the 1930s


  1. ^ a b c d e James Weinstein, The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State, 1900-1918 Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1968; pg 8 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Weinstein8" defined multiple times with different content see the help page
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Augustus Cerillo, Jr, "National Civic Federation," in John D Beunker and Edward R Kantowicz eds, Historical Dictionary of the Progressive Era, 1890-1920 Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988; pg 307
  3. ^ a b Weinstein, The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State, 1900-1918, pg 7
  4. ^ Weinstein, The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State, 1900-1918, pp 8–9
  5. ^ Christopher L Tomlins, The State and the Unions: Labor Relations, Law, and the Organized Labor Movement in America, 1880-1960 CUP Archive, 1985; pg 73
  6. ^ a b Weinstein, The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State, 1900-1918, pg 9
  7. ^ Weinstein, The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State, 1900-1918, pg 12
  8. ^ Fred W Thompson and Patrick Murfin, The IWW: Its First Seventy Years 1976; page 9
  9. ^ a b Thompson and Murin, The IWW, p 11


  • National Civic Federation Review
    • Vol 1 & 2 1903-1907 | Vol 3

Further readingedit

  • Christopher J Cyphers, The National Civic Federation and the Making of a New Liberalism, 1900-1915 New York: Praeger, 2002
  • Marguerite Green, The National Civic Federation and the American Labor Movement, 1900-1925 Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1956
  • Gordon M Jensen, The National Civic Federation: American Business in an Age of Social Change and Social Reform, 1900-1910 PhD disseration Princeton University, 1956
  • James Weinstein, The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State, 1900-1918 Boston: Beacon Press, 1968

External linksedit

  • "National Civic Federation Records, 1894-1949," New York Public Library, New York City
  • "National Civic Federation: Pamphlets," Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Martin P Catherwood Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

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