THE same elements of the Radical middle classes which in England had been led by Cromwell, defeated in the Restoration and later, in 1688, forced to turn over leadership to the Liberal Whigs, in the American colonies were able to carry through their aims successfully and to retain leadership to the very end. The American Revolution is thus the Second English Civil War. just as we saw Cromwell willing to align himself temporarily with the Radicals even to the extent of executing the King, so those of the same type in America were willing to break violently into Civil War even leading to actual independence. The lawyers talked; the country gentlemen like Washington fought.

From the earliest colonial days it had been the capitalists who had entered the New World. Settlements had been made under the auspices of business corporations such as the London and Virginia companies, etc. These capitalist companies had obtained vast powers under their charters; they could coin money, regulate trade, dispose of corporate property, collect taxes, manage their treasury, provide for defense. Each had a constitution and a regular territory. They were to some extent States within States.

This English development had been quite different from that of the French or the Spanish. In the case of the French, colonization had been effected not by chartered companies operated by financiers, but by the central government of France itself. The highest level the French could reach in the New World was that of the hunting and trapping stage. The French colonists, swamped by the primeval elements, largely intermarried with the Indian inhabitants and adopted their pursuits. Spanish colonization was marked by the export from Spain not of workers but of gentlemen conquistadors who fastened themselves upon the existing societies of the Indians of the Caribbean and of South America, enslaved the general population, and ruthlessly exploited these countries with neither limit nor mercy. Thus, capitalist development was barred to the Spanish.

The victory of the moneyed men in England, however, had created an entirely different situation. Everywhere, and not only in relation to North America, the leading role of exploration and colonization had been placed in the hands of the newer classes. An English Levant Company, a Muscovy Company, an East India Company, and others, had been formed; they furnished ample witness to the new trends of the times. All of these companies had enormous powers, and it was in the administration of these companies that the capitalists obtained the experience that was to enable them later to take over so easily the English government.

As for the colonists themselves: “The colonists were not conservative, satisfied and prosperous Englishmen; they were as a rule the discontented and restless adventurers, the poor, the vagrant, and even those of the criminal class, or else they were those whose views of government and religion did not accord with the practices which prevailed in England.” (*1)

“The deportation to the colonies (especially to Maryland and Virginia) of actual criminals, chiefly non-political too, was so common as to arouse vigorous protests on both sides of the Atlantic. Francis Bacon declared that ‘it is a shameful and unblessed thing to take the scum of people and wicked condemned men to be the people with whom you plant’ (Essay, Of Plantations); and the Virginia Assembly in 16l7 prohibited the importation of convicts (though the prohibition was overruled by the King). Whatever the total number of criminals foistered thus upon unwilling colonies, it is known that during the period 1717-75 there were sent from one English jail alone (the old Bailey) more than 10,000 convicts. (See Buder’s account, American Historical Review, II, 12 ff.)” (*2)

Thus we may conclude that in reality, by the colonizing process, the middle orders of England-landed gentry of the minor rank, merchants and yeomen, with their psychology and social values-were reproduced in a new environment. There is this highly significant difference, however; upon their settlement in the American colonies all these classes were moved upward (and backward) in the scale of property interests and social standing. Here, except for the agents and families of the Crown’s direct forces, the Puritan country gentlemen and the upper middle class represented the topmost layer. Winthrop, Endicott, and Easton of Massachusetts, William Penn and Lord Baltimore and many others prominent in American life, were of this landed gentry group, as Cromwell, Hampden, and Pym had been.

The free virgin territory of America, and the exceptional opportunities that went with it, coupled with the impossibility of strict control by the home country, militated against the crystallization of rigid class formations. De Tocqueville considered the soil of America absolutely opposed to territorial aristocracy, and even the British General Carlson wrote home that he did not believe the dignity of the British throne could be supported in the American forests. Here is one reason why the mass of plebeians were quite willing to rest their claims to equality upon the Law of Nature, and to deal with these laws as though they were the laws of the forest. Nature was a grateful substitute for society. In the wilderness, at least, man’s inhumanity to man could be avoided.

Freed from that resistance from classes which had weighed so heavily upon it at home, the country gentleman group in the colonies rapidly rose to the top and tried to dominate all the other classes. In some of the New England communities, for example, statutes were early enacted penalizing all who displayed adornment or other superfluous trimmings in dress. Exempt from this ruling, however, were all magistrates, their families, and military officers, or “such whose quality and estate have been above the ordinary degree though now decayed.” (*3)

However, not only the Puritan and country gentlemen groups secured social positions superior to their former ones in England; all classes experienced the same development and advanced a notch higher. The Yeoman of England became a farmer in America; the apprentice became a journey- man and master. In short, apparently, the whole wheel of social evolution was turning backward; instead of the peasant’s being driven off the land to become a proletarian, here, in innumerable cases, the European proletarian was able to become a farmer and to go back to the land. With the important exception of the slaves and servants, (*4) social classes apparently no longer existed as such, and the differences between individuals became matters of degree and not of kind. Class conflict evaporated into individual competition.

In all of this development, the vast spaces, the virgin soil, the deep forests were the decisive factors. The top classes understood this fact instinctively and made every effort to block Western colonization. They brought in Negro slaves. They imported indentured servants. They even stirred up the Indians against the frontiersmen at times. They did all in their power to raise the price of land, (*5) and when that failed they tried to corner the land market.

Thus America became a paradise for real estate sharks. A veritable mania for land speculation seized the wealthy classes. One company obtained two and a half million acres, another one-half million. Later, Congress was to give the Ohio Land Company, in which George Washington himself was interested, five million acres. The climax came in the nineteenth century with the fabulous grants to railroads. Needless to say, peculation in all legislatures was rife, land office swindling a matter of course.

But all to no avail! The frontier rapidly moved westward from the fall line of the eastern rivers to the Appalachian mountains. And when Britain ruled that there must be no further expansion west of the Appalachian sources of the rivers, the law was violated, and the western pioneer became the most enthusiastic supporter of the move for independence. Behind all stood the pimeval forests and the resources of nature of an entire continent, ever inviting exploitation, and fixing the whole pattern of American life. The slave could look towards Nature as his place of refuge, the indentured servant as his means of escape, the bankrupt as his “New Deal,” the adventurous and ambitious as his end of the rainbow. “Go West” was, for both old and young, the direction for perpetual prosperity.

The domination of the frontier factors in American life for so long a time gave reality to the illusion that no classes existed in colonial and early American life. Indeed, class distinctions were difficult to maintain in the West. Classes come with property, and there was little property on the frontier. There was no separation of the means and tools of production from the direct producer. In the West, labor came to mean a term including the farmer, the artisan, and all those who owned and controlled the instruments of their production. In this respect, the West only continued the pre-capitalist situation that marked America from the first. America in the beginning had been far from a capitalist land; exploitation of man by man had been extremely limited. Practically all the immigrants had “started from scratch"; whatever wealth they had gained had been from the sweat of their brow.

Here, too, a good deal of credit must be given to Mother Nature. It is not because the American labored harder than the European that he was able to succeed where the latter failed. Indeed, American labor was notoriously wasteful as compared with that in the more developed countries. It was because in America labor and possession of the products of labor were joined in the same person, because labor could enjoy its fruits without an army of parasites, because the untouched soil needed very little extra expenditure besides that of labor to make it so fruitful that America was able not only to compete with and to undersell Europe but to afford its producers comfortable living’s as well. The expression: “Nature is the mother, Labor the father of all value,” could well be appreciated in this new land of work.

The fact that practically all of the settlers were poor has led to a sort of idealization in the United States of the poor and common man. In England one would fain forget his common stock; not so on this side of the Atlantic. Yet poor must not be confused with proletarians The mass of emigrants forming the basic “mother class,” a class so large that it believed no other classes existed, and thus no classes at all, was composed neither of proletarians nor of bourgeois but of petty bourgeois middle class elements, trying to find prosperity and plenty. In the Western hemisphere, the idea of class was dissolved into its matrix of mass; that is, there were masses but no classes!

The lack of great capital and the resultant absence of clearly-defined classes in the West have given many historians the idea that democracy flourished in the West from the beginning. This is not the whole truth by any means. The West has not only given us Democracy; it has also provided us with a wholesome contempt for all government.

It must never be forgotten that Democracy is essentially a type of State in which the people are supposed to control political affairs, either directly or through representatives. Democracy includes in its fundamental characteristics not only the right to vote and to hold office, but also a host of civil liberties in which the right of free speech, press, and assemblage are the most prominent. Now, in moving West, the tendency of the pioneer and frontiersman was to move away from all government and state laws, however mild. It was not a case of “liberalizing the law"; on the frontier the hand of the law was not to be found at all. Whatever action was necessary was effected by a posse made up directly of the people involved. There were no courts, no police, no prisons, no armed force of the State, no tax- gatherers. The original state of the frontier can best be described not as one of primitive Democracy, but as one of primitive Libertarianism.

