Sunday, February 23, 2014

Industrial Revolution and Civil War in the U.S.: From Slavery to Free Labor





Western Europe and the infant United States underwent an evolution in manufacturing methods during the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, which was caused by a wave of new technological developments.  During the first half of the nineteenth century “Americans imitated and adopted British inventions and technology” in areas of manufacturing, and early American capitalists from the northern states invested, imported and manufactured those new industrial technologies which created an evolution in American manufacturing and profiting.  The emerging technologies that developed from the industrial revolution increased manufacturing production levels and lowered the requirements of manual labor in Ante Bellum America, therefore reducing American slavery to an outdated mode of capitalist production that deterred maximized profiting.  These technological developments for industry created an unresolvable conflict between economic interests of northern American states and southern American states, which contributed to a terribly splintered two political party landscape in the domestic United States, and eventually led to the American Civil War and bloodshed.  The decades leading into the American Civil War were characterized by a technological quickening in the northern American states which served as an evolution stage for manufacturing and capitalist production that would eventually clash with the economic exploitation system of human slavery in the southern American states.  Inventions during the Industrial Revolution such as the cotton gin, the steam engine, the sewing machine, and the telegraph literally changed the manufacturing process, natural resource and product shipping, and business communication methods in the early United States.

Technology, Reduced Human Labor, Expanded Production

One of the best examples to illustrate the correlation between a new technology and reduced human labor requirements and increased supply and demand production is the cotton gin. The cotton gin, a machine for removing seeds from cotton, was invented in 1793 by Eli Whitney, and like all new technologies aimed at extracting natural resources, product manufacturing or methods of shipping, the technology of the cotton gin instantly reduced requirements for human labor and decreased the time required to efficiently remove cotton seeds.  Many historians have blamed the cotton gin on the increase of American slavery, but the two are not directly correlated.  The increase in American slavery was a reactionary trend due to the rising capitalist demand for cotton, which the new cotton gin machine could produce at much higher levels for manufacturing or consumption from purchasers.  After the creation of the “cotton gin, the yield of raw cotton doubled each decade after 1800” and the growing demand for cotton was quickly met through technologies such as “machines to spin and weave it and the steamboat to transport it”.  In previous textile manufacturing prior to the mass manufacturing of factory sewing machine, “the machines that were used were small and generally either hand-powered or powered by the wind or running water”, and this form of manufacturing was revolutionized by new technologies of the Industrial Revolution such as the steam engine.  

The rapidly transitioning manufacturing capabilities through new industrial technologies in the north soon began to conflict with traditional southern economic interests.  An example for illustrating the developing differences in economic interests between the industrializing northern Free states and the agricultural southern slave states can be seen in the fact that by the middle of the eighteenth century, the United States, mostly from the southern slave states, produced seventy-five percent of the world’s cotton while 72% of the manufacturing capabilities and technologies in the United States were consolidated in the northern states.  Northern states had begun the process of industrialization in the decades leading into the American Civil War as “British technology was copied in countless areas”.  While southern states remained reliant on agriculture and slavery, the northern “free states took the lead in population growth, manufacturing, property values, agriculture, railroads, canals, and commerce” due to the reproduction and dissemination of new industrialized technology.  One specific development of industrialized technology during the Industrial Revolution that strengthened industrial manufacturing and shipping capabilities of northern states was the process for converting pig iron into steel developed by Henry Bessemer.

Deterioration Factors between the American North and South

                With the economic interests of southern states dependent on agricultural extraction and exportation supported by the institution of slavery and the industrializing north growing stronger in manufacturing, the political two party system within the young United States began to polarize between north and south lines with the pro-industrialization Whig party representing the northern states and the agricultural pro-slavery Democrat party representing the southern states.  In addition to conflicting economic interests between north and south, the promotion of the manifest destiny ideology and the western territory acquired from Polk’s Mexican War ignited a regional political rupture as pro-industrial and pro-slavery forces clashed in Congress and at territorial election polls to determine whether future states developing from new territories would be introduced into Congress as slave states or free states, which in turn would impact the political power structure in Congress and jeopardize the economic interests  and future plans of northern or southern states.  As economic interests between the north and south continued to deepen, domestic political events, such as the Dred Scott decision and the fragmenting of the democratic party prior to the election of 1860, occurred which granted national momentum toward northern industrialism, abolition and the eventual splintering of the nation.  Prior to and after Lincoln’s election, the pro-industrial ideology of free labor was a major component of the Republican Party and the Lincoln political platform.

