Link to Online Textbook Link to the Boisterous Sea of Liberty Link to Historic Court Cases Link to Historic Newspapers Link to Landmark Documents Link to Classroom Handouts Link to Lesson Plans Link to Resource Guides ink to E-lectures Link to Film Trailers Link to Flash Movies Link to Multimedia Exhibits Link to Ethnic America Link to Materials for Teachers Link to eXplorations Link to Learning Modules Link to Interactive Timeline Link to Games Database Link to A House Divided Link to America's Reconstruction Link to Virtual Exhibitions Link to Current Controversies Link to Ethnic America Link to Film and History Link to Historiography Link to Private Life Link to Science and Technology Link to the Reference Room Link to Writing Guides Link to Biographies Link to Book Talks Link to Chronologies Link to the Encyclopedia Link to Glossaries Link to the History Profession Link to Historical Images Link to Historical Maps Link to eXplorations Link to Do History through... Link to Multimedia Link to Historical Music Link to Museums & Archives Link to Historic Music Link to Historic Speeches Link to Historical Websites Link to Social History section


Back to Classroom-tested Lesson Plans and Handouts

An Industrializing Nation

Early Industrialization

Reading 1:

The operatives work thirteen hours a day in the summer time, and from daylight to dark in the winter. At half past four in the morning the factory bell rings, and at five the girls must be in the mills....So fatigued...are numbers of girls that they go to bed soon after their evening meal, and endeavor by a comparatively long sleep to resuscitate their weakened frames for the toil of the coming day.

The Harbinger, 1846

Reading 2:

Rule first: Each one to enter the house without unnecessary noise or confusion, and hang up their bonnet, shawl, coat, etc., etc., in the entry.

Rule second: Each one to have their place at the table during meals, the two which have worked the greatest length of time in the Factory, to sit on each side of the head of the table, so that all new hands will of course take their seats lower down, according to the length of time they have been here.

Rule three: It is expected that order and good manners will be preserved at table during meals--and at all other times either upstairs or down.

Rule fourth: There is no unnecessary dirt to be brought into the house by the Boarders, such as apple cores or peels, or nut shells, etc.

Rule fifth: Each boarder is to take her turn in making the bed and sweeping the chamber in which she sleeps.

Rule sixth: Those who have worked the longest in the Factory are to sleep in the North Chamber and the new hands will sleep in the South Chamber.

Rule seventh: As a lamp will be lighted every night upstairs and placed in a lanthorn, it is expected that no boarder will take a light into the chambers.

Rule eighth: The doors will be closed at ten o'clock at night, winter and summer, at which time each boarder will be expected to retire to bed.

Rule ninth: Sunday being appointed by our Creator as a Day of Rest and Religious Exercises, it is expected that all boarders will have sufficient discretion as to pay suitable attention to the day, and if they cannot attend to some place of Public Worship they will keep within doors and improve their time in reading, writing, and in other valuable and harmless employment.

Rules at a mill boardinghouse

Reading 3:

There is no class of mechanics in New York who average so great an amount of work for so little money as the journey shoemakers....There are hundreds of them in the city constantly wandering from shop to shop in search of work, while many of them have families in a state of absolute want....We have been in more than fifty cellars in different parts of the city, each inhabited by a shoemaker and his family. The floor is made of rough plank laid loosely down, the ceiling is not quite so high as a tall man. The walls are dark and damp, and a wide desolate fireplace yawns in the center to the right of the entrance. There is no outlet back and of course no yard privileges of any kind. The miserable room is lighted only by a shallow sash, partly projecting above the surface of the ground and by the little light that struggles down the steep and rotting stairs. In this...often live the man with his work-bench, his wife and five or six children of all ages, and perhaps a palsied grandfather or grandmother and often both. In one corner is a squalid bed and the room elsewhere is occupied by the work-bench, a cradle made from a dry-goods box, two or three broken, seatless chairs, a stew-pan and a kettle.

