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Brownson and Debs Essay (Critical Writing)

The subject of slavery and its different forms had been a thorny issue before the American Civil War. The country was divided into two factions. The South favored the slave labor system in which slaves were the property of their masters who took care of them. On the other hand, the North was in favor of the free labor wage system in which individuals were paid on the basis of their work done.

According to Orestes, in due consideration, the slave labor had several advantages over free labor (Dolbeare, & Cummings, 2010). This paper looks at Orestes’s argument in favor of slave wages which is summarized in the following statement, “The laborer at wages has all the disadvantages of freedom and none of its Blessings”, and draws support for this stand from the works of Debs contained in the ‘Revolutionary Unionism’ (Dolbeare, & Cummings, 2010, p.208).

From the very beginning, Orestes says that the freedom enjoyed by a slave laborer and a free laborer is the same (Dolbeare, & Cummings, 2010). The only exception consists in the fact that the free laborer is exposed to all the misgivings of slavery unlike the slave laborer. It is not uncommon for people willing to work to pursue job opportunities for several days in a free labor market.

At a glance, it may not be easy to justify Orestes’s point of view because one would assume he advocates for slavery (Dolbeare, & Cummings, 2010). He highlights the pains of a person who wants to meet the expectations of his/her family yet he or she is unable to meet them (Dolbeare, & Cummings, 2010).

At times when people volunteer to work just for food, such pleas fall on deaf ears. In fact, it seems that the free labor state has offered an opportunity for the capitalists to enjoy all the advantages of slave system without imposing the expenses and the abhorrence of being a slave holder (Dolbeare, & Cummings, 2010).

Eugene in his speech, “Revolutionary Unionism”, depicts the picture of free labor system in the strongest derogatory terms (Dolbeare, & Cummings, 2010). He correctly underlines the issue that the working men are responsible for their wealth. They do this through a great deal of sacrifice not because of the endurance of privation, but because of reduced choices. The sacrifices they endure encompass the mind, the limb, as well as life.

In contrast, Debs maintains that the laborers live in wretched states of poverty and dependence (Dolbeare, & Cummings, 2010). I have to agree with the author when he further points out that, even though people labor in different jobs, their circumstances are always the same (Dolbeare, & Cummings, 2010).

I support Eugene and Orestes that, what the laborers need are not labor unions that still argue for a fair pay for a normal day’s work but rather some revolutionary actions (Dolbeare, & Cummings, 2010). Such unions will endeavor to go beyond the different industries to capture the plight of every single working man.

To regain their bargaining position in this highly industrialized, capitalistic, and market oriented society, it is advisable for the laborers to unite outside departments. Otherwise, the trend perpetuated by the system is to value labor more than an individual person who performs the job. No wonder the laborers are paid only based on their living necessities hence they require the minimum wage bill, being an ultimate deprivation of freedom, to say the least.


Dolbeare, K.M., & Cummings, M. S. (2010). American Political Thought (6th ed.). Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

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