Working Class Identity In The 19th Century

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A working-class identity meant a very different thing to the elite then it did to the laborers of the working class. Class divisions between the working and the elite classes became increasingly obvious. “The laborer at wages has all the disadvantages of freedom and none of its blessings” (Brownsen 7). The elite class saw the working class as what James Henry Hammond coined as “mudsills”. The working class at this point in history began to recognize their mistreatment by the non-working class. This resentment lead to a comradery between laborers. During the second half of the nineteenth century the elite of the South saw the working class of the North as unfit for association with a southerner’s body servant. Many of the elite believed that …show more content…
While the elite class saw the laborers as nothing more than waste people, the “off scourings of the earth”. The laboring class took to developing their own identity. During this time period the resentment toward the elite began to develop. During the war desertion was a part of the laboring class’s resistance to the upper-class rule. The working class depended immensely on their position in long-term relationships, extended families, and closely knit communities for survival. Factory workers tried to create large and strong organizations that could bargain on equal terms with employers. Thus, American workers began to organize to improve their status resulting in a labor movement. The labor movement had three principal objectives: higher wages, an eight-hour workday as well as safe and sanitary working conditions. The majority of Americans were promptly responsive to the individual laborer ' s grievances but they were suspicious of unions conducting a strong assault against the upper and elite classes as a whole. The Knights of Labor was the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the 1880s. “Unlike other labor organizations of the day, the Knights organized their locals by industry rather than trade, accepting all skill levels and women as well” (Powderly 1). Although the Knights of Labor believed that disputes should be arbitrated, they steadily relied on strikes and boycotts to achieve their goals. The civil war gave the southern working class a sense that they did not matter to the non-working class. They claimed it was a “rich man 's war and a poor man 's fight” (Isenberg 159). Although the south took to name calling, the working class and supporters of John C. Frémont embraced some of the slurs as a badge of honor. Many “Republicans and Union officers wore the mudsill label as a badge of pride…” (Isenberg 168). Northern

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