How Farmworkers Could "Run Away"--Resistance Through Migra-
The Reluctance of Laborers to Move and Other Obstacles to
The Tamer Confrontations between Hodge and His Masters 375
Food Riots as a Method of Resistance 376
The Swing Riots Generally Considered 378
How the Laborers Did Benefit Some from the Swing Riots 379
The Relative Weakness of the Farmworkers' Unions Compared
to Others in England 380
The Organization of the Agricultural Labours' Union in 1872 381
Comparing Two Subordinate Classes' Methods of Resistance 383 7. CONCLUSIONS: THE BALANCE BETWEEN "RESISTANCE" AND "DAMAGE"? 386
Resistance and the Subordinate Class's Quality of Life 386
Slavery Is on a Continuum of Social Systems of Subordination 388
Selected Bibliography 390
1. WHY COMPARE ENGLISH LABORERS AND AMERICAN SLAVES TO BEGIN WITH?
The Standard Yet Problematic Comparison of Factory Workers with Slaves Mississippi slaveowner and politician John A. Quitman "professed little respect for the northern free-labor system, where 'factory wretches' worked eleven-hour days in 'fetid' conditions while their intellects were destroyed 'watching the interminable whirling of the spinning-jenny.' . . . The Quitman plantations functioned satisfactorily, and his bondsmen were appreciative of their condition. He described his slaves as 'faithful, obedient, and affectionate.'" Quitman's comparison is still made today when debates break out over the standard of living about who was better off: slaves versus [Northern] factory workers, not farm servants. Similarly, while examining general European conditions for workers, Jurgen Kuczynski states: "It is precisely these bad conditions which justify the arguments of the slaveowners of the South, that the slaves are materially better off than the workers in the north. This would in many cases have been true." Despite its frequency, this comparison is actually problematic: It discounts the additional effects of urbanization, crowding, and doing industrial/shop work inside. In the countryside, with its low population density and work in the fields outside, people experience a different way and quality of life. The conditions of urban factory life simply are not tied to the legal status of being free or slave. This common comparison actually contrasts two very different ways of life, urban versus rural, factory versus farm, to which widely varying value judgments can be attached. As E. P. Thompson observes: "In comparing a Suffolk [farm] labourer with his grand-daughter in a cotton-mill we are comparing--not two standards [of living]--but two ways of life."1 By likening some other agricultural labor force to the slaves of the American South before the Civil War, many of the apples/oranges comparison problems are eliminated. This work shows the largely landless English agricultural workers during the general period of the industrial revolution (c. 1750-1875) had a superior quality of life of compared to the black slaves in the American South (c. 1750-1865), but that the latter at times had a material standard of living equal to or greater than the former's, at least in southern England.
Why Do Such a Comparison? A historical comparison brings into focus features of both subjects under study that might otherwise go unnoticed. New insights may be gained, which might be missed when highly specialized historians devoted to a particular field analyze historical phenomena stay strictly within their area of expertise. Suddenly, through historical comparison and contrast, the pedestrian can become exceptional, and what was deemed unusual becomes part of a pattern. For example, both the agricultural workers and the slaves found ways to resist the powerful in their respective societies, but their forms of resistance differed since their legal statuses differed. In the preface of his study of American slavery and Russian serfdom, Kolchin observes some of the advantages of doing such a comparison. It reduces parochialism in given fields, allows features to be seen as significant that otherwise might be overlooked, makes for the formulation and testing of hypotheses, and helps to distinguish which variables and causal factors had more weight.2 A comparative topic is justified, even when it deals with phenomena long since analyzed by historians, if it wrings new insights out of the same old sources. It may expose assumptions about events or processes experts take for granted or overlook in the fields being compared. One suspects sometimes labor historians and African-American slavery historians may be letting their respective historiographical work pass each other like ships in the night, not knowing the valuable insights one group may have for the study of the other's field.3