Factories and mills brought huge changes to life in the Northeast in the early 1800s. Below are two documents that reveal something about conditions in textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, at that time.
The first document is from American Notes by Charles Dickens. As a child, Dickens was treated harshly while working in English factories. Later, his writings were critical of the factory system there. The second document is excerpted from a letter by Mary Paul, a young girl who worked in the textile factories in Lowell. Paul started working when she was just 15. As you will see, the factories brought both positive and negative changes to the people of the Northeast.
I happened to arrive at the first factory just as the dinner hour was over, and the girls were returning to their work…. These girls…were all well dressed…. They had serviceable [usable] bonnets, good warm cloaks and shawls…. They were healthy in appearance, many of them remarkably so, and had the manners and deportment [conduct] of young women…. The rooms in which they worked were as well ordered as themselves.…
I am now going to state three facts, which will startle a large class of readers on this side of the Atlantic [in England], very much.
Firstly, there is a…piano in a great many of the boarding-houses. Secondly, nearly all these young ladies subscribe to circulating libraries. Thirdly, they have got up among themselves a periodical called The Lowell Offering, “A repository [set] of original articles, written exclusively by females actively employed in the mills.”
The large class of readers, startled by these facts, will exclaim, with one voice, “How very preposterous!” On my deferentially inquiring why, they will answer, “These things are above their station.” In reply to that objection, I would beg to ask what their station is.
It is their station to work. And they do work. They labour in these mills, upon an average, twelve hours a day, which is unquestionably work, and pretty tight work too. Perhaps it is above their station to indulge in such amusements, on any terms. Are we quite sure that we in England have not formed our ideas of the “station” of working people, from accustoming ourselves to the contemplation of that class as they are, and not as they might be? I think that if we examine our own feelings, we shall find that the pianos, and the circulating libraries, and even the Lowell Offering, startle us by their novelty, and not by their bearing upon any abstract question of right or wrong.
Charles Dickens American Notes (1842)
Letter from a Young Factory Worker
Lowell, Dec 21st 1845
I received your letter on Thursday the 14th with much pleasure. I am well which is one comfort. My life and health are spared while others are cut off. Last Thursday one girl fell down and broke her neck which caused instant death. She was going in or coming out of the mill and slipped down it being very icy, the same day as a man was killed by the cars, another had nearly all of his ribs broken, another was nearly killed by falling down and having a bale of cotton fall on him. Last Tuesday we were paid. In all I had six dollars and sixty cents paid $4.68 for board, with the rest I got me a pair of rubbers and a pair of 50 cts shoes. Next payment I am to have a dollar a week besides my board [costs for housing and food]. We have not had much snow, the deepest being not more than 4 inches. It has been very warm for winter. Perhaps you would like something about our regulations about going in and coming out of the mill. At 5 o’clock in the morning the bell rings for the folks to get up and get breakfast. At half past six it rings for the girls to get up and at seven they are called into the mill. At half past 12 we have dinner are called back again at one and stay till half past seven. I get along very well with my work. I can doff as fast as any girl in our room. I think I shall have frames before long. The usual time allowed for learning is six months but I think I shall have frames before I have been in three as long as I get along so fast. I think that the factory is the best place for me and if any girl wants employment I advise them to come to Lowell….
Mary Paul Letter to her father (1845)
Source: Transcript of a letter in the collection of the Vermont Historical Society. Reprinted by permission.
Analyze the two documents that address the working conditions in Lowell by answering these questions:
1. When were these two documents written?
2. Who are the authors?
3. Who is the audience for these writings?
4. How would your view of Lowell be different if you had read only American Notes by Dickens and not the letter written by Mary Paul?
5. Why is it important to examine many sources when reconstructing the past?
6. Based on what you learned from these documents, would you say the American factory system was an overall positive or negative force for the workers? For the American economy?
7. Would these two documents give you enough evidence to write with certainty about the factory system, or would you want to look at other sources? Explain.
In Chapter 20 you read about people who resisted slavery through acts of rebellion. Another form of resistance was verbal: through books, pamphlets, newspapers, and speeches. In an age without television or radio, the written word and public speeches took on greater importance. Those who hated slavery wrote and spoke with great passion. Following are examples of some of the eloquent voices raised against slavery.
Fanny Kemble (1809–1893)
Fanny Kemble, actress and writer, was a strong-minded woman. She was married to a man who owned hundreds of slaves. Kemble hated slavery and hoped to persuade her husband to free those he kept on his Georgia plantation. The following excerpt is from Kemble’s journal, which was later published.
