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Arawak men and women, naked, t awny, and full of wonder, emerged from t heir villages ont o t he
island's beaches and swam out t o get a closer look at t he st range big boat . When Columbus and his
sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, t he Arawaks ran t o greet t hem, brought t hem
food, wat er, gift s. He lat er wrot e of t his in his log:

They ... brought us parrot s and balls of cot t on and spears and many ot her t hings, which t hey
exchanged for t he glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly t raded everyt hing t hey owned... .
They were well-built , wit h good bodies and handsome feat ures.... They do not bear arms, and do
not know t hem, for I showed t hem a sword, t hey t ook it by t he edge and cut t hemselves out of
ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane... . They would make fine servant s....
Wit h fift y men we could subjugat e t hem all and make t hem do what ever we want .

These Arawaks of t he Bahama Islands were much like Indians on t he mainland, who were
remarkable (European observers were t o say again and again) for t heir hospit alit y, t heir belief in
sharing. These t rait s did not st and out in t he Europe of t he Renaissance, dominat ed as it was by t he
religion of popes, t he government of kings, t he frenzy for money t hat marked West ern civilizat ion
and it s first messenger t o t he Americas, Christ opher Columbus.

Columbus wrot e:

As soon as I arrived in t he Indies, on t he first Island which I found, I t ook some of t he nat ives by
force in order t hat t hey might learn and might give me informat ion of what ever t here is in t hese
part s.

The informat ion t hat Columbus want ed most was: Where is t he gold? He had persuaded t he king
and queen of Spain t o finance an expedit ion t o t he lands, t he wealt h, he expect ed would be on t he
ot her side of t he At lant ic-t he Indies and Asia, gold and spices. For, like ot her informed people of his
t ime, he knew t he world was round and he could sail west in order t o get t o t he Far East .

Spain was recent ly unified, one of t he new modern nat ion-st at es, like France, England, and
Port ugal. It s populat ion, most ly poor peasant s, worked for t he nobilit y, who were 2 percent of t he
populat ion and owned 95 percent of t he land. Spain had t ied it self t o t he Cat holic Church, expelled
all t he Jews, driven out t he Moors. Like ot her st at es of t he modern world, Spain sought gold, which
was becoming t he new mark of wealt h, more useful t han land because it could buy anyt hing.

There was gold in Asia, it was t hought , and cert ainly silks and spices, for Marco Polo and ot hers
had brought back marvelous t hings from t heir overland expedit ions cent uries before. Now t hat t he
Turks had conquered Const ant inople and t he east ern Medit erranean, and cont rolled t he land
rout es t o Asia, a sea rout e was needed. Port uguese sailors were working t heir way around t he
sout hern t ip of Africa. Spain decided t o gamble on a long sail across an unknown ocean.

In ret urn for bringing back gold and spices, t hey promised Columbus 10 percent of t he profit s,
governorship over new-found lands, and t he fame t hat would go wit h a new t ide: Admiral of t he
Ocean Sea. He was a merchant 's clerk from t he It alian cit y of Genoa, part -t ime weaver (t he son of a
skilled weaver), and expert sailor. He set out wit h t hree sailing ships, t he largest of which was t he
Sant a Maria, perhaps 100 feet long, and t hirt y-nine crew members.

Columbus would never have made it t o Asia, which was t housands of miles fart her away t han he
had calculat ed, imagining a smaller world. He would have been doomed by t hat great expanse of
sea. But he was lucky. One-fourt h of t he way t here he came upon an unknown, unchart ed land t hat
lay bet ween Europe and Asia-t he Americas. It was early Oct ober 1492, and t hirt y-t hree days since
he and his crew had left t he Canary Islands, off t he At lant ic coast of Africa. Now t hey saw branches
and st icks float ing in t he wat er. They saw flocks of birds.

These were signs of land. Then, on Oct ober 12, a sailor called Rodrigo saw t he early morning moon
shining on whit e sands, and cried out . It was an island in t he Bahamas, t he Caribbean sea. The first
man t o sight land was supposed t o get a yearly pension of 10,000 maravedis for life, but Rodrigo
never got it . Columbus claimed he had seen a light t he evening before. He got t he reward.

So, approaching land, t hey were met by t he Arawak Indians, who swam out t o greet t hem. The
Arawaks lived in village communes, had a developed agricult ure of corn, yams, cassava. They could
spin and weave, but t hey had no horses or work animals. They had no iron, but t hey wore t iny gold
ornament s in t heir ears.

This was t o have enormous consequences: it led Columbus t o t ake some of t hem aboard ship as
prisoners because he insist ed t hat t hey guide him t o t he source of t he gold. He t hen sailed t o what
is now Cuba, t hen t o Hispaniola (t he island which t oday consist s of Hait i and t he Dominican
Republic). There, bit s of visible gold in t he rivers, and a gold mask present ed t o Columbus by a
local Indian chief, led t o wild visions of gold fields.

On Hispaniola, out of t imbers from t he Sant a Maria, which had run aground, Columbus built a fort ,
t he first European milit ary base in t he West ern Hemisphere. He called it Navidad (Christ mas) and
left t hirt y-nine crewmembers t here, wit h inst ruct ions t o find and st ore t he gold. He t ook more
Indian prisoners and put t hem aboard his t wo remaining ships. At one part of t he island he got int o
a fight wit h Indians who refused t o t rade as many bows and arrows as he and his men want ed. Two
were run t hrough wit h swords and bled t o deat h. Then t he Nina and t he Pint a set sail for t he
Azores and Spain. When t he weat her t urned cold, t he Indian prisoners began t o t he.

Columbus's report t o t he Court in Madrid was ext ravagant . He insist ed he had reached Asia (it
was Cuba) and an island off t he coast of China (Hispaniola). His descript ions were part fact , part
fict ion:

Hispaniola is a miracle. Mount ains and hills, plains and past ures, are bot h fert ile and beaut iful ...
t he harbors are unbelievably good and t here are many wide rivers of which t he majorit y cont ain
gold. . . . There are many spices, and great mines of gold and ot her met als....

The Indians, Columbus report ed, "are so naive and so free wit h t heir possessions t hat no one who
has not wit nessed t hem would believe it . When you ask for somet hing t hey have, t hey never say no.
To t he cont rary, t hey offer t o share wit h anyone...." He concluded his report by asking for a lit t le
help from t heir Majest ies, and in ret urn he would bring t hem from his next voyage "as much gold as
t hey need ... and as many slaves as t hey ask." He was full of religious t alk: "Thus t he et ernal God, our
Lord, gives vict ory t o t hose who follow His way over apparent impossibilit ies."

Because of Columbus's exaggerat ed report and promises, his second expedit ion was given
sevent een ships and more t han t welve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went
from island t o island in t he Caribbean, t aking Indians as capt ives. But as word spread of t he
Europeans' int ent t hey found more and more empt y villages. On Hait i, t hey found t hat t he sailors
left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a bat t le wit h t he Indians, aft er t hey had roamed t he
island in gangs looking for gold, t aking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.

Now, from his base on Hait i, Columbus sent expedit ion aft er expedit ion int o t he int erior. They
found no gold fields, but had t o fill up t he ships ret urning t o Spain wit h some kind of dividend. In
t he year 1495, t hey went on a great slave raid, rounded up fift een hundred Arawak men, women,
and children, put t hem in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, t hen picked t he five hundred best
specimens t o load ont o ships. Of t hose five hundred, t wo hundred died en rout e. The rest arrived
alive in Spain and were put up for sale by t he archdeacon of t he t own, who report ed t hat , alt hough
t he slaves were "naked as t he day t hey were born," t hey showed "no more embarrassment t han
animals." Columbus lat er wrot e: "Let us in t he name of t he Holy Trinit y go on sending all t he slaves
t hat can be sold."

But t oo many of t he slaves died in capt ivit y. And so Columbus, desperat e t o pay back dividends t o
t hose who had invest ed, had t o make good his promise t o fill t he ships wit h gold. In t he province of
Cicao on Hait i, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields t o exist , t hey ordered all persons
fourt een years or older t o collect a cert ain quant it y of gold every t hree mont hs. When t hey brought
it , t hey were given copper t okens t o hang around t heir necks. Indians found wit hout a copper
t oken had t heir hands cut off and bled t o deat h.

The Indians had been given an impossible t ask. The only gold around was bit s of dust garnered
from t he st reams. So t hey fled, were hunt ed down wit h dogs, and were killed.

Trying t o put t oget her an army of resist ance, t he Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor,
musket s, swords, horses. When t he Spaniards t ook prisoners t hey hanged t hem or burned t hem t o
deat h. Among t he Arawaks, mass suicides began, wit h cassava poison. Infant s were killed t o save
t hem from t he Spaniards. In t wo years, t hrough murder, mut ilat ion, or suicide, half of t he 250,000
Indians on Hait i were dead.

When it became clear t hat t here was no gold left , t he Indians were t aken as slave labor on huge
est at es, known lat er as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by t he
t housands. By t he year 1515, t here were perhaps fift y t housand Indians left . By 1550, t here were five
hundred. A report of t he year 1650 shows none of t he original Arawaks or t heir descendant s left on
t he island.

The chief source-and, on many mat t ers t he only source-of informat ion about what happened on t he
islands aft er Columbus came is Bart olome de las Casas, who, as a young priest , part icipat ed in t he
conquest of Cuba. For a t ime he owned a plant at ion on which Indian slaves worked, but he gave
t hat up and became a vehement crit ic of Spanish cruelt y. Las Casas t ranscribed Columbus's journal
and, in his fift ies, began a mult ivolume Hist ory of t he Indies. In it , he describes t he Indians. They
are agile, he says, and can swim long dist ances, especially t he women. They are not complet ely
peaceful, because t hey do bat t le from t ime t o t ime wit h ot her t ribes, but t heir casualt ies seem
small, and t hey fight when t hey are individually moved t o do so because of some grievance, not on
t he orders of capt ains or kings.

Women in Indian societ y were t reat ed so well as t o st art le t he Spaniards. Las Casas describes sex
relat ions:

Marriage laws are non-exist ent men and women alike choose t heir mat es and leave t hem as t hey
please, wit hout offense, jealousy or anger. They mult iply in great abundance; pregnant women
work t o t he last minut e and give birt h almost painlessly; up t he next day, t hey bat he in t he river
and are as clean and healt hy as before giving birt h. If t hey t ire of t heir men, t hey give t hemselves
abort ions wit h herbs t hat force st illbirt hs, covering t heir shameful part s wit h leaves or cot t on
clot h; alt hough on t he whole, Indian men and women look upon t ot al nakedness wit h as much
casualness as we look upon a man's head or at his hands.

The Indians, Las Casas says, have no religion, at least no t emples. They live in_ large communal bell-
shaped buildings, housing up t o 600 people at one t ime ... made of very st rong wood and roofed
wit h palm leaves.... They prize bird feat hers of various colors, beads made of fishbones, and green
and whit e st ones wit h which t hey adorn t heir ears and lips, but t hey put no value on gold and
ot her precious t hings. They lack all manner of commerce, neit her buying nor selling, and rely
exclusively on t heir nat ural environment for maint enance. They are ext remely generous wit h t heir
possessions and by t he same t oken covet t he possessions of t hen; friends and expect t he same
degree of liberalit y. ...

In Book Two of his Hist ory of t he Indies, Las Casas (who at first urged replacing Indians by black
slaves, t hinking t hey were st ronger and would survive, but lat er relent ed when he saw t he effect s
on blacks) t ells about t he t reat ment of t he Indians by t he Spaniards. It is a unique account and
deserves t o be quot ed at lengt h:

Endless t est imonies . .. prove t he mild and pacific t emperament of t he nat ives.... But our work was
t o exasperat e, ravage, kill, mangle and dest roy; small wonder, t hen, if t hey t ried t o kill one of us
now and t hen.... The admiral, it is t rue, was blind as t hose who came aft er him, and he was so
anxious t o please t he King t hat he commit t ed irreparable crimes against t he Indians....

Las Casas t ells how t he Spaniards "grew more conceit ed every day" and aft er a while refused t o
walk any dist ance. They "rode t he backs of Indians if t hey were in a hurry" or were carried on
hammocks by Indians running in relays. "In t his case t hey also had Indians carry large leaves t o
shade t hem from t he sun and ot hers t o fan t hem wit h goose wings."

Tot al cont rol led t o t ot al cruelt y. The Spaniards "t hought not hing of knifing Indians by t ens and
t went ies and of cut t ing slices off t hem t o t est t he sharpness of t heir blades." Las Casas t ells how
"t wo of t hese so-called Christ ians met t wo Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot ; t hey t ook
t he parrot s and for fun beheaded t he boys."

The Indians' at t empt s t o defend t hemselves failed. And when t hey ran off int o t he hills t hey were
found and killed. So, Las Casas report s, "t hey suffered and died in t he mines and ot her labors in
desperat e silence, knowing not a soul in t he world t o whom t hey could t urn for help." He describes
t heir work in t he mines:

... mount ains are st ripped from t op t o bot t om and bot t om t o t op a t housand t imes; t hey dig, split
rocks, move st ones, and carry dirt on t hen: backs t o wash it in t he rivers, while t hose who wash
gold st ay in t he wat er all t he t ime wit h t heir backs bent so const ant ly it breaks t hem; and when
wat er invades t he mines, t he most arduous t ask of all is t o dry t he mines by scooping up pansful of
wat er and t hrowing it up out side....

Aft er each six or eight mont hs' work in t he mines, which was t he t ime required of each crew t o dig
enough gold for melt ing, up t o a t hird of t he men died.

While t he men were sent many miles away t o t he mines, t he wives remained t o work t he soil,
forced int o t he excruciat ing job of digging and making t housands of hills for cassava plant s.

Thus husbands and wives were t oget her only once every eight or t en mont hs and when t hey met
t hey were so exhaust ed and depressed on bot h sides ... t hey ceased t o procreat e. As for t he newly
born, t hey died early because t heir mot hers, overworked and famished, had no milk t o nurse t hem,
and for t his reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in t hree mont hs. Some mot hers even
drowned t heir babies from sheer desperat ion.... hi t his way, husbands died in t he mines, wives died
at work, and children died from lack of milk . .. and in a short t ime t his land which was so great , so
powerful and fert ile ... was depopulat ed. ... My eyes have seen t hese act s so foreign t o human
nat ure, and now I t remble as I writ e. ...

When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, "t here were 60,000 people living on t his
island, including t he Indians; so t hat from 1494 t o 1508, over t hree million people had perished from
war, slavery, and t he mines. Who in fut ure generat ions will believe t his? I myself writ ing it as a
knowledgeable eyewit ness can hardly believe it ...."

Thus began t he hist ory, five hundred years ago, of t he European invasion of t he Indian set t lement s
in t he Americas. That beginning, when you read Las Casas-even if his figures are exaggerat ions
(were t here 3 million Indians t o begin wit h, as he says, or less t han a million, as some hist orians
have calculat ed, or 8 million as ot hers now believe?)-is conquest , slavery, deat h. When we read t he
hist ory books given t o children in t he Unit ed St at es, it all st art s wit h heroic advent ure-t here is no
bloodshed-and Columbus Day is a celebrat ion.

Past t he element ary and high schools, t here are only occasional hint s of somet hing else. Samuel
Eliot Morison, t he Harvard hist orian, was t he most dist inguished writ er on Columbus, t he aut hor
of a mult ivolume biography, and was himself a sailor who ret raced Columbus's rout e across t he
At lant ic. In his popular book Christ opher Columbus, Mariner, writ t en in 1954, he t ells about t he
enslavement and t he killing: "The cruel policy init iat ed by Columbus and pursued by his successors
result ed in complet e genocide."

That is on one page, buried halfway int o t he t elling of a grand romance. In t he book's last
paragraph, Morison sums up his view of Columbus:

He had his fault s and his defect s, but t hey were largely t he defect s of t he qualit ies t hat made him
great -his indomit able will, his superb fait h in God and in his own mission as t he Christ -bearer t o
lands beyond t he seas, his st ubborn persist ence despit e neglect , povert y and discouragement . But
t here was no flaw, no dark side t o t he most out st anding and essent ial of all his qualit ies-his

One can lie out right about t he past . Or one can omit fact s which might lead t o unaccept able
conclusions. Morison does neit her. He refuses t o lie about Columbus. He does not omit t he st ory of
mass murder; indeed he describes it wit h t he harshest word one can use: genocide.

But he does somet hing else-he ment ions t he t rut h quickly and goes on t o ot her t hings more
import ant t o him. Out right lying or quiet omission t akes t he risk of discovery which, when made,
might arouse t he reader t o rebel against t he writ er. To st at e t he fact s, however, and t hen t o bury
t hem in a mass of ot her informat ion is t o say t o t he reader wit h a cert ain infect ious calm: yes, mass
murder t ook place, but it 's not t hat import ant -it should weigh very lit t le in our final judgment s; it
should affect very lit t le what we do in t he world.

It is not t hat t he hist orian can avoid emphasis of some fact s and not of ot hers. This is as nat ural t o
him as t o t he mapmaker, who, in order t o produce a usable drawing for pract ical purposes, must
first flat t en and dist ort t he shape of t he eart h, t hen choose out of t he bewildering mass of
geographic informat ion t hose t hings needed for t he purpose of t his or t hat part icular map.

My argument cannot be against select ion, simplificat ion, emphasis, which are inevit able for bot h
cart ographers and hist orians. But t he map-maker's dist ort ion is a t echnical necessit y for a common
purpose shared by all people who need maps. The hist orian's dist ort ion is more t han t echnical, it is
ideological; it is released int o a world of cont ending int erest s, where any chosen emphasis support s
(whet her t he hist orian means t o or not ) some kind of int erest , whet her economic or polit ical or
racial or nat ional or sexual.

Furt hermore, t his ideological int erest is not openly expressed in t he way a mapmaker's t echnical
int erest is obvious ("This is a Mercat or project ion for long-range navigat ion-for short -range, you'd
bet t er use a different project ion"). No, it is present ed as if all readers of hist ory had a common
int erest which hist orians serve t o t he best of t heir abilit y. This is not int ent ional decept ion; t he
hist orian has been t rained in a societ y in which educat ion and knowledge are put forward as
t echnical problems of excellence and not as t ools for cont ending social classes, races, nat ions.

To emphasize t he heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigat ors and discoverers, and t o de-
emphasize t heir genocide, is not a t echnical necessit y but an ideological choice. It serves-
unwit t ingly-t o just ify what was done.

My point is not t hat we must , in t elling hist ory, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absent ia. It is
t oo lat e for t hat ; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in moralit y. But t he easy accept ance of
at rocit ies as a deplorable but necessary price t o pay for progress (Hiroshima and Viet nam, t o save
West ern civilizat ion; Kronst adt and Hungary, t o save socialism; nuclear proliferat ion, t o save us
all)-t hat is st ill wit h us. One reason t hese at rocit ies are st ill wit h us is t hat we have learned t o bury
t hem in a mass of ot her fact s, as radioact ive wast es are buried in cont ainers in t he eart h. We have
learned t o give t hem exact ly t he same proport ion of at t ent ion t hat t eachers and writ ers oft en give
t hem in t he most respect able of classrooms and t ext books. This learned sense of moral proport ion,
coming from t he apparent object ivit y of t he scholar, is accept ed more easily t han when it comes
from polit icians at press conferences. It is t herefore more deadly.

The t reat ment of heroes (Columbus) and t heir vict ims (t he Arawaks)-t he quiet accept ance of
conquest and murder in t he name of progress-is only one aspect of a cert ain approach t o hist ory, in
which t he past is t old from t he point of view of government s, conquerors, diplomat s, leaders. It is
as if t hey, like Columbus, deserve universal accept ance, as if t hey-t he Founding Fat hers, Jackson,
Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt , Kennedy, t he leading members of Congress, t he famous Just ices of t he
Supreme Court -represent t he nat ion as a whole. The pret ense is t hat t here really is such a t hing as
"t he Unit ed St at es," subject t o occasional conflict s and quarrels, but fundament ally a communit y of
people wit h common int erest s. It is as if t here really is a "nat ional int erest " represent ed in t he
Const it ut ion, in t errit orial expansion, in t he laws passed by Congress, t he decisions of t he court s,
t he development of capit alism, t he cult ure of educat ion and t he mass media.

"Hist ory is t he memory of st at es," wrot e Henry Kissinger in his first book, A World Rest ored^ in
which he proceeded t o t ell t he hist ory of ninet eent h-cent ury Europe from t he viewpoint of t he
leaders of Aust ria and England, ignoring t he millions who suffered from t hose st at esmen's policies.
From his st andpoint , t he "peace" t hat Europe had before t he French Revolut ion was "rest ored" by
t he diplomacy of a few nat ional leaders. But for fact ory workers in England, farmers in France,
colored people in Asia and Africa, women and children everywhere except in t he upper classes, it
was a world of conquest , violence, hunger, exploit at ion-a world not rest ored but disint egrat ed.

My viewpoint , in t elling t he hist ory of t he Unit ed St at es, is different : t hat we must not accept t he
memory of st at es as our own. Nat ions are not communit ies and never have been, The hist ory of any
count ry, present ed as t he hist ory of a family, conceals fierce conflict s of int erest (somet imes
exploding, most oft en repressed) bet ween conquerors and conquered, mast ers and slaves,
capit alist s and workers, dominat ors and dominat ed in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict ,
a world of vict ims and execut ioners, it is t he job of t hinking people, as Albert Camus suggest ed, not
t o be on t he side of t he execut ioners.

Thus, in t hat inevit able t aking of sides which comes from select ion and emphasis in hist ory, I prefer
t o t ry t o t ell t he st ory of t he discovery of America from t he viewpoint of t he Arawaks, of t he
Const it ut ion from t he st andpoint of t he slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by t he Cherokees, of t he
Civil War as seen by t he New York Irish, of t he Mexican war as seen by t he desert ing soldiers of
Scot t 's army, of t he rise of indust rialism as seen by t he young women in t he Lowell t ext ile mills, of
t he Spanish-American war as seen by t he Cubans, t he conquest of t he Philippines as seen by black
soldiers on Luzon, t he Gilded Age as seen by sout hern farmers, t he First World War as seen by
socialist s, t he Second World War as seen by pacifist s, t he New Deal as seen by blacks in Harlem,
t he post war American empire as seen by peons in Lat in America. And so on, t o t he limit ed ext ent
t hat any one person, however he or she st rains, can "see" hist ory from t he st andpoint of ot hers.

My point is not t o grieve for t he vict ims and denounce t he execut ioners. Those t ears, t hat anger,
cast int o t he past , deplet e our moral energy for t he present . And t he lines are not always clear. In
t he long run, t he oppressor is also a vict im. In t he short run (and so far, human hist ory has
consist ed only of short runs), t he vict ims, t hemselves desperat e and t aint ed wit h t he cult ure t hat
oppresses t hem, t urn on ot her vict ims.

St ill, underst anding t he complexit ies, t his book will be skept ical of government s and t heir
at t empt s, t hrough polit ics and cult ure, t o ensnare ordinary people in a giant web of nat ionhood
pret ending t o a common int erest . I will t ry not t o overlook t he cruelt ies t hat vict ims inflict on one
anot her as t hey are jammed t oget her in t he boxcars of t he syst em. I don't want t o romant icize
t hem. But I do remember (in rough paraphrase) a st at ement I once read: "The cry of t he poor is not
always just , but if you don't list en t o it , you will never know what just ice is."

I don't want t o invent vict ories for people's movement s. But t o t hink t hat hist ory-writ ing must aim
simply t o recapit ulat e t he failures t hat dominat e t he past is t o make hist orians collaborat ors in an
endless cycle of defeat . If hist ory is t o be creat ive, t o ant icipat e a possible fut ure wit hout denying
t he past , it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilit ies by disclosing t hose hidden episodes of t he
past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed t heir abilit y t o resist , t o join t oget her,
occasionally t o win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, t hat our fut ure may be found in t he
past 's fugit ive moment s of compassion rat her t han in it s solid cent uries of warfare.

That , being as blunt as I can, is my approach t o t he hist ory of t he Unit ed St at es. The reader may as
well know t hat before going on.

What Columbus did t o t he Arawaks of t he Bahamas, Cort es did t o t he Azt ecs of Mexico, Pizarro t o
t he Incas of Peru, and t he English set t lers of Virginia and Massachuset t s t o t he Powhat ans and t he
Pequot s.

The Azt ec civilizat ion of Mexico came out of t he herit age of Mayan, Zapot ec, and Tolt ec cult ures.
It built enormous const ruct ions from st one t ools and human labor, developed a writ ing syst em and
a priest hood. It also engaged in (let us not overlook t his) t he rit ual killing of t housands of people as
sacrifices t o t he gods. The cruelt y of t he Azt ecs, however, did not erase a cert ain innocence, and
when a Spanish armada appeared at Vera Cruz, and a bearded whit e man came ashore, wit h
st range beast s (horses), clad in iron, it was t hought t hat he was t he legendary Azt ec man-god who
had died t hree hundred years before, wit h t he promise t o ret urn-t he myst erious Quet zalcoat l. And
so t hey welcomed him, wit h munificent hospit alit y.

That was Hernando Cort es, come from Spain wit h an expedit ion financed by merchant s and
landowners and blessed by t he deput ies of God, wit h one obsessive goal: t o find gold. In t he mind
of Mont ezuma, t he king of t he Azt ecs, t here must have been a cert ain doubt about whet her Cort es
was indeed Quet zalcoat l, because he sent a hundred runners t o Cort es, bearing enormous
t reasures, gold and silver wrought int o object s of fant ast ic beaut y, but at t he same t ime begging
him t o go back. (The paint er Durer a few years lat er described what he saw just arrived in Spain
from t hat expedit ion-a sun of gold, a moon of silver, wort h a fort une.) Cort es t hen began his march
of deat h from t own t o t own, using decept ion, t urning Azt ec against Azt ec, killing wit h t he kind of
deliberat eness t hat accompanies a st rat egy-t o paralyze t he will of t he populat ion by a sudden
fright ful deed. And so, in Cholulu, he invit ed t he headmen of t he Cholula nat ion t o t he square. And
when t hey came, wit h t housands of unarmed ret ainers, Cort es's small army of Spaniards, post ed
around t he square wit h cannon, armed wit h crossbows, mount ed on horses, massacred t hem, down
t o t he last man. Then t hey loot ed t he cit y and moved on. When t heir cavalcade of murder was over
t hey were in Mexico Cit y, Mont ezuma was dead, and t he Azt ec civilizat ion, shat t ered, was in t he
hands of t he Spaniards.

All t his is t old in t he Spaniards' own account s.

In Peru, t hat ot her Spanish conquist ador Pizarro, used t he same t act ics, and for t he same reasons-
t he frenzy in t he early capit alist st at es of Europe for gold, for slaves, for product s of t he soil, t o pay
t he bondholders and st ockholders of t he expedit ions, t o finance t he monarchical bureaucracies
rising in West ern Europe, t o spur t he growt h of t he new money economy rising out of feudalism, t o
part icipat e in what Karl Marx would lat er call "t he primit ive accumulat ion of capit al." These were
t he violent beginnings of an int ricat e syst em of t echnology, business, polit ics, and cult ure t hat
would dominat e t he world for t he next five cent uries.

In t he Nort h American English colonies, t he pat t ern was set early, as Columbus had set it in t he
islands of t he Bahamas. In 1585, before t here was any permanent English set t lement in Virginia,
Richard Grenville landed t here wit h seven ships. The Indians he met were hospit able, but when
one of t hem st ole a small silver cup, Grenville sacked and burned t he whole Indian village.