New York Daily Tribune, 1845

Reading 4:

We...agree to work for such wages per week, and prices by the job, as the Company may see fit to pay....We also agree not to be engaged in any combination, whereby the work may be impeded, or the company's interest in any work injured....

Work contract, Cocheco Manufacturing Company, Dover, New Hampshire

Reading 5:

Just as there is sun at noonday, capital, under its present hostile and unnatural state, is fast reducing labor to utter dependence and slavish beggary....This talk about the continued prosperity, happy condition, and future independence of the producing class of this all fiction, moonshine.

Voice of Industry, 1845

Reading 6:

Are you an American citizen? Then you are a joint-owner of the public lands. Why not take enough of your property to provide yourself a home? Why not vote yourself a farm?...Are you tired of slavery--of drudging for others--of poverty and its attendant miseries? Then vote yourself a farm?...Join with your neighbors to form a true American party, having for its guidance the principles of the American revolution, and whose chief measures shall be-

1. To limit the quantity of land that any one man may henceforth monopolize or inherit; and
2. To make the public lands free to actual settlers only, each having the right to sell his improvements to any man not possessed of other land.

These great measures once carried, wealth...would consist of the accumulated products of human labor, instead of a hoggish monopoly of God's labor; and the antagonism of capital and labor would forever cease.

True Workingman, 1846

1. What conditions did early l9th century factory operatives work and live under?

2. How was the status of craftsmen changing during the early l9th century?

3. What solutions did workers propose?


School Enrollment, Whites ages 5-19 (1861) 
  Percent Enrolled In School  Percent Actually Attending  Days in School Year
Northeast  62 %  59 % 150 
South  76 % 57 % 116 
West  30 % 45 % 80 

1. Why do you think school enrollment was higher in the West than in the South?

2. What difference do you think it meant that children in the Northeast were more likely to attend school than those in other regions of the country?


Reading 1:

Americans must rule America; and to this end, native-born citizens should be selected for all state, federal, or municipal offices of government employment, in preference to naturalized citizens.

1856 Platform of the American (Know Nothing) Party

Reading 2:

Popery is a system of mere human policy; altogether of foreign origin; foreign in its support; importing foreign vassals and paupers by multiplied thousands; and sending into every state and territory in this union, a most baneful foreign and anti-republican influence....

Every Roman Catholic in the known world is under the absolute control of the Catholic Priesthood....And it is this...political influence, this power of the Priesthood to control the Catholic community, and cause a vast multitude of ignorant foreigners to vote as a unit, and thus control the will of the American people, that has engendered this opposition to the Catholic Church.

William G. Brownlow, 1856

Reading 3:

It is a notorious fact that the Monarchs of Europe and the Pope of Rome are at this very moment plotting our destruction and threatening the extinction of our political, civil, and religious institutions....The Catholics in the United States receive from abroad more than $200,000 annually for the propagation of their creed.

Texas State Times, 1855

1. How would you explain the prevalence of anti-Catholic sentiment in pre-Civil War America?

2. Why do you think anti-immigrant sentiment declined sharply in the mid-1850s?

Transformation of American Law

Reading 1:

It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each.

So if a law be in opposition to the constitution; if both the law and the constitution apply to a particular case, so that the court must either decide that case conformably to the law, disregarding the constitution; or conformably to the constitution, disregarding the law; the court must determine which of these conflicting rules governs the case. This is the very essence of judicial duty.

Marbury v. Madison, 1803

Reading 2:

You consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy....They have with others, the same passions for party, for power, and privilege of their corps....Their power [is] the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and are not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control.

Thomas Jefferson, 1820

Reading 3:

The government proceeds directly from the people; it is "ordained and established" in the name of the people....It required not the affirmance, and could not be negatived by the State governments. The constitution, when thus adopted, was of complete obligation, and bound the State sovereignties....

The government of the United States, though limited in its powers, is supreme; and its laws, when made in pursuance of the constitution, form the supreme law of the land....

