HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES
THE BIRTH OF THE FACTORY SYSTEM
So far as battles, campaigns, glorious victories, great diplomacy, and other similar paraphernalia with which some historians are mainly concerned, the War of 1812 was insignificant. While jingos boast of "how we licked the Britishers," and it occupies much space in our school histories, yet in a wider and more accurate vision this war is seen to be but a small incident in the great world war in which Napoleon was the central figure. Among the many nicknames that have been applied to this conflict is "The War of Paradoxes." It was waged in defense of maritime interests, but the merchant states threatened to secede to stop it. The alleged cause of the war (the English "Orders in Council") was repealed before war was declared. The most important battle of the war (New Orleans) was fought after the treaty of peace had been signed, and the original subject of dispute (impressment of seamen) was never mentioned in the treaty of peace. Finally, the New England states that were so eager for peace were ruined by its coming, and the South that desired war found its prosperity in peace.
Although many generations of children have been taught that this war was a series of "glorious victories," respect for truth compels the statement that the United States was whipped in nearly every campaign, that the
capitol was burned, the coast closely blockaded throughout the war, and in spite of all the stories of how "we humbled the mistress of the seas," the American navy was practically wiped out of existence.
The story of the origin of the war explains some of these contradictions. England was battling with Napoleon for the mastery of Europe and of the world. She was victorious on the seas, and was depending upon that commercial supremacy for resources with which to fight. In this titanic conflict both sides were determined that there should be no neutrals. They could not well make any other decision. The war was so much for commercial supremacy that to admit the existence of a neutral was to give that neutral control of the object for which the struggle was waged.
Napoleon had declared a blockade of England, and England had blockaded nearly all of Europe to ships that had not first cleared from a British port. Napoleon in turn had declared that all ships that did so clear were contraband of war. The result of these "Orders in Council" and "Berlin and Milan Decrees" was that English and French ships preyed upon the commerce of the United States. In spite of this fact, American commerce grew in a most startling manner, until a few New England states were carrying almost one third of the commerce of the world. In her effort to secure sailors to man the gigantic navy required by the Napoleonic wars, England was in the habit of stopping merchant vessels of the United States and impressing such members of their crews as she desired, with the excuse that they were British deserters. To be sure a large percentage of the men so seized were deserters
from the British navy. The great profits of American commerce enabled the shipowners to pay such wages that every British warship anchoring in American waters lost a good portion of its crew.
The plantation interests represented by Jefferson had little understanding or sympathy with the New England merchants. Jefferson was inclined to temporize and experiment. At first the New England merchants were belligerent in their talk and petitions to Congress, but they soon discovered that more money could be made running blockades than in a domestic war, and became the strongest opponents of all retaliatory measures.
The cotton planters, on the other hand, were anxious for war, or at least for some sort of reprisals directed against England.1 They were selling their cotton to that country. The price was low, and the old antagonism between buyer and seller was being felt. This antagonism, however, was not sufficiently sharp to lead to war. It led rather to a series of peculiar legislative acts based upon the idea that a country could be punished by withholding commerce. The result of this attitude was the passage of the "Embargo" and the "Nonintercourse" acts.
These measures were based upon the idea that the trade of a country is a sort of
isolated entity that can be withheld and granted or directed wherever and
whenever such action is desired. By withholding the American trade Jefferson
thought to punish England. The "Embargo" forbade American ships to leave their
harbors save for coast trade. Since a large proportion of
1. U. B. Phillips, "Georgia and State Rights," in Annual Report of American Historical Association, 1901, Vol. II, pp. 99-200.
American histories have been written by persons with New England prejudices, these histories nearly all declare the "Embargo" to have been a terrible failure. In truth it paralyzed many branches of British industry, sent the price of flour to $x9 a barrel in England, caused great petitions to be sent to Parliament begging for relief, and, finally, actually accomplished the object for which it was laid, - secured the repeal of the "Orders in Council," even though the news of that repeal came too late to avert war.1
During the war the New England merchants carried their opposition to the farthest point possible without taking up actual hostilities against the national government. They advocated secession, refused to subscribe to the national loan, encouraged their militia to rebel against orders of the national government, sent large sums of specie to Canada for British drafts, supplied food to the British armies and ships, and in general did everything that would bring a profit and injure the national government.2
This war has also been called "The Second War for Independence." There is more than a little justice in the name. But that independence was not gained at Lundy's Lane, or New Orleans, by Perry on Lake Erie or by the victory of the Constitution over the Guerriere. That independence came through developments in a wholly different field. It was a result of the industrial transformation wrought by the war.
