The American Revolution Reconsidered: Part Thirty-Three: More on The Usual Suspects
Here's what I've been doing in this series:
In trying to understand the American Revolution of 1776-1783, I have been trying to understand what kind of people the settlers, who revolted against the Crown, were. Who were these people? What seemed to make them 'tick,' as it were.
I proceeded by asking what I consider to be the primordial question, if you will. That is: Why did England create overseas colonies in the first place?
The basic answer I came up with comes from a paper by Simon Fairlie: "A Short History of Enclosure in Britain." I am speaking of the enclosure movement undertaken by the English central government between the early 1500s to 1850. We are talking about the privatization of the common lands and the destruction of the collective land management system that had been in the hands of workaday Englishmen.
For me, this begged the question: Why did the central government engage in this massive land privatization?
The basic answer to that question I came up with was this: The central government of England engaged in enclosure in order to ameliorate the circumstances of those people I have called the "noble and gentry siblings."
England had the system of inheritance known as male-preference primogeniture. This means that the first-born son gets everything, complete control of the estate left behind by the father. In the case of aristocratic families, the first-born son even got the title; and all of his siblings were legally known as "commoners."
Stay with me, this is just a little light review
Those "noble and gentry siblings" are all the non-first-born, who were left out of the inheritance of their fathers, by the law of primogeniture. This group were not the only ones who would have been adversely affected by this rule of inheritance in England; its just that, in my opinion, the noble and gentry siblings would have been in the best position to squawk about it and be that squeaky wheel getting the oil.
Now then, up until about 1432 or so, there had been an outlet for the siblings. There had been a way for them to get a stake of their own. There had been what you might think of as a militarized version of the agricultural common property system.
This "militarized version" is something I call the territorial loan system. I am talking about the lord-vassal relationship that had existed within the order of so-called feudalism.
A man with some horses, friends with swords, and whatever else was required, offered his services to a man of higher rank. The former seeks to make himself the vassal of the later.
The lord then gives his sworn vassal some lands to administrate for him, on his behalf. The vassal essentially "rents" this territory and gets the use of it.
Oftentimes the temptation to revolt was overwhelming. The lord was seldom in a position to do anything about it; and in that way, the "loan" became to actual property of the former "vassal."
In any case, when England lost the Hundred Years War against France in 1432, that social order came to an end. This means that the siblings had lost a major outlet for their material strivings. It is my belief that England initially embarked upon an expansionary, imperial course, as a way of oiling that "squeaky wheel."
So, with the end of this "militarized territorial loan/common property system," the siblings, sort of, moved to a strategy of securing private property. That is to say, since their "common" property system came to an end, the siblings, effectively, decided to end it for everybody else below them on the social scale --- for the purpose of acquiring a, perhaps, newly conceived "private" property for themselves.
Does that make sense?
Okay, then the central government gets going with the enclosures.
It seems to me, that at least those Englishmen who were dispossessed and made into economic refugees by this process, and sent overseas (a disproportionate percentage as indentured servants) --- adapted and accepted the logic of privatization as a matter of survival.
Transplanted to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, having been cut off from their rights under the common property system, what the settlers want now is a fair shot at acquiring "private property." In other words, I'm saying that the settlers were cut off from their rights of common property; and adopted, by way of reaction, the logic of private property.
Are you following me? Is that clear? That is my theory, in any case.
The problem the settlers face is that there are a number of circumstances standing in the way of the colonists in acquiring private property.
1. The Indians preponderance of force in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which prevented settler westward expansion.
2. The tendency of English and European indentured servants to run away or revolt.
3. The tendency of African slaves to run away or revolt.
4. The tendency of African slaves and Euro-American indentured servants to revolt or run away together.
5. The tendency of Indians, African slaves, and Euro-American servants to run away or revolt all together.
6. The presence of royally-appointed officials in the colonies, who were been given or amassing for themselves a wildly disproportionate share of private property, at the expense of those below them; remember, the lower orders would also like to get a chance to acquire private property.
7. The colonists were required to pay taxes for the upkeep of British forces on "American" soil.
8. There was the constant threat of press gangs, snatching up people, kidnapping them to work for the British navy.
9. The tendency of their British overlords to actually ally with the Indians, as a check on British settler expansion.
10. The French, Spanish, and British are contesting against one another in North America and the Caribbean, for preeminence in the Western Hemisphere.
11. There were armed Africans all over the place. For example, those of you who've been following this series, know that I previously mentioned and documented the fact that black, French-speaking Haitian troops, under Euro-French command, helped out the rebels in the American Revolution.
Those of you who've been following this series, will recall that I previously mentioned and documented for you, the fact that the Spanish had sponsored an African slave revolt, on the North American mainland, that has been called Stono's Revolt, in 1739 in South Carolina. They made their way down to Spanish-controlled Florida, and set themselves up in Fort Mose (pronounced Mo-zay). I mentioned that they were given land north of St. Augustine, in exchange for their oath to defend the interests of the Spanish Crown with their lives.
That sounds dangerous. Assuming both parties held up their end of the bargain, we must assume that these Spanish-sponsored, armed Africans carried out certain missions on behalf of Spain in North America. By the way, as I also mentioned and documented previously, that black community north of St. Augustine was the first free, legal African community anywhere in what would become the United States of America.
