The antebellum period saw a number of new inventions like photography and telegraphy as well as the new laying of an unprecedented amount of railroad track. This time sees a dominance of man over nature and a hope of overcoming political and social ills as well. Production moved from small, artisanal businesses to large factories, which signaled an era of industrial production that no one had seen previously. Consumption of material goods increased by huge numbers, and prosperity seemed inevitable. Many canonical authors saw these changes as potentially detrimental to society as they increased class divisions, environmental losses, and dehumanizing effects on the spiritual essence of humankind. Revisit this essay for more explanation.
Brownson wrote one of the most powerful and controversial critiques of Capitalism during this period. He describes two systems of labor: slave labor and free labor. He essentially ends up arguing that slave labor is freer than free labor because slaves have never known what it is like to have to make wages for their labor. The free laborer suffers more, according to Brownson, when he cannot provide for his family when he is out of work. Brownson represents the socially engaged and activist branch of Transcendentalism. See Brownson's essay for more information.
The antebellum period saw huge changes in the social and economic systems operating in the US at the time. The election of 1824 ultimately led to Jackson, a self-made man, being elected president in 1828, showing just how important the popular vote could be in a national election. Production moved from small, artisanal home offices to large factory manufacturing. With the rise of the Middle Class, many new consumers found themselves with extra income to buy modern conveniences. They had time for leisure activities, like reading, which was made much easier by the invention of the Penny Press. A large rise in immigration from Europe also began to affect the economy and the type of labor available to all. See "The Election of 1824", "Antebellum Economic Development", "The Penny Press", "A New Social Order", and "Immigration" for more information on this topic.
Barnum created a space of novelty in his American Museum. He captured the unique and provocative and weird in a place where those of all different classes could mingle. There was even a day of the week that African Americans were allowed to visit and engage with popular culture in a way they were never able to do previously. Blackface minstrelsy is known as the practice of white actors donning black makeup while caricaturing black behaviors and experiences. While most condemned the practice, some said it showed a genuine interest in black culture and helped expose white audiences to new ways of viewing the world. Revisit "Blackface Minstrelsy" to read more about the role that blackface played in antebellum culture.
Melville's "Bartleby" communicates the complications of Capitalism as it deals with motivation and desire to perform labor for a salary. Bartleby's boss, the narrator, struggles because he wants to be friends with his employees but realizes he ultimately holds more power than they do. He also must make money for himself, the business owner, and decides who gets paid and who doesn't, which puts him in a different position entirely than those he employs. In his "The Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids", Melville makes an even clearer distinction between the upper class elite and the exploited working class. He ultimately comments on the ways that Capitalism seems to reward those who are already wealthy and penalize those who are not. Read Melville's "Bartleby", "Paradise", and this essay on "Bartleby" again for more info on his critique of the emerging market economy.
Davis' novella draws a picture of life for Hugh Wolfe, a laborer in the iron mills, for upper class readers who would have no direct experience with the physical labor he performs. She draws on both sentimental and realist tactics to make Hugh more accessible to her audience. Hugh is an artist whose endeavors of carving have been overshadowed by his class status and his need to work in an industrial factory to make a living. Davis humanizes the working class through the focus on Hugh and his struggles both inside and outside of the mills. See Davis' Life in the Iron Mills and this critical essay for additional information on this topic.
Thoreau was part of the Transcendentalist Movement that opposed many of the technological and industrial changes of this time period. He worried about the natural, environmental costs of these changes and imagined that the spirituality of the human being was being usurped by an interest in material gain. He also worries about the ways that this type of progress further divides those of different classes. In the isolation at Walden, Thoreau contemplates the natural world and seeks scientific explanation for what he sees and imagines how those same principles apply to the arrangement of society. See Walden and this critical essay on it to help you further answer these questions.
In Thoreau's political manifesto, he talks about how he put his philosophical convictions into material practice. He refuses to pay his taxes and is thus jailed. He sees this as an act of civil disobedience because he does not agree with the government's stance on slavery and does not like the Us' involvement in the US-Mexican War. He suggests that if all citizens did the same, the government would have no choice but to follow the will of the people. Revisit "Resistance to Civil Government" for more information on Thoreau's position on American politics at the time.
This vocabulary list includes terms that might help you with the review items above and some terms you should be familiar with to be successful in completing the final exam for the course.
Try to think of the reason why each term is included.