Completing the American Revolution
Completing the American Revolution
Americans are conditioned to see our present form of government as a representative democracy. We're almost incapable of understanding that:
We live in a plutocracy
The United States Constitution was deliberately constructed so that the nation is ruled by the wealthy
The Two American Revolutions
We've been taught to believe that there was only one American Revolution, a struggle to throw off the tyrannies of Great Britain. And relative to that revolution, we're conditioned to believe that the heroes were revolutionary patriots such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Sam Adams, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Otis, the Sons of Liberty, and the Committees of Correspondence.
But in reality there were two American Revolutions:
The revolt against British oppression by Americans
The revolt against wealthy American merchants and financiers by working class people of America
The first American Revolution was completed with the end of the Revolutionary War in 1781. The second American Revolution is seldom if ever taught in our schools. Because it would make clear just what kind of a country this is: a plutocracy--the rule of the wealthy. And it's this second American Revolution which we must now complete. Only a few of its battles have been won and much work remains in our efforts to rid ourselves of the ideology and practice of plutocracy: predatory capitalism and political fascism.
"We see then, that in the context of the struggle for independence, the specific aspirations of common people put them into conflict with the people we think of as the 'Founding Fathers' or Framers. The Sons of Liberty, the Loyal Nine, and the Boston Committee of Correspondence and other such groups which the Framers organized were rooted in the 'middling interests and well-to-do merchants' and upper classes. They have been wrongly described as revolutionary. The truth is that they took great measures to keep the peace and defuse revolutionary tendencies. As mass resistance to British policies mounted, for example, they urged, 'No Mobs or Tumults, let the Person and Properties of your most inveterate Enemies be safe.' Sam Adams agreed. James Otis urged, 'No possible circumstances, though ever so oppressive, could be supposed sufficient to justify tumults and disorders . . .' The Boston Committee of Correspondence actually did its best to contain and control the militancy of activists involved in the Boston Tea Party."
Jerry Fresia, Toward an American Revolution, 1988
What Was Colonial Life Really Like?
In Colonial America, the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting much poorer. In 1687 in Boston, the top 1% owned about 25% of the wealth. By 1770, the top 1% owned 44%. In those same years, the poor--those who owned no property--represented 14% in 1687 and 29% in 1770.
In the various colonies the wealthy merchant class introduced property qualifications for voting in order to disenfranchise the poor and protect their own privileges:
In Pennsylvania, white males had to have 50 pounds of "lawful money" or own fifty acres of land.
The result was that only 8% of the rural population and 2% of the urban population of Philadelphia could vote George Washington was the richest man in America, a man who enslaved 216 human beings who were not emancipated until after he and his wife had both died. Benjamin Franklin had a personal fortune worth at least $20 million in today's money. He was a champion of the Quaker plutocrats in Philadelphia and vigorously opposed the democratic western farmers of Pennsylvania.
John Hancock was an extremely wealthy Boston merchant who had made his fortune as a military contractor during King George's War (1739-1747). In 1748, Hancock engineered a merciless devaluation of Massachusetts currency as a cure to inflation, which reduced huge numbers of workers to poverty. Alexander Hamilton grew rich through his father-in-law's connections. James Madison created a large fortune with his vast slave plantations. The top 10 percent of the white male leaders in America owned half the wealth and held as slaves one-seventh of the country's people.
To common people, freedom meant freedom from the oppression of colonial aristocracy as well as freedom from British rule. One of their favorite slogans was: "Common people must be free from all 'Foreign or Domestic Oligarchy.'" They thought in terms of liberation from all oppression, not just "independence from Britain."
During colonial times, the "common people" were sometimes in control of their local governments. To control the Boston Town Meeting, urban workers, artisans and country farmers formed an alliance in 1768. A group of Boston merchants complained: "At these meetings, the lowest Mechanicks discuss upon the most important points of government with the utmost freedom."
The "common people" were not taking orders, they were speaking and acting for themselves; they were making it clear that their vision of a new society was not that of the wealthy merchant class.
