Before the market revolution took place, barter trade was primarily the main form of trade. People exchanged goods and farm produces with other goods since there was no currency. The market revolution occurred in the early eighties, between 1793 and 1860. The market revolution was a gradual process. The revolution began after most farmers moved from the countryside and went to live in towns, working as skilled artisan workers or in factories. Unlike other revolutions which had specific leaders, the market revolution had none. It simply took place because of the massive cultural, economic, social and political changes that occurred after the American Revolution and the Civil War. Although the market revolution took place many years ago, it changed American lives. The market revolution had a significant impact on both the economic and social structure of the antebellum period in the south, ultimately playing as a major factor of the cause of the Civil War.
In 1815, the population of the United States of America was approximately 8.5 million people whereas in 1800 the population was less than 4 million. The population had increased drastically. Because of the enormous population growth and the growth in territorial boundaries of the U.S.A, the federal government saw it if it to start regulating business activities, money, trade transactions and improvement of infrastructure. The federal government emphasized on infrastructure. Development in infrastructure later lead to transportation and technological revolution, these two revolutions took place just as the market revolution was taking place (Paul 379). However, they were equally crucial and played a significant role in catalyzing the market revolution.
Improvement of infrastructure, better roads and the development of railroads made it easier to move goods from one region to another. It also enhanced the faster movement of people. It became possible for farmers to move their products from the countryside to cities. Additionally, technological innovations and inventions provided farmers with better tools and equipment which enhanced production process. Because of technological and infrastructure developments, work in the U.S.A became regimented and highly mechanized (Daniel 55). The economy transformed local exchanges and barter trade to a capitalist system with money being the transactional tool.
Before the market revolution occurred, many people lived in the countryside working on their farms. Production was mainly for family consumption, and the excess was exchanged for other goods. Families were tight-knit, and they all engaged in farming activities. Changes started taking place after the three revolutions (market, technology, and transportation). The cotton in was developed in 1793 and led to more production of cotton. John Deere came up with a steel plow which was more efficient and effective than the wrought-iron plows. Through the use of iron plows, farmers could plow between eight and nine acres of land every planting season (Larson 5). However, after the invention of the steel plow, it became possible to dig more than eighty acres of land in one planting season.
The market revolution resulted in significant changes in the northern societies. This could be attributed to the fact that many people started moving from rural areas to cities. Between 1820 and 1860, the population of major cities such as Boston, Pittsburg, New York and Baltimore increased by more than three times. Working in cities and industries seemed more lucrative than working in farms. As more and more people moved into cities and as more industries were established, the concept of wage labor came up (Howe 522). Factories were springing up daily especially in the North and employees were required to ensure that machines were adequately maintained. Instead of learning and specializing in a particular trade skill, most of these workers worked for more than sixteen hours daily, for a whole week, and were paid very little.
Although most of the wage laborers were children who were not more than fifteen years, especially at the early stages, they were replaced by men. They were, however, other factories such as Lowell Mills which was stationed in Massachusetts whose employees were only girls and women. Such companies were characterized with moralizing women, and before work started, there were religious preaching aimed at ensuring that the morals of these women were high.
Most factories wanted cheap labor because it was less costly and increased profit margins. However, this was a form of exploitation, and most of the employees suffered greatly. They worked for long hours with little pay, and the working conditions were poor. There was little that could be done since collective bargaining was not allowed and furthermore, it was easier for factory owners to get replacements since cities had become overpopulated (Sellers 312). However, it did not take long before workers started demanding for better working conditions and a rise in pay. The period between the 1820s and 1830s was characterized by several strikes which were mostly led by women.
In 1830, the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association was formed to protest against women in the company working for twelve straight hours. Labor unions and organizations were formed, and turn-outs and strikes increased. Nonetheless, most of these strikes did not bear any fruits and employees had to settle for meager wages and poor working conditions.
The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 played a significant role in the cotton revolution, the market revolution, and the civil war. During the antebellum period (the period preceding the civil war), most farmers in the South grew tobacco and rice. The cotton gin changed that and cotton became the main commercial crop in the region. The Cotton gin could separate seeds from raw cotton easily and fast (David 676). Before, the separation process had to be done by hand. It was a labor-intensive and time-consuming process which was mostly done by slaves or factory workers. The cotton gin revolutionized the entire process and became highly successful. Most farmers turned towards the production of cotton. Because the market revolution had led to the improvement of infrastructure, the transportation of cotton from industrial textile mills to markets was fast. The cotton trade increased the slave trade business.
Because of its significant impact on the slave trade in the U.S.A, cotton trade is often cited as the primary cause of the American civil war. Before the market revolution, around 1790, the number of slaves was about 700,000. However, after the market revolution and the invention of the cotton gin, the number of slaves had risen to more than 3 million in 1850 (Sellers 318). Although in 1808 there was a congressional ban which prohibited the importation of slaves from Africa that did not deter factory owners and cotton plantation farmers from getting African slaves to work on their farms. The slave trade business exploded during the market revolution, and many white traders took this opportunity to immerse in this trade and provide slaves for those who needed them. The slave trade later led to civil war.
In summary, the market revolution contributed to the civil war in several ways. The first way through which it contributed to the war is that it promoted economic disparities and different forms of economic systems between the North and the South. The South was responsible for the production of many crops which were sold in the North. As a result, the North became a mixed capitalist economy whereas the South remained a plantation economy. The second reason is that the market revolution enhanced and fortified ties between the North and the West. Most of the goods produced were sold to the West (Daniel 59). Infrastructure was highly improved between the east-west and the west north while other areas such as the North were neglected. As the North continued to undergo economic and social transformations, more so in the antebellum period, the South did not change a bit; it stuck on cotton and slave trade.
Thirdly, the North was getting a high influx of people from different backgrounds, nations, race, and color. It was slowly adopting democracy while the South conformed to social order. In the south, most of the legislative powers were handed to wealthy plantation owners. Famers came second in that chain of command depending on the number of slaves they owned. Third in that chain were the landless whites who were mostly poor and could neither afford land nor slaves. African slaves were at the bottom of the chain. The social hierarchy system promoted social inequity and unfair distribution of wealth and resources. Whereas the North advocated for the end of slavery, the South stuck to it. The deepening divisions between the north and south drove these regions apart and ultimately led to the Civil War.
Daniel Walker Howe, "Charles Sellers, the Market Revolution, and the Shaping of Identity in Whig-Jacksonian America." in Noll, ed. God and Mammon: Protestants, Money, and the Market: 1790- 1860 (2001) pp: 54-74.
David Waldstreicher, "The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828./Vindicating Andrew Jackson: The 1828 Election and the Rise of the Two Party System," Journal of the Early Republic, Winter 2010, Vol. 30 Issue 4, pp 674-678
Howe, Daniel Walker. Review of Larson, The Market Revolution in America: Liberty, Ambition, and the Eclipse of the Common Good," Journal of the Early Republic (2011 31#3 pp. 520-523 | 10.1353/jer.2011.0048
Larson, John Lauritz. "The market revolution in early America: An introduction." OAH Magazine of History 19.3 (2005): 4-7.
Paul Finkelman, "Regulating the African Slave Trade," Civil War History Volume: 54#4 (2008) pp 379+
Sellers, Charles. "Capitalism and Democracy in American Historical Mythology," in Melvyn Stokes and Stephen Conway, eds. The Market Revolution in America: Social, Political, and Religious Expressions, 1800-1880 (2006) pp 311-30
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