History 117 Lecture 5b

17A  Lecture 5

 

Democracy was something of a taint in the days of the lordly Federalists. Martha Washington, the first First Lady, was shocked after a presidential reception to find a greasy smear on the wallpaper--left there, she was sure, by an uninvited  "filthy democrat."

 

     But by the 1820s, if not before, aristocracy was becoming a taint, and democracy was becoming respectable. 

 

Politicians were now forced to unbend and curry favor with the voting masses. 

 

Lucky indeed was the aspiring office seeker who could boast  of birth in a log cabin.

 

 In 1840 Daniel Webster publicly apologized for not being able to claim so humble a birthplace, though quickly adding that his brothers could. 

 

Fatally handicapped was the candidate who appeared to be too clean, too well  dressed, too grammatical, too high-browishly intellectual.

 

 In the West, especially, the belief was spreading that a man was well qualified for high office if he was a superior militia commander or a victorious Indian fighter, like Andrew Jackson, or  even an outstanding hunter, like Davy Crockett. 

 

The semiliterate Crockett was elected to Congress mainly on the basis of his prowess with a rifle. 

 

He once killed 105 bears in a season, and his Tennessee constituents began to talk of running him for  the presidency. 

 

Yet colorful characters like Crockett were exceptions. Most high political offices continued to be filled by "leading citizens." 

 

But now these wealthy and prominent men had to forsake all social pretensions and cultivate the common  touch if they hoped to win elections.

 

     Jeffersonian democracy had proclaimed that the people should be governed as little as possible; 

 

Jacksonian democracy now added that whatever governing was to be done should be done directly by the people.

 

 The common man was at last moving to  the center of the national political stage: the sturdy American who donned plain trousers rather than silver-buckled knee breeches, who besported a plain haircut and a coonskin cap rather than a powdered wig, and who wore no man's collar, often not  even one of his own.

 

 Instead of the old divine right of kings, America was now witnessing the divine right of the people.

 

     The New Democracy, so called, was based on universal white manhood suffrage rather than the old property qualifications. 

The frontier state of Vermont, admitted to the Union in 1791, was the first to place the ballot in the hands of all adult  white males. 

 

This trend continued, notably in the West, where land was so easily obtained as to render almost meaningless the old property qualifications. 

 

Property tests for officeholding were also widely abolished, and even judges were now being  popularly elected. 

 

The South trailed other regions in giving up property requirements, but it, too, eventually extended suffrage and the right to hold office to all white men.

 

     Snobbish bigwigs, unhappy over the change, sneered at "coonskin congressmen" and at the newly enfranchised "bipeds of the forest." 

 

To them, the tyranny of King Numbers was no less offensive than that of King George. 

 

But these critics protested  in vain. 

 

The masses marched unswervingly toward a fuller measure of control over the Republic's political affairs. 

 

If they made mistakes, they made them themselves and were not the victims of aristocratic domination.

 

 If at times they stumbled, they  stumbled forward. The New Democracy had arrived to stay."

 

Politics for the People

 

The touchy tariff issue became one of Adams's biggest headaches. Congress had increased the general tariff in 1824, from about 23 percent on dutiable goods to about 37 percent. 

 

But wool manufacturers, dissatisfied with their share of  protection, bleated for still-higher barriers.

 

     Ardent Jacksonites, seeking to unhorse Adams, seized this opportunity to play politics with the Tariff of 1828. 

 

They rigged up a bill that was seemingly more concerned with manufacturing a president than with protecting manufacturers. 

 

A part of  their scheme was to push the duties as high as about 45 percent on the value of certain manufactured items.

 

 At the same time, they would impose a heavy tariff on certain raw materials, notably wool. 

 

These materials were so urgently needed for  manufacturing, especially in New England, that even this industrial section would presumably vote against the entire measure.

 

 Adams, whose stronghold was New England, would thus be given another political black eye, and Jackson would receive a  boost, especially in the middle states. 

 

There many voters were politically uncertain but protection-prone.

 

     But the New Englanders spoiled this clever little game. 

