William R. Sutton. Journeymen for Jesus: Evangelical Artisans Confront Capitalism in Jacksonian Baltimore. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998. xvi + 351 pp. $36.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-271-01773-0; $94.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-271-01772-3.
Reviewed by Frank Towers (History Dept., Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey)
Published on H-SHEAR (August, 1999)
William Sutton's Journeymen for Jesus is a welcome addition to a new wave of scholarship on religion and antebellum social history that argues for the relevance of evangelical Protestantism in popular movements.
The book has many strengths. The author digs into newspapers and religious publications to document the links between Baltimore evangelicals and artisans. Sutton provides a thoughtful and extended discussion of what he terms "evangelical producerism" (p. 7), and he challenges the interpretation of religion and artisan radicalism offered by labor historians writing in the 1970s and early 1980s. Resisting the temptation to fall into a one-sided tribute to artisan radicalism, Sutton maintains a focus on the competition between conservative and emancipatory tendencies within evangelical producerism. This work adds to a relatively sparse record of secondary works on Jacksonian Baltimore, particularly its workers. Finally, the book contributes to a developing body of scholarship exploring the links between spirituality and labor activism in the nineteenth century. Students of American religion and labor history will benefit from reading Journeymen for Jesus.
Sutton's ambitious effort to re-cast the history of evangelical workers raises interesting questions about class and the influences of evangelical Protestantism on social conflict. While he has discovered a strand of radical evangelicalism, it is difficult to know how widely evangelicals held these ideas and to what extent evangelical reformers or artisans spoke for antebellum workers. Scholars looking for the connections between evangelicalism and working-class women, African Americans, and immigrants will be disappointed. Had these groups and issues related to them been more fully incorporated into the book, the limits on evangelical artisan radicalism might appear to have been even more pronounced.
The book begins with a review of the literature on religion and labor history, a topic Sutton has covered at greater length in an earlier article. Sutton criticizes some of the major works of the new labor history for viewing religion as a kind of opiate of the masses that inhibited radical challenges to capitalism by directing believers inward to private contemplation of sin. On the other hand, he laments "the inability or unwillingness of religious historians to recognize class tensions and contradictory cultural impulses within the Second Great Awakening" (p. 18). Missing from these works is an awareness of evangelical producerism, a popular belief that "flourished in situations where socioeconomic dislocation was obvious and faith commitments to traditional tenets of Christian social justice were strong" (p. 7). Populist evangelicals battled hierarchy within their churches and fought for a traditional moral economy that gave labor a fair return on its efforts and protected producers from the inequalities of the market. These radicals offered "a powerful and attractive counterhegemonic alternative to market economics and industrial capitalism" (p. 62).
Sutton emphasizes the contested character of evangelical belief. Some embraced the liberal individualism of the market, others rejected it, and many vacillated between these two poles (pp. 44, 60). He places artisans closer to the middle class of independent proprietors and lower-paying white collar trades than to unskilled laborers who lacked the control over working conditions to carry on craft traditions (p. 38). Despite these qualifications, the author's main concern is to show how evangelical rhetoric and membership in evangelical denominations, particularly the Methodists, interacted with artisans who expressed dissatisfaction with the spread of market relationships and the decline of skilled work. Baltimore's populist evangelicals distinguished themselves because "rather than meekly submitting to the cultural authority of their socioeconomic betters, this group assessed the morality of capitalist change (or lack thereof) according to their own experience and in light of the interpretations of the Scripture" (p. 64).
Sutton lays out the story of evangelical producerism in three parts. He starts by examining the struggle of populist evangelicals to decentralize authority within congregations. Methodist infighting gets the most attention, particularly the Methodist Protestant schism of the late 1820s and early 30s. Methodist Protestants wanted to give the laity more power in church government. Always aware of the "conflicted" nature of evangelical challenges to established authority, Sutton argues that the dissenters, most of whom were artisans, criticized hierarchical social relationships in their campaign to make the clergy more responsive to congregational sentiment, but after they gained power reformers developed a "preoccupation [with] maintaining the existing order, rather than following the more difficult path of continued social melioration" (p. 108).
Baltimore's zenith of artisan radicalism occurred during the mid-1830s when trade unions flourished, Workingmen's party candidates won office, and artisan rioters boldly challenged the authority of bank directors. Sutton devotes two chapters to the years 1833-37 and makes the case for this period as a culmination of the egalitarian activism of the 1820s. His chapter on the trade union movement of 1833 adds much new information to the history of Baltimore, and his treatment of the Bank of Maryland riot of 1835 and its aftermath compliments earlier studies.
