Law, Labor and Ideology in the Early American Republic
Because of the breadth and novelty of its interpretation this is a book not just for those interested in the history of law or the history of labor, but for anyone interested in the broad stream of American political and social history. Police the pursuit of happiness. An excess of democracy.
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Law labor and state. Combination and conspiracy. The American conspiracy cases. Taken together, immigration and the end of Reconstruction triggered an anti-democratic movement to restrict access to the ballot box. They advocated restrictions on voting as a way to check corruption, elevate political culture, and marginalize those—they had in mind immigrants and blacks—whom they thought incapable of meeting the obligations of republican politics. They sought political changes that would make it far more difficult for the poor and immigrants to vote.
Tomlins | Law, Labor, and Ideology in the Early American Republic |
Over time, through poll taxes, residence requirements, literacy requirements, and more, they would succeed. The mass politics and high voting rates characteristic of late nineteenth-century America would not outlive the era. Attempts to restrict suffrage were part of a strong political and social backlash against immigrants that developed over the course of the century.
The United States welcomed immigrants because they were essential to its growing economy, but nativists opposed immigrants as antithetical to American culture and society. They thought of immigrants as exotic and inassimilable. In certain situations, however, nativists had allies who were immigrants or the children of immigrants.
Founding Principles and Virtues
Workers, both immigrant and native born, often feared that corporations were using contract labor—workers recruited abroad at lower wages than those paid American workers—to undermine American working conditions and the American family, which they defined as a working man whose wife maintained the home. They opposed certain kinds of immigration. One of the forgotten reforms of the period, the Foran Act of , outlawed contract labor, but the law proved difficult to enforce.
Alliances of some native-born Americans with some immigrants against other immigrants proved most effective in the case of the Chinese.
Roughly , Chinese immigrated to the United States between and , and they became the personification of both the inassimilable immigrant and the contract worker. Although the Chinese came as free laborers, they were often branded as coolies: abject semi-slaves, whose low standard of living allowed them to thrive on wages that could not support white families. Racists had previously claimed that superior Anglo-Saxons would inevitably replace "inferior" races. But in the West, while Sinophobes saw the Chinese as exotic and inferior, they also thought the Chinese would triumph over the supposedly superior white men because they were efficient workers.
Immigrants and the native born formed mobs that attacked the Chinese at Rock Springs, Wyoming, in and expelled them from Tacoma, Washington, in and Seattle in Congress passed ten-year restrictions on Chinese immigration in and and a permanent exclusion act in Late in the nineteenth century, those who opposed immigration from Italy, Hungary, and elsewhere compared those groups to the Chinese. Some immigrants could wrap themselves in the mantle of Americanism if they were "white" and Protestant. Protestant immigrants, particularly Scandinavians and Scots-Irish, joined the American Protective Association in to restrict Catholic immigration as it rode a larger wave of anti-Catholicism that swept over the country.
Aimed initially at Irish and Catholic schools, anti-Catholicism increased its range as new Catholic immigrants began to arrive. Although not all of them intended to stay, most immigrants came to the United States for economic opportunity. Cheap land and relatively high wages, compared to their home countries, were available regardless of citizenship.
The Homestead Act did not require that settlers filing for land be American citizens, and the railroads not only sold their land grants cheaply, they advertised widely in Europe. The results of this distribution of fertile and largely accessible land were astonishing. Everything in the late nineteenth century seemed to move faster than ever before. Americans brought more land under cultivation between and million acres than they had since the English first appeared at Jamestown in million acres.
Farmers abandoned small, worn-out farms in the East and developed new, larger, and more fertile farms in the Midwest and West. They developed so much land because they farmed extensively, not intensively. In terms of yields per acre, American farmers ranked far below Europe. Maintaining fertility demanded labor, which was precisely what American farmers were bent on reducing. They invested not in labor but in technology, particularly improved plows, reapers, and threshers. With westward expansion onto the prairies, a single family with a reaper could increase acreage and thus production without large amounts of hired labor.
Arable free lands grew scarcer during the s, forcing more and more land seekers west into arid lands beyond the 98th meridian. In many years these lands lacked adequate rainfall to produce crops. During the same period, the percentage of workers employed in agriculture fell. Such statistics seemed to reflect a decline in the importance of farming, but in fact, they reflected its significance and efficiency. Farmers produced more than the country could consume with smaller and smaller percentages of its available labor.
They exported the excess, and the children of farmers migrated to cities and towns. Where at the beginning of the century exports composed about 10 percent of farm income, they amounted to between 20 and 25 percent by the end of the century. Migration from rural to urban areas dwarfed both foreign migration and westward migration. The rise of industrial America, the dominance of wage labor, and the growth of cities represented perhaps the greatest changes of the period. Few Americans at the end of the Civil War had anticipated the rapid rise of American industry.
As the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics and Labor declared in , wage labor was universal: "a system more widely diffused than any form of religion, or of government, or indeed, of any language. Skilled workers proved remarkably successful at maintaining their position through the s, but they had to fight to do so. The relatively high wages for skilled workers led employers to seek ways to replace skilled with unskilled or semi-skilled workers.
Mechanization provided the best tactic for deskilling work and lowering wages.
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Many of the bitterest strikes of the period were attempts to control working rules and to maintain rather than raise wages. Beginning with the Great Railroad Strike of , through the Great Upheaval of that culminated in the slaughter at Haymarket Square, then through the Homestead Strike , Pullman Strike , and more, the largest confrontations often involved violence and the intervention by state or federal governments to repress the strikes.
Many of these strikes involved the railroads; the whole economy seemed to revolve around the railroads.
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At the end of the s the railroads renewed their expansion. With a brief break in the s, expansion continued at a reckless pace until At the end of more than 20 percent of the , miles of railroad in the United States had been constructed in the previous four years. By the end of the century the railroad corporations rivaled the United States government in size.
In the Pennsylvania Railroad had , employees, almost three times the number of men in all the armed forces of the United States.
Nationally, , people worked for railroads in and nearly , in about 3 percent of the entire work force of the nation. By roughly one-sixth of all capital investments in United States were in the railroads.
The railroads powered the industrial economy. They consumed the majority of iron and steel produced in the United States before As late as , steel rails accounted for 90 percent of the steel production in the United States. They also distributed these commodities across the country. At times, however, railroads threatened to haul the American economy into the abyss. Rail corporations overbuilt, borrowed recklessly, and were often atrociously managed.
They ricocheted wildly between rate wars and the creation of pools to fix prices, and they encouraged other industries to follow. Wheat, silver, timber, cattle, and other commodities flooded the market, sent prices tumbling, and dragged many producers into bankruptcy. To learn more about how to request items watch this short online video. You can view this on the NLA website. Login Register. Advanced search Search history.
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