Disruptive social movements are what we need

Frances Fox Piven, Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America, 2006 (click image to see it on Amazon)

Piven asks, “given the power inequalities of American life and the extent to which electoral-representative arrangements are twisted by those inequalities, how does egalitarian reform ever occur in the United States?” The answer, she suggests, is that “the rare intervals of nonincremental democratic reforms are responses to the rise of disruptive protest movements, and the distinctive kind of power that those movements wield.” (18) Regular people, she concludes, “exercise power…mainly [and later she leans toward
only] at those extraordinary moments when they rise up in anger and hope, defy the rules that ordinarily govern their daily lives, and…disrupt the workings of the institutions in which they are enmeshed.” (1) The “electoral norms” and institutions of American government have developed layers “walling off…crucial parts of government from exposure to the electorate.” So it is “precisely at the moments when people act outside of the electoral norms that electoral-representative procedures are more likely to realize their democratic potential.” (2)

This seems like an elaborate and excessively-hedged way of saying that American politics is designed for the benefit of elites, and that under normal operations, what we think of as democracy actually tends to erode the rights and privileges of the working and middle classes, for the benefit of the rich. In fact, she argues in chapter six that “the slow and steady workings of normal politics are more likely to wear away the reforms won during those moments of crisis than they are to enlarge upon them.” (18) That’s a provocative, interesting argument: that we don’t really have a democracy — we have a plutocracy that is regularly attacked by the underclasses and forced to make concessions in order to get them to go back to work, keep spending, etc. So why am I not happier with this book?

Maybe because, once she articulates this idea [albeit more tentatively than I summarized it], Piven misses the opportunity to give us some really stirring history to back it up. The history she does provide is mechanical and almost entirely based on secondary sources. But who cares about the opinions of the Tillys, or even E.P. Thompson, on these issues? For example, she quotes Edmund Morgan’s conclusion that “It seems unlikely that the political, social, and cultural changes wrought in the name of equality since 1776 could have occurred under British rule. It was the founders that made them possible by defying the king and creating a republic.” (54) But in this context, Morgan’s statement seems like little more than standard American exceptionalism, when Piven’s thesis might actually be used to suggest that once the dust settled [had the dust been allowed to settle] on colonial complaints, the “standard” operations of our social and political institutions would probably have resulted in just the tame and watered-down democracy we ultimately got. Although maybe with less imperialism and manifest destiny, like Canada.

The thesis
is interesting, though — and especially so at a time when the Wall Street occupiers are being thrown out of the park. It would be really interesting to look at the development of American institutions in this light (which of course, some historians have been doing for decades) in a survey class, where we could look at Federalist #10 with these questions in mind. We could even frame the issue in a discussion about why she wrote the book in 2006 and whether the Bush-era rhetoric holds up under Obama. What was it he campaigned on? Oh yeah: Change.

Railroad Land Grants

Click the map for a bigger view

Robert S. Henry
“The Railroad Land Grant Legend in American History Texts”

Henry said the public (especially students reading high school and college texts) has been misled by accounts of “huge,” “breath-taking” tracts of land given to railroad companies out of the public domain. The truth, he says, is that much less land was actually given (only about 9.5% of the continental U.S.), the government ultimately got a good return on it (in the form of increased value of the
rest of the land due to railroads going through, and also in special government freight rates), and the social/political/military benefits of national unity outweigh any costs, anyway. The old maps, he says, mislead the public by drawing broad swaths across the west, when actually the railroads were only granted half the area drawn (in alternate sections, like a checkerboard), and in any case many of the grants were forfeited because no one built railroads to qualify for them. In all, only about 131 million acres had been given to the railroads, according to Henry. Since the 1884 presidential election, he said, “when the Democratic party issued a campaign poster featuring what purported to be a map of lands granted to railroads,” the issue had been a political football and the facts had given way to legend.