 

Though disliking the proposed duties, they were anxious to continue the principle of protection.

 

 As a consequence, enough of them choked down the dishonest Tariff of 1828, as amended, to  force its passage. 

 

Daniel Webster, who had earlier fought the mild Tariff of 1816, and John C. Calhoun, who had sponsored it, had by this time completely reversed their positions. 

 

They and others now clearly saw that the future of New England lay in  the factory, rather than on the waves, while the destiny of the South lay in the cotton fields.

 

     Southerners, as heavy consumers of manufactured goods, were shocked by what they regarded as the outrageous rates of the Tariff of 1828. 

 

Hotheads promptly branded it the "Black Tariff" or the "Tariff of Abominations." 

 

Several southern states  adopted formal protests; in South Carolina, flags were lowered to half-mast. 

 

"Let the New England beware how she imitates the Old," cried one eloquent South Carolinian who remembered 1776.

 

     Why did the South, especially South Carolina, react so angrily against the tariff? 

 

Underlying the southern outcry were growing anxieties about possible federal interference with the institution of slavery. 

 

The congressional debate on the  Missouri Compromise had kindled those anxieties, and they were further fed by an ominous slave rebellion in Charleston in 1822, led by a free black, Denmark Vesey. 

 

The South Carolinians, still closely tied to the British West Indies, also knew full  well how their slaveowning West Indian cousins were feeling the mounting pressure of British abolitionism on the London government. 

 

Abolitionism in America might similarly use the power of the government in Washington to suppress slavery in the  South. 

 

If so, now was the time, and the tariff was the issue, for taking a strong stand on principle against all federal encroachments on states' rights.

 

     Nearer the surface was the real economic distress of the Old South--the seaboard area first settled. It was now the least flourishing of all the sections. 

 

The bustling Northeast was experiencing a boom in manufacturing; the developing West was  prospering from rising property values and a multiplying population; and the energetic Southwest was expanding into virgin cotton lands. 

 

Overcropped acres of the Old South were petering out, and the price of cotton was falling sharply. John Randolph  of Virginia grimly quipped that masters would soon cease to advertise for their fugitive slaves, and slaves would advertise for their fugitive masters. So the Old South was seeking a scapegoat, and the tariff proved to be a convenient and plausible  one."

 

The Tricky "Tariff of Abominations"

 

The presidential campaign for Andrew Jackson had started early. 

 

It began on February 9, 1825, the day of John Quincy Adams's controversial election by the House, and continued noisily for nearly four years.

 

     Even before the election of 1828, the temporarily united Republicans of the Era of Good Feelings had split into two camps. 

 

One was the National Republicans, with the ultranationalistic Adams as their standard-bearer. 

 

The other was the  Democratic-Republicans, with the fiery Jackson heading their ticket. 

 

Rallying cries of the Jackson zealots were "Bargain and Corruption," "Huzza for Jackson," and "All Hail Old Hickory." 

 

Jacksonites planted hickory poles for their hickory-tough hero; "Adamsites" adopted the oak as the symbol of their oakenly independent candidate.

 

     "Shall the people rule?" was the chief issue of 1828, at least to Jacksonians. 

 

They argued that the will of the voters had been thwarted in 1825 by the backstairs "bargain" of Adams and Clay. 

 

The only way to right the wrong was to seat Jackson,  who would then bring about "reform" by sweeping out the "dishonest" Adams gang. 

 

"Jackson and Reform" was a widely mouthed slogan, and hickory brooms were brandished as tokens of a forthcoming "clean sweep." 

 

Seldom has the public mind been so  successfully poisoned against an honest and high-minded president.

 

     Mudslinging reached a disgraceful level, partly as a result of the taste of the new mass electorate for bare-knuckle politics. 

 

Adams would not stoop to gutter tactics, but many of his backers were less squeamish. 

 

They described Jackson's mother  as a prostitute; they printed black-bordered handbills, shaped like coffins, recounting his numerous duels and brawls and trumpeting his hanging of six mutinous militiamen. 