Jamest own it self was set up inside t he t errit ory of an Indian confederacy, led by t he chief,
Powhat an. Powhat an wat ched t he English set t le on his people's land, but did not at t ack,
maint aining a post ure of coolness. When t he English were going t hrough t heir "st arving t ime" in
t he wint er of 1610, some of t hem ran off t o join t he Indians, where t hey would at least be fed. When
t he summer came, t he governor of t he colony sent a messenger t o ask Powhat an t o ret urn t he
runaways, whereupon Powhat an, according t o t he English account , replied wit h "noe ot her t han
prowde and disdaynefull Answers." Some soldiers were t herefore sent out "t o t ake Revenge." They
fell upon an Indian set t lement , killed fift een or sixt een Indians, burned t he houses, cut down t he
corn growing around t he village, t ook t he queen of t he t ribe and her children int o boat s, t hen ended
up t hrowing t he children overboard "and shot einge owit t heir Braynes in t he wat er." The queen
was lat er t aken off and st abbed t o deat h.

Twelve years lat er, t he Indians, alarmed as t he English set t lement s kept growing in numbers,
apparent ly decided t o t ry t o wipe t hem out for good. They went on a rampage and massacred 347
men, women, and children. From t hen on it was t ot al war.

Not able t o enslave t he Indians, and not able t o live wit h t hem, t he English decided t o ext erminat e
t hem. Edmund Morgan writ es, in his hist ory of early Virginia, American Slavery, American

Since t he Indians were bet t er woodsmen t han t he English and virt ually impossible t o t rack down,
t he met hod was t o feign peaceful int ent ions, let t hem set t le down and plant t heir com wherever
t hey chose, and t hen, just before harvest , fall upon t hem, killing as many as possible and burning
t he corn... . Wit hin t wo or t hree years of t he massacre t he English had avenged t he deat hs of t hat
day many t imes over.

In t hat first year of t he whit e man in Virginia, 1607, Powhat an had addressed a plea t o John Smit h
t hat t urned out prophet ic. How aut hent ic it is may be in doubt , but it is so much like so many
Indian st at ement s t hat it may be t aken as, if not t he rough let t er of t hat first plea, t he exact spirit of
it :

I have seen t wo generat ions of my people t he.... I know t he difference bet ween peace and war bet t er
t han any man in my count ry. I am now grown old, and must t he soon; my aut horit y must descend
t o my brot hers, Opit ehapan, Opechancanough and Cat at ough-t hen t o my t wo sist ers, and t hen t o
my t wo daught ers-I wish t hem t o know as much as I do, and t hat your love t o t hem may be like
mine t o you. Why will you t ake by force what you may have quiet ly by love? Why will you dest roy
us who supply you wit h food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions and run int o
t he woods; t hen you will st arve for wronging your friends. Why are you jealous of us? We are
unarmed, and willing t o give you what you ask, if you come in a friendly manner, and not so simple
as not t o know t hat it is much bet t er t o eat good meat , sleep comfort ably, live quiet ly wit h my
wives and children, laugh and be merry wit h t he English, and t rade for t heir copper and hat chet s,
t han t o run away from t hem, and t o lie cold in t he woods, feed on acorns, root s and such t rash, and
be so hunt ed t hat 1 can neit her eat nor sleep. In t hese wars, my men must sit up wat ching, and if a
t wig break, diey all cry out "Here comes Capt ain Smit h!" So I must end my miserable life. Take
away your guns and swords, t he cause of all our jealousy, or you may all t he in t he same manner.

When t he Pilgrims came t o New England t hey t oo were coming not t o vacant land but t o t errit ory
inhabit ed by t ribes of Indians. The governor of t he Massachuset t s Bay Colony, John Wint hrop,
creat ed t he excuse t o t ake Indian land by declaring t he area legally a "vacuum." The Indians, he
said, had not "subdued" t he land, and t herefore had only a "nat ural" right t o it , but not a "civil right ."
A "nat ural right " did not have legal st anding.

The Purit ans also appealed t o t he Bible, Psalms 2:8: "Ask of me, and I shall give t hee, t he heat hen for
t hine inherit ance, and t he ut t ermost part s of t he eart h for t hy possession." And t o just ify t heir use
of force t o t ake t he land, t hey cit ed Romans 13:2: "Whosoever t herefore resist et h t he power,
resist et h t he ordinance of God: and t hey t hat resist shall receive t o t hemselves damnat ion."

The Purit ans lived in uneasy t ruce wit h t he Pequot Indians, who occupied what is now sout hern
Connect icut and Rhode Island. But t hey want ed t hem out of t he way; t hey want ed t heir land. And
t hey seemed t o want also t o est ablish t heir rule firmly over Connect icut set t lers in t hat area. The
murder of a whit e t rader, Indian-kidnaper, and t roublemaker became an excuse t o make war on t he
Pequot s in 1636.

A punit ive expedit ion left Bost on t o at t ack t he NarraganseIt Indians on Block Island, who were
lumped wit h t he Pequot s. As Governor Wint hrop wrot e:

They had commission t o pat t o deat h t he men of Block Island, but t o spare t he women and
children, and t o bring t hem away, and t o t ake possession of t he island; and from t hence t o go t o t he
Pequods t o demand t he murderers of Capt ain St one and ot her English, and one t housand fat hom of
wampum for damages, et c. and some of t heir children as host ages, which if t hey should refuse, t hey
were t o obt ain it by force.

The English landed and killed some Indians, but t he rest hid in t he t hick forest s of t he island and
t he English went from one desert ed village t o t he next , dest roying crops. Then t hey sailed back t o
t he mainland and raided Pequot villages along t he coast , dest roying crops again. One of t he officers
of t hat expedit ion, in his account , gives some insight int o t he Pequot s t hey encount ered: "The
Indians spying of us came running in mult it udes along t he wat er side, crying, What cheer,
Englishmen, what cheer, what do you come for? They not t hinking we int ended war, went on
cheerfully... -"

So, t he war wit h t he Pequot s began. Massacres t ook place on bot h sides. The English developed a
t act ic of warfare used earlier by Cort es and lat er, in t he t went iet h cent ury, even more
syst emat ically: deliberat e at t acks on noncombat ant s for t he purpose of t errorizing t he enemy. This
is et hno hist orian Francis Jennings's int erpret at ion of Capt ain John Mason's at t ack on a Pequot
village on t he Myst ic River near Long Island Sound: "Mason proposed t o avoid at t acking Pequot
warriors, which would have overt axed his unseasoned, unreliable t roops. Bat t le, as such, was not
his purpose. Bat t le is only one of t he ways t o dest roy an enemy's will t o fight . Massacre can
accomplish t he same end wit h less risk, and Mason had det ermined t hat massacre would be his
object ive."

So t he English set fire t o t he wigwams of t he village. By t heir own account : "The Capt ain also said,
We must Burn Them; and immediat ely st epping int o t he Wigwam ... brought out a Fire Brand, and
put t ing it int o t he MaIt s wit h which t hey were covered, set t he Wigwams on Fire." William
Bradford, in his Hist ory of t he Plymout h Plant at ion writ t en at t he t ime, describes John Mason's
raid on t he Pequot village:

Those t hat scaped t he fire were slaine wit h t he sword; some hewed t o peeces, ot hers rune t hrow
wit h t heir rapiers, so as t hey were quickly dispat cht e, and very few escaped. It was conceived t hey
t hus dest royed about 400 at t his t ime. It was a fearful sight t o see t hem t hus frying in t he fyer, and
t he st reams of blood quenching t he same, and horrible was t he st incke and sent e t here of, but t he
vict ory seemed a sweet e sacrifice, and t hey gave t he prayers t hereof t o God, who had wrought so
wonderfully for t hem, t hus t o inclose t heir enemise in t heir hands, and give t hem so speedy a
vict ory over so proud and insult ing an enimie.

As Dr. Cot t on Mat her, Purit an t heologian, put it : "It was supposed t hat no less t han 600 Pequot
souls were brought down t o hell t hat day."

The war cont inued. Indian t ribes were used against one anot her, and never seemed able t o join
t oget her in fight ing t he English. Jennings sums up:

The t error was very real among t he Indians, but in rime t hey came t o medit at e upon it s
foundat ions. They drew t hree lessons from t he Pequot War: (1) t hat t he Englishmen's most solemn
pledge would be broken whenever obligat ion conflict ed wit h advant age; (2) t hat t he English way
of war had no limit of scruple or mercy; and (3) t hat weapons of Indian making were almost useless
against weapons of European manufact ure. These lessons t he Indians t ook t o heart .

A foot not e in Virgil Vogel's book This Land Was Ours (1972) says: "The official figure on t he
number of Pequot s now in Connect icut is t went y-one persons."

Fort y years aft er t he Pequot War, Purit ans and Indians fought again. This t ime it was t he
Wampanoags, occupying t he sout h shore of Massachuset t s Bay, who were in t he way and also
beginning t o t rade some of t heir land t o people out side t he Massachuset t s Bay Colony. Their chief,
Massasoit , was dead. His son WamsuIt a had been killed by Englishmen, and WamsuIt as brot her
Met acom (lat er t o be called King Philip by t he English) became chief. The English found t heir
excuse, a murder which t hey at t ribut ed t o Met acom, and t hey began a war of conquest against t he
Wampanoags, a war t o t ake t heir land. They were clearly t he aggressors, but claimed t hey at t acked
for prevent ive purposes. As Roger Williams, more friendly t o t he Indians t han most , put it : "All
men of conscience or prudence ply t o windward, t o maint ain t heir wars t o be defensive."

Jennings says t he elit e of t he Purit ans want ed t he war; t he ordinary whit e Englishman did not want
it and oft en refused t o fight . The Indians cert ainly did not want war, but t hey mat ched at rocit y
wit h at rocit y. When it was over, in 1676, t he English had won, but t heir resources were drained;
t hey had lost six hundred men. Three t housand Indians were dead, including Met acom himself. Yet
t he Indian raids did not st op.

For a while, t he English t ried soft er t act ics. But ult imat ely, it was back t o annihilat ion. The Indian
populat ion of 10 million t hat lived nort h of Mexico when Columbus came would ult imat ely be
reduced t o less t han a million. Huge numbers of Indians would t he from diseases int roduced by t he
whit es. A Dut ch t raveler in New Net herland wrot e in 1656 t hat "t he Indians ... affirm, t hat before
t he arrival of t he Christ ians, and before t he smallpox broke out amongst t hem, t hey were t en t imes
as numerous as t hey now are, and t hat t heir populat ion had been melt ed down by t his disease,
whereof nine-t ent hs of t hem have died." When t he English first set t led Mart ha's Vineyard in 1642,
t he Wampanoags t here numbered perhaps t hree t housand. There were no wars on t hat island, but
by 1764, only 313 Indians were left t here. Similarly, Block Island Indians numbered perhaps 1,200 t o
1,500 in 1662, and by 1774 were reduced t o fift y-one.

Behind t he English invasion of Nort h America, behind t heir massacre of Indians, t heir decept ion,
t heir brut alit y, was t hat special powerful drive born in civilizat ions based on privat e propert y. It
was a morally ambiguous drive; t he need for space, for land, was a real human need. But in
condit ions of scarcit y, in a barbarous epoch of hist ory ruled by compet it ion, t his human need was
t ransformed int o t he murder of whole peoples. Roger Williams said it was a depraved appet it e
aft er t he great vanit ies, dreams and shadows of t his vanishing life, great port ions of land, land in
t his wilderness, as if men were in as great necessit y and danger for want of great port ions of land,
as poor, hungry, t hirst y seamen have, aft er a sick and st ormy, a long and st arving passage. This is
one of t he gods of New England, which t he living and most high Et ernal will dest roy and famish.

Was all t his bloodshed and deceit -from Columbus t o Cort es, Pizarro, t he Purit ans-a necessit y for
t he human race t o progress from savagery t o civilizat ion? Was Morison right in burying t he st ory of
genocide inside a more import ant st ory of human progress? Perhaps a persuasive argument can be
made-as it was made by St alin when he killed peasant s for indust rial progress in t he Soviet Union,
as it was made by Churchill explaining t he bombings of Dresden and Hamburg, and Truman
explaining Hiroshima. But how can t he judgment be made if t he benefit s and losses cannot be
balanced because t he losses are eit her unment ioned or ment ioned quickly?

That quick disposal might be accept able ("Unfort unat e, yes, but it had t o be done") t o t he middle
and upper classes of t he conquering and "advanced" count ries. But is it accept able t o t he poor of
Asia, Africa, Lat in America, or t o t he prisoners in Soviet labor camps, or t he blacks in urban
ghet t os, or t he Indians on reservat ions-t o t he vict ims of t hat progress which benefit s a privileged
minorit y in t he world? Was it accept able (or just inescapable?) t o t he miners and railroaders of
America, t he fact ory hands, t he men and women who died by t he hundreds of t housands from
accident s or sickness, where t hey worked or where t hey lived-casualt ies of progress? And even t he
privileged minorit y-must it not reconsider, wit h t hat pract icalit y which even privilege cannot
abolish, t he value of it s privileges, when t hey become t hreat ened by t he anger of t he sacrificed,
whet her in organized rebellion, unorganized riot , or simply t hose brut al individual act s of
desperat ion labeled crimes by law and t he st at e?

If t here are necessary sacrifices t o be made for human progress, is it not essent ial t o hold t o t he
principle t hat t hose t o be sacrificed must make t he decision t hemselves? We can all decide t o give
up somet hing of ours, but do we have t he right t o t hrow int o t he pyre t he children of ot hers, or
even our own children, for a progress which is not nearly as clear or present as sickness or healt h,
life or deat h?

What did people in Spain get out of all t hat deat h and brut alit y visit ed on t he Indians of t he
Americas? For a brief period in hist ory, t here was t he glory of a Spanish Empire in t he West ern
Hemisphere. As Hans Koning sums it up in his book Columbus: His Ent erprise:

For all t he gold and silver st olen and shipped t o Spain did not make t he Spanish people richer. It
gave t heir kings an edge in t he balance of power for a t ime, a chance t o hire more mercenary
soldiers for t heir wars. They ended up losing t hose wars anyway, and all t hat was left was a deadly
inflat ion, a st arving populat ion, t he rich richer, t he poor poorer, and a ruined peasant class.

Beyond all t hat , how cert ain are we t hat what was dest royed was inferior? Who were t hese people
who came out on t he beach and swam t o bring present s t o Columbus and his crew, who wat ched
Cort es and Pizarro ride t hrough t heir count ryside, who peered out of t he forest s at t he first whit e
set t lers of Virginia and Massachuset t s?

Columbus called t hem Indians, because he miscalculat ed t he size of t he eart h. In t his book we t oo
call t hem Indians, wit h some reluct ance, because it happens t oo oft en t hat people are saddled wit h
names given t hem by t heir conquerors.

And yet , t here is some reason t o call t hem Indians, because t hey did come, perhaps 25,000 years
ago, from Asia, across t he land bridge of t he Bering St rait s (lat er t o disappear under wat er) t o
Alaska. Then t hey moved sout hward, seeking warmt h and land, in a t rek last ing t housands of years
t hat t ook t hem int o Nort h America, t hen Cent ral and Sout h America. In Nicaragua, Brazil, and
Ecuador t heir pet rified foot print s can st ill be seen, along wit h t he print of bison, who disappeared
about five t housand years ago, so t hey must have reached Sout h America at least t hat far back
Widely dispersed over t he great land mass of t he Americas, t hey numbered approximat ely 75
million people by t he rime Columbus came, perhaps 25 million in Nort h America. Responding t o
t he different environment s of soil and climat e, t hey developed hundreds of different t ribal cult ures,
perhaps t wo t housand different languages. They perfect ed t he art of agricult ure, and figured out
how t o grow maize (corn), which cannot grow by it self and must be plant ed, cult ivat ed, fert ilized,
harvest ed, husked, shelled. They ingeniously developed a variet y of ot her veget ables and fruit s, as
well as peanut s and chocolat e and t obacco and rubber.

On t heir own, t he Indians were engaged in t he great agricult ural revolut ion t hat ot her peoples in
Asia, Europe, Africa were going t hrough about t he same t ime.

While many of t he t ribes remained nomadic hunt ers and food gat herers in wandering, egalit arian
communes, ot hers began t o live in more set t led communit ies where t here was more food, larger
populat ions, more divisions of labor among men and women, more surplus t o feed chiefs and
priest s, more leisure t ime for art ist ic and social work, for building houses. About a t housand years
before Christ , while comparable const ruct ions were going on in Egypt and Mesopot amia, t he Zuni
and Hopi Indians of what is now New Mexico had begun t o build villages consist ing of large
t erraced buildings, nest led in among cliffs and mount ains for prot ect ion from enemies, wit h
hundreds of rooms in each village. Before t he arrival of t he European explorers, t hey were using
irrigat ion canals, dams, were doing ceramics, weaving basket s, making clot h out of cot t on.

By t he t ime of Christ and Julius Caesar, t here had developed in t he Ohio River Valley a cult ure of
so-called Moundbuilders, Indians who const ruct ed t housands of enormous sculpt ures out of eart h,
somet imes in t he shapes of huge humans, birds, or serpent s, somet imes as burial sit es, somet imes as
fort ificat ions. One of t hem was miles long, enclosing 100 acres. These Moundbuilders seem t o have
been part of a complex t rading syst em of ornament s and weapons from as far off as t he Great Lakes,
t he Far West , and t he Gulf of Mexico.

About A.D. 500, as t his Moundbuilder cult ure of t he Ohio Valley was beginning t o decline, anot her
cult ure was developing west ward, in t he valley of t he Mississippi, cent ered on what is now St .
Louis. It had an advanced agricult ure, included t housands of villages, and also built huge eart hen
mounds as burial and ceremonial places near a vast Indian met ropolis t hat may have had t hirt y
t housand people. The largest mound was 100 feet high, wit h a rect angular base larger t han t hat of
t he Great Pyramid of Egypt . In t he cit y, known as Cahokia, were t oolmakers, hide dressers, pot t ers,
jewelry makers, weavers, salt makers, copper engravers, and magnificent ceramist s. One funeral
blanket was made of t welve t housand shell beads.

From t he Adirondacks t o t he Great Lakes, in what is now Pennsylvania and upper New York, lived
t he most powerful of t he nort heast ern t ribes, t he League of t he Iroquois, which included t he
Mohawks (People of t he Flint ), Oneidas (People of t he St one), Onondagas (People of t he
Mount ain), Cayugas (People at t he Landing), and Senecas (Great Hill People), t housands of people
bound t oget her by a common Iroquois language.

In t he vision of t he Mohawk chief Iliawat ha, t he legendary Dekaniwidah spoke t o t he Iroquois:
"We bind ourselves t oget her by t aking hold of each ot her's hands so firmly and forming a circle so
st rong t hat if a t ree should fall upon it , it could not shake nor break it , so t hat our people and
grandchildren shall remain in t he circle in securit y, peace and happiness."

In t he villages of t he Iroquois, land was owned in common and worked in common. Hunt ing was
done t oget her, and t he cat ch was divided among t he members of t he village. Houses were
considered common propert y and were shared by several families. The concept of privat e
ownership of land and homes was foreign t o t he Iroquois. A French Jesuit priest who encount ered
t hem in t he 1650s wrot e: "No poorhouses are needed among t hem, because t hey are neit her
mendicant s nor paupers.. . . Their kindness, humanit y and court esy not only makes t hem liberal
wit h what t hey have, but causes t hem t o possess hardly anyt hing except in common."

Women were import ant and respect ed in Iroquois societ y. Families were mat rilineal. That is, t he
family line went down t hrough t he female members, whose husbands joined t he family, while sons
who married t hen joined t heir wives' families. Each ext ended family lived in a "long house." When a
woman want ed a divorce, she set her husband's t hings out side t he door.

Families were grouped in clans, and a dozen or more clans might make up a village. The senior
women in t he village named t he men who represent ed t he clans at village and t ribal councils. They
also named t he fort y-nine chiefs who were t he ruling council for t he Five Nat ion confederacy of t he
Iroquois. The women at t ended clan meet ings, st ood behind t he circle of men who spoke and vot ed,
and removed t he men from office if t hey st rayed t oo far from t he wishes of t he women.

The women t ended t he crops and t ook general charge of village affairs while t he men were always
hunt ing or fishing. And since t hey supplied t he moccasins and food for warring expedit ions, t hey
had some cont rol over milit ary mat t ers. As Gary B. Nash not es in his fascinat ing st udy of early
America, Red, Whit e, and Black: "Thus power was shared bet ween t he sexes and t he European idea
of male dominancy and female subordinat ion in all t hings was conspicuously absent in Iroquois
societ y."

Children in Iroquois societ y, while t aught t he cult ural herit age of t heir people and solidarit y wit h
t he t ribe, were also t aught t o be independent , not t o submit t o overbearing aut horit y. They were
t aught equalit y in st at us and t he sharing of possessions. The Iroquois did not use harsh
punishment on children; t hey did not insist on early weaning or early t oilet t raining, hut gradually
allowed t he child t o learn self-care.

All of t his was in sharp cont rast t o European values as brought over by t he first colonist s, a societ y
of rich and poor, cont rolled by priest s, by governors, by male heads of families. For example, t he
past or of t he Pilgrim colony, John Robinson, t hus advised his parishioners how t o deal wit h t heir
children: "And surely t here is in all children ... a st ubbornness, and st out ness of mind arising from
nat ural pride, which must , in t he first place, be broken and beat en down; t hat so t he foundat ion of
t heir educat ion being laid in humilit y and t ract ableness, ot her virt ues may, in t heir t ime, be built
t hereon." Gary Nash describes Iroquois cult ure:

No laws and ordinances, sheriffs and const ables, judges and juries, or court s or jails-t he apparat us
of aut horit y in European societ ies-were t o be found in t he nort heast woodlands prior t o European
arrival. Yet boundaries of accept able behavior were firmly set . Though priding t hemselves on t he
aut onomous individual, t he Iroquois maint ained a st rict sense of right and wrong.... He who st ole
anot her's food or act ed invalourously in war was "shamed" by his people and ost racized from t heir
company unt il he had at oned for his act ions and demonst rat ed t o t heir sat isfact ion t hat he had
morally purified himself.

Not only t he Iroquois but ot her Indian t ribes behaved t he same way. In 1635, Maryland Indians
responded t o t he governor's demand t hat if any of t hem lolled an Englishman, t he guilt y one should
be delivered up for punishment according t o English law. The Indians said:

It is t he manner amongst us Indians, t hat if any such accident happen, wee doe redeeme t he life of a
man t hat is so slaine, wit h a 100 armes lengt h of Beades and since t hat you are heere st rangers, and
come int o our Count rey, you should rat her conform yourselves t o t he Cust omes of our Count rey,
t han impose yours upon us....

So, Columbus and his successors were not coming int o an empt y wilderness, but int o a world
which in some places was as densely populat ed as Europe it self, where t he cult ure was complex,
where human relat ions were more egalit arian t han in Europe, and where t he relat ions among men,
women, children, and nat ure were more beaut ifully worked out t han perhaps any place in t he

They were people wit hout a writ t en language, but wit h t heir own laws, t heir poet ry, t heir hist ory
kept in memory and passed on, in an oral vocabulary more complex t han Europe's, accompanied by
song, dance, and ceremonial drama. They paid careful at t ent ion t o t he development of personalit y,
int ensit y of will, independence and flexibilit y, passion and pot ency, t o t heir part nership wit h one
anot her and wit h nat ure.

John Collier, an American scholar who lived among Indians in t he 1920s and 1930s in t he American
Sout hwest , said of t heir spirit : "Could we make it our own, t here would be an et ernally
inexhaust ible eart h and a forever last ing peace."

Perhaps t here is some romant ic myt hology in t hat . But t he evidence from European t ravelers in t he
sixt eent h, sevent eent h, and eight eent h cent uries, put t oget her recent ly by an American specialist
on Indian life, William Brandon, is overwhelmingly support ive of much of t hat "myt h." Even
allowing for t he imperfect ion of myt hs, it is enough t o make us quest ion, for t hat t ime and ours, t he
excuse of progress in t he annihilat ion of races, and t he t elling of hist ory from t he st andpoint of t he
conquerors and leaders of West ern civilizat ion.


A black American writ er, J. Saunders Redding, describes t he arrival of a ship in Nort h America in
t he year 1619:

Sails furled, flag drooping at her rounded st ern, she rode t he t ide in from t he sea. She was a st range
ship, indeed, by all account s, a fright ening ship, a ship of myst ery. Whet her she was t rader,
privat eer, or man-of-war no one knows. Through her bulwarks black-mout hed cannon yawned.
The flag she flew was Dut ch; her crew a mot ley. Her port of call, an English set t lement , Jamest own,
in t he colony of Virginia. She came, she t raded, and short ly aft erwards was gone. Probably no ship
in modern hist ory has carried a more port ent ous freight . Her cargo? Twent y slaves.

There is not a count ry in world hist ory in which racism has been more import ant , for so long a
t ime, as t he Unit ed St at es. And t he problem of "t he color line," as W. E. B, Du Bois put it , is st ill
wit h us. So it is more t han a purely hist orical quest ion t o ask: How does it st art ?-and an even more
urgent quest ion: How might it end? Or, t o put it different ly: Is it possible for whit es and blacks t o
live t oget her wit hout hat red?

If hist ory can help answer t hese quest ions, t hen t he beginnings of slavery in Nort h America-a
cont inent where we can t race t he coming of t he first whit es and t he first blacks-might supply at
least a few clues.

Some hist orians t hink t hose first blacks in Virginia were considered as servant s, like t he whit e
indent ured servant s brought from Europe. But t he st rong probabilit y is t hat , even if t hey were
list ed as "servant s" (a more familiar cat egory t o t he English), t hey were viewed as being different
from whit e servant s, were t reat ed different ly, and in fact were slaves.

In any case, slavery developed quickly int o a regular inst it ut ion, int o t he normal labor relat ion of
blacks t o whit es in t he New World. Wit h it developed t hat special racial feeling-whet her hat red,
or cont empt , or pit y, or pat ronizat ion-t hat accompanied t he inferior posit ion of blacks in America
for t he next 350 years-t hat combinat ion of inferior st at us and derogat ory t hought we call racism.

Everyt hing in t he experience of t he first whit e set t lers act ed as a pressure for t he enslavement of

The Virginians of 1619 were desperat e for labor, t o grow enough food t o st ay alive. Among t hem
were survivors from t he wint er of 1609-1610, t he "st arving t ime," when, crazed for want of food,
t hey roamed t he woods for nut s and berries, dug up graves t o eat t he corpses, and died in bat ches
unt il five hundred colonist s were reduced t o sixt y.

In t he Journals of t he House of Burgesses of Virginia is a document of 1619 which t ells of t he first
t welve years of t he Jamest own colony. The first set t lement had a hundred persons, who had one
small ladle of barley per meal. When more people arrived, t here was even less food. Many of t he
people lived in cavelike holes dug int o t he ground, and in t he wint er of 1609-1610, t hey were ...
driven t hru insufferable hunger t o eat t hose t hings which nat ure most abhorred, t he flesh and
excrement s of man as well of our own nat ion as of an Indian, digged by some out of his grave aft er
he had lain buried t hree days and wholly devoured him; ot hers, envying t he bet t er st at e of body of
any whom hunger has not yet so much wast ed as t heir own, lay wait and t hreat ened t o kill and eat
t hem; one among t hem slew his wife as she slept in his bosom, cut her in pieces, salt ed her and fed
upon her t ill he had clean devoured all part s saving her head.. ..

