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Social and Economic Landscape in Industrial America
The period between 1800 and 1850 saw tremendous changes in the American social and economic landscape. This period coincided with intense development in the commercial manufacture of goods and deviation from subsistence production that characterized the previous years. The Northern States experienced exponential growth in industries among other changes taking place in the political, social, and economic spheres. The discussion on the abolition of slavery was taking a new trajectory in the North while this institution was thriving in the South. The creation of textile mills in Northern towns meant that the demand for raw materials was high in the South. Therefore, Southern cotton planters bought slaves to fuel the agricultural production of this commodity. In the North, the labor market flourished as people worked in various factories. Specialist trades like law, medicine, insurance, and banking developed in tandem with the growth of the social structure. The expansion of the labor market saw men, women, children, immigrants, and free blacks enter the job market. Certainly, the Northern states depicted America as a land of opportunities where anybody could earn a decent living with hard work, determination, and a desire to attain the next socio-economic status.
The market revolution in America began in the early years of the 18th Century. The former subsistence economy gave room to the new commercial system characterized by spurious growth of industrial manufacturing. Powering mills, railroads, water transport, and service sectors blossomed in the Northern states. The increasing number of factories created a steady supply of jobs for Americans. The supply soon increased the demand and eventually competition for labor. The industrialists took advantage of the high influx of people looking for jobs in the factories. They, therefore, subjected their employees to harsh working conditions and meager pay. Some workers toiled for more than 13 hours with only one day in a week to rest (Locke & Wright, 2019). Nonetheless, working was necessary to keep pace with the growing society. In other words, one could only make a living through working in the industries or elsewhere, as long income was available to sustain a family. It means, therefore, that the market revolution created a society where the financial freedom of an individual or a family depended on their industry.
The industrial revolution brought significant changes in the domestic space. It also resulted in classism since people experienced economic changes at varying rates. Among the poor families, employment in the factories was not a reserve of men alone. Women and children sought employment to supplement the parental income (Locke & Wright, 2019). This, however, was not the case among the more affluent families. The middle-class workers only allowed their men to work as the woman remained behind to look after the home. In other words, domestic duty allocation was strictly demarcated. The man was responsible for seeking wealth and uplifting the status of the family, while the woman was tasked with raising morally upright children (Locke & Wright, 2019). The middle-class children went to schools and proceeded to colleges where they learned courses that would propel them in the rapidly growing job market. On the contrary, children from poor families never had a chance to attend school and prepare themselves for future prosperity. This social trend eventually entrenched class separation as poverty persisted among the poor families for generations.
Although the market revolution created a booming workplace for Americans, the experience of working in America varied across the socio-demographic spectrum. In the cotton ginneries and affiliated textile industries, young women encountered challenges as they accomplished their duty to their employers. According to a communique from an operative working in a New England cotton mill, life in the cloth industry was unbearable. Besides working for long hours, the women suffered mental and physical exhaustion without relief. The operative decried of cruel treatment of young women who were the gears that propelled the economy forward. She mentioned the denial of intellectual or moral rights and the overall subjugation of personal development (Factory Tract, 1985). In yet another letter from an operative named Julianna, the life of a young woman took a nosedive immediately she started working in a cloth mill. Julianna expressed her need to pursue education, although the working and living conditions in the mills were unfavorable for such an endeavor (Julianna, 1845). By this, she meant that education was necessary for advancement through the job market, although the present constraint could not favor such an undertaking.
Young people who got a chance to attend school expressed sympathy for their counterparts who did not enjoy such a privilege. In a letter to his parents, Elias Nason noted the deprivation of the right to education for young women who worked in the cotton factories. Her sister worked in one of these factories, and the tone in his letter speaks of his concern for the future of such young women. In this letter, he notes that the girls were intelligent and could benefit from education if given a chance (Nason, 1835). Susan, an operative working in a textile factory situated in Massachusetts, praises the spirit of her female peers in the factory. She commends the women for the hard work depicted in the various sections within the mill. Unlike other operatives that disparaged the poor state of the working environment, Susan notes that the plant walls were high, the illumination was proper, and the ventilation was suited for the factory. She also cites that women enjoyed a calm working relationship with their supervisors (Susan, 1885).
While women found it easy to land a job in the factories, freed blacks struggled to find employment. The main reason for this situation was racial discrimination and the lack of education. The encounters of William J. Brown in the hands of white employers exemplify the hardship that a former slave endured as he explored the job market. He narrates how several potential employers turned him down due to his ancestry. In one of the incidences, he met a young man who was willing to employ him as a store clerk. However, the man’s uncle refused his employment and advised his nephew against taking this step (Brown, 1838). Regardless of the initial struggles, William eventually landed a job that remarkably elevated his social status.
The accounts by European immigrants depict the opportunities that existed in industrial America. An anonymous immigrant from England noted that although he faced culture shock after his settlement in America, the chances available allowed him to prosper and lead a comfortable life. This immigrant intimated that in rural America, “with common industry, a man may soon call himself the owner of a piece of land, on which he builds a house” (Knights Penny Magazine, 1846). Another immigrant from Ireland landed a job in a printer a day after arriving in America. He explains how he managed to save $100 in the Bank of the United States after working in different places (Doyle, 1818). The two immigrants underscore the benefits of working in America. Besides finding a job to keep you engaged, getting along in the American community was easy. Additionally, success was guaranteed provided a person invested his or her energy at the workplace. In America, there were opportunities to learn apprenticeship or attend a technical college to learn a trade that would generate wealth for a person.
In conclusion, the Northern States represented the freedom, equality, and upward social mobility espoused by the American dream. Regardless of race, creed, religion, gender, or age, a person could develop wealth as long as they worked hard in their workplaces. Some labor could not generate wealth, although it was necessary to afford meals, accommodation, and education for an individual or their children. Although labor was hard in America, immigrants found the place hospitable for anybody pursuing economic freedom. The eventual accomplishment of a former slave in the 18th century certainly portrays the Northern state as the land of opportunity as long as a person was committed to delivering their best at the workplace.