 

The "Old Hero" was also branded an adulterer. 

He had married an estimable  woman, Rachel Robards, confident that her divorce had been granted. 

 

To the consternation of both, they discovered two years later that it had not been, and they made haste to correct the marital miscue.

 

     Rachel Jackson was crushed by the vicious charges of bigamy and adultery. 

 

She lived to see her husband win the presidency, but she died--supposedly of a broken heart--before she could become First Lady. 

 

Jackson, devotedly attached to his wife,  was convinced that his enemies had killed her. He never forgave them.

 

     Jackson men also hit below the belt. President Adams had purchased, with his own money and for his own use, a billiard table and a set of chessmen. 

 

In the mouths of rabid Jacksonites, these items became "gaming tables" and "gambling furniture"  for the "presidential palace." 

 

Criticism was also unfairly directed at the large sums Adams had received over the years in federal salaries, well earned though they had been. 

 

He was even accused of having procured a servant girl for the lust of a  Russian nobleman while minister to Russia--in short, of having served as a pimp."

 

Going  for Jackson in 1828

 

General Jackson, victorious on the battlefields, was no less victorious at the ballot boxes. 

 

The popular tally was 647,286 votes for him to 508,064 for Adams, with an electoral count of 178 to 83. 

 

Support for Jackson came mainly from the West  and South, and to a considerable extent from the sweat-stained laborers of the eastern seaboard. 

 

Generally speaking, the common people--though by no means all of them--voted for the Hero of New Orleans. 

 

Adams won the backing of his own New England,  as well as the propertied "better elements" of the Northeast.

 

     The election of 1828 has often been called the "Revolution of 1828." 

 

Actually, as in 1800, no upheaval or landslide swept out the incumbent. 

 

Adams, in fact, polled a respectable 44 percent of the popular vote.

 

 A considerable part of Jackson's  support, moreover, was lined up by machine politicians, especially in New York and Pennsylvania, and not entirely among the leather-aproned artisans and other manual workers.

 

     But the concept of a political revolution in 1828 is not completely farfetched. 

 

The increased turnout of voters proved that the common people, especially in the universal-white-manhood-suffrage states, now had the vote and the will to use it  for their ends.

 

 

 A discontented West, with its numerous rustics and debtors, generally voted for Jackson. 

 

The results show that the political center of gravity was continuing to shift away from the conservative eastern seaboard toward the emerging  states across the mountains.

 

     So in a broader sense the election was a "revolution," comparable to that of 1800.

 

 It was a peaceful revolution, achieved by ballots instead of bullets, by counting heads instead of crushing them. "Shall the people rule?" cried the Jacksonians.  

 

The answering roar seemed to say, "The people shall rule!" In the struggle between the poorer masses and the entrenched classes, the homespun folk scored a resounding triumph, befuddling some members of the elite establishment. 

 

"I never saw anything  like it," a puzzled Daniel Webster mused about Jackson's inaugural. "

 

Persons have come five hundred miles to see General Jackson, and they really seem to think that the country is rescued from some dreadful danger."

 

     America hitherto had been ruled by an elite of brains and wealth, whether aristocratic Federalist shippers or aristocratic Jeffersonian planters. 

 

Jackson's victory accelerated the transfer of national power from the countinghouse to the  farmhouse, from the East to the West, and from the snobs to the mobs. 

 

If Jefferson had been the hero of the gentleman farmer, Jackson was the hero of the dirt farmer. 

 

The plowholders were now ready to take over the government--their government.

 

     Adams, though president-reject, was still destined for an enviable public career. 

 

Ever high-minded, he did not deem it beneath his dignity as an ex-president to accept election to the House of Representatives from Massachusetts. ("No person can  be degraded by serving the people," he declared.)

 

 There he served with conspicuous success for seventeen fruitful years. Affectionately known as "Old Man Eloquent," he fought stalwartly for free government, free speech, free soil, and free people.

 

 A  rough and savage debater, he finally was stricken on the floor of the House in 1848, at age eighty. 