A pet it ion by t hirt y colonist s t o t he House of Burgesses, complaining against t he t welve-year
governorship of Sir Thomas Smit h, said:

In t hose 12 years of Sir Thomas Smidi, his government , we aver t hat t he colony for t he most part
remained in great want and misery under most severe and cruel laws.... The allowance in t hose
t imes for a man was only eight ounces of meale and half a pint of peas for a day ... mouldy, rot t en,
full of cobwebs and maggot s, loat hsome t o man and not fit for beast s, which forced many t o flee for
relief t o t he savage enemy, who being t aken again were put t o sundry deat hs as by hanging,
shoot ing and breaking upon t he wheel ... of whom one for st ealing t wo or t hree pint s of oat meal
had a bodkin t hrust t hrough his t ongue and was t ied wit h a chain t o a t ree unt il he st arved....

The Virginians needed labor, t o grow corn for subsist ence, t o grow t obacco for export . They had
just figured out how t o grow t obacco, and in 1617 t hey sent off t he first cargo t o England. Finding
t hat , like all pleasurable drugs t aint ed wit h moral disapproval, it brought a high price, t he plant ers,
despit e t heir high religious t alk, were not going t o ask quest ions about somet hing so profit able.

They couldn't force Indians t o work for t hem, as Columbus had done. They were out numbered, and
while, wit h superior firearms, t hey could massacre Indians, t hey would face massacre in ret urn.
They could not capt ure t hem and keep t hem enslaved; t he Indians were t ough, resourceful, defiant ,
and at home in t hese woods, as t he t ransplant ed Englishmen were not .

Whit e servant s had not yet been brought over in sufficient quant it y. Besides, t hey did not come out
of slavery, and did not have t o do more t han cont ract t heir labor for a few years t o get t heir passage
and a st art in t he New World. As for t he free whit e set t lers, many of t hem were skilled craft smen,
or even men of leisure back in England, who were so lit t le inclined t o work t he land t hat John
Smit h, in t hose early years, had t o declare a kind of mart ial law, organize t hem int o work gangs,
and force t hem int o t he fields for survival.

There may have been a kind of frust rat ed rage at t heir own inept it ude, at t he Indian superiorit y at
t aking care of t hemselves, t hat made t he Virginians especially ready t o become t he mast ers of
slaves. Edmund Morgan imagines t heir mood as he writ es in his book American Slavery, American

If you were a colonist , you knew t hat your t echnology was superior t o t he Indians'. You knew t hat
you were civilized, and t hey were savages... . But your superior t echnology had proved insufficient
t o ext ract anyt hing. The Indians, keeping t o t hemselves, laughed at your superior met hods and
lived from t he land more abundant ly and wit h less labor t han you did... . And when your own
people st art ed desert ing in order t o live wit h t hem, it was t oo much. ... So you killed t he Indians,
t ort ured t hem, burned t heir villages, burned t heir cornfields. It proved your superiorit y, in spit e of
your failures. And you gave similar t reat ment t o any of your own people who succumbed t o t heir
savage ways of life. But you st ill did not grow much Black slaves were t he answer. And it was
nat ural t o consider import ed blacks as slaves, even if t he inst it ut ion of slavery would not be
regularized and legalized for several decades. Because, by 1619, a million blacks had already been
brought from Africa t o Sout h America and t he Caribbean, t o t he Port uguese and Spanish colonies,
t o work as slaves. Fift y years before Columbus, t he Port uguese t ook t en African blacks t o Lisbon-
t his was t he st art of a regular t rade in slaves. African blacks had been st amped as slave labor for a
hundred years. So it would have been st range if t hose t went y blacks, forcibly t ransport ed t o
Jamest own, and sold as object s t o set t lers anxious for a st eadfast source of labor, were considered
as anyt hing but slaves.

Their helplessness made enslavement easier. The Indians were on t heir own land. The whit es were
in t heir own European cult ure. The blacks had been t orn from t heir land and cult ure, forced int o a
sit uat ion where t he herit age of language, dress, cust om, family relat ions, was bit by bit oblit erat ed
except for t he remnant s t hat blacks could hold on t o by sheer, ext raordinary persist ence.

Was t heir cult ure inferior-and so subject t o easy dest ruct ion? Inferior in milit ary capabilit y, yes-
vulnerable t o whit es wit h guns and ships. But in no ot her way-except t hat cult ures t hat are
different are oft en t aken as inferior, especially when such a judgment is pract ical and profit able.
Even milit arily, while t he West erners could secure fort s on t he African coast , t hey were unable t o
subdue t he int erior and had t o come t o t erms wit h it s chiefs.

The African civilizat ion was as advanced in it s own way as t hat of Europe. In cert ain ways, it was
more admirable; but it also included cruelt ies, hierarchical privilege, and t he readiness t o sacrifice
human lives for religion or profit . It was a civilizat ion of 100 million people, using iron implement s
and skilled in farming. It had large urban cent ers and remarkable achievement s in weaving,
ceramics, sculpt ure.

European t ravelers in t he sixt eent h cent ury were impressed wit h t he African kingdoms of
Timbukt u and Mali, already st able and organized at a t ime when European st at es were just
beginning t o develop int o t he modern nat ion. In 1563, Ramusio, secret ary t o t he rulers in Venice,
wrot e t o t he It alian merchant s: "Let t hem go and do business wit h t he King of Timbukt u and Mali
and t here is no doubt t hat t hey will be well-received t here wit h t heir ships and t heir goods and
t reat ed well, and grant ed t he favours t hat t hey ask.. .."

A Dut ch report , around 1602, on t he West African kingdom of Benin, said: "The Towne seemet h t o
be very great , when you ent er it . You go int o a great broad st reet , not paved, which seemet h t o be
seven or eight t imes broader t han t he Warmoes St reet in Amst erdam.... The Houses in t his Towne
st and in good order, one close and even wit h t he ot her, as t he Houses in Holland st and."

The inhabit ant s of t he Guinea Coast were described by one t raveler around 1680 as "very civil and
good-nat ured people, easy t o be dealt wit h, condescending t o what Europeans require of t hem in a
civil way, and very ready t o ret urn double t he present s we make t hem."

Africa had a kind of feudalism, like Europe based on agricult ure, and wit h hierarchies of lords and
vassals. But African feudalism did not come, as did Europe's, out of t he slave societ ies of Greece and
Rome, which had dest royed ancient t ribal life. In Africa, t ribal life was st ill powerful, and some of
it s bet t er feat ures-a communal spirit , more kindness in law and punishment -st ill exist ed. And
because t he lords did not have t he weapons t hat European lords had, t hey could not command
obedience as easily.

In his book The African Slave Trade, Basil Davidson cont rast s law in t he Congo in t he early
sixt eent h cent ury wit h law in Port ugal and England. In t hose European count ries, where t he idea
of privat e propert y was becoming powerful, t heft was punished brut ally. In England, even as lat e as
1740, a child could be hanged for st ealing a rag of cot t on. But in t he Congo, communal life persist ed,
t he idea of privat e propert y was a st range one, and t heft s were punished wit h fines or various
degrees of servit ude. A Congolese leader, t old of t he Port uguese legal codes, asked a Port uguese
once, t easingly: "What is t he penalt y in Port ugal for anyone who put s his feet on t he ground?"

Slavery exist ed in t he African st at es, and it was somet imes used by Europeans t o just ify t heir own
slave t rade. But , as Davidson point s out , t he "slaves" of Africa were more like t he serfs of Europe-in
ot her words, like most of t he populat ion of Europe. It was a harsh servit ude, but t hey had right s
which slaves brought t o America did not have, and t hey were "alt oget her different from t he human
cat t le of t he slave ships and t he American plant at ions." In t he Ashant i Kingdom of West Africa, one
observer not ed t hat "a slave might marry; own propert y; himself own a slave; swear an oat h; be a
compet ent wit ness and ult imat ely become heir t o his mast er.... An Ashant i slave, nine cases out of
t en, possibly became an adopt ed member of t he family, and in t ime his descendant s so merged and
int ermarried wit h t he owner's kinsmen t hat only a few would know t heir origin."

One slave t rader, John Newt on (who lat er became an ant islavery leader), wrot e about t he people of
what is now Sierra Leone:

The st at e of slavery, among t hese wild barbarous people, as we est eem t hem, is much milder t han in
our colonies. For as, on t he one hand, t hey have no land in high cult ivat ion, like our West India
plant at ions, and t herefore no call for t hat excessive, unint ermit t ed labour, which exhaust s our
slaves: so, on t he ot her hand, no man is permit t ed t o draw blood even from a slave.

African slavery is hardly t o be praised. But it was far different from plant at ion or mining slavery in
t he Americas, which was lifelong, morally crippling, dest ruct ive of family t ies, wit hout hope of any
fut ure. African slavery lacked t wo element s t hat made American slavery t he most cruel form of
slavery in hist ory: t he frenzy for limit less profit t hat comes from capit alist ic agricult ure; t he
reduct ion of t he slave t o less t han human st at us by t he use of racial hat red, wit h t hat relent less
clarit y based on color, where whit e was mast er, black was slave.

In fact , it was because t hey came from a set t led cult ure, of t ribal cust oms and family t ies, of
communal life and t radit ional rit ual, t hat African blacks found t hemselves especially helpless when
removed from t his. They were capt ured in t he int erior (frequent ly by blacks caught up in t he slave
t rade t hemselves), sold on t he coast , t hen shoved int o pens wit h blacks of ot her t ribes, oft en
speaking different languages.

The condit ions of capt ure and sale were crushing affirmat ions t o t he black African of his
helplessness in t he face of superior force. The marches t o t he coast , somet imes for 1,000 miles, wit h
people shackled around t he neck, under whip and gun, were deat h marches, in which t wo of every
five blacks died. On t he coast , t hey were kept in cages unt il t hey were picked and sold. One John
Barbot , at t he end of t he sevent eent h cent ury, described t hese cages on t he Gold Coast :

As t he slaves come down t o Fida from t he inland count ry, t hey are put int o a boot h or prison . ..
near t he beach, and when t he Europeans are t o receive t hem, t hey are brought out ont o a large
plain, where t he ship's surgeons examine every part of everyone of t hem, t o t he smallest member,
men and women being st ark naked.... Such as are allowed good and sound are set on one side .. .
marked on t he breast wit h a red-hot iron, imprint ing t he mark of t he French, English, or Dut ch
companies.. . . The branded slaves aft er t his are ret urned t o t heir former boot hs where t hey await
shipment , somet imes 10-15 days. . ..

Then t hey were packed aboard t he slave ships, in spaces not much bigger t han coffins, chained
t oget her in t he dark, wet slime of t he ship's bot t om, choking in t he st ench of t heir own excrement .
Document s of t he t ime describe t he condit ions:

The height , somet imes, bet ween decks, was only eight een inches; so t hat t he unfort unat e human
beings could not t urn around, or even on t heir sides, t he elevat ion being less t han t he breadt h of
t heir shoulders; and here t hey are usually chained t o t he decks by t he neck and legs. In such a place
t he sense of misery and suffocat ion is so great , t hat t he Negroes ... are driven t o frenzy.

On one occasion, hearing a great noise from belowdecks where t he blacks were chained t oget her,
t he sailors opened t he hat ches and found t he slaves in different st ages of suffocat ion, many dead,
some having killed ot hers in desperat e at t empt s t o breat he. Slaves oft en jumped overboard t o
drown rat her t han cont inue t heir suffering. To one observer a slave-deck was "so covered wit h
blood and mucus t hat it resembled a slaught er house."

Under t hese condit ions, perhaps one of every t hree blacks t ransport ed overseas died, but t he huge
profit s (oft en double t he invest ment on one t rip) made it wort hwhile for t he slave t rader, and so
t he blacks were packed int o t he holds like fish.

First t he Dut ch, t hen t he English, dominat ed t he slave t rade. (By 1795 Liverpool had more t han a
hundred ships carrying slaves and account ed for half of all t he European slave t rade.) Some
Americans in New England ent ered t he business, and in 1637 t he first American slave ship, t he
Desire, sailed from Marblehead. It s holds were part it ioned int o racks, 2 feet by 6 feet , wit h leg irons
and bars.

By 1800, 10 t o 15 million blacks had been t ransport ed as slaves t o t he Americas, represent ing
perhaps one-t hird of t hose originally seized in Africa. It is roughly est imat ed t hat Africa lost 50
million human beings t o deat h and slavery in t hose cent uries we call t he beginnings of modern
West ern civilizat ion, at t he hands of slave t raders and plant at ion owners in West ern Europe and
America, t he count ries deemed t he most advanced in t he world.

In t he year 1610, a Cat holic priest in t he Americas named Fat her Sandoval wrot e back t o a church
funct ionary in Europe t o ask if t he capt ure, t ransport , and enslavement of African blacks was legal
by church doct rine. A let t er dat ed March 12, 1610, from Brot her Luis Brandaon t o Fat her Sandoval
gives t he answer:

Your Reverence writ es me t hat you would like t o know whet her t he Negroes who are sent t o your
part s have been legally capt ured. To t his I reply t hat I t hink your Reverence should have no
scruples on t his point , because t his is a mat t er which has been quest ioned by t he Board of
Conscience in Lisbon, and all it s members are learned and conscient ious men. Nor did t he bishops
who were in Sao Thome, Cape Verde, and here in Loando-all learned and virt uous men-find fault
wit h it . We have been here ourselves for fort y years and t here have been among us very learned
Fat hers . .. never did t hey consider t he t rade as illicit . Therefore we and t he Fat hers of Brazil buy
t hese slaves for our service wit hout any scruple....

Wit h all of t his-t he desperat ion of t he Jamest own set t lers for labor, t he impossibilit y of using
Indians and t he difficult y of using whit es, t he availabilit y of blacks offered in great er and great er
numbers by profit -seeking dealers in human flesh, and wit h such blacks possible t o cont rol because
t hey had just gone t hrough an ordeal which if it did not kill t hem must have left t hem in a st at e of
psychic and physical helplessness-is it any wonder t hat such blacks were ripe for enslavement ?

And under t hese condit ions, even if some blacks might have been considered servant s, would
blacks be t reat ed t he same as whit e servant s?

The evidence, from t he court records of colonial Virginia, shows t hat in 1630 a whit e man named
Hugh Davis was ordered "t o be soundly whipt ... for abusing himself ... by defiling his body in lying
wit h a Negro." Ten years lat er, six servant s and "a negro of Mr. Reynolds" st art ed t o run away.
While t he whit es received light er sent ences, "Emanuel t he Negro t o receive t hirt y st ripes and t o be
burnt in t he cheek wit h t he let t er R, and t o work in shackle one year or more as his mast er shall see

Alt hough slavery was not yet regularized or legalized in t hose first years, t he list s of servant s show
blacks list ed separat ely. A law passed in 1639 decreed t hat "all persons except Negroes" were t o get
arms and ammunit ion-probably t o fight off Indians. When in 1640 t hree servant s t ried t o run away,
t he t wo whit es were punished wit h a lengt hening of t heir service. But , as t he court put it , "t he t hird
being a negro named John Punch shall serve his mast er or his assigns for t he t ime of his nat ural life."
Also in 1640, we have t he case of a Negro woman servant who begot a child by Robert Sweat , a
whit e man. The court ruled "t hat t he said negro woman shall be whipt at t he whipping post and
t he said Sweat shall t omorrow in t he forenoon do public penance for his offense at James
cit ychurch..,."

This unequal t reat ment , t his developing combinat ion of cont empt and oppression, feeling and
act ion, which we call "racism"-was t his t he result of a "nat ural" ant ipat hy of whit e against black?
The quest ion is import ant , not just as a mat t er of hist orical accuracy, but because any emphasis on
"nat ural" racism light ens t he responsibilit y of t he social syst em. If racism can't be shown t o be
nat ural, t hen it is t he result of cert ain condit ions, and we are impelled t o eliminat e t hose
condit ions.

We have no way of t est ing t he behavior of whit es and blacks t oward one anot her under favorable
condit ions-wit h no hist ory of subordinat ion, no money incent ive for exploit at ion and enslavement ,
no desperat ion for survival requiring forced labor. All t he condit ions for black and whit e in
sevent eent h-cent ury America were t he opposit e of t hat , all powerfully direct ed t oward ant agonism
and mist reat ment . Under such condit ions even t he slight est display of humanit y bet ween t he races
might be considered evidence of a basic human drive t oward communit y.

Somet imes it is not ed t hat , even before 1600, when t he slave t rade had just begun, before Africans
were st amped by it -lit erally and symbolically-t he color black was dist ast eful. In England, before
1600, it meant , according t o t he Oxford English Dict ionary: "Deeply st ained wit h dirt ; soiled, dirt y,
foul. Having dark or deadly purposes, malignant ; pert aining t o or involving deat h, deadly; baneful,
disast rous, sinist er. Foul, iniquit ous, at rocious, horribly wicked. Indicat ing disgrace, censure,
liabilit y t o punishment , et c." And Elizabet han poet ry oft en used t he color whit e in connect ion wit h
beaut y.

It may be t hat , in t he absence of any ot her overriding fact or, darkness and blackness, associat ed
wit h night and unknown, would t ake on t hose meanings. But t he presence of anot her human being
is a powerful fact , and t he condit ions of t hat presence are crucial in det ermining whet her an init ial
prejudice, against a mere color, divorced from humankind, is t urned int o brut alit y and hat red.

In spit e of such preconcept ions about blackness, in spit e of special subordinat ion of blacks in t he
Americas in t he sevent eent h cent ury, t here is evidence t hat where whit es and blacks found
t hemselves wit h common problems, common work, common enemy in t heir mast er, t hey behaved
t oward one anot her as equals. As one scholar of slavery, Kennet h St ampp, has put it , Negro and
whit e servant s of t he sevent eent h cent ury were "remarkably unconcerned about t he visible
physical differences."

Black and whit e worked t oget her, frat ernized t oget her. The very fact t hat laws had t o be passed
aft er a while t o forbid such relat ions indicat es t he st rengt h of t hat t endency. In 1661 a law was
passed in Virginia t hat "in case any English servant shall run away in company of any Negroes" he
would have t o give special service for ext ra years t o t he mast er of t he runaway Negro. In 1691,
Virginia provided for t he banishment of any "whit e man or woman being free who shall int ermarry
wit h a negro, mulat oo, or Indian man or woman bond or free."

There is an enormous difference bet ween a feeling of racial st rangeness, perhaps fear, and t he mass
enslavement of millions of black people t hat t ook place in t he Americas. The t ransit ion from one t o
t he ot her cannot be explained easily by "nat ural" t endencies. It is not hard t o underst and as t he
out come of hist orical condit ions.

Slavery grew as t he plant at ion syst em grew. The reason is easily t raceable t o somet hing ot her t han
nat ural racial repugnance: t he number of arriving whit es, whet her free or indent ured servant s
(under four t o seven years cont ract ), was not enough t o meet t he need of t he plant at ions. By 1700,
in Virginia, t here were 6,000 slaves, one-t welft h of t he populat ion. By 1763, t here were 170,000
slaves, about half t he populat ion.

Blacks were easier t o enslave t han whit es or Indians. But t hey were st ill not easy t o enslave. From
t he beginning, t he import ed black men and women resist ed t heir enslavement . Ult imat ely t heir
resist ance was cont rolled, and slavery was est ablished for 3 million blacks in t he Sout h. St ill, under
t he most difficult condit ions, under pain of mut ilat ion and deat h, t hroughout t heir t wo hundred
years of enslavement in Nort h America, t hese Afro-Americans cont inued t o rebel. Only occasionally
was t here an organized insurrect ion. More oft en t hey showed t hen-refusal t o submit by running
away. Even more oft en, t hey engaged in sabot age, slowdowns, and subt le forms of resist ance which
assert ed, if only t o t hemselves and t heir brot hers and sist ers, t heir dignit y as human beings.

The refusal began in Africa. One slave t rader report ed t hat Negroes were "so wilful and lot h t o leave
t heir own count ry, t hat t hey have oft en leap'd out of t he canoes, boat and ship int o t he sea, and
kept under wat er t ill t hey were drowned."

When t he very first black slaves were brought int o Hispaniola in 1503, t he Spanish governor of
Hispaniola complained t o t he Spanish court t hat fugit ive Negro slaves were t eaching disobedience
t o t he Indians. In t he 1520s and 1530s, t here were slave revolt s in Hispaniola, Puert o Rico, Sant a
Mart a, and what is now Panama. Short ly aft er t hose rebellions, t he Spanish est ablished a special
police for chasing fugit ive slaves.

A Virginia st at ut e of 1669 referred t o "t he obst inacy of many of t hem," and in 1680 t he Assembly
t ook not e of slave meet ings "under t he pret ense offcast s and brawls" which t hey considered of
"dangerous consequence." In 1687, in t he colony's Nort hern Neck, a plot was discovered in which
slaves planned t o kill all t he whit es in t he area and escape during a mass funeral.

Gerald Mullin, who st udied slave resist ance in eight eent h-cent ury Virginia in his work Flight and
Rebellion, report s:

The available sources on slavery in 18t h-cent ury Virginia-plant at ion and count y records, t he
newspaper advert isement s for runaways-describe rebellious slaves and few ot hers. The slaves
described were lazy and t hieving; diey feigned illnesses, dest royed crops, st ores, t ools, and
somet imes at t acked or killed overseers. They operat ed blackmarket s in st olen goods. Runaways
were defined as various t ypes, t hey were t ruant s (who usually ret urned volunt arily), "out laws". . .
and slaves who were act ually fugit ives: men who visit ed relat ives, went t o t own t o pass as free, or
t ried t o escape slavery complet ely, eit her by boarding ships and leaving t he colony, or banding
t ogedier in cooperat ive effort s t o est ablish villages or hide-out s in t he front ier. The commit ment of
anot her t ype of rebellious slave was t ot al; t hese men became killers, arsonist s, and insurrect ionist s.

Slaves recent ly from Africa, st ill holding on t o t he herit age of t heir communal societ y, would run
away in groups and t ry t o est ablish villages of runaways out in t he wilderness, on t he front ier.
Slaves born in America, on t he ot her hand, were more likely t o run off alone, and, wit h t he skills
t hey had learned on t he plant at ion, t ry t o pass as free men.

In t he colonial papers of England, a 1729 report from t he lieut enant governor of Virginia t o t he
Brit ish Board of Trade t ells how "a number of Negroes, about fift een .. . formed a design t o
wit hdraw from t heir Mast er and t o fix t hemselves in t he fast nesses of t he neighboring Mount ains.
They had found means t o get int o t heir possession some Arms and Ammunit ion, and t hey t ook
along wit h t hem some Provisions, t heir Clot hs, bedding and working Tools.... Tho' t his at t empt has
happily been defeat ed, it ought nevert heless t o awaken us int o some effect ual measures...."

Slavery was immensely profit able t o some mast ers. James Madison t old a Brit ish visit or short ly
aft er t he American Revolut ion t hat he could make $257 on every Negro in a year, and spend only
$12 or $13 on his keep. Anot her viewpoint was of slaveowner Landon Cart er, writ ing about fift y
years earlier, complaining t hat his slaves so neglect ed t heir work and were so uncooperat ive
("eit her cannot or will not work") t hat he began t o wonder if keeping t hem was wort hwhile.

Some hist orians have paint ed a pict ure-based on t he infrequency of organized rebellions and t he
abilit y of t he Sout h t o maint ain slavery for t wo hundred years-of a slave populat ion made
submissive by t heir condit ion; wit h t heir African herit age dest royed, t hey were, as St anley Elkins
said, made int o "Sambos," "a societ y of helpless dependent s." Or as anot her hist orian, Ulrich
Phillips, said, "by racial qualit y submissive." But looking at t he t ot alit y of slave behavior, at t he
resist ance of everyday life, from quiet noncooperat ion in work t o running away, t he pict ure
becomes different .

In 1710, warning t he Virginia Assembly, Governor Alexander Spot swood said:

... freedom wears a cap which can wit hout a t ongue, call t oget her all t hose who long t o shake off t he
fet t ers of slavery and as such an Insurrect ion would surely be at t ended wit h most dreadful
consequences so I t hink we cannot be t oo early in providing against it , bot h by put t ing our selves in
a bet t er post ure of defense and by making a law t o prevent t he consult at ions of t hose Negroes.

Indeed, considering t he harshness of punishment for running away, t hat so many blacks did run
away must be a sign of a powerful rebelliousness. All t hrough t he 1700s, t he Virginia slave code

Whereas many t imes slaves run away and He hid and lurking in swamps, woods, and ot her obscure
places, killing hogs, and commit t ing ot her injuries t o t he inhabit ant s ... if t he slave does not
immediat ely ret urn, anyone what soever may kill or dest roy such slaves by such ways and means as
he ... shall t hink fit . ... If t he slave is apprehended ... it shall ... be lawful for t he count y court , t o order
such punishment for t he said slave, eit her by dismembering, or in any ot her way ... as t hey in t heir
discret ion shall t hink fit , for t he reclaiming any such incorrigible slave, and t errifying ot hers from
t he like pract ices. .., Mullin found newspaper advert isement s bet ween 1736 and 1801 for 1,138 men
runaways, and 141 women. One consist ent reason for running away was t o find members of one's
family-showing t hat despit e t he at t empt s of t he slave syst em t o dest roy family t ies by not allowing
marriages and by separat ing families, slaves would face deat h and mut ilat ion t o get t oget her.

In Maryland, where slaves were about one-t hird of t he populat ion in 1750, slavery had been writ t en
int o law since t he 1660s, and st at ut es for cont rolling rebellious slaves were passed. There were
cases where slave women killed t heir mast ers, somet imes by poisoning t hem, somet imes by
burning t obacco houses and homes. Punishment s ranged from whipping and branding t o
execut ion, but t he t rouble cont inued. In 1742, seven slaves were put t o deat h for murdering t heir
mast er.

Fear of slave revolt seems t o have been a permanent fact of plant at ion life. William Byrd, a wealt hy
Virginia slaveowner, wrot e in 1736:

We have already at least 10,000 men of t hese descendant s of Ham, fit t o bear arms, and t hese
numbers increase every day, as well by birt h as by import at ion. And in case t here should arise a
man of desperat e fort une, he might wit h more advant age t han Cat aline kindle a servile war ... and
t inge our rivers wide as t hey are wit h blood.

It was an int ricat e and powerful syst em of cont rol t hat t he slaveowners developed t o maint ain
t heir labor supply and t heir way of life, a syst em bot h subt le and crude, involving every device t hat
social orders employ for keeping power and wealt h where it is. As Kennet h St ampp put s it :

A wise mast er did not t ake seriously t he belief t hat Negroes were nat ural-born slaves. He knew
bet t er. He knew t hat Negroes freshly import ed from Africa had t o be broken int o bondage; t hat
each succeeding generat ion had t o be carefully t rained. This was no easy t ask, for t he bondsman
rarely submit t ed willingly. Moreover, he rarely submit t ed complet ely. In most cases t here was no
end t o t he need for cont rol-at least not unt il old age reduced t he slave t o a condit ion of

The syst em was psychological and physical at t he same t ime. The slaves were t aught discipline,
were impressed again and again wit h t he idea of t heir own inferiorit y t o "know t heir place," t o see
blackness as a sign of subordinat ion, t o be awed by t he power of t he mast er, t o merge t heir int erest
wit h t he mast er's, dest roying t heir own individual needs. To accomplish t his t here was t he
discipline of hard labor, t he breakup of t he slave family, t he lulling effect s of religion (which
somet imes led t o "great mischief," as one slaveholder report ed), t he creat ion of disunit y among
slaves by separat ing t hem int o field slaves and more privileged house slaves, and finally t he power
of law and t he immediat e power of t he overseer t o invoke whipping, burning, mut ilat ion, and
deat h. Dismemberment was provided for in t he Virginia Code of 1705. Maryland passed a law in
1723 providing for cut t ing off t he ears of blacks who st ruck whit es, and t hat for cert ain serious
crimes, slaves should be hanged and t he body quart ered and exposed.

