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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Comparison of Historical Documents

What do these three documents have in common ? The Rise Of An Industrial Aristocracy by Alexis de Tocqueville (1831), Tyranny of the Majority (1831), and Defining the Constitutional Limits of Slavery by Salmon P. Chase (1850). It’s not the author or the dates they were written on, what connects these papers is the message they are sending out about slavery. The democracy practiced in America allows for the rich to rise into power by manipulating the lower classes into electing them into office and by doing so they are subject to a type of slavery that is similar to the African slave system of the South. Democracy is what allowed injustices to happen because the people in power were elected by republican freemen and lower classes being forced by their bosses to support a certain candidate. Slavery expanded beyond Africans being sold to do hard manual labor, it was reborn in the industrial age (wage workers were now bound to their jobs and division of labor practically rendered them useless outside of their one task in a factory). Another thing to add is that minorities (ethnic groups and wage earners) were not as protected by the constitution as the rich were.

In the first paper Tocqueville makes the claim that democracy is connected to industrial aristocracy because of the highly efficient division of labor. Although division of labor is a great thing for the economy (more production with less resources) it has a terrible impact on the labor force “when an artisant engages constantly and uniquely in the manufacture of a single object, in the end he performs this work with singular dexterity. But at the same time he loses the general faculty of applying his mind to the direction of the work. Each day he becomes more skillful and less industrious, and one can say that the man in him is degraded as the worker is perfected” Therefore rendering masses of people to the beck and call of their master/boss because they depend on them to stay alive, in other words they are slaves to their work.

In the second paper by an unknown author to me, the bold claim was made that democracy is the gateway to one of two things; tyranny or anarchy. How the American System is set up it allows for an incredible amount of power to be concentrated within a select group of intellectual men and an interesting point was made “…Now if you accept that if one man vested with omnipotence can abuse it against his adversaries, why not accept the same thing for the majority?” Simply by having a group with the same agenda leading the masses it does not mean that they are a united force rather they are in a group of people involved a in constant power battle with each other. The document also brought into light that we are always subject to what the majority thinks because everyone in a position of influence has been selected by them. Even the beloved freedom of speech treasured by Americans and admired by others can have long lasting negative effects on those who choose to speak against the general ideas followed the country. Leaving lower classes feeling like slaves to the ideas established by the majority whom which “leave our lives intact but they leave it us worse than death” by taking away our individuality.

On the third paper Chase calls for the constitution to be analyzed more closely because it does not guarantee what the public claims it does. Many people believed and still believe that slavery was protected by the constitution however it was quite “on the contrary, extreme care to exclude those ideas from the Constitution. Neither the word “slave” or “slavery” is to be found in any provision. There is not a single expression which charges the National Government with any responsibility in regard to slavery… and no power was given to congress either to establish or sustain it rather its all left under the jurisdiction of the states”. The government decided to protect itself from any controversy rather than to help fulfill the values the country was established on “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”- Declaration of Independence. Instead it decided to protect slave owners by promising to return any runaway slaves and allowing every slave to count as three-fifths of a person (yet they couldn’t vote, own property, legally marry…etc all they were allowed to do was work) so Southern states could be more accurately represented politically. Further proof that not only slaves were unprotected by the constitution in “Article 1, section 9 they are not spoken as persons held as property but as persons held to service” which then can be applied to the industrialized working class, they were on the same level as slaves.

As I briefly mentioned before before slavery had evolved to the point that it even imprisoned white men who were supposed to be politically equal to the wealthy merchants and farmers. Although African slaves were not allowed to earn wages, walk by themselves, and they were beaten their lives had a lot in common with industrial workers. Neither of them could stand up against their masters, they were forced to follow the will of others financially above them, they became machines (what made them human was stripped away because everyday they had to do same job that required little to no thought) and both of them were deprived the opportunity of an education. A reading from one of my classes actually came to mind after reading The Rise Of An Industrial Aristocracy which is Mike LeFevre; Steelworker, by Studs Terkel. In the reading LeFevre shares his feeling towards his job; he felt empty, trapped and lacked any connection to the work he was doing which is exactly what Tocqueville observed when he arrived in America. Also a key piece of evidence that really helps seal the deal is what LeFevre said when he asked how he felt about automation “machines can either liberate a man or enslave ‘im”. This is where the cotton gin by Eli Whitney comes into play, it succeed in doing two things; it made an unprofitable crop a national success and renewed the dependency the south had on slave work. LeFevre was right a machine has the potential to enslaved people (africans to field work and laborers to factories) and the rest of the documents agree that slavery had to definitions before the civil war broke out. These documents could very easily have brought attention to the underlying issues of slavery and they provided evidence that it was no longer an issue that dealt with Africans.

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