Henry’s article appeared in the 1945
Mississippi Valley Historical Review, and set off a storm of protests (many of them carried by the same journal, and reprinted in Carstensen, The Public Lands). David Maldwin Ellis suggested that 49 million acres of land grants by the states were relevant in the discussion. (145) And, even if granted lands had been forfeited or released, they still counted as grants (and they had still made those lands unavailable to settlers for many years - in some cases well into the 20th century). The real extent of the land granted was slightly over 223 million acres (or nearly 17% of America, 146). Ellis pointed out that “The General Land Office withdrew from public appropriation not only the primary limits [of the land grants] as required by law, but also the lands within the indemnity limits...The railroads sometimes tried to oust genuine homesteaders who had made their selections before the location of the railway route.” (146-7)

Fred A. Shannon called Henry’s article “a piece of special pleading for the current lobby of railroad interests to secure the repeal of clauses in the land-grant acts...for rate concessions on carrying government traffic.” (Henry was assistant to the president of the Association of American Railroads when he wrote his article, 157) The big black swaths across the map, Shannon said, should be
widened “by 50 per cent so as to show the indemnity zones.” “It must not be forgotten,” Shannon said, “that until 1887 settlement was excluded from government sections...and from 50 per cent of their width clear beyond the zones proper.” “The railroads got just about one-tenth of the United States and for years restricted settlement in three-tenths of the United States,” Shannon concluded. “This ratio is much higher in the West, where most of the grants lay.” (158)

I think this series of articles says some interesting things about how history is sometimes done, and about what we need to be wary of when reading. In the first place, even taking Henry’s numbers, railroad land grants
were breath-taking. Nearly ten percent of the land area of the nation? More, in unsettled areas, where pioneers were competing for farmlands. And an area at least double that (or nearly 1/5 of the American land mass) held back from sale? That’s pretty extreme. Second, whether the government got it’s money back is not the question. Everyone seems to have lost sight of the fact that private, corporate, for-profit railroad development with government handouts wasn’t the only way transportation, or the American West, could have been developed. And it’s not like there weren’t people saying this at the time (A.M. Todd, for example). We just don’t remember them. What does that say about the textbooks that are being written and read for high-schoolers now?

Transatlantic radical connections

Colin Bonwick, English Radicals and the American Revolution, 1977

Bonwick mentions
Christopher Wyvill early in the story, but keeps him in the background. More prominent is Major John Cartwright, whose “first reform tract, Take Your Choice! (published in 1776) advocated universal manhood suffrage and...anticipated the Chartists by more than fifty years.” (6) Granville Sharp and Thomas Brand Hollis were acquaintances of John Adams, and corresponded with him and other Americans after Adams returned to America. Catharine Macaulay was one of the few early radicals who did not soften her position as time went on.

Before fighting broke out, Benjamin Franklin and
Arthur Lee made significant contributions to British radical thought, Bonwick says. Lee wrote newspaper articles he signed as “Junius Americanus,” which he compiled in The Political Detection: On the Treachery and Tyranny of Administration Both at Home and Abroad. In 1774, he published An Appeal to the Justice and Interests of the People of Great Britain as “An Old Member of Parliament;” which he followed a year later with a Second Appeal and A Speech Intended to Have Been Given in the House of Commons. Franklin wrote under his own name, and his articles were reprinted as “Political, Miscellaneous and Philosophical Pieces” by his friend Benjamin Vaughan. (41-2) The Declaration of Independence “arrived in England in August 1776 and immediately was reprinted in almost every newspaper, as a broadsheet, and in the various documentary collections.” (42)

Friendships and personal connections were at least as important as publications. When Franklin arrived in Paris in 1775, he asked Joseph Priestley to relay to their friend Richard Price his observation that “Britain, at the expense of three millions, has killed one hundred and fifty Yankees this campaign, which is twenty thousand pounds a head...during the same time sixty thousand children have been born in America.” (83) After the war ended, the Americans‘ prestige with radicals only increased, says Bonwick. “Whereas Franklin had been admitted to the radical circle [including the Lunar Society and the Royal] initially as a scientist, Adams was welcomed as an American.” His elitist
Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, which he hoped would communicate his Federalist ideals to “some of the Enlightened Friends of Liberty here,” was embraced by the more conservative Commonwealthmen as a rational and very recognizable approach to government. (174) Older radicals like Brand Hollis clung to the idea that America had taken a step away from complete democracy, Bonwick says, especially after 1789. “Priestley thought that the Americans were imitating the English civil constitution and adopting a form of government similar to the British.” (184) “Adams arguments brought the American model closer to the structural forms of English constitutionalism...Radicals... believed...the American example demonstrated the feasibility of political reform in their own country.” (187)