Although, among the enumerated powers of government, we do not find the word "bank," or "incorporation," we find the great powers to lay and collect taxes; to borrow money; to regulate commerce; to declare and conduct a war; and to raise and support armies and navies....The power being given, it is the interest of the nation to facilitate its execution....The government which has a right to do an act, and has imposed on it the duty of performing that act, must, according to the dictates of reason, be allowed to select the means....

Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional.

McCullough v. Maryland, 1819

1. What is the proper role of the judiciary in the American system of government? Should the courts be subservient to the other branches of government?

2. Should the Constitution be interpreted strictly or loosely?

The Roots of American Economic Growth

Per Capita Levels of Industrialization 
  1750  1800  1860  1900  1928  1938 
Great Britain  10  16  64  100  122  157 
United States  4  9  21  69  182  167 
Germany  8  8  15  52  128  144 
Russia  6  6  8  15  20  38 

100 = Great Britain in 1900

1. How does the rate of increase in the level of U.S. industrialization compare with that of other countries? Was it faster or slower?

2. What barriers may have impeded industrialization in the United States in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries? What factors may have encouraged rapid industrialization?

Share of World Manufacturing Output
  1750  1800  1860  1900  1928  1938 
Great Britain  1.9  4.3  19.9  18.5  9.9  10.7 
United States  0.1  0.8  7.2  23.6  39.3  31.4 
Germany  2.9  3.5  4.9  13.2  11.6  12.7 
Russia  5.0  5.6  7.0  8.8  5.3  9.0 

1. Describe the growth in America's share of world manufacturing output.

2. How does America's growth compare with that of other countries?

American Land Policy
U.S. Land Policy  
  Price per acre  Minimum purchase 
1796  $2.00   640 acres 
1800  $2.00  320 
1804  $2.00  160 
1820  $1.25  80 
1832  $1.25  40 
1854  $0.125  40 
1862  free   160 

Peak Land Sales 
1816  1.7 million acres 
1817  1.9 million acres
1818  3.5 million acres 
1819  3.0 million acres 
1820  0.8 million acres 
1833  3.9 million acres 
1834  4.7 million acres 
1835  12.6 million acres 
1836  20.1 million acres 
1837  5.6 million acres 
1853  3.8 million acres 
1854  12.8 million acres 
1855  12.0 million acres 
1856  5.2 million acres 
1857  4.2 million acres 

1. How did American land policy change over time?

2. Did land sales occur evenly over time? At what points during the early 19th century were land sales greatest?


Age Distribution of Wisconsin Farmers, 1860 
Age  Proportion owning no land  Land worth $1,000 or more 
20-29  44  15 
30-39  13  39 
40-49  6  39 

1. How likely were young men in Wisconsin to own land?

2. How likely were older men in Wisconsin to own no land?

Cost of Making a Farm, Western New York State, 1821 
Clearing 30 acres at $10 per acre  $300 
Fencing  $70 
Log house and frame barn  $200 
Outhouse, well, orchard  $150 
1 pair oxen  $50 
1 horse  $50 
2 cows  $40 
2 hogs  $10 
10 sheep  $50 
Plow, harness, tools  $50 
Purchase 50 acres at $2 per acre  $100 
Essentials for family consumption before first crop $75 



1. Western land has sometimes been considered a "safety valve" for American workers. Do you think that a laboring American could afford to start a farm?

2. How would a family acquire the money to start a farm?

Percentage of American Labor Force in Agriculture 
1800  83 percent 
1810  84 percent 
1820  79 percent 
1830  71 percent 
1840  63 percent 
1850  55 percent 
1860  53 percent 

Agricultural Productivity 
  1800 1970
worker-hours per acre  56  3 
yield per acre  15  31 
worker-hours per acre  185  24 
yield per acre  147  438 

Occupational Distribution 
  1820  1860 
Agriculture  79 percent  53 percent 
Mining  0.4 percent  1.6 percent 
Construction  --  4.7 percent 
Manufacturing  3 percent  14 percent 
Trade  --  8 percent 
Transport  1.6 percent  6.4 percent 
Service  4.1 percent  6.4 percent 