 

His funeral was the greatest pageant of its kind that Washington had yet seen. Ironically, the popularity that had escaped him in life came to him in  death."

 

The Jacksonian "Revolution of 1828"

 

President Jackson did not hate all banks and all businesses, but he distrusted monopolistic banking and overbig business, as did his followers. 

 

A man of violent dislikes, he came to share the prejudices of his own West against the "moneyed  monster" known as the Bank of the United States (BUS). 

 

He might have tolerated a renewal of its charter in 1836, with adequate safeguards. 

 

But hated Henry Clay aroused his ire by throwing himself behind a premature move in the Senate to recharter  the bank in 1832--four years early. 

 

"Gallant Harry" was the leading candidate of the National Republicans for the presidency, and with fateful blindness he looked upon the bank issue as a surefire winner.

 

     Clay's scheme was to ram a recharter bill through Congress and then send it on to the White House. 

 

If Jackson signed it, he would alienate his worshipful western followers. 

 

If he vetoed it, as seemed certain, he would presumably lose the  presidency in the forthcoming election by alienating the wealthy and influential groups in the East. 

 

Clay seems not to have fully realized that the "best people" were now only a minority and that they generally feared Jackson anyhow. 

 

The president  growled privately, "The Bank ...  is trying to kill me, but I will kill it."

 

     The recharter bill slid through Congress on greased skids, as planned, but was killed by a scorching veto from Jackson. 

 

The "Old Hero" assailed the plutocratic and monopolistic bank as unconstitutional. 

 

Of course, the Supreme Court had earlier  declared it constitutional in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) but Jackson acted as though he regarded the executive branch as superior to the judicial branch. 

 

He had sworn to uphold the Constitution as he understood it, not as his foe John Marshall understood it.

 

     Jackson's veto message went on to condemn the bank as not only antiwestern but anti-American. 

 

A substantial minority of its stockholders were foreigners, chiefly Britons, for whom Americans still harbored a war-born hate.

 

 Thus at one bold  stroke, Jackson succeeded in mobilizing the prejudices of the West against the East. 

 

He was setting the log cabin against the business office, the apprehensive debtor against the steely-eyed creditor. 

 

More than that, the president was arousing the  "native" American against the foreigner, the states' righter against the centralizer.

 

     Jackson's veto message was epochal. 

 

It not only squashed the bank bill but vastly amplified the power of the presidency. 

 

In more than four decades under the Constitution, previous presidents had used the veto only ten times; Jackson was to use  it twelve times, or more than all his predecessors combined. 

 

Besides, all previous vetoes had rested almost exclusively on questions of constitutionality. 

 

But though Jackson invoked the Constitution in his bank-veto message, he essentially argued  that he was vetoing the bill because he personally found it harmful to the nation. 

In effect, he was claiming for the president alone a power equivalent to two-thirds of the votes in Congress. If the legislative and judicial branches were partners  in government, he implied, the president was unmistakably the senior partner.

 

     The gods continued to misguide Henry Clay. Delighted with the financial fallacies of Jackson's message but blind to its political appeal, he arranged to have thousands of copies printed as a campaign document. 

 

The president's sweeping  accusations may indeed have seemed demagogic to the moneyed people of the country, but they made good sense to the common people. The bank issue was now thrown into the noisy arena of the Clay-Jackson presidential canvass of 1832."

 

The Bank as a Political Football

 

Wondrous indeed was the continued expansion of the American population. 

 

The unflagging fertility of the people, reinforced by immigration, brought the total figure to nearly 13 million by 1830, or more than three times that of 1790. (For  population figures since 1790, see the Appendix.)

 

 Most of the states east of the Mississippi had been admitted, leaving islands of Indians marooned on lands coveted by their white neighbors.

 

     More than 125,000 Native Americans dwelled in the forests and prairies east of the Mississippi in the 1820s. Federal policy toward them varied. 

 

Beginning in the 1790s, the Washington government ostensibly recognized the tribes as separate  nations and agreed to acquire land from them only through formal treaties. 