Sutton's main objective in these chapters is to document the "unprecedented producerist opposition to capitalist innovation" that parallelled the populist struggle against hierarchy in the Methodist church (p. 132). For Sutton, the activists of the 1830s fought a traditional struggle to maintain communal solidarity and enforce some aspects of a moral economy rather than engage in new kind of class conflict. Sutton shows that union leaders in Baltimore, like the other seaports, employed an artisan variant on republicanism to advance their claims for shorter hours, just prices and a more democratic politics. Trade unions emphasized Christian ethics, requiring "good moral character" from their members and "discountenanc[ing] all vice and immorality" (p. 146). Radical clergy were not directly involved in the ten-hour movement, the Workingmen's campaign of 1833 or the bank riot, but some sympathized with unions and bank rioters, and the imagery used by both groups overlapped.
The final chapters examine evangelical reform and its relationship to labor. Sutton gives examples of individual master craftsmen who practiced a "producerist ethic of limited accumulation" (p. 223), and he portrays religious social reform, manifested in factory preaching and temperance lobbying, as "the results of the creative collective agency of populist evangelicals intent on carving out viable social spaces for themselves" (p. 218). Mill villages surrounded Jacksonian Baltimore, and Methodist ministers like Henry Slicer routinely preached to the operatives in these communities. Slicer's sermons emphasized both an inward looking "spiritual consolation" and "empowerment ... as he appealed to Scriptures that demanded the righteous confrontation of social ills" (p. 249). Sutton argues that while the paternalism of mill village life enhanced the social authority of factory owners, it also had a radical potential to bind employers to communal morality as understood by their operatives. He also views reform groups like the artisan-dominated Washingtonian temperance society and issues like Sabbatarianism as vehicles for limiting exploitation in the market revolution rather than tools the upper-class used to control social disorder.
The book concludes on an appropriately ambivalent note. In his epilogue, Sutton states that the failure of evangelicals to unite in protest at the arrest of abolitionist minister Charles Torrey in 1843, "prefigured an inability to maintain producerist ethics across the board" (p. 308). He goes on to show that many of the evangelical artisan leaders of the 1830s had moved up and out of their manual trades by the 1840s, and had less concern for labor issues as a result. To counter-balance this picture of radicalism in decline, Sutton quotes at length from a series of anonymous letters reprinted in the Baltimore Sun in 1843 and 44. The letters attacked "the growing abuses of unchecked consumerism and finance capitalism," and, for Sutton, showed that "the producerist legacy continued to find its champions" (p. 312).
Journeymen for Jesus is a thought provoking study that deserves a wide audience. Sutton should be commended for his thoughtful analysis, his even-handed approach to the work of other scholars, and his detailed archival work. Some questions raised in the book call for more attention to unexplored aspects of artisan and evangelical experience.
As Sutton notes, the history of workers in Jacksonian Baltimore is under-studied in comparison with cities further north. His book is essentially an intellectual history of the evangelical producerism, but it would help to have a fuller picture of the structural context of politics and the economy that underlay the protests of the book's subjects. The case for the salience of producerist rhetoric would be stronger if readers knew how many manual workers fit the definition of artisan, how many of these individuals attended evangelical churches, and how changes in the antebellum economy corresponded to critiques of price gouging and skill erosion. A discussion of the numbers follows, and it suggests that the conservative side of evangelical producerism was more pronounced than the rhetoric indicates.
Lacking more concrete economic data, Sutton attributes the surge of labor and evangelical militancy to two causes. One is the familiar model of skill erosion in the face of "dislocation" caused by mass production techniques and a growing labor supply (pp. 7, 26-28), and the other is the moral ambivalence of religious artisans to the "temptations inherent in liberal capitalist development" (p. 134). The artisan decline theory should take into account studies of metropolitan industrialization that show skilled work flourishing in the major Atlantic ports even as it faded in smaller industrial cities like Lynn and Newark. Similarly, George Thomas and others have criticized the "strain" interpretation of religious movements as reactions to economic dislocation or social stress in favor of viewing them as more or less continual features of a society that operate independently of other forces.
