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Letters From an American Farmer : Letter 11 – From Mr. IW–N AL–Z, A Russian Gentleman; Describing the Visit He Paid at My Request To Mr. John Bertram, The Celebrated Pennsylvanian Botanist

Primary SourceExamine this flourishing province, in whatever light you will, the eyes as well as the mind of an European traveller are equally delighted; because a diffusive happiness appears in every part: happiness which is established on the broadest basis. The wisdom of Lycurgus and Solon never conferred on man one half of the blessings and uninterrupted prosperity which the Pennsylvanians now possess: the name of Penn, that simple but illustrious citizen, does more honour to the English nation than those of many of their kings.

In order to convince you that I have not bestowed undeserved praises in my former letters on this celebrated government; and that either nature or the climate seems to be more favourable here to the arts and sciences, than to any other American province; let us together, agreeable to your desire, pay a visit to Mr. John Bertram, the first botanist, in this new hemisphere: become such by a native impulse of disposition. It is to this simple man that America is indebted for several useful discoveries, and the knowledge of many new plants. I had been greatly prepossessed in his favour by the extensive correspondence which I knew he held with the most eminent Scotch and French botanists; I knew also that he had been honoured with that of Queen Ulrica of Sweden.

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Letters From an American Farmer : Letter 10 – On Snakes; And on the Humming Bird

Primary SourceWhy would you prescribe this task; you know that what we take up ourselves seems always lighter than what is imposed on us by others. You insist on my saying something about our snakes; and in relating what I know concerning them, were it not for two singularities, the one of which I saw, and the other I received from an eye-witness, I should have but very little to observe. The southern provinces are the countries where nature has formed the greatest variety of alligators, snakes, serpents; and scorpions, from the smallest size, up to the pine barren, the largest species known here. We have but two, whose stings are mortal, which deserve to be mentioned; as for the black one, it is remarkable for nothing but its industry, agility, beauty, and the art of enticing birds by the power of its eyes. I admire it much, and never kill it, though its formidable length and appearance often get the better of the philosophy of some people, particularly of Europeans. The most dangerous one is the pilot, or copperhead; for the poison of which no remedy has yet been discovered. It bears the first name because it always precedes the rattlesnake; that is, quits its state of torpidity in the spring a week before the other. It bears the second name on account of its head being adorned with many copper-coloured spots. It lurks in rocks near the water, and is extremely active and dangerous. Let man beware of it! I have heard only of one person who was stung by a copperhead in this country. The poor wretch instantly swelled in a most dreadful manner; a multitude of spots of different hues alternately appeared and vanished, on different parts of his body; his eyes were filled with madness and rage, he cast them on all present with the most vindictive looks: he thrust out his tongue as the snakes do; he hissed through his teeth with inconceivable strength, and became an object of terror to all by-standers.

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Letters From an American Farmer: Letter 3 – What Is An American

Primary SourceI wish I could be acquainted with the feelings and thoughts which must agitate the heart and present themselves to the mind of an enlightened Englishman, when he first lands on this continent. He must greatly rejoice that he lived at a time to see this fair country discovered and settled; he must necessarily feel a share of national pride, when he views the chain of settlements which embellishes these extended shores. When he says to himself, this is the work of my countrymen, who, when convulsed by factions, afflicted by a variety of miseries and wants, restless and impatient, took refuge here. They brought along with them their national genius, to which they principally owe what liberty they enjoy, and what substance they possess. Here he sees the industry of his native country displayed in a new manner, and traces in their works the embryos of all the arts, sciences, and ingenuity which nourish in Europe. Here he beholds fair cities, substantial villages, extensive fields, an immense country filled with decent houses, good roads, orchards, meadows, and bridges, where an hundred years ago all was wild, woody, and uncultivated! What a train of pleasing ideas this fair spectacle must suggest; it is a prospect which must inspire a good citizen with the most heartfelt pleasure. The difficulty consists in the manner of viewing so extensive a scene. He is arrived on a new continent; a modern society offers itself to his contemplation, different from what he had hitherto seen. It is not composed, as in Europe, of great lords who possess everything, and of a herd of people who have nothing. Here are no aristocratical families, no courts, no kings, no bishops, no ecclesiastical dominion, no invisible power giving to a few a very visible one; no great manufacturers employing thousands, no great refinements of luxury. The rich and the poor are not so far removed from each other as they are in Europe. Some few towns excepted, we are all tillers of the earth, from Nova Scotia to West Florida.

