Explain why Industrial Revolution-era critics believed that a narrow or unequal distribution of wealth was not beneficial to Americans. What types of negative scenarios did these thinkers and...

Explain why Industrial Revolution-era critics believed that a narrow or unequal distribution of wealth was not beneficial to Americans. What types of negative scenarios did these thinkers and writers predict for the future of the country if these ills were left unchecked?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As Industrialization took hold of America and would not loosen its grip, there were a few voices that gave words to how industrialization posed threats to American society.  Most of these voices came from worker publications.  

Karl Marx and dialectical materialism had not become such an embedded part of the culture at the time.  This makes the rise of such voices fundamentally interesting because they spoke from the point of view of workers' experiences. One example was when factory owners cut wages for workers.  In 1834, a petition circulated in which 800 factory workers protested the slashing of their wages:

Let oppression shrug her shoulders,
And a haughty tyrant frown,
And little upstart Ignorance,
In mockery look down.

Yet I value not these feeble threats
Of Tories in disguise,
While the flag of Independence
O’er our noble nation flies.

This represents one distinct criticism of industrialization.  Workers were one of the first groups to recognize that the profit of industrialization would take away from values such as equality and "independence."  The use of terms such as "tyrant" and "oppression" illuminates how corporate profit could sacrifice the autonomy of workers and their ability to find some level of material happiness. This becomes one of the most notable criticisms of industrialization in the time period.  If left unchecked, the petition makes clear that the reality of unequal distribution of wealth becomes a reality of industrialization.

Another criticism that was offered against industrialization during the time period was how daily life was transformed.  Critics of industrialization were quick to point out how life in the factory changed consciousness to a more gloomy reality:

Take away this power of communicating thought, feeling and sympathy, one to an other, and existence would no longer be a blessing, but rather a curse. The holy and sublime emotions of love, friendship, and sympathy would be lost – the ties of brotherhood sundered – the joys of domestic life annihilated, and this bright beautiful world, with all its sunshine and gladness, would become a gloomy prison house filled with living, moving bodies, destitute of souls.

The "gloomy prison house" is how the factory was seen.  Even before the horrors of industrialization were widely known and understood, critics of the time period recognized that a quality of life would be changed.  These thinkers understood that human character would be transformed with industrialization taking firm hold in America.  If left unchecked, these conditions would significantly alter daily life in America.

These criticisms were critical in how industrialization was received by workers and those who experienced its effects first hand.  While most of the country was quite willing and excited to embrace the prospect of industrialization, a handful of voices articulated a fearful reality, if left unchecked.  

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