The North: Division of Labor and Free Labor

                As industrialized capitalists of the north accumulated efficient technological means of increased manufacturing, reducing the previous required amounts of human labor to achieve the same levels of capital profit, the concept of division of labor became more and more prevalent in the north.  Division of labor originated as a way for the capitalist to utilize “skilled, managerial workers who supervised an increasingly mechanized factory based on increasing subdivision of tasks that utilized relatively unskilled labor”.  The manufacturing technique of division of labor is a process first analyzed in-depth by Adam Smith in his book  A Wealth of Nations where the process is described as “a number of simpler tasks, each one of which is undertaken by a different individual who typically (but not necessarily) specializes in one task”.  With new Industrial Revolution technologies, which provided northern capitalists with the ability to mass manufacture, the division of labor method of capitalist manufacturing reduced American slavery to an outdated mode of capitalist exploitation in the eyes of northern capitalists, while the southern states, remaining predominantly agricultural and reliant on human slavery for agricultural exportation, saw a great threat in the 1860 Republican presidential candidate out of Illinois and the Republican platform of free labor.

                Northern Republicans “placed much emphasis on economic growth” and industrialization and the southern states feared government regulation and the prophetic forced abolition of slavery should Republicans take control of Congress or Lincoln win the presidency.  The Republican endorsed Free labor ideology, similar to competing capital in today’s free market competition while free labor centered on the competing worker, was advertised as an opportunity for wage earning workers to rise in the economic caste structure of an American north “strictly divided into two main groups, those who worked and those who profited from the work of others”.  In reality, free labor would also allow capitalists to hire skilled and non-skilled workers at the lowest wages, overwork workers under unhealthy factory conditions, and exploit children in the capitalist manufacturing process until later labor laws would be passed to address these issues.   The northern capitalist industrialist understood maximizing capitalist profits under mass industrial manufacturing.  A slave being forced to work without pay under forced bondage would never produce the same manufacturing results, work as hard without being consistently forced, or stay consistently engaged in labor over a long duration as an hourly wage-earner, who could be terminated at any time, that held the responsibility of placing nightly beans and bread on his family table compared to a slave whose only reward was watching a master live off his labor.  In addition, slave owners were required to feed and clothe their slaves, and deal with lost labor due to runaways, injuries and sicknesses which caused “considerable financial losses to their owners”.  Free labor and the division of that free labor would satisfy “the desire of the capitalist merchant to force higher output from his workers” compared to southern slave system, especially with the new system of free labor creating circumstances which promoted “intensive work in factory settings, individuals performing fragmented tasks, and the transformation of skilled work to unskilled”.

                Under the presidency of Lincoln, the Union also passed legislation that would structure the capitalist free labor market through the Legal Tender Act of 1862.  The usage of gold and silver for commodity exchanges and pay rates ended with this legislation, as “The Legal Tender Act authorized the federal government to print and use paper money” for payment to the expendable free labor force which would be completely implemented after the conclusion of the Civil War regardless of what might befall masses of freed slaves with no starting capital.  Prior to the Legal Tender Act, “the first U.S. income tax was imposed in July 1861, at 3 percent of all incomes over $800 up to 10 percent for incomes over $100,000”.

The South: Agriculture and Slavery

                As southern succession and the Civil War approached, “the population of the South had reached four million, with over one-third of that number enslaved” and the economic foundations of southern white society was reliant on the exports of cotton, sugar and rice by the enslavement free labor of American black slaves.  The political resistance in the south towards northern free labor and the possible abolition of slavery was led by the largest landowners, who “held the most political power, dominating public office” in the south, and supported by poor landless whites who feared competing with a population of freed slaves, many of whom possessed trades and apprenticeships, for a limited amount of jobs within society.  Possessing “only 13 percent of the nation's banks” prior to the Civil War, the south quickly fell behind the north in manufacturing and the accumulation of industrial technologies with the north manufacturing “17 times more cotton and woolen textiles than the South, 30 times more leather goods, 20 times more pig iron, and 32 times more firearms”, and this concentration of industrialized manufacturing would eventually guarantee a Union victory over the Confederacy in the Civil War, and ensure the victory of northern free wage labor and the abolition of American slavery.

Conclusion

                The Civil War and the Abolition of American slavery were not events that occurred as a result of moral sentiments in the United States.  These historical events within the United States were direct results of technological developments in capitalist manufacturing, an improved system of capitalist labor exploitation, and the conflicting economic interests of northern industrialists and agricultural southern slave owners.  The young United States had always followed the interests of capital, whether in the form of breaking with British rule, land acquisition and natural resources in the Mexican War, or the abolition of slavery to introduce a new system of free wage labor which could regenerate higher levels of capital profit through higher levels of manufacturing and production.  In closing, the American Civil War was a result of many combined political and social elements, but the original root of those various elements was the Industrial Revolution and the new manufacturing technologies which emerged during that time period to revolutionize capitalist production.      