Those of you who've been following this series, will, perhaps, recall that I previously mentioned and documented the fact that in November of 1775, the royal governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore also expressed a willingness to arm Africans. He issued a proclamation offering freedom to slaves and Indentured servants, if they would take up arms on behalf of the Crown, and fight the rebellious settlers.
Three hundred black slaves were eventually inducted into Dunmore's "Ethiopian Regiment," armed and outfitted in uniforms inscribed with the words, "Liberty to Slaves" (1).
Here's the point
Armed Africans were not such a contradiction in the French and Spanish jurisdictions in the Western Hemisphere. The reason for this, as we have discussed previously, is because, although the French and Spanish had set up social orders in the Caribbean and Latin America which were based on African slavery, these systems of rule also allowed for the social mobility of a sector of the African population, especially those mixed race Afro-Europeans known as "coloreds" or "mulattoes."
The demographic situation in the Caribbean and to a certain extent, Latin America, had required the French and Spanish to draft a segment of the oppressed population in order to maintain social control.
In the North American mainland, the demographic situation decisively favored the European settlers over the Africans. The settler elite never had to draft a segment of the African population to its side, in order to maintain social control. There were many more poor European "whites" suitable for this purpose.
For this reason, the social order that the American settlers put together made virtually no room for the upward social mobility of any segment of the African population, and not even mixed race people. In America, the "one-drop rule" prevailed. For this reason, armed Africans were a horrendous contradiction for the North American settlers.
Armed Africans contradicted everything the settlers of the North American mainland believed in. The American settlers had set up a social and economic system based on the relentless oppression of and despotism toward anyone with any discernible African ancestry.
The eleven points I offered (perhaps there are more) represent fundamental impositions and contradictions that will have to be cleaned up before the settlers of the North American mainland can finally be freed to pursue the acquisition of private property in an unfettered way. The settlers have only two choices: revolt or utter capitulation to London. There is no third way.
Okay, let's take a look at some more of the traditional reasons given for the American Revolution of 1776-1783.
Let's see, the English Parliament, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was made up primarily of wealthy landowners, merchants, and manufacturers; and the body passed many laws intended to protect and extend those monopoly interests (2).
One set of laws required that all goods imported to the colonies from Europe or Asia, first had to pass through England; and specified that products exported from the colonies also had to be sent to England first. The Navigation Acts required that all goods shipped to and from the colonies be carried on English or colonial ships, manned by English or colonial crews (3).
Although the setters had the necessary raw materials, they were forbidden to produce their own caps, hats, and woolen and iron goods. Raw materials were shipped from the colonies to England for manufacture; and then the finished products would be sent back to the colonies (4).
Two Very Big Caveats:
I. First of all, those "mercantilist" concerns (some of you may remember the term "mercantilism" from your eighth grade social studies classes) do not seem, to me, to be a very big deal, frankly. That is to say, they do not appear to be fundamental to the settlers ability to acquire private property, one way or another, in my opinion.
What is fundamental to the settlers' ability to acquire private property, is London's tendency to side with Indian tribes, to check the westward expansion of their own settlers. Those of you who have been following this series, know that I have previously discussed this in connection with Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia, of 1676.
II. Here is where one wants to be careful about projecting our modern sensibilities upon the past. What I mean to say is that we get upset about these mercantilist policies of London, from our vantage point of living in a world of full-blown capitalism.
Do you know what I mean?
The world of the late eighteenth century is not a world of full-blown capitalism. In fact, I would argue that England did not see full-blown capitalism before the 1880s; and that the United States did not see it before the 1920s.
If you define capitalism as the "ism of capital," which is the economic practice of trying to realize continual, repeated, and ever-increasing profit on investment---as I do (I went into more detail in another essay: "The ISM of Capital")---then you understand the problem of capitalism's origins is complicated.
In one sense capitalism has always existed since there have been merchants, professionals devoted to "buying low, selling high," and all that.
What has not always existed was the general belief that capitalism, the attempted realization of continual, repeated, ever-increasing profit on investment, is socially legitimate and even laudable. For this reason, "capitalism," for most of human history, certainly before the nineteenth century, had been confined to the shadowy corners, to be engaged upon by the socially compromised, the merchant class. They were not quite at the bottom of the social scale, but they were pretty close to the bottom.
In any case, I would argue that "capitalism" did not come into general social legitimacy before the 1880s in England and the 1920s in the United States. This is because the periods of the 1880s (in England) and the 1920s (in the United States) are when the consumer society is installed.
Basically, with the installation of the consumer society, it becomes legitimate for business to profit by "giving the public what it wants." At this point people buy things not just out of need and utility, but also out of ego and desire.
Anyway, the "mercantilist" concerns I alluded to, would have only been of a very technical concern to a small minority --- since constant profiteering on investment was not, at that time, generally socially legitimate.
I have mentioned taxes previously. But I will discuss the matter again, in part thirty-four.
So long for now.
Thank you for reading!
1. (PBS) Africans in America: Revolution: Proclamation of Earl of Dunmore 1775. Retrieved August 11, 2015.
2. Korten, David C. When Corporations Rule the World. Berrett-Koehler & Kumarian Press, 1995. 55
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