St ill, rebellions t ook place-not many, but enough t o creat e const ant fear among whit e plant ers. The
first large-scale revolt in t he Nort h American colonies t ook place in New York in 1712. In New
York, slaves were 10 percent of t he populat ion, t he highest proport ion in t he nort hern st at es,
where economic condit ions usually did not require large numbers of field slaves. About t went y-five
blacks and t wo Indians set fire t o a building, t hen killed nine whit es who came on t he scene. They
were capt ured by soldiers, put on t rial, and t went y-one were execut ed. The governor's report t o
England said: "Some were burnt , ot hers were hanged, one broke on t he wheel, and one hung alive in
chains in t he t own...." One had been burned over a slow fire for eight t o t en hours-all t his t o serve
not ice t o ot her slaves.

Alert er t o London from Sout h Carolina in 1720 report s:

I am now t o acquaint you t hat very lat ely we have had a very wicked and barbarous plot of t he
designe of t he negroes rising wit h a designe t o dest roy all t he whit e people in t he count ry and t hen
t o t ake Charles Town in full body but it pleased God it was discovered and many of t hem t aken
prisoners and some burnt and some hang'd and some banish'd.

Around t his t ime t here were a number of fires in Bost on and New Haven, suspect ed t o be t he work
of Negro slaves. As a result , one Negro was execut ed in Bost on, and t he Bost on Council ruled t hat
any slaves who on t heir own gat hered in groups of t wo or more were t o be punished by whipping.

At St ono, Sout h Carolina, in 1739, about t went y slaves rebelled, killed t wo warehouse guards, st ole
guns and gunpowder, and headed sout h, killing people in t heir way, and burning buildings. They
were joined by ot hers, unt il t here were perhaps eight y slaves in all and, according t o one account of
t he t ime, "t hey called out Libert y, marched on wit h Colours displayed, and t wo Drums beat ing."
The milit ia found and at t acked t hem. In t he ensuing bat t le perhaps fift y slaves and t went y-five
whit es were killed before t he uprising was crushed.

Herbert Apt heker, who did det ailed research on slave resist ance in Nort h America for his book
American Negro Slave Revolt s, found about 250 inst ances where a minimum oft en slaves joined in a
revolt or conspiracy.

From t ime t o t ime, whit es were involved in t he slave resist ance. As early as 1663, indent ured whit e
servant s and black slaves in Gloucest er Count y, Virginia, formed a conspiracy t o rebel and gain
t heir freedom. The plot was bet rayed, and ended wit h execut ions. Mullin report s t hat t he
newspaper not ices of runaways in Virginia oft en warned "ill-disposed" whit es about harboring
fugit ives. Somet imes slaves and free men ran off t oget her, or cooperat ed in crimes t oget her.
Somet imes, black male slaves ran off and joined whit e women. From t ime t o t ime, whit e ship
capt ains and wat ermen dealt wit h runaways, perhaps making t he slave a part of t he crew.

In New York in 1741, t here were t en t housand whit es in t he cit y and t wo t housand black slaves. It
had been a hard wint er and t he poor-slave and free-had suffered great ly. When myst erious fires
broke out , blacks and whit es were accused of conspiring t oget her. Mass hyst eria developed against
t he accused. Aft er a t rial full of lurid accusat ions by informers, and forced confessions, t wo whit e
men and t wo whit e women were execut ed, eight een slaves were hanged, and t hirt een slaves were
burned alive.

Only one fear was great er t han t he fear of black rebellion in t he new American colonies. That was
t he fear t hat discont ent ed whit es would join black slaves t o overt hrow t he exist ing order. In t he
early years of slavery, especially, before racism as a way of t hinking was firmly ingrained, while
whit e indent ured servant s were oft en t reat ed as badly as black slaves, t here was a possibilit y of
cooperat ion. As Edmund Morgan sees it :

There are hint s t hat t he t wo despised groups init ially saw each ot her as sharing t he same
predicament . It was common, for example, for servant s and slaves t o run away t oget her, st eal hogs
t oget her, get drunk t oget her. It was not uncommon for t hem t o make love t oget her. In Bacon's
Rebellion, one of t he last groups t o surrender was a mixed band of eight y negroes and t went y
English servant s.

As Morgan says, mast ers, "init ially at least , perceived slaves in much t he same way t hey had always
perceived servant s ... shift less, irresponsible, unfait hful, ungrat eful, dishonest .. .." And "if freemen
wit h disappoint ed hopes should make common cause wit h slaves of desperat e hope, t he result s
might be worse t han anyt hing Bacon had done."

And so, measures were t aken. About t he same t ime t hat slave codes, involving discipline and
punishment , were passed by t he Virginia Assembly, Virginia's ruling class, having proclaimed t hat
all whit e men were superior t o black, went on t o offer t heir social (but whit e) inferiors a number of
benefit s previously denied t hem. In 1705 a law was passed requiring mast ers t o provide whit e
servant s whose indent ure t ime was up wit h t en bushels of corn, t hirt y shillings, and a gun, while
women servant s were t o get 15 bushels of corn and fort y shillings. Also, t he newly freed servant s
were t o get 50 acres of land.

Morgan concludes: "Once t he small plant er felt less exploit ed by t axat ion and began t o prosper a
lit de, he became less t urbulent , less dangerous, more respect able. He could begin t o see his big
neighbor not as an ext ort ionist but as a powerful prot ect or of t heir common int erest s."

We see now a complex web of hist orical t hreads t o ensnare blacks for slavery in America: t he
desperat ion of st arving set t lers, t he special helplessness of t he displaced African, t he powerful
incent ive of profit for slave t rader and plant er, t he t empt at ion of superior st at us for poor whit es,
t he elaborat e cont rols against escape and rebellion, t he legal and social punishment of black and
whit e collaborat ion.

The point is t hat t he element s of t his web arc hist orical, not "nat ural." This does not mean t hat t hey
are easily disent angled, dismant led. It means only t hat t here is a possibilit y for somet hing else,
under hist orical condit ions not yet realized. And one of t hese condit ions would be t he eliminat ion
of t hat class exploit at ion which has made poor whit es desperat e for small gift s of st at us, and has
prevent ed t hat unit y of black and whit e necessary for joint rebellion and reconst ruct ion.

Around 1700, t he Virginia House of Burgesses declared:

The Christ ian Servant s in t his count ry for t he most part consist s of t he Worser Sort of t he people
of Europe. And since . .. such numbers of Irish and ot her Nat ions have been brought in of which a
great many have been soldiers in t he lat e wars t hat according t o our present Circumst ances we can
hardly governe t hem and if t hey were fit t ed wit h Armes and had t he Opert unit y of meet ing
t oget her by Must ers we have just reason t o fears t hey may rise upon us.

It was a kind of class consciousness, a class fear. There were t hings happening in early Virginia, and
in t he ot her colonies, t o warrant it .


In 1676, sevent y years aft er Virginia was founded, a hundred years before it supplied leadership for
t he American Revolut ion, t hat colony faced a rebellion of whit e front iersmen, joined by slaves and
servant s, a rebellion so t hreat ening t hat t he governor had t o flee t he burning capit al of Jamest own,
and England decided t o send a t housand soldiers across t he At lant ic, hoping t o maint ain order
among fort y t housand colonist s. This was Bacon's Rebellion. Aft er t he uprising was suppressed, it s
leader, Nat haniel Bacon, dead, and his associat es hanged, Bacon was described in a Royal
Commission report :

He was said t o be about four or five and t hirt y years of age, indifferent t all but slender, black-hair'd
and of an ominous, pensive, melancholly Aspect , of a pest ilent and prevalent Logical discourse
t ending t o at heisme... . He seduced t he Vulgar and most ignorant people t o believe (t wo t hirds of
each count y being of t hat Sort ) Soc t hat t heir whole heart s and hopes were set now upon Bacon.
Next he charges t he Governour as negligent and wicked, t reacherous and incapable, t he Lawes and
Taxes as unjust and oppressive and cryes up absolut e necessit y of redress. Thus Bacon encouraged
t he Tumult and as t he unquiet crowd follow and adhere t o him, he list et h t hem as t hey come in
upon a large paper, writ ing t heir name circular wise, t hat t heir Ringleaders might not be found out .
Having connur'd t hem int o t his circle, given t hem Brandy t o wind up t he charme, and enjoyned
t hem by an oat h t o st ick fast t oget her and t o him and t he oat h being administ ered, he went and
infect ed New Kent Count y ripe for Rebellion.

Bacon's Rebellion began wit h conflict over how t o deal wit h t he Indians, who were close by, on t he
west ern front ier, const ant ly t hreat ening. Whit es who had been ignored when huge land grant s
around Jamest own were given away had gone west t o find land, and t here t hey encount ered
Indians. Were t hose front ier Virginians resent ful t hat t he polit icos and landed arist ocrat s who
cont rolled t he colony's government in Jamest own first pushed t hem west ward int o Indian
t errit ory, and t hen seemed indecisive in fight ing t he Indians? That might explain t he charact er of
t heir rebellion, not easily classifiable as eit her ant iarist ocrat or ant i-Indian, because it was bot h.

And t he governor, William Berkeley, and his Jamest own crowd-were t hey more conciliat ory t o t he
Indians (t hey wooed cert ain of t hem as spies and allies) now t hat t hey had monopolized t he land in
t he East , could use front ier whit es as a buffer, and needed peace? The desperat ion of t he
government in suppressing t he rebellion seemed t o have a double mot ive: developing an Indian
policy which would divide Indians in order t o cont rol t hem (in New England at t his very t ime,
Massasoit /s son Met acom was t hreat ening t o unit e Indian t ribes, and had done fright ening damage
t o Purit an set t lement s in "King Philip's War"); and t eaching t he poor whit es of Virginia t hat
rebellion did not pay-by a show of superior force, by calling for t roops from England it self, by mass

Violence had escalat ed on t he front ier before t he rebellion. Some Doeg Indians t ook a few hogs t o
redress a debt , and whit es, ret rieving t he hogs, murdered t wo Indians. The Doegs t hen sent out a
war part y t o kill a whit e herdsman, aft er which a whit e milit ia company killed t went y-four
Indians. This led t o a series of Indian raids, wit h t he Indians, out numbered, t urning t o guerrilla
warfare. The House of Burgesses in Jamest own declared war on t he Indians, but proposed t o
exempt t hose Indians who cooperat ed. This seemed t o anger t he front iers people, who want ed
t ot al war but also resent ed t he high t axes assessed t o pay for t he war.

Times were hard in 1676. "There was genuine dist ress, genuine povert y.... All cont emporary sources
speak of t he great mass of people as living in severe economic st rait s," writ es Wilcomb Washburn,
who, using Brit ish colonial records, has done an exhaust ive st udy of Bacon's Rebellion. It was a dry
summer, ruining t he corn crop, which was needed for food, and t he t obacco crop, needed for
export . Governor Berkeley, in his sevent ies, t ired of holding office, wrot e wearily about his
sit uat ion: "How miserable t hat man is t hat Governes a People where six part s of seaven at least are
Poore Endebt ed Discont ent ed and Armed."

His phrase "six part s of seaven" suggest s t he exist ence of an upper class not so impoverished. In
fact , t here was such a class already developed in Virginia. Bacon himself came from t his class, had a
good bit of land, and was probably more ent husiast ic about killing Indians t han about redressing
t he grievances of t he poor. But he became a symbol of mass resent ment against t he Virginia
est ablishment , and was elect ed in t he spring of 1676 t o t he House of Burgesses. When he insist ed
on organizing armed det achment s t o fight t he Indians, out side official cont rol, Berkeley proclaimed
him a rebel and had him capt ured, whereupon t wo t housand Virginians marched int o Jamest own
t o support him. Berkeley let Bacon go, in ret urn for an apology, but Bacon went off, gat hered his
milit ia, and began raiding t he Indians.

Bacon's "Declarat ion of t he People" of July 1676 shows a mixt ure of populist resent ment against t he
rich and front ier hat red of t he Indians. It indict ed t he Berkeley administ rat ion for unjust t axes, for
put t ing favorit es in high posit ions, for monopolizing t he beaver t rade, and for not prot ect ing t he
west ern formers from t he Indians. Then Bacon went out t o at t ack t he friendly Pamunkey Indians,
killing eight , t aking ot hers prisoner, plundering t heir possessions.

There is evidence t hat t he rank and file of bot h Bacon's rebel army and Berkeley's official army were
not as ent husiast ic as t heir leaders. There were mass desert ions on bot h sides, according t o
Washburn. In t he fall, Bacon, aged t went y-nine, fell sick and died, because of, as a cont emporary
put it , "swarmes of Vermyn t hat bred in his body." A minist er, apparent ly not a sympat hizer, wrot e
t his epit aph:

Bacon is Dead I am sorry at my heart ,
That lice and flux should t ake t he hangmans part .

The rebellion didn't last long aft er t hat . A ship armed wit h t hirt y guns, cruising t he York River,
became t he base for securing order, and it s capt ain, Thomas Grant ham, used force and decept ion t o
disarm t he last rebel forces. Coming upon t he chief garrison of t he rebellion, he found four hundred
armed Englishmen and Negroes, a mixt ure of free men, servant s, and slaves. He promised t o pardon
everyone, t o give freedom t o slaves and servant s, whereupon t hey surrendered t heir arms and
dispersed, except for eight y Negroes and t went y English who insist ed on keeping t heir arms.
Grant ham promised t o t ake t hem t o a garrison down t he river, but when t hey got int o t he boat , he
t rained his big guns on t hem, disarmed t hem, and event ually delivered t he slaves and servant s t o
t heir mast ers. The remaining garrisons were overcome one by one. Twent y-t hree rebel leaders were

It was a complex chain of oppression in Virginia. The Indians were plundered by whit e
front iersmen, who were t axed and cont rolled by t he Jamest own elit e. And t he whole colony was
being exploit ed by England, which bought t he colonist s' t obacco at prices it dict at ed and made
100,000 pounds a year for t he King. Berkeley himself, ret urning t o England years earlier t o prot est
t he English Navigat ion Act s, which gave English merchant s a monopoly of t he colonial t rade, had

... we cannot but resent , t hat fort y t housand people should be impoverish'd t o enrich lit t le more
t han fort y Merchant s, who being t he only buyers of our Tobacco, give us what t hey please for it ,
and aft er it is here, sell it how t hey please; and indeed have fort y t housand servant s in us at cheaper
rat es, t han any ot her men have slaves....

From t he t est imony of t he governor himself, t he rebellion against him had t he overwhelming
support of t he Virginia populat ion. A member of his Council report ed t hat t he defect ion was
"almost general" and laid it t o "t he Lewd disposit ions of some Persons of desperat e Fort unes" who
had "t he Vaine hopes of t akeing t he Count rey wholley out of his Majest y's handes int o t heir owne."
Anot her member of t he Governor's Council, Richard Lee, not ed t hat Bacon's Rebellion had st art ed
over Indian policy. But t he "zealous inclinat ion of t he mult it ude" t o support Bacon was due, he said,
t o "hopes of levelling."

"Levelling" meant equalizing t he wealt h. Levelling was t o be behind count less act ions of poor
whit es against t he rich in all t he English colonies, in t he cent ury and a half before t he Revolut ion.

The servant s who joined Bacon's Rebellion were part of a large underclass of miserably poor whit es
who came t o t he Nort h American colonies from European cit ies whose government s were anxious
t o be rid of t hem. In England, t he development of commerce and capit alism in t he 1500s and 1600s,
t he enclosing of land for t he product ion of wool, filled t he cit ies wit h vagrant poor, and from t he
reign of Elizabet h on, laws were passed t o punish t hem, imprison t hem in workhouses, or exile
t hem. The Elizabet han definit ion of "rogues and vagabonds" included:

... All persons calling t hemselves Schollers going about begging, all Seafaring men pret ending losses
of t heir Shippes or goods on t he sea going about t he Count ry begging, all idle persons going about
in any Count ry eit her begging or using any subt ile craft e or unlawful Games ... comon Players of
Int erludes and Minst rells wandring abroade ... all wandering persons and comon Labourers being
persons able in bodye using loyt ering and refusing t o worke for such reasonable wages as is t axed
or commonly given....

Such persons found begging could be st ripped t o t he waist and whipped bloody, could be sent out
of t he cit y, sent t o workhouses, or t ransport ed out of t he count ry.

In t he 1600s and 1700s, by forced exile, by lures, promises, and lies, by kidnapping, by t heir urgent
need t o escape t he living condit ions of t he home count ry, poor people want ing t o go t o America
became commodit ies of profit for merchant s, t raders, ship capt ains, and event ually t heir mast ers in
America. Abbot Smit h, in his st udy of indent ured servit ude, Colonist s in Bondage, writ es: "From
t he complex pat t ern of forces producing emigrat ion t o t he American colonies one st ands out clearly
as most powerful in causing t he movement of servant s. This was t he pecuniary profit t o be made by
shipping t hem."

Aft er signing t he indent ure, in which t he immigrant s agreed t o pay t heir cost of passage by
working for a mast er for five or seven years, t hey were oft en imprisoned unt il t he ship sailed, t o
make sure t hey did not run away. In t he year 1619, t he Virginia House of Burgesses, born t hat year
as t he first represent at ive assembly in America (it was also t he year of t he first import at ion of black
slaves), provided for t he recording and enforcing of cont ract s bet ween servant s and mast ers. As in
any cont ract bet ween unequal powers, t he part ies appeared on paper as equals, but enforcement
was far easier for mast er t han for servant .

The voyage t o America last ed eight , t en, or t welve weeks, and t he servant s were packed int o ships
wit h t he same fanat ic concern for profit s t hat marked t he slave ships. If t he weat her was bad, and
t he t rip t ook t oo long, t hey ran out of food. The sloop Sea-Flower, leaving Belfast in 1741, was at sea
sixt een weeks, and when it arrived in Bost on, fort y-six of it s 106 passengers were dead of
st arvat ion, six of t hem eat en by t he survivors. On anot her t rip, t hirt y-t wo children died of hunger
and disease and were t hrown int o t he ocean. GoIt lieb MiIt elberger, a musician, t raveling from
Germany t o America around 1750, wrot e about his voyage:

During t he journey t he ship is full of pit iful signs of dist ress-smells, fumes, horrors, vomit ing,
various kinds of sea sickness, fever, dysent ery, headaches, heat , const ipat ion, boils, scurvy, cancer,
mout h-rot , and similar afflict ions, all of t hem caused by t he age and t he high salt ed st at e of t he
food, especially of t he meat , as well as by t he very bad and filt hy wat er.. .. Add t o all t hat short age of
food, hunger, t hirst , frost , heat , dampness, fear, misery, vexat ion, and lament at ion as well as ot her
t roubles.... On board our ship, on a day on which we had a great st orm, a woman ahout t o give birt h
and unable t o deliver under t he circumst ances, was pushed t hrough one of t he port holes int o t he

Indent ured servant s were bought and sold like slaves. An announcement in t he Virginia GazeIt e,
March 28, 1771, read:

Just arrived at Leedst own, t he Ship Just it ia, wit h about one Hundred Healt hy Servant s, Men
Women & Boys... . The Sale will commence on Tuesday t he 2nd of April.

Against t he rosy account s of bet t er living st andards in t he Americas one must place many ot hers,
like one immigrant 's let t er from America: "Whoever is well off in Europe bet t er remain t here. Here
is misery and dist ress, same as everywhere, and for cert ain persons and condit ions incomparably
more t han in Europe."

Beat ings and whippings were common. Servant women were raped. One observer t est ified: "I have
seen an Overseer beat a Servant wit h a cane about t he head t ill t he blood has followed, for a fault
t hat is not wort h t he speaking of...." The Maryland court records showed many servant suicides. In
1671, Governor Berkeley of Virginia report ed t hat in previous years four of five servant s died of
disease aft er t heir arrival. Many were poor children, gat hered up by t he hundreds on t he st reet s of
English cit ies and sent t o Virginia t o work.

The mast er t ried t o cont rol complet ely t he sexual lives of t he servant s. It was in his economic
int erest t o keep women servant s from marrying or from having sexual relat ions, because
childbearing would int erfere wit h work. Benjamin Franklin, writ ing as "Poor Richard" in 1736, gave
advice t o his readers: "Let t hy maidservant be fait hful, st rong and homely."

Servant s could not marry wit hout permission, could be separat ed from t heir families, could be
whipped for various offenses. Pennsylvania law in t he sevent eent h cent ury said t hat marriage of
servant s "wit hout t he consent of t he Mast ers .. . shall be proceeded against as for Adult ery, or
fornicat ion, and Children t o be reput ed as Bast ards."

Alt hough colonial laws exist ed t o st op excesses against servant s, t hey were not very well enforced,
we learn from Richard Morris's comprehensive st udy of early court records in Government and
Labor in Early America. Servant s did not part icipat e in juries. Mast ers did. (And being
propert yless, servant s did not vot e.) In 1666, a New England court accused a couple of t he deat h of
a servant aft er t he mist ress had cut off t he servant 's t oes. The jury vot ed acquit t al. In Virginia in t he
1660s, a mast er was convict ed of raping t wo women servant s. He also was known t o heat his own
wife and children; he had whipped and chained anot her servant unt il he died. The mast er was
berat ed by t he court , but specifically cleared on t he rape charge, despit e overwhelming evidence.

Somet imes servant s organized rebellions, but one did not find on t he mainland t he kind of large-
scale conspiracies of servant s t hat exist ed, for inst ance, on Barbados in t he West Indies. (Abbot
Smit h suggest s t his was because t here was more chance of success on a small island.) However, in
York Count y, Virginia, in 1661, a servant named Isaac Friend proposed t o anot her, aft er much
dissat isfact ion wit h t he food, t hat t hey "get a mat t er of Fort y of t hem t oget her, and get Gunnes &
hee would be t he first & lead t hem and cry as t hey went along, 'who would be for Libert y, and free
from bondage', & t hat t here would enough come t o t hem and t hey would goe t hrough t he
Count rey and kill t hose t hat made any opposit ion and t hat t hey would eit her be free or dye for it ."
The scheme was never carried out , but t wo years lat er, in Gloucest er Count y, servant s again
planned a general uprising. One of t hem gave t he plot away, and four were execut ed. The informer
was given his freedom and 5,000 pounds of t obacco. Despit e t he rarit y of servant s' rebellions, t he
t hreat was always diere, and mast ers were fearful.

Finding t heir sit uat ion int olerable, and rebellion impract ical in an increasingly organized societ y,
servant s react ed in individual ways. The files of t he count y court s in New England show t hat one
servant st ruck at his mast er wit h a pit chfork. An apprent ice servant was accused of "laying violent
hands upon his ... mast er, and t hrowing him downe t wice and feching bloud of him, t hreat ening t o
breake his necke, running at his face wit h a chayre...." One maidservant was brought int o court for
being "bad, unruly, sulen, careles, dest ruct ive, and disobedient ."

Aft er t he part icipat ion of servant s in Bacons Rebellion, t he Virginia legislat ure passed laws t o
punish servant s who rebelled. The preamble t o t he act said:

Whereas many evil disposed servant s in t hese lat e t ymes of horrid rebellion t aking advant age of t he
loosnes and libert y of t he t yme, did depart from t heir service, and followed t he rebells in rebellion,
wholy neglect ing t heir mast ers imploymcnt whereby t he said mast ers have suffered great damage
and injury....

Two companies of English soldiers remained in Virginia t o guard against fut ure t rouble, and t heir
presence was defended in a report t o t he Lords of Trade and Plant at ion saying: "Virginia is at
present poor and more populous t han ever. There is great apprehension of a rising among t he
servant s, owing t o t heir great necessit ies and want of clot hes; t hey may plunder t he st orehouses
and ships."

Escape was easier t han rebellion. "Numerous inst ances of mass desert ions by whit e servant s t ook
place in t he Sout hern colonies," report s Richard Morris, on t he basis of an inspect ion of colonial
newspapers in t he 1700s. "The at mosphere of sevent eent h-cent ury Virginia," he says, "was charged
wit h plot s and rumors of combinat ions of servant s t o run away." The Maryland court records show,
in t he 1650s, a conspiracy of a dozen servant s t o seize a boat and t o resist wit h arms if int ercept ed.
They were capt ured and whipped.

The mechanism of cont rol was formidable. St rangers had t o show passport s or cert ificat es t o prove
t hey were free men. Agreement s among t he colonies provided for t he ext radit ion of fugit ive
servant s- t hese became t he basis of t he clause in t he U.S. Const it ut ion t hat persons "held t o Service
or Labor in one St at e ... escaping int o anot her ... shall be delivered up...."

Somet imes, servant s went on st rike. One Maryland mast er complained t o t he Provincial Court in
1663 t hat his servant s did "perempt orily and posit ively refuse t o goe and doe t heir ordinary labor."
The servant s responded t hat t hey were fed only "Beanes and Bread" and t hey were "soe weake, wee
are not able t o perform t he imploym't s hee put s us uppon." They were given t hirt y lashes by t he
court .

More t han half t he colonist s who came t o t he Nort h American shores in t he colonial period came as
servant s. They were most ly English in t he sevent eent h cent ury, Irish and German in t he eight eent h
cent ury. More and more, slaves replaced t hem, as t hey ran away t o freedom or finished t heir t ime,
but as lat e as 1755, whit e servant s made up 10 percent of t he populat ion of Maryland.

What happened t o t hese servant s aft er t hey became free? There are cheerful account s in which t hey
rise t o prosperit y, becoming landowners and import ant figures. But Abbot Smit h, aft er a careful
st udy, concludes t hat colonial societ y "was not democrat ic and cert ainly not equalit arian; it was
dominat ed by men who had money enough t o make ot hers work for t hem." And: "Few of t hese men
were descended from indent ured servant s, and pract ically none had t hemselves been of t hat class."

Aft er we make our way t hrough Abbot Smit h's disdain for t he servant s, as "men and women who
were dirt y and lazy, rough, ignorant , lewd, and oft en criminal," who "t hieved and wandered, had
bast ard children, and corrupt ed societ y wit h loat hsome diseases," we find t hat "about one in t en
was a sound and solid individual, who would if fort unat e survive his 'seasoning,' work out his t ime,
t ake up land, and wax decent ly prosperous." Perhaps anot her one in t en would become an art isan
or an overseer. The rest , 80 percent , who were "cert ainly ... shift less, hopeless, ruined individuals,"
eit her "died during t heir servit ude, ret urned t o England aft er it was over, or became 'poor whit es.'"
Smit h's conclusion is support ed by a more recent st udy of servant s in sevent eent h-cent ury
Maryland, where it was found t hat t he first bat ches of servant s became landowners and polit ically
act ive in t he colony, but by t he second half of t he cent ury more t han half t he servant s, even aft er t en
years of freedom, remained landless. Servant s became t enant s, providing cheap labor for t he large
plant ers bot h during and aft er t heir servit ude.