The fact that each individual on the frontier was free to act almost exactly as he pleased, and that speech, press, assemblage and such activity, were entirely unrestricted, has given the impression that these were civil rights, which has been followed, in turn, by the presumption that where there are civil rights there must be Democracy. The answer to this is that there can be no civil rights without the sanction of the State. On the frontier there was no State at all. Positive Law had become a code of morals based on the law of the wild. Democracy means literally the rule of the people; the pioneer tolerated no rule whatever.

Of course, there was mutual aid and self-help, but one certainly cannot term Democracy a condition of society where each man has run away from the State and favors the elimination of the State. Finally, Democracy signifies not merely a mass of civil rights; it must include the right of the people to vote and choose their own officers. On the frontier there was neither ballot nor officer.

Later on, as the trapper and backwoodsman and pioneer squatter gave way to the homesteader, a regular State did arise, even though that State did little but act as policeman, and touched but lightly upon the farmer. Even with this change from backwoods to agrarian life, for a long time the sheriff and magistrate were the only State officers to be seen in large areas of the country, with the exception of government officials who came to collect payments due private companies or the government for land.

The State that came to be formed in such Western communities was looked upon in an entirely different light than that which prevailed in the communities of Europe. In the West the State, like Topsy, “just growed.” There was not, as in England, a class contest as to who should control the State, a State which all respected and feared. In the West, at first, the mass of small agrarians could protect themselves without the ballot, and when the democracy of the ballot did come it was unaccompanied by a Democratic Revolution.

In European Democratic countries, where the lower orders had to take drastic measures before the ruling classes would yield any authority or consent to share the power, the masses have learned to revere and to respect the State that has been influenced at such a hard price. In the West, however, the negligible State inspired not awe but contempt.

No person ambitious for wealth wanted to bother his head with politics when so much gold was in “them thar hills” and forests. Politics was for the weak, the incompetent, the dishonest. Thus the sheriff was by no means the most respected man in the community, generally. In the South he was overshadowed by the planter, whose servile agent he was. In the West he was most likely a popular failure who recouped his lost financial standing by pocketing all fees and State income for himself.” (*6)

The Western farmers did not have to pay attention to politics and the State because they could live well without doing so. Later on, the agrarians of the West were to pay heavily for their forbears’ neglect of politics. Then, in its battles against the Liberalism of the commercial interests, the West would be forced to Radical Populism.

During colonial times, the West managed to get along not by conquering but by evading State power. This attitude of political evasion and flight has marked the American and has helped to lead him to a type of pacifism on the one hand and to criminality on the other. And with flight came physical speed. This was seen especially on the sea when so much profit was to be made in rum-running and law evasion. One author states that the great speed of ships of the style later made famous by the Yankee Clippers was due precisely to this necessity of being able to run away. (*7) The American was no coward, however; running away was but one of the exigencies of that form of making a living. As the colonists as a whole ran away from the contradictions and struggles of Europe, so the most alert and energetic men on the Eastern seaboard, finding themselves blocked by growing class differentiations in the colonies, quickly continued their flight to the West, out of the reach of State control, thus draining the Eastern masses of some of their best elements.

Regarding democracy in the more settled communities on the Atlantic seaboard, since earliest colonial times, land property qualification had been the one outstanding universal requirement, the dominating consideration for almost two hundred years. In New England, when only company members could vote, strict limitations had been put upon the right to join the company, and after the companies had ceased to exist and the colonies became purely political institutions, equally rigid limitations of the right to, vote were carried out. So it was that in the original States which formed constitutions in the early years of the Revolutionary War, very little democracy existed. The hastily adopted, constitutions embodied the franchise restrictions already fixed in the colonies and, after the establishment of independence, these limitations were continued. A property qualification held in every one of the thirteen original States, and in five of them the property had to be in the form of real estate.

With the rise of American capitalism with its commercial and industrial bourgeoisie came the breakdown of the land property qualification. The modifications, however, did not abandon the principle that only property owners were eligible to vote, but merely substituted one form of property for another, taxpaying or personal property in lieu of real estate. These restrictions persisted well into the middle of the nineteenth century, disappearing for the most part only with the advent of the Civil War (though retained by Delaware until 1897).

To understand fully the weight of the restrictions in force in colonial times, the distribution of the country’s wealth at that time must be delineated. Immediately prior to the American Revolution, of the nearly two and three-quarters million population, only a few thousand persons owned nearly all the land in great estates and vast plantations. At the same time, about half of the population was made up of small farmers and craftsmen, most of, Whom barely eked out a precarious living, although there was a considerable well-to-do minority. It is probable that about half of the American people were either of the category of white indentured servants or ,Negro slaves. (*8) In the South the number of Negroes generally exceeded the white population. In Pennsylvania, Negroes comprised 20 per cent ) of the total population, in New York 16 per cent. These people composed the mass of laborers and owned nothing, not even their labor power. Slim indeed were their chances of attaining in their old communities the position of freeman and freeholder necessary to enable them to take part in the government.

Of the free working class, very few ever could take part in the government or cast a vote in the whole course of their lives. At this time, wages paid free laborers averaged less than $2.00 a week, farm labor getting thirty cents or so a day, while carpenters were sometimes paid as much as fifty-two cents for a day’s work. No crime jailed so many as debt. Children whose parents were unable to maintain them were bound into forced labor for a period of years, making virtually insurmountable the wall of restrictions placed in their path to democracy.

The right to vote once secured, however, did not carry with it the right to hold office. Thousands of men who could vote were by law hopelessly barred from ever holding any office, becoming a judge or legislator, or reaching the position of Governor of the State. Many States required that office-holders should be rich. In one State the Governor had to own 500 acres of land. In a second, he had to have an estate of $25,000, in yet another, of $50,000. For a seat in either branch of the legislature of some States, the qualifications were of a similar nature. In Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey, legislative candidates had to be possessed of $15,000 real or personal property. South of Pennsylvania the land requirement was general. To become a Senator in North Carolina one had to own 300 acres, while in South Carolina representatives had to own at least 500 acres and ten Negroes.

We have dealt with the democracy in the West and in the East; what of the South? In colonial days, in the South, the “State,” so far as the masses were concerned, was the plantation, (*9) that is, each plantation owner kept his own police force; the only other forces on hand were the sheriff’s posse made up of the plantation owners and their agents, and the militia. Very rarely indeed did the actual State interfere with the concerns of the plantation owner. It left these slave-holders at complete liberty, practically until the time of the Civil War, to do exactly what they pleased, not only with their slaves but, in the main, with the “poor white trash” as well.

In the South there was no room for any middle elements between the wealthy plantation owner and the “poor white trash.” The mode of production in the South compelled the rapid extension of the large scale plantation system and the driving out of the country of all yeoman and middle farmer elements. Such elements either advanced to enter the ranks of the slave-holders or were driven out. People like Jefferson, John Marshall, and Patrick Henry, were all frontiersmen of this type, who were gradually enriched by the development of the South and who assumed places on the side of the wealthy of their communities. The capitulation to the ruling slavocracy by these men is illustrative of the weakness of the class from which they came. In the end, Jefferson, Henry, and the like were to be the decoys to entice the Western independent farmer into the hands of the Southern aristocracy.

Thus we may say that in the South the importance of the political State existed only in the sphere of foreign policy, that is, in determining the relations of the slave-holding class as such to other States, territories and countries. In the South, internally, there was no Democratic State because there was no Democracy, and because there was very little State. With the individual planters, as with the individual frontiersman, every man was a king. Here was a direct point of contact of the South with the West, a point upon which the Southern squirarchy capitalized to penetrate the Western frontier and to win the latter to the cause of the agrarian South against the commercial North.

Leaving aside, then, the slaves and the indentured servants, we may say that the great mass of immigrants flooding American shores in the eighteenth century was composed of elements who were determined to improve their social conditions at the time they left Europe and to strike out for themselves. These elements formed the great mother class—the class of farmers and artisans who were non-capitalistic and who combined ownership of the means of production with full control over their labor. What these people wanted above all was peace and quiet, so that diligent application to their work would bring them plenty. It was not unusual, therefore, that many of them turned Quakers, nor that many Quakers refused to take part in the American Revolution. Pennsylvania was the most loyal State of any to the British Crown. Eschewing militarist activity, Americans replaced the pomp of conquest with the dignity of labor.

To be dignified, labor had to be independent. With a whole continent awaiting him, what immigrant would be willing voluntarily to subject himself to working for someone else? Every free man worked for himself; working for someone else was considered to be beneath the dignity of man. Thus the frontiersman and squatter, for example, regarded the Negro, working in the interests and for the welfare of his master, as performing labor fit to be done only by an animal. The slave, then, was a beast and not a human, since all true humans work only for themselves. Furthermore, since each human is born free and equal, as were the Indians, and since it was the lot of the Negro not to be born so, this was evidence that the Negro was indeed of sub-human stock. Thereupon was developed, especially in the South, a deep antipathy between the self-dependent frontiersman and the servile Negro, a feeling carefully nurtured by the slaveholding caste.

