The Industrial Worker in Pennsylvania, 1800-1840

By William A. Sullivan | Go to book overview

IX
THE WAGE EARNERS AND SOCIAL REFORM

THE PENNSYLVANIA wage earners were the pioneers of the American Labor Movement, equally as courageous as those who blazed the trails and broke the sod in the land beyond the Ohio and the Mississippi, but with a much keener insight into the deeper meanings of democracy. They intuitively comprehended the dangers of unbridled business expansion, and marshalled all their energies to ward off its more desolating effects. They were among the first to organize into trade unions and to utilize and perfect collective bargaining techniques which would enable them to acquire a more equitable share of the wealth which they had helped to create. And when these actions proved insufficient they turned to the government for aid, and in their appeal for remedial legislation they developed a philosophy based "on natural law, social contract, and individual right."1

The workingmen of Pennsylvania, and the workingmen throughout the United States, had a profound faith in democracy. They were able at one and the same time to campaign vigorously against "monopolies" and appeal for governmental action in their own behalf. Nor were they being inconsistent as Professor Hartz has pointed out in his admirable study of Economic Policy and Democratic Thought in Pennsylvania.

The failure or the survival of a republican form of government, in the eyes of many workers, hinged on the development of a system of free public education. Their faith in education was sublime. Through it alone, many wage earners were convinced that a social revolution could be effected, and they vigorously assailed the prevailing system of charity schools as a direct violation of their natural rights.2

Whether any significance can be attached to the fact that the first agitation for social legislation in the Pennsylvania Legislature occurred almost simultaneously with the economic recovery following the great panic of 1819, and the waves of strikes which involved thousands of

____________________
1
Louis Hartz, Economic Policy and Democratic Thought in Pennsylvania ( Cambridge, Mass., 1948), p. 203.
2
See The Public Ledger, July 12, 1839. Also see Pennsylvania House Journal, II, 1824-25, p. 422 for a Report of the Committee on Education, January 11, 1825. And see Joseph McCadden, Education in Pennsylvania 1801- 1835 ( Philadelphia, 1937), pp. 6, 17. See Hartz, op. cit., p. 198.

-209-

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The Industrial Worker in Pennsylvania, 1800-1840
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • PENNSYLVANIA HISTORICAL AND MUSEUM COMMISSION ii
  • Preface iii
  • TABLE OF CONTENTS vii
  • I - THE INDUSTRIAL SETTING 1
  • II - THE WAGE EARNERS 29
  • III - THE WAGE EARNERS -- PART II 59
  • IV - GROWTH OF TRADE UNIONS 85
  • V - LABOR ORGANIZATION DURING THE AGE OF JACKSON 99
  • VI - THE SKILLED ARTISANS AND INDUSTRIAL STRIFE 119
  • VII - LABOR STRIFE AMONG THE UNSKILLED WAGE EARNERS 145
  • VIII - LABOR AND POLITICS DURING THE JACKSON ERA 159
  • IX - THE WAGE EARNERS AND SOCIAL REFORM 209
  • Appendix A 217
  • Bibliography 235
  • Index 247
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