The American Revolution Reconsidered: Part Seven
A Simple Conceptually Recalibrating Essay
You know, for a while there in the seventeenth century, the settlers carried on the same factional struggles that were tearing Europe apart. The colonists were carrying on the same class struggles, religious struggles, ethnic/nationality struggles. Eventually it dawned on the collective sense of self-preservation that it wasn't much of a "New World," carrying around all of that "Old World" baggage.
In the first half of the seventeenth century, the settlers had remained plugged into events back in England, to such an extent that they sometimes sailed back to England to take part in religious and royal succession wars.
It is somewhere around the tail end of the seventeenth century, when it seems to occur to the collective self-preservation of settler society, that by using a system of white slavery (indentured servitude), they were recreating the same class contradictions that had prevailed back in England. The colonists would have thought that at least a couple of things were wrong with that: 1) They were reproducing the same social class system which had led to their own very dispossession; it was the whole reason that they were not in England anymore; for those of you who have been following this series, I'm talking about the overwhelming social force of the relentless grind machine of the agricultural revolution-facilitated, primogeniture-driven enclosure movement, the privatization of the commonly-held lands; and 2) Something we will look at later is that the use of "white" indentured servitude actually leaves the settler elite open to two- and three-pronged attacks on their position and the system they head; I'm not only speaking of the slave revolts of the black-skinned slaves; and not only the revolts of the white-skinned indentured servants. Oftentimes, black-skinned slaves and white-skinned servants saw enough commonality in their lots, that they would work together, run away together and revolt together, striking at the system. Sometimes the interracial cooperation would include Indians.
As for the matter of religion, colonists of the North American mainland very wisely moved to freedom of religion. Basically, the settlers no longer need that as a tool to forge national unity.
Consider this. In countries of Western Europe, where the populations were, perhaps 90-95 percent---or higher---white-skinned people, if you are the ruler(s), you want to know "who's with you and who's against you," and all that. In countries that are so ethnically uniform, a good way to gauge "loyalty," and "nationalism," is religion, profession of faith.
However, in a country like the United States, much more "multicultural" from the start, in terms of having large numbers of people with different skin colors, not only do you not need to organize on the basis of religion; but it may even be dangerous for you to do so.
If the settlers had continued to use religion as a basis of national unity, this would have gotten in the way of other goals, in a "multicultural" landscape.
The settlers want to come into possession of the vast lands of what would become the United States of America. If the settlers had continued bickering among themselves about religion, as they were doing in Europe, this would have left them vulnerable to a two-pronged counteroffensive of blacks and Indians, before whom the settlers would have "fallen divided."
Instead of organizing on the basis of religion, therefore, it eventually occurred to the settlers to organize on the basis of the one immutable thing that they have in common, be they English, Irish, German, French, Swedish, and so on: skin color. Now it was enough that they all shared "a common European heritage."
And so, thusly fortified, the settlers were in the best possible strategic position to replace European indentured servitude with the exclusive enslavement of black-skinned Africans and their descendants.
By making these changes the settlers have jettisoned the social structures that were proving to be so destabilizing in Europe.
As we will see later in this series, this society that the settlers construct is the society that rescued untold millions of "white-skinned" Europeans from a miserable, under caste existence. This is done by setting aside the litmus test of religion in favor of religious freedom. And this is done by replacing religion as a tool of national unity, with skin color. And this is done by putting concrete policies in place which literally made a white skin and/or a "white" identity, which delivered concrete and relatively advantageous (which is to say, giving one a leg up on others not definable as "white") benefits upon whomever it is conferred.
This is the society that the settlers are interested in preserving when the year 1776 rolls around.
Here's the thing. The creation of a society in which one color, black, is seen to be the very source of slave labor,---which thereby taints even "free" blacks as inferior---a society was created in which even the most humble now "white" person knew that he was better than any black, Indian, or "person of color," for that matter. This new social, legal, and political orientation has also, theoretically, provided a social and economic floor beneath which and through which, the most humble of "white-skinned" folk will not be allowed to fall.
Class differences within the now designated American "white" race, are still there, of course, but not so blatantly visible as they had been back in England.
So, from the point of view of the settlers on the North American mainland, then, is that they have put together a society that has jettisoned much of the social instability of the "Old World," and liberated untold millions of former "white-skinned" indentured servants from under caste status.
By declaring blacks and Indians non-citizens, the settlers and their descendants can, effectively, "hoard" democracy for themselves. By the way, for those of you who've been following this series, that is the answer to the question: What did Southerners mean when they said, on the eve of the Civil War, that democracy had been made possible by slavery---maximum democracy for "white-skinned" folks, including those who had been liberated from under caste status.
If blacks and Indians are not citizens, they are not a legitimate part of the scramble to own land. Remember, these settlers in 1776, have family memories of government (England) throwing them off their land (enclosure).
Of course, the whole reason England even created overseas colonies is the overwhelming social force of the relentless grind machine of the agricultural revolution-facilitated, primogeniture-driven enclosure movement, privatizing the commonly-held lands.
This process, is, of course putting a tremendous population-ejective pressure on English society. The enclosure process is steadily separating people from making a livelihood on the land, and simultaneously pauperizing and oftentimes criminalizing them. England cannot ship them out of the country fast enough, to enough places all over the world.
But still, having said all of this, England was at no time ever saying 'Good Riddance Forever' to these people. London still considers them British citizens, and expect the colonists to act like it, by, namely, remaining loyal to the England.
From the point of view of the settlers, its like that old song, ("You just keep me hangin' on"?) or "Should I stay or should I go."
London never wants their colonists to split off and form a separate country. They especially do not want this in the eighteenth century, well into the midst of the capitalist era. London is not interested in the American settlers developing into a separate, independent country that can compete with Britain on a capitalist economic basis, to say nothing of military and other bases.
When you think of the American Revolution of 1776-1783 think TENSION! Think CONTRADICTION!
On the one hand England has pushed millions of its citizens out the door to spots all over the world----again due to the process of the overwhelming social force of the relentless grind machine of the agricultural revolution-facilitated, primogeniture-driven enclosure movement.
On the other hand England will not "let them go."
Okay, we have more to do in part eight.
Thank you so much for reading.
See you in part eight!
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