So far as the “poor white trash” were concerned, they were sustained in their miserable independence precisely through the institution of slavery. Had slavery been ended, their hunting and fishing days would have been over. These louts had therefore a deep personal interest in tracking down the slaves, whose bloodhounds they were, and lynching them.

Under such circumstances, the very concept of a proletariat, that is, a permanent body of wage-earners, propertyless, with only their labor power to sell to others who control the means of production, seemed a foreign, an un-American idea. It was a practice from which colonists had run away in the Old World; they fought hard against its resurrection in the new.

But if all classes had moved upward and backward upon their settlement in the American colonies, if those who were middle layers in England were top layers in America, and those who were workers were now entrepreneurs and farmers, who remained to perform the labor of the proletariat? Where would the middle farmer obtain his hired hands? How could the plantations be run? Who would take care of the factories? If each one was to work for himself, how would capital become accumulated?

Here was a dilemma for free America to solve. There was indeed no one to assume the role of the proletariat. The fact that America had available virgin soil for everyone made it difficult in the extreme to obtain and retain hired help. To secure a proletariat it was necessary to enchain one. The very fact that America was “the land of the free” compelled it to become the classic home of slavery. The proletariat was represented, first and foremost, by the Negro slave.

At first the good Christians in Virginia felt they should not enslave fellow-beings who had been baptized, and so the first Negroes brought in by the Dutch were made into servants. (*10) Very soon these scruples were brushed aside. The treatment accorded slaves is well described by a writer of the times, Benezet, writing in the eighteenth century:"… in Jamaica, if six in ten of the new imported Negroes, survive the seasoning it is looked upon as a gaining purchase; And in most of the other plantations if the Negroes live eight or nine years, their labour is reckoned a sufficient compensation for their cost.” (*11)

Conditions of this vast slave trade handled by the good Liberals of the day are described by the same author in another passage:"… we may, with some degree of certainty conclude there are, at least, one hundred thousand Negroes purchased and brought on board our ships yearly from the coast of Africa…. This is confirmed in Anderson’s History of Trade and Commerce, printed in 1764 where it is said at page 68 of the Appendix, ‘That England supplies her American colonies with Negroe-slaves, amounting in number to above one hundred thousand every year.’ When the vessels are full freighted with slaves, they set out for our plantations in America, and may be two or three months on the voyage, during which time, from the filth and stench that is among them distempers frequently break out, which carry off a great many, a fifth, a fourth, yea sometimes a third of them;. Hence it may be presumed, that at a moderate computation of the slaves, who are purchased by our African merchants in a year, near thirty thousand die upon the voyage and in the seasoning. Add to this, the prodigious number who are killed in the incursions and intestine wars…. It is no less shocking to read the accounts given by Sir Hans Sloan, and others, and the inhuman and unmerciful treatment, those Blacks meet with, who survive the seasoning in the islands, often for transgressions, to which the punishment they receive bears no proportion. ‘And the horrid executions which are frequently made there upon discovery of the plots laid by the Blacks, for the recovery of their liberty; of some they break the bones, whilst alive, on a wheel, others they burn, or rather roast to death; others they starve to death, with a loaf hanging before their mouths."’ (*12)

The fact that in America the proletariat was represented in the beginning by the slave has colored the whole life of the American people. Since the working class was made up of a slave caste, no one not a slave would recognize himself as being part of a class with a fixed social status. The brutal attack upon the Negroes was not considered an attack upon labor at all. It is only in the nineteenth century, with the emancipation of the chattel slave, that the Negro is revealed in his true historical light. Then it is seen that the Negro represents indeed the typical proletarian and stands for simple unskilled labor. Then it begins to be recognized that in America the working class as such starts out mainly as black; that the Negro is the heart of the labor problem, and that labor is the heart of the Negro problem. More and more it becomes apparent that the lynching of the Negro so sportfully practiced in the United States is but one of the ways to keep labor in its place. The inherent savage revolutionary character of American labor’s struggle-for emancipation can be traced in part to the rebellions of the slave Negro.(*13)


During the eighteenth century, capitalist development in the American colonies began to meet resistance from the Whig government of England. The attitude of these Liberal Whigs can be observed from the kind of constitution that was granted to Carolina and drawn up by no other than John Locke himself. According to this Constitution, land was to be held originally by a group of proprietors, the elder to be the Palatine (like an independent prince). The proprietors were to reserve one-fifth of the land as their personal property, another large section was to be laid out into baronies and manors to be held by an aristocracy and tilled by serfs, the rest were to be freeholds. Politically, Carolina was to avoid a numerous democracy and become an oligarchy (though there was to be a popular assembly). This was the type of society the English Liberals had planned for America!

Matters between England and America could not have come to a head before 1763; after that they rapidly did so. On the one hand, with the termination of the French and Indian War in 1763, the British government had obtained full control on the North American continent. No longer fearing the French nor having to battle with them, the King and Parliament did not have to cater so much to the American colonists. Nor did they need further a native militia. The Indians could now become a force, not of the French King against the British, but of the British King against the colonies. With the beginning of the industrial revolution, too, it was time that a real plan was worked out whereby America could be most fruitfully exploited for the benefit of the Liberal businessmen in control of Britain.

On the other hand, the American colonists also understood the change of relations between the mother country and the colonies after the termination of the War of 1763. During the war the American colonies had developed and tested their armed forces; they were satisfied that they could meet all comers in the new land. In defeating the French they had proved their superiority time and gain, even over the British picked troops. Now, too, there was no longer France to be feared. An open path had been laid for full expansion to the West which was being blocked by no one but the British Crown. Indeed, in any struggle against the British Crown and Parliament the colonists were bound to receive the aid of their former enemy, the French.

Steadily the Liberal British government began to increase its pressure upon the dominant economic colonial groups. The debts of the Southern planters to British factors became harder to pay, expansion to the West was prohibited, certain types of manufactures were banned, shipping was greatly restricted by a mass of onerous rules, taxes were increased; even the forests became royal preserves with a ban on cutting down certain trees reserved for His Majesty’s Royal Navy. Within the colonies, British government agents began to take over more and more nearly complete control. The issue was becoming ever more clear: Who were to rule the colonies, the economically dominant classes in the colonies or the British bourgeoisie?

Essentially, the American Revolution was not the fight of an oppressed people against a tyrannical king, as has been so popularly supposed and broadcast, (*14) but was the fight of the wealthy American merchants, traders, shippers, planters, and nascent manufacturers to push aside the obstructions put in their path by a capitalist government managed by a Liberal (Whig) Parliament.

That the struggle of the Americans was not against the King but against Parliament was recognized by all the leaders of the Revolution. In their debates and polemics against the British they pointed out repeatedly that Parliament had no right to tax them because they were not under the jurisdiction of Parliament, but directly under the King. They developed a theory of the British Empire which later was accepted actually by Parliament and worked into a system of Dominion Government and Home Rule. Because they had refused to acknowledge the authority of Parliament over them, the Colonists, in the Declaration of Independence, never mentioned Parliament by name at all, but rather stressed the tyranny of the King whose authority, though limited by the rights of Englishmen and Natural Law according to God, (*15) they had recognized always. As a matter of fact, several times during 1778 King George wanted to end the War, but was blocked by his Whig ministry.

In their fight against the British Crown in Parliament, the American ruling groups could count in their support the vast new immigration that was steadily pouring into the colonies. Many of these immigrants either had no traditions of being subject to the Crown (French Huguenots, Dutch, Swedes, Germans), or were hostile to Britain (Irish). American strength was gaining rapidly day by day. Within the colonies, the driving out of the Loyalists from America and the confiscation of their lands would be bound to bring a number of elements over to the side of the Revolution, elements that had nothing to lose and a lot to gain from a new distribution of wealth inevitable in any revolution. Certainly the American revolutionists could depend entirely upon the West to go along to the end. Indeed, it was the propertied elements who were closest to the West, represented by Patrick Henry, Jefferson and such, who spoke most urgently and forcibly for the break. To keep in line with the frontier, even Liberals had to talk like Radicals.

In England, the struggle of the bourgeoisie for power had resulted in the Great Rebellion, which was generally recognized as a civil war. In America, the Rebellion was not conceived as a civil war at all. Instead of a theory of open class struggles, we have adopted a concept of a national war for freedom. Thus there was formed the tradition that revolution has nothing whatever to do with class struggles. On the contrary, the American Revolution has been analyzed as though it were a struggle against the status and rigidity of classes being superimposed upon American life. Thus the British came to symbolize class rule and were regarded as devilishly striving to introduce European customs and class formations into the pure atmosphere of America. America’s destiny was thereby considered as an unceasing struggle, not of class against class, but of new-world classlessness, against old-world classfullness. According to this theory, the American Revolution was not an example of class insurrection against an internal enemy, but a national rebellion against the dark class forces of Europe.