“Catharine Macaulay [was] the only English radical to have visited the United States since its independence.” (182) She stayed with the Washingtons, and corresponded with them after her return. “After reading some Antifederalist pamphlets sent by
Mercy Warren here reservations grew stronger” that America had retreated too far from “the rights for which Americans had fought.” Only her faith in Washington convinced her that as president he would safeguard those rights.

The French Revolution changed everything. In Bonwick’s narrative, it caused Commonwealth radicals to reevaluate their reform agenda, even as it sparked a new radical generation that expanded much more widely into the artisan communities of London and other cities. Many older radicals “continued to attach greater importance to [America’s] libertarianism,” Bonwick says, while “the new men were particularly impressed with the egalitarianism they believed to be inherent in American society.” (217) Bonwick is unclear exactly what the difference between these two positions is; the only significant difference seems to be that “When the Birmingham Society for Constitutional Information told readers of a broadsheet, ‘
You have rights equal to all,’ they were saying nothing that was in itself new, what was remarkable was that they were addressing workmen.” (218)

“The new generation of radicals was born in December 1791...[when] a group of artisans formed a Constitutional Society in the new industrial town of Sheffield...Shortly afterward, and partly in emulation...the
London Corresponding Society (LCS), ‘composed chiefly of tradesmen and shopkeepers,’ was founded.” (217-8) “Thomas Hardy, shoemaker, secretary, and organizer of the LCS, had read extensively in the earlier tracts of the SCI (given him by Brand Hollis) and pamphlets by Sharp, Cartwright, Jebb, and Price.” (220) While the older radicals like Hollis and Sharp continued corresponding with John Adams and Benjamin Rush, the younger men focused on Thomas Paine and Joel Barlow of Connecticut. Barlow had arrived in London in 1788, shortly after his pamphlet The Vision of Columbus. In 1792, Barlow “reached prominence” with the publication of Advice to the Privileged Orders in the Several States of Europe, which discussed “principles enunciated by Price in his notorious Discourse on the Love of Our Country.” (225)

Paine “arrived in England with a ready-made reputation based on
Common Sense and had quickly made contacts with a wide range of politicians from Edmund Burke...[to] Brand Hollis.” (226) Quoting E.P. Thompson, Bonwick says Paine gave English people “a new rhetoric of radical egalitarianism, which touched the deepest responses of the ‘freeborn Englishman’ and which penetrated the subpolitical attitudes of the urban working people.” (227) “The second part of Rights of Man was an even greater success than its predecessor. It circulated with extreme rapidity among the radical groups in Manchester, Sheffield, Norwich, and elsewhere and was warmly welcomed as a work of the highest importance...A proclamation against seditious writings was intended to suppress the pamphlet, but had the opposite effect, and when Paine learned that a prosecution was immanent he arranged for the publication of a cheap edition” and moved to France. “Hundreds of thousands of copies were sold within a few years. To supplement them, five editions and ten variants of Common Sense were published between 1791 and 1793, and the SCI distributed twelve thousand copies of his Letter to Secretary Dundas.” (231)

