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American History 1--HIST 2111 (OER): Chapter 8: The Market Revolution

American Yawp Chapter Summary

In the early years of the nineteenth century, Americans’ endless commercial ambition—what one Baltimore paper in 1815 called an “almost universal ambition to get forward”—remade the nation.1 Between the Revolution and the Civil War, an old subsistence world died and a new more-commercial nation was born. Americans integrated the technologies of the Industrial Revolution into a new commercial economy. Steam power, the technology that moved steamboats and railroads, fueled the rise of American industry by powering mills and sparking new national transportation networks. A “market revolution” was busy remaking the nation.

The revolution reverberated across the country. More and more farmers grew crops for profit, not self-sufficiency. Vast factories and cities arose in the North. Enormous fortunes materialized. A new middle class ballooned. And as more men and women worked in the cash economy, they were freed from the bound dependence of servitude. But there were costs to this revolution. As northern textile factories boomed, the demand for southern cotton swelled and the institution of American slavery accelerated. Northern subsistence farmers became laborers bound to the whims of markets and bosses. The market revolution sparked not only explosive economic growth and new personal wealth but also devastating depressions—“panics”—and a growing lower class of property-less workers. Many Americans labored for low wages and became trapped in endless cycles of poverty. Some workers—often immigrant women—worked thirteen hours a day, six days a week. Others labored in slavery. Massive northern textile mills turned southern cotton into cheap cloth. And although northern states washed their hands of slavery, their factories fueled the demand for slave-grown southern cotton that ensured the profitability and continued existence of the American slave system. And so, as the economy advanced, the market revolution wrenched the United States in new directions as it became a nation of free labor and slavery, of wealth and inequality, and of endless promise and untold perils. Read the rest of Chapter 8 from the American Yawp.

Things to Consider

Questions to be thinking about as you move through the content of this chapter

  1. What was the place of women in American society between 1815 and 1860, especially with reference to the legal concept of coverture and social expectations placed upon women? How did class and changes in the class order shape the lives of women?
  2. Describe “companionship marriage.” In what ways might have “companionship marriage” improved the status of women?
  3. What were the ways that class changed in America between 1815 and 1860? How did the upper and middle classes live? How did that differ from the lower classes, especially factory and mill workers who were wage workers?
  4. How was education and childhood different for upper and middle class children compared to lower class children?
  5. Describe the Waltham-Lowell System that influenced the early textile industry in the United States. How did it work? What was its primary labor force?
  6. How did transportation change in the United States between 1815 and 1860? What was the role of new technology in transportation improvements? What was the role of government?
  7. Why did the Erie Canal make New York City the nation’s most economically important city?
  8. Why did slavery decline in northern states after 1780? What sorts of laws did northern states pass with respect to slavery? How did companies located in the northern states profit from slavery in the South?
  9. How did slavery become even more important in the South between 1815 and 1860? What was the role of the cotton gin and cotton in making slavery more profitable in the South?
  10. Discuss the arrival of large numbers of Irish and German immigrants to the United States between 1840 and 1860. Why did these groups of immigrants come to the United States in such large numbers? Where did they tend to settle? What sorts of jobs did they tend to take? How were they treated?

Learning Objectives and Assessment

Course Outcomes:

  • Students will be able to identify issues pertaining to governmental systems & the evolution of American liberty from the Articles of Confederation to the end of the Age of Jackson.
  • Students will be able to analyze economic development & cultural reform movements during the first half of the 19th century.

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will demonstrate their ability to read, analyze, and comprehend college level written texts.
  • Students will be able to recognize differing perspectives and points of view.
  • Students will demonstrate an understanding of diversity among cultures.
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