The American Revolution Reconsidered: Part Eleven
I want to take a step back and think about the enclosure movement in slightly more depth and detail. But before we get started I'm going to invent two terms that we shall need: exterior politics and interior politics.
What I mean by "exterior" politics is the system of politics that seems to radiate out majestically from the capital city of a country. It is the system of politics that the world can most readily see from the outside looking in.
"Interior" politics is simply what happens at the local level. The world cannot see it at first glance, since interior politics do not radiate out majestically from the nation's capital city.
Exterior and interior politics are not necessarily the same. In fact, they may be, as a matter of course, usually quite different. Interior politics are understood to be jurisdictionally subordinate to exterior politics. Exterior politics, then, can be thought of as the overarching and unifying "federalism," governing the totality of a nation's interior politics.
For example, today in the United States of America, the politics emanating out of the nation's capital city of Washington D.C., from the three branches of the executive (President), legislative (U.S. Congress), and judicial (Supreme Court), are the exterior politics of the United States. As you move down in scope, from states to counties to cities to towns, governance becomes more localized and interior.
But before we get started...
Actually, if you don't mind, before we get started with that, I feel compelled to share a piece of information with you that I found out just yesterday. It is a relatively small but important factoid that supports and strengthens one of the major theses I have developing in this series.
That particular major thesis concerns the very reason England created overseas colonies in the first place.
Tell me, you know the crime/detective thrillers on television and in the movies? As you know, there is always a scene in which the detectives are searching either for a "material witness" or "suspect" or the like. They hit the apartment, the person's residence.
Let's say the woman law enforcement authorities are looking for is gone. The apartment is in all kinds of disarray. There is no trace of her but she is gone. She is gone but all of her clothes, shoes, and undergarments are in that apartment. Several handbags stuffed with various personal effects remain in the apartment.
Drawers are pulled out and cabinet doors are open. There is a cell phone still charging in a wall socket. The pizza that somebody ordered is on the table, still warm and partially eaten. In the bedroom(s) the covers are strewn about and dresser drawers have been opened with contents emptied on to the floor.
Everybody takes all that in and somebody says something like: "Well, sergeant, it looks like Thelma Louise left in a hurry."
What we understand here is that "Thelma Louise" left under some kind of dreadful threat, under duress, under some extreme pressure.
Let's take that idea and compare the way the English went about preparing lands for settlement and the way the Spanish did it. This is just a small nugget of information that I have but its implications, I think, are major.
Goats and Pigs
Those of you who've been following this series know that I have been saying that the very reason England created overseas colonies was due to what I have been calling the overwhelming social force of the relentless grind machine of the agricultural revolution-facilitated, primogeniture-driven enclosure movement, the privatization of commonly-held lands.
Now then, it is this English enclosure which is, in my mind, the equivalent of the ("Well, sergeant, it looks like Thelma Louise left in a hurry.") frantic kinetic-ism, which characterizes the initial push of the English overseas colonizing project as compared to the Spanish approach. Does that make sense?
Here's what I mean.
The Spanish started their overseas colonization project a century before England got around to it.
Whenever the Spanish chose a likely area for settlement, they would typically release goats and pigs, as a kind of "unmanned probe," if you will, and return in a year or two. If the animals had reproduced adequately, settlement of people would begin. The successive generations of goats and pigs would provide at least the initial food source for the colonists. And, if the animals did not reproduce to desired levels, this might be grounds for delaying or cancelling that particular settlement (1).
Now then, in my opinion, this is a very clever and wise precaution, definitely not the act of a "Thelma Louise" who "left in a hurry."
Now then, as far as I'm aware so far, the English did not take this approach, or any kind of pre-settlement precautions.
As a result, it seems to me, catastrophes such as the winter of 1609-10 befell the English colonists.