So, the American Revolution remained very present in the minds of British radicals, although there was wide variation in their response to it. LCS co-founder
John Thelwall, “who claimed to speak for the desperately poor...remarked that the American people had too much veneration fro property, religion, and law.” (231) Joseph Gerrald, a leading LCS “theoretician,” saw “a garden of Eden...whose structure and values were the antithesis of...England.” (232) “By the middle of the [1790s] many old radicals were appalled by the ‘horrible excesses‘ of the French Revolution [and] used American experience to redress these extremist tendencies.” (234) “Christopher Wyvill...strongly disapproved of the prosecution of Paine but feared that the extremists would take over the SCI...Cartwright shared some of Wyvill’s suspicions and worked hard to counteract Paine’s republicanism, while Brand Hollis denied rumors that he saw Rights of Man prior to publication and reportedly refused Paine financial help when he was in difficulties.” (235) “Commonwealthmen saw America in light of their own needs...following the Adams model in preference to the Pennsylvania model of a unicameral legislature.” But “shortly before her death Catharine Macaulay told Washington that she had abandoned her preference for the American system in favor of the French unicameral model.” (237)

2 views of agrarian radicalism

Alfred F. Young, ed. Beyond the American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism,1993

Allan Kulikoff, “The American Revolution, Capitalism, and the Formation of the Yeoman Classes”

As you’d expect from the title, Kulikoff argues that there was class-consciousness among yeomen farmers, separating them not only from aristocrats and merchants, but also from capitalist farmers. Kulikoff has written extensively on farmers and the revolutionary period, and I’ll need to look at his books to discover whether his claims are supported, because he doesn’t provide any primary evidence in this article (this is frustrating, and may be a warning to me, never to write an article without evidence, regardless how retrospective I think it is). He defines yeoman farming as being based solely on family labor, and although sometimes selling surpluses in the market, primarily oriented toward self-sufficiency and survival (he does not use the word competency, but that seems to be the idea). There’s an intermediate group of commercial farmers, who sometimes employ wage labor and credit, and who produce for the market. And finally, there are capitalist farmers, who are completely committed to the market. Kulikoff does not provide any concrete examples of these types (which is clearly a problem, for me).

I've written my thoughts about Kulikoff's argument in italics, as it goes. This seems most useful to me, and hopefully will make sense to readers.

Kulikoff says “These Virginia
yeomen, who constituted three-fifths of the white heads of families in the colony, owned land and knew that freeholding land tenure was their only claim to political participation, their only security against impoverishment...To gain votes in the 1790s and beyond, gentlemen, especially Jeffersonian Republicans, placed this yeoman self-image at the center of their message, thereby legitimating and co-opting the political rhetoric of the sturdy yeoman.” (81-2) While I find the idea that politicians used (and partly manufactured) this yeoman image, partly to the detriment of the actual farmers, plausible, I think Kulikoff’s argument is strained and too heavily informed by theory.

Yeomen,” he says (his italics), “were small, producing farmers who owned land and participated in markets to sustain familial autonomy and local exchange. [in other words, they were philosophically committed to local, barter exchange within the community? Where? When?] Practicing ‘safety first’ agriculture, they grew much of the food they consumed and tried to procure the rest through trade with neighbors. [others put safety second? Doesn’t this really mean they had families to feed, they were living at a subsistence level, and the only people around to trade with were their neighbors, because there was no effective transportation to distant markets?] Avoiding entangling debts, they retained the independence needed to make virtuous political decisions. [they did this on purpose? Or were they living in a remote, rural, subsistence economy where they were unable to get credit, and would have had no use for it anyway. The Jeffersonians said this was virtuous -- are we falling for the same political line they sold to the yeomen?] Yeoman farmers can be contrasted with capitalist farmers, who sought greater market embeddedness, concentrated on staple crops, and on occasion bought financial instruments. Unlike yeomen, they often hired wage laborers to increase their output and profits. [am I being cynical, or do they have to use “financial instruments” and wage labor, and the yeomen have to be innocent of that sin, or the predetermined structure Kulikoff is building for us doesn’t work?] They became part of a capitalist economy, one where profits were divided between the original producers (farmers, artisans, small urban capitalists, wage laborers) and a class of capitalists who owned and controlled the means of production and who expropriated part of the value of goods every producer made. [how’s that again? Who are these über-capitalists? How do they expropriate this surplus value? No, not in theory -- on the ground! Who and where are they??]” (84) The citation at the end of this paragraph actually directs the reader to Kulikoff’s own book, The Agrarian Origins of American Capitalism, which I’ve been meaning to read.

