Webisode 4. Introduction
Wake up, America
The opening of the nineteenth century saw innovations, inventions, and improvements in the old ways of doing things that allowed Americans more personal freedom.
With the Industrial Revolution came inventions that promoted economic growth and enhanced agricultural production. Eli Whitney's cotton gin and the new American textile mills made available mass-produced fabrics and clothing. Improved systems of transportation moved goods swiftly across the countryside. With Robert Fulton's steamboat, the new National Road, the Erie Canal, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the Transportation Age officially began. People had the freedom and means to travel greater distances than ever before.
While the southern economy remained agricultural, the north became increasingly industrialized and urbanized. Some entrepreneurs and factory owners made fortunes. However, the immigrants who flocked to the cities encountered grueling and dangerous working conditions. Some employers created villages that provided for their workers needs, but most saw no need to modify inhospitable working environments.
American culture experienced a creative freedom with the writings of Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Stowe, Thoreau, and Emerson. In 1855, Walt Whitman created a new, democratic American verse in his groundbreaking collection Leaves of Grass.
With personal freedom increasing for many, the lack of freedom for some groups became more apparent. By the 1830s, many Americans began to see that the concept of liberty for all as outlined in the Declaration of Independence must be more broadly applied to African-Americans. The cotton gin had increased the production of cotton, but at the same time it increased the needs for slave labor. Women, too, found themselves left behind in the freedom movement.
As American freedom took on new meaning, both the abolition and the woman suffrage movements took form and grew in strength. For a nation to be truly free, all must share in that freedom.
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