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During both economic crises and wars, times of severe national anxiety, antitrust has taken a back seat to other political and regulatory objectives. Antitrust enforcement has often been a political luxury good, consumed only during periods of relative peace and prosperity. In 1890, the Sherman Act's adoption kicked off the era of national antitrust enforcement. Barely three years later, the panic of 1893 provided the first major test to the national appetite for antitrust enforcement. Perhaps 1893 should not be included in the story: antitrust was still young, and it was not even clear that the Sherman Act applied to mergers. However, by Teddy Roosevelt's "trustbusting" days in the first decade of the 20th century, the reach of the Sherman Act to exactly the kind of railroad mergers the 1893 crisis enabled had become clear. A clear pattern emerges in the historical narrative from the promulgation of the Sherman Act until at least the end of World War II.


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