Early rebellions- 1676 Nat. Bacon in Virgina, led by frontiersman demanding fair taxes, freer trade. Joined by armed servants, black slaves. “Such revolts would likely have become chronic throughout the colonial period had planters not imported ever more black slaves to provide the labor upon which the southern economy was built.” (Boo149) Common hatred of merchants
A Rebellious People-
Dutch burghers- ancestors had fought Spanish oppression
Lutheran, Anabaptist Germans- radical traditions back to the Peasant War
“Collectively, colonial Americans were a highly adventurous,
largely plebian people, however much their elites aspired to the staid
aristocratic ways of
“Authority was based upon the direct face-to-face democracy of the community, and delegation of representation was strictly mandated by the town meeting itself.” (Book 152)
Newer colonial settlements
New York, Maryland- semi-feudal manorial landlords
Initially 13 colonies, 3 political types
Corperate- New Engl. Autonomous self-governing assemblies
Charles and Mary Beard: “in the representative assemblies
were brought to a focus the designs and passions of those rising economic
groups which gave strength to
Colonial resistance, events leading up to the War
British policy- pillage
Navigation Acts- American ships barred from shipping goods to Non-British ports,
1660-1696 legislation required buying manufactured goods
The Crown prohibited growth of industry, going “so far as to
Nav. Acts not strictly enforced, infractions were chronic.
Smuggling so prevalent, it even gained prestige. In 1763, 97% of molasses imported smuggled
1756-1763- French and Indian War
Brits began enforcing Nav. Acts to cover war debts,
“reinforced by the Monarchy’s political need to create a more authoritarian
regime at home and abroad… Where once
Resistance to Taxation
Tory Prime minister George Grenville, anticipating resistance, put 10,000 Brit soldiers in colonial ports.
1755- “writs of assistance” allowed search of ships, wharves, warehouses, retail outlets, even homes, for smuggled goods. Riots broke out. Anti-brit sentiment.
1763- all lands west of
Without stamps sold by government appointed dealers all goods, even legal documents were no longer valid.
“Taxation without Representation”- opposition grew
Seen as political challenge to Englishmen’s rights
Clubs started to oppose, e.g. Sons of Liberty. As south as
Declaratory Act repealed stamp Act, “affirmed the House’s absolute right to inflict any legislation” “in all cases whatsoever” (book 166)
1767- Townshend Act- new tariffs. Sparke boycott of British goods.
1772- Crown “all salaries of call colonial judges paid by the Crown” not assemblies
Committees of Correspondence- 80 Massu. Towns, discuss, articulate and formulate their political principles in written statements. An immense political education for the colonists.
Model for Revolutionary organization-
1773, Virgina est. C. of Corres. Intercolonial solidarity
1773- new tea act, low prices on tea- saw as affront to the boycott
Com. Of Corr. Called a “Meeting of the People” in
Separate from the Town meeting, it was extralegal.
1774- Intolerable Acts (also known as the Coercive Acts),
led to increased Colonial Rebellion – Daily riots, men began to collect arms. Town meetings continued to meet.
By summer of 1774- “Functioning essentially as confederations of municipalities, the conventions were themselves managed like town meetings, with elected moderators, reporting committees, and open votes, constituting a far-flung direct democracy.” (book 171)
Militias formed who elected officers
By 1774, Com. Of Corr. In all but one colony.