The available studies on Baltimore's economy suggest that in some trades, like construction, craft rules and culture survived, but in others, like textiles and food processing, they were under pressure if not gone by the 1830s. Sutton shows that evangelicals preached to factory operatives, but he can't find much beyond a rally by seamstresses in 1833 to suggest that unskilled workers participated with great enthusiasm in trade unions and labor politics. Given women's preponderance in church services and the spread of female factory and sweated labor, why didn't working women become more involved in evangelical protest? Instead, the trades that produced most of the radical artisans were those resistant to mass production techniques and ones in which skilled workers like printers and house carpenters could rise to run their own businesses or move into related professions like contracting and editing. As Sutton observes, "many of those most suspicious of capitalist transformation had enjoyed a previous measure of success and social status" (p. 142). The correspondence of radical republican activism with prosperity on one hand, and the apparent disconnect between these ideas and people employed on the bottom rungs of the occupational ladder on the other is an interesting pattern that asks for more explanation.
Numbers would add to the book's treatment of artisan politics. Sutton provides a fine analysis of the issues and leaders of the 1833 election in which the Workingmen's party upset the city's dominant Democratic party, but his assessment of this campaign as an "ambiguous" labor victory may be an understatement (p. 161). The election data suggest that the Workingmen's party was less a popular movement than a one-time bolt from the Democrats opportunistically exploited by the National Republicans (later the Whigs) who endorsed the third-party ticket. Workingmen did best in wards that had a weak or negative correlation with Democratic support in elections from 1828 to 1840. The residents of these wards had more taxable wealth than the city average. Conversely, Workingmen garnered less than their citywide victory margin in wards with lower property values and more manufacturing enterprises. These results suggest that wealthy men who otherwise sided with the Whigs found reasons to vote for the Workingmen, and that some artisans like block maker and Methodist class leader Robert Millholland were attracted to the Whigs. Because evangelical congregations included professionals and the wealthy along with middling artisans, it would be interesting to know how and if rich men invoked producerist arguments in their public battles. In other words, how malleable was the rhetoric of artisan radicalism?
In other cases it is a question of the glass being half full or half empty. In the aftermath of the Bank Riot of 1835, 75 percent of those voting for the mayor chose General Samuel Smith, the law-and-order nominee of both Democrats and Whigs. His challenger, Moses Davis, was a carpenter new to politics. Sutton takes the 1,611 ballots cast for Davis as "an indication of the ongoing resonance of populist producerism" (p. 190). Viewed in the broader context of 1830s electoral history, Davis's showing appears remarkably weak. Davis had the lowest percentage of the vote of any candidate for citywide office in the 1830s. While he garnered one-fourth of the votes in 1835 because of low turnout, Davis's vote total represented only 16 percent of the ballots cast in 1834. Extrapolating from census data in 1830 and 1840, Baltimore had roughly 90,000 people in 1835. At a minimum, 20,000 of them were eligible voters. Davis's poor showing could just as easily be taken as evidence that artisan republicanism had few fans in 1835.
There is also a quantitative problem in regard to evangelicalism's popularity among craftsmen. Working with Terry Bilhartz's data on church membership and some informed guesswork, Sutton estimates that 1 in 6, or 17 percent, of all Baltimoreans attended Methodist churches, the most popular Protestant denomination (p. 11). While this rate exceeded that of other large seaports, it does not make for a majority movement, especially given the heterogeneity of church members. Bilhartz found that half of all Methodists belonged to households headed by male artisans, but the majority of church-goers were women, and African Americans made up as much as one third of all Baltimore Methodists. The numbers matter because Sutton states early on that for reasons of sources he will not discuss blacks and women but claims to be studying "popular religious and ethical propositions ... shared by a significant number of Americans in or sympathetic to the producing classes" (p. 14).
Sutton uses attitudes towards race and slavery to support a chronology of radicalism rising in the late 1820s and early 30s and declining in the 1840s. Black ship caulkers' support for the 1833 ten-hour drive by white journeymen shipwrights showed that there was "a modicum of interracial unity in the Jacksonian ten-hour movement" (pp. 137-38), and Torrey's arrest in 1843 manifested radicalism's decline. This argument implies that white evangelicals took a more egalitarian stand on racial issues prior to the mid-1840s. Almost everything else historians know about blacks and Methodism in Baltimore indicates racial animosity, not unity, even during the high tide of labor radicalism. Recent books by Christopher Phillips and T. Stephen Whitman on Baltimore African Americans demonstrate the importance of black Methodists in building autonomous African-American institutions, often in opposition to their hostile white coreligionists. The 1833 Workingmen's ticket kept silent on issues related to black rights. As for shipbuilding, the caulkers' endorsement of shorter hours did not prevent white ship carpenters from staging a hate strike against black competition in 1836, an incident that produced Frederick Douglass's memorable confrontation with white working-class racists.
