National Civic Federation

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The National Civic Federation (NCF), was a federation of American businesses and labor leaders founded in 1900 and important down to about 1914. It slowly faded in importance and played a minor role until it closed in 1950. It was a conservative solution to labor violence during the Progressive Era, and was opposed by radical elements such as the socialists and the IWW. The Federation brought together top executives and labor leaders who supported capitalism and wanted to maximize financial advantages for both sides by avoiding unnecessary and costly strikes. It was supported by Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor (which was a coalition of many different unions, strongest in industrial cities).

The NCF emerged first in 1893 as the Chicago Civic Federation (CCF), which was also known as the Civic Federation of Chicago. The key leader was Ralph Easley, the CCF’s gregarious head who wanted it 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 served as chairman of the NCF’s executive council throughout the federation’s forty-five-year history. Early activists included U.S. Treasury Secretary Lyman Gage, the CCF’s two-time president; social worker Jane Addams; industrialist Franklin MacVeagh; and social scientist and civic commissioner Edward Bemis. The federation's first president was the Republican senator from Ohio, Mark Hanna, while its original vice-president was union leader Samuel Gompers. Over the years, the federation's Executive Council included such other notables as Vincent Astor, Jeremiah Jenks, Seth Low, and George W. Perkins.

NCF suffered a significant loss of influence after World War I. The death of Gompers in 1924 largely ended its relationship to the labor movement, and business leaders, too, withdrew their financial backing. Easley focused on anti-communism, and in the 1930s attacked Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. Plagued by financial difficulties, hobbled by Easley's inability to work with Democrats and pushed aside by a rising national consensus in favor of liberalism, the NCF closed in 1950.


  • Cyphers; Christopher J. The National Civic Federation and the Making of a New Liberalism, 1900-1915 (2002)online edition

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