1774, October. Provincial congress
The Continental Congress, first one on
“Created new government for each colony, mobilized continental army, formed an intercolonial confederation, opened ports to word trade” King said, “The die is now cast. The colonies must either submit or triumph.”(book 173)
1775, April 18-
Contradictions in All their fancy words
“When egalitarianism is the point of division, men such as
Hamilton and Adams appear closer to the Loyalists than they do to Paine. Such a
conclusion would strengthen the theory that the Revolution was a fight over the
‘true constitution of the
Anti-populism in Constitutions
-qualifications higher for electors, members of upper houses higher for the lower houses and terms generally longer
Even if every person could vote, “Throughout America, custom
and law dictated the perpetuation in power of a ruling oligarchy similar in
profile to the exclusive club which ruled
“An examination of six pre-Revolutionary legislatures shows that the ‘economic elite’ comprising the top 10 percent of the population held 85% of the seats.” (Lem 8)
Following Locke (and directly quoting him in the Declaration), the Fore Fathers thought revolution “only permissible” after “a long train of Abuses” (Lem 10)
Francis Jennings, in discussion of Indian’s in the American Revolutions, calls the Revolution a “multiplicity of variously oppressed and exploited peoples who preyed upon each other.” (Zinn 88)
“The American Revolution (like most colonial independence movements) was waged by a coalition of diverse social groups, united in the desire for American independence but with additional aims that were in conflict.” (Lynd 50)
“The popular elements in this coalition- small farmers and
city artisans- often clashed with their upper-class leaders and fear of what
the Declaration of Independence calls ‘convulsions within’ and ‘domestic
insurrections against us’ was a principle motive for the formation of the
“What the Revolution did was to create a space and opportunity for blacks to begin making demands of white society.” (Zinn 88) True of society in general.
“Following the natural rights doctrines of the times…” Personal liberty was conflated with social freedom (e.g. ambiguity of the declaration of independence) (book 176)
Distinction not made until socialism in 19th century, “for whom the individual divested of a social context was an abstraction.”
“For the American Revolution, it was a question of whether the new government was to constitute a realm of its own for the ‘public happiness’ of its citizens, or whether it had been devised solely to serve and ensure their pursuit of private happiness more effectively than had the old regime.” (Arr 133)
Emphasis of government shifted “from a share in public affairs for the sake of public happiness to a guarantee that the pursuit of private happiness would be protected and furthered by public power.” … pursuit of happiness “was almost immediately deprived of its double sense and understood as the right of citizens to pursue their personal interests and thus to act according to the rules of private self-interest. And those rules, whether they spring from the dark desires of the heart or from the obscure necessities of the household, have never been notably ‘enlightened.’” (Arr 135)
Whigs like John Locke- men of independent property enjoyed hella freedom
Americans saw monarchy as denying the “rights of Englishmen”
“regarded the royal power as self-aggrandizing, seeking to expand itself at their expense.” (book 177)
In Common Sense, Tom Paine spoke of freedom as a fugitive. (book 180)
BUT “the American analysis of their liberty was based on a fallacy. The colonists had depended much less on the existing English constitution for the preservation of their liberties than on the ‘benign neglect’” (book 180)
Everyone believed in property as a natural right of man but, “The notion that property was sacred was thus highly elastic: it could be used effectively by precapitalist strata (farmers) to hold on to their property as it could by capitalist strata to expand their holdings.” “’Property’ included a man’s life, social status, liberties and personal esteem as well as material holdings.”(book 188)
But fought the war?
Accounts differ. Zinn highlights the discrepancies in class, quoting John Shy. Murray Bookchin, on the hand, stresses the importance of the militia as having educated people in the democratic process.
Conclusion- it depends on where you look. A chaplain quoted
by Zinn, observing the exercises of George Washington’s army, wrote, “New
lords, new laws. The strictest government in taking place and great distinction
is made between officers & men. Everyone is made to know his place &
keep it, or be immediately tied up, and receive not one by 30 or 40 lashes.”
