Child Labor during the Industrial Revolution Essay
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Background Research Throughout history, children have always worked, either as apprentices or servants. However, child labor reached a whole new scale during the time period of the Industrial Revolution. Throughout the time frame of late 1800s-early 1900s, children worked long hours in dangerous factory conditions for very little wages. They were considered useful as laborers because their small stature allowed them to be cramped into smaller spaces, and they could be paid less for their services. Many worked to help support their families, and by doing so, they forwent their education. Numerous nineteenth century reformers and labor groups sought to restrict child labor and to improve working conditions. The Industrial Revolution was a…show more content…
Background Research Throughout history, children have always worked, either as apprentices or servants. However, child labor reached a whole new scale during the time period of the Industrial Revolution. Throughout the time frame of late 1800s-early 1900s, children worked long hours in dangerous factory conditions for very little wages. They were considered useful as laborers because their small stature allowed them to be cramped into smaller spaces, and they could be paid less for their services. Many worked to help support their families, and by doing so, they forwent their education. Numerous nineteenth century reformers and labor groups sought to restrict child labor and to improve working conditions. The Industrial Revolution was a major factor involving child labor. It was during this time that America had entered a great boom of prosperity, and there was an excessive demand for many products that steadily became cheaper, the more that was produced. Because of supply over demand, there was a great increase in available jobs within factories. The new stream of child workers was matched by a tremendous expansion of American industry in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This led to a rise in the percentage of children from ten to fifteen years old who were profitably employed. Although the official figure of 1.75 million significantly understates the true number, it indicates that at least 18 percent of these children were employed in 1900. In southern cotton
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Industrial Revolution Daniel Gaines Everyone agrees that in the 100 years between 1750 and 1850 there took place in Great Britain profound economic changes. This was the age of the Industrial Revolution, complete with a cascade of technical innovations, a vast increase in industrial production, a renaissance of world trade, and rapid growth of urban populations. Where historians and other observers clash is in the interpretation of these great changes. Were they "good" or "bad"? Did they represent improvement to the citizens, or did these events set them back? Perhaps no other issue within this realm has generated more intellectual heat than the one concerning the labor of children.
The enemies of freedom -- -of capitalism-have successfully cast this matter as an irrefutable indictment of the capitalist system as it was emerging in 19 th century Britain, The many reports of poor working conditions and long hours of difficult toil make harrowing reading, to be sure. William Cooke Taylor wrote at the time about contemporary reformers who, witnessing children at work in factories, thought to themselves, "How much more delightful would have been the gambol of the free limbs on the hillside; the sight of the green mead with its spangles of buttercups and daisies; the song of the bird and the humming. of the bee. "l Of those historians who have interpreted child labor in industrial Britain as a crime of capitalism, none have been more prominent than J. L.
and Barbara Hammond. Their many works, including Lord Shaftesbury (1923), The Village Labourer (1911), The Town Labourer (1917), and The Skilled Labourer (1919) have been widely promoted as "authoritative" on the issue. The Hammonds divided the factory children into two classes: "apprentice children" and "free labour children. " It is a distinction of enormous significance, though one the authors themselves failed utterly to appreciate. Once having made the distinction, the Hammonds proceeded to treat the two classes as though no distinction between them existed at all.
A deluge of false and misleading conclusions about capitalism and child labor has poured forth for years as a consequence. Opportunity or Oppression? "Free-labour" children were those who lived at home but worked during the days in factories at the insistence of their parents or guardians. British historian E. R Thompson, though generally critical of the factory system, nonetheless quite properly conceded that "it is perfectly true that the parents not only needed their children's earnings, but expected them to work. " 2 Professor Ludwig von Mises, the great Austrian economist, put it well when he noted that the generally deplorable conditions extant for centuries before the Industrial Revolution, and the low levels of productivity which created them, caused families to embrace the new opportunities the factories represented: "It is a distortion of facts to say that the factories carried off the housewives from the nurseries and the kitchens and the children from their play. These women had nothing to cook with and to feed their children. These children were destitute and starving.
Their only refuge was the factory. It saved them, in the strict sense of the term, from death by starvation. " 3 Private factory owners could not forcibly subjugate "free-labour" children; they could not compel them to work in conditions their parents found unacceptable. The mass exodus from the socialist Continent to increasingly capitalist, industrial Britain in the first half of the 19 th century strongly suggests that people did indeed find the industrial order an attractive alternative. And no credible evidence exists which argues that parents in these early capitalist days were any less caring of their offspring than those of pre-capitalist times. The situation, however, was much different for "apprentice" children, and close examination reveals that it was these children on whom the critics were focusing when they spoke of the "evils" of capitalism's Industrial Revolution. These youngsters, it turns out, were under the direct authority and supervision not of their parents in a free labor market, but of government officials.
Many were orphans; a few were victims of negligent parents or parents whose health or lack of skills kept them from earning sufficient income to care for a family. All were in the custody of "parish authorities. " As the Hammonds wrote, .".. the first mills were placed on streams, and the necessary labour was provided by the importation of cartloads of pauper children from the workhouses in the big towns. London was an important source, for since the passing of Handy's Act in 1767 the child population in the workhouses had enormously increased, and the parish authorities were anxious to find relief from the burden of their maintenance... To the parish authorities, encumbered with great masses of unwanted children, the new cotton mills in Lancashire, Derby, and Notts were a godsend. " 4 The Hammonds proceed to report the horrors of these mills with descriptions like these: "crowded with overworked children, "hotbeds of putrid fever, "monotonous toil in a hell of human cruelty, " and so forth. Page after page of the Hammonds' writings -- as well as those of many other anti-capitalist historians-deal in this manner with the condition of these parish apprentices.
Though consigned to the control of a government authority, these children are routinely held up as victims of the "capitalist order. " Historian Robert Hessen is one observer who has taken note of this historiographical mischief and has urged others to acknowledge the error. The parish apprentice children, he writes, were "sent into virtual slavery by the parish authorities, a government body: they were deserted or orphaned pauper children who were legally under the custody of the poor-law officials in the parish, and who were bound by these officials into long terms of unpaid apprenticeship in return for a bare subsistence. " 5 Indeed, Hessen points out, the first Act in Britain that applied to factory children was passed to protect these very parish apprentices, not "free-labour" children. The Role of the State It has not been uncommon for historians, including many who lived and wrote in the 19 th century, to report the travails of the apprentice children without ever realizing they were effectively indicting government, not the economic arrangement of free exchange we call capitalism. In 1857, Alfred Kydd published a two-volume work entitled The History of the Factory Movement. He speaks of "living bodies caught in the iron grip of machinery in rapid motion, and whirled in the air, bones crushed, and blood cast copiously on the floor, because of physical exhaustion. " Then, in a most revealing statement, in which he refers to the children's "owners, " Kydd declares that "'The factory apprentices have been sold [emphasis mine] by auction as 'bankrupt's effects. 6 A surgeon by the name of Philip Gaskell made extensive observations of the physical condition of the manufacturing population in the 1830 s. He published his findings in a book in 1836 entitled Artisans and Machinery.
The casual reader would miss the fact that, in his revelations of ghastly conditions for children, he was referring to the parish apprentices: "That glaring mismanagement existed in numberless instances there can be no doubt; and that these uniprot...
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