It seems quit e clear t hat class lines hardened t hrough t he colonial period; t he dist inct ion bet ween
rich and poor became sharper. By 1700 t here were fift y rich families in Virginia, wit h wealt h
equivalent t o 50,000 pounds (a huge sum t hose days), who lived off t he labor of black slaves and
whit e servant s, owned t he plant at ions, sat on t he governor's council, served as local magist rat es. In
Maryland, t he set t lers were ruled by a propriet or whose right of t ot al cont rol over t he colony had
been grant ed by t he English King. Bet ween 1650 and 1689 t here were five revolt s against t he
propriet or.

In t he Carolinas, t he Fundament al Const it ut ions were writ t en in t he 1660s by John Locke, who is
oft en considered t he philosophical fat her of t he Founding Fat hers and t he American syst em.
Locke's const it ut ion set up a feudal-t ype arist ocracy, in which eight barons would own 40 percent
of t he colony's land, and only a baron could be governor. When t he crown t ook direct cont rol of
Nort h Carolina, aft er a rebellion against t he land arrangement s, rich speculat ors seized half a
million acres for t hemselves, monopolizing t he good farming land near t he coast Poor people,
desperat e for land, squat t ed on bit s of farmland and fought all t hrough t he pre-Revolut ionary
period against t he landlords' at t empt s t o collect rent .

Carl Bridenbaugh's st udy of colonial cit ies, Cit ies in t he Wilderness, reveals a clear-cut class
syst em. He finds:

The leaders of early Bost on were gent lemen of considerable wealt h who, in associat ion wit h t he
clergy, eagerly sought t o preserve in America t he social arrangement s of t he Mot her Count ry. By
means of t heir cont rol of t rade and commerce, by t heir polit ical dominat ion of t he inhabit ant s
dirough church and Town Meet ing, and by careful marriage alliances among t hemselves, members
of t his lit t le oligarchy laid t he foundat ions for an arist ocrat ic class in sevent eent h cent ury Bost on.

At t he very st art of t he Massachuset t s Bay Colony in 1630, t he governor, John Wint hrop, had
declared t he philosophy of t he rulers: "... in all t imes some must be rich, some poore, some highe and
eminent in power and dignit ie; ot hers meane and in subject ion."

Rich merchant s erect ed mansions; persons "of Qualit ie" t raveled in coaches or sedan chairs, had
t heir port rait s paint ed, wore periwigs, and filled t hemselves wit h rich food and Madeira. A pet it ion
came from t he t own of Deer-field in 1678 t o t he Massachuset t s General Court : "You may be pleased
t o know t hat t he very principle and best of t he land; t he best for soile; t he best for sit uat ion; as
laying in ye cent er and midle of t he t own: and as t o quant it y, nere half, belongs unt o eight or nine
propriet ors. ..."

In Newport , Rhode Island, Bridenbaugh found, as in Bost on, t hat "t he t own meet ings, while
ost ensibly democrat ic, were in realit y cont rolled year aft er year by t he same group of merchant
arist ocrat s, who secured most of t he import ant offices...." A cont emporary described t he Newport
merchant s as "... men in flaming scarlet coat s and waist coat s, laced and fringed wit h bright est
glaring yellow. The Sly Quakers, not vent uring on t hese charming coat s and waist coat s, yet loving
finery, figured away wit h plat e on t heir sideboards."

The New York arist ocracy was t he most ost ent at ious of all, Bridenbaugh t ells of "window hangings
of camlet , japanned t ables, gold-framed looking glasses, spinet s and massive eight -day clocks ...
richly carved furnit ure, jewels and silverplat e. ... Black house servant s."

New York in t he colonial period was like a feudal kingdom. The Dut ch had set up a pat roonship
syst em along t he Hudson River, wit h enormous landed est at es, where t he barons cont rolled
complet ely t he lives of t heir t enant s, hi 1689, many of t he grievances of t he poor were mixed up in
t he farmers' revolt of Jacob Leisler and his group. Leisler was hanged, and t he parceling out of huge
est at es cont inued. Under Governor Benjamin Flet cher, t hree-fourt hs of t he land in New York was
grant ed t o about t hirt y people. He gave a friend a half million acres for a t oken annual payment of
30 shillings. Under Lord Cornbury in t he early 1700s, one grant t o a group of speculat ors was for 2
million acres. In 1700, New York Cit y church wardens had asked for funds from t he common
council because "t he Crys of t he poor and Impot ent for want of Relief are Ext reamly Grevious." In
t he 1730s, demand began t o grow for inst it ut ions t o cont ain t he "many Beggarly people daily
suffered t o wander about t he St reet s." A cit y council resolut ion read:

Whereas t he Necessit y, Number and Cont inual Increase of t he Poor wit hin t his Cit y is very Great
and ... frequendy Commit divers misdemeanors wit hin t he Said Cit y, who living Idly and
unemployed, become debauched and Inst ruct ed in t he Pract ice of Thievery and Debauchery. For
Remedy Whereof... Resolved t hat t here be fort hwit h built ... A good, St rong and Convenient House
and Tenement .

The t wo-st ory brick st ruct ure was called "Poor House, Work House, and House of Correct ion."

A let t er t o Pet er Zenger's New York Journal in 1737 described t he poor st reet urchin of New York
as "an Object in Human Shape, half st arv'd wit h Cold, wit h Cloat hes out at t he Elbows, Knees
t hrough t he Breeches, Hair st anding on end.... From t he age about four t o Fourt een t hey spend t heir
Days in t he St reet s ... t hen t hey are put out as Apprent ices, perhaps four, five, or six years...."

The colonies grew fast in t he 1700s. English set t lers were joined by Scot ch-Irish and German
immigrant s. Black slaves were pouring in; t hey were 8 percent of t he populat ion in 1690; 21 percent
in 1770. The populat ion of t he colonies was 250,000 in 1700; 1,600,000 by 1760. Agricult ure was
growing. Small manufact uring was developing. Shipping and t rading were expanding. The big
cit ies-Bost on, New York, Philadelphia, Charlest on-were doubling and t ripling in size.

Through all t hat growt h, t he upper class was get t ing most of t he benefit s and monopolized
polit ical power. A hist orian who st udied Bost on t ax list s in 1687 and 1771 found t hat in 1687 t here
were, out of a populat ion of six t housand, about one t housand propert y owners, and t hat t he t op 5
percent -1 percent of t he populat ion-consist ed of fift y rich individuals who had 25 percent of t he
wealt h. By 1770, t he t op I percent of propert y owners owned 44 percent of t he wealt h.

As Bost on grew, from 1687 t o 1770, t he percent age of adult males who were poor, perhaps rent ed a
room, or slept in t he back of a t avern, owned no propert y, doubled from 14 percent of t he adult
males t o 29 percent . And loss of propert y meant loss of vot ing right s.

Everywhere t he poor were st ruggling t o st ay alive, simply t o keep from freezing in cold weat her. All
t he cit ies built poorhouses in t he 1730s, not just for old people, widows, crippled, and orphans, but
for unemployed, war vet erans, new immigrant s. In New York, at midcent ury, t he cit y almshouse,
built for one hundred poor, was housing over four hundred. A Philadelphia cit izen wrot e in 1748: "It
is remarkable what an increase of t he number of Beggars t here is about t his t own t his wint er." In
1757, Bost on officials spoke of "a great Number of Poor ... who can scarcely procure from day t o day
daily Bread for t hemselves & Families."

Kennet h Lockridge, in a st udy of colonial New England, found t hat vagabonds and paupers kept
increasing and "t he wandering poor" were a dist inct fact of New England life in t he middle 1700s.
James T. Lemon and Gary Nash found a similar concent rat ion of wealt h, a widening of t he gap
bet ween rich and poor, in t heir st udy of Chest er Count y, Pennsylvania, in t he 1700s.

The colonies, it seems, were societ ies of cont ending classes-a fact obscured by t he emphasis, in
t radit ional hist ories, on t he ext ernal st ruggle against England, t he unit y of colonist s in t he
Revolut ion. The count ry t herefore was not "born free" but born slave and free, servant and mast er,
t enant and landlord, poor and rich. As a result , t he polit ical aut horit ies were opposed "frequent ly,
vociferously, and somet imes violent ly," according t o Nash. "Out breaks of disorder punct uat ed t he
last quart er of t he sevent eent h cent ury, t oppling est ablished government s in Massachuset t s, New
York, Maryland, Virginia, and Nort h Carolina."

Free whit e workers were bet t er off t han slaves or servant s, but t hey st ill resent ed unfair t reat ment
by t he wealt hier classes. As early as 1636, an employer off t he coast of Maine report ed t hat his
workmen and fishermen "fell int o a mut iny" because he had wit hheld t heir wages. They desert ed en
masse. Five years lat er, carpent ers in Maine, prot est ing against inadequat e food, engaged in a
slowdown. At t he Gloucest er shipyards in t he 1640s, what Richard Morris calls t he "first lockout in
American labor hist ory" t ook place when t he aut horit ies t old a group of t roublesome shipwright s
t hey could not "worke a st roke of worke more."

There were early st rikes of coopers, but chers, bakers, prot est ing against government cont rol of t he
fees t hey charged. Port ers in t he 1650s in New York refused t o carry salt , and cart ers (t ruckers,
t eamst ers, carriers) who went out on st rike were prosecut ed in New York Cit y "for not obeying t he
Command and Doing t heir Uut yes as becomes t hem in t heir Places." In 1741, bakers combined t o
refuse t o bake because t hey had t o pay such high prices for wheat .

A severe food short age in Bost on in 1713 brought a warning from t own select men t o t he General
Assembly of Massachuset t s saying t he "t hreat ening scarcit y of provisions" had led t o such
"ext ravagant prices t hat t he necessit ies of t he poor in t he approaching wint er must needs be very
pressing." Andrew Belcher, a wealt hy merchant , was export ing grain t o t he Caribbean because t he
profit was great er t here. On May 19, t wo hundred people riot ed on t he Bost on Common. They
at t acked Belchers ships, broke int o his warehouses looking for corn, and shot t he lieut enant
governor when he t ried t o int erfere.

Eight years aft er t he bread riot on t he Common, a pamphlet eer prot est ed against t hose who became
rich "by grinding t he poor," by st udying "how t o oppress, cheat , and overreach t heir neighbors." He
denounced "The Rich, Great and Pot ent " who "wit h rapacious violence bear down all before
t hem...."

In t he 1730s, in Bost on, people prot est ing t he high prices est ablished by merchant s demolished t he
public market in Dock Square while (as a conservat ive writ er complained) "murmuring against t he
Government & t he rich people." No one was arrest ed, aft er t he demonst rat ors warned t hat arrest s
would bring "Five Hundred Men in Solemn League and Covenent " who would dest roy ot her
market s set up for t he benefit of rich merchant s.

Around t he same t ime, in New York, an elect ion pamphlet urged New York vot ers t o join "Shut t le"
t he weaver, "Plane" t he joiner, "Drive" t he cart er, "Mort ar" t he mason, "Tar" t he mariner, "Snip" t he
t ailor, "Smallrent " t he fair-minded landlord, and "John Poor" t he t enant , against "Gripe t he
Merchant , Squeeze t he Shopkeeper, Spint ext and Quible t he Lawyer." The elect orat e was urged t o
vot e out of office "people in Exalt ed St at ions" who scorned "t hose t hey call t he Vulgar, t he Mob, t he
herd of Mechanicks."

In t he 1730s, a commit t ee of t he Bost on t own meet ing spoke out for Bost onians in debt , who
want ed paper money issued t o make it easier t o pay off t heir debt s t o t he merchant elit e. They did
not want , t hey declared, t o "have our Bread and Wat er measured out t o Us by t hose who Riot in
Luxury & Want onness on Our Sweat & Toil. ..."

Bost onians riot ed also against impressment , in which men were draft ed for naval service. They
surrounded t he house of t he governor, beat up t he sheriff, locked up a deput y sheriff, and st ormed
t he t own house where t he General Court sat . The milit ia did not respond when called t o put t hem
down, and t he governor fled. The crowd was condemned by a merchant s' group as a "Riot ous
Tumult uous Assembly of Foreign Seamen, Servant s, Negroes, and Ot her Persons of Mean and Vile
Condit ion."

In New Jersey in t he 1740s and 1750s, poor farmers occupying land, over which t hey and t he
landowners had rival claims, riot ed when rent s were demanded of t hem. In 1745, Samuel Baldwin,
who had long lived on his land and who held an Indian t ide t o it , was arrest ed for nonpayment of
rent t o t he propriet or and t aken t o t he Newark jail. A cont emporary described what happened
t hen: "The People in general, supposing t he Design of t he Propriet ors was t o ruin t hem ... went t o
t he Prison, opened t he Door, t ook out Baldwin."

When t wo men who freed Baldwin were arrest ed, hundreds of New Jersey cit izens gat hered
around t he jail. A report sent by t he New Jersey government t o t he Lords of Trade in London
described t he scene:

Two of t he new capt ains of t he Newark Companies by t he Sheriffs order went wit h t heir drumms,
t o t he people, so met , and required all persons t here, belong t o t heir companies, t o follow t he drums
and t o defend t he prison but none followed, t ho many were t here. . .. The mult it ude ... bet ween t our
and five of t he clock in t he aft ernoon light ed off t heir horses, and came t owards t he gaol, huzzaing
and swinging t heir clubbs ... t ill t hey came wit hin reach of t he guard, st ruck t hem wit h t heir
clubbs, and t he guard (having no orders t o fire) ret urned t he blows wit h t hen- guns, and some were
wounded on bot h sides, but none killed. The mult it ude broke t he ranks of t he soldiers, and pressed
on t he prison door, where t he Sheriff st ood wit h a sword, and kept t hem off, t ill t hey gave him
several blows, and forced him out from t hence. They t hen, wit h axes and ot her inst rument s, broke
open t he prison door, and t ook out t he t wo prisoners. As also one ot her prisoner, t hat was confined
for debt , and went away.

Through t his period, England was fight ing a series of wars (Queen Anne's War in t he early 1700s,
King George's War in t he 1730s). Some merchant s made fort unes from t hese wars, but for most
people t hey meant higher t axes, unemployment , povert y. An anonymous pamphlet eer in
Massachuset t s, writ ing angrily aft er King George's War, described t he sit uat ion: "Povert y and
Discont ent appear in every Face (except t he Count enances of t he Rich) and dwell upon every
Tongue." He spoke of a few men, fed by "Lust of Power, Lust of Fame, Lust of Money," who got rich
during t he war. "No Wonder such Men can build Ships, Houses, buy Farms, set up t heir Coaches,
Chariot s, live very splendidly, purchase Fame, Post s of Honour." He called t hem "Birds of prey ...
Enemies t o all Communit ies-wherever diey live."

The forced service of seamen led t o a riot against impressment in Bost on in 1747. Then crowds
t urned against Thomas Hut chinson, a rich merchant and colonial official who had backed t he
governor in put t ing down t he riot , and who also designed a currency plan for Massachuset t s which
seemed t o discriminat e against t he poor. Hut chinson's house burned down, myst eriously, and a
crowd gat hered in t he st reet , cursing Hut chinson and shout ing, "Let it burn!"

By t he years of t he Revolut ionary crisis, t he 1760s, t he wealt hy elit e t hat cont rolled t he Brit ish
colonies on t he American mainland had 150 years of experience, had learned cert ain t hings about
how t o rule. They had various fears, but also had developed t act ics t o deal wit h what diey feared.

The Indians, diey had found, were t oo unruly t o keep as a labor force, and remained an obst acle t o
expansion. Black slaves were easier t o cont rol, and t heir profit abilit y for sout hern plant at ions was
bringing an enormous increase in t he import at ion of slaves, who were becoming a majorit y in some
colonies and const it ut ed one-fift h of t he ent ire colonial populat ion. But t he blacks were not t ot ally
submissive, and as t heir numbers grew, t he prospect of slave rebellion grew.

Wit h t he problem of Indian host ilit y, and t he danger of slave revolt s, t he colonial elit e had t o
consider t he class anger of poor whit es-servant s, t enant s, t he cit y poor, t he propert yless, t he
t axpayer, t he soldier and sailor. As t he colonies passed t heir hundredt h year and went int o t he
middle of t he 1700s, as t he gap bet ween rich and poor widened, as violence and t he t hreat of
violence increased, t he problem of cont rol became more serious.

What if t hese different despised groups-t he Indians, t he slaves, t he poor whit es-should combine?
Even before diere were so many blacks, in t he sevent eent h cent ury, t here was, as Abbot Smit h put s
it , "a lively fear t hat servant s would join wit h Negroes or Indians t o overcome t he small number of
mast ers."

There was lit t le chance t hat whit es and Indians would combine in Nort h America as t hey were
doing in Sout h and Cent ral America, where t he short age of women, and t he use of Indians on t he
plant at ions, led t o daily cont act . Only in Georgia and Sout h Carolina, where whit e women were
scarce, was t here some sexual mixing of whit e men and Indian women. In general, t he Indian had
been pushed out of sight , out of t ouch. One fact dist urbed: whit es would run off t o join Indian
t ribes, or would be capt ured in bat t le and brought up among t he Indians, and when t his happened
t he whit es, given a chance t o leave, chose t o st ay in t he Indian cult ure, Indians, having t he choice,
almost never decided t o join t he whit es.

Hect or St . Jean Crevecoeur, t he Frenchman who lived in America for almost t went y years, t old, in
Let t ers from an American Farmer, how children capt ured during t he Seven Years' War and found
by t heir parent s, grown up and living wit h Indians, would refuse t o leave t heir new families. "There
must be in t heir social bond," he said, "somet hing singularly capt ivat ing, and far superior t o
anyt hing t o be boast ed among us; for t housands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples
of even one of t hose Aborigines having from choice become Europeans."

But t his affect ed few people. In general, t he Indian was kept at a dist ance. And t he colonial
officialdom had found a way of alleviat ing t he danger: by monopolizing t he good land on t he
east ern seaboard, t hey forced landless whit es t o move west ward t o t he front ier, t here t o encount er
t he Indians and t o be a buffer for t he seaboard rich against Indian t roubles, whit e becoming more
dependent on t he government for prot ect ion. Bacon's Rebellion was inst ruct ive: t o conciliat e a
diminishing Indian populat ion at t he expense of infuriat ing a coalit ion of whit e front iersmen was
very risky. Bet t er t o make war on t he Indian, gain t he support of t he whit e, divert possible class
conflict by t urning poor whit es against Indians for t he securit y of t he elit e.

Might blacks and Indians combine against t he whit e enemy? In t he nort hern colonies (except on
Cape Cod, Mart ha's Vineyard, and Rhode Island, where t here was close cont act and sexual
mixing), t here was not much opport unit y for Africans and Indians t o meet in large numbers. New
York had t he largest slave populat ion in t he Nort h, and t here was some cont act bet ween blacks
and Indians, as in 1712 when Africans and Indians joined in an insurrect ion. But t his was quickly

In t he Carolinas, however, whit es were out numbered by black slaves and nearby Indian t ribes; in
t he 1750s, 25,000 whit es faced 40,000 black slaves, wit h 60,000 Creek, Cherokee, Choct aw, and
Chickasaw Indians in t he area. Gary Nash writ es: "Indian uprisings t hat punct uat ed t he colonial
period and a succession of slave uprisings and insurrect ionary plot s t hat were nipped in t he bud
kept Sout h Carolinians sickeningly aware t hat only t hrough t he great est vigilance and t hrough
policies designed t o keep t heir enemies divided could t hey hope t o remain in cont rol of t he
sit uat ion."

The whit e rulers of t he Carolinas seemed t o be conscious of t he need for a policy, as one of t hem
put it , "t o make Indians & Negros a checque upon each ot her lest by t heir Vast ly Superior Numbers
we should be crushed by one or t he ot her." And so laws were passed prohibit ing free blacks from
t raveling in Indian count ry. Treat ies wit h Indian t ribes cont ained clauses requiring t he ret urn of
fugit ive slaves. Governor LyIt let own of Sout h Carolina wrot e in 1738: "It has always been t he policy
of t his government t o creat e an aversion in t hem [Indians] t o Negroes."

Part of t his policy involved using black slaves in t he Sout h Carolina milit ia t o fight Indians. St ill,
t he government was worried about black revolt , and during t he Cherokee war in t he 1760s, a
mot ion t o equip five hundred slaves t o fight t he Indians lost in t he Carolina assembly by a single
vot e.

Blacks ran away t o Indian villages, and t he Creeks and Cherokees harbored runaway slaves by t he
hundreds. Many of t hese were amalgamat ed int o t he Indian t ribes, married, produced children. But
t he combinat ion of harsh slave codes and bribes t o t he Indians t o help put down black rebels kept
t hings under cont rol.

It was t he pot ent ial combinat ion of poor whit es and blacks t hat caused t he most fear among t he
wealt hy whit e plant ers. If t here had been t he nat ural racial repugnance t hat some t heorist s have
assumed, cont rol would have been easier. But sexual at t ract ion was powerful, across racial lines. In
1743, a grand jury in Charlest on, Sout h Carolina, denounced "The Too Common Pract ice of
Criminal Conversat ion wit h Negro and ot her Slave Wenches in t his Province." Mixed offspring
cont inued t o be produced by whit e-black sex relat ions t hroughout t he colonial period, in spit e of
laws prohibit ing int erracial marriage in Virginia, Massachuset t s, Maryland, Delaware,
Pennsylvania, t he Carolinas, Georgia. By declaring t he children illegit imat e, t hey would keep t hem
inside t he black families, so t hat t he whit e populat ion could remain "pure" and in cont rol.

What made Bacon's Rebellion especially fearsome for t he rulers of Virginia was t hat black slaves
and whit e servant s joined forces. The final surrender was by "four hundred English and Negroes in
Armes" at one garrison, and t hree hundred "freemen and African and English bondservant s" in
anot her garrison. The naval commander who subdued t he four hundred wrot e: "Most of t hem I
persuaded t o goe t o t heir Homes, which accordingly t hey did, except about eight y Negroes and
t went y English which would not deliver t heir Armes."

All t hrough t hose early years, black and whit e slaves and servant s ran away t oget her, as shown
bot h by t he laws passed t o st op t his and t he records of t he court s. In 1698, Sout h Carolina passed a
"deficiency law" requiring plant at ion owners t o have at least one whit e servant for every six male
adult Negroes. A let t er from t he sout hern colonies in 1682 complained of "no whit e men t o
superint end our negroes, or repress an insurrect ion of negroes. . . ." In 1691, t he House of Commons
received "a pet it ion of divers merchant s, mast ers of ships, plant ers and ot hers, t rading t o foreign
plant at ions .. . set t ing fort h, t hat t he plant at ions cannot be maint ained wit hout a considerable
number of whit e servant s, as well t o keep t he blacks in subject ion, as t o bear arms in case of

A report t o t he English government in 1721 said t hat in Sout h Carolina "black slaves have lat ely
at t empt ed and were very near succeeding in a new revolut ion ... and t herefore, it may be necessary
... t o propose some new law for encouraging t he ent ert ainment of more whit e servant s in t he fut ure.
The milit ia of t his province does not consist of above 2000 men." Apparent ly, t wo t housand were
not considered sufficient t o meet t he t hreat .

This fear may help explain why Parliament , in 1717, made t ransport at ion t o t he New World a legal
punishment for crime. Aft er t hat , t ens of t housands of convict s could be sent t o Virginia, Maryland,
and ot her colonies. It also makes underst andable why t he Virginia Assembly, aft er Bacon's
Rebellion, gave amnest y t o whit e servant s who had rebelled, but not t o blacks. Negroes were
forbidden t o carry any arms, while whit es finishing t heir servit ude would get musket s, along wit h
corn and cash. The dist inct ions of st at us bet ween whit e and black servant s became more and more

In t he 1720s, wit h fear of slave rebellion growing, whit e servant s were allowed in Virginia t o join
t he milit ia as subst it ut es for whit e freemen. At t he same t ime, slave pat rols were est ablished in
Virginia t o deal wit h t he "great dangers t hat may ... happen by t he insurrect ions of negroes...." Poor
whit e men would make up t he rank and file of t hese pat rols, and get t he monet ary reward.

Racism was becoming more and more pract ical. Edmund Morgan, on t he basis of his careful st udy
of slavery in Virginia, sees racism not as "nat ural" t o black-whit e difference, but somet hing coming
out of class scorn, a realist ic device for cont rol. "If freemen wit h disappoint ed hopes should make
common cause wit h slaves of desperat e hope, t he result s might be worse t han anyt hing Bacon had
done. The answer t o t he problem, obvious if unspoken and only gradually recognized, was racism,
t o separat e dangerous free whit es from dangerous black slaves by a screen of racial cont empt ."

There was st ill anot her cont rol which became handy as t he colonies grew, and which had crucial
consequences for t he cont inued rule of t he elit e t hroughout American hist ory. Along wit h t he very
rich and t he very poor, t here developed a whit e middle class of small plant ers, independent farmers,
cit y art isans, who, given small rewards for joining forces wit h merchant s and plant ers, would be a
solid buffer against black slaves, front ier Indians, and very poor whit es.

The growing cit ies generat ed more skilled workers, and t he government s cult ivat ed t he support of
whit e mechanics by prot ect ing t hem from t he compet it ion of bot h slaves and free Negroes. As early
as 1686, t he council in New York ordered t hat "noe Negro or Slave be suffered t o work on t he bridge
as a Port er about any goods eit her import ed or Export ed from or int o t his Cit y." In t he sout hern
t owns t oo, whit e craft smen and t raders were prot ect ed from Negro compet it ion. In 1764 t he Sout h
Carolina legislat ure prohibit ed Charlest on mast ers from employing Negroes or ot her slaves as
mechanics or in handicraft t rades.

Middle-class Americans might be invit ed t o join a new elit e by at t acks against t he corrupt ion of t he
est ablished rich. The New Yorker Cadwallader Golden, in his Address t o t he Freeholders in 1747,
at t acked t he wealt hy as t ax dodgers unconcerned wit h t he welfare of ot hers (alt hough he himself
was wealt hy) and spoke for t he honest y and dependabilit y of "t he midling rank of mankind" in
whom cit izens could best t rust "our libert y & Propert y." This was t o become a crit ically import ant
rhet orical device for t he rule of t he few, who would speak t o t he many of "our" libert y, "our"
propert y, "our" count ry.

Similarly, in Bost on, t he rich James Ot is could appeal t o t he Bost on middle class by at t acking t he
Tory Thomas Hut chinson. James HenreIt a has shown t hat while it was t he rich who ruled Bost on,
t here were polit ical jobs available for t he moderat ely well-off, as "cullers of st aves," "measurer of
Coal Basket s," "Fence Viewer." Aubrey Land found in Maryland a class of small plant ers who were
not "t he beneficiary" of t he plant ing societ y as t he rich were, but who had t he dist inct ion of being
called plant ers, and who were "respect able cit izens wit h communit y obligat ions t o act as overseers
of roads, appraisers of est at es and similar dut ies." It helped t he alliance t o accept t he middle class
socially in "a round of act ivit ies t hat included local polit ics ... dances, horseracing, and cockfight s,
occasionally punct uat ed wit h drinking brawls..,."

