This chapter discusses issues concerning class formation in America during the early industrial period. It argues that the making of the American middle class was as much a conceptual undertaking as it was a social undertaking. It describes how new modes of labor-divided and mechanized production in the first decades of the nineteenth century created a division between “headwork” and “handwork” in a way that had not been seen before. It also explains how confident claims to social authority emerged in place of implicit languages of class as the discussions and activities that were part of the antebellum popular discourse on mechanization changed and became more diffuse in the midst of the postbellum labor struggle.
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