American freedom is defined to comprise economic independence and social equality. However, certain groups of Americans felt included or excluded from these freedoms from 1865 to 1925. This paper discusses three groups: industrial workers, former slaves, and Jewish immigrants and explains the freedoms that they had.
Industrial workers are people who work in the factories and plants and who are the basis of the industry of every country. They are one big class, one big union. Industrial workers started to fight for their freedoms in the 18th century. America introduced a lot of reforms to make their life better, but they never had the full freedom. The Civil War caused destruction of the industry; unemployment reached an extremely high level. The workers tried to find new jobs, but there were only several free places in the factories and plants. Anzia Yezierska said in her book: “…after we waited for hours and hours, only two girls were taken”. So, people had no economic independence. Their lives were reliant on their jobs and salaries. At first, they could not even express discontent. Afterwards, politicians initiated a lot of reforms that made strikes and unions legal. However, industrial workers were still considered to be the lower class. They often had to work more than 16 hours per day and they could not leave if the work was unfinished. Obviously, American industry was able to grow due to their hard work.
Another big problem the workers faced was social inequality. Employers hired even women and children, but their salaries were lower than men’s. So, social equality was a desired, but unattainable thing. They did not have right to vote and their thoughts were not taken into consideration. Their work and lives were difficult, but they did a lot for America. Samuel Bowles said about the building of the railroad after the Civil War: “No other people than ours could have both educated the men to for such a work, and done it, too, within five years”.
Another group of Americans is former slaves. Before 1861, the third of the population were slaves. They worked hard, but sometimes slaves, who were craftsmen, had better working conditions than white men, although other slaves had much more difficult lives. They had no independence, no social equality. Slaves had to work on plantations or in owners’ houses and they did not have any salaries. They had no rights, too. Obviously, there were owners who treated their slaves well, and others that did not recognize them as people. However, after the reform slaves obtained freedom. The new changes were difficult for both slaves and slaveholders. The former slaves enjoyed their liberty, but they did not have the economic freedom. Toby Jones, who was one of them, said about the new changes: “… they turned us out like the pack of stray dogs, no home, no clothing, no nothing…”. The slaves became free, but they did not know what to do. They lost their work; most of them did not have any relatives. Their situation was difficult, but it was worth the effort.
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It was a new epoch for former slaves. At first, it was not easy, but then people began to search for new jobs and get education. For about a decade, the government made decisive efforts to help freedmen and freedwomen to obtain education, legal and medical services, employment contracts and political power. At last, former slaves achieved social equality. Unfortunately, they had been considered to be the lower class for centuries, but the government helped them and now they have the all opportunities to be rich and successful.
The last group is Jewish immigrants. These people went to America to escape from persecution, imprisonments, and murders. The largest number of Jews came from Germany and other countries of Central Europe. They settled in different parts of America. It was a quiet place for them, because there were no prohibitions of religion and anti-Semitism was not common. They called America the “Gold Land”. They built synagogues there, traded, and developed the industry. Jewish immigrants formed big communities; the New York community was the largest one. In the 1920s, immigration reached the highest level. Jews found in the US safety and opportunities to conduct business.
Jewish immigrants had economic independence and social equality in America. Many of them raised capital and carried on business. The government was committed to them; they were able to take part in politics, had a lot of freedoms and the right to vote. Jews were equal by law with Americans. However, they had some problems. Assimilation was the major one. Immigrants forgot their traditions, religion, family values, and morals and became average Americans. Also, with assimilation came injustice, despite the promised equality. Another problem was inequality between men and women: “Women had no brains for the study of Torah, but they could be the servants of men, who studied the Torah”.
In conclusion, American freedom was different for these three groups. It was incomplete for industrial workers, because they had to work hard more than 16 hours per day and their salaries were not high. Former slaves got freedom, but, at first, they did not know what to do with it. It was a long time before they joined the political and cultural life of America. Jewish immigrants had economic independence and social equality, but they had problems within their own community.
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