The Pennsylvania Journal wrot e in 1756: "The people of t his province are generally of t he middling
sort , and at present pret t y much upon a level. They are chiefly indust rious fanners, art ificers or men
in t rade; t hey enjoy and are fond of freedom, and t he meanest among t hem t hinks he has a right t o
civilit y from t he great est ." Indeed, t here was a subst ant ial middle class fit t ing t hat descript ion. To
call t hem "t he people" was t o omit black slaves, whit e servant s, displaced Indians. And t he t erm
"middle class" concealed a fact long t rue about t his count ry, t hat , as Richard Hofst adt er said: "It
was ... a middle-class societ y governed for t he most part by it s upper classes."

Those upper classes, t o rule, needed t o make concessions t o t he middle class, wit hout damage t o
t heir own wealt h or power, at t he expense of slaves, Indians, and poor whit es. This bought loyalt y.
And t o bind t hat loyalt y wit h somet hing more powerful even t han mat erial advant age, t he ruling
group found, in t he 1760s and 1770s, a wonderfully useful device. That device was t he language of
libert y and equalit y, which could unit e just enough whit es t o fight a Revolut ion against England,
wit hout ending eit her slavery or inequalit y.


Around 1776, cert ain import ant people in t he English colonies made a discovery t hat would prove
enormously useful for t he next t wo hundred years. They found t hat by creat ing a nat ion, a symbol,
a legal unit y called t he Unit ed St at es, t hey could t ake over land, profit s, and polit ical power from
favorit es of t he Brit ish Empire. In t he process, t hey could hold back a number of pot ent ial
rebellions and creat e a consensus of popular support for t he rule of a new, privileged leadership.

When we look at t he American Revolut ion t his way, it was a work of genius, and t he Founding
Fat hers deserve t he awed t ribut e t hey have received over t he cent uries. They creat ed t he most
effect ive syst em of nat ional cont rol devised in modern t imes, and showed fut ure generat ions of
leaders t he advant ages of combining pat ernalism wit h command.

St art ing wit h Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia, by 1760, t here had been eight een uprisings aimed at
overt hrowing colonial government s. There had also been six black rebellions, from Sout h Carolina
t o New York, and fort y riot s of various origins.

By t his t ime also, t here emerged, according t o Jack Greene, "st able, coherent , effect ive and
acknowledged local polit ical and social elit es." And by t he 1760s, t his local leadership saw t he
possibilit y of direct ing much of t he rebellious energy against England and her local officials. It was
not a conscious conspiracy, but an accumulat ion of t act ical responses.

Aft er 1763, wit h England vict orious over France in t he Seven Years' War (known in America as t he
French and Indian War), expelling t hem from Nort h America, ambit ious colonial leaders were no
longer t hreat ened by t he French. They now had only t wo rivals left : t he English and t he Indians.
The Brit ish, wooing t he Indians, had declared Indian lands beyond t he Appalachians out of bounds
t o whit es (t he Proclamat ion of 1763). Perhaps once t he Brit ish were out of t he way, t he Indians
could be dealt wit h. Again, no conscious foret hought st rat egy by t he colonial elit e, hut a growing
awareness as event s developed.

Wit h t he French defeat ed, t he Brit ish government could t urn it s at t ent ion t o t ight ening cont rol
over t he colonies. It needed revenues t o pay for t he war, and looked t o t he colonies for t hat . Also,
t he colonial t rade had become more and more import ant t o t he Brit ish economy, and more
profit able: it had amount ed t o about 500,000 pounds in 1700 but by 1770 was wort h 2,800,000

So, t he American leadership was less in need of English rule, t he English more in need of t he
colonist s' wealt h. The element s were t here for conflict .

The war had brought glory for t he generals, deat h t o t he privat es, wealt h for t he merchant s,
unemployment for t he poor. There were 25,000 people living in New York (t here had been 7,000 in
1720) when t he French and Indian War ended. A newspaper edit or wrot e about t he growing
"Number of Beggers and wandering Poor" in t he st reet s of t he cit y. Let t ers in t he papers quest ioned
t he dist ribut ion of wealt h: "How oft en have our St reet s been covered wit h Thousands of Barrels of
Flour for t rade, while our near Neighbors can hardly procure enough t o make a Dumplin t o sat isfy

Gary Nash's st udy of cit y t ax list s shows t hat by t he early 1770s, t he t op 5 percent of Bost on's
t axpayers cont rolled 49% of t he cit y's t axable asset s. In Philadelphia and New York t oo, wealt h
was more and more concent rat ed. Court -recorded wills showed t hat by 1750 t he wealt hiest people
in t he cit ies were leaving 20,OOQ pounds (equivalent t o about $5 million t oday).

In Bost on, t he lower classes began t o use t he t own meet ing t o vent t heir grievances. The governor
of Massachuset t s had writ t en t hat in t hese t own meet ings "t he meanest Inhabit ant s ... by t heir
const ant At t endance t here generally are t he majorit y and out vot e t he Gendemen, Merchant s,
Subst ant ial Traders and all t he bet t er part of t he Inhabit ant s."

What seems t o have happened in Bost on is t hat cert ain lawyers, edit ors, and merchant s of t he
upper classes, but excluded from t he ruling circles close t o England-men like James Ot is and
Samuel Adams- organized a "Bost on Caucus" and t hrough t heir orat ory and t heir writ ing "molded
laboring-class opinion, called t he 'mob' int o act ion, and shaped it s behaviour." This is Gary Nash's
descript ion of Ot is, who, he says, "keenly aware of t he declining fort unes and t he resent ment of
ordinary t ownspeople, was mirroring as well as molding popular opinion."

We have here a forecast of t he long hist ory of American polit ics, t he mobilizat ion of lower-class
energy by upper-class polit icians, for t heir own purposes. This was not purely decept ion; it
involved, in part , a genuine recognit ion of lower-class grievances, which helps t o account for it s
effect iveness as a t act ic over t he cent uries. As Nash put s it :

James Ot is, Samuel Adams, Royall lyler, Oxenbridge Thacher, and a host of ot her Bost onians,
linked t o t he art isans and laborers t hrough a net work of neighborhood t averns, fire companies, and
t he Caucus, espoused a vision of polit ics t hat gave credence t o laboring-class views and regarded as
ent irely legit imat e t he part icipat ion of art isans and even laborers in t he polit ical process.

In 1762, Ot is, speaking against t he conservat ive rulers of t he Massachuset t s colony represent ed by
Thomas Hut chinson, gave an example of t he kind of rhet oric t hat a lawyer could use in mobilizing
cit y mechanics and art isans:

I am forced t o get my living by t he labour of my hand; and t he sweat of my brow, as most of you are
and obliged t o go t hro' good report and evil report , for bit t er bread, earned under t he frowns of
some who have no nat ural or divine right t o be above me, and ent irely owe t heir grandeur and
honor t o grinding t he faces of t he poor.. ..

Bost on seems t o have been full of class anger in t hose days. In 1763, in t he Bost on GazeIt e, someone
wrot e t hat "a few persons in power" were promot ing polit ical project s "for keeping t he people poor
in order t o make t hem humble."

This accumulat ed sense of grievance against t he rich in Bost on may account for t he explosiveness
of mob act ion aft er t he St amp Act of 1765, Through t his Act , t he Brit ish were t axing t he colonial
populat ion t o pay for t he French war, in which colonist s had suffered t o expand t he Brit ish Empire.
That summer, a shoemaker named Ebenezer Macint osh led a mob in dest roying t he house of a rich
Bost on merchant named Andrew Oliver. Two weeks lat er, t he crowd t urned t o t he home of
Thomas Hut chinson, symbol of t he rich elit e who ruled t he colonies in t he name of England. They
smashed up his house wit h axes, drank t he wine in his wine cellar, and loot ed t he house of it s
furnit ure and ot her object s. A report by colony officials t o England said t hat t his was part of a
larger scheme in which t he houses of fift een rich people were t o be dest royed, as pan of "a War of
Plunder, of general levelling and t aking away t he Dist inct ion of rich and poor."

It was one of t hose moment s in which fury against t he rich went furt her t han leaders like Ot is
want ed. Could class hat red be focused against t he pro-Brit ish elit e, and deflect ed from t he
nat ionalist elit e? In New York, t hat same year of t he Bost on house at t acks, someone wrot e t o t he
New York GazeIt e, "Is it eqxiit able t hat 99, rat her 999, should suffer for t he Ext ravagance or
Grandeur of one, especially when it is considered t hat men frequent ly owe t heir Wealt h t o t he
impoverishment of t heir Neighbors?" The leaders of t he Revolut ion would worry about keeping
such sent iment s wit hin limit s.

Mechanics were demanding polit ical democracy in t he colonial cit ies: open meet ings of
represent at ive assemblies, public galleries in t he legislat ive halls, and t he publishing of roll-call
vot es, so t hat const it uent s could check on represent at ives. They want ed open-air meet ings where
t he populat ion could part icipat e in making policy, more equit able t axes, price cont rols, and t he
elect ion of mechanics and ot her ordinary people t o government post s.

Especially in Philadelphia, according t o Nash, t he consciousness of t he lower middle classes grew
t o t he point where it must have caused some hard t hinking, not just among t he conservat ive
Loyalist s sympat het ic t o England, but even among leaders of t he Revolut ion. "By mid-1776, laborers,
art isans, and small t radesmen, employing ext ralegal measures when elect oral polit ics failed, were in
clear command in Philadelphia." Helped by some middle-class leaders (Thomas Paine, Thomas
Young, and ot hers), t hey "launched a full-scale at t ack on wealt h and even on t he right t o acquire
unlimit ed privat e propert y."

During elect ions for t he 1776 convent ion t o frame a const it ut ion for Pennsylvania, a Privat es
Commit t ee urged vot ers t o oppose "great and overgrown rich men .. . t hey will be t oo apt t o be
framing dist inct ions in societ y." The Privat es Commit t ee drew up a bill of right s for t he convent ion,
including t he st at ement t hat "an enormous proport ion of propert y vest ed in a few individuals is
dangerous t o t he right s, and dest ruct ive of t he common happiness, of mankind; and t herefore every
free st at e hat h a right by it s laws t o discourage t he possession of such propert y."

In t he count ryside, where most people lived, t here was a similar conflict of poor against rich, one
which polit ical leaders would use t o mobilize t he populat ion against England, grant ing some
benefit s for t he rebellious poor, and many more for t hemselves in t he process. The t enant riot s in
New Jersey in t he 1740s, t he New York t enant uprisings of t he 1750s and 1760s in t he Hudson
Valley, and t he rebellion in nort heast ern New York t hat led t o t he carving of Vermont out of New
York St at e were all more t han sporadic riot ing. They were long-last ing social movement s, highly
organized, involving t he creat ion of count ergovernment s. They were aimed at a handful of rich
landlords, but wit h t he landlords far away, t hey oft en had t o direct t heir anger against farmers who
had leased t he disput ed land from t he owners. (See Edward Count ryman's pioneering work on
rural rebellion.) Just as t he Jersey rebels had broken int o jails t o free t heir friends, riot ers in t he
Hudson Valley rescued prisoners from t he sheriff and one t ime t ook t he sheriff himself as prisoner.
The t enant s were seen as "chiefly t he dregs of t he People," and t he posse t hat t he sheriff of Albany
Count y led t o Benningt on in ] 771 included t he privileged t op of t he local power st ruct ure.

The land riot ers saw t heir bat t le as poor against rich. A wit ness at a rebel leader's t rial in New York
in 1766 said t hat t he farmers evict ed by t he landlords "had an equit able Tide but could not be
defended in a Course of Law because t hey were poor and . . . poor men were always oppressed by
t he rich." Et han Alien's Green Mount ain rebels in Vermont described t hemselves as "a poor people .
. . fat igued in set t ling a wilderness count ry," and t heir opponent s as "a number of At t orneys and
ot her gent lemen, wit h all t heir t ackle of ornament s, and compliment s, and French finesse."

Land-hungry farmers in t he Hudson Valley t urned t o t he Brit ish for support against t he American
landlords; t he Green Mount ain rebels did t he same. But as t he conflict wit h Brit ain int ensified, t he
colonial leaders of t he movement for independence, aware of t he t endency of poor t enant s t o side
wit h t he Brit ish in t heir anger against t he rich, adopt ed policies t o win over people in t he
count ryside.

In Nort h Carolina, a powerful movement of whit e farmers was organized against wealt hy and
corrupt officials in t he period from 1766 t o 1771, exact ly t hose years when, in t he cit ies of t he
Nort heast , agit at ion was growing against t he Brit ish, crowding out class issues. The movement in
Nort h Carolina was called t he Regulat or movement , and it consist ed, says Marvin L. Michael Kay, a
specialist in t he hist ory of t hat movement , of "class-conscious whit e farmers in t he west who
at t empt ed t o democrat ize local government in t heir respect ive count ies." The Regulat ors referred
t o t hemselves as "poor Indust rious peasant s," as "labourers," "t he wret ched poor," "oppressed" by
"rich and powerful . . . designing Monst ers."

The Regulat ors saw t hat a combinat ion of wealt h and polit ical power ruled Nort h Carolina, and
denounced t hose officials "whose highest St udy is t he promot ion of t heir wealt h." They resent ed
t he t ax syst em, which was especially burdensome on t he poor, and t he combinat ion of merchant s
and lawyers who worked in t he court s t o collect debt s from t he harassed farmers. In t he west ern
count ies where t he movement developed, only a small percent age of t he households had slaves, and
41 percent of t hese were concent rat ed, t o t ake one sample west ern count y, in less t han 2 percent of
t he households. The Regulat ors did not represent servant s or slaves, but t hey did speak for small
owners, squat t ers, and t enant s.

A cont emporary account of t he Regulat or movement in Orange Count y describes t he sit uat ion:

Thus were t he people of Orange insult ed by The sheriff, robbed and plundered . . . neglect ed and
condemned by t he Represent at ives and abused by t he Magist racy; obliged t o pay Fees regulat ed
only by t he Avarice of t he officer; obliged t o pay a TAX which t hey believed went t o enrich and
aggrandize a few, who lorded it over t hem cont inually; and from all t hese Evils t hey saw no way t o
escape; for t he Men in Power, and Legislat ion, were t he Men whose int erest it was t o oppress, and
make gain of t he Labourer.

In t hat count y in t he 1760s, t he Regulat ors organized t o prevent t he collect ion of t axes, or t he
confiscat ion of t he propert y of t ax delinquent s. Officials said "an absolut e Insurrect ion of a
dangerous t endency has broke out in Orange Count y," and made milit ary plans t o suppress it . At
one point seven hundred armed farmers forced t he release of t wo arrest ed Regulat or leaders. The
Regulat ors pet it ioned t he government on t heir grievances in 1768, cit ing "t he unequal chances t he
poor and t he weak have in cont ent ions wit h t he rich and powerful."

In anot her count y, Anson, a local milit ia colonel complained of "t he unparalleled t umult s,
Insurrect ions, and Commot ions which at present dist ract t his Count y." At one point a hundred
men broke up t he proceedings at a count y court . But t hey also t ried t o elect farmers t o t he
assembly, assert ing "t hat a majorit y of our assembly is composed of Lawyers, Clerks, and ot hers in
Connect ion wit h t hem...." In 1770 t here was a large-scale riot in Hillsborough, Nort h Carolina, in
which t hey disrupt ed a court , forced t he judge t o flee, beat t hree lawyers and t wo merchant s, and
loot ed st ores.

The result of all t his was t hat t he assembly passed some mild reform legislat ion, but also an act "t o
prevent riot s and t umult s," and t he governor prepared t o crush t hem milit arily. In May of 1771 t here
was a decisive bat t le in which several t housand Regulat ors were defeat ed by a disciplined army
using cannon. Six Regulat ors were hanged. Kay says t hat in t he t hree west ern count ies of Orange,
Anson, and Rowan, where t he Regulat or movement was concent rat ed, it had t he support of six
t housand t o seven t housand men out of a t ot al whit e t axable populat ion of about eight t housand.

One consequence of t his bit t er conflict is t hat only a minorit y of t he people in t he Regulat or
count ies seem t o have part icipat ed as pat riot s in t he Revolut ionary War. Most of t hem probably
remained neut ral.

Fort unat ely for t he Revolut ionary movement , t he key bat t les were being fought in t he Nort h, and
here, in t he cit ies, t he colonial leaders had a divided whit e populat ion; t hey could win over t he
mechanics, who were a kind of middle class, who had a st ake in t he fight against England, who
faced compet it ion from English manufact urers. The biggest problem was t o keep t he propert yless
people, who were unemployed and hungry in t he crisis following t he French war, under cont rol.

In Bost on, t he economic grievances of t he lowest classes mingled wit h anger against t he Brit ish and
exploded in mob violence. The leaders of t he Independence movement want ed t o use t hat mob
energy against England, but also t o cont ain it so t hat it would not demand t oo much from t hem.

When riot s against t he St amp Act swept Bost on in 1767, t hey were analyzed by t he commander of
t he Brit ish forces in Nort h America, General Thomas Gage, as follows:

The Bost on Mob, raised first by t he Inst igat ion of Many of t he Principal Inhabit ant s, Allured by
Plunder, rose shordy aft er of t heir own Accord, at t acked, robbed, and dest royed several Houses,
and amongst ot hers, mat of t he Lieut enant Governor.... People t hen began t o be t errified at t he
Spirit t hey had raised, t o perceive t hat popular Fury was not t o be guided, and each individual
feared he might be t he next Vict im t o t heir Rapacit y. The same Fears spread t hro' t he ot her
Provinces, and t here has been as much Pains t aken since, t o prevent Insurrect ions, of t he People, as
before t o excit e t hem.

Gage's comment suggest s t hat leaders of t he movement against t he St amp Act had inst igat ed
crowd act ion, but t hen became fright ened by t he t hought t hat it might be direct ed against t heir
wealt h, t oo. At t his t ime, t he t op 10 percent of Bost on's t axpayers held about 66 percent of Bost on's
t axable wealt h, while t he lowest 30 percent of t he t axpaying populat ion had no t axable propert y at
all. The propert yless could not vot e and so (like blacks, women, Indians) could not part icipat e in
t own meet ings. This included sailors, journeymen, apprent ices, servant s.

Dirk Hoerder, a st udent of Bost on mob act ions in t he Revolut ionary period, calls t he Revolut ionary
leadership "t he Sons of Libert y t ype drawn from t he middling int erest and well-t o-do merchant s ...
a hesit ant leadership," want ing t o spur act ion against Great Brit ain, yet worrying about
maint aining cont rol over t he crowds at home.

It t ook t he St amp Act crisis t o make t his leadership aware of it s dilemma. A polit ical group in
Bost on called t he Loyal Nine-merchant s, dist illers, shipowners, and mast er craft smen who opposed
t he St amp Act -organized a procession in August 1765 t o prot est it . They put fift y mast er craft smen
at t he head, but needed t o mobilize shipworkers from t he Nort h End and mechanics and
apprent ices from t he Sout h End. Two or t hree t housand were in t he procession (Negroes were
excluded). They marched t o t he home of t he st ampmast er and burned his effigy. But aft er t he
"gent lemen" who organized t he demonst rat ion left , t he crowd went furt her and dest royed some of
t he st ampmast er's propert y. These were, as one of t he Loyal Nine said, "amazingly inflamed people."
The Loyal Nine seemed t aken aback by t he direct assault on t he wealt hy furnishings of t he
st ampmast er.

The rich set up armed pat rols. Now a t own meet ing was called and t he same leaders who had
planned t he demonst rat ion denounced t he violence and disavowed t he act ions of t he crowd. As
more demonst rat ions were planned for November 1, 1765, when t he St amp Act was t o go int o
effect , and for Pope's Day, November 5, st eps were t aken t o keep t hings under cont rol; a dinner was
given for cert ain leaders of t he riot ers t o win t hem over. And when t he St amp Act was repealed,
due t o overwhelming resist ance, t he conservat ive leaders severed t heir connect ions wit h t he
riot ers. They held annual celebrat ions of t he first ant i-St amp Act demonst rat ion, t o which t hey
invit ed, according t o Hoerder, not t he riot ers but "mainly upper and middle-class Bost onians, who
t raveled in coaches and carriages t o Roxbury or Dorchest er for opulent feast s."

When t he Brit ish Parliament t urned t o it s next at t empt t o t ax t he colonies, t his t ime by a set of
t axes which it hoped would not excit e as much opposit ion, t he colonial leaders organized boycot t s.
But , t hey st ressed, "No Mobs or Tumult s, let t he Persons and Propert ies of your most invet erat e
Enemies be safe." Samuel Adams advised: "No Mobs- No Confusions-No Tumult ." And James Ot is
said t hat "no possible circumst ances, t hough ever so oppressive, could be supposed sufficient t o
just ify privat e t umult s and disorders...."

Impressment and t he quart ering of t roops by t he Brit ish were direct ly hurt ful t o t he sailors and
ot her working people. Aft er 1768, t wo t housand soldiers were quart ered in Bost on, and frict ion
grew bet ween t he crowds and t he soldiers. The soldiers began t o t ake t he jobs of working people
when jobs were scarce. Mechanics and shopkeepers lost work or business because of t he colonist s'
boycot t of Brit ish goods. In 1769, Bost on set up a commit t ee "t o Consider of some Suit able Met hods
of employing t he Poor of t he Town, whose Numbers and dist resses are dayly increasing by t he loss
of it s Trade and Commerce."

On March 5, 1770, grievances of ropemakers against Brit ish soldiers t aking t heir jobs led t o a fight .
A crowd gat hered in front of t he cust omhouse and began provoking t he soldiers, who fired and
killed first Crispus AIt ucks, a mulat t o worker, t hen ot hers. This became known as t he Bost on
Massacre. Feelings against t he Brit ish mount ed quickly. There was anger at t he acquit t al of six of
t he Brit ish soldiers (t wo were punished by having t heir t humbs branded and were discharged from
t he army). The crowd at t he Massacre was described by John Adams, defense at t orney for t he
Brit ish soldiers, as "a mot ley rabble of saucy boys, negroes, and mulat t oes, Irish t eagues and
out landish jack t arrs." Perhaps t en t housand people marched in t he funeral procession for t he
vict ims of t he Massacre, out of a t ot al Bost on populat ion of sixt een t housand. This led England t o
remove t he t roops from Bost on and t ry t o quiet t he sit uat ion.

Impressment was t he background of t he Massacre. There had been impressment riot s t hrough t he
1760s in New York and in Newport , Rhode Island, where five hundred seamen, boys, and Negroes
riot ed aft er five weeks of impressment by t he Brit ish. Six weeks before t he Bost on Massacre, t here
was a bat t le in New York of seamen against Brit ish soldiers t aking t heir jobs, and one seaman was

In t he Bost on Tea Part y of December 1773, t he Bost on Commit t ee of Correspondence, formed a year
before t o organize ant i-Brit ish act ions, "cont rolled crowd act ion against t he t ea from t he st art ,"
Dirk Hoerder says. The Tea Part y led t o t he Coercive Act s by Parliament , virt ually est ablishing
mart ial law in Massachuset t s, dissolving t he colonial government , closing t he port in Bost on, and
sending in t roops. St ill, t own meet ings and mass meet ings rose in opposit ion. The seizure of a
powder st ore by t he Brit ish led four t housand men from all around Bost on t o assemble in
Cambridge, where some of t he wealt hy officials had t heir sumpt uous homes. The crowd forced t he
officials t o resign. The Commit t ees of Correspondence of Bost on and ot her t owns welcomed t his
gat hering, but warned against dest roying privat e propert y.

Pauline Maier, who st udied t he development of opposit ion t o Brit ain in t he decade before 1776 in
her book From Resist ance t o Revolut ion, emphasizes t he moderat ion of t he leadership and, despit e
t heir desire for resist ance, t heir "emphasis on order and rest raint ." She not es: "The officers and
commit t ee members of t he Sons of Libert y were drawn almost ent irely from t he middle and upper
classes of colonial societ y." In Newport , Rhode Island, for inst ance, t he Sons of Libert y, according
t o a cont emporary writ er, "cont ained some Gent lemen of t he First Figure in 'Town for Opulence,
Sense and Polit eness." In Nort h Carolina "one of t he wealt hiest of t he gent lemen and freeholders"
led t he Sons of Libert y. Similarly in Virginia and Sout h Carolina. And "New York's leaders, t oo,
were involved in small but respect able independent business vent ures." Their aim, however, was t o
broaden t heir organizat ion, t o develop a mass base of wage earners.

Many of t he Sons of Libert y groups declared, as in Milford, Connect icut , t heir "great est abhorrence"
of lawlessness, or as in Annapolis, opposed "all riot s or unlawful assemblies t ending t o t he
dist urbance of t he public t ranquilit y." John Adams expressed t he same fears: "These t arrings and
feat herings, t his breaking open Houses by rude and insolent Rabbles, in Resent ment for privat e
Wrongs or in pursuing of privat e Prejudices and Passions, must be discount enanced.11 In Virginia,
it seemed clear t o t he educat ed gent ry t hat somet hing needed t o be done t o persuade t he lower
orders t o join t he revolut ionary cause, t o deflect t heir anger against England. One Virginian wrot e
in his diary in t he spring of 1774: "The lower Class of People here are in t umult on account of
Report s from Bost on, many of t hem expect t o he press'd & compell'd t o go and fight t he Brit ains!"
Around t he t ime of t he St amp Act , a Virginia orat or addressed t he poor: "Are not t he gent lemen
made of t he same mat erials as t he lowest and poorest among you? . . . List en t o no doct rines which
may t end t o divide us, but let us go hand in hand, as brot hers...."

It was a problem for which t he rhet orical t alent s of Pat rick Henry were superbly fit t ed. He was, as
Rhys Isaac put s it , "firmly at t ached t o t he world of t he gent ry," but he spoke in words t hat t he
poorer whit es of Virginia could underst and. Henry's fellow Virginian Edmund Randolph recalled
his st yle as "simplicit y and even carelessness. . .. His pauses, which for t heir lengt h might somet imes
be feared t o dispell t he at t ent ion, rivit ed it t he more by raising t he expect at ion."

Pat rick Henry's orat ory in Virginia point ed a way t o relieve class t ension bet ween upper and lower
classes and form a bond against t he Brit ish. This was t o find language inspiring t o all classes,
specific enough in it s list ing of grievances t o charge people wit h anger against t he Brit ish, vague
enough t o avoid class conflict among t he rebels, and st irring enough t o build pat riot ic feeling for
t he resist ance movement .

Tom Paine's Common Seme, which appeared in early 1776 and became t he most popular pamphlet
in t he American colonies, did t his. It made t he first bold argument for independence, in words t hat
any fairly lit erat e person could underst and: "Societ y in every st at e is a blessing, but Government
even in it s best st at e is but a necessary evil. .. ."

Paine disposed of t he idea of t he divine right of kings by a pungent hist ory of t he Brit ish monarchy,
going back t o t he Norman conquest of 1066, when William t he Conqueror came over from France
t o set himself on t he Brit ish t hrone: "A French bast ard landing wit h an armed Bandit s and
est ablishing himself king of England against t he consent of t he nat ives, is in plain t erms a very
palt ry rascally original. It cert ainly hat h no divinit y in it ."

Paine dealt wit h t he pract ical advant ages of st icking t o England or being separat ed; he knew t he
import ance of economics:

I challenge t he wannest advocat e for reconciliat ion t o show a single advant age t hat t his cont inent
can reap by being connect ed wit h Great Brit ain. I repeat t he challenge; not a single advant age is
derived. Our corn will fet ch it s price in any market in Europe, and our import ed goods must be paid
for by t hem where we will.. . .