It is a fact, however, that not only was the American Revolution itself a classic example of the culmination of the struggle of classes for power, but the American Revolution stirred up the lower classes in America, the slave, the indentured servant, the plebeian, the farmer, to seek to identify their interests with those of the Revolution and to start their own class wars to satisfy their particular needs. It was this very development that the American ruling layers feared the most and did their best to put down. George Washington would rather have lost the war than permitted the lower orders to have triumphed. In the course of the Revolution, the so-called “patriots” and wealthy revolutionists, with rare exceptions, ran away and abandoned the cause; the people were left to bear the brunt of it, and, at the end, it was the French who saved the day.

The colonial wealthy played a shameful role in the American Revolution. New York City and Philadelphia were Loyalist to the core. Liberals who previously had not hesitated to sell arms to the French against their own brethren in the French and Indian War, did not hesitate to sell plenty of war materials to the British Army in 1776. They did little of the fighting; they would not even help to finance the war. Military expenditures steadily dropped from twenty-four million dollars in 1777-1778 to ten million in 1779, to three million in 1780, and to less than two million in 1781. Had it not been for the generous loans of the French, all would have been lost to the National Army. Instead of taxing itself to pay for its war, the bourgeoisie did its best to shift the burdens entirely on to the backs of the masses. It put out paper money that rapidly became worthless; it refused to find means to pay for the soldiers. The Liberals declined to attend even to the most necessary duties of government. In the darkest days of the war, “Congress soon became insignificant in numbers, only ten or twelve members attending (Ten or twelve members out of the almost 350 who had been elected!), and these doing business or idling as suited their whim.” (*16)

The fear on the part of the wealthy Americans that they would lose control of the situation and that the masses would dominate the Army as they did in Cromwell’s time prevented the “patriots” of the time from building up a powerful army, or from drawing the masses into the Revolution. Certain it is that the mass of people did not fight in the Revolutionary War; the American armies at all times were very small, about thirty thousand men, and they were treated abominably.

“Thousands of the Continentals were often practically naked; Chastellux found several hundred in an invalid camp, not because they were ill, but because ‘they were not covered even with rags.’ (*17) During the bleak winter of 1777 soldiers died by the score of starvation. On February 1, 1778, of the total number of seventeen thousand men in the army, only five thousand were effectives, over four thousand were unfit because of nakedness, and many thousands were incapacitated due to foul diseases of all sorts.

In line with this general policy of preventing participation of the masses, George Washington at first refused to accept freed Negroes into the Army; it was only when the British threatened to free the Negro slaves of rebels and began to stir up Negro insurrections that Negroes were accepted into the army. “An official return of the negroes in Washington’s command in 1778 shows an average of 54 negroes to each battalion.” (*18) Soon in the Continental Army there were upwards of four thousand Negroes. (*19) With the blessings of Alexander Hamilton, who thought that slavery fitted men for the army, since the nearer soldiers are to machines the better, and with the approval of General Greene, who found the Negroes to be excellent soldiers indeed, efforts were made to induce Negroes to enlist on considerations of freedom. The same was done with indentured servants who were also released from their bonds if they would enlist. Thus did the bourgeoisie shirk fighting the war themselves.

Washington took the severest measures to keep officers from associating with private soldiers and at one time went so far as to dismiss from service, in disgrace, a commissioned officer for sleeping and eating with privates. (*20) How different was this from the army of Cromwell, which had elected its own delegates and had managed its own affairs. No wonder so many soldiers deserted at the first opportunity!

These considerations lead to the general conclusion that by no means was the American Revolution a people’s revolution. It was far less of a people’s revolution than the English Civil War had been, more than a century previous. We have noted that, during the English Civil Wars, the poor property holders and plebeian mass had formed their own party of Levellers and Diggers and had put forward their own demands in their own name. None of this was done in the American Revolution. What is the reason for this enormous difference between the two Revolutions? Why did the people fail to put forward their own demands in their own parties? The answer to this is not hard to find.

With the exception of the Negro slaves, who were totally inarticulate, and the indentured and other white servants, who hoped conditions would improve later, the mass of common people were better off than they had been in the old country. Their chief demands were to be permitted to live their own lives and to cultivate their own ground and work with their own tools. They were not so desperately hungry that they were willing to risk their necks in civil war. People had come to America to escape social struggles, not to engage in new ones. The frontiersmen, of course, enthusiastically sponsored the cause of the Revolution, but they had no special demands to set up, since in spite of British regulations they had boldly pushed westward and seized what they wanted.

Naturally, wherever, in a given locality, it was possible to use the Revolution as an excuse to dispossess the wealthy and the Loyalists, this was done with a will. Indeed, one may say that far more serious results accrued from the terrorism of the guerilla vigilantes than from the regular Continental Army. The Minute Men were made of such elements, as were the State militia. By the end of the Revolution, one hundred thousand Loyalists had been driven from the country and their estates, estimated at forty million dollars, confiscated. But the ordinary farmer and frontiersman refused to go out of his way to join the army or to fight, especially when he realized the conditions which the soldiers had to face in battling the British. It were better to stay at home and mind the plow.

The situation may be summed up as follows: The bulk of the Revolutionary Army was composed of poor agrarian and plebeian elements; the main part of the officers were of the well-to-do and wealthy classes. (*21) In the general relations of society, the picture was different. Only a minority of the wealthy was on the side of the Revolution, the principal portion remaining Royalist. Thus, as far as the upper social strata were concerned, they either fought against the Revolution, or if they adhered to its cause, they kept, for the most part, far in the background. However, there is no denying that the small minority from the ranks of the wealthy which did play an active role, either as initiators or controllers through the Committees of Correspondence and the Continental Congress, or as officers in the Army, completely dominated the scene.

The American Revolution is one case where the bourgeoisie itself initiated and led its own Revolution and kept firm control to the end. To do this, however, it had to see to it that the people themselves did not become involved too greatly in the struggle; thus we have the paradoxical situation where the officers of the Army make rules designed to prevent the mass of people from entering it and adopting the Revolutionary cause as their own. The lower orders could have been won enthusiastically for the Revolution. As it was, the country became about equally divided as to the justice of the struggle; as a rule the higher classes in the East went to the side of the King, while the poorer sections of the population, especially in the West, sided with the Revolution.

These strata of the poor, however, were never drawn into the actual struggle. It was not that they were neutral, but rather that they were forced into passivity by the esoteric activity of the bourgeois leaders of the Revolution. At the same time, the people were too concerned with garnering the wealth that lay at their door and that could be had for the asking for them to take the initiative and form their own people’s armies, with their own demands and officers. To this must be added the fact that so far as the mass of slaves and indentured servants were concerned, there was no possibility for them to take arms in their hands without the permission of their masters or the support of the independent portions of the population.

The farmers and frontiersmen had so little use for the State that they willingly turned it over to the Radicals, whose Declaration of Independence, affirming that all men were created equal and were endowed with certain inalienable rights which no one could take away, appealed to them mightily. Why should they worry about the ballot? They could get land and bread without it. Later, when the farmer did turn to politics, in the Shays Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion, it was because the now developed State in New England and elsewhere would no longer let him alone but was determined to make him pay for the war.

During the Revolution, the ruling oligarchical cliques were content to let Radicals like Thomas Paine step forward to stimulate the cannon fodder. Paine indeed spoke honeyed words, for he was not only a Radical, but he believed in important social reforms. Under the pressure of the American Revolution and with the events of the French Revolution unfolding before him, Paine was to go so far, before his death, as to advocate political democracy, equal rights for women, abolition of Negro slavery, international arbitration, rational conceptions of marriage and divorce, mercy to animals, pensions for the aged, maternity benefits, subsidy to the children of the very poor, municipal factories to take care of unemployment, labor unions, compulsory education, maintenance for widows, graduated income tax, abolition of expensive and useless rulers, reduction of armament by international agreement, and similar ideas. Even a George Washington could employ such a man; he utilized Paine’s revolutionary writings as declamatory material for the soldiers at Valley Forge, in order to divert their minds from the treachery of the same ruling cliques that Washington represented.

At the same time, the Liberal leaders of the Revolution heartily detested the masses and feared the cities. This was to come out clearly enough when the Constitution was to be written. Then Madison could write to Jefferson to the effect that “to secure the public good and private rights against the danger of the propertyless or proletarians and at the same time preserve the spirit and form of popular government was then the great object to which the Convention’s inquiries were directed.” (*22) Others went to great lengths in attempting to prove that a Republic is not necessarily a Democracy. John Adams, second to none in phrases during the Revolution, later has this to say: “Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either.”