I'll just quote the historian Howard Zinn: "The Virginians of 1619 were desperate for labor, to grow enough food to stay alive. Among them were survivors from the winter of 1609-1610, the 'starving time,' when, crazed for want of food, they roamed the woods for nuts and berries, dug up graves to eat the corpses, and died in batches until five hundred colonists were reduced to sixty" (2).
Again, unlike the deliberate, methodical approach of the Spanish, the English explosion overseas has all the character of a frenzied ("You don't have to go home but you can't stay here") push out the door at closing time. In other words, the lack of any pre-settlement precautionary measures on the part of the English as compared to the Spanish, suggests different initial motives for their colonial projects.
The Black Acts
To wrap this up I want to turn to a marvelous article about the enclosure movement by Simon Fairlie, titled "A Short History of Enclosure in Britain."
As we said, the Spanish used goats and pigs as a sort of "unmanned probe," to check out the suitability of sites for human settlement. The English, apparently, did not. It would appear that because of the fundamental class struggle going on with the enclosure movement in England, there were no resources left over to assist in the national British project of overseas colonization.
Simon Fairlie wrote:
"The Black Acts were the vicious response of prime minister Walpole and his cronies to increasing resistance to the enclosure of woodlands. The rights of commoners to take firewood, timber, and game from the woodlands, and to graze pigs in them, and to graze pigs in them, had been progressively eroded for centuries: free use of forests and abolition of game laws was one of the demands that Richard II agreed to with his fingers crossed when he confronted Wat Tyler during the 1381 Peasant Revolt. But in the early 18th century the process accelerated as wealthy landowners enclosed forests for parks and hunting lodges, damned rivers for fishponds, and allowed their deer to trash local farmer's crops" (3).
He continues: "Commoners responded by organizing vigilante bands which committed ever more brazen acts of resistance. One masked gang, whose leader styled himself King John, on one morning of 1721, killed 11 deer out of the Bishop's Park at Farnham and rode through Farnham market with them at 7 am in triumph. On another occasion when a certain Mr. Wingfield started charging poor people for offcuts of felled timber which they had customarily had for free, King John and his merry men ring-barked a plantation belonging to Wingfield, leaving a note saying that if he didn't return the money to the peasants, more trees would be destroyed" (4).
That is interesting. This King John character surely must have been the model for Robin Hood and his merry men. And here we learn the true and full context of "I rob from the rich and give to the poor."
Apparently, it was not about simplistically robbing the rich because they are rich and "redistributing the wealth," by giving it to the less fortunate. It was about preventing poor people from being extorted. It was about trying to stem the tide of "privatization."
Finally, Simon Fairlie wrote: "Gangs such as these, who sooted their faces, both as a disguise and so as not to be spotted at night, were known as 'the blacks,' and so the legislation introduced two years later in 1723 was known as the Black Act. Without doubt the most viciously repressive legislation enacted in Britain in the last 400 years, this act authorized the death penalty for more than 50 offences connected with poaching. The act stayed on the statute books for nearly a century, hundreds were hanged for the crime of feeding themselves with wild meat, and when the act was finally repealed, poachers were instead, transported to the Antipodes for even minor offences" (5).
There you have it. England, under enclosure, had developed laws citing 50 offenses concerning "poaching," which could bring down the death penalty. A nation willing to hang its citizens for eating wild meat, is not likely to use goats and pigs for an "unmanned probe" device to check out the suitability of sites for human settlement.
In part twelve I'll return to the thread I started, concerning "internal" and "external" national politics.
Thanks for reading!
1. Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe. Our America: A Hispanic History Of The United States. W.W. Norton & Company, 2014. 7-8
2. Zinn, Howard. A People's History Of The United States. HarperPerennial Modern Classics, 2003. 24
3. Fairlie, S. (2009). A Short History of Enclosure in Britain. Retrieved May 7, 2015. Section: The Blacks: paragraph 2.
4. ibid, paragraph 3
5. ibid, paragraph 4
More by this Author
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We're going to address a question: Why did some blacks fight on the side of the Revolution and others fight for the British?
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