The Working Man’s Declaration of Independence

During, the time period, prior to the civil war, there were many social controversies that went into the building of the United States. While many economic and political factors went into to developing America as well, the social factors often brought much more controversy and was much more difficult in finding a common ground. One of these main points being the treatment of those in the lower-classes of each society; whether it be slaves and Native Americans in the South, or factory workers in the North.

Because of this, the North and South developed much different socially, which later resulted in the start of the civil war.

Slavery in the Early Colonial colonies was one of the major factors in causing the early colonies to develop the way that they did. After indentured servants failed to comply to everything that their masters wanted, the colony of Virginia began to turn towards African slaves instead. Their two main reasons were this, these slaves weren’t able to run away as easily as the indentured servants, because their home was all the way across the ocean, and secondly, these slaves were under the master for as long as he would want unlike indentured servants who were only slaves for about five to seven years.

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This caused slave owners in Virginia and South Carolina to gain immense wealth because they were able to grow much more cash crops, such as tobacco, indigo, or rice, which require a lot of physical labor.

In 1793 Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin.

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This new invention was very significant to the South’s economy. Separating cotton using the cotton gin was exceedingly faster than processing it by hand. This increased the amount of cotton farmers could produce in one crop which also increased the amount of slaves needed to tend the land; thus the demand for slaves in the South rose immensely. During this same time period, the North was in the middle of The Industrial Revolution, thus factories were becoming more and more common throughout the North. A large majority of these factories were made possible by the same creator of the cotton gin; Whitney was the one who presented the idea of having products made by machines so that each part of the product would be identical, and therefore interchangeable. Although slavery was still alive in the North during this time, it had died down significantly and was not at all what it was in the South. Instead the North was faced with the issue of what was referred to as “wage slaves”. Although these wage slaves were not actual slaves they were given this name because they were, in some ways, slaves to the factory.

At the time of the slavery disputes in the South, there were many arguments made in the favor of slavery. The images created by Josiah Priest in 1852, contrasting an African in their own country and an African American’s life, were very significant in the pro-slavery argument that African Americans were much better off being in America rather than their homes in Africa. Priest expresses this idea through his pictures by demonstrating how Africans might live and how barbaric he believed that was; then in the next picture showing how civilized and glad the black american seemed to be living in this nation. His reasoning for this was to again argue that slave owners were helping African Americans out by having them as slaves, and if they were to go back to their country they would be forced to live like barbarians and would be miserable. Another argument made towards the encouragement of slavery, was that slavery was supported and written into the constitution and to abolish slavery would be getting rid of what made America the nation it was. This idea can be shown in a document written by an anonymous Georgian citizen in 1850, as a message to the North warning them to let the South decide for itself if slavery should be legal or not. This citizen proceeds to quote the constitution attempting to further prove support of slavery by this country and our founding fathers.

On the other hand, there were counter arguments and propaganda to express the need to abolish slavery. For example, the image labeled Forcing Slavery Down The Throat Of A Freesoiler, which shows politicians shoving an African American slave down a man’s throat. This photo was created when Kansas was debating whether it should become a free state or a slave state; those who believed it should be a free state made this image to convey how they felt pressured to accept slavery, when they were not in support of it. William Lloyd Garrison, who is well known today for his work in abolishing slavery, wrote a document in 1852, labeled The United States Constitution. Garrisons main goal for this document was to combat the argument that the constitution supports slavery, and show that the support of slavery was in fact, never once mentioned in the constitution. He also states that his organization will have no union with slaveholders and that slavery, if continued, will be the downfall of America.

One of the ways in which the South continued to oppress other people groups, can be shown by the document written by George Evans Dowd in 1993, and the document written by Theda Perdue in 1998. Both of these authors’ writings focused on the issues and conflicts that the Native Americans faced in the 1700-1800. Dowd’s document, The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, focuses strongly on how the Native Americans had tried to unify and fight as one against the white men and other foreigners stealing their land. One of the ways that the Native American chiefs were able to band together was through religion and faith in spirits around them, pushing them to fight off those imposing on their land. Fighting was one of the only options the Native Americans felt they had left, because the white men continued to trick them out of their land no matter what compromises they made. The second option they felt they had was to simply conform to what the Americans wanted and to live how they lived. Perdue demonstrates this idea in her document Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change. In this writing, Perdue shows that to avoid being killed in battle, the Cherokee tribe decided to embrace the European culture in hopes that they would accept the Cherokees and treat them as their own. Thus, the Native American tribe began to create their own society, based off of the white men, that included, a court system, laws, and the speaking of english; they even took up the Europeans religion, christianity. Although, they succeeded in embracing the culture of the Europeans, this didn’t save them from being forced out of their homes. In 1838-39, Andrew Jackson put in place an Indian Removal Policy which forced the Cherokee tribe off of their land along the Mississippi river and move towards, what is now Oklahoma. This brutal endeavor, now called the trail of tears, resulted in the death of over 25% of the Cherokee tribe.

While all of this was occuring in the South, the North had its own issues and controversies among the people. In 1829, a man named George Henry Evans wrote a document called The Working Man’s Declaration of Independence. In this writing Evans expresses how he views America at this point in time through the eyes of a working, lower-class man. He starts off by quoting the original Declaration of Independence, to prove that, while what our founding fathers wrote on that document sounds exceptional and fair, it only ends up that way for the rich and powerful. When Evan stated “‘it is their right, it is their duty,’ to use every constitutional means to reform the abuses of such a government, and to provide new guards for their future security” he is making it clear that he feels as though the government and the wealthy are abusing and taking advantage of the working class for their own benefit. This appealed to a majority of the working class and lead them to later, break off from the two political parties available and join the Whig party. While in the eyes of Evans, America seemed to be failing its citizens, in the eyes of Harriet Martineau, America appeared to be a paradise. Martineau was a British author who came to visit America in 1834, to see how the nation was developing. In her report she states “with all these things in mind, and with evidence of prosperity about me in the comfortable homesteads which every turn in the road and every reach of the lake brought into view, I was thrown in painful amazement”, which shows that while, Evans may be disgusted in the what America is doing to its citizens, Martineau marvelled in all that the nation had to offer. Although Martineau may not have visited the more industrial or impoverished areas of the country, coming from the outside looking in she seemed to envy the type of freedom each American citizen had; something that in Britain was rather rare.

While all of these factors continued to grow in both the North and the South, they became more and more divided over the social issues occuring in their society; the greatest one being the issue of slavery. Although the North had given up slavery almost entirely at this point, it was so ingrained into the South’s society that they refused to give it up. One of the most historic rebellions against slavery was the 1831, Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia. This rebellion was lead by a slave named Nat Turner, resulted in rebel slaves killing around 51 whites, which caused the control over slaves during that time to become even more strict. A strong voice in the abolition of slavery movement during this time, was a man named William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison created a newspaper called The Liberator, which spread his abolitionist agenda, and reached thousands all throughout the world. He said, 'I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD'; this was the start of a new abolitionist era, in which Garrison stated would not compromise on the issue. In 1832, he formed the New England Anti-Slavery Society, and joined with delegates around the globe to end slavery.

Another well known activist in the fight to free slaves was a man named Frederick Douglass, who had been a slave himself until he escaped. He made it his mission to see slavery end, and fought for slaves freedom both before and during the civil war.

Thus, while the North and South seemed to be quite similar in their social issues, their differences were uncompromisable, and ultimately lead to the splitting of the nation, and the beginning of a civil war.

Updated: Jun 05, 2022
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The Working Man’s Declaration of Independence. (2022, Jun 05). Retrieved from

The Working Man’s Declaration of Independence essay
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