Sherman Act (1890)

Monopolies had long been illegal under the common law, based on custom and past judicial decisions. But the body of laws proved ineffective against the mergers, cartels, and trusts that swept through the American economy in the 188Os.

In 1890, populist-sentiments led to passage of the Sherman Act, which is the cornerstone of American antitrust law. Section 1 of the Sherman Act prohibits contracts, combinations, and conspiracies “in restraint of trade.” Section 2 prohibits “monopolizing” and conspiracies to monopolize. Neither the statute nor the accompanying discussion contains any clear notion about the exact meaning of monopoly or actions which were prohibited. The meaning was fleshed out in later case law.

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