Economic Basis of American Cities Change From Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

economic basis of American cities change from colonial era to 1860 and why did it change.

There is little doubt that there were a significant amount of economic changes taking place within the fledgling United States of America from its inception during colonial time to the year preceding the Civil War, 1860. Those changes were widely facilitated by advancements made during the Industrial Revolution and those pertaining to the practice of chattel slavery in the southern portion of the country. As such, the economics for American cities reflected these two principle sources of change, which were also underscored by a chief point of division in American social, political and economic life up until the Civil War: the distinction between autonomy and states' rights and circumscribed freedom and a strong federal government. The reality is that the latter of these two choices were good for capitalism and for the U.S. As a whole. Therefore, an analysis of this time period reveals that slavery and the Industrial revolution changed the source of labor and produced significant ramifications regarding labor and its capitalist exploitation in American cities.

The Industrial Revolution produced its greatest effect in the northern section of the U.S. During Colonial times, New England and other parts of the northern section of the country were able to generate economic empowerment via fishing, shipbuilding, and maritime trade, despite substantially different religious groups as demonstrated in Philadelphia (Warner, p. 23). This fledgling shipping industry was significantly altered by the Industrial Revolution, however, which eventually resulted in the influx of the factory system to this part of the country. The factory system did not take root in the South as much as it did in the north because the sprawling portions of the former region, which included important cities such as Charleston and New Orleans, were well suited and adopted to an agricultural economy. Nonetheless, the factory system was ideal for generating economic value in Northern cities such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia because this part of the country had a colonial foundation in manufacturing resources for maritime trade. The principle difference in the Northern cities was that once Samuel Slater smuggled factory plans from Britain to the U.S. circa 1790, New England was now able to create its own manufactured goods, whereas previously it was principally exporting raw materials to England for the latter's finished products. Therefore, the factor system flourished in the North and was able to create more of a self-sufficient economy, which was previously reliant upon Britain and its manufactured goods.

Although the effect of the Industrial Revolution did not result in the major development of the factory system in the South, it still produced some extremely tangible ramifications which greatly advantaged this region. The Southern section of the country had typically embodied Thomas Jefferson's envisage of a small nation of independent farmers with strong states' rights, so that the growth and development of cities was not as pivotal to this part of the country as it was in the North. Still, the principle benefit of the Industrial Revolution in the south pertained to the development of the cotton gin, which was invented by Eli Whitney in 1793. This invention revolutionized southern agricultural production -- particularly of cotton -- and enabled slaves to produce much greater amounts of this substance than they could before. The consequences of this development in the South were multifold. Firstly, it increased the need for and value of slaves, who were required more than ever to harvest cotton. Secondly, it benefitted the northern factory system which was able to make valuable finished products with cotton and export them to textile mills in Britain. Thirdly, it enabled the Southern economy to cease struggling and to wildly profit whereas before the invention of the cotton gin, its economic production from cotton and tobacco, primarily, were struggling.

With the creation of the cotton gin, the Industrial Revolution provided a significantly renewed interest in slave labor with economic impact reverberating in both the north and the south. In the latter region, the lucrative value of cotton and the cultural impact of slavery allowed for the plantation system, in which the wealth of the relatively minority plantation owners was significantly enhanced by a multitude of slaves. Again, one of the effects of the South's newfound economic prowess was that it ingrained the need for slaves on a socio-cultural basis. Plantations and their large tracts of land reinforced the notions of autonomy and freedom that many of the southern states -- and their penchant for states' rights -- readily embraced. Additionally, it is key to note that despite the invention of one fairly basic machine, the cotton gin, the economy in the south was largely based on agriculture. In this respect, it did not evolve as much as the economy in the North (which went from shipping raw materials to crafting finished goods) did. The economy of cities in the south was largely unaffected by the advances in technology which greatly affected the economy in other parts of the country. Moreover, the economy of the south was predominantly based on slave labor.

The rejuvenation of slavery in the south also produced a fairly significant impact on the labor supply in the north as well. Due to the availability of the factory system, the major source of labor in this part of the country was based on immigrants and on poor people of mostly European descent. During the early 19th century, the majority of immigration coming to the country was in the form of Irish, German, British, and even some Scandinavian immigrants -- they were often housed in tiny, cramped tenement buildings such as the one at 65 Mott Street in New York's Five Point neighborhood (Anbinder, p. 81). What is significant about the South's reliance on slavery is that it adversely affected the Caucasian labor supply in the area. Various immigrant groups in the North, therefore, took great pains to ensure that slavery would not take hold in this region so that they could continue to supply labor and earn livings. These measures including pressuring lawmakers to pass legislation preventing the hiring of slaves or even of free African-Americans for certain positions, as well as organizing protests against the contracting of slaves and Africans Americans. Many Northern Caucasian laborers were concerned that if slavery took root in the North as much as it had in the South, that they would be economically no better off than Caucasian workers in the South. The subsequent quotation readily attests to this fact.

The true way that the economies of American cities changed was along the lines of labor sources. Because the cities in the south were populated by plantations and wanton, ruthlessly exploitative slave labor, the economic power was concentrated in the hands of a tiny few who were able to assert political power (especially at the federal level) to enact legislation that maintained slavery -- in new territories -- to keep them in economic control. In the North, however, the Industrial Revolution had spawned a manufacturing industry in which immigrant workers were able to make a living for themselves largely because they were able to stave off the process of cheap slave labor from populating these areas. What is interesting about these developments is that they conflicted with one another. The South's free labor from the backs of slaves was creating an unfair economic advantage with which the North could not compete. The plight of the Caucasian workers in the South -- in which they were marginalized and destitute because the wealthy plantation owners could forsake them in favor of cheaper slave labor -- was threatening to extend itself to the capitalist system in the country's north. Therefore, it is critical to note that the cutoff period for this assignment…

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