The example of Henry Slicer is perhaps most instructive on this score. Sutton states that Slicer's "populist credentials were impeccable" (p. 122). But he downplays Slicer's role in defending the rights of slaveowners to join the Methodist church and hold high office in its bureaucracy. Slicer preached to black congregations, but he told them that "Negroes should be orderly and subservient." Like many of the radical artisans discussed by Sutton, Slicer was an ardent Democrat. He served as chaplain to the U.S. Senate in the 1830s and 1850s, a job somewhat at odds with his anti-establishment image. In 1840, Democrat Robert Ricketts, one of Sutton's evangelical radicals, urged Slicer to tell Methodists how Democratic presidential candidate Martin Van Buren fought abolitionist efforts to drive slaveholders from the church. If he spoke for a brand of evangelical populism, then Slicer's attitudes on slavery suggest that he supported the racist egalitarianism evident in Jacksonian Democratic policies like expanding white voting rights while curtailing those of blacks, promoting white land ownership by removing native peoples from the southeast, and defending slavery as a barrier against the economic degradation of poor whites.
Some examples of populism appear as weak challenges to established authority in light of the more obvious inequalities that confronted residents of a slave state. Slicer opposed dueling, but not slavery. Methodist minister John Hersey expressed "universal condemnation of modern liberal economics" and "saved his particular disgust for those dismantling the just price ideal and the labor theory of value." Hersey was also "outspokenly abolitionist" (pp. 124-25). At a meeting with Quaker philanthropist Moses Sheppard and lawyer Benjamin LaTrobe, Hersey's "coarse" clothing contrasted with that of his wealthy hosts, and he insisted that Sheppard and LaTrobe kneel with him in prayer. Hersey's dress and manner may have irked these rich men, but they probably were pleased that he accepted their offer to travel to Liberia as assistant agent for the American Colonization Society. Hersey's radicalism might be more credible had he openly challenged colonization, a scheme designed to deport free blacks to Africa, and something most advocates of immediate emancipation deplored.
The same questions could be asked about more substantial examples of radical reform, like temperance. While Sutton makes a compelling case for artisan involvement in alcohol reform and shows how some activists presented their case in producerist terms, it should be kept in mind that the antebellum elite supported temperance. Noting that most wealthy and political powerful northerners opposed abolition but supported temperance, Paul Goodman has observed that joining a temperance society incurred far less social risk than did signing up with the abolitionists.
Although Sutton considers gendered rhetoric in a few places (pp. 174 and 275, for example), he does not explore the tensions between women and men inside of artisan households or reform groups like the Washingtonians. As Theresa Murphy and Ruth Alexander have pointed out, evangelicals not only reacted in ambivalent ways to the market, they also contested prescribed gender roles in churches and reform societies that had male leaders but relied on women for the bulk of their membership. Sutton's critique of the new labor history for ignoring a vital element of workers' social experience resonates with criticisms of the same scholarship for marginalizing women and African Americans. Sutton's findings would have a greater impact if he more fully explored the racial and gendered aspects of artisan experience.
A final question is nativism. In his analysis of Baltimore's 1839 convent riot, Sutton seeks to show that evangelicals were not responsible for this popular expression of anti-Catholicism rather than looking at nativism as another of the double-edged swords of evangelical social thought. Sutton absolves producerist evangelicals of blame for the incident on the grounds that the leading anti-Catholic clergy were Presbyterians and two Methodist artisans publicly opposed the riot (pp. 288-89). While Sutton makes much of artisan participation in the bank riot, he downplays Joseph Mannard's evidence that the skilled and semi-skilled workers predominated in the convent mob. In 1845, nativists staged a third party challenge similar to the Workingmen's bolt of 1833. In the 1850s, the Know Nothings thrived in Baltimore. Did some radical Methodists and artisans get involved in nativist politics? Given that an increasing number of Baltimore Catholics were Irish and German immigrants working in unskilled, low-paying jobs, the nativist strand of evangelicalism could add a great deal to Sutton's analysis of tensions between artisans and other manual workers.
