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Differing Views Of Manufacturing

The two documents provide radically different views of manufacturing in Britain during the 1830s, when the Industrial Revolution was very much underway. While Andrew Ure’s document is praise-heavy and acknowledges no negative aspects at all (other than criticism of industry), the House of Commons inquiry offers a first-hand account of brutal, grinding, and even horrific conditions child laborers faced. Source 22. 1, “Extolling the Virtues of the Manufacturer,” is an 1835 report intended as an answer to critics’ claims that industry has had harmful effects on British society.

However, its author (Andrew Ure) merely avoids the criticisms and drowns them out with lofty praise. Ure asserts that manufacturing has not only generated considerable wealth for Britain, but also that it has brought “the resources of war . . . [and] comfortable subsistence” for the population (p. 374). In somewhat overblown prose, Ure adds that British industry has even benefitted the world at large and quickly dismisses industry’s critics, whose specific accusations he does not discuss.

Ure argues that, for example, weavers in steam-driven textile mills are not overworked; rather, he says, “the driving force [of steam power] leaves the attendant nearly nothing to do at all” (p. 374) and that mills provide

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a healthy workplace. He sidesteps the issues of factory-related illnesses, long working hours, and poor treatment of workers, instead shifting the blame onto the worker’s “poor diet and the dampness of his hovel” (p.

374); in essence, he blames workers for somehow opting for misery but otherwise says nothing else about them; one can infer that Ure does not consider their well-being essential, or else that he knows nothing of the details (which document 22. 2 explains rather starkly). He heaps praise on manufacturers, deeming them “philanthropic,” wise, benevolent figures whose innovations are a “Herculean enterprise [and] noble achievement” (p. 375).

Ure completely avoids any discussion of working conditions, environmental effects, and the fact that women and children were performing difficult factory labor; indeed, he seems to believe that it is so easy that women and children can do it easily, though the House of Commons document attests to the opposite. By contrast, source 22. 2 reveals a rather different set of circumstances, very much the opposite of Ure’s rose-tinted account.

The unnamed mill owner candidly admits that he employs small children – “never under five, but some are employed between five and six,” and that they “work as long as they can see,” which is as much as fifteen hours a day (p. 376). The owner, unlike Ure, has intimate first-hand knowledge of the conditions in mills, and he is clearly aware of what his laborers endure. The mill owner’s replies contradict Ure’s praise-laden picture, which looks only at British industry’s benefit to the nation’s elites and ignores the working class’ experiences.

The owner plainly states that his child workers “are generally cruelly treated” and “dare not . . . be too late at their work in the morning” (p. 376), implying that an atmosphere of fear and punishment prevails – which is hardly the picture of kindness Ure imagines. He also makes clear that the long hours his child laborers work cause them to make mistakes, for which their overseer (the “billy-roller”) will “smite the child with the strap” (p. 376); this evokes images of slavery rather than benevolent free labor.

In addition, these children are deprived of any chance to attend school and fall into ignorance and immorality. These two accounts offer radically different pictures of British manufacturing in the 1830s. Ure’s depiction heaps praise on factory owners for enriching the nation and providing better lives for the British people, though his writings are aimed at the British establishment and do not acknowledge realities that cast anything less than a positive light on industry.

Ure seems to offer no evidence of having seen working conditions in factories in person, dismissing any criticism as “groundless” and demonstrating but not admitting his own ignorance. The mill owner, on the other hand, has the knowledge that Ure lacks (and would perhaps find inconvenient) and admits that manufacturing emphatically does not offer children a kind, wholesome environment.

Instead, he attests to seeing child laborers endure grueling work routines, frequently brutal treatment, and other privations (which includes preventing them from attending school). These accounts differ partly because they have radically different intended audiences. Ure’s document is basically a letter of praise for the British economic elite by a member of the educational establishment, and it ignores child workers’ plight while extolling industry’s positive effect on Britain’s economy and international power.

He demonstrates no empathy, perhaps because there no effective regulations on child labor at the time and, whatever their hardship, it paled in his view next to the greater good it served. The inquiry, meanwhile, was produced by and for the House of Commons as part of an investigation of factory conditions, and its motive is geared toward understanding and reforming this less-than-glorious aspect of manufacturing.

These two documents illustrate two sides of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. While Ure is correct that British industry gave it a clear advantage over other nations and generated considerable wealth for the nation, he ignores an undeniable fact of this great economic machine – that, as the second document proves, it exploited its child workers, denying them a semblance of normal childhood or the opportunity to advance beyond their grinding, brutal workplaces and share that prosperity.

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