 

In practice, however, the Indians were repeatedly coerced or tricked into ceding huge tracts of territory to whites.

 

     Yet many white Americans also felt respect and admiration for the Indians and believed that the Native Americans could be assimilated into white society. 

 

Much energy therefore was devoted to "civilizing" and Christianizing the Indians.

 

 The  Society for Propagating the Gospel Among Indians was founded in 1787, and many denominations sent missionaries into Indian villages. 

 

In 1793 Congress appropriated $20,000 for the promotion of literacy and agricultural and vocational instruction  among the Indians.

 

     Although many tribes violently resisted white encroachment, others followed the path of accommodation. 

 

The Cherokees of Georgia made especially remarkable efforts to learn the ways of the whites. 

 

They gradually abandoned their seminomadic life  and adopted a system of settled agriculture and a notion of private property. 

 

Missionaries opened schools among the Cherokees, and the Indian Sequoyah devised a Cherokee alphabet. 

 

In 1808 the Cherokee National Council legislated a written legal  code, and in 1827 it adopted a written constitution that provided for executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. 

 

Some Cherokees became prosperous cotton planters and even turned to slaveholding. 

 

Nearly 1,300 black slaves toiled for  their Native American masters in the Cherokee nation in the 1820s.

 

     All this apparently was not good enough for  whites. 

 

In 1828 the Georgia legislature declared the Cherokee tribal council illegal and asserted its own jurisdiction over Indian affairs and Indian lands. 

 

The Cherokees appealed this move to the  Supreme Court, which thrice upheld the rights of the Indians. 

 

But President Jackson, who clearly wanted to open Indian lands to white settlement, refused to recognize the Court's decisions.

 

 In a callous sneer at the Indians' defender, Jackson  reportedly snapped, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.

 

     Yet Jackson, who had raised from infancy and then adopted an Indian boy, also harbored protective feelings toward the Native Americans. 

 

Their present condition, he told Congress in 1829, "contrasted sharply with what they once were, makes a  most powerful appeal to our sympathies." 

 

Could not something be done, he implored, to preserve "this much injured race"? 

 

Jackson proposed a bodily removal of the remaining eastern tribes--chiefly Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and  Seminoles--beyond the Mississippi.

 

 Emigration was supposed to be voluntary because it would be "cruel and unjust to compel the aborigines to abandon the graves of their fathers." 

 

Jackson evidently consoled himself with the belief that the Indians  could preserve their native cultures in the wide-open West.

 

     Jackson's policy sounded noble, but it led to the forced uprooting of more than 100,000 Indians. 

 

In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, providing for the transplanting of all Indian tribes then resident east of the Mississippi.

 

 In the  ensuing decade, countless Indians died on the "Trail of Tears" to the newly established Indian Territory (present Oklahoma), where they were to be "permanently" free of white encroachments. 

 

The Bureau of Indian Affairs was established in 1836 to  administer relations with America's original inhabitants. 

 

But as the land-hungry "palefaces" pushed west faster than anticipated, the government's guarantees went up in smoke. 

 

The "permanent" frontier lasted about fifteen years.

 

     Suspicious of white intentions from the start, braves from Illinois and Wisconsin, ably led by Black Hawk, resisted eviction.

 

 They were bloodily crushed in 1832 by regular troops, including Lieutenant Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, and by  volunteers, including Captain Abraham Lincoln of Illinois.

 

     In Florida the Seminole Indians, joined by runaway black slaves, retreated to the swampy Everglades. 

 

For seven years (1835-1842) they waged a bitter guerrilla war that took the lives of some fifteen hundred soldiers and proved to be the  costliest Indian conflict in American experience. 

 

The spirit of the Seminoles was at last broken in 1837, when the American field commander treacherously seized their half-breed leader, Osceola, under a flag of truce. 

 

The war dragged on fitfully for  five more years, but the Seminoles were doomed. 

 

Some fled deeper into the Everglades, where their descendants now live, but about four-fifths of them were moved to present Oklahoma, where about three thousand of the tribe survive."