“Repudiating feudalism,” Kulikoff says, these American yeomen “rarely held property in common; disliking capitalism, they nonetheless espoused private property in land, and the land markets, economic interdependence, and capitalist development they disliked inevitably followed.” (85)
Brian Donahue challenges the claim that commons were uncommon. And again, development of land markets (and speculation, etc.) is ironic, but is it inevitable? Is theory filling in for evidence?

Kulikoff says events like the resistance of Hudson Valley tenants in the 1760s “led yeomen to greater self-definition as a class,” (88) and this is fine as far as it goes. But so what? What did they do? What happened as a result? A “yeoman class ideology can be traced to justifications of their right to land when either gentlemen or native Americans threatened...To legitimate their rights to land, yeomen embraced a labor theory of value, one they had carried over with them from England, but that lay dormant until conflict broke out.” (90) This is really frustrating, because Kulikoff’s determination to make these guys into little proto-Marxists almost obscures some really interesting ironies. The “labor theory” these yeomen were using was the idea that unimproved land, which (deliberately?) misunderstanding the Indians‘ agricultural and hunting techniques, they believed the frontier to be, couldn’t be owned. The irony is that they had to appeal to the “gentlemen” in charge of the government for protection against these Indians, even as they tried to maintain their claims to the land and their autonomy. “Indians, John Winthrop...insisted, ‘enclose noe Land, neither have any setled habytation, nor any tame cattle to improve the Land by,’ and therefore had no right to retain ownership of it. Only human labor improved the land, thereby bestowing ownership rights upon it.” (90) Okay, in the first place, Winthrop said this over a hundred years before the story Kulikoff is telling about the revolution. It’s unclear how much of this Winthrop believed, and how much was a justification drawn from Locke. Winthrop actually says (and Kulikoff neglects to quote) “...nor any tame cattle to improve the Land by, and soe have no other but a Naturall Right.” But in any case, this passage does not prove the yeomen espoused a labor theory of value. Based on the quote, Winthrop could as easily have been arguing for a “Cattle” theory of value, or less ridiculously for “habitation” as a basis for land title. This is a claim squatters would later make, along with the improvement argument, when defending their farms against landlords from the cities.

“Whig leaders,” says Kuliloff, “came to understand that to gain support of white property holders they had to appeal to the lived experience of the yeomen, to their fears of losing their land.” (94)
The implication is that urban Committees of Correspondence deliberately crafted their message to their rural audience, to play on fears the city-folk didn’t share. But “wherever yeomen (or would-be yeomen among tenants) saw Whig gentlemen as enemies, they joined the British or stayed neutral.” This is an interesting argument, especially if it led to the Whigs promising (or hinting at) a revolutionary settlement they had no interest in or intention of supporting, once the war was won.

After the war, in the period leading up to the Constitution, Kulikoff says the Whig delegates to the Philadelphia convention “sought a stronger national government, with the power to tax, regulate commerce, suppress internal conflict, and encourage economic development. They uniformly opposed agrarian laws, a term used to imply the redistribution of wealth and the leveling of property.” This is interesting. I’d love to know what some of these “agrarian” law proposals were. Franklin also suggested it might be a good idea to limit the accumulation of capital and land -- but he was ignored. Who would be able to vote and hold office went right to the taxation and representation claims the revolutionaries had made against England. “In pushing for greater freeholder democracy in the 1780s and 1790s,” Kulikoff says, “yeomen became more conscious of themselves as a political class, distinct from gentlemen and merchants.” (104) Again, okay -- but to what degree was somebody else (Democratic Republicans fighting the Federalists) trying to form that group consciousness in them, to lead them into the party?

“White settlers in the Ohio Valley welcomed the military campaigns of the 1790s that ultimately ended what they saw as the Indian menace.” (105) Heavy irony here: these sturdy individualist yeomen are appealing to the state to conquer the Indians, so they can have lands they will subsequently claim are theirs by natural right and not subject to taxation or competing claims by gentlemen who have the backing of that same state. Maybe the continuing presence of the Indian issue prevented these yeomen from ever really coming together to form a “party.”