 

Notes

[1]  Library of Congress.  “John Bull and Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American Relations”  United States Library of Congress Website.  Accessed on February 21, 2014.  http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/british/brit-5.html

[2]  U.S. National Archives.  2014.  “Teaching With Documents: Eli Whitney's Patent for the Cotton Gin”  Accessed February 20, 2014.  http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/cotton-gin-patent/

[3]  U.S. National Archives.  2014.  “Teaching With Documents: Eli Whitney's Patent for the Cotton Gin”  Accessed February 20, 2014.  http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/cotton-gin-patent/

[4]  Patricia Ryaby Backer.  “The Cause of the Industrial Revolution”  San Jose State University.  Accessed on February 22, 2014.  http://www.engr.sjsu.edu/~pabacker/causeIR.htm

[5]   U.S. National Archives.  2014.  “Teaching With Documents: Eli Whitney's Patent for the Cotton Gin”  Accessed February 20, 2014.  http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/cotton-gin-patent/

[6]  Library of Congress.  “John Bull and Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American Relations”  United States Library of Congress Website.  Accessed on February 21, 2014.  http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/british/brit-5.html

[7]  Antonia Etheart.  “Lincoln, Labor and Liberation” Birmingham University Department of History.  Accessed on February 21, 2014.  http://www2.binghamton.edu/history/resources/journal-of-history/lincoln.html

[8]  Library of Congress.  “John Bull and Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American Relations”  United States Library of Congress Website.  Accessed on February 21, 2014.  http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/british/brit-5.html

[9]  Sukko Kim.  2006.  “Division of Labor and the Rise of Cities: Evidence from U.S. Industrialization, 1850-1880.”  National Bureau of Economic Research.  Accessed on February 20, 2014.  http://www.nber.org/papers/w12246.pdf?new_window=1

[10]  Auburn University.  2005.  A Glossary of Political Economy Terms: Division of Labor.  Accessed on February 21, 2014.  http://www.auburn.edu/~johnspm/gloss/division_of_labor

[11]  Antonia Etheart.  “Lincoln, Labor and Liberation” Birmingham University Department of History.  Accessed on February 21, 2014.  http://www2.binghamton.edu/history/resources/journal-of-history/lincoln.html

[12]  Antonia Etheart.  “Lincoln, Labor and Liberation” Birmingham University Department of History.  Accessed on February 21, 2014.  http://www2.binghamton.edu/history/resources/journal-of-history/lincoln.html

[13]  Leah Glaser.  “United States Expansion, 1800-1860”  University of Virginia Miller Center of Public Affairs.  Accessed on February 21, 2014.  http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/solguide/VUS06/essay06c.html

[14]  Patricia Ryaby Backer.  “The Cause of the Industrial Revolution”  San Jose State University.  Accessed on February 22, 2014.  http://www.engr.sjsu.edu/~pabacker/causeIR.htm

[15]  Patricia Ryaby Backer.  “The Cause of the Industrial Revolution”  San Jose State University.  Accessed on February 22, 2014.  http://www.engr.sjsu.edu/~pabacker/causeIR.htm

[16]  Benjamin Arrington.  “Industry and Economy during the Civil War”  National Park Service.  Accessed on February 22, 2014.  http://www.nps.gov/resources/story.htm?id=251

[17]  Benjamin Arrington.  “Industry and Economy during the Civil War”  National Park Service.  Accessed on February 22, 2014.  http://www.nps.gov/resources/story.htm?id=251

[18]  Leah Glaser.  “United States Expansion, 1800-1860”  University of Virginia Miller Center of Public Affairs.  Accessed on February 21, 2014.  http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/solguide/VUS06/essay06c.html

[19]  Leah Glaser.  “United States Expansion, 1800-1860”  University of Virginia Miller Center of Public Affairs.  Accessed on February 21, 2014.  http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/solguide/VUS06/essay06c.html

[20]  Leah Glaser.  “United States Expansion, 1800-1860”  University of Virginia Miller Center of Public Affairs.  Accessed on February 21, 2014.  http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/solguide/VUS06/essay06c.html

[21]  Benjamin Arrington.  “Industry and Economy during the Civil War”  National Park Service.  Accessed on February 22, 2014.  http://www.nps.gov/resources/story.htm?id=251

[22]  Benjamin Arrington.  “Industry and Economy during the Civil War”  National Park Service.  Accessed on February 22, 2014.  http://www.nps.gov/resources/story.htm?id=251

 

 

 

 

 

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