“There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” (*23) Chas. and Mary Beard sum up the matter by stating that the term “Democrat” in the opinion of the “founding fathers” was as malodorous as the term “Bolsheviki” would have been in the polite circles of Washington in President Harding’s day. (*24)

To fight these masses there was established a secret Society of Cincinnati, formed immediately at the termination of the Revolutionary War, whose membership was limited solely to officers who had fought in the War under Washington. (*25) Taking no chances, the “Father of his Country” himself became presiding officer. The Society was an hereditary order and there can be no doubt that its weight was thrown in most cases on the side of the wealthy Conservatives.

The immediate economic motive for the organization of the Society of Cincinnati was to secure for the officers the pensions of half-pay for life which had been promised to them by the Continental Congress of 1780. Although the poor soldiers were to be cheated of even their back pay, the privileged caste of officers did not hesitate to attempt to make Congress provide for them. The Society, therefore, in the beginning was principally an organized lobby to put the officers at financial ease for life.

However, this alone would not have accounted for the provision of hereditary membership. The officers of the Continental army, forming the most disciplined and competent minority group, felt that they were the original legatees of the special privileges which the aristocracy of England had arrogated to itself in America. Naturally, this clique of officers lent itself to ideas of building up an American monarchy and aristocracy.

In this they were seconded by the French aristocrats who had fought in the American Revolution and who were given special honored place in the Society. Indeed, it was one of these French aristocrats who actually drew up the medal and seal which was finally adopted. The flag of the Society displayed no red anywhere, but was of white and blue stripes with the golden fleur de lis of the French nobility replacing the stars of the American flag. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that Louis XVI and the Court of France made much ado about the Cincinnati, large sums of money being contributed by the French nobility to the organization. Naturally, when the heads of these aristocrats began to roll into the baskets under the guillotine during the French Revolution, the Society of Cincinnati could be counted upon as the most bitter opponent of French radical democracy, and France on its side decreed death to every member of the Society it could find.

The wealthy classes in American society went too far in believing either that they could establish a new hereditary aristocracy in the United States, or that the military, as a group, could play any decisive role in American affairs. The Society at once became the target of sharp attacks from Liberals not only in the United States but also in France. Franklin considered this Society the most serious menace to the republican and democratic spirit of the New World. (*26) Mirabeau in his French pamphlet (*27) pointed out that Rhode Island revoked all the privileges of all its citizens who were members of the Society, and declared them incapable of any office. Several of the legislatures passed acts disfranchising those who joined, Massachusetts being especially solemn in its condemnation. The American Liberals saw in the Society a driving force for the organization of a standing army, and, as these people were mainly business men and farmers who did not wish to be taxed with the burdens of a military establishment, who were tired of War and who, above all, did not desire to become subordinate to a group of military upstarts, they were quick to denounce and condemn the Cincinnati.

This attitude on the part of many was to change in the course of the next half decade. The Society, of course, was for a strong national government, and, as disorders increased within the States and the bourgeois fear of the masses heightened, the Society of Cincinnati became a pillar of strength to “law and order.” The constitution of the Society had included statements that one of the chief purposes of the organization was to keep the union intact. Another aim was to honor the American empire, and a third object was to establish mutual correspondence whereby could be expressed decisions of the members on the political and social state of the country. The nature of these decisions is well exemplified by the resolution of the Massachusetts Society, passed October 1786, regarding the popular rebellion led by Shay. “At this alarming period, when every public and private right is invaded-when our Constitution of government, that work of labor and of blood, is shaken to its foundation-it is the duty of every individual and of every class of citizens, to stand forth in their defense.”

“As citizens and as public creditors, this Society are interested in the preservation of the Constitution; and so long as life and attendant blessings, so long as public faith and private credit are made the sacred object of government, agreeably to its original institution, this Society pledge themselves to support it by every means and by every exertion in their power.” (*28)

And if “Public faith” as exemplified in the payment of pensions, and private credit” as regards payment of debts were no longer “sacred” objects of government, was armed revolt to follow?

The importance of the Society of Cincinnati has been much underestimated. That the Constitutional Convention convoked in Philadelphia, May 1787, was called expressly to coincide with the Convention of the Society of Cincinnati is generally overlooked. Is it then false to surmise that the members of the Society were part of a secret conspiracy that initiated the illegal acts of the Convention? None of those who declined to attend or who absented themselves from the Philadelphia conclave was a member of the Cincinnati. It is also generally overlooked that fully one- third of the fifty-five delegates to the Federal Convention were members of the Society, and that this portion formed the backbone of the Federalist caucus. Later, the Society of Cincinnati were to furnish, under Washington, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and three Secretaries of War, and, under Adams, the Chief justice of the Supreme Court as well.


The end of the Revolution meant the beginning of civil war. There broke out in New England a powerful revolt known as Shays Rebellion, whose object was to push the revolution forward to a more democratic conclusion. During the American Revolution, also, in Georgia, there had been two executives and two legislatures, one representing the rich, the other the poor. In South Carolina and Virginia a bitter fight of the same nature flared up.

The Shays Rebellion indeed represented the American Leveller movement. The farmer rebels stood for democracy, for free land, for greater equality. They resisted the burdens of the war which were being foisted on their backs. The debt of Massachusetts, which had been about one hundred thousand pounds before the Revolution, had risen to almost three million pounds, of which around two hundred and fifty thousand was owing to the Soldiers. (*29) Not only had the soldiers been paid in worthless currency (later redeemed in full when it had passed into the hands of unscrupulous speculators), but many had lost their farms and livelihood. On the other hand, every effort had been made so that the wealthy could monopolize the rewards of success in the war.

However, the wealthy classes were equal to the emergency. Just as they knew how to sneak out of the war, so they knew how to sneak into power. Under the guise of meeting to discuss commercial transactions and to revise the Articles of Confederation that had been established, the leaders determined to create a powerful new national government to preserve their class hegemony. The constitutional convention was held in secret. It was illegal. It amounted to almost a coup d’etat, but the delegates emerged with a draft of a Constitution to be rushed for ratification. (*30)

The delegates had been carefully hand-picked by the State legislatures which were in turn composed of wealthy property owners elected by only a small proportion of the general population. Rufus King, delegate from Massachusetts, wrote: "If Massachusetts should send deputies, for God’s sake be careful who are the men." (*31) From the South came slave-owners, planters, and lawyers; the North sent merchants, bankers, ship owners, landlords and their lawyers. Rhode Island sent no delegates at all, and of the sixty-five sent by the other twelve States, ten did not even attend and sixteen declined or failed to sign the document which was adopted.

This secretly prepared Constitution is crammed with all sorts of anti- democratic provisions. Fearing the ‘rabble’ would control certain States, a strong national government was set up independent of any of the States. The governmental apparatus was divided into three mutually interdependent divisions, executive, legislative, and judicial. Yet each concentrated a high degree of power in itself. The President was made a strong executive with powers greater than those of the King of England at that time, or of any elected European state officer since. The President could veto legislation and appoint (concurrently with the Senate) administrative officials and judges of the Federal inferior and supreme courts. His election was as far removed from popular vote as possible. He was chosen by a College of Electors whose method of election was left to the choice of the State legislatures. Should the votes of the Electors give no one a clear majority, the House of Representatives was given the power to elect the President. “But in choosing the President the vote shall be taken by States, the representatives from each. State having one vote.” (*32) In 1824, Jackson, and in 1876, Tilden-the “people’s choice” for President-were robbed of the office when the election was thrown into Congress; the “people” counted for little.

The law-making power was subdivided into a bicameral legislature with only the House of Representatives chosen directly by the people. The Constitution itself provided that only that minority of the population which could meet the high property qualifications necessary to vote for the State legislatures could elect Representatives. Thus the restrictions upon voting then prevalent in the States were incorporated into the Constitutional law of the land. To check the responsiveness of Congress to the wishes of the masses, the Senate was set up. Senators, like the President, had to be older men and were not to be elected by the people, but were to be chosen by the State legislatures. The big property owners, elected by little property owners, thus made doubly sure that they could control the Senate. It took a century and a quarter and a Constitutional Amendment to give the people the right to elect Senators. Should the people wish to remove their representatives from office, they might have to wait six years to effect it.

Under the Constitution, the Judiciary is appointed for life by one man, the President, and, like him, they are not directly responsible to the people. Nor are they removable from office except through impeachment proceedings which the Senate alone has the power to bring. Nor can their salaries be reduced during their tenure. They become, thereby, Absolutely independent of the will of the people. Of all the remnants of monarchy, this life tenure of office given the judiciary was the most flagrant and offensive and opposed to the democratic principle of responsibility to the people. Soon an assault took place against the independent judiciary. Impeachment proceedings were instituted and for a time “judge-breaking” became widespread. But nothing came of this protest.