In Philadelphia, the working class was successful in gaining political power. In 1770, the mechanics held their first political meeting specifically restricted to their own class. By 1772, the working class had organized their own political organization, the Patriotic Society, to promote their own candidates and agenda. By mid-1776, laborers, artisans, and small tradesmen, had taken command in Philadelphia.
The Pennsylvania constitution was created primarily by farmers and artisans. As one historian describes it, "the extent of popular control" put forward by these common people "exceeds that of any American government before or since." (Kenneth M. Dolbeare, Democracy at Risk, 1986)
The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 ignored women, slaves, servants and the poor, but it did challenge property rights: all free men who paid any public taxes whatsoever were entitled to the vote. This constitution is of major importance in American history because it reveals that the working class had a clear vision of government and the intelligence and resourcefulness to gain and use political power. By contrast the later federal Constitution is clearly seen as an elitist document which empowered the wealthy class.
The Pennsylvania Constitution was a high mark of democratic ideals.
"A one-house Assembly whose members were elected annually was made the seat of almost all power. The Assembly was required to function in open public sessions, and to keep full records. Legislation had to indicate its purpose clearly in the preamble, and except in emergencies had to be published and distributed publicly by the Assembly before it could be considered for enactment--but only by the next session of that body, after another election had been held.
"The office of governor and its veto power were eliminated in favor of a weak Supreme Executive Council of 12 members, four of whom were elected each year for three-year terms. Judges were elected for seven-year terms, but were made removable for cause by the Assembly. A council of Censors was to be elected every seven years to review the government's performance and recommend a new constitutional convention if changes in its structure or powers were required. The extent of popular control involved in such a system exceeds that of any American government before or since. Indeed, opponents at the time referred to it as 'mob government.'"
Kenneth M. Dolbeare, Democracy at Risk, 1986
During the "War for Independence," many of the colonial states changed the form of their state constitutions to reflect their democratic ideals. In most states there was a movement toward subordinating the executive branch of government and conferring primary power on the legislature. In many states, the governor was elected and in ten states his term of office was one year. In every state there was an executive or privy council which the governor was required to consult on all important decisions. The purpose of such a council, usually appointed by the legislature, was to provide an important check on the governor. In every state, judges could be impeached by the lower branch of the legislature. In none of the states could the courts declare the acts of the legislature null and void.
The efforts of the working class to build widely popular governments similar to Pennsylvania's in other states failed by and large. In Massachusetts, for example, property qualifications for voting were increased rather than decreased. Ninety percent of the population in Maryland was excluded from holding office because of property qualifications. However, the Regulator Movement in 1766-1771 organized against wealthy and corrupt officials in the colonial states and tried to get middle and lower class people elected to their assemblies.
The wealthy merchant class grew fearful of the working class's power and made sure that delegates to the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774 were selected from the "ablest and wealthiest men in America." John Jay, later to become the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, was elected as president of the Continental Congress. His sentiment was a forecast of what the Constitution would establish: "The people who own the country ought to govern it."
After the wealthy merchant class had decided to declare its independence from Britain, it needed cannon fodder for its "war of independence."
"Those upper classes, to rule, needed to make concessions to the middle class, without damage to their own wealth or power, at the expense of slaves, Indians, and poor whites. This bought loyalty. And to bind that loyalty with something more powerful than material advantage, the ruling group found, in the 1760s and 1770s a wonderfully useful device. That device was the language of liberty and equality, which could unite just enough whites to fight a Revolution against England, without ending either slavery or inequality." 1
As in all wars in our national history, the working class answered the call to arms. However, the war exacerbated the growing class conflict when the working class soldiers experienced grievous inequities:
The rich could buy their way out of the draft
Officers received much more pay than common soldiers
Common soldiers often received no pay:
During the war some common soldiers who had not been paid attacked the headquarters of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, forcing the members to flee to Princeton across the river.
After the war, the lack of pay to common soldiers was one of the major causes of the Shays rebellion Civil strife due to class conflict continued throughout the war in Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. The working class was seeking what President Lincoln would later describe as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, whereas the wealthy class was seeking a dictatorial plutocracy.
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Completing the American Revolution
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