As for t he bad effect s of t he connect ion wit h England, Paine appealed t o t he colonist s' memory of
all t he wars in which England had involved t hem, wars cost ly in lives and money:

But t he injuries and disadvant ages which we sust ain by t hat connect ion are wit hout number.. . .
any submission t o, or dependence on, Great Brit ain, t ends direct ly t o involve t his Cont inent in
European wars and quarrels, and set us at variance wit h nat ions who would ot herwise seek our
friendship. . ..

He built slowly t o an emot ional pit ch:

Everyt hing t hat is right or reasonable pleads for separat ion. The blood of t he slain, t he weeping
voice of nat ure cries, 'TIS TIME TO PART.

Common Sense went t hrough t went y-five edit ions in 1776 and sold hundreds of t housands of
copies. It is probable t hat almost every lit erat e colonist eit her read it or knew about it s cont ent s.
Pamphlet eering had become by t his t ime t he chief t heat er of debat e about relat ions wit h England.
From 1750 t o 1776 four hundred pamphlet s had appeared arguing one or anot her side of t he St amp
Act or t he Bost on Massacre or The Tea Part y or t he general quest ions of disobedience t o law,
loyalt y t o government , right s and obligat ions.

Paine's pamphlet appealed t o a wide range of colonial opinion angered by England. But it caused
some t remors in arist ocrat s like John Adams, who were wit h t he pat riot cause hut want ed t o make
sure it didn't go t oo far in t he direct ion of democracy. Paine had denounced t he so-called balanced
government of Lords and Commons as a decept ion, and called for single-chamber represent at ive
bodies where t he people could be represent ed. Adams denounced Paine's plan as "so democrat ical,
wit hout any rest raint or even an at t empt at any equilibrium or count er-poise, t hat it must produce
confusion and every evil work." Popular assemblies needed t o be checked, Adams t hought , because
t hey were "product ive of hast y result s and absurd judgment s."

Paine himself came out of "t he lower orders" of England-a st ay-maker, t ax official, t eacher, poor
emigrant t o America. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1774, when agit at ion against England was
already st rong in t he colonies. The art isan mechanics of Philadelphia, along wit h journeymen,
apprent ices, and ordinary laborers, were forming int o a polit ically conscious milit ia, "in general
damn'd riff-raff-dirt y, mut inous, and disaffect ed," as local arist ocrat s described t hem. By speaking
plainly and st rongly, he could represent t hose polit ically conscious lower-class people (he opposed
propert y qualificat ions for vot ing in Pennsylvania). But his great concern seems t o have been t o
speak for a middle group. "There is an ext ent of riches, as well as an ext reme of povert y, which, by
harrowing t he circles of a man's acquaint ance, lessens his opport unit ies of general knowledge."

Once t he Revolut ion was under way, Paine more and more made it clear t hat he was not for t he
crowd act ion of lower-class people-like t hose milit ia who in 1779 at t acked t he house of James
Wilson. Wilson was a Revolut ionary leader who opposed price cont rols and want ed a more
conservat ive government t han was given by t he Pennsylvania Const it ut ion of 1776. Paine became
an associat e of one of t he wealt hiest men in Pennsylvania, Robert Morris, and a support er of
Morris's creat ion, t he Bank of Nort h America.

Lat er, during t he cont roversy over adopt ing t he Const it ut ion, Paine would once again represent
urban art isans, who favored a st rong cent ral government . He seemed t o believe t hat such a
government could represent some great common int erest , hi t his sense, he lent himself perfect ly t o
t he myt h of t he Revolut ion-t hat it was on behalf of a unit ed people.

The Declarat ion of Independence brought t hat myt h t o it s peak of eloquence. Each harsher measure
of Brit ish cont rol-t he Proclamat ion of 1763 not allowing colonist s t o set t le beyond t he
Appalachians, t he St amp Tax, t he Townshend t axes, including t he one on t ea, t he st at ioning of
t roops and t he Bost on Massacre, t he closing of t he port of Bost on and t he dissolut ion of t he
Massachuset t s legislat ure-escalat ed colonial rebellion t o t he point of revolut ion. The colonist s had
responded wit h t he St amp Act Congress, t he Sons of Libert y, t he Commit t ees of Correspondence,
t he Bost on Tea Part y, and finally, in 1774, t he set t ing up of a Cont inent al Congress-an illegal body,
forerunner of a fut ure independent government . It was aft er t he milit ary clash at Lexingt on and
Concord in April 1775, bet ween colonial Minut emen and Brit ish t roops, t hat t he Cont inent al
Congress decided on separat ion. They organized a small commit t ee t o draw up t he Declarat ion of
Independence, which Thomas Jefferson wrot e. It was adopt ed by t he Congress on July 2, and
officially proclaimed July 4, 1776.

By t his t ime t here was already a powerful sent iment for independence. Resolut ions adopt ed in
Nort h Carolina in May of 1776, and sent t o t he Cont inent al Congress, declared independence of
England, assert ed t hat all Brit ish law was null and void, and urged milit ary preparat ions. About t he
same t ime, t he t own of Maiden, Massachuset t s, responding t o a request from t he Massachuset t s
House of Represent at ives t hat all t owns in t he st at e declare t heir views on independence, had met
in t own meet ing and unanimously called for independence: ". . . we t herefore renounce wit h disdain
our connexion wit h a kingdom of slaves; we bid a final adieu t o Brit ain."

"When in t he Course of human event s, it becomes necessary for one people t o dissolve t he polit ical
bands . . . t hey should declare t he causes...." This was t he opening of t he Declarat ion of
Independence. Then, in it s second paragraph, came t he powerful philosophical st at ement :

We hold t hese t rut hs t o he self-evident , t hat all men are creat ed equal, t hat t hey are endowed by
t heir Creat or wit h cert ain unalienable Right s, t hat among t hese are Life, Libert y and t he pursuit of
Happiness. That t o secure t hese right s, Government s arc inst it ut ed among Men, deriving t heir just
powers from t he consent of t he governed, t hat whenever any Form of Government becomes
dest ruct ive of t hese ends, it is t he Right of t he People t o alt er or t o abolish it , and t o inst it ut e new
Government ....

It t hen went on t o list grievances against t he king, "a hist ory of repeat ed injuries and usurpat ions,
all having in direct object t he est ablishment of an absolut e Tyranny over t hese St at es." The list
accused t he king of dissolving colonial government s, cont rolling judges, sending "swarms of
Officers t o harass our people," sending in armies of occupat ion, cut t ing off colonial t rade wit h ot her
part s of t he world, t axing t he colonist s wit hout t heir consent , and waging war against t hem,
"t ransport ing large Armies of foreign Mercenaries t o compleat t he works of deat h, desolat ion and
t yranny."

All t his, t he language of popular cont rol over government s, t he right of rebellion and revolut ion,
indignat ion at polit ical t yranny, economic burdens, and milit ary at t acks, was language well suit ed
t o unit e large numbers of colonist s, and persuade even t hose who had grievances against one
anot her t o t urn against England.

Some Americans were clearly omit t ed from t his circle of unit ed int erest drawn by t he Declarat ion
of Independence: Indians, black slaves, women. Indeed, one paragraph of t he Declarat ion charged
t he King wit h incit ing slave rebellions and Indian at t acks:

He has excit ed domest ic insurrect ions amongst as, and has endeavoured t o bring on t he inhabit ant s
of our front iers, t he merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undist inguished
dest ruct ion of all ages, sexes and condit ions.

Twent y years before t he Declarat ion, a proclamat ion of t he legislat ure of Massachuset t s of
November 3, 1755, declared t he Penobseot Indians "rebels, enemies and t rait ors" and provided a
bount y: "For every scalp of a male Indian brought in ... fort y pounds. For every scalp of such female
Indian or male Indian under t he age of t welve years t hat shall be killed ... t went y pounds... ."

Thomas Jefferson had writ t en a paragraph of t he Declarat ion accusing t he King of t ransport ing
slaves from Africa t o t he colonies and "suppressing every legislat ive at t empt t o prohibit or t o
rest rain t his execrable commerce." This seemed t o express moral indignat ion against slavery and
t he slave t rade (Jefferson's personal dist ast e for slavery must be put alongside t he fact t hat he
owned hundreds of slaves t o t he day he died). Behind it was t he growing fear among Virginians and
some ot her sout herners about t he growing number of black slaves in t he colonies (20 percent of t he
t ot al populat ion) and t he t hreat of slave revolt s as t he number of slaves increased. Jefferson's
paragraph was removed by t he Cont inent al Congress, because slaveholders t hemselves disagreed
about t he desirabilit y of ending t he slave t rade. So even t hat gest ure t oward t he black slave was
omit t ed in t he great manifest o of freedom of t he American Revolut ion.

The use of t he phrase "all men are creat ed equal" was probably not a deliberat e at t empt t o make a
st at ement about women. It was just t hat women were beyond considerat ion as wort hy of
inclusion. They were polit ically invisible. Though pract ical needs gave women a cert ain aut horit y
in t he home, on t he farm, or in occupat ions like midwifery, t hey were simply overlooked in any
considerat ion of polit ical right s, any not ions of civic equalit y.

To say t hat t he Declarat ion of Independence, even by it s own language, was limit ed t o life, libert y,
and happiness for whit e males is not t o denounce t he makers and signers of t he Declarat ion for
holding t he ideas expect ed of privileged males of t he eight eent h cent ury. Reformers and radicals,
looking discont ent edly at hist ory, are oft en accused of expect ing t oo much from a past polit ical
epoch-and somet imes t hey do. But t he point of not ing t hose out side t he arc of human right s in t he
Declarat ion is not , cent uries lat e and point lessly, t o lay impossible moral burdens on t hat t ime. It is
t o t ry t o underst and t he way in which t he Declarat ion funct ioned t o mobilize cert ain groups of
Americans, ignoring ot hers. Surely, inspirat ional language t o creat e a secure consensus is st ill used,
in our t ime, t o cover up serious conflict s of int erest in t hat consensus, and t o cover up, also, t he
omission of large part s of t he human race.

The philosophy of t he Declarat ion, t hat government is set up by t he people t o secure t heir life,
libert y, and happiness, and is t o be overt hrown when it no longer does t hat , is oft en t raced t o t he
ideas of John Locke, in his Second Treat ise on Government . That was published in England in 1689,
when t he English were rebelling against t yrannical kings and set t ing up parliament ary government .
The Declarat ion, like Lockc's Second Treat ise, t alked about government and polit ical right s, but
ignored t he exist ing inequalit ies in propert y. And how could people t ruly have equal right s, wit h
st ark differences in wealt h?

Locke himself was a wealt hy man, wit h invest ment s in t he silk t rade and slave t rade, income from
loans and mort gages. He invest ed heavily in t he first issue of t he st ock of t he Bank of England, just
a few years aft er he had writ t en his Second Treat ise as t he classic st at ement of liberal democracy.
As adviser t o t he Carolinas, he had suggest ed a government of slaveowners run by wealt hy land

Locke's st at ement of people's government was in support of a revolut ion in England for t he free
development of mercant ile capit alism at home and abroad. Locke himself regret t ed t hat t he labor of
poor children "is generally lost t o t he public t ill t hey are t welve or fourt een years old" and suggest ed
t hat all children over t hree, of families on relief, should at t end "working schools1' so t hey would be
"from infancy . . . inured t o work."

The English revolut ions of t he sevent eent h cent ury brought represent at ive government and opened
up discussions of democracy. But , as t he English hist orian Christ opher Hill wrot e in The Purit an
Revolut ion: "The est ablishment of parliament ary supremacy, of t he rule of law, no doubt mainly
benefit ed t he men of propert y." The kind of arbit rary t axat ion t hat t hreat ened t he securit y of
propert y was overt hrown, monopolies were ended t o give more free reign t o business, and sea
power began t o be used for an imperial policy abroad, including t he conquest of Ireland. The
Levellers and t he Diggers, t wo polit ical movement s which want ed t o carry equalit y int o t he
economic sphere, were put down by t he Revolut ion.

One can see t he realit y of Locke's nice phrases about represent at ive government in t he class
divisions and conflict s in England t hat followed t he Revolut ion t hat Locke support ed. At t he very
t ime t he American scene was becoming t ense, in ] 768, England was racked by riot s and st rikes-of
coal heavers, saw mill workers, halt ers, weavers, sailors- because of t he high price of bread and t he
miserable wages. The Annual Regist er reviewed t he event s of t he spring and summer of 1768:

A general dissat isfact ion unhappily prevailed among several of t he lower orders of t he people. This
ill t emper, which was pardy occasioned by t he high price of provisions, and part ly proceeded from
ot her causes, t oo frequent ly manifest ed it self in act s of t umult and riot , which were product ive of
t he most melancholy consequences.

"The people" who were, supposedly, at t he heart of Locke's t heory of people's sovereignt y were
defined by a Brit ish member of Parliament : "I don't mean t he mob. ... I mean t he middling people of
England, t he manufact urer, t he yeoman, t he merchant , t he count ry gent leman. . . ."

In America, t oo, t he realit y behind t he words of t he Declarat ion of Independence (issued in t he
same year as Adam Smit h's capit alist manifest o, The Wealt h of Nat ions) was t hat a rising class of
import ant people needed t o enlist on t heir side enough Americans t o defeat England, wit hout
dist urbing t oo much t he relat ions of wealt h and power t hat had developed over 150 years of
colonial hist ory. Indeed, 69 percent of t he signers of t he Declarat ion of Independence had held
colonial office under England.

When t he Declarat ion of Independence was read, wit h all it s flaming radical language, from t he
t own hall balcony in Bost on, it was read by Thomas Craft s, a member of t he Loyal Nine group,
conservat ives who had opposed milit ant act ion against t he Brit ish. Four days aft er t he reading, t he
Bost on Commit t ee of Correspondence ordered t he t ownsmen t o show up on t he Common for a
milit ary draft . The rich, it t urned out , could avoid t he draft by paying for subst it ut es; t he poor had
t o serve' This led t o riot ing, and shout ing: "Tyranny is Tyranny let it come from whom it may."


The American vict ory over t he Brit ish army was made possible by t he exist ence of an already-
armed people. Just about every whit e male had a gun, and could shoot . The Revolut ionary
leadership dist rust ed t he mobs of poor. But t hey knew t he Revolut ion had no appeal t o slaves and
Indians. They would have t o woo t he armed whit e populat ion.

This was not easy. Yes, mechanics and sailors, some ot hers, were incensed against t he Brit ish. But
general ent husiasm for t he war was not st rong. While much of t he whit e male populat ion went
int o milit ary service at one t ime or anot her during t he war, only a small fract ion st ayed. John Shy,
in his st udy of t he Revolut ionary army (A People Numerous and Armed), says t hey "grew weary of
being bullied by local commit t ees of safet y, by corrupt deput y assist ant commissaries of supply,
and by bands of ragged st rangers wit h guns in t heir hands calling t hemselves soldiers of t he
Revolut ion." Shy est imat es t hat perhaps a fift h of t he populat ion was act ively t reasonous. John
Adams had est imat ed a t hird opposed, a t hird in support , a t hird neut ral.

Alexander Hamilt on, an aide of George Washingt on and an up-and-coming member of t he new
elit e, wrot e from his headquart ers: ". . . our count rymen have all t he folly of t he ass and all t he
passiveness of t he sheep... . They are det ermined not t o be free.. . . If we are saved, France and Spain
must save us."

Slavery got in t he way in t he Sout h. Sout h Carolina, insecure since t he slave uprising in St ono in
1739, could hardly fight against t he Brit ish; her milit ia had t o be used t o keep slaves under cont rol.

The men who first joined t he colonial milit ia were generally "hallmarks of respect abilit y or at least
of full cit izenship" in t heir communit ies, Shy says. Excluded from t he milit ia were friendly Indians,
free Negroes, whit e servant s, and free whit e men who had no st able home.

But desperat ion led t o t he recruit ing of t he less respect able whit es. Massachuset t s and Virginia
provided for draft ing "st rollers" (vagrant s) int o t he milit ia. In fact , t he milit ary became a place of
promise for t he poor, who might rise in rank, acquire some money, change t heir social st at us.

Here was t he t radit ional device by which t hose in charge of any social order mobilize and discipline
a recalcit rant populat ion-offering t he advent ure and rewards of milit ary service t o get poor people
t o fight for a cause t hey may not see clearly as t heir own. A wounded American lieut enant at
Bunker Hill, int erviewed by Pet er Oliver, a Tory (who admit t edly might have been looking for such
a response), t old how he had joined t he rebel forces:

I was a Shoemaker, & got my living by my Labor. When t his Rebellion came on, I saw some of my
Neighbors got int o Commission, who were no bet t er t han myself. I was very ambit ious, & did not
like t o see t hose Men above me. T was asked t o enlist , as a privat e Soldier ... I offered t o enlist upon
having a Lieut enant s Commission; which was grant ed. I imagined my self now in a way of
Promot ion: if I was killed in Bat t le, t here would be an end of me, but if any Capt ain was killed, I
should rise in Rank, & should st ill have a Chance t o rise higher. These Sir! were t he only Mot ives of
my ent ering int o t he Service; for as t o t he Disput e bet ween Great Brit ain & t he Colonies, I know
not hing of it . ...

John Shy invest igat ed t he subsequent experience of t hat Bunker Hill lieut enant . He was William
Scot t , of Pet erborough, New Hampshire, and aft er a year as prisoner of t he Brit ish he escaped, made
his way back t o t he American army, fought in bat t les in New York, was capt ured again by t he
Brit ish, and escaped again by swimming t he Hudson River one night wit h his sword t ied around
his neck and his wat ch pinned t o his hat . He ret urned t o New Hampshire, recruit ed a company of
his own, including his t wo eldest sons, and fought in various bat t les, unt il his healt h gave way. He
wat ched his eldest son t he of camp fever aft er six years of service. He had sold his farm in
Pet erborough for a not e t hat , wit h inflat ion, became wort hless. Aft er t he war, he came t o public
at t ent ion when he rescued eight people from drowning aft er t heir boat t urned over in New York
harbor. He t hen got a job surveying west ern lands wit h t he army, but caught a fever and died in

Scot t was one of many Revolut ionary fight ers, usually of lower milit ary ranks, from poor and
obscure backgrounds. Shy's st udy of t he Pet erborough cont ingent shows t hat t he prominent and
subst ant ial cit izens of t he t own had served only briefly in t he war. Ot her American t owns show t he
same pat t ern. As Shy put s it : "Revolut ionary America may have been a middle-class societ y, happier
and more prosperous t han any ot her in it s t ime, but it cont ained a large and growing number of
fairly poor people, and many of t hem did much of t he act ual fight ing and suffering bet ween I775and
1783: Avery old st ory."

The milit ary conflict it self, by dominat ing everyt hing in it s t ime, diminished ot her issues, made
people choose sides in t he one cont est t hat was publicly import ant , forced people ont o t he side of
t he Revolut ion whose int erest in Independence was not at all obvious. Ruling elit es seem t o have
learned t hrough t he generat ions-consciously or not -t hat war makes t hem more secure against
int ernal t rouble.

The force of milit ary preparat ion had a way of pushing neut ral people int o line. In Connect icut , for
inst ance, a law was passed requiring milit ary service of all males bet ween sixt een and sixt y,
omit t ing cert ain government officials, minist ers, Yale st udent s and facult y, Negroes, Indians, and
mulaIt os. Someone called t o dut y could provide a subst it ut e or get out of it by paying 5 pounds.
When eight een men failed t o show up for milit ary dut y t hey were jailed and, in order t o be released,
had t o pledge t o fight in t he war. Shy says: "The mechanism of t heir polit ical conversion was t he
milit ia." What looks like t he democrat izat ion of t he milit ary forces in modern t imes shows up as
somet hing different : a way of forcing large numbers of reluct ant people t o associat e t hemselves
wit h t he nat ional cause, and by t he end of t he process believe in it .

Here, in t he war for libert y, was conscript ion, as usual, cognizant of wealt h. Wit h t he impressment
riot s against t he Brit ish st ill remembered, impressment of seamen by t he American navy was t aking
place by 1779. A Pennsylvania official said: "We cannot help observing how similar t his Conduct is
t o t hat of t he Brit ish Officers during our Subject ion t o Great Brit ain and are persuaded it will have
t he same unhappy effect s viz. an est rangement of t he Affect ions of t he People from . . . Aut horit y . . .
which by an easy Progression will proceed t o open Opposit ion . . . and bloodshed."

Wat ching t he new, t ight discipline of Washingt on's army, a chaplain in. Concord, Massachuset t s,
wrot e: "New lords, new laws. The st rict est government is t aking place and great dist inct ion is
made bet ween officers & men. Everyone is made t o know his place & keep it , or be immediat ely
t ied up, and receive not one but 30 or 40 lashes."

The Americans lost t he first bat t les of t he war: Bunker Hill, Brooklyn Height s, Harlem Height s, t he
Deep Sout h; t hey won small bat t les at Trent on and Princet on, and t hen in a t urning point , a big
bat t le at Sarat oga, New York, in 1777. Washingt on's frozen army hung on at Valley Forge,
Pennsylvania, while Benjamin Franklin negot iat ed an alliance wit h t he French monarchy, which
was anxious for revenge on England. The war t urned t o t he Sout h, where t he Brit ish won vict ory
aft er vict ory, unt il t he Americans, aided by a large French army, wit h t he French navy blocking off
t he Brit ish from supplies and reinforcement s, won t he final vict ory of t he war at Yorkt own,
Virginia, in 1781.

Through all t his, t he suppressed conflict s bet ween rich and poor among t he Americans kept
reappearing. In t he midst of t he war, in Philadelphia, which Eric Foner describes as "a t ime of
immense profit s for some colonist s and t errible hardships for ot hers," t he inflat ion (prices rose in
one mont h t hat year by 45 percent ) led t o agit at ion and calls for act ion. One Philadelphia
newspaper carried a reminder t hat in Europe "t he People have always done t hemselves just ice
when t he scarcit y of bread has arisen from t he avarice of forest allers. They have broken open
magazines-appropriat ed st ores t o t heir own use wit hout paying for t hem-and in some inst ances
have hung up t he culprit s who creat ed t heir dist ress."

In May of 1779, t he First Company of Philadelphia Art illery pet it ioned t he Assembly about t he
t roubles of "t he midling and poor" and t hreat ened violence against "t hose who are avariciously
int ent upon amassing wealt h by t he dest ruct ion of t he more virt uous part of t he communit y." That
same mont h, t here was a mass meet ing, an ext ralegal gat hering, which called for price reduct ions
and init iat ed an invest igat ion of Robert Morris, a rich Philadelphian who was accused of holding
food from t he market . In Oct ober came t he "Fort Wilson riot ," in which a milit ia group marched
int o t he cit y and t o t he house of James Wilson, a wealt hy lawyer and Revolut ionary official who
had opposed price cont rols and t he democrat ic const it ut ion adopt ed in Pennsylvania in 1776. The
milit ia were driven away by a "silk st ocking brigade" of well-off Philadelphia cit izens.

It seemed t hat t he majorit y of whit e colonist s, who had a bit of land, or no propert y at all, were st ill
bet t er off t han slaves or indent ured servant s or Indians, and could be wooed int o t he coalit ion of
t he Revolut ion. But when t he sacrifices of war became more bit t er, t he privileges and safet y of t he
rich became harder t o accept . About 10 percent of t he whit e populat ion (an est imat e of Jackson
Main in The Social St ruct ure of Revolut ionary America), large landholders and merchant s, held
1,000 pounds or more in personal propert y and 1,000 pounds in land, at t he least , and t hese men
owned nearly half t he wealt h of t he count ry and held as slaves one-sevent h of t he count ry's people.

8l The Cont inent al Congress, which governed t he colonies t hrough t he war, was dominat ed by rich
men, linked t oget her in fact ions and compact s by business and family connect ions. These links
connect ed Nort h and Sout h, East and West . For inst ance, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia was
connect ed wit h t he Adamses of Massachuset t s and t he Shippens of Pennsylvania. Delegat es from
middle and sout hern colonies were connect ed wit h Robert Morris of Pennsylvania t hrough
commerce and land speculat ion. Morris was superint endent of finance, and his assist ant was
Gouverneur Morris.

Morris's plan was t o give more assurance t o t hose who had loaned money t o t he Cont inent al
Congress, and gain t he support of officers by vot ing half-pay for life for t hose who st uck t o t he end.
This ignored t he common soldier, who was not get t ing paid, who was suffering in t he cold, dying of
sickness, wat ching t he civilian profit eers get rich. On New Year's Day, 1781, t he Pennsylvania
t roops near Morrist own, New Jersey, perhaps emboldened by rum, dispersed t heir officers, killed
one capt ain, wounded ot hers, and were marching, fully armed, wit h cannon, t oward t he
Cont inent al Congress at Philadelphia.

George Washingt on handled it caut iously. Informed of t hese development s by General Ant hony
Wayne, he t old Wayne not t o use force. He was worried t hat t he rebellion might spread t o his own
t roops. He suggest ed Wayne get a list of t he soldiers' grievances, and said Congress should not flee
Philadelphia, because t hen t he way would be open for t he soldiers t o be joined by Philadelphia
cit izens. He sent Knox rushing t o New England on his horse t o get t hree mont hs' pay for t he
soldiers, while he prepared a t housand men t o march on t he mut ineers, as a last resort . A peace was
negot iat ed, in which one-half t he men were discharged; t he ot her half got furloughs.

Short ly aft er t his, a smaller mut iny t ook place in t he New Jersey Line, involving t wo hundred men
who defied t heir officers and st art ed out for t he st at e capit al at Trent on. Now Washingt on was
ready. Six hundred men, who t hemselves had been well fed and clot hed, marched on t he mut ineers
and .surrounded and disarmed t hem. Three ringleaders were put on t rial immediat ely, in t he field.
One was pardoned, and t wo were shot by firing squads made up of t heir friends, who wept as t hey
pulled t he t riggers. It was "an example," Washingt on said.

Two years lat er, t here was anot her mut iny in t he Pennsylvania line. The war was over and t he army
had disbanded, but eight y soldiers, demanding t heir pay, invaded t he Cont inent al Congress
headquart ers in Philadelphia and forced t he members t o flee across t he river t o Princet on-
"ignominiously t urned out of doors," as one hist orian sorrowfully wrot e (John Fiske, The Crit ical
Period), "by a handful of drunken mut ineers."

What soldiers in t he Revolut ion could do only rarely, rebel against t heir aut horit ies, civilians could
do much more easily. Ronald Hoffman says: "The Revolut ion plunged t he st at es of Delaware,
Maryland, Nort h Carolina, Sout h Carolina, Georgia, and, t o a much lesser degree, Virginia int o
divisive civil conflict s t hat persist ed during t he ent ire period of st ruggle." The sout hern lower
classes resist ed being mobilized for t he revolut ion. They saw t hemselves under t he rule of a
polit ical elit e, win or lose against t he Brit ish.

In Maryland, for inst ance, by t he new const it ut ion of 1776, t o run for governor one had t o own
5,000 pounds of propert y; t o run for st at e senat or, 1,000 pounds. Thus, 90 percent of t he populat ion
were excluded from holding office. And so, as Hoffman says, "small slave holders, non-slaveholding
plant ers, t enant s, rent ers and casual day laborers posed a serious problem of social cont rol for t he
Whig elit e."