1 McMaster, "History of the People of the United States," Vol. IV, PP. 1-2.
2 Babcock, "Rise of American Nationality," pp. 156-158; Dewey, "Financial History of the United States," p. 133.
The most important event of the period was the birth of a royal heir, the last of the long line of ruling classes that have dominated society since the appearance of private property. This last prince of the line of class rule was the machine-owning capitalist class. The United States census of 1900 is authority for the statement that "the factory system obtained its first foothold in the United States during the period of the Embargo and the War of 1812." To be sure, this same authority assures us that,
The manufacture of cotton and wool passed rapidly from the household to the mill, but the methods of domestic and neighborhood industry continued to predominate, even in these industries down to, and including, the decade between 1820 and 1830; and it was not until about 1840 that the factory method of manufacture extended itself widely to miscellaneous industries, and began rapidly to force from the market the handmade commodities with which every community had hitherto supplied itself.
In spite of the fact that the factory industry had been struggling for a foothold since the beginning of the century, and that much boasting had been made of the extent to which manufacturing was carried on, the opening of the war saw the country in such a dependent condition that the Secretary of War begged that the Embargo be raised temporarily in order that the government might obtain the woolen blankets that were required in the Indian trade, since these could not be produced in the United States.
Any war tends artificially to stimulate manufactures. The purchase of large quantities of uniform articles
favors the factory rather than the household producer. Government specifications frequently provided that the goods must be of American manufacture. With no foreign competition, a limited number of domestic producers, and production inadequate to demand, factories yielded several hundred per cent profit. As had been the case in Europe, the mercantile capitalists had accumulated the capital for the establishment of the factory system. Woodrow Wilson notes that, "The very shipowners of the trading ports had in many instances sold their craft and put their capital into the manufacture of such things as were most immediately needed for the home market."1
Another law of historical evolution is illustrated in the way that the rising social class found expression in the social consciousness. Every effort was made to encourage manufactures. Societies were formed, premiums offered, bounties paid, tax exemptions granted, and every possible means for the fostering of manufactures was put into operation.
The most strenuous efforts were made to entice foreign artisans to America. All
their effects were exempt from duty. Pennsylvania hastened to grant them especial
privileges of citizenship. Many legislatures passed resolutions pledging their
members to wear only homemade goods. To encourage the woolen industry, bounties
were offered for the importation of merino sheep, and Pennsylvania taxed dogs to
raise money with which to import rams of this famous breed.
1 "History of the American People," Vol. III, p. 240; D. B. Warden, "An Account of the United States of America" (1819), pp. 262-263; Matthew Carey, "New Olive Branch," Chap. V.
Manufactures could not fail to flourish under such conditions. In the production of cotton there were 87 mills in 1811 operating 80,000 spindles and producing 2,880,000 pounds of yarn, with 4000 employees. By 1815 there were half a million spindles running, with 76,000 employees, working up 27,000,000 pounds of raw cotton. The iron industry developed to the point where it lacked but 3000 tons of supplying the whole country. It is worthy of note that it now began to center around Pittsburg. Earthenware, glass, cordage, and all manner of wooden ware manufactures shot up into prominence.
The number of patents rapidly increased. The first complete mill for the production of cotton cloth was set up by Francis C. Lowell at Waltham, Massachusetts, in 18r5. Elkanah Cobb, of Vermont, invented a machine for weaving blankets that did the work of several men.
Soon the manufacturing capitalist began to develop even more clearly the outlines of a definite class consciousness. Niles' Weekly Register, the great organ of the manufacturers during the next forty years, was started in Baltimore, September, 1811. From the beginning it was an active defender of protective tariffs. In 1819 we hear it voicing the jealousy of the manufacturers and shipowners for the favor of the national government.
One of the memorials sent by the manufacturers to Congress at this time makes a suggestive complaint and explanation in these words:1
The fostering care bestowed on commerce - the various statutes enacted in its favor - the expense incurred for that purpose - the complete protection
it has experienced, form a most striking contrast with the situation of manufactures, and the sacrifice of those interested in them. . . . There is but one way to account for the care bestowed on the commercial and the neglect of the manufacturing interests. The former has at all times been well represented in Congress and the latter, never.
The period immediately succeeding the war came near to strangling the infant manufacturing industry in the cradle. As had been the case at the close of the Revolution, European and especially British manufacturers poured a flood of goods upon the American market. They could the more easily do this since the Napoleonic wars ended with the battle of Waterloo in 1815. But the whole fabric of American society was changing, and in that change the factory system was to find new strength and grow until it became the dominant factor in that society.