A practice test essay question from Cracking the A.P. U.S. History Exam:

Evaluate the extent to which farmers and factory workers did not easily adapt to changes stemming from industrialization in the years 1865-1900.

Standard textbooks lament the plights of farmers and factory workers alike, barely mentioning the era’s skyrocketing living standards.  Since my thirteen-year-old sons took my labor econ class, they know better.  But my son Aidan saw an opportunity to piggyback an Ideological Turing Test onto his A.P. practice test.  Could he simulate a well-prepared but economically illiterate history student?  In his allotted 35 minutes, he produced the following essay:

Farmers and factory workers did not adapt very well to industrialization in the latter portion of the 19th century, though it was more difficult for farmers. We see this effect chiefly in the South’s difficulty to adapt to a Northern-style economy after the Civil War. We also this effect in the failure of Northern workers to coordinate, leading to their being taken advantage of by Scrooge-like employers. Finally, monopolies and other unscrupulous organizations led to difficulty for both farmers and factory workers to cope.

Firstly, it was very difficult for the post-war South to cope with the changes industrialization caused. Most farmers simply found it difficult to work in a monotonous factory for 12 hours a day, often with little or no respite, when they were so used to a day which was often flexible and involved more varying forms of labor. Others simply did not have the education requiredto operate the machines, or were baffled by their operation. While many Southern politicians of the era called for a New South-for the South to become industrialized like the North-, the dream did not become reality. The South also had very few farmers per square mile to do factory labor. In short, the South, where more and more of the nation’s farmers resided, was ill-suited for industrialization, making it difficult for its many farmers to make a living in factories.

Secondly, Northern workers did not adapt well because they were not very effective at unionizing and otherwise banding together to form a coalition which would protect them from the miserly employer. While it is true that many workers experienced a rising standard of living, accidents induced by machines were all to frequent. As if this was not enough, income disparity went up tremendously during this era, signifying an upper class which profited at the expense of the workers. Many a time, unions were broken by a few strikebreakers, or were not coordinated enough to become important. Thus, the urban worker failed to adapt to industrialization mainly because of a lack of coordination.

Finally, the rise of the monopoly, generally through trusts and corporations, led to many workers suffering. John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, and the American Steel Corporation, often charged high prices for their products, which in turn reduced the average worker’s wages. Railroad companies would often charge exorbitant rates, prompting the formation of Farmer’s Alliances and the Populist Party. As with unions, however, these early progressive movements failed to give workers a better lifestyle due largely to a lack of coordination. Consequently, the rise of monopolies, although they eventually inspired Progressive Era movements, caused much misery in the 19th century for the regular worker.

In conclusion, it was difficult for both factory workers and farmers to adjust to the New Industrial Order mainly because of a lack of coordination and necessary skills respectively. Monopolies also ruined things for workers by indirectly or directly cheating them out of their money. While movements such as the Populist Party, which called for an end to such monopolies, did eventually arise, they were often ineffectual, due, once again, to a lack of coordination. In the 20th century, a new hope would arise for workers on the farm and in the factory with the rise of the Progressive Era.

Correcting for paternal bias, I think Aidan passed the Ideological Turing Test with aplomb.  If there were a ten-essay line-up on this topic – nine sincere plus my son’s – I doubt even 20% of history teachers could single him out.  In fact, I doubt the graders would do better than chance.  What say you?

P.S. Vigorous criticism is welcome as always, but comments that insult my kids will be deleted.