We know Adam Smith today as the father of laissez-faire economics. It is the idea that the government should leave the economy alone and not interfere in the “natural course” of free markets and free trade. But he was thinking above all of the government, which granted special economic privileges to powerful manufacturers and merchants. For Smith, these mercantile monopolies and their allies in Parliament were the great enemies of his “free market mechanism.” In southern cities like Norfolk, Virginia, markets sold not only vegetables, fruits, meat, and sundries, but also slaves. Slave men and women, like the two who walked into the immediate center, lived and worked alongside free people, black and white. S. Weeks, Market Square, Norfolk, Henry Howe`s historical collections on Virginia, 1845. Forced labour helped fuel the market revolution. In 1832, textile enterprises accounted for 88 of the 106 American enterprises worth more than $100,000.14 These textile mills, run by free labor, nevertheless depended on Southern cotton, and the vast new market economy led to the expansion of the plantation southward.
Violence among the lower classes, especially in the hinterland, included fights and shootings. Tactics included sharpening nails and filing teeth into razor-sharp spikes, which were used to tear out eyes and bite ears and nose. In a duel, a gentleman gained recognition by risking his life instead of killing his opponent, while those involved in violent fighting won by mutilating their opponent. Education gave young women the tools to lead demanding and noble lives. After sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Davis left home for school in 1816, her father said the experience would “lay the foundation for your future character and seriousness.” 34 After a tour of the United States in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville praised the independence granted to the young American woman who “had the great stage of the world. open to them” and whose education prepared them to exercise both reason and morality.35 Mediocre young women also used their education to take up teaching jobs in the expanding common school system. Bristol Academy in Taunton, Massachusetts, for example, promoted “teaching. in the art of teaching” for female students.36 In 1825 Nancy Denison left Concord Academy with references suggesting that she was “qualified to teach successfully and profitably” and that she was “very happily commended” for “this very responsible profession.” 37 wage workers — a population disproportionately made up of immigrants and poor Americans — faced low wages, long hours, and unsafe working conditions. A class conflict has developed.
Instead of the formal inequality of a master servant, employers and employees probably entered into a contract on an equal footing. But the hierarchy was obvious: employers had financial security and political power; Employees have faced uncertainty and helplessness in the workplace. At the whim of their employers, some workers have turned to strikes and unions to pool their resources. In 1825 a group of Boston journeymen formed a carpenters` union to protest their inability “to support a family today with the wages normally given today.” 28 workers organized unions to assert themselves and earn both the respect and resources due to a breadwinner and a citizen. For middle-class executives and civil society leaders caught between workers and landlords, unions have unleashed a dangerous antagonism between employers and workers. They countered any claim of class conflict inherent in the ideology of social mobility. Middle-class owners and managers justified their economic privilege as a natural product of superior character traits, including decision-making and hard work. A group of master carpenters denounced their fellow strikers in 1825, claiming that workers with “industrious and moderate habits have themselves become flourishing and respectable masters, and that the great body of our mechanics has been able to acquire property and respectability with equal weight and influence in society.” 29 In an 1856 speech in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Abraham Lincoln had to assure his audience that the country`s commercial transformation had not driven American workers into slavery. Southerners, he said, “insist that their slaves are much better off than the free men of the North. What a false image these men have of northern workers! They think that men should always remain workers here – but there is no such class. The man who worked for another year last year is working for himself this year. And next year, he will hire other people to work for him.
30 This fundamental belief underpinned the North`s commitment to “free labour” and brought broad acceptance to the market revolution. Besides the fundamental and puzzling horror of all this, the problem of slavery in the cotton south was twofold.