The concept of Social Darwinism originated with English philosopher Herbert Spencer during the late 1800s. He based his ideas on the findings of scientist Charles Darwin, who developed the theory of evolution that species improved over time with the strongest triumphing over the weak. Spencer applied evolutionary theory to society as well. He concluded that some people were destined for wealth and power because they were naturally stronger. Poverty would always exist, Spencer concluded, because the stronger members of society would triumph over the weaker members.
Social Darwinism provided wealthy and powerful people with a justification for their existence. Business owners utilized Social Darwinian beliefs to justify monopolies. John. D. Rockefeller, president of the Standard Oil Company and an Ohioan, once contended that "the growth of a large business is merely a survival of the fittest." Other proponents of Social Darwinism contended that God ordained that some people were to be wealthy and live comfortably on the hard work of others.
The Progressive Movement originated partly as a response to Social Darwinism. Progressives believed that God did not sentence some people to lives of poverty. Rather, poverty resulted primarily from the greed of other people. Affiliated with the Progressives were followers of the Social Gospel Movement. These people believed that God wanted his followers to emulate Jesus Christ, putting aside their own personal wants and assisting those people who were less fortunate. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuryies followers of these two groups sought to reform society to protect people in the United States from the greed of business owners and politicians.