Sunday, September 29, 2013

Working People Respond to Nationalizing Capital During the Civil War

I.               The Process of Industrial Capitalism
The Sunken Road at Antietam. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

A.   The Civil War—the Civil War is often called the first modern war, in large part because the decisive factor in the Union’s victory over the Confederacy was its industrial edge, which allowed the North to replace war material rapidly, while the South was slowly starved of war material.

1.     Financing the war—while part of the war was financed by simply printing more money, and another significant portion financed through the first income tax—but the war was also financed by the sale of bonds to investors. This created a growing role for bankers and financiers during the war, a position they were able to maintain when the war ended.
Jay Gould. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

2.     Economic Class and the War—while we would like to think that American men would gladly fight for their country when called upon, this was not always the case. Early in the war, there were more volunteers on both sides than could actually get outfitted and trained adequately, by the second year of the war enlistments dropped precipitously for both the North and the South. This led to the institution of the first Conscription Acts (significantly, first by the alleged “states rights” proponents of the Confederacy) in American history.
Map of New York City Draft Riots

a.     Bonuses—because bonuses were also provided for soldiers who volunteered for service, a not uncommon practice for a number of men was to volunteer, collect the bonus for volunteer, and then desert—only to show up at a recruiting station to volunteer again.
Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

b.     Substitutes—both sides allowed draftees to provide substitutes, or to pay a bounty of $300.00 (the average yearly income of a worker at that time) to avoid service (the father of Theodore Roosevelt, for instance, chose to pay a bounty to the government instead of serving when he was drafted). This was seen as inequitable by many men at the time, and was a contributing factor for the New York City Draft Riot in July 1863.

c.     “Rich Man’s War and a Poor Man’s Fight”—because of this class bias, the Civil War was known at the time as “A Rich Man’s War, and a Poor Man’s Fight” because, while rich men often became richer supplying the armies with war material (see below),  poor men made up most of the foot soldiers, and also made up the lion’s share of dead bodies that were found on the battlefields.

3.     The Labor of Slaves in the War—the South had a much smaller population to draw upon to put soldiers in the field, and it was this population difference that was probably the greatest contributor to the defeat of the region in the Civil War. Over 40% of the population in the South in 1860 was African American (1.5% free blacks, and the rest slaves), and were never provided arms in any significant numbers (near the end of the war, there was much talk about arming slaves, and a few were allowed to serve in the Confederate Army—but not in significant numbers). This did allow the South to field a higher percentage of white men in its army than the North could muster—but not enough to make any real difference in the numerical superiority the North enjoyed.
Slave "contrabands"

a.     Continuation of slavery—until the appearance of the Union Army in the vicinity, most slaves in the South were little effected by the war. They continued to work on plantations and small farms, as well as in cities.

b.     The Great Strike—given the opportunity, however, slaves showed in great numbers that they were willing to help overthrow this system by showing up in Union Army encampments in huge numbers. “Contrabands,” as they were called, were initially returned when masters came to claim them, but after realizing that the domestic war effort in the South depended upon their labor, they were instead put to work in Union camps, until early 1863 when they were permitted to enlist in separate units in the Union Army. By the end of the war, African American troops made up approximately 10% of soldiers in the Union Army.

4.     Government Contracts—to provide clothing, bedding, tents, boots, wagons and horses, food, ammunition, weapons—in short, everything needed to run the war. It is easier for the government to maintain these contracts if they were given only to a few large business, rather than numerous small ones.

a.     Financiers—The Civil War was financed by a variety of means: printing more money (in fact, the so-called “greenbacks” were issued for the first time during this conflict—what we today identify as money), by raising taxes, and by selling bonds. The sale of bonds—promissary notes issued by the government to pay back the loan of money with interest—were a way for the government to raise money by financing the debt it was incurring to fight the war. The men selling these bonds received favorable discounts to encourage their promotion, and many made considerable profits from these sales.
Railroad mortar

5.     Transportation—Much of the South had relied upon river transportation, and resisted using government incentives to spur railroad growth; this obstacle was removed with secession and the withdrawal of much of the Southern Democratic contingent. The resultant spurt in rail line construction was spurred not only by the need to transport military goods, but also by the construction of the transcontinental rail line.

6.     Labor shortage—with numerous volunteers (and, later, conscripts) off fighting to save the Union, coupled with the growing demand for labor that the build-up for war entailed, the resultant labor shortage was very beneficial for those workers who were not called to service, since business owners could not abide a long work stoppage.
William Sylvis. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

B.    William Sylvis and the National Labor Union (NLU)
1.     Formed in 1866—While declaring practical objectives, like raising wages and improving working conditions, the NLU also promoted a political agenda, including the eventual establishment of a labor party.

2.     William Sylvis—born in Annolph, Pennsylvania in 1828, Sylvis began serving an apprenticeship as an iron molder by the early 1840. By the second half of that decade, he had finished that process, and worked in a variety of establishments in the Philadelphia area. During this time, Sylvis also began his association with the Stove and Hollow Core Molder’s Union, first as an organizer, and later, fulfilling a vision to bring all iron molders into a single union, at the head of the Iron Molders’ Union.
a.     Effects of the Civil War
b.     Manufacturers’ Associations
c.     The turn towards politics
d.     1868
e.     Sylvis’ death

C.    The NLU and Social Reform
1.     The 8 Hour Day—this proposal captures the imagination of workers for decades after it was first proposed by the NLU in 1866—to its final fruition in 1937.
2.     Cooperatives

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