1. Why do you think the proportion of Americans working in agriculture declined?

2. What kinds of work might non-agricultural workers do for a living?

Growth of Western Cities
Growth of Western Cities 
  1830  1840  1850  1860 
Chicago  5,000  30,000  109,000   
Cincinnati  25,000  46,000  115,000  161,000 
Cleveland  1,000  6,000  17,000  43,000 
Detroit  2,000  9,000  21,000  46,000 
Milwaukee  2,000  20,000  45,000   
St. Louis  6,000  14,000  78,000 161,000 

1. Why do you think western cities grew so rapidly?

2. What functions did western cities serve?

Growth of the Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin 
Year Percent of U.S. Population 
1800  1.0 percent 
1810  3.8 percent 
1820  8.2 percent 
1830  11.4 percent 
1840  17.3 percent 
1850  20.3 percent 
1860  24.7 percent 

1. What factors may have contributed to the rapid growth of the Midwest?

2. What political consequences might the growth of the Midwest have had?

Pre-Civil War Society

Immigration as a Source of Population Increase 
Year Percent of Total Population Increase 
1820s  4 percent
1830s  13 percent
1840s  23 percent
1850s 34 percent
1860s  25 percent
1870s  27 percent
1880s  41 percent
1890s  28 percent

Immigration to the U.S. 


Percentage of Composition 
Irish  English  German 
1820  8,385       
1830  23,322       
1840  84,066  47  10  35 
1850  369,980  44  14  21 
1860  153,640  32  19  35 

1. During which decades was immigration the greatest source of population increase?

2. Where did most pre-Civil War immigrants come from?

From Rags to Riches: The Distribution of Wealth and Income in Industrializing America

Economic Growth and Stratification of Wealth  
Year  Population in millions  Nonfarm Labor Force  Per Capita Wealth Wealth Owned By Top l0 Percent  
1800 5.3  21.0  64.4   45 percent 
1820 17.4   17.1 67.7  50 percent  
1840 9.6   36.6 100.0  55 percent  
1860 31.4  46.8  137.0  60 percent  

Distribution of Wealth 
City Year Proportion of wealth owned by: 
Richest 1 Percent  Richest 3 Percent 
Boston  1848  42 percent  64 percent 
Brooklyn  1841  37  -- 
New York  1845  40  66 percent 

Per Capita Wealth: 1840 = 100.0

Concentration of Wealth in Farming Areas, 1860 


Proportion of Property Held by Richest 10 Percent of Farmowners 
Southern black belt counties  64 
Trempealeau County, Wisconsin  39 
11 Vermont counties  38 

Concentration of Wealth in a northeastern and a western town, 1860


Proportion of adult males 

Proportion of real property 
Jacksonville, Illinois 69 80 
Northampton, Massachusetts 68 72 
With no real estate held by richest 10 percent

1. Did the distribution of income and wealth grow more or less equal during the decades before the Civil War?

2. A famous Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville said that the defining characteristic of pre-Civil War America was "equality of condition." Others have called this era the "age of the common man." Do statistics on the distribution of wealth support or contradict these views? In what sense, if any, might these observers have been correct?

Urban Growth 

Number of Towns and Cities
  1800  1860 
Towns 2,500-5,000  30  357 
Cities 25,000-250,000  3  32 
Cities 250,000 or more  0  3 

Proportion of Population in Urban Areas
  1800  1860 
Northeast 9  36
West 0  14 
South 2  7 

Declining Birth Rate

Birth Rate
1800  7.0
1810 6.9
1820 6.7
1830  6.6 
1840 6.1 
1850  5.4 
1860  5.2 

Number of children under 5
per 1,000 women aged 15-50
  1830  1860 
Illinois 1,165 737
Indiana 1,112 733
Michigan 945 627
Ohio  933  644 


This site was updated on 21-Apr-14.

Link to Ask the Hyperhistorian Link to Send Us Comments Link to Search & Site Map