Market Revolution of the 19th Century : Summary and Analysis - Facts, History, Impact on America
The rapidly expanding market of the early 19th century was an anti-democratic force putting more power and resources into the hands of the elite. Democracy, an American ideal, is a word derived from the ancient Greek term meaning, "rule by the many". American democratic government initially created by the elite evolved into elitism, a government by the wealthy for the wealthy. The Market Revolution of the early 19th century expanded on the already existing capitalistic society that was quickly exploiting the lower income masses of the working class.
When American government was first emerging, the nation was looking toward the leaders of the revolution for guidance. These leaders were members of the elite society. The American Revolution benefited the elite; they could now make laws that helped to increase their profits. All wars are economic, no matter what the stated moral implications are. Charles Beard, a respected historian and political scientist, provides an interesting account of the economic advantages that each of the fifty-five delegates to the Constitutional Convention stood to gain by ratification of the Constitution. Beard makes these conclusions within the book, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, written in 1913. These conclusions were drawn from careful analysis of unpublished financial records of the U.S. Treasury Department, and personal letters and financial accounts of the fifty-five delegates to the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention. "Public security interests (persons holding US bonds from the Revolutionary War: 37 of the 55 delegates), Article VI of the Constitution stated that the national government would be obliged to pay off all those investors who held US bonds. Merchants and Manufacturers (persons engaged in shipping and trade: 11 of the 55 delegates), Article I, section 9, prohibited the states to from taxing exports, creating a free trade area or common market. Bankers and investors, (25 of 55 delegates), Congress was given the power to make bankruptcy laws, coin money and regulate its value, and other economic powers. Each of these powers is a specific asset to bankers and investors."1
The founders of the American Nation were wealthy and were extraordinarily educated compared to the average American of that day. These men of influence shared many of the same beliefs concerning liberty, property, and a social contract between government and the people. In addition, these elite believed in a representative government in which "the people should have only a limited role in directly selecting their representatives: they should vote for members of the House of Representatives but senators, the president, and members of the Supreme Court should be selected by others more qualified to judge their ability."2 From this belief, the Electoral College emerged. Elitism is anti-democratic, in that elitism is government by the privileged few. Although legislature supposedly votes in accordance to their constituents' desires, common sense tells us that a representative will not vote to accept any law that would be detrimental to his/her financial or otherwise well being.
Impact of Market Revolution on the American Workers
The Market Revolution of the 19th century created specialization of products, giving rise to the American Dream of self-made wealth. America was the land of opportunity. Immigrants flooded the country looking for a better life. What these immigrants found was exploitation and oppression. The onslaught of people needing jobs, created an opportunity for businesses to exploit these people. It was true then, and it still is true today, the less business pays for labor, the more profit the business makes. Workers earned enough to pay for a rat-infested apartment in the slums of the city. These workers endured much abuse in the workplace. Conditions were heinous, necessitating the need for organized labor in the early part of the 19th century. Workers organized because they believed there was power in numbers and most importantly, the working conditions were unsafe, unsanitary, and beyond most modern Americans' scope of understanding. Below is a story that describes the typical working conditions in the sweatshops of New York in 1868. "This is the workroom. Faugh, how it smells! There is no attempt at ventilation. The room is crowded with girls and women, most of whom are pale and attenuated, and are being robbed of life slowly and surely. The rose which should bloom in their cheeks has vanished long age. The sparkle has gone out of their eyes. They bend over their work with aching backs and throbbing brows; sharp pains dart through their eyeballs; they breathe an atmosphere of death. Madame pays her girls four dollars a week. She herself lives in as fine a style as the richest lady she serves."3
The elite of American society sugarcoated exploitation of the working class by instilling upon the masses that America was a democratic society in which everyone has equal opportunity to become successful through hard work. This helped quelled the growing dissatisfaction among the poor working class, giving them the hope of a better life and at the same time giving workers the incentive to work harder and make more profit for the company. Profit equals money and money equals power. Power to buy votes for programs that will benefit companies. Power to squash the working class demands for job amenities that cost the company money. Karl Marx theories threatened this imposed democratic system, by his writings on capitalism. These writings, written in 1848, exposed the exploitations of the working class. "The modern working class, the class of free labor, whose exploitation is hidden by the wage system, is only several hundred years old. Although its exploitation is masked, it is no less brutal. Men, women and children are forced to work long hours in miserable conditions just to eke out a bare subsistence." 4
Long before the Market Revolution of the 19th century began, American government was in essence elitism disguised as democracy. Elitism or government by the privileged few is anti-democratic; the masses of people have little or no say in the way they are ruled. When the market revolution came about, elitism was firmly embedded in American government and society. The Market Revolution only expanded on the already existing capitalist society putting more power and resources into the hands of the elite.