Kulikoff admits that “older [yeoman] strategies of communal self-sufficiency in food [quickly became] difficult, if not impossible.” He continues, “These yeoman ideals influenced the political leaders who created a powerful ideology that historians have commonly called ‘Jeffersonian agrarianism’...Agrarian realists like Thomas Jefferson contended that the best possible society was one dominated by small, independent producers. Only widespread distribution of land could prevent usurpation of power and destruction of the republic by the wealthy.” Again, the implication is that this was a political position rather than a sincere philosophy. It’s an attractive idea, and I wish he’d provided evidence. But, in the long run, for my purposes, does it matter whether Jefferson believed or not?

“The Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture illuminates the improving spirit that animated capitalist farmers. Founded in 1785 by merchants, doctors, and gentlemen (including Benjamin Rush and Robert Morris), nearly all of whom opposed Pennsylvania’s democratic constitution of 1776 and applauded the federal Constitution of 1787, the society gave its first prize...to George Morgan, a gentleman farmer from Princeton, New Jersey.” (106)
This is interesting: if they are really like Kulikoff says, are they a little proto-Country Life Movement? Kulikoff concludes that the “defeat of yeoman popular democracy in the revolutionary era was only the first stage in the struggle of yeomen to maintain their communal social order. On every frontier yeomen reinvented their class and remade a world of patriarchal family government, food-producing farms, and communal self-sufficiency. As capitalist farmers expanded on the northern frontiers, conflicts with yeomen ensued...only the radical legacy of the Revolution sustained yeomen democracy for so long, nurturing the yeomanry through their protracted struggles of the nineteenth century.” (108) This is just not true. Agricultural settlers did NOT face the same conditions, did not go out west to get away from the market economy (especially after the railroads), and certainly didn’t aspire to utopian communalism except in rare instances. But it’s a strong myth, that probably draws a lot of its strength from Turner, and a lot from the desire of historians to tell a story like this. A continuous struggle, of a self-conscious class. Maybe that’s the real central question: can people be part of a continuous class, based solely on their self-association with a myth, regardless of the fact that their life experience completely invalidates that association? Obviously, I need to plan a chapter on the myth of the yeoman farmer, and its effect on rural history/historiography (both what happened, and what’s been said about what happened).

Alan Taylor, “Agrarian Independence: Northern Land Rioters after the Revolution”

In contrast to Kulikoff, Taylor’s article is full of references to particular people and events. He quotes “Liberty-Men” who he says were “defending their notion of the American Revolution against betrayal by the Great Proprietors”:

“Who can have better right to the land than we who have fought for it, subdued it & made it valuable which if we had not done no proprietor would ever have enquired after it...Wild land ought to be as free as common air. These lands once belonged to King George. He lost them by the American Revolution & they became the property of the people who defended & won them. The General Court did wrong & what they had no right to do when they granted them in such large quantities to certain companies & individuals & the bad acts of government are not binding on the subject...”

This was a sentiment, Taylor says, that was shared by “the Wild Yankees of Pennsylvania, the Anti-Renters of New York, and the Liberty-Men of Maine...that communities must resist laws that traduced the Revolution’s meaning. This was not what General Know wanted to read.” (224) Taylor gives us two groups, with wildly different world-views and expectations of the Revolution. “As gentlemen of property and standing,” he says, “Timothy Pickering, Philip Schuyler, and Henry Know fought a war for national independence, a war intended to place America’s government in their own hands and to safeguard their extensive property from arbitrary parliamentary taxation. They expected the new order to safeguard pre-revolutionary legal contracts, especially large land grants...But those agrarians perceived Pickering, Schuyler, and Knox as de facto Tories, greedy betrayers of the American Revolution’s proper meaning.”
Why did the agrarians expect this? Who told them this is what they were fighting for? Thomas Paine, for one. How much did they know, going in, that this was not the idea the rich were fighting for? How much were they hoping to push it farther? Depending on democracy to give them that chance?

