In the latter half of the nineteenth century a new American establishment was forged from the union of the old colonial upper class and the new families of wealth spawned by the industrial age. Whereas the old upper class was essentially defined by lineage and, particularly in the South, ownership of large estates, the new upper class was based upon the possession of wealth as it was accumulated by the great industrialists and financiers of the nineteenth century. Parvenu families such as the Carnegies and Rockefellers, the Mellons and the Vanderbilts, were quickly accepted and incorporated into this new aristocracy. While the old upper class was largely regional in nature, composed of established families of local note, the new upper class took on a national character as the industrial empires built by its members knew no local or regional limits, and as newly constructed national systems of communication and transportation encourage its integration. Yet it was heavily biased toward the Northeast, especially with the eclipse of the South following the Civil War and the rise of the industrial cities in the North. In particular, New York City, the preeminent financial and commercial center of the reconstituted nation, was its base. Even though it contained internal divisions that hindered its exercise of power, this Northeastern establishment came to dominate the Republican party and exercise an inordinate influence on national and local affairs well into the twentieth century.
Threatened by rapid urbanization and an influx of immigrants, the old New England gentry and the new industrial and financial magnates combined to establish a variety of exclusive upper-class associations during the latter decades of the nineteenth century. The exclusive country clubs of the suburbs and men's clubs of the cities, the fashionable summer resorts, the boarding preparatory schools, and the Social Register were new upper-class institutions that gave cohesiveness and identity to this new associational aristocracy. These "patrician protective associations," as Baltzell refers to them, were formed primarily for the purpose of sheltering the upper class from the undesirable elements flooding into the Northeastern cities. They also served to transmit upper-class cultures and assimilate newcomers. Behind the walls of these exclusive associations the upper class could maintain its cultural and ethnic homogeneity.
The inclusiveness of this new upper class was strictly limited to persons whose ascriptive characteristics and religious affiliations were the same as those of the old New England families: white and Anglo-Saxon by birth, and Protestant by baptism (WASP). The exclusive upper-class suburbs and summer resorts and country clubs explicitly kept out those without the right parentage and religion no matter what their wealthy or position. Successful Jewish financiers and businessmen found the doors of the prestigious city clubs closed to them, forcing them to form their own. Indeed, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw a resurgence of anti-Semitic sentiment among the WASP establishment coincidental with the rising flood tide of immigration. The new American upper class may have been more open than its European equivalents, but it was open only to those who were white, of North European stock, and Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or Congregationalist.
[From Patrician to Professional Elite: The Transformation of the New York City Bar Association. pp. 3-4]
Diversity in the Power Elite Richard L. Zweigenhaft, G. William Domhoff:
Nonetheless, the fact remains that over 40 percent of other white Americans held clearly anti-Semitic views until the years after World War II, when the full extent of the Holocaust became widely known. As late as the 1940s, there were quotas on the number of Jews who were allowed to attend elite private colleges like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, and successful Jewish business leaders were not permitted to join gentile social clubs until the civil rights movement highlighted the extent of all forms of discrimination. For example, it was not until 1977 that the most exclusive downtown club in Los Angeles accepted Jewish members, a change that was accomplished in a hurry when Harold Brown, the Jewish president of the California Institute of Technology, was selected to be the secretary of defense by the newly elected Jimmy Carter.
When C. Wright Mills examined the backgrounds of the "very rich" in 1900, 1925, and 1950, he found no support for the prevailing myth that most were the sons of immigrants who had pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. Instead, the data led Mills to the following characterization: "American-born, city-bred, eastern-originated, the very rich have been from families of higher class status, and, like other members of the new and old upper classes of local society . . . they have been Protestants. Moreover, about half have been Episcopalians, and a fourth, Presbyterians."
The "very rich" identified by Mills were not exactly the same people who occupied positions in the political, corporate, and military elites, but there was, Mills found, considerable overlap, especially between the very rich and the corporate elite. When he looked separately at the men who made up the political, corporate, and military elites, he found, in each case, that most were Protestant, and that they were especially likely to be Episcopalians and Presbyterians. For example, Mills wrote that members of the corporate elite in 1950 were "predominantly Protestant and more likely, in comparison with the proportions at large, to be Episcopalians or Presbyterians than Baptists or Methodists. The Jews and Catholics among them are fewer than among the population at large."
The very rich and the corporate elite also shared one other characteristic that Mills did not mention because of his purposeful neglect of political parties: they were, and still are, overwhelmingly Republican. The relatively few exceptions were wealthy Southern whites, who, until the 1970s, played a major role in the Democratic Party, where they joined with well-to-do Catholics and Jews who were Democrats due to the virulent prejudices of the Protestant rich in the first sixty years of the twentieth century.
The data based on distinctive Jewish names provide only an estimate of the percentage of Jews on corporate boards. Still, as table 2.2 shows, these findings, along with other findings reported in this section, demonstrate that as the percentage of Jews in America declined steadily in the twentieth century, the percentage of Jews on corporate boards increased. Jews are most certainly overrepresented in the corporate elite.
Although Jews may still be underrepresented in some business sectors within the corporate community, the data we have examined reveal that Jews are overrepresented overall in the corporate elite. Jews are also now overrepresented in both the Senate and the House, where they tend to be Democrats.
But we have seen that Jews who have made it to the power elite have been likely to assimilate. In contrast to this pattern, however, we did find that recent Jewish senators were less likely than former Jewish senators to have married Gentiles.