You will see how miserable the physical conditions of many of these poor creatures is.… Judge from the details I now send you; and never forget, while reading them, that the people on this plantation are well off, and consider themselves well off, in comparison with the slaves on some of the neighboring [communities]…. Sophy, Lewis’s wife, came to beg for some old linen. She is suffering fearfully; has had ten children, five of them are dead. The principal favor she asked was a piece of meat, which I gave her.
Frances Anne Kemble Journal of a Residence of a Georgian Plantation in 1838–1839
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896)
The next excerpt is from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel by northern writer Harriet Beecher Stowe. As you will read in Chapter 21, Uncle Tom’s Cabin had a dramatic effect on the country’s attitudes toward slavery. It sold over half a million copies in the United States in just five years. It was also translated into 37 languages. The following is from the final chapter of Stowe’s book, where she makes a strong appeal to her readers.
And now, men and women of America, is this [slavery] a thing to be trifled with, apologized for, and passed over in silence? Farmers of Massachusetts, of New Hampshire, of Vermont, of Connecticut, who read this book by the blaze of your winter-evening fire,—strong-hearted, generous sailors and ship-owners of Maine,—is this a thing for you to countenance and encourage? Brave and generous men of New York, farmers of rich and joyous Ohio, and ye of the wide prairie states,—answer, is this a thing for you to protect and countenance? And you, mothers of America,—you who have learned, by the cradles of your own children, to love and feel for all mankind,—by the sacred love you bear your child;…pity those mothers that are constantly made childless by the American slave-trade! And say, mothers of America, is this a thing to be defended, sympathized with, passed over in silence?
Harriet Beecher Stowe Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)
William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879)
In Chapter 18 you read about William Lloyd Garrison, who used his abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, to speak out for the rights of black Americans for more than three decades. The newspaper’s motto was: “Our country is the world—our countrymen are mankind.” In the very first issue, Garrison wrote an editorial “To the Public” that set forth his goals. The following is from that piece.
Assenting [agreeing] to the “self-evident truth” maintained in the American Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights—among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” I shall strenuously [strongly] contend for the immediate enfranchisement [granting citizenship rights such as voting] of our slave population…. I am aware, that many object to the severity [strength] of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as the truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation…. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD.
William Lloyd Garrison The Liberator (January 1, 1831)
Theodore Dwight Weld (1803–1895)
Theodore Dwight Weld was a writer and active speaker against slavery. He led a campaign that sent many anti-slavery petitions to Congress. In his book, American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, Weld wrote about the evils of slavery. His name is not widely known today. However, many historians believe that Weld was the most important figure in the abolitionist movement.
We repeat it, every man knows that slavery is a curse. Whoever denies this, his lips libel his heart. Try him; clank the chains in his ears, and tell him they are for him. Give him an hour to prepare his wife and children for a life of slavery. Bid him make haste and get ready their necks for the yoke, and their wrists for the coffle chains, then look at his pale lips and trembling knees, and you have nature’s testimony against slavery.
Two millions seven hundred thousand persons in these States are in this condition. They were made slaves and are held such by force, and by being put in fear, and this for no crime! Reader, what have you to say of such treatment? Is it right, just, benevolent? Suppose I should seize you, rob you of your liberty, drive you into the field, and make you work without pay as long as you live, would that be justice and kindness, or monstrous injustice and cruelty?
Theodore Dwight Weld American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (1839)
David Walker (c. 1785–1830)
The son of a slave father and free mother, David Walker was a free black who left the South for Boston. In 1829 he published An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, a powerful and controversial anti-slavery pamphlet. He called for slaves to rise up and free themselves.
Frederick Douglass said that Walker’s Appeal “startled the land like a trump [trumpet] of coming justice.”
Having travelled over a considerable portion of these United States, and having, in the course of my travels, taken the most accurate observations of things as they exist, the result of my observations has warranted the full and unshaken conviction, that we (coloured people of these United States,) are the most degraded, wretched, and abject set of beings that ever lived since the world began; and I pray God that none like us ever may live again until time shall be no more.