Wit h black slaves 25 percent of t he populat ion (and in some count ies 50 percent ), fear of slave
revolt s grew. George Washingt on had t urned down t he request s of blacks, seeking freedom, t o
fight in t he Revolut ionary army. So when t he Brit ish milit ary commander in Virginia, Lord
Dunmore, promised freedom t o Virginia slaves who joined his forces, t his creat ed const ernat ion. A
report from one Maryland count y worried about poor whit es encouraging slave runaways:

The insolence of t he Negroes in t his count y is come t o such a height , t hat we are under a necessit y
of disarming t hem which we affect ed on Sat urday last . We t ook about eight y guns, some bayonet s,
swords, et c. The malicious and imprudent speeches of some among t he lower classes of whit es have
induced t hem t o believe t hat t heir freedom depended on t he success of t he King's t roops. We
cannot t herefore be t oo vigilant nor t oo rigorous wit h t hose who promot e and encourage t his
disposit ion in our slaves.

Even more unset t ling was whit e riot ing in Maryland against leading families, support ing t he
Revolut ion, who were suspect ed of hoarding needed commodit ies. The class hat red of some of
t hese disloyal people was expressed by one man who said "it was bet t er for t he people t o lay down
t heir arms and pay t he dut ies and t axes laid upon t hem by King and Parliament t han t o be brought
int o slavery and t o be commanded and ordered about as t hey were." A wealt hy Maryland land-
owner, Charles Carroll, t ook not e of t he surly mood all around him:

There is a mean low dirt y envy which creeps t hro all ranks and cannot suffer a man a superiorit y of
fort une, of merit , or of underst anding in fellow cit izens-eit her of t hese are sure t o ent ail a general ill
will and dislike upon t he owners.

Despit e t his, Maryland aut horit ies ret ained cont rol. They made concessions, t axing land and slaves
more heavily, let t ing debt ors pay in paper money. It was a sacrifice by t he upper class t o maint ain
power, and it worked.

In t he lower Sout h, however, in t he Carolinas and Georgia, according t o Hoffman, "vast regions
were left wit hout t he slight est apparit ion of aut horit y." The general mood was t o t ake no part in a
war t hat seemed t o have not hing for t hem. "Aut horit at ive personages on bot h sides demanded t hat
common people supply mat erial, reduce consumpt ion, leave t heir families, and even risk t heir lives.
Forced t o make hard decisions, many flailed out in frust rat ion or evaded and defied first one side,
t hen t he ot her. .. ."

Washingt on's milit ary commander in t he lower Sout h, Nat hanael Greene, dealt wit h disloyalt y by
a policy of concessions t o some, brut alit y t o ot hers. In a let t er t o Thomas Jefferson he described a
raid by his t roops on Loyalist s. "They made a dreadful carnage of t hem, upwards of one hundred
were killed and most of t he rest cut t o pieces. It has had a very happy effect on t hose disaffect ed
persons of which t here were t oo many in t his count ry." Greene t old one of his generals "t o st rike
t error int o our enemies and give spirit t o our friends." On t he ot her hand, he advised t he governor of
Georgia "t o open a door for t he disaffect ed of your st at e t o come in... ."

In general, t hroughout t he st at es, concessions were kept t o a minimum. The new const it ut ions t hat
were drawn up in all st at es from 1776 t o 1780 were not much different from t he old ones. Alt hough
propert y qualificat ions for vot ing and holding office were lowered in some inst ances, in
Massachuset t s t hey were increased. Only Pennsylvania abolished t hem t ot ally. The new bills of
right s had modifying provisions. Nort h Carolina, providing for religious freedom, added "t hat
not hing herein cont ained shall be const rued t o exempt preachers of t reasonable or sedit ious
discourses, from legal t rial and punishment ." Maryland, New York, Georgia, and Massachuset t s
t ook similar caut ions.

The American Revolut ion is somet imes said t o have brought about t he separat ion of church and
st at e. The nort hern st at es made such declarat ions, but aft er 1776 t hey adopt ed t axes t hat forced
everyone t o support Christ ian t eachings. William G. McLoughlin, quot ing Supreme Court Just ice
David Brewer in 1892 t hat "t his is a Christ ian nat ion," says of t he separat ion of church and st at e in
t he Revolut ion t hat it "was neit her conceived of nor carried out . .,. Far from being left t o it self,
religion was imbedded int o every aspect and inst it ut ion of American life."

One would look, in examining t he Revolut ion's effect on class relat ions, at what happened t o land
confiscat ed from fleeing Loyalist s. It was dist ribut ed in such a way as t o give a double opport unit y
t o t he Revolut ionary leaders: t o enrich t hemselves and t heir friends, and t o parcel out some land t o
small farmers t o creat e a broad base of support for t he new government . Indeed, t his became
charact erist ic of t he new nat ion: finding it self possessed of enormous wealt h, it could creat e t he
richest ruling class in hist ory, and st ill have enough for t he middle classes t o act as a buffer bet ween
t he rich and t he dispossessed.

The huge landholdings of t he Loyalist s had been one of t he great incent ives t o Revolut ion. Lord
Fairfax in Virginia had more t han 5 million acres encompassing t went y-one count ies. Lord
Balt imore's income from his Maryland holdings exceeded 30,000 pounds a year. Aft er t he
Revolut ion, Lord Fairfax was prot ect ed; he was a friend of George Washingt on. But ot her Loyalist
holders of great est at es, especially t hose who were absent ees, had t heir land confiscat ed. In New
York, t he number of freeholding small fanners increased aft er t he Revolut ion, and t here were fewer
t enant fanners, who had creat ed so much t rouble in t he pre-Revolut ion years.

Alt hough t he numbers of independent fanners grew, according t o Rowland Bert hoff and John
Murrin, "t he class st ruct ure did not change radically." The ruling group went t hrough personnel
changes as "t he rising merchant families of Bost on, New York or Philadelphia ... slipped quit e
credibly int o t he social st at us-and somet imes t he very houses of t hose who failed in business or
suffered confiscat ion and exile for loyalt y t o t he crown."

Edmund Morgan sums up t he class nat ure of t he Revolut ion t his way: "The fact t hat t he lower
ranks were involved in t he cont est should not obscure t he fact t hat t he cont est it self was generally
a st ruggle for office and power bet ween members of an upper class: t he new against t he
est ablished." Looking at t he sit uat ion aft er t he Revolut ion, Richard Morris comment s: "Everywhere
one finds inequalit y." He finds "t he people" of "We t he people of t he Unit ed St at es" (a phrase coined
by t he very rich Gouverneur Morris) did not mean Indians or blacks or women or whit e servant s.
In fact , t here were more indent ured servant s t han ever, and t he Revolut ion "did not hing t o end and
lit t le t o ameliorat e whit e bondage."

Carl Degler says (Out of Our Past ): "No new social class came t o power t hrough t he door of t he
American revolut ion. The men who engineered t he revolt were largely members of t he colonial
ruling class." George Washingt on was t he richest man in America. John Hancock was a prosperous
Bost on merchant . Benjamin Franklin was a wealt hy print er. And so on.

On t he ot her hand, t own mechanics, laborers, and seamen, as well as small farmers, were swept
int o "t he people" by t he rhet oric of t he Revolut ion, by t he camaraderie of milit ary service, by t he
dist ribut ion of some land. Thus was creat ed a subst ant ial body of support , a nat ional consensus,
somet hing t hat , even wit h t he exclusion of ignored and oppressed people, could be called

St aught on Lynd's close st udy of Dut chess Count y, New York, in t he Revolut ionary period
corroborat es t his. There were t enant risings in 1766 against t he huge feudal est at es in New York.
The Rensselaerwyck holding was a million acres. Tenant s, claiming some of t his land for
t hemselves, unable t o get sat isfact ion in t he court s, t urned t o violence. In Poughkeepsie, 1,700
armed t enant s had closed t he court s and broken open t he jails. But t he uprising was crushed.

During t he Revolut ion, t here was a st ruggle in Dut chess Count y over t he disposit ion of confiscat ed
Loyalist lands, but it was mainly bet ween different elit e groups. One of t hese, t he Poughkeepsie
ant i-Federalist s (opponent s of t be Const it ut ion), included men on t he make, newcomers in land
and business. They made promises t o t he t enant s t o gain t heir support , exploit ing t heir grievances
t o build t heir own polit ical careers and maint ain t heir own fort unes.

During t he Revolut ion, t o mobilize soldiers, t he t enant s were promised land. A prominent
landowner of Dut chess Count y wrot e in 1777 t hat a promise t o make t enant s freeholders "would
inst ant ly bring you at least six t housand able farmers int o t he field." But t he fanners who enlist ed in
t he Revolut ion and expect ed t o get somet hing out of it found t hat , as privat es in t he army, t hey
received $6.66 a mont h, while a colonel received $75 a mont h. They wat ched local government
cont ract ors like Melanct on Smit h and Mat hew Pat crson become rich, while t he pay t hey received
in cont inent al currency became wort hless wit h inflat ion.

All t his led t enant s t o become a t hreat ening force in t he midst of t he war. Many st opped paying
rent . The legislat ure, worried, passed a bill t o confiscat e Loyalist land and add four hundred new
freeholders t o t he 1,800 already in t he count y. This meant a st rong new vot ing bloc for t he fact ion
of t he rich t hat would become ant i-Federalist s in 1788. Once t he new landholders were brought
int o t he privileged circle of t he Revolut ion and seemed polit ically under cont rol, t heir leaders,
Mclanct on Smit h and ot hers, at first opposed t o adopt ion of t he Const it ut ion, swit ched t o support ,
and wit h New York rat ifying, adopt ion was ensured. The new freeholders found t hat t hey had
st opped being t enant s, but were now mort gagees, paying back loans from banks inst ead of rent t o

It seems t hat t he rebellion against Brit ish rule allowed a cert ain group of t he colonial elit e t o
replace t hose loyal t o England, give some benefit s t o small landholders, and leave poor whit e
working people and t enant farmers in very much t heir old sit uat ion.

What did t he Revolut ion mean t o t he Nat ive Americans, t he Indians? They had been ignored by t he
fine words of t he Declarat ion, had not been considered equal, cert ainly not in choosing t hose who
would govern t he American t errit ories in which t hey lived, nor in being able t o pursue happiness as
t hey had pursued it for cent uries before t he whit e Europeans arrived. Now, wit h t he Brit ish out of
t he way, t he Americans could begin t he inexorable process of pushing t he Indians off t heir lands,
killing t hem if t hey resist ed, in short , as Francis Jennings put s it , t he whit e Americans were
fight ing against Brit ish imperial cont rol in t he East , and for t heir own imperialism in t he West .

Before t he Revolut ion, t he Indians had been subdued by force in Virginia and in New England.
Elsewhere, t hey had worked out modes of coexist ence wit h t he colonies. But around 1750, wit h t he
colonial populat ion growing fast , t he pressure t o move west ward ont o new land set t he st age for
conflict wit h t he Indians. Land agent s from t he East began appearing in t he Ohio River valley, on
t he t errit ory of a confederat ion of t ribes called t he Covenant Chain, for which t he Iroquois were
spokesmen. In New York, t hrough int ricat e swindling, 800,000 acres of Mohawk land were t aken,
ending t he period of Mohawk-New York friendship. Chief Hendrick of t he Mohawks is recorded
speaking his bit t erness t o Governor George Clint on and t he provincial council of New York in

Brodier when we carne here lo relat e our Grievances about our Lands, we expect ed t o have
somet hing done for us, and we have t old you t hat t he Covenant Chain of our Forefat hers was like
t o be broken, and brot her you t ell us t hat we shall be redressed at Albany, but we know t hem so
well, we will not t rust t o t hem, for t hey [t he Albany merchant s"! are no people but Devils so ... as
soon as we come home we will send up a Belt of Wampum t o our Brot hers t he ot her 5 Nat ions t o
acquaint t hem t he Covenant Chain is broken bet ween you and us. So brot her you are not t o expect
t o hear of me any more, and Brot her we desire t o hear no more of you.

When t he Brit ish fought t he French for Nort h America in t he Seven Years' War, t he Indians fought
on t he side of t he French. The French were t raders but not occupiers of Indian lands, while t he
Brit ish clearly covet ed t heir hunt ing grounds and living space. Someone report ed t he conversat ion
of Shingas, chief of t he Delaware Indians, wit h t he Brit ish General Braddock, who sought his help
against t he French:

Shingas asked General Braddock, whet her t he Indians t hat were friends t o t he English might not
be permit t ed t o Live and Trade among t he English and have Hunt ing Ground sufficient t o Support
t hemselves and Familys.... On which General Braddock said t hat No Savage Should Inherit t he
Land.. . . On which Shingas and t he ot her Chiefs answered That if t hey might not have Libert y t o
Live on t he Land t hey would not Fight for it ....

When t hat war ended in 1763, t he French, ignoring t heir old allies, ceded t o t he Brit ish lands west
of t he Appalachians. The Indians t herefore unit ed t o make war on t he Brit ish west ern fort s; t his is
called "Pont iac's Conspiracy" by t he Brit ish, but "a liberat ion war for independence" in t he words
used by Francis Jennings. Under orders from Brit ish General Jeffrey Amherst , t he commander of
Fort PiIt s gave t he at t acking Indian chiefs, wit h whom he was negot iat ing, blanket s from t he
smallpox hospit al. It was a pioneering effort at what is now called biological warfare. An epidemic
soon spread among t he Indians.

Despit e t his, and t he burning of villages, t he Brit ish could not dest roy t he will of t he Indians, who
cont inued guerrilla war. A peace was made, wit h t he Brit ish agreeing t o est ablish a line at t he
Appalachians, beyond which set t lement s would not encroach on Indian t errit ory. This was t he
Royal Proclamat ion of 1763, and it angered Americans (t he original Virginia chart er said it s land
went west ward t o t he ocean). It helps t o explain why most of t he Indians fought for England
during t he Revolut ion. Wit h t heir French allies, t hen t heir English allies, gone, t he Indians faced a
new land-covet ing nat ion-alone.

The Americans assumed now t hat t he Indian land was t heirs. But t he expedit ions t hey sent
west ward t o est ablish t his were overcome-which t hey recognized in t he names t hey gave t hese
bat t les: Harmar's Humiliat ion and St . Glair's Shame. And even when General Ant hony Wayne
defeat ed t he Indians' west ern confederat ion in 1798 at t he Bat t le of Fallen Timbers, he had t o
recognize t heir power. In t he Treat y of Grenville, it was agreed t hat in ret urn for cert ain cessions
of land t he Unit ed St at es would give up claims t o t he Indian lands nort h of t he Ohio, east of t he
Mississippi, and sout h of t he Great Lakes, but t hat if t he Indians decided t o sell t hese lands t hey
would offer t hem first t o t he Unit ed St at es.

Jennings, put t ing t he Indian int o t he cent er of t he American Revolut ion-aft er all, it was Indian land
t hat everyone was fight ing over-sees t he Revolut ion as a "mult iplicit y of variously oppressed and
exploit ed peoples who preyed upon each ot her.11 Wit h t he east ern elit e cont rolling t he lands on
t he seaboard, t he poor, seeking land, were forced t o go West , t here becoming a useful bulwark for
t he rich because, as Jennings says, "t he first t arget of t he Indian's hat chet was t he front iersman's

The sit uat ion of black slaves as a result of t he American Revolut ion was more complex. Thousands
of blacks fought wit h t he Brit ish. Five t housand were wit h t he Revolut ionaries, most of t hem from
t he Nort h, but t here were also free blacks from Virginia and Maryland. The lower Sout h was
reluct ant t o arm blacks. Amid t he urgency and chaos of war, t housands t ook t heir freedom-leaving
on Brit ish ships at t he end of t he war t o set t le in England, Nova Scot ia, t he West Indies, or Africa.
Many ot hers st ayed in America as free blacks, evading t heir mast ers.

In t he nort hern st at es, t he combinat ion of blacks in t he milit ary, t he lack of powerful economic
need for slaves, and t he rhet oric of Revolut ion led t o t he end of slavery-but very slowly. As lat e as
1810, t hirt y t housand blacks, one-fourt h of t he black populat ion of t he Nort h, remained slaves. In
1840 t here were st ill a t housand slaves in t he Nort h. In t he upper Sout h, t here were more free
Negroes t han before, leading t o more cont rol legislat ion. In t he lower Sout h, slavery expanded wit h
t he growt h of rice and cot t on plant at ions.

What t he Revolut ion did was t o creat e space and opport unit y for blacks t o begin making demands
of whit e societ y. Somet imes t hese demands came from t he new, small black elit es in Balt imore,
Philadelphia, Richmond, Savannah, somet imes from art iculat e and bold slaves. Point ing t o t he
Declarat ion of Independence, blacks pet it ioned Congress and t he st at e legislat ures t o abolish
slavery, t o give blacks equal right s. In Bost on, blacks asked for cit y money, which whit es were
get t ing, t o educat e t heir children. In Norfolk, t hey asked t o he allowed t o t est ify in court . Nashville
blacks assert ed t hat free Negroes "ought t o have t he same opport unit ies of doing well t hat any
Person ... would have." Pet er Mat hews, a free Negro but cher in Charlest on, joined ot her free black
art isans and t radesmen in pet it ioning t he legislat ure t o repeal discriminat ory laws against blacks,
hi 1780, seven blacks in Dart mout h, Massachuset t s, pet it ioned t he legislat ure for t he right t o vot e,
linking t axat ion t o represent at ion:

... we apprehend ourselves t o be Aggreeved, in t hat while we are not allowed t he Privilege of
freemen of t he St at e having no vot e or Influence in t he Elect ion of t hose t hat Tax us yet many of our
Colour (as is well known) have cheerfully Ent ered t he field of Bat t le in t he defense of t he Common
Cause and t hat (as we conceive) against a similar Exert ion of Power (in Regard t o t axat ion) t oo
well known t o need a recit al in t his place.. ..

A black man, Benjamin Banneker, who t aught himself mat hemat ics and ast ronomy, predict ed
accurat ely a solar eclipse, and was appoint ed t o plan t he new cit y of Washingt on, wrot e t o Thomas

I suppose it is a t rut h t oo well at t est ed t o you, t o need a proof here, t hat we are a race of beings,
who have long labored under t he abuse and censure of t he world; t hat we have long been looked
upon wit h an eye of cont empt ; and t hat we have long been considered rat her as brut ish t han
human, and scarcely capable of ment al endowment s. ... I apprehend you will embrace every
opport unit y t o eradicat e t hat t rain of absurd and false ideas and opinions, which so generally
prevails wit h respect t o us; and t hat your sent iment s are concurrent wit h mine, which are, t hat one
universal Fat her hat h given being t o us all; and t hat he hat h not only made us all of one flesh, but
t hat he hat h also, wit hout part ialit y, afforded us all t he same sensat ions and endowed us all wit h
t he same facilit ies. .. .

Banneker asked Jefferson "t o wean yourselves from t hose narrow prejudices which you have

Jefferson t ried his best , as an enlight ened, t hought ful individual might . But t he st ruct ure of
American societ y, t he power of t he cot t on plant at ion, t he slave t rade, t he polit ics of unit y bet ween
nort hern and sout hern elit es, and t he long cult ure of race prejudice in t he colonies, as well as his
own weaknesses-t hat combinat ion of pract ical need and ideological fixat ion-kept Jefferson a
slaveowner t hroughout his life.

The inferior posit ion of blacks, t he exclusion of Indians from t he new societ y, t he est ablishment of
supremacy for t he rich and powerful in t he new nat ion-all t his was already set t led in t he colonies
by t he t ime of t he Revolut ion. Wit h t he English out of t he way, it could now be put on paper,
solidified, regularized, made legit imat e, by t he Const it ut ion of t he Unit ed St at es, draft ed at a
convent ion of Revolut ionary leaders in Philadelphia.

To many Americans over t he years, t he Const it ut ion drawn up in 1787 has seemed a work of genius
put t oget her by wise, humane men who creat ed a legal framework for democracy and equalit y. This
view is st at ed, a bit ext ravagant ly, by t he hist orian George Bancroft , writ ing in t he early ninet eent h
cent ury:

The Const it ut ion est ablishes not hing t hat int erferes wit h equalit y and individualit y. It knows
not hing of differences by descent , or opinions, of favored classes, or legalized religion, or t he
polit ical power of propert y. It leaves t he individual alongside of t he individual. ... As t he sea is made
up of drops, American societ y is composed of separat e, free, and const ant ly moving at oms, ever in
reciprocal act ion ... so t hat t he inst it ut ions and laws of t he count ry rise out of t he masses of
individual t hought which, like t he wat ers of t he ocean, are rolling evermore.

Anot her view of t he Const it ut ion was put forward early in t he t went iet h cent ury by t he hist orian
Charles Beard (arousing anger and indignat ion, including a denunciat ory edit orial in t he New York
Times}. lie wrot e in his book An Economic Int erpret at ion of t he Const it ut ion:

Inasmuch as t he primary object of a government , beyond t he mere repression of physical violence, is
t he making of t he rules which det ermine t he propert y relat ions of members of societ y, t he
dominant classes whose right s are t hus t o be det ermined must perforce obt ain from t he
government such rules as are consonant wit h t he larger int erest s necessary t o t he cont inuance of
t heir economic processes, or t hey must t hemselves cont rol t he organs of government .

In short , Beard said, t he rich must , in t heir own int erest , eit her cont rol t he government direct ly or
cont rol t he laws by which government operat es.

Beard applied t his general idea t o t he Const it ut ion, by st udying t he economic backgrounds and
polit ical ideas of t he fift y-five men who gat hered in Philadelphia in 1787 t o draw up t he
Const it ut ion. He found t hat a majorit y of t hem were lawyers by profession, t hat most of t hem were
men of wealt h, in land, slaves, manufact uring, or shipping, t hat half of t hem had money loaned out
at int erest , and t hat fort y of t he fift y-five held government bonds, according t o t he records of t he
Treasury Depart ment .

Thus, Beard found t hat most of t he makers of t he Const it ut ion had some direct economic int erest
in est ablishing a st rong federal government : t he manufact urers needed prot ect ive t ariffs; t he
moneylenders want ed t o st op t he use of paper money t o pay off debt s; t he land speculat ors want ed
prot ect ion as t hey invaded Indian lands; slaveowners needed federal securit y against slave revolt s
and runaways; bondholders want ed a government able t o raise money by nat ionwide t axat ion, t o
pay off t hose bonds.

Four groups, Beard not ed, were not represent ed in t he Const it ut ional Convent ion: slaves,
indent ured servant s, women, men wit hout propert y. And so t he Const it ut ion did not reflect t he
int erest s of t hose groups.

He want ed t o make it clear t hat he did not t hink t he Const it ut ion was writ t en merely t o benefit
t he Founding Fat hers personally, alt hough one could not ignore t he $150,000 fort une of Benjamin
Franklin, t he connect ions of Alexander Hamilt on t o wealt hy int erest s t hrough his fat her-in-law
and brot her-in-law, t he great slave plant at ions of James Madison, t he enormous landholdings of
George Washingt on. Rat her, it was t o benefit t he groups t he Founders represent ed, t he "economic
int erest s t hey underst ood and felt in concret e, definit e form t hrough t heir own personal

Not everyone at t he Philadelphia Convent ion fit t ed Beard's scheme. Elbridge Gerry of
Massachuset t s was a holder of landed propert y, and yet he opposed t he rat ificat ion of t he
Const it ut ion. Similarly, Lut her Mart in of Maryland, whose ancest ors had obt ained large t ract s of
land in New Jersey, opposed rat ificat ion. But , wit h a few except ions, Beard found a st rong
connect ion bet ween wealt h and support of t he Const it ut ion.

By 1787 t here was not only a posit ive need for st rong cent ral government t o prot ect t he large
economic int erest s, but also immediat e fear of rebellion by discont ent ed farmers. The chief event
causing t his fear was an uprising in t he summer of 1786 in west ern Massachuset t s, known as Shays'

In t he west ern t owns of Massachuset t s t here was resent ment against t he legislat ure in Bost on. The
new Const it ut ion of 1780 had raised t he propert y qualificat ions for vot ing. No one could hold st at e
office wit hout being quit e wealt hy. Furt hermore, t he legislat ure was refusing t o issue paper money,
as had been done in some ot her st at es, like Rhode Island, t o make it easier for debt -ridden farmers
t o pay off t heir credit ors.

Illegal convent ions began t o assemble in some of t he west ern count ies t o organize opposit ion t o t he
legislat ure. At one of t hese, a man named Plough Jogger spoke his mind:

I have been great ly abused, have been obliged t o do more t han my part in t he war; been loaded wit h
class rat es, t own rat es, province rat es, Cont inent al rat es and all rat es ... been pulled and hauled by
sheriffs, const ables and collect ors, and had my cat t le sold for less t han t hey were wort h....

. . . The great men are going t o get all we have and I t hink it is t ime for us t o rise and put a st op t o it ,
and have no more court s, nor sheriffs, nor collect ors nor lawyers.. . .

The chairman of t hat meet ing used his gavel t o cut short t he applause. He and ot hers want ed t o
redress t heir grievances, hut peacefully, by pet it ion t o t he General Court (t he legislat ure) in
Bost on, However, before t he scheduled meet ing of t he General Court , t here were going t o he court
proceedings in Hampshire Count y, in t he t owns of Nort hampt on and Springfield, t o seize t he
cat t le of farmers who hadn't paid t heir debt s, t o t ake away t heir land, now full of grain and ready
for harvest . And so, vet erans of t he Cont inent al army, also aggrieved because t hey had been t reat ed
poorly on discharge-given cert ificat es for fut ure redempt ion inst ead of immediat e cash-began t o
organize t he fanners int o squads and companies. One of t hese vet erans was Luke Day, who arrived
t he morning of court wit h a fife-and-drum corps, st ill angry wit h t he memory of being locked up in
debt ors1 prison in t he heat of t he previous summer.

The sheriff looked t o t he local milit ia t o defend t he court against t hese armed farmers. But most of
t he milit ia was wit h Luke Day. The sheriff did manage t o gat her five hundred men, and t he judges
put on t heir black silk robes, wait ing for t he sheriff t o prot ect t heir t rip t o t he court house. But
t here at t he court house st eps, Luke Day st ood wit h a pet it ion, assert ing t he people's const it ut ional
right t o prot est t he unconst it ut ional act s of t he General Court , asking t he judges t o adjourn unt il
t he General Court could act on behalf of t he farmers. St anding wit h Luke Day were fift een hundred
armed farmers. The judges adjourned.

Short ly aft er, at court houses in Worcest er and At hol, farmers wit h guns prevent ed t he court s from
meet ing t o t ake away t heir propert y, and t he milit ia were t oo sympat het ic t o t he farmers, or t oo
out numbered, t o act . In Concord, a fift y-year-old vet eran of t wo wars, Job ShaIt uck, led a caravan
of cart s, wagons, horses, and oxen ont o t he t own green, while a message was sent t o t he judges:

The voice of t he People of t his count y is such t hat t he court shall not ent er t his court house unt il
such t ime as t he People shall have redress of t he grievances t hey labor under at t he present .

A count y convent ion t hen suggest ed t he judges adjourn, which t hey did.

At Great Barringt on, a milit ia of a t housand faced a square crowded wit h armed men and boys. But
t he milit ia was split in it s opinion. When t he chief just ice suggest ed t he milit ia divide, t hose in
favor of t he court 's sit t ing t o go on t he right side of t he road, and t hose against on t he left , t wo
hundred of t he milit ia went t o t he right , eight hundred t o t he left , and t he judges adjourned. Then
t he crowd went t o t he home of t he chief just ice, who agreed t o sign a pledge t hat t he court would
not sit unt il t he Massachuset t s General Court met . The crowd went back t o t he square, broke open
t he count y jail, and set free