Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog Post #1 James Fulcher

An economic system that benefits both consumers and producers will go through many trials and errors to form. At a time where different parts of the world still relied on a trading system in order to gain, capitalism started to take off in Europe. James Fulcher talks about the history of capitalism when it began to pick up speed in the 16th and 17th centuries. Fulcher breaks down his first chapter by discussing types of capitalism, production, its effects on workers, and famous cases of businessmen trying to use the system to their advantage. 

To start off, Fulcher defines capitalism as a system where money is spent in order to gain money in the future. Take for instance the cotton industry in the 1830’s, companies invested in more cotton mills because they saw more consumer interest arise in their product at the time. Thus, they knew they would need more space and workers to make more cotton to sell more products. However I found it very appalling when those same workers at the cotton mill were pushed past the point to where they caused an uproar. The workers were underpaid, of young age, worked long hours and soon replaced by automatic machinery. All these qualities pushed them to strike, protest, and walkout which eventually helped formulate work guidelines used today.

Their treatment was one thing I couldn’t stop thinking about throughout the text because I did not know Europeans in those times fought against mismanagement in their workplaces. I used to think that American workers, especially during the Second Industrial Revolution, were the only set of workers to rebel against straining work conditions. I originally thought protests such as the Steel Strike and Textile Workers Strike were the historical events that pushed for better wages, firm hours, and better treatment. But it was the European struggles that occurred 1-2 centuries before that opened the doors for leisure time, flexible work shifts, and discipline rules. From reading Fulcher’s text, it can be described to readers that the change in the work environment was a gradual change. Workers couldn’t just demand better conditions one day and get it the next, Fulcher says that it took months, even years. The revolt workers threw in opposition to their circumstances was just one effect capitalism had on its society it lived in. The employees who generate the product are a part of the economic system too, regardless if they’re consumers or the ones in charge.  

One thought on “Blog Post #1 James Fulcher”

  1. I’m glad to hear you already know something about workers’ movements and strikes during the “Second Industrial Revolution,” subjects that are only rarely taught in high school or college. I would be interested to hear more about how pushing the chronology of capitalism and related workers’ struggles back to the late 18th century—or even earlier, say, to the struggles faced by enslaved people or indentured servants in colonial Virginia—changes your understanding of what capitalism is and how it evolved historically. As you suggest, thinking about this in a global context might also be helpful, even though our class is focused on the United States.

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