Agrarians, he says “sought an American Revolution that maximized their access to, and secured their possession of, freehold land on which they could realize their labor as their own private property. This meant minimizing the levies of the ‘great men’: taxes, rents, land payments, and legal fees.” (225-6)
This expression seems much more nuanced and reasonable than Kulikoff’s. The agrarians “sought” a Revolution, after the fact. They realized that in increasingly technological, capital-intensive, and even cooperative enterprises, they lose some of the title to their labor, which they retain in subsistence agriculture. This is a sophisticated distinction. And they realize that society creates the ownership, legal, and power relationships that allow “great men” to enrich themselves. If true, this is very cool.

These agrarians were not seen as kooks -- at least not by everyone. In 1803, Robert H. Rose said of the Pennsylvania rebels: “They can not pay at present. They are a very industrious set of people, & such as make the best first settlers in a country like this; but the difficulty of clearing the land is so great that some years expire before a man can raise a subsistence for his family from it.” (231)
This indicates an understanding that different people and personalities were needed, to settle a frontier, and presumably that there was some type of ongoing social contract with these people, even after the pioneer phase ended. Migration to the frontier “redistributed most of the population increase in the United States to new counties virtually unpopulated by whites in 1760...at the same moment that the Revolution discredited received authority and legitimated confronting rulers who imperiled ‘natural rights.’” (232) The fact that extralegal violence had been sanctified by the Revolution clearly complicated the issue for those trying to impose order from above.

Taylor suggests that “leading men” in remote agrarian communities helped the rebels, until Jefferson’s party gave them a way out of their tight spot between their neighbors and the aristocrats. “Jeffersonianism sapped resistance by winning over the leading men,” both with less draconian policies toward the rebels and with the prospect of acceptance into a slightly broader elite society. (236) After the “Revolution of 1800,” the authorities “simultaneously legislated against extralegal resistance while establishing institutional mechanisms to set compromise prices.” (235) These included a 1799 Pennsylvania “Compromise Act” paired with an 1801 stiffening of the 1795 “Intrusion Act.” Jeffersonians’ propaganda extolled the virtues of the agrarians, which may have mitigated the rebels’ frustration with compromise; but they were practical farmers who were probably by this point more interested in providing for their families than fighting for principle. Taylor concludes that the Jeffersonians’ compromises, and the general belief that this was the best deal anyone would ever get, helped the leading men sell their neighbors on ending the resistance, so that “over time, the social mobility of a strategic few shrank the contested, marginal, autonomous districts that had temporarily expanded after the Revolution.” (237) It’s tempting to think these leading men betrayed their neighbors. But the resolution of these conflicts left many of the rebels with the land they wanted, and in exchange for some autonomy allowed them to stop being marginal. Notwithstanding Kulikoff’s ideal of the self-sufficient yeoman, I think many agrarian families welcomed an opportunity to participate in the market to some degree. So, to some degree, this was a victory for them, which they would never have achieved had they not stood up to the aristocrats in the cities.

Surprises in English history

Michael T. Davis, ed.,
Radicalism and Revolution in Britain, 1775-1848

H.T. Dickinson, “‘The Friends of America’: British Sympathy with the American Revolution,”

“In 1775 Lord North admitted to George III that ‘the cause of Great Britain is not yet sufficiently popular’, and Lord Camden claimed that ‘the common people hold the war in abhorrence and the merchants and tradesmen, for obvious reasons, are likewise against it’, and he told the House of Lords: ‘You have not half of the nation on your side.’ Benjamin Franklin believed that ‘the body of the English people are our friends.’ In August 1775, John Wesley...was alarmed that the bulk of the people were ‘dangerously dissatisfied’ and highly critical of the King himself...Temple Luttrell, having returned from a tour of England, told the House of Commons ‘that the sense of the mass of the people is in favor of the Americans.’” (2-3)
But what does this mean? In the first place, are these descriptions all accurate, or are they being made by people with an agenda? And in the second place, what of it? Englishmen had relatives in America, and they probably thought of the colonists as people like themselves. They could be against coercion (how does this compare to their reaction to Irish coercion?) on general principle, without being pro-American. And, they could be against war. And then, when the war became one against France and Spain, they could become patriotic.