with the Revolution,
John Shy: “Revoltionary America may have been a middle class society, happier and more prosperous than any other in its time, but it contained a large and growing number of fairly poor people, and many of them did much of the actual fighting and suffering between 1775 and 1783: a very old story.” (Zinn 79)
Shy says: “The mechanism of their political conversion was the militia.” (Zinn 79)
“Here in the war for liberty was conscription, as usual, cognizant of wealth.” (Zinn 79)
10% of the white population, large landholders and merchants owned 50% of the wealth (Zinn 80)
-To run governor, you had to own 5,000 pounds of property
-To run for the state senate, 1,000 pounds
-90% of the population excluded from holding office
George Washington was the richest man in
Carl Degler says “No new social class came to power through the door of the revolution.” (Zinn 85)
“On the other hand, town mechanics, laborers, and seamen, as
well as small farmers, were swept into ‘the people’ by the rhetoric of the
Revolution, by the camaraderie of military service, by the distribution of some
land. Thus was created a substantial body of support, a national consensus,
something that, even with the exclusion of ignored and oppressed people, could
be called ‘
Jefferson, who owned over 250 slaves,
“The insistence on bicameralism and on checks and balances within the government is narrow when viewed from the perspective of those who attempted to make government more strictly accountable to the people: if a single assembly is, indeed, ‘liable to all the vices, follies, and frailties of an individual,’ thinkers within a broader vision than Adams would attempt to check it from below- with more democracy- rather than from above, with less… While others were trying to make society over, Adams focused on the ‘depravity’ of human nature and the inequalities among men (which he felt he could perceive in four-day-old infants); certain that there would always be inequalities of wealth and that human nature as it will be was the same as human nature as it has been and is, he proceeded to erect a government structure which, by accepting and institutionalizing the inequalities, in a sense helped to guarantee that they would endure.” (Lem 14-15)
1776, January. Reached nearly 100,000 readers.
Saw tyranny as endemic to kings. Monarchy is a “political superfluity.” (book 182)
Called for a republic.
John Adam’s described Paine as “a mongrel between Pigg and Puppy, begotten by a wild boar on a Bitch Wolf.” (Lem 10) complained that this “was so democratical, without any restraint or even an attempt at equilibrium or counterpoise, that it must produce confusion and every evil work.” (book 183) Instead, a month before Declaration of Independence, John Adams preached obedience: “how much soever I may heretofore have found fault with the powers that were, I suppose I shall be well pleased to hear submission inculcated to the powers that are.” (Lem 10)
Paine’s “thoughts present an alternative and a standard by which to judge the thought of the other leaders of the Revolution, for most of whom Locke went far enough.”
“All these activities on the part of the disenfranchised, or the hitherto politically inactive, accustomed men to taking part in public affairs as never before; and it gave them an appetite for more. From the beginning of the crisis in 1774 onward, more and more ‘new men,’ which was the politest name their opponents called them, played an evermore active role, both on the level of practical politics and on the level of political theory. They began writing about talking about what they called ‘democracy.’ And this was a frightening experience, not only to the conservative-minded leaders of the colonies but to many of the popular leaders as well.” (Jensen 82)
“The people on the bottom of the conflict were also involved in the struggle for home rule, but their activities have been made to seem an extension of the conduct of the more articulate, who have been seen as their manipulators. The inarticulate could act on their own, and often for very sound reasons.” (Lem 19)
Committee of Safety
Temporary executive authority to meet the growing needs of the revolutionary cause. Officials elected annually, directed local militias, rooted out, dealt with Tories. Served as revolutionary dual power on every level of sovereignty, county, local, provincial.
“As avidly as people all strata of American society united to fight the British for independence, many were also fighting to alter their society at home- to eliminate privilege and create a polity that lived up to the ideals of liberty and popular sovereignty enunciated in the Declaration of Independence.”
What kind of republic??
Assholes like “Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, James Duane, John Dickenson and Robert Morris could have easily became loyalists, so abhorrent were the ‘mob’ and ‘democracy’ in their eyes.” (Book 205)
Radical patriots vs. Consv. Whigs
Radicals asked: “Would the new independent republics retain politically powerful elites that might well become bastions of privilege, corruption and even tyranny in their own right?” (book 205) would they encompass a broad male citizenry?