 

Transplanting the Tribes

 

New political parties were gelling as the 1830s lengthened. As early as 1828, the Democratic-Republicans of Jackson had unashamedly adopted the once-tainted name of "Democrats."

 

 Jackson's opponents, fuming at his ironfisted exercise of  presidential power, condemned him as "King Andrew I" and began to coalesce as the Whigs--a name deliberately chosen to recollect eighteenth-century British and Revolutionary American opposition to the monarchy.

 

     The Whig party contained so many diverse elements that it was mocked at first as "an organized incompatibility." 

 

Hatred of Jackson and his "executive usurpation" was its only apparent cement in its formative days. 

 

The Whigs first emerged as an  identifiable group in the Senate, where Clay and Calhoun joined forces in 1834 to pass a motion censuring Jackson for his single-handed removal of federal deposits from the Bank of the United States. 

 

Thereafter, the Whigs rapidly evolved into a  potent national political force by attracting other groups alienated by Jackson: supporters of Clay's American System; southern states' righters offended by Jackson's stand on nullification; the larger northern industrialists and merchants; and  eventually many of the evangelical Protestants associated with the Anti-Masonic party.

 

     As the presidential election of 1836 neared, the still-ramshackle organization of the Whigs showed in their inability to nominate a single presidential candidate. 

 

Their long-shot strategy was instead to run several prominent "favorite sons,"  who would so scatter the vote that no candidate would win a majority. 

 

The deadlock would then have to be broken by the House of Representatives, where the Whigs might have a chance. 

 

With Henry Clay rudely elbowed aside, the leading "favorite son"  was heavy-jawed General William Henry Harrison of Ohio, hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe.

 

     Martin Van Buren of New York, a smooth-as-silk politician, was Jackson's choice for "appointment" as his successor. 

 

The hollow-cheeked Jackson, now nearing seventy, was too old and ailing to consider a third term. 

 

But he was not loath to try to  serve a third term through Van Buren, something of a "yes man." 

 

Leaving nothing to chance, Jackson carefully rigged the nominating convention and rammed his favorite down the throats of the delegates. 

 

Van Buren was supported by the Jacksonites  without wild enthusiasm, even though he had promised "to tread generally" in the military-booted footsteps of his predecessor.

 

     The finespun schemes of the Whigs availed nothing. Van Buren, the dapper "Little Van," squirmed into office by the close popular vote of 765,483 to 739,795, but by the comfortable margin of 170 votes to 124 in the Electoral College. 

 

Jackson  could now step down.

 

     In retrospect, the Jackson years were yeasty ones. 

 

It is true that they were marred by noise and bluster, as well as by bull-in-the-china-closet financial policies. 

 

Yet the rough-hewn general--through forthrightness, energy, and strength of  character--left a lasting imprint on the presidency. 

 

He bolstered the power of the executive branch; he led the common people into national politics;

 

 he united them into the powerful and long-lived Democratic party; and he proved that they could be  trusted with the vote. 

 

Reasserting the prestige of the presidency, he amazed weak-kneed politicians by showing that the courageous course often wins the most votes.

 

     The other side of the ledger is less satisfying. 

 

Jackson cannot escape blame for his encouragement of the spoils system and especially for the damage he inflicted on the nation's financial system.

 

 It is true that the BUS was a powerful and  ultimately corrupting monopoly that needed to have its wings clipped. 

 

But chopping off its head instead of clipping its wings deprived the nation of a sound central bank just as it was enteringan era of rapid industrialization.

 

 Almost alone among  the major industrial countries, the United States' banking "system" was composed of thousands of local banks, many of them woefully undercapitalized and poorly managed. 

 

The American banking industry was thus "democratized" in the sense that no bank  held a monopoly on financial power and the banking field was open to all ambitious entrepreneurs, as befitted Jacksonian political philosophy.

