The period of antebellum in America was characterized by slavery in the southern part of the country. The south was predominantly agricultural and most farmers depended on slaves to cultivate their huge plantations. On the other hand, the northern part of the country was predominantly industrial.
Slavery was not allowed in the northern section therefore most workers were free laborers. This difference in labor ideology resulted into a growing tension that erupted as the Civil War (Maier, Smith and Keyssar 45). In the agricultural south, planters were regarded by the number of slaves they had who worked in their plantations. It was common that for one to have a large number of slaves, then his plantation was very large.
The agricultural plantations in the south were focused on the owners’ residences. This is where all the necessary business was conducted. Planters owned huge tracks of land and they used the services of their slaves to cultivate and conduct all agricultural business. A good number of the slave holders used to keep a limit of 10 slaves. The slaves were mostly expected to do domestic works and a few other works in the farms. It is only the huge planters who held more than 20 slaves for their farming activities (Douglas 23).
In the early 18th century, the planters used to focus on production of tobacco since this produce was highly marketable at that moment. However, due to the changing nature of the markets, they had to shift their focus to mixed crop production. The diversity of the market was not the only reason why this change was necessary. The soil was also getting exhausted as a result of too much cultivation of one type of crop.
Because of the shift from tobacco planting to mixed crop planting, the farmers in the south who owned many slaves realized that they had extra slaves and no work for them. This meant that they had sale the extra slaves. The idea meant that slavery would expand to the northern part of the country. The north confederation was not ready for the expansion of slave trade.
It had policies that condemned slavery in fact, just before the civil Abraham Lincoln was elected into presidency based on his stance as well as the republican stance on slavery.
Slavery was also witnessed in the fire fighting companies in the District of Columbia. The companies required volunteers to support with their operations. There were many companies and each received support from the federal government. The main reason why the companies were numerous and fire fighting was a viable business is because many of the building structures were made of wood. Every company exclusively relied on the power of volunteers to put out fires (Union Fire Company).
The slaves were on numerous occasions commanded to participate in the companies’ effort to put out fires. This included both freed slaves and the people who were still enslaved. Members of the black American community whether freed or enslaved were not allowed to be part of the high ranked officials and volunteers of the fire fighting companies.
The idea of volunteering was a good one however there was need to start making fire fighting a profession. Basically, the firemen were involved in a lot of risky things and their lives were at stakes. The work they did was also very noble since it was aimed towards community service. There was therefore a need to begin appreciating the volunteer fire fighters.
Compared to the form of labor in the southern part of America, North America had policies of free labor. The restrictions on members of certain racial communities were minimal simply because of the fact they were the minority. The fire fighting industry also received a lot of support from other companies and government agencies. This was still by the time when fire fighting was still a voluntary work. The navy could provide assistance by volunteering its employees to participate in the fire fighting.
Slavery witnessed in the south was really not a bad thing; that is if it is viewed from a different perspective. The slaves in the south were considered to be freer than the free laborers of the north. They had the best working environment that does not enslave them as much as the working environment of free laborers does.
The old aged people and children were really not expected to work at all. They experienced the comfort and yet they were getting paid in return. At least they could have free food and a place where they could lay their head without doing anything (Fitzhugh 12).
Similarly, women were less involved in the heavy work. Their white masters protected them from any harassment and despotic treatment from their husbands. The only people who were involved in heavy duties included the stout boys and the men. On averaged, they worked for less than nine hours every single day.
The open fields had good weather and fresh air which they were exposed to on daily basis. Even though the time of work was fixed at almost nine hours, most of the slaves were mainly working in abandonment. This means that they were in several occasions on supervised and therefore they could easily sleep on the job.
The slaves’ Sabbath days and holidays were respected. They were allowed to go to go and worship on Sundays. This however was not the case with the freed laborers. For them to make money, they had to work. There were some professions and jobs such as fire fighting that did not know anything to do with holidays and Sabbath.
The free laborers were expected to work anytime as opportunities could occur any time. Basically freed laborers were enslaved by their work and the duty they owed the people who employed them and the people whom they are serving.
The slaves also enjoyed a lot of free time to rest. Rest is a very essential thing for the health of any human being. On the contrary, this was a highly sort for thing among the free laborers.
Even though they could slightly high wages for their labor, but their capitalistic bosses schemed ways in which they could exploit the laborers. They also had less allowance which did not match up with the load of work they handled and how hard they worked. Therefore, based on Fitzhugh (1857), the freed laborers were more of slave laborers compared to the Negroes.
Women constituted the majority of factory labors in Lowell, Massachusetts. The textile industry employed more women compared to men. About three quarters of the work force was predominantly female. This was a very unique thing at that time considering how gender insensitive the society was. Because of the nature of this unique phenomenon, it affected the society to begin examining the moral behavior of women. This also caused an agitation in the labor industry (Bagley 9).
The women were very active in terms of being involved in labor related issue. Just like in any other industry, laborers formed petition and joined unions. They several articles to the local news paper in Lowell protesting and demanding their labor rights. They participated in strikes as well.
From the poems and newspaper articles that the women wrote, one thing was coming out clear; that the free labor force of the northern part of America was really not that free as it was assumed. The reason why laborers formed unions and made petition with regards to their terms of employment was because they realized that work environment did not favor them.
The laborers found themselves in dispute with their employers most of the time. The employers, who had a capitalistic mind set of making maximum profit out their labor, were only interested in exploiting them. In Lowell, the women were given priority however their wages were very low compared to the wages of men. This was an unfair treatment. Free laborers were mainly whites while the slave laborers were blacks. Both of them were not treated nicely in some way. They all were in complaints.
After the civil war, there was still a lot to be done in trying to bring the nation together. The nation was still divided into two: the North and the South. There were a lot of reconstruction amendments that had to take place that saw slavery coming to an end and the government redefining the rights of citizenship. This was then followed by the progressive era where there was a common call for social reforms and purification of the government.
The progressive movement aimed at eliminating corruption in the government and ensuring there is equal rights for all citizens. During the same period was the second industrial revolution that saw several changes in the American labor force. Human beings were replaced by machines to increase effectiveness of the labor. There were also changes in technology, finance, production methods, transportation, communication and farming.
Bagley, Sarah G. The Condition of the Operatives, from Voice of Industry. Lowell: Voice of the Industry, 1847.
Douglas, Fredrick. A general suyvey of the slave plantation. Fredrick Douglas Autobiography, 1883.
Fitzhugh, George. From The Blessings Of Slavery. 1857.
Maier, Pauline, et al. Inventing America: A History Of The United States. New York: W. W Norton & Company, 2006.
Union Fire Company. the volunteer fire company of DC. Washington DC, 1839.