Whigs asked: “Can we make ‘checks and balances’ to prevent the ‘mob’ from gaining power- and keep an unchecked majority from forming a tyranny in its own right?” “Would the independent republics protect large landholdings and mercantile wealth against ‘the people,’ whom might try to undermine privilege?” (book 205)
Merchants, landowners had formed Sons of Liberty, encouraged demonstrations against the Stamp Act
Carl Becker, The
History of Political Parties in the
“But when the destruction of property began to be relished
for its own sake by those who had property, and the cry of
Dilemma of the conservatives:
“the pattern of maintaining their privileges against royal encroachment from above without losing them by popular encroachment from below.” (book 206)
sought to control the independence movement, ran 51 nominees in the committee of correspondence
“A genuine class conflict existed in
-no town meetings,
-“the tidewater aristocracy had constructed a system in which all political authority at the local level rested with officials in the county courts, such as magistrates, clerks, registers of deeds, sheriffs and constables.”
-most county authorities appointed by the governor
-overcharged people for services- scandalous extortion ring
-sheriffs embezzled tax revenues
REGULATOR REVOLT of 1768-1770
“associations” (militias) of farmers demanding open public accounting of county finance
1770- invaded the county seat of Orange Country, removed by the justices, tried cases on the docket themselves.
Marvin L. Michael Kay considers the Regulators “class-conscious white farmers in the west who attempted to democratize local government in their respective countries,” referring to themselves as “poor Industrious peasants,” “labourers,” the wretched poor,” “oppressed” by “rich and powerful… designing Monsters.” (Zinn 63)
State assembly passed a riot act, preventing groups of more than ten people. Governor organized a military force, crushed them. As a result, MANY FARMERS SIDED WITH THE BRITISH.
The Example of
Backwoods yeoman fought for independence, political power from oligarchs in Philly.
“More than any other province,
-as late at 1774, Quakers merchants, lawyers ruled,
-suffrage based on high property qualification for Philly residents, only 1/3 white males could vote
-Western inhabitants grossly underrepresented in colonial assembly
-Quakers, 1/10 population, controlled more than 1/3 of assembly reps
Pennsylvania Whigs had abandoned British boycott in Sept. 1770, which destroyed merchants reputation
When resistance to
In response, Gov. Thomas Penn, who had at first refused to call the assembly, called it after all, and it was dominated by conservative Whigs. At the same time in Philly, there were two competing conventions.
“In time the revolutionary committees become the real government of the colony.” (Book 216)
Militias, “Associations” which formed after Battle of
The pacifist Quaker elite had failed to conduct the war with
“In particular, the Assembly insulted the Philly Associators
by continuing to deny them the right to vote… Arguments for independence in
May 1776, “The radicals now decided to remove the conservatives from power by force, seize sovereignty in the state, and establish an independent revolutionary government.” (Book 220)
The continental congress was willing to help
“The constitution they established was the most democratic that any American state had created up to that time… closing resembling the model Paine had recommended in Common Sense.” (book 221)
“…a Privates Committee urged voters to oppose ‘great an overgrown rich men… they will be too apt to be framing distinctions in society.’”
They also drew up a Bill of Rights which stated that “an
enormous proportion of property vested in a few individuals is dangerous to the
rights, and destructive of the common happiness, of mankind; and therefore
Lemisch writes, quoting one unsympathic to the constitution, A constitution drawn on the principle that “any man, even the most illiterate, is as capable of any office as a person who has had the benefit of education.” (Lem 12)
It’s enemies called it “a poor man’s constitution,” and rightfully so (Lem 12)
The Preamble and Declaration of Rights laid out a system “without partiallity [sic] for or prejudice against any particular class, sect or denomination of Men whatever.” “Government is or ought to be Instituted for the Common Benefit Protection and Security of the People, Nation or Community, and not for the particular Emolument or advantage of any Single man, Family, or set of Men, who are a part only of that Community.” (Lem 12)
“Various officeholders were made more accountable- to meet ‘the danger of Establishing an inconvenient Aristocracy”-by rotation in office and limits on terms, while other provisions abolished imprisonment for debt and established the rights of the conscientious objector.” (Lem 12)
“Conservative Whigs got it replaced with a convetional ‘checks and balances’ constitution in 1790.” ( book 221)
Shay’s Rebellion and the Constitution of 1789
What kind of republic??
