Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Spirit of the American Revolution

I hate to bust your bubble, but it was pretty lefty.

For example. the Tea Party has laid its claim on the founding period, and to a great extent that claim is indeed an economic and financial one. Casting the modern welfare state as a form of tyranny, in large part because of what they see as its excessive taxation, Tea Partiers invoke the famous American resistance to Parliament’s efforts to raise a revenue in the colonies without the consent traditionally given by representation. Seeing founding-generation American patriots as unified against British taxation (and frequently misrepresenting the politics even of the elites they invoke), the Tea Party defines its own anti-government, anti-tax values as essential to American identity.

The Tea Party thus edits out an alternative view of government that prevailed among the ordinary 18th-century Americans who were all-important to achieving independence. Those Americans opposed elites epitomized by the Boston merchant class, which the Tea Party is so strongly allied. The internal struggle for American equality was as important to the founding as the high-Whig resistance to England, but the Tea Party can’t deal with the populist leaders and militia rank-and-file who wrote the socially radical 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution, or the Shaysites of Massachusetts who marched on the state armory, or the so-called whiskey rebels who inspired federal occupation of western Pennsylvania. American Revolutionary patriots all, those democratic-finance leaders had ideas about government’s role in ensuring economic equality that prefigured programs of the 19th-century Populists and the 20th-century New Dealers, the very programs the Tea Party wants to dismantle. Tea Party history therefore has to expunge the welfare state’s roots in America’s founding.

Additionally, the working-class movement seeking economic equality in 1776 Philadelphia became key to declaring American independence. Ignored by many liberal and conservative historians alike, and therefore largely forgotten (the only big name involved is Thomas Paine), those populists allied themselves with decidedly un-populist founders like John Adams and Samuel Adams, who favored American independence. Encouraged by the Adamses, a local militia of populist radicals overthrew the anti-independence government of Pennsylvania. That uprising enabled the decisive vote for American independence in Congress on July 2.

The Pennsylvania populists smashed the ancient Whig connection between property and representation once independence was declared (one of the principles the war with England was being fought to uphold). The Adamses and the populists had been using each other for separate ends. Suddenly, free white men with no property could not only vote in Pennsylvania, but also (and this really nauseated John Adams) hold elected office. New assemblymen included a weaver and a small farmer. They worked, with some success, to pass anti-monopoly laws, take bank charters back from financiers, issue paper money for foreclosure relief, and tax progressively.

Wow, the Revolutionary War Militia were lefties!

As I like to point out, "Tory" means "conservative" in other English Speaking Countries.

So, remember, that Shays' Peasant Revolt was a major reason for the adoption of the Constitution.

Of course, if Bill Hogeland were here I am sure he would argue about how influential the populists were or how much they influenced the Revolutionary Spirit. Still, would the revolution have succeeded without popular support and the granting of economic equality?

See also William Hogeland's
  • Declaration: The Nine Tumultuous Weeks When America Became Independent, May 1 – July 4, 1776
  • The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America’s Newfound Sovereignty
  • Inventing American History
  • Steven Rosswurm's Arms, Country, and Class: The Philadelphia Militia and the 'Lower Sort' during the American Revolution (ISBN: 978-0813514727)

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