The Founding Fathers also provided that the Constitution, once accepted, could be amended only with the greatest difficulty. It required two- thirds of the members of both Houses of Congress, or the legislatures or conventions of three-quarters of the States, to put an amendment into force. So thoroughly undemocratic was the Constitution that it did not even mention civil liberties, and Alexander Hamilton argued against incorporating into the document the right to trial by jury. (*33)

Opposition to the Constitution led to such strife that, in order to get the Constitution passed at all, it was agreed to adopt amendments to guarantee civil liberties to the people. In Virginia, where the decisive battle was fought, in spite of the fact that about one-quarter of the total delegates were officers who had fought under Washington and who were all members of the secret Society of Cincinnati, and in spite of the fact that the Constitutionalists had carefully prepared and had obtained the selection of their men in ten constituent districts where the electorate was heartily opposed to the Constitution, the Constitution would not have been approved even under these conditions had not the proponents agreed to adopt twenty amendments, including such points as: no army or regular troops should be raised or kept up in time of peace without a two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress present; the prerogatives of the Supreme Court to be reduced so as to render it almost powerless, etc. However, once Virginia had ratified the Constitution, these promises were never lived up to, and barely ten Amendments were finally adopted declaring (1) that the Federal government could not prevent freedom of speech, press and assemblage; (2) the right to petition; (3) the right to keep and bear arms; (4) the right of a speedy trial by jury upon indictment of a grand jury; (5) and prohibition of excessive bail or fines and cruel punishments. Soon, however, these Amendments were severely modified by judicial decision, by executive action, or by legislation.

Though the Preamble of the Constitution starts off with “We, the People …” not more than five per cent of the population voted on the question, only one hundred thousand votes being cast for the Constitution and sixty thousand against, or with the approval of only two-thirteenths of the white adult males in the population. The vast majority of the poor people, the small farmers, frontiersmen, and craftsmen, and even a great majority of those who were entitled to vote, were opposed to the adoption and ratification of the Constitution, while the millions of Negro slaves and indentured servants were not able to voice their opinion at all. The very sharp class demarcation for and against the Constitution was crystallized in the nick-naming of its supporters as “Washingtonians” and its opponents as “Shayites.”

So great was the Federalists’ fear that the people would finally prevail that they immediately began an unprecedented campaign for its hasty adoption. They did not hesitate to ally themselves with former Loyalists and anti-revolutionists. All the wealthy were for the Constitution and their large financial resources were thrown into the fight to establish newspapers and to buy public opinion. Hurriedly they called a number of State conventions before the general public became aware of what had been devised in the secret sessions of the Philadelphia Convention. The feverish haste was well evidenced by the fact that only twenty per cent of the men eligible to vote were able to do so. Approval of five States was rushed through within one month.

Nor were the wealthy above the use of strong-arm methods to secure their ends. In Pennsylvania, to prevent too quick approval and to acquaint the public with the situation, the Antis had remained away from the Convention. To complete a quorum the Federalists broke into the homes of the Anti-Constitutionalists and dragged them to the State House where they were forcibly held in their places. Business was rushed through and the Constitution was ratified by a vote of 43 to 23. Elsewhere, the opposition gained strength as time passed, the vote in the three largest States being very close: Massachusetts 187 to 168, Virginia 89 to 79, New York 30 to 27.

The Constitution of the United States proved to be an excellent mechanism through which the few thousand large slave-owners for many years were able completely to dominate the entire country’s policy. This slavocracy controlled the several hundred thousand small slave-owners and ruled all the twelve million people in the South at the time of the Civil War. Being allowed Congressional representation out of all proportion to their numbers-the Constitution guaranteed additional Representatives for three-fifths of all the Negro slaves-and being near the seat of government Jefferson saw to that—the Southern slave-holders were able to take the leading role in the Federal government. Through this control they were able to spell the doom of all the middle classes of the western parts of the Southern States. Through the Missouri Compromise they maintained in the Senate a voice equal to that of the North and West combined. These few thousand Southerners clogged all the pores of the higher apparatus and they predominated in all three divisions of the government, executive-administrative, legislative, and judicial. Most of the Presidents were their henchmen and, through appointments, they had a majority of the Cabinet posts and the Supreme Court in which the leading judges were theirs. Their majority in the high army posts enabled them to prepare for the inevitable insurrection and to shift much arms and ammunition secretly to the South. On this basis they dominated not only the South, but the entire nation of thirty-two million souls up to the time of the Civil War.

Thus did the wealthy combine to end the “critical period of American History” and to build up a new State to crush the poor and to break up all opposition and interference with their aims. That the Constitution and the Government of the United States were established not through Revolution but through Counter-Revolution could be seen by the type of government that was set up under Washington and Adams. Under their lead, vast grants of land were parceled out to real estate sharks, the Revolutionary soldiers were unconscionably swindled for the benefit of speculators, a heavy tax was placed on whiskey (the only form by which grain could conveniently be shipped over the mountains to the East) affecting the great mass of agrarians, and when they revolted, stern measures were taken to put them down. An Alien Act was passed declaring that the President could order out of the country any alien suspected of machinations against the government, etc., and in some cases he could imprison the defendant as long as he wished. A Sedition Act was also rushed through at the time, providing penalties for those printing anything malicious against the officers of the government or with intent to excite against them the hatred of the people of the United States. Thus were the people made aware of who won the War, and the fast-running agrarians of the West were brought to with a jerk and made to realize that they had better pay attention to the State because the State was going to pay attention to them.

The wealthy cliques were able to keep control fundamentally because there was still too much wealth and opportunity lying loose for any really social revolutionary movement to be maintained long. The Shay and Whiskey Rebellions soon petered out. People could become well-to-do without bothering about who had State power. (*34) If the Federal State won it was not because it was strong but because the decisive mass of the people forfeited the battle.

Washington ended his term and went out of office with the curses of the people in his ears. The Federalists, however, did not quit without first having insured that the pattern of American affairs would be molded irrevocably in their behalf. In foreign policy they made sure that the United States would give no aid to the French Revolution. The bloody insurrection of the Negroes in Haiti in 1791 sent chills down their spine. The Federalists hastened to send the most ardent opponents to the French Revolution they could find to be America’s envoys to France and to discover that the American Revolution had to fight the French people and not ally itself with them.

Instead of supporting the French Radicals, Washington did his best to rush into a treaty with England and thus, in the great European conflict that was then raging between the French Revolution and the English Counter-Revolution, America was forced to throw its weight on behalf of the reactionaries. The Jay Treaty was the most humiliating compact America ever entered into, England securing most valuable concessions, the Americans practically none. (*35)

However, the chief contribution made by the Federalists to perpetuity was the establishment of the principle of judicial supremacy, the power of the courts to nullify Acts of Congress or of the President and to become the sole guardians of the Constitution. In order firmly to establish this principle, the Federalists, before going out of office, flooded the courts with their members and established many new judgeships. Slyly they slipped over John Marshall as the Chief justice, although Marshall was then Secretary of State, and they had to use the draconic measure of getting the incumbent Chief Justice to resign.

Up to that time it was by no means clear that the courts had such power. in England it had already been decided that the courts could not nullify legislation. It is true, the colonies had a little different history. From earliest times the Privy Council, a court of the Crown, had overruled colonial legislation and other action. This could be no precedent, however, because the Privy Council was subordinate to the King and Parliament and was merely carrying out their wishes. Also colonial courts had declared legislation at times to be in violation of this or that provision of a charter or constitution. Yet here, too, the colonial courts were assuming the authority only of interpreting the meaning of Parliament and the King in Council. Finally, in some instances, judges had also been given legislative powers. But this had been by express legislation. (*36)

Thus, when John Marshall became Chief justice, the whole question was hotly disputed. The Convention had not dared to put any provision into the Constitution actually giving the Supreme Court any such power. Madison and others at the Constitutional Convention had favored the creation of a Council of Revision made up of the President and the Judges of the Supreme Court to pass on the constitutionality of Congressional Legislation, and to compel Congress to repass rejected legislation by two-thirds vote if it were to become the law of the land. This would have taken the veto power away from the President alone. It also would have taken the power of judicial nullification from the courts. The proposal was defeated.

In some States the courts themselves denied that they had the power to nullify the Acts of the legislature. So, in the beginning, the Supreme Court had to move very slowly and carefully. It began with deciding that it could declare the action of any single State of the Union null and void where it ran counter to the Constitution of the United States. Only later did Marshall nullify Acts of Congress. It is a fact that neither Jefferson, Jackson, nor Lincoln recognized this power; only after the Civil War was ended did the bourgeoisie develop the judicial power to its present great extent. (*37)

Since there is no country in the world where judges have such power as they have in the United States, it would repay us to make a closer study of the forces in American life leading to such a situation. The key to the problem lies in the fact that the American Republic was established without a democratic revolution. We have already noted that there had been no decisive insurrectionary struggles of oppressed masses, no street fighting, no barricades. Individual contests took the place of class conflicts. These individual elements might bite and scratch each other as to what share each was to get, but adjudications of such squabbles did not require an army. Mere police-court action was enough.