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Colonial American Seaport

Chapter 2: Varieties of Worker Resistance and the Emergence of the First Unions – Labor In America by Melvyn Dubofsky and Joseph A. McCartin

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “Because the conditions for slaves were more salubrious in the southern states than in the Caribbean islands and South America, Louisiana’s sugar plantations being the exception, the bound population steadily reproduced itself. And not only did African slaves in the United States reproduce themselves, but an internal slave market redistributed slaves from the depleted soils of Virginia and the Chesapeake to the more fertile and productive lands of the new cotton kingdom. Slave labor made cotton the most profitable good produced in the United States, and the South the wealthiest region in the nation.”
  • “To share in the fruits of economic growth and not become wage slaves to the new capitalist masters of the loom, lash, and vault, workers resorted to collective forms of action.”
  • “Throughout the vast republic,” the Albany Working Men’s Advocate stated shortly afterwards, “the farmers, mechanics and workingmen are assembling…to impart to its laws and administration those principles of liberty and equality unfolded in the Declaration of Independence.”
  • “What distinguishes the present from every other struggle in which the human race has been engaged,” she wrote in the Free Enquirer, “is, that the present is, evidently, openly and acknowledgedly, a war of class.…It is the ridden people of the earth who are struggling to throw from their backs the ‘booted and spurred’ riders whose legitimate title to starve as well as work them to death will no longer pass current; it is labour rising up against idleness, industry against money; justice against law and against privilege.”
  • “The rise of workingmen’s parties did not presage Marxian socialism, but it did signify a realization by many workers that capitalism bore down on them unfairly, and it did place in question society’s dominant property relations. It added to the political agenda many demands associated with the labor theory of value.”

Thought Questions

  • React and Respond: “Economic growth in turn increased the demand for labor, especially the skilled variety”
  • Explain and Expand: “Slave labor, then, underwrote economic expansion, the rise of capitalist markets, and embryonic industrial growth while creating a wealthy and powerful class of plantation lords, bankers, merchants, and industrialists.”
  • React and Respond: “What the workers of the country basically sought was to prevent the emerging capitalist class from monopolizing for itself the seemingly boundless opportunities of the growing national economy.”
  • In what ways did the transportation revolution impact Early America?
  • What were “popular parties ” and “Workingmen’s Parties” and how did they evolve from Revolutionary America into the early republic?
  • In what ways did merchants and the “middling sort” partner with the working class in Revolutionary America against British officials and colonial aristocrats?
  • In what ways did mechanics, artisans, and small tradesmen voice a more radical agenda in support of colonial liberties?
  • What motivated African slaves to join the British cause?
  • How did Irish immigrants fit into the American labor market?
  • What role did the development of short-staple cotton agriculture impact free and slave labor in the Early Republic?
  • What were the causes of the depression of 1819 and how did the American labor market react and recover? 
  • Explain and Expand: “King Cotton”
  • Describe the impact of the widespread growth of labor newspapers
  • Why did workingman’s parties eventually decline and fail?
  • How did the development of a stable two party system impact the efforts of labor to advocate for reform?
  • Compare and Contrast the approaches of Robert Dale Owen. Frances ‘Fanny’ Wright, George Henry Evans and Thomas Skidmore to labor reform
  • Describe the motivations and goals for educational reform among labor
  • Describe the motivations and goals for the abolition of imprisonment for debt by labor reformers
  • Explain and Expand: “Unlike their contemporaries in Europe, American workers did not have to unite behind radical or socialist leaderships to obtain the vote.”

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