…to my no ordinary astonishment, [a] Reverend gentleman got up and told us (coloured people) that slaves must be obedient to their masters—must do their duty to their masters or be whipped—the whip was made for the backs of fools, &c. Here I pause for a moment, to give the world time to consider what was my surprise, to hear such preaching from a minister of my Master, whose very gospel is that of peace and not of blood and whips…. They have newspapers and monthly periodicals…but on the pages of which, you will scarcely ever find a paragraph respecting slavery, which is ten thousand times more injurious [harmful] to this country than all the other evils put together; and which will be the final overthrow of its government, unless something is very speedily done; for their cup is nearly full. Perhaps they will laugh at or make light of this; but I tell you Americans! that unless you speedily alter your course, you and your Country are gone! ! ! ! !
David Walker An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829)
Frederick Douglass (c. 1817–1895)
After his escape from slavery in 1838, Frederick Douglass became a leading spokesman for the abolitionist movement. Douglass was a brilliant speaker. He gave a stirring speech to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Boston in April of 1865. In it, he spoke about racial injustice.
What is freedom? It is the right to choose one’s own employment. Certainly it means that, if it means anything; and when an individual or combination of individuals undertakes to decide for any man when he shall work, where he shall work, at what he shall work, and for what he shall work, he or they practically reduce him to slavery…. No class of men can, without insulting their own nature, be content with any deprivation [taking away] of their rights. We want it again, as a means of educating our race…. By depriving us of suffrage [voting rights], you affirm our incapacity [inability] to form an intelligent judgment respecting public men and public measures; you declare before the world that we are unfit to exercise the elective franchise [voting], and by this means lead us to undervalue ourselves, to put a low estimate upon ourselves, and to feel that we have no possibilities like other men.
Frederick Douglass What the Black Man Wants (1865)
A Dividing Nation
Investigating Primary Sources
Powerful speeches and printed pieces played a large role in the abolitionist movement. Following the example of the arguments you have just read, write a persuasive speech convincing your audience that slavery is wrong. Your speech should contain at least four paragraphs and include
• an introduction that states a clear position.
• a body paragraph that supports your position with organized and relevant evidence. Include quotes from at least two of the primary sources above.
• a body paragraph that both anticipates counterarguments (why slavery is not wrong) and explains why your position is correct.
• a conclusion that restates your position and summarizes your main points.
• proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun Debate the Future
Tensions between the North and the South reached a crisis in 1850. During the lengthy debates over the Compromise of 1850, Southerners wondered aloud about leaving the Union. Secession—separating from the Union—was on their lips.
Right in the middle of the debates were two senators: Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. Calhoun believed that federal authority over the states should be limited. In his Southern Address of 1849 Calhoun stated, “So far from maintaining the doctrine, which the issue implies, we hold that the Federal Government has no right to extend or restrict slavery, no more than to establish or abolish it.” Webster, on the other hand, believed strongly in the supremacy of the federal government. In a famous 1830 speech, Webster argued against the idea of “Liberty first and Union afterwards.” He said such statements were “words of delusion and folly.” Following are excerpts from speeches given by Webster and Calhoun in 1850, at a very tense moment in American history.
John C. Calhoun (1782–1850)
… Is it, then, not certain that if something is not done to arrest it [Northern attacks on slavery], the South will be forced to choose between abolition [ending slavery] and secession?…
It is a great mistake to suppose that disunion can be effected by a single blow. The cords which bind these States together in one common Union are far too numerous and powerful for that. Disunion must be the work of time. It is only through a long process, and successively [one step at a time], that the cords can be snapped until the whole fabric falls asunder [secession breaks the Union apart]. Already the agitation [angry debate] of the slavery question has snapped some of the most important, and has greatly weakened all the others. If the agitation goes on, the same force, acting with increased intensity, as has been shown, will finally snap every cord, when nothing will be left to hold the States together except force.
The Clay Compromise Measures (March 4, 1850)
The Civil War
Investigating Biographies and Primary Sources
Daniel Webster (1782–1852)
Mr. President,…I hear with distress and anguish the word “secession,” especially when it falls from the lips of those who are patriotic, and known to the country, and known all over the world, for their political services. Secession! Peaceable secession! Sir, your eyes and mine are never destined to see that miracle…. Is the great Constitution under which we live, covering this whole country, is it to be thawed and melted away by secession, as the snows on the mountain melt under the influence of a vernal [spring] sun, disappear almost unobserved, and run off? No, Sir! No, Sir! I will not state what might produce the disruption of the Union; but, Sir, I see as plainly as I see the sun in heaven what that disruption itself must produce; I see that it must produce war, and such a war as I will not describe.
