In Cincinnati, the then president of the United States Abraham Lincoln said that “there is a certain relation between capital and labor……. that it does exists and rightfully exist, and that it is proper that it should exists….. ”(Andrew Delbanco, 1999) This by then had become an emotionally charged and contentious debate on the appropriate labor necessary to drive the economy of the United States to greater heights. There was the group led by Lincoln that advocated for free labor while others were rooting for slave labor.
Free labor meant that an employee was within his or her own jurisdiction to terminate his or her services at will as well as to decide who to work for and for how long. He or she could leave any time it deemed fit to do so. There are numerous forms of “unfree” labor which ranged from slavery and bonded labor amongst others. Bonded labor was common in the United States and was also referred to as indenture. This is where a worker enters into a contract or agreement with an employer to provide certain services for a certain period in exchange for accommodation and other small benefits which might be financial or social favors.
This form of labor was enforced through intimidation and threats. It is these two forms of labor that drew a heated debate in the United States particularly during the 19th Century. There are those who further claimed that what was being referred to as free labor in the end resulted to more oppression to the laborers, more than to the so called slaves. Osvestes A. Brownson belonged to this school of thought. Brownson was seen as a reformer and he drew contradictions in the usage of wage labor saying that these laborers were not necessarily free, he claimed that majority of them were far much oppressed.
His argument was that, in as much as a slave may not enjoy some particular rights and freedoms as a free man, he or she enjoys some facilities and favors that are scarce to the freemen. It was not unusual for the laboring population to go for days without food due to the limited job opportunities. Many were not able to meet their daily necessities. The so called free laborers were suffering from want while the slaves, despite being denied their rights, could enjoy shelter and plenty of food in their masters’ houses.
Brownson reiterated the fact that he was for abolition of slavery, but the alternative to slavery was not any more humane to the laborers. One George Fitzhugh reiterated this call too by saying that free laborers were like “slaves without masters” (http://www. learner. org/biographyofamerica/prog09/transcript/page02. html). The differences between slave labor and free labor can be best analyzed by looking at the Northern states and contradicting them with the southern ones. It is the issue of slavery and Free states that had threatened to tear the nation apart during the civil war.
The so called Free states were drawn from the North while the south was predominantly slave owning. In 1819, the debate on banning slavery took a rather hostile twist when an amendment was brought to the house to legislate on the ban of slavery. The southerners were against this and threatened to break away from the union. Tocqueville, a great modern philosopher, just like Brownson, also pointed out that just because wage labor was considered to be offered by willing laborers, they were not free to the true sense of the word.
He said that, “the prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the states that have abolished slavery that in those where it still exists. And nowhere is it as intolerant as in those states where servitude has been known. ” (http://www. learner. org/biographyofamerica/prog09/transcript/page02. html) To Abraham Lincoln, free labor represented the only way out. Slaves were entitled to their rights and one way to achieve this was through economic independence. The civil war was meant to ensure this, and was to lead to the enforcement of the ban on slavery which was inconsistent with the United States constitution.