Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog Post #4

The very short introduction, “Reflation and Relief” in chapter 4, written by Rauchway E. revolves around the influential events surrounding the Great Depression. More specifically, this chapter explains the actions former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made during his term to combat the gravity of what was happening in the American economy. To begin, “Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the oath of office as President for the first time on March 4, 1933” and immediately after “every moving part in the machinery of the American economy had evidently broken, Banks, farms, factories, and trade had all failed” (pg.1). Since the Great depression left the economy in turmoil, he had no choice but to act to repair it as soon as possible. On page 1 of the chapter, it says “Roosevelt right away began working to repair finance, agriculture, and manufacturing, though he would give less attention to overseas economic affairs”. Some may argue that this strategy lacked concern for other factors such as Isaiah Berlin, a British Philosopher, who says that Roosevelt’s “great social experiment was conducted with an isolationist disregard of the outside world” (pg.1). Although Roosevelt was acting for what needed to be done, he was ignoring foreign affairs and not interacting with other countries with is incredibly important when maintaining alliances to promote peace. Rauchway’s perspective on this “new deal” that Roosevelt makes is not as effective as it should have been and that it was more of an “experiment”. The new deal did result in some change for the economy and progress from where it was, to begin with. Citizens were eager to support Roosevelt after “unemployment fell dramatically…[and] the American economy grew at averaged rates of around 8 to 10 percent” (pg.1).  The bank holiday is another one of his achievements that helped raise the country from its concerning state. Roosevelt also dealt with the American currency by issuing “an executive order preventing Americans from holding gold, except in small amounts” (pg.5). Not to mention he also made anyone that had gold in their possession turn it into Federal Reserve Banks in exchange for another currency. People viewed this as a strategic move to prevent any conflict in congress and provided the solution himself instead of needing approval from congress.

Overall, this reading did teach me a few things about Roosevelt I didn’t already know. Previously, I knew how important he was because of the context surrounding his presidency and all the major steps he took while in his term, but this chapter went into details on acts and the new deal itself. It demonstrated how some people may have admired Roosevelt for how much change he brought with him in this country, yet others questioned him and his ideals. It is always right to question the intentions of our presidents because they hold so much power over us, but it’s also important to educate ourselves to understand what is really going on in our country and how it affects us.

Blog post #3

Before reading, I had a recollection of what I believed John Brown was known for. He was an abolitionist that chose to eradicate slavery with acts of violence. However, “The revolution of 1860” by James McPherson helped me acquire even more knowledge about all of John Browns endeavors and what actions he took as an abolitionist. Unlike other well-known activists like Dred Scott, Brown revolved his actions by a “lawlessness” kind of mindset. He chose to act on his beliefs with violence because of the god he worshipped that claimed, “without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin”. Often when he would go to anti-slavery meetings he would exclaim “Talk, Talk, talk” to insinuate that in his eyes people should be taking more action and target those that have done them wrong. Others began to change their mentalities on the nonviolence movement as well after the 1850s. Frederick Douglass for instance, was a pacifist before and when the fugitive slave law was passed on the New Testament he claimed “slave-holders…tyrants and despots have no right to live”. In fact, one of his favorite sayings was” who would be free must himself strike the blow”. To be honest it doesn’t surprise me that the oppressed would resort to violence to “earn self -respect and the respect of their oppressors”, I’m not entirely sure I can justify the ones that believed in “moral force”. When one has been wronged so many times, sometimes returning the favor can be the solution. I do believe that there are times when violence is the only answer and maybe some of Browns actions could have made sense. Regardless they did lead to a civil war that didn’t have many good outcomes. The author goes on to talk about how anti-slavery activists meet over time to act together. Overall, I would say this reading did teach me something and reassured my thoughts about how we view violence as a means to an end.

The Cotton Revolution

In the American Yawp textbook, chapter 11 sheds light on one of the most influential revolutions in the south. The introduction to cotton revolutionized the global economy all together. The new version, Petit Gulf cotton, “slid through the gin…and grew tightly, producing more usable cotton than anyone had imagined to that” (Wegman). The South continued their more “traditional” practices like slavery and agricultural lifestyle because of the implementation of cotton. Of course, it was no surprise that when it started in Mississippi in 1820, merchants, planters and even botanists developed their own cotton as well to produce an abundance of profit from their plantations. According to the chapter, by the end of the 1830s technological advances made cotton “the primary crop” not only of the southwestern states but of the entire nation” (Wegman). By that time, “the five main cotton-producing states-South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, produced more than five hundred million pounds of Petit Gulf for a global market stretching from New Orleans to New York and to London, Liverpool, Paris and beyond” (Wegman). Their range was endless, and the economy was undeniably booming. Behind all that success and triumph, resided the agonizing truth of how the South maintained their “cotton kingdom”. Without slavery there would be no cotton, no capital. They were dependent of using slaves to produce massive amounts of Petit Gulf every day. Slavery was “seen as the backbone of southern society and culture” (Wegman). Cotton and slavery were so intertwined in the south that any idea of change could implode their entire economy, also being that cotton was the only major product that they could sell internationally.

While reading this chapter, I questioned the very sanity of the people in the south. How could they allow the foundation of their whole state rely on using enslaved people to do their dirty work. It’s no wonder that the Cotton Revolution, a time of capitalism, lead to competition. A product like that made every planter want to be the best and would often get into massive amounts of debt because they were actively working against everyone else. Wealth has a tricky way of manipulating people into getting more of it, making people capable of unspeakable deeds. Owners would do anything to make more cotton and enslaved people was the only thing they needed. Resistance would only cause them unimaginable pain. To them, the slaves weren’t people, they were just tools or a means to an end. Never once did they stop to question their cruelty.

Blog Post #1 Fulcher (Capitalism)

This reading follows the idea of Capitalism and the different forms seen throughout history. Merchant Capitalism was the earliest form where profit was made from trading scarce products across long distances. One of the downsides of this was that it “required a heavy investment of capital in the expectation of large profits”(Fulcher 4). The second form was Capitalist production, which relied largely on wage labour to make profit. The third form of Capitalism mentioned in the reading is Industrial capitalism. It was similar to capitalist production but was a little more advanced. All of these had pros and cons but are still seen in our capitalist society. Today, the whole economy has become dependent on investment of capital to prosper, we don’t just rely on trade, but production as well.

Before I didn’t really understand what was involved when it came to capitalism. I knew what it entailed yet couldn’t grasp the concept and connect it to the issues we face in our economy today. This reading gave me more insight on it and shed light to the injustices that were seen back then and actually still prevalent now. For example, The exploitation of workers in the cotton mill company around 1839. By that time the industry had around 1,815 mills, which would later increase even more. This meant that they would need a lot of workers to manage the machines and because they needed a heavy amount of profit, the workers had to operate day and night. Most of the labour was “cheap child labour and at times nearly half of those employed were under the age of 16″(Fulcher 5). It progressively got worse when the ages began to start lower to 7 year olds working from 6:00 am to 7:30 pm. Although wage labour is considered “free”, it’s also “unfree” in a sense because when one lives in a capitalist society, it’s almost impossible to survive without paid work. Not to mention in early capitalist society there were very little job opportunities available which may have led to employer manipulation and in this case inhumane acts like child labour. We don’t see child labour today but there are still workers being paid way less than they should for the long shifts they take to make capital for large companies  or institutions. My new attained knowledge on capitalism really changed the way I viewed this part of American history because I feel it’s wrong to mainly depend of wage labour for our economy to flourish. New ways should be found instead of making people think paid work is the only way to  provide for themselves and their families.