Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog Post- Brown


The Reconstruction Era’s main goal was to restore the participation of the southern state in the Union. A major problem arose due to the new system of harsh labor that was supposed to be used to restore the economy and provide jobs for newly freed slaves. Joshua Brown displays the true lifestyle of families during the Reconstruction Era. Although new legislation was passed (13th, 14th, 15th amendment, both Civil Rights Act) as stated before a new form of slavery was birthed, the freed slaves now had to find jobs and homes for the family and build their life although they did not have access to these resources. 

Brown shares that mine strikes were starting but the depiction of those protesting by Becker was blaming them for their difficult life. “He blamed the destitution of mining families on a “spirit of lawlessness’ produced by ignorance, alcoholism, and sloth.” Becker also describes the family roles at the time, calling the father lazy while the mother does all the real labor (Brown 132-133). 

My interpretation of this message is that miners should not even be on strike, the father described seems as if he does not care for his family’s well being because instead of working he is “carousing with his boon companions,” while his “starving children” think this may be their last meal. This story is conveyed to the readers that the Irish immigrants are lazy. While I was reading, I thought, why does he portray these specific groups of people in that light? Obviously, families go through struggles but were immigrant families the majority of those who had it this bad? I also wonder how the writer would describe the average ‘American’ family, would he describe the father in that negative way without an explanation as to why he feels that striking is the best option for him at this point? This piece was especially interesting because it gave me a different perspective on strikes and protest, I believe that those acts of disapproval over issues are crucial and necessary but in that family’s case was it that crucial and necessary for your children to almost starve? 

One thought on “Blog Post- Brown”

  1. Good post, you touch on a number of interesting issues here, but might have explored them more fully. What did Becker’s negative portrayal of striking miners—and especially the illustrations that are the focus of Brown’s work—reveal about middle-class northerners’ views on labor, gender, and immigration in the late 19th century? How did these views lead or contribute to the violent clashes between workers and employers, with the backing of state and federal government forces, during this period?

    I would push back a little on your statement that “a new form of slavery was birthed” during the Reconstruction period. For one thing, white workers before the Civil War also frequently referred to their condition as one of “wage slavery” or “white slavery”—were they right? For the Reconstruction period, this assumption also collapses the distinction between formerly enslaved, free-but-unequal workers of the South, who remained overwhelmingly in agricultural pursuits like sharecropping, and white wage workers in the industrializing North. Clearly both groups faced extreme oppression during this period, but to what extent do they bear comparison to one another, or to the conditions that Black people endured under slavery?

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