Moderate whigs- strong, unitary centralized republic. John Adams, James Wilson, Gouverneur Morris, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay
Quasi-confederal republic: Patrick Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Christopher Gadsen
Nobody, however, “favored building the new republic upon the institutional machinery of the Revolution, notably the town meetings, popular assemblies, conventions and the far flung committee system.” (book 226)
Few even held the word democracy in esteem
“State governments made resolute and largely successful efforts to replace the town meetings and popular assemblies with a system of mayors and city councils” (book 227)
Christopher Gadsen wrote that any man, “whatever station his country may have put him in during the war,” should fall “cheerfully into the ranks again,” “sacrificing… all resentments and private feelings to the good of the State…” (book 227)
“The conflict over municipal self-government was essentially a dual between the wealthy and the relatively poor: in nearly all cases the commercial and patrician strata of the population furiously opposed civic democracy, while less fortunate artisans, laborers, radical intellectuals, and farmers firmly supported it.” (Book 227)
In Massu., John Adams and James Bowdin- new state constitution
-raised property qualifications for voting by 50% and required sizable estates for holding senatorial, representative and gubernational offices, reflecting merchant and lawyer and the well-to-do’s interests.
Articles of Confederation ratified 1781
Reflected confederalists, not centralists
-preserved state powers against central authority BUT not decentralized to the point where power resulted in towns and countries.
“After exploring their common ground, the officers and financers agreed that the army should not disband until it had been paid, and if it were not paid, the officers should use the military to establish a strong central government which could meet its demands- and, needless to emphasize, those of the government’s creditors.” (Book 230)
Early 1780’s- market economy began pentrating. Yeomen began losing landholdings, cattle, homes, furniture. Meanwhile, the Massu. General Court imposed taax burden on land rather than on salable stock.
Many farmers were vets of the Revolution
Resistance broke out, calls for county conventions
The urban commercial centers viewed them as appeals from an archaic world, resisted the peaceful petitions
Late summer of 1786, Massachussets. Yeomanry formed militias, closed down courts. Started calling themselves Regulators. History calls them Shaysites.
Militias organized along libertarian lines, shut down court houses.
“The commercial strata on the seaboard and in the inland market towns responded to these developments with virtual hysteria, raising cries of ‘anarchy’ and actually voicing appeals to replace the Commonwealth with a monarchy.” (Book 236)
Legislature passed a riot act- outlawed any gathering authorities didn’t like
Tracked down by one General Benjamin Lincoln who surprised
them at camp with 3,000 troops from
Shaysites: “Their notions of property were imbued by a sense of strong moral responsibilities for the land, the community and communal lifeways and come close to a form of simple usufruct rather than production for gain.” (book 238)
Henry Knox wrote to
Alexander Hamilton: “Nothing but a permanent body can check the impudence of democracy.” (Zinn 97)
Constitution of 1789 (defeat for democracy)
The Shaysite rebellion portrayed the Articles of Confed. as unworkable, chaotic
Edmund Randolph: “The chief danger [in the present situation] arises from the democratic parts of our [state] constitutions. It is a maxim which I hold incontrovertible that the powers of government exercised by the people swallows up the other branches. None of the constitutions have provided sufficient checks against the democracy.” (Book 239)
James Madision: “Government is constituted to protect property of every sort. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own.” (Book 240)
“The wealthy and well-educated elite of the new nation… convoked an extralegal convention to create a new, basically nationalistic, constitution. If ‘the people’ could call conventions in the name of preserving liberties, the wealthy felt free to call them in the name of protecting property.” (book 240)
May 26-Sept. 27, 1787 Constitutional Convention, was drawn up in secret
“Given this procedure and all the maneuvering surrounding the Convention, it is not lurid to consider it a conspiracy by a self-interested elite against the people and the governing institutions of the Confederation.” (Book 241)
Patrick Henry declined to attend with the remark, “I smell a rat.”