The reviewer's familiarity with Baltimore sources might magnify the importance of local issues that may not matter as much to a general audience. These questions should not be taken as condemnation of Journeymen for Jesus. Sutton has done a remarkable job of combing the records to discover a strand of thought and a group of men historians otherwise would know little about. His findings speak to a broad scholarly audience, and his work makes a significant contribution to several fields of historical study.
. Some examples of these works are Jama Lazerow, Religion and the Working Class in Antebellum America (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995); Theresa Ann Murphy, Ten Hours' Labor: Religion Reform and Gender in Early New England (Ithaca, 1992); Ronald Schultz, The Republic of Labor: Philadelphia Artisans and the Politics of Class, 1790-1830 (New York, 1993).
. William R. Sutton, "Tied to the Whipping Post: New Labor Historians and Evangelical Artisans in the Early Republic," Labor History 36 (Spring 1995), 23-47.
. Sutton refers in particular to Paul E. Johnson, A Shopkeeper's Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837 (New York, 1978); Bruce Laurie, Working People of Philadelphia, 1800-1850 (Philadelphia, 1980); Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic: New York and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850 (New York, 1984).
. David Grimsted, "Rioting in its Jacksonian Setting," American Historical Review 77 (April 1972), 36-397.
. Richard B. Stott, Workers in the Metropolis: Class, Ethnicity, and Youth in Antebellum New York City (Ithaca, 1990); Wilentz, Chants Democratic; Philip Scranton, Proprietary Capitalism: The Textile Manufacture at Philadelphia, 1800-1885 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983); George M. Thomas, Revivalism and Cultural Change: Christianity, Nation Building, and the Market in the Nineteenth-Century United States ( Reprint. Chicago, 1997), 12-14.
. Jo Ann E. Argesinger, "The City That Tries to Suit Everybody: Baltimore's Clothing Industry," in Elizabeth Fee, Linda Shopes, Linda Zeidman eds., The Baltimore Book: New Views of Local History (Philadelphia, 1991): 82-102; Lynda Fuller Clendenning, "The Early Textile Industry in Maryland, 1800-1845," Maryland Historical Magazine 87 (Fall 1992): 251-266; Gary L. Browne, Baltimore in the Nation, 1789-1861 (Chapel Hill, 1980), 86, 135-136; Edward K. Muller and Paul A. Groves, "The Emergence of Industrial Districts in Mid-Nineteenth Century Baltimore," Geographical Review 69 (1979): 159-177.
. Voting data comes from the Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, October 8, 1833; Anita Rosalyn Gorochow, "Baltimore Labor in the Age of Jackson," (Master's thesis, Columbia University, 1949), 13, xii; Whitman H. Ridgway, Community Leadership in Maryland, 1790-1840: A Comparative Analysis of Power in Society (Chapel Hill, 1979), 109.
. American and Commercial Advertiser, September 8, 1835 and Gorochow, "Baltimore Labor."
. Terry D. Bilhartz, Urban Religion and the Second Great Awakening: Church and Society in Early National Baltimore (Rutherford, NJ, 1986), 23; Charles G. Steffen, The Mechanics of Baltimore: Workers and Politics in the Age of Revolution, 1763-1812 (Urbana, 1984), 256.
. Christopher Phillips, Freedom's Port: The African-American Community of Baltimore, 1790-1860 (Urbana, 1997); T. Stephen Whitman, The Price of Freedom: Slavery and Manumission in Baltimore and Early National Maryland (Lexington, Ky, 1997).
. Henry Slicer Journals, October 30, 1859 and Robert Ricketts to Henry Slicer, August 15, 1840 in Henry Slicer Papers, United Methodist Historical Society of the Baltimore Washington Conference, Lovely Lane Museum and Library, Baltimore.
. Paul Goodman, Of One Blood: Abolitionism and the Origins of Racial Equality (Berkeley, 1998), 123.
. Ruth M. Alexander, "'We Are Engaged as a Band of Sisters': Class and Domesticity in the Washingtonian Temperance Movement, 1840-1850," Journal of American History 75 (December 1988), 763-785, especially 781-784; Murphy, Ten Hours' Labor, 103-111.
. Joseph G. Mannard, "The 1839 Baltimore Nunnery Riot: An Episode in Jacksonian Nativism and Violence," The Maryland Historian 11 (Spring 1980), 15-27, see p. 18.
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Frank Towers. Review of Sutton, William R., Journeymen for Jesus: Evangelical Artisans Confront Capitalism in Jacksonian Baltimore.
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