History Assignment Paper on Labor and the Civil War

Labor and the Civil War

The notion of free labor was one of the concepts, which were live and formed a heated debate during the civil war with proponents of ‘free labor’ notion supporting it since they regarded it as opportunity ideology. In support of the ideology, it advocates for hard work where people were in a position for free and unhindered social mobility. The notion and concept of free labor was the basis for the introduction of American capitalism, especially in 1850s. During these periods, free labor was mostly regarded as those working in factories as well as lower level functionaries with regard to the new wave of industrialization which was very much present in the North. Industrialization, which was advanced through factories, the concentration of activities in urban centers as well as a ready market and the need for labor, were regarded as prerequisites driving free labor concept (Eric 2).

During this era, it was considered honorable working in factories as contrasted with the archetype of southern slavery. Those who considered and subscribed to free labor suggested that working in the Northern region, which was industrious was prestigious and favorable even when on small capacities. This was more specifically compared to the slavery conditions in existence in the south. However, the North and South regions were distinct in various ways as described below. First, there was a chance that the workers in the southern region had hope of moving upwards, which presented a reality that could never be witnessed in the southern slavery. To ascertain this assertion, Eric Foner suggests that “republicans believed that a man who ‘remained all his life dependent on wages for his livelihood appeared almost as unfree as the southern slave.” It was the believe and suggestion of many that a worker who worked in southern region could emerge once as an owner of the means of production while employing other workers to work for him. However, this assertion is a reality, which was never expected in the slavery conditions. Secondly, free labor was regarded honorable than slavery carried out in the Southern region because it was a representation of the achievements of the American dream and its articulation (Eric 2).

The American dream was associated with individual hard work, biding one’s time and eventually being in a position to enjoy the fruits of one’s efforts. These characteristics were mostly associated with majority of immigrants and all those in search of a new life. The proponents of free labor advocated its essentials and importance in the notion of expanding the American dream to many individuals and to numerous places as much as possible. However, the vision of life in the south was contrary to such notion of free labor. The conditions of the south were challenged by the proponents of the free labor crusaders from the North who inhibited the “American dream” and preached it across the country. As Twain noted, “In doing so, this highlights the intensity and brutality of the conflict because both ways of life were pitted against one another and only one could survive. In addition, The Civil War uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of  people, transformed the social life of half the country, and wrought so profoundly upon the national character that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations (Eric 2).”

Those who greatly supported and advocated for free labor were convicted that by so doing, every individual’s role in its promotion and advocacy of capitalism in American was carrying out an honorable venture. This effort and feeling was necessitated by the commitment towards feeding the American dream and advancing the economic development of the people. As Eric Foner noted, “Free labor advocates were so passionate about their vision and the “honorable” individuals who were to partake in it because it provided an alternative narrative to slavery in defining American consciousness.  It is for this reason that many believed free labor’s capitalist vision so intensely.  It shaped both individual lives and the American narrative leading into and following the Civil War (Eric 2).”

The Economics of Slavery

This was the notion majorly held by the Southerners in their quest for prosperity and economic development. The economics of slavery-involved slave trading highly practiced in the south despite being outlawed by the Congress in 1808. This was the same year the US Congress passed a resolution barring the country from participating in international trade in slavery despite high demand in the southern region. Before the Congress resolution, slavery were traded through auction and direct sales in case the slave owner died or required urgent cash. In addition, trading in slaves was prevalent whenever the owner wanted to get rid of troublesome and lazy slaves. The slave trade never considered family ties or bonds and trade was carried out indiscriminative with members of the same family together or to separate owners. Male slaves were traded for $920 each while female fetched $640. Children were not left behind in slave trade for they fetched below $100 until they attain the adult age or old enough to be introduced to field work.

In order to ensure the continuity of slavery, especially after the Congress ban, various means and ways for reproduction were hatched. Natural reproduction was the preference with many southerners; in addition, the slaves were forced to reproduce. Reproduction was also carried out through rapes and life cycle of female slaves. The retention of slaves was cruel and inhuman with psychological torture being used to scare and enslave them not to run away. Some of the responsibilities which were daily activities for the slaves included wheelwright, caulker, midwife/nurse, blacksmith, field-hand and cooking chores (Jose 4).

These activities were minimized when the American colonization society was established in 1817. This was a milestone, especially to African Americans who considered the establishment a greater step towards freedom. Discrimination was also carried through the types of jobs offered, skin color, relationship to the owner and finally time allowed in the plantation. Some were treated differently from others where material incentives like better food and clothing were given (Eric 2).                

How changes affected the lives of people from 1850-1877

The entrance of women in the labor force, especially in the southern and northern regions brought out a new frontier in how work was considered. The entrance of women in the wage work force exemplified and complicated the respectability of free labor in equal measures. Since women could not be involved in equal types of jobs like men, although the labor laws and notion of free labor allowed, the compensation scheme became a complex issue. Although they demanded equal payment, it was not equivalent to the amount and type of work they performed compared to male counterparts. Margaret Garner’s life and the publicity towards free labor and entry in the wage labor force demonstrated the completion which existed between wage labor and plantation slavery. She demonstrated that women were also able in equal measures to transform from plantation slavery and be absorbed to wage labor force and deliver accordingly. As observed by Roediger, those involved in the northern wage labor force underlined the dignity of wage laborers compared to the plantation slavery in the south (Eric 2).

The slave trade was brought to an end with the reconstruction and civil war, especially from 1850-1877. The workers also participated through disobedience of their masters, go slows and strikes in plantations. They were also a combination of open and quieter resistance, which eventually resulted in blending of the African and American influences from the south and north respectively. The reconstruction agenda was advanced by Andrew Johnson, who advocated for the rights of southerners and the end of the slave trade. The State responded with the 13th amendment while issuing a pardon to all the southerners. By 1865, various States in the south had passed clack codes protecting former slaves’ rights and treating them equally. The 13th amendment abolished slave trade while the 14th amendment provided citizenship to African Americans. By the time the 15th amendment was passed, it was illegal to deny any voting rights to any citizen based on previous enslaved status, religion or race. These processes resulted in emancipation where four million slaves were set free. Emancipation resulted in reconciliation between separated families, construction of schools by former slaves, and petitioning of government for compensation. These efforts even led to the establishment of the Freedman’s bureau responsible for gaining education, obtaining land, negotiating labor contracts, settling legal disputes, and provision of basic necessities. These efforts were fruitful and witnessed various Acts, especially the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which empowered southerners and suspended the writ of habeas corpus (Jose 4).

Works Cited

Eric, Foner. Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War (Magill’s Literary Annual 1981). Frank Northen Magill. Salem Press, Inc. 1981. Print.

Jose, Galdo. The Long-Run Labor-Market Consequences of Civil War, New York: NY. Routledge, 2010. Print.