The Industrial Worker in Pennsylvania, 1800-1840

By William A. Sullivan | Go to book overview
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THE ASSIDUOUS COURTING of the wage earners by the professional politicians in the decades of the 1820's and the 1830's marked the appearance of a new and unknown quantity in the political affairs of the State and nation. It is true that the partisans of Jefferson made a strong and effective plea for the support of the people but their appeal was "to the 'masses' against the 'aristocracy' of riches" with no specific plea for the support of the wage earners as such.1 Although the Jeffersonians had not paid special court to labor they had, with their attacks on the Federalist Party and with their success in identifying that party with privilege and the hated British aristocracy, been instrumental in arousing in the hearts and minds of the common man a desire for a greater voice in the affairs of the government which thus far had been denied them.

Nothing was more indicative of the awakening of the American wage earners to their interests as a class than this constant plea for their support, and the contentions of most of the aspirants for political office that not only had they at one time been humble hard-working mechanics, but that they could best serve the interests of the laboring classes in the legislative halls. Democrat and Anti-Democrat vied with one another in proclaiming their lowly origins. In the local elections in Philadelphia in 1828, the mechanics were reminded that Judge Hemphill, a Jackson Democrat, had "served his time to a Trade -- that he was an apprentice . . . to a wheelwright, and has always proved himself to be the Mechanick's Friend."2 The Philadelphia Mercury attributed the success of Andrew Jackson in the election of 1828 "to the Farmers, the mechanics and working people of Pennsylvania," and there was a large element of truth in this assertion.3

If the working people of Pennsylvania were unaware that their interests and their problems were separate and distinct from those of other social classes, the hopeful office seeker was unwilling to let them live in

Charles A. Beard, Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy ( New York, 1949), p. 401.
The Philadelphia Mercury, October 4, 1828.
Ibid., November 8, 1828.


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