Saturday, February 06, 2016
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Overview: Jefferson had warned of the evils of an industrialized society where wealth separated men. He and his supporters hoped America would remain a rural agricultural society where equality and a man's dignity could be maintained by tying men to the land. An industrial class system would erode democracy and equality. The Jeffersonians lost this struggle to retain their vision of America in the face of industrialization. Yet there were some who sought to blend these competing interests. A fine example of this is the experiment at Lowell. The founders of the Lowell experiment sought to preserve America's agricultural base by employing rural women who would supplement the income on the farm. The experiment failed and soon Jefferson's vision would be relegated to the history books (or curriculums).

Labor Related Issues of the Period

  • The debate and struggle between agrarian democrats and industrial interests.
  • Pattern of economic hard times (depression and recession) followed by periods of prosperity began to emerge. Labor was weak in each period of hard times.
  • Sweatshops begin to form in eastern cities.
  • Growth of northern textile industry.
  • Cordwainer Conspiracy Cases weaken the union movement by ruling that organizations of workers were conspiracies.

Labor Related Events of the Period

Population of the young nation is counted at 3,929,214 in the first national census.
Cabinet and chairmakers in Philadelphia fight an attempt by employers to blacklist union members.
First textile mill is established in Pawtucket, Rhode Island by Samuel Slater for Ezekial Carpenter. All the workers are under age 12 -seven boys and two girls.
Philadelphia carpenters struck unsuccessfully for a 10 hour day and overtime pay. First building trades strike
Alexander Hamilton praises women workers in his Report on Manufactures of December 5.
Philadelphia shoemakers form the first local craft union for collective bargaining. Disband within a year.
Cotton gin invented which makes cotton production easier and helps perpetuate slavery.
The Typographic Society organized in New York by printers. Lasted over 10 years.
The Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers formed in Philadelphia by shoemakers. Tried for Conspiracy in 1806.
Philadelphia carpenters go on strike.
Gabriel Prosser organized an unsuccessful slave revolt near Richmond, Virginia.
A Journeymen Cordwainers union in New York City included a closed shop clause in its constitution.
Members of Philadelphia Journeymen Cordwainers tried for conspiracy after a strike for higher wages. Charged with combining to raise wages and to injure others. Forced to disband after being fined and going bankrupt. First union to be tried for conspiracy.
Federal law prohibits the importation of slaves into the United States. Smuggling continued to bring in a small number of slaves until just before the Civil War.
First American cigar factory opens in Suffield, Connecticut. All the workers are women.
90% of Americans do not live in cities.
66% of the clothing worn by non-urban Americans made from home manufacture according to US Treasury secretary.
Power loom invented which makes weaving a factory occupation.
New York state legislature passes a law that frees slaves born before 4 July 1799.
Panic causes a six year depression. Manufacturers secure a tariff to protect them from foreign competition.
Industrial organization experiment begun in Lowell, Mass.
Missouri Compromise admits Missouri as a slave state but bans slavery in the northern Louisiana Territory.
Hatters in New York City were tried and convicted of conspiracy.
First reported strike of women workers when they join male weavers protesting wage reduction and extension of the workday in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Robert Owen founds utopian community in Illinois and Indiana. Fails in three years.
The United Tailoresses of New York, women only trade organization, formed.(New York City). To demand a wage increase, they struck in the first all women strike.
The Mechanics Union of Trade Associations, made up of skilled workers in different trades, formed in Philadelphia. The first city-wide labor council.
Tailors in Philadelphia tried for conspiracy, verdict stressed the "injury to trade" aspect of their organization.
Workingmen's Party formed in Philadelphia.
The first all-women factory strike in Dover, NH. See Lesson 2 below.
Philadelphia Mechanics Union of Trade Associations unsuccessfully strikes for a ten hour day.
The Workingmen's Party of New York formed.

Important Concepts

blacklist, conspiracy, Cordwainers Conspiracy Cases, depression, Jefferson's Agrarian Democracy, panic (economic), strike, sweatshops or outwork

Integrating Labor History into Effective Teaching of the Period.

Have students research Jefferson's beliefs on industry and agrarian democracy as well as the opposing viewpoint of Hamilton. Then create a debate between each side. Assign some students to a panel which would then evaluate each side's arguments. This could be done as a unit review. To further this exercise, have students develop a compromise. Perhaps they will create a model like the Lowell system. The next unit will further explore Lowell, but not the ideal nature intended by the founders. Have students research some of the cordwainer conspiracy cases and have students prosecute and defend the union's actions.

See Commonwealth v. Pullis, 1806 (Pennsylvania); State of Maryland v. Powley, 1809; or People v. Melvin, 1810 (New York City). For reference and source material see A Documentary History of American Industrial Society, vol. II by John R. Commons, ed.

Lesson 2: The Millworkers Strike of 1828.

Materials: Paper, Legos(tm)

Objective: Students will be able to identify what a strike is and understand what may cause one.


  1. Organize students into small groups.
  2. Next, provide an equal and substantial amount of Legos(tm) to each group.
  3. Explain that it is their job to build a tower and that they will be given 1 point per inch of height.
  4. At your instruction, let them begin.
  5. As they are working begin to impose work rules until they go on strike. It shouldn't take long for someone to rebel.
  6. When a group rebels, offer that group's work to another group to complete.
  7. Keep making rules until more or all groups quit working.
  8. When you feel satisfied with the lack of progress, and before anarchy sets in, bring the class back to order and into their groups.
  9. Provide one piece of paper per group.
  10. Have each student write down one reason why they stopped working.
  11. Review these reasons as a class.
  12. Next, ask students to define "strike." All students should write a definition in their notebook.
  13. Tell students about the 1828 strike described below. Ask them to note similarities.
  14. Finally, assign points to groups based on what they completed and/or their contribution to the class discussion.

Suggested Rules:
One point fine for non-involvement per minute.
One point fine for each instance of talking.
One point fine for leaning back in their chairs.
One point fine for slouching.
One point fine for giggling.
One point fine for looking away from their work.

Background to the Activity: In 1828 in Dover, New Hampshire, women millworkers walked off their jobs at the Cocheco mill when the company imposed several new rules. The rules included a 12.5 cent fine for any tardiness, the introduction of a blacklist, and a ban on talking on the job. The result of the strike is unclear but the rules were withdrawn.

Lesson 3: The Working Men's Declaration of Independence, 1829.

Materials: Lesson 3 Handout

Objective: Students should identify concerns and grievances of the common worker during this period. Also, students must recognize the similarities between this document and the American Declaration of Independence of 1776. This is also an excellent chance for students to analyze source material and identify the role voice plays on its style and content.

Procedure: Include this as homework following your social history lessons on the period. Include information from the period's significant events and issues listed above. Distribute the handout and accompanying questions as homework. Review the questions aloud in class the next day.

"And I long to see the day when Labor will have the destiny of the nation in her own hands and she will stand as a united force and show the world what the workers can do." --- Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, 1830-1930

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