 

 But Americans paid a stiff economic price for this wide-open system, as Jackson's "reforms" left a  heartbreaking, century-long legacy of thousands of bank failures. "

 

The Birth of the Whigs and the Election of 1836

 

The rise of Andrew Jackson, the first president from beyond the Appalachian Mountains, exemplified the inexorable westward march of the American people. 

 

The West, with its raw frontier, was the most typically American part of America. 

 

As Ralph  Waldo Emerson wrote in 1844, "Europe stretches to the Alleghenies; America lies  beyond." 

 

     The Republic was young, and so were the people--as late as 1850, half of Americans were under the age of thirty. They were also restless and energetic, seemingly always on the move, and always westward. 

 

One "tall tale" of the frontier described  chickens that voluntarily crossed their legs every spring, waiting to be tied for the annual move west. 

 

By 1840 the "demographic center" of the American population map had crossed the Alleghenies. 

 

By the eve of the Civil War, it had marched across  the Ohio River.

 

     Legend portrays an army of muscular axmen triumphantly carving civilization out of the western woods. But in reality, life was downright grim for most pioneer families. 

 

Poorly fed, ill clad, housed in hastily erected shanties (Abraham Lincoln's  family lived for a year in a three-sided lean-to made of brush and sticks), they were perpetual victims of disease, depression, and premature death. 

 

Above all, unbearable loneliness haunted them, especially the women, who sometimes cracked under the  strain. 

These women settlers were often cut off from human contact, even their neighbors, for days or even weeks, while confined to the cramped orbit of a dark cabin in a secluded clearing. 

 

Breakdowns and even madness were all too frequently the  "opportunities" that the frontier offered to pioneer women.

 

     Frontier life could be tough and crude for men as well. No-holds-barred wrestling, which permitted such niceties as the biting off of noses and the gouging out of eyes, was a popular entertainment. 

 

Pioneering Americans, marooned by geography,  were often ill informed, superstitious, provincial, and fiercely individualistic. 

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson's popular lecture-essay "Self-Reliance" struck a deeply responsive chord. 

 

Popular literature of the period abounded with portraits of heroically  unique, isolated figures like James Fenimore Cooper's Natty Bumppo and Herman Melville's Captain Ahab--just as Jacksonian politics aimed to emancipate the lone-wolf, enterprising businessperson. 

 

Yet even in this heyday of "rugged individualism"  there were important exceptions. 

 

Pioneers, in tasks clearly beyond their own individual resources, would call upon their neighbors for logrolling and barn raising and upon their governments for help in building internal improvements."

 

The Westward Movement

 

A group of gifted British inventors, beginning about 1750, perfected a series of machines for the mass production of textiles. 

 

This enslavement of steam multiplied the power of human muscles some ten thousandfold and ushered in the modern  factory system--and with it, the so-called industrial revolution.

 

 It was accompanied by a no-less-spectacular transformation in agricultural production and in the methods of transportation and communication.

 

     The factory system gradually spread from England--"the world's workshop"--to other lands. 

 

It took a generation or so to reach western Europe, and then the United States. 

 

Why was the youthful American Republic, destined to be an industrial  giant, so slow to embrace the machine?

 

     For one thing, virgin soil in America was cheap. 

 

Land-starved descendants of land-starved peasants were not going to coop themselves up in smelly factories when they might till their own acres in God's fresh air and sunlight. 

Labor was  therefore generally scarce, and enough nimble hands to operate the machines were hard to find--until immigrants began to pour ashore in the 1840s. 

 

Money for capital investment, moreover, was not plentiful in pioneering America. 

 

Raw materials lay  undeveloped, undiscovered, or unsuspected. 

 

The Republic was one day to become the world's leading coal producer, but much of the coal burned in colonial times was imported all the way from England.

 

     Just as labor was scarce, so were consumers. The young country at first lacked a domestic market large enough to make factory-scale manufacturing profitable.

 

     Long-established British factories, which provided cutthroat competition, posed another problem. 

 

Their superiority was attested by the fact that a few unscrupulous Yankee manufacturers, out to make a dishonest dollar, stamped their own products  with faked English trademarks.