“In London, Arthur Lee and William Lee, the brothers of the Virginia merchant Richard Henry Lee, and Richard’s trading partner, Stephen Sayre, were very active in the American cause, with others including Benjamin Rush...Arthur Lee became influential in radical circles in London. He wrote pamphlets and a series of newspaper articles as ‘Junius Americanus’...in 1769 he persuaded the radicals to include the government’s American policy in their list of grievances...William Lee...and Stephen Sayre were elected as the two sheriffs of London in 1773 and they both unsuccessfully contested parliamentary seats in the general election of 1774.” (5) This is interesting -- we don’t normally think of the American revolutionaries holding positions of authority in England. It’s a good reminder that they were rich, influential Englishmen right up to the last moment.

“Benjamin Franklin was deeply involved with a group of radical thinkers (many of whom were Dissenters) who belonged to the Club of Honest Whigs in London.” (Joseph Priestley was a member) (6)

“Failure in the American war also encouraged a major revival of radicalism. From 1779 Christopher Wyvill began to organize a nationwide association movement committed to economical and moderate parliamentary reform...The American patriots...had shifted the debate to a prolonged discussion about who could vote and in favor of the conclusion that all taxpayers should be directly represented in the legislature.” (21)

Carlile’s Deist included writings by American Elihu Palmer. How did these get to Carlile?

Michael Durey, “The United Irishmen and the Politics of Banishment, 1798-1807”

“In 1807 the old Federalist leader Rufus King was defeated when he stood for election to the New York assembly on a nativist “American ticket’. Significant opposition to him was raised by a number of Irishmen who had recently settled in New York city and who were able to manipulate the considerable Irish voting bloc in the state. Among these new Americans were Thomas Addis Emmet, William James MacNeven, William Sampson and George Cuming, all former United Irish leaders, who in 1798, among a large group of state prisoners, had reached an accommodation with the Irish government...According to the state prisoners, their desire to emigrate to the United States in 1798 had been thwarted by an unholy alliance between Rufus King, then American ambassador to the court of St. James, and the Irish and British governments.” (96)
Durey says this story they told is substantially untrue, but it’s interesting that they were in New York and able to use this story to influence American politics.

Paul Crook, “Whiggery and America: Accommodating the Radical Threat” starts to explore some of the disillusionment with nineteenth century America.

“Disillusioned by the actions of Americans in Texas and Oregon, appalled by accounts of slavery and political corruption...[Nassau] Senior found little in the American example to confound his pessimistic analysis of democracy.” (200)
One could ask, what was he really looking for? Sounds like he managed to confirm his prejudices. But, there’s a point in this, too.

“As Chartist clamour rose for America’s ballot and universal suffrage...some of the old Whigs became positively anti-American in their efforts to oppose change...Even [Edinburgh Review editor Francis] Jeffrey conceded that in America everything depended on the suffrage and favor of the sovereign people: ‘and accordingly, it would appear that they are pampered with constant adulation...so that no one will venture to tell them of their faults, and moralists...dare not whisper a syllable of their prejudice.’” (198)

Iain McCalman, “Controlling the Riots: Dickens,
Barnaby Rudge and Romantic Revolution”

McCalman mentions that in the 1780 Gordon Riots, “that had visited more destruction on London in a week than Paris experienced throughout the Revolution,” (207) Dickens understood “it was precisely Lord George Gordon’s blending of religious enthusiasm and enlightenment rationality that made him so dangerous. Edmund Burke, himself a target of the rioters in June 1780, made the same diagnosis...forced to defend his family and house with a drawn sword...He reflected in 1796: ‘had the protentous comet of the Rights of Man...crossed upon us in that internal state of England, nothing human could have prevented our being irresistibly hurried...into all the vices, crimes, horrors and miseries of the French Revolution.’” (220)
This tends to mitigate my response to Burke as Paine’s antagonist, and explain the shift between the Burke of 1770 and the Burke of 1796. Why have I never heard of the Gordon riots before?