The Seventh of March Speech (March 7, 1850)
Complete an analysis of this discussion by answering the following questions:
1. What states did Webster and Calhoun represent in Congress?
2. In what key ways were their states different?
3. In what ways are their views different? The same?
4. To whom were these men speaking?
5. What events caused these men to write these speeches?
6. Why do you think these two men, with such different backgrounds and views, reached a very similar prediction—that war may result from the tensions between state and federal authority?
Generals and Soldiers of the Civil War
The Civil War was a tragedy for the men who served on both sides. More than 3 million soldiers wore the uniforms of the Blue and Gray. They fought in over 10,000 engagements. Horribly, 620,000 died. It was the bloodiest war in American history.
Following are brief biographies and statements of four men who served. Two were generals—the most famous of the war. Two were men that few have heard of, but whose words speak for countless others. As you read, ask yourself what motivated these men to fight in such a terrible conflict.
Robert E. Lee (1807–1870)
The commander in chief of the Confederate armies was Robert E. Lee. He was born in Virginia, the son of a Revolutionary War hero. Lee followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the military. He graduated from West Point in 1829 and distinguished himself in battle during the Mexican War. Some of his fellow soldiers were men who would become generals—Grant, Meade, McClellan, Hooker, Burnside, Beauregard, and Johnston. They would all meet again in war—but not all would be on the same side.
Lee was serving in Texas when he was called to Washington, D.C., in early 1861. When Virginia seceded, Lee faced a terrible choice—to
serve his nation or protect his state. After agonizing over the decision, he resigned from the army and went home to Virginia to command Confederate troops. By 1862, Lee was commanding the entire Army of Northern Virginia. His skillful leadership was admired in the North and South alike. He wrote about his choice to defend the South in a letter to his sister in 1861.
With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword.…
Robert E. Lee Letter to his sister (April 20, 1861)
Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885)
Ulysses S. Grant was born in Ohio. He graduated from West Point in 1843. Like Lee, he served during the Mexican War. Later, after Grant had married and had children, he was assigned to lonely military outposts in the West. He began drinking and eventually resigned from the army. Afterward, he struggled to make a living in business.
When the Civil War broke out, Grant immediately offered his services. At first he was turned down. But with the help of a congressman, he took commands in Missouri and Tennessee. Grant’s success in battle caught the attention of President Lincoln. Late in the war, Lincoln turned to Grant to command the largest Union army and end the war.
Grant’s fame as a general helped him win election as president in 1868. In his memoirs, Grant made the following statement about why he chose to serve the Union.
The 4th of March, 1861, came, and Abraham Lincoln was sworn to maintain the Union against all its enemies. The secession of one State after another followed, until eleven had gone out. On the fifth of April Fort Sumter, a National fort in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, was fired upon by the Southerners and a few days after was captured. The Confederates proclaimed themselves aliens, and thereby debarred [excluded] themselves of all right to claim protection under the Constitution of the United States. We did not admit the fact that they were aliens, but all the same, they debarred themselves of the right to expect better treatment than people of any other foreign state who make war upon an independent nation. Upon the firing on Sumter President Lincoln issued his first call for…75,000 volunteers…. There was not a state in the North of a million of inhabitants that would not have furnished the entire number faster than arms could have been supplied to them, if it had been necessary.
Ulysses S. Grant Personal Memoirs (1885)
A Confederate Soldier
Robert W. Banks served in the Confederacy during the Civil War. This excerpt from a letter to his sister reveals something about his motives for fighting.
Dear Sister Mat [Martha Jane Banks],
… I dread this winter very much—Many a poor fellow in our company will “yield his carcass to the dust” before ’tis over—I can stand it as well as any of them—I believe that ’twill be no child’s play for any of us. Infantry have an easy time in camp, but it is fully compensated for when, after a heavy march of a hundred or two miles, the bloody conflict comes on—I do not regret one particle, enlisting, if ’twere to do over I would volunteer again, but would not go as a private—But enough of this, I will not repine at the past, but hope that before another moon shall have passed to strike a blow for my country that will tell. Although, we have so many hardships to undergo, if I am but able to render any assistance to the land of my nativity either by sending a Yankee home with a “bug in his ear” or merely by following General Price on another “wild goose chase”, then all of my tolls will be repaid—Cannot write more now—remember I write under very disparaging circumstances, i.e. soiled paper, nothing but my knee to write upon, and lastly with the certainty of a hard day’s march before me.