Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Zinn, Chapter 3

(Nathaniel) Bacon's Rebellion
- Bacon was anti-Indian and
- anti-aristocracy
In fact, he sounds kind of Tea Party-ish to me the way Zinn describes him.

Many poor whites in the colonies supported him because he opposed the unfair price setting and trade rules Mother England imposed on tobacco, for example. As we see so often in history, the people at the top were making too much too unfairly on the backs of the poor.

Many of these were the same poor whites had been imprisoned in England for their poverty (which came, often, from having their land seized by those in power) and signed up for indenturehood to maybe get ahead in the New World. Their conditions on the trip across the Atlantic were better than those of slaves from Africa, but, for example, "[t]he sloop Sea-Flower, leaving Belfast in 1741, was at sea sixteen weeks, and when it arrived in Boston, forty-six of its 106 passengers were dead of starvation, six of them eaten by the survivors. On another trip, thirty-two children died of hunger and disease and were thrown into the ocean." It just wasn't cost-effective for the people who funded the voyages to keep these potential indentured servants alive. Once they reached the colonies, these servants were often raped and beaten and were certainly prevented from voting, marrying or having sex without the permission of their masters, and organizing.

To again quote Zinn at length (from Chapter 3, which pages I do not know):
"More than half the colonists who came to the North American shores in the colonial period came as servants. They were mostly English in the seventeenth century, Irish and German in the eighteenth century. More and more, slaves replaced them, as they ran away to freedom or finished their time, but as late as 1755, white servants made up 10 percent of the population of Maryland.

"What happened to these servants after they became free? There are cheerful accounts in which they rise to prosperity, becoming landowners and important figures. But Abbot Smith, after a careful study, concludes that colonial society 'was not democratic and certainly not equalitarian; it was dominated by men who had money enough to make others work for them.'"

The class system solidified in those colonial years as John Locke encouraged a "feudal-type aristocracy, in which eight barons would own 40 percent of the colony's land, and only a baron could be governor." Zinn shares numerous examples of the differences among the classes and how the gap between the rich and the poor grew. "The colonies, it seems, were societies of contending classes-a fact obscured by the emphasis, in traditional histories, on the external struggle against England, the unity of colonists in the Revolution. The country therefore was not 'born free' but born slave and free, servant and master, tenant and landlord, poor and rich."

As usual, the rich kept their wealth in some pretty clever ways:
1. Divide and conquer your enemies.
2. Pit your enemies against each other. You keep them busy and they dwindle each other's numbers.

In another file somewhere, I am compiling a list of ways to subjugate people.

I think a point Zinn made in Chapter 2 which I noted in my last blogpost bears repeating: "Racism [in the mid-1700s in the colonies] was becoming more and more practical. Edmund Morgan, on the basis of his careful study of slavery in Virginia, sees racism not as 'natural' to black-white difference, but something coming out of class scorn, a realistic device for control." Indeed, the "answer to the problem [of blacks and poor whites uniting against their oppressors], obvious if unspoken and only gradually recognized, was racism, to separate dangerous free whites from dangerous black slaves by a screen of racial contempt."

Allow me to pull out something in a slightly different context, if only because it reminds me so much of the Republican rhetoric I hear today:
"Middle-class Americans might be invited to join a new elite by attacks against the corruption of the established rich. The New Yorker Cadwallader Golden, in his Address to the Freeholders in 1747, attacked the wealthy as tax dodgers unconcerned with the welfare of others (although he himself was wealthy) and spoke for the honesty and dependability of 'the midling rank of mankind' in whom citizens could best trust 'our liberty & Property.' This was to become a critically important rhetorical device for the rule of the few, who would speak to the many of 'our' liberty, 'our' property, 'our' country." Indeed, the middle class is seen as the salt of the earth, to be governed today by a republic of elected representatives who supposedly look out for the best interests of *real* Americans. It's the middle class being ruled by the upper classes. Democrats do it and Republicans do it, although the political game now is to pretend that they're everyday, next-door kind of people. The oligarchy rules, though, by appeasing the middle class as well as they have to and shitting on the poor and easily marginalized, which today includes people who look "funny," sound funny, act funny, or love funny. Pick your -ism; we've got oppression for all.

Zinn ends Chapter 3 in a way that sends chills up my spine:
"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 even 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."

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