In other countries, like England and France, which were constantly disturbed by warfare, internal and external, the governments had become highly centralized with a strong executive power which alone could carry out the interests of the extant ruling class with precision and dispatch. In such countries courts were plainly subordinate instruments, and not controllers, of the State. In the United States, however, with an unbounded wilderness around it, society had no great need for executive centralization leading a large military force.

The problem in America was mainly that of creating order out of the chaotic wilderness. It was necessary for each agrarian settler to delimit the area which was his. This spelled business for the lawyer and the land court. As soon as private property had to be protected it became necessary to appeal to the magistrate and the sheriff. And in many parts of the country these were the only two officers of the government known. In England and in other countries the main duties of the courts, especially in the beginning, were to keep the peace. This was not quite so in America. No one knew, often enough, whether murder was committed in the countryside or not; it was the law of contracts and of real estate that called forth so many lawyers on this side of the Atlantic.

It must be remembered, too, that the average agrarian could not read or write and, even if he could do so, he could not follow the intricacies of the English common law. As De Toqueville put it: “The French lawyer is simply a man extensively acquainted with the statutes of his country; but the English or American lawyer resembles the hierophants of Egypt, for, like them, he is the sole interpreter of an occult science.” (*38)

It was no accident, then, that lawyers, and not soldiers or ministers, played such a prominent part in American social life. Later, when British politics had advanced to the science of constitution-making for the colonies, it was the lawyer who had to prepare the case to argue before the Privy Council and other British bodies. Thus in the British courts there were argued out not only individual rights and duties but political liberties as well. When the American Revolution broke out, it was not under a barrage of religious texts, but with political treatises and legal briefs. Politics by this time had become thoroughly emancipated from theology.

To settle national policy by adjudicating the property rights of an individual plaintiff or defendant, nothing could illustrate the classlessness and individualism of American life better than this. Not political but private relations seemed all-important. In this manner, the court held up to ridicule the other instruments of the State, and in the case of businessman John Doe versus the State, has treated John Doe as though he were a State in himself and as a power equal to the other side. John Doe’s individualism raised to State power, public interests derogated to the standing of private claims, such has been the classic method of procedure now thoroughly encrusted in American life. In the language of the American Liberal, the court has become idealized as standing between the people and governmental despotism.


The victory of the Revolutionists in 1783 firmly established Liberalism, together with its accustomed association with Radical phrases, as the basic tradition of the country. Henceforth every group, even the most conservative, that wanted to take power had to speak in the light of the Declaration of Independence, in the name of Liberalism and even Radicalism. Here, then, is a big difference between the compromising Liberalism of the British and the Radical Liberalism of the American. In America conservatives must always pose as Liberal reformists; in England, on the contrary, Liberal reformists always try to prove they are conservative and respectable. This difference came clearly to light at the very time of the Revolution, for during the whole of the eighteenth century, the Whigs were practically indistinguishable from the Tories. (The overwhelming majority of the latter by that time had given up their Jacobite and Jesuit pretensions.) During the Revolution, however, a split occurred among the Whigs, some speaking against the majority’s policies.

Naturally, in waging war against the mother country, American Liberalism had to take on a different emphasis from the English brand which it was shooting down. American Liberalism had to be farther to the Left and appear more Radical. The European colonists in America did not have to begin history all over again from the very beginning; they could take over the writings of the European Liberals and improve them. Especially was this done with the works of John Locke who had set forth the right of the citizens to overthrow any government that took property without consent and did not operate according to reason. To take the English Liberals at their word—here was a neat ironic thrust. John Locke, the politician, was made to fight John Locke, the Mercantilist economist.

American Liberals took to the worship of the laws of Nature far more strongly than even the English compromisers had dared to do. One may say that they deified Nature as they denatured God. (*39) According to Locke, mankind had not prospered when, in the dim past, it had lived in a “State of Nature.” Mankind needed a social life without which existence would be hardly endurable. The Americans emphatically differed with Locke here. Nature to them was something not far away but very real and close. Had not the American greatly prospered in this “State of Nature” and was such a state not better than the artificial European society that the English Liberal would impose?

To the English, Natural Law had come to mean the scientific laws of morality. To the Americans, Natural Law meant natural science and as great naturalists they interpreted Natural Rights to mean the rules of conduct to guide men in their mutual relations in controlling the wilds of forest and sea. Turning primitive himself, the Americanized colonist could only idealize primitive man as being “free as nature.”

The American had not much use for either society or the State. The laws pertaining to geography and botany amply substituted for social laws and struggles, and the relation of man to nature became far more paramount in his eyes than the relation of man to man. The huge extent of the American scene profoundly affected his whole make-up. (*40) To conquer and control these vast spaces, high speed and quick tempo were needed. Thus a whole manner of living was evolved far more adaptable to Radicalism than to sedate Liberalism. If the British, with Locke, had turned from revelation to reason, the Americans went from ratiocination to motor reflexes. Not reason but energy had battered down the forests. Even Liberalism had to show some spirit.

Whenever the English Liberals had talked about Natural Rights, these rights had been merely the duties of government, since the English Liberals were calling for those rights of subjects long recognized by the Magna Carta, such as no cruel punishments, no taxes without law, nor army without consent of Parliament, trial by jury, free and frequent elections, right to petition, etc. On the contrary, the American recognized no duties. The English Rights had been rooted in tradition; American Rights, in combating the English variety, had to break away from tradition and to go straight back to the individual and to nature. The Continental Congress had made the point, in 1774, that Americans had the rights belonging to them by virtue of the unchangeable laws of nature and by the principles of the Constitution of England. By 1776, in the Declaration of Independence, this last point of the rights of Englishmen was dropped, and men were assumed to have inherent and inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property derived straight from nature. (*41)

Once the die had been cast for independence, it was impossible for the Americans to take the ground that their “Rights as Englishmen” were being impaired. This would have turned the conflict into a mere family squabble. It could have made no appeal to the outside world, especially France, whence so much was expected and needed. To obtain the aid of France, the Colonists had to make it plain to her they were fighting for independence and not reconciliation. Otherwise the Revolution would have been lost from the outset. It is this circumstance more than anything else that contributed to the belief that the American Revolution was not a civil war. In a civil war, revolutionists try to win State power of a country; in the American Revolution, their aim was to break from the old State power. Thus could Disraeli say that the Americans fought, not for liberty, but for independence. (*42)

In America the Law of Nature meant the laws of the present. Tradition did not have great significance; indeed, in some respects it was hateful. Since immigrants from countries other than England were pouring in, customs were becoming mixed and blurred. And besides, America was emerging as a nation herself. The abstract theory and rigid rules of Europe could not compete with the empirical practice of the American successful farmers and propertied elements. (*43)

The refusal of the Americans to kowtow to tradition is seen embodied, not only in such actions as the abolition of primogeniture and entail, but in direct provisions in the Constitution where, looking neither forward nor backward, but emphasizing only the present individual before it, it is provided that no titles of nobility shall be granted, no ex post facto laws adopted, and “no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.” (*44)

As for the atrophied development of such ideas as legal duty and social obligation, such a condition was the inevitable product of American life. The gap between rich and poor was not so wide as in England. Neither classes nor the pressure of government existed to a great extent in the new country, except as both were embodied in the demands of European powers. The country was vast and habitually had been not only remote from England’s management, but poorly controlled within. Thus, on the surface, the program of the American Liberals was more like that of the English Levellers than that of the English Liberals. With no feudal classes to fear, with no great class pressure from below threatening to substitute another system, the American Liberal could take his Liberalism “liberally” and make certain gestures toward Radicalism.(*45)

Here, with a whole continent for a backyard, and with the fullest freedom of motion and locomotion, it was but natural that liberty should be the aspect stressed rather than better government, and that liberty of action, freedom from control, direct representation and action, were so highly prized.

While the English Liberal wanted to control the State, the cry of the American was to be freed from the State. Against the Monarchy of the English, the Americans posed the Republic. To the centralized State, they counter-posed decentralized social groups. Instead of making a demand for the legal quartering of troops, they tried to do away with the standing army. For that matter, the government became for a time a mere policeman and not a very powerful one at that. Jefferson’s view was that government is best that governs least. Government is only to restrain men from injuring each other and to protect them from mutual interference. (*46)

The English had admitted the Right of Revolution; the Americans not only placed it directly in the Declaration of Independence, but with Jefferson, called for revolution every twenty years. (*47) But if the revolution was to be a permanent thing in America it was only because action was perpetual. Such a philosophy of revolution every twenty years was perfectly pertinent in a country evolving so rapidly that a single generation could see pass before its eyes the entire evolution of the human race from the hunting and fishing stage to machinofacture, where children, returning home after twenty years, could no longer recognize their birthplace.