To James Madison: “pure democracy- a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and conrt results from the form of government itself.”
Practicability of democracy a question of size, scale
“If man were angels, no government would be necessary.”
Therefore, separating and playing powers against one another in government is necessary, creating, at the Constitutional Congress, a centralized state.
The term “federalist” used instead of “nationalist”.
“Thus was an illegal act, the closed and far-ranging Convention, compounded by a demagogic act of misrepresentation.” (book 242)
Federalists undertook radical slogans and measures to gain popular support, like Thomas Paine’s “The government is best which governs the least.”
“Elite and well-to-do sectors of the population mobilized in great force to support an instrument that clearly benefited them at the expense of the backcounty agrarians and urban poor. A powerful centralized government would be able to establish a sound, well-regulated currency, make international treaties that favored commerce, establish a transportation system that penetrated into the interior of the continent with potentially inexhaustible land, and mobilize troops to not only deal with domestic unrest but to wage expansionist territorial wars.” (Book 243)
Charles Beard found that most of the makers of the Constitution had direct economic interest in strong federal government.
-Manufacturers needed protective tariffs
-Moneylenders didn’t want paper money
-Land speculators wanted protection on Indian lands
-Slave owners needed federal security for revolts, runaways
-bond holders wanted nation-wide taxation
“The Constitution, then, illustrates the complexity of the American system: that it serves the interests of a wealthy elite, but also does enough for small property owners, for middle-income mechanics and farmers, to build a broad base of support. The slightly prosperous people who make up this base of support are buffers against the blacks, the Indians, the very poor whites. They enable the elite to keep control with a minimum of coercion, a maximum of law-all made palatable by the fanfare of patriotism and unity.” (Zinn 99)
1798 – Sedition Act under John Adams, a crime to say anything scandalous and malicious against the government, Congress, or the president, with intent to defame them, bring them into disrepute or excite popular hatreds against them.
“That if any person shall write, print, utter. Or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them. or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done in pursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the constitution of the United States, or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act, or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nation against the United States, their people or government, then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.”
“Despite the bourgeois, commercial and later imperialistic society that emerged in the following decades, the American Revolution had produced a remarkably multilayered governmental system: within the centralized republic existed instrumentalities for creating a fairly decentralized democracy. Whether this structure can continue to exist and its democratic features be expounded at the expense of the centralized nation-state remains the most uncertain and undecided legacy of the Revolution to this very day.” (Book 244)
Introduction: “Reformers and radicals, looking discontentedly at history, are often accused of expecting too much from a past political epoch- and sometimes they do. But the point of noting those outside the arc of human rights in the Declaration is not, centuries late and pointlessly, to lay impossible moral burdens on that time. It is to try and understand the way in which the Declaration functioned to mobilize certain groups of Americans, ignoring others. Surely, inspirational language to create a secure consensus is still used, in our time, to cover up serious conflicts of interest in that consensus, and to cover up, also, the omission of large parts of the human race.” (Zinn 73)
“Only where this pathos of novelty is present and where novelty is connected with the idea of freedom,” writes Hannah Arendt, “are we entitled to speak of revolution. This means of course that revolutions are more than successful insurrections and that we are not justified in calling every coup d’etat a revolution or even in detecting one in each civil war. Oppressed people have often risen in rebellion, and much of ancient legislation can be understood only as safeguards against the ever-feared, though rarely occurring,
Arendt, Hannah. On
Bookchin, Murray. The
Third Revolution: Popular Movements in the Revolutionary Era. Vol.2
Jensen, Merril. “The Revolution as a Democratic Movement.”
In The American Revolution: How Revolutionary was it?, ed. George Athan Billias.
Lemisch, Jesse. “The American Revolution Seen from the
Bottom Up.” In Towards a New Past: Dissenting Essays in American
History, ed. Barton J. Bernstein.
Lynd, Straughton. “Beyond Beard.” In Towards a New Past: Dissenting Essays in American History, ed. Barton J. Bernstein.
Zinn, Howard. A
People’s History of the