 

     The British also enjoyed a monopoly of the textile machinery, whose secrets they were anxious to hide from foreign competitors.

 

 Parliament enacted laws, in harmony with the mercantilistic system, forbidding the export of the machines or the  emigration of mechanics able to reproduce them.

 

     Although a number of small manufacturing enterprises existed in the early Republic, the future industrial colossus was still snoring.

 

 Not until well past the middle of the nineteenth century did the value of the output of the factories exceed  that of the farms."

 

The March of Mechanization

 

One ugly outgrowth of the factory system was an increasingly acute labor problem. 

 

Hitherto manufacturing had been done in the home, or in the small shop, where the master craftsman and his apprentice, rubbing elbows at the same bench, could  maintain an intimate and friendly relationship. 

 

The industrial revolution submerged this personal association in the impersonal ownership of stuffy factories in "spindle cities." 

 

Around these, like tumors, the slumlike hovels of the "wage slaves"  tended to cluster.

 

     Clearly the early factory system did not shower its benefits evenly on all. 

 

While many owners waxed fat, workingpeople often wasted away at their workbenches. 

 

Hours were long, wages were low, and meals were skimpy and hastily gulped. 

 

Workers  were forced to toil in unsanitary buildings that were poorly ventilated, lighted, and heated. 

 

They were forbidden by law to form labor unions to raise wages, for such cooperative activity was regarded as a criminal conspiracy. 

 

Not surprisingly, only  twenty-four recorded strikes occurred before 1835.

 

     Especially vulnerable to exploitation were child workers. In 1820, half the nation's industrial toilers were children under ten years of age. 

 

Victims of factory labor, many children were mentally blighted, emotionally starved, physically  stunted, and even brutally whipped in special "whipping rooms."

 

 In Samuel Slater's mill of 1791, the first machine tenders were seven boys and two girls, all under twelve years of age.

 

     By contrast, the lot of most adult wage workers improved markedly in the 1820s and 1830s. 

 

In the full flush of Jacksonian democracy, many of the states granted the laboring man the vote.

 

 Brandishing the ballot, he first strove to lighten his  burden through workingmen's parties. 

 

Aside from such goals as the ten-hour day, higher wages, and tolerable working conditions, he demanded public education for his children and an end to the inhuman practice of imprisonment for debt.

 

     Employers, abhorring the rise of the "rabble" in politics, fought the ten-hour day to the last ditch. 

 

They argued that reduced hours would lessen production, increase costs, and demoralize the workers. 

 

Laborers would have so much leisure time  that the Devil would lead them into mischief. 

 

A red-letter gain was at length registered for labor in 1840, when President Van Buren established the ten-hour day for federal employees on public works. 

 

In ensuing years a number of states gradually fell into line by reducing the hours of working people.

 

     Day laborers at last learned that their strongest weapon was to lay down their tools, even at the risk of prosecution under the law. 

 

Dozens of strikes erupted in the 1830s and 1840s, most of them for higher wages, some for the ten-hour day, and  a few for such unusual goals as the right to smoke on the job. 

 

The workers usually lost more strikes than they won, for the employer could resort to such tactics as the importing of strikebreakers--often derisively called "scabs" or "rats," and  often fresh off the boat from the Old World. 

 

Labor long raised its voice against the unrestricted inpouring of wage-depressing and union-busting immigrant workers.

 

     Labor's early and painful efforts at organization had netted some 300,000 trade unionists by 1830. But such encouraging gains were dashed on the rocks of hard times following the severe depression of 1837. 

 

As unemployment spread, union  membership shriveled. Yet toilers won a hope-giving legal victory in 1842. The supreme court of Massachusetts ruled in the case of Commonwealth v. Hunt that labor unions were not illegal conspiracies, provided that their methods were "honorable and  peaceful."

 

 This enlightened decision did not legalize the strike overnight throughout the country, but it was a significant signpost of the times. Trade unions still had a rocky row to hoe, stretching ahead for about a century, before they could  meet management on relatively even terms."

 

Workers and "Wage Slaves"