The American Revolution broke the back of the Mercantilist School of economists. A new school, the Physiocrats, was arising in France and from there was to spread to America, expressing the new events and interests. Benjamin Franklin, one of their leaders, was one of the first to begin to place political economy upon a scientific basis. The Physiocrats, differing from the Mercantilists, declared that all wealth came from production and not from circulation, but that the sole real productivity was that of agriculture. That all wealth came from agriculture was naturally the conclusion first reached by the capitalists of agrarian countries. The Physiocrats advocated international free trade. In this Franklin agreed with Adam Smith, leader of the English Classic School of Economists. But while Smith put free trade as a matter of justice, Franklin called for it as a matter of expediency. Franklin thus not only anticipated a good deal of modern political economy, (*48) but was among the first to drive home the basic principles of the utilitarian school of politics then only being founded in England. The Industrial Revolution was at hand.


1. T. V. Smith: The American Philosophy of Equality, p. 10, citing E. B. Andrews: The Colonial Period

2. The same, p 10, footnote.

3. See Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England, 1620-1789, I, 288-289.

4. The term “servant” was used to designate anyone who rendered service, the laborer as well as the household servant.

5. The pinch of high land prices began to be felt in the 18th century. In 1732 the Penns raised the price of their lands from 10 lb’s. for 100 acres and 2 shillings quitrent to l5 ˝ lb’s. and a half-penny per acre; and in 1738 Lord Baltimore raised his from 2 lb’s. for 100 acres to 5 lb’s.” (E. C. Kirkland. History of American Economic Life, p. 35.)

When the great chunks of Western lands were seized (for example, by the Ohio Land Company), there were no small parcels sold but only lots of 640 acres at $1 an acre and later $2 an acre. Thus were the poor kept out.

6. For example, “In 1839, it was reported in Mississippi that ninety per cent of fines collected by sheriffs and clerks were unaccounted for.” (W. E. DuBois: Gift of the Black Folk, p. 228.)

7. E.C. Kirkland, work cited, p. 241.

8. The categories adopted in Virginia at the time were:

1. white indentured servants

2. white servants without indentures

a. those who came voluntarily

b. those who came involuntarily

(1) those spirited away

(2) those sent away for their country’s good

(3) probably also the ‘Duty boyes

3. Christian Negro servants

4. Indian servants

5. Mulatto servants (whose servitude was the penalty for having a white mother and an Indian, Negro, or Mulatto father, or, after 1723, for being descended in the maternal line from such a combination of ancestors)

6. Indian slaves

7. Negro slaves

(Judicial Cases Concerning American Slavery and the Negro, edited by H. T. Catterall, I, 53-54. 9. The private mansions of wealthy planters frequently impressed observers as though the buildings had a State character

10. Catterall, work cited, pp. 56-61.

11. Citation given in A. Benezet: A Caution and Warning to Great Britain and Her Colonies, p.10 (The best edition appears to be the second American, issued by D. Hall & W. Sellers, Philadelphia, 1767.)

12. The same, pp. 41-43.

13. Interesting evidence of Negro revolts can be found in John R. Commons and Associates: Documentary History of American Industrial Society, II, 75-125.

14. Even V. 1. Lenin (Ulyanov), leader of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia, was taken in by this American propaganda. See his “Letter to American Workingmen” where he repeats these popular pleasantries.

15. See C. Becker: The Declaration of Independence, especially pp. 131-132.

16. A. J. Beveridge: Life of John Marshall, I, 124.

17. Beveridge: work cited, I, 86.

18. R. H. Belcher: The First American Civil War, II, 10.

19. W. E. B. Du Bois: Gift of the Black Folk, p. 94, citing from W. B. Hartgrove- Journal of Negro History, I, 125-129.

20. Beveridge, work cited, I, 120.

21. According to General Greene, the rank and file soldiers behaved much better than their officers. (See C. K. Bolton: The Private Soldier Under Washington, pp. 134-135.)

22. See J. Madison: “Letter of Oct. 24, 1787,” Works, I, 351-353.

“Divide et impera, the reprobated axiom of tyranny is, under certain qualifications, the only policy by which a republic can be administered on just principles.” (The same, I, 353.)

23. J. Adams: Works, VI, 483-484.

For the views of other delegates to the Constitutional Convention, see J. Madison: The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, p. 32. (Gerry); p. 34 (Randolph); p. 115-118 (Hamilton). See also pp. 167-168 for another illustration of Madison’s views.

24. C. and Mary Beard: Rise of American Civilization, I, 372.

25. It should be kept in mind that many of the officers had received their titles and commands not through military experience but through their wealth and ability to raise a force of recruits. Nepotism was rampant. (See C. K. Bolton: work cited, p. 129.)

26. This attitude, however, did not prevent Franklin from accepting an honorary membership in the organization in 1789.

27. “Considerations on the Order of Cincinnatus.” This pamphlet is really a copy of A. Burke’s attack against the Society.

28. The Boston Magazine, 1786, p. 368.

29. See G. R. Minot: The History of the Insurrections in Massachusetts, pp. 5-6.

30. For a good analysis see C. A. Beard: Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.

31. R. King: Life and Correspondence, I, 201; also given in J. T. Austen: The Life of Elbridge Gerry, I, 4.

32. Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section 1.

33. See The Federalist, No. 83.

34. Not until long after the Declaration of Independence did Jefferson commit himself to the dangerous doctrine of manhood suffrage. As for the Liberal Franklin, at first he was against universal suffrage. “As to those who have no landed property in a county the allowing them to vote for legislators is an impropriety.” (Franklin: Bigelow Edition, III, 496.) Franklin did not oppose the English Rotten Borough system. Only during, or, rather, after the Revolution, did Franklin say franchise was the common right of freemen. (Franklin, Smythe Edition, IX, 342.) But he specifically excluded “minors, servants (that is, workers) and others who are liable to undue influence.” (Franklin, Bigelow Edition, VIII, 411.) At the Constitutional Convention, however, Franklin was part of the more democratic wing as opposed to Hamilton.

35. A. J. Beveridge: Life of John Marshall, II, 114.

36. In the Northwest ordinance of 1787 the judges had this power with the Governor.

37. See C. G. Haines: The American Doctrine of judicial Supremacy.

38. A. de Tocqueville: Democracy in America, I, 282. (Colonial Press Ed, 1899-1900.)

39. For this expression see C. Becker: Declaration of Independence, p. 51.

40. To this day Americans are far more interested in scenic effects (Niagara Falls, Yellowstone Park, etc.) than they are in monuments of history. And one would be absolutely lost in many large American cities such as in Chicago if one did not always remember, like a traveler wandering in the wilderness by compass, which was North, East, South and West. In Europe, on the other hand, avenues are named after social events and historic characters.

41. See G. Jellinek: Declaration of Rights of Man, pp. 27-28, also p. 48.

42. Disraeli, The Younger: Vindication of the English Constitution, p. 59 (1935 edition).

43. According to M. J. Bonn, the distinctive features of America are its methods, which are characterized by its complete disregard of established traditions, by sudden change of fronts, by utter unconcern over remote consequence and by “cocktail” eclecticism. (See Preface: The American Experiment, by M. J. Bonn.)

“I think in no country in the civilized world is less attention paid to philosophy than in the U. S… . To evade the bondage of system and habit, of family maxims, class opinions, and, in some degree, of national prejudices; to accept tradition only as a means of information, and existing facts only as a lesson used in doing otherwise, and doing better; to seek the reason of things for one’s self, and in one’s self alone; to tend to results without being bound to means, and to aim at the substance through the form; such are the principal characteristics of what I shall call the philosophic method of the Americans.” (De Tocqueville, work cited, II, 3.)

44. Article II, Section 3.

45. Besides, the American Liberals learned a great deal later from the French Radicals. Jefferson, Franklin, and Paine spent years in France. Under Jefferson, the Liberals came out for the end of primogeniture and entail, and for a reform of the penal laws. Note, however, that Jefferson organized, not a Democratic Party, but a Republican Party.

46. See "Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1801, Writings, VIII, 4 (Ford edition). See also, “Jefferson’s First Message to Congress,” Dec. 8, 1801, VIII, 123.

47. If Jefferson was for Revolution; however, he was for a revolution of the country over the city. If he expressed himself favorably to the Shays Rebellion, it was after the Rebellion was defeated and also because it was a struggle against the Northern capitalists. If he posed as a Democrat, it was because the Southern planter was making his alliance with the West against the North and East.

See “Letter to William S. Smith,” November 13, 1787, Writings, IV, 467. Also, “Letter to James Madison,” December 20, 1787, IV, 479-480.

48. Franklin was among the first to see that labor is the source of value, and to understand the uses of money as a medium of exchange, and to believe that all commerce is cheating. (See. L. G. Carey: Franklin’s Economic Views, pp. 41-43; see Karl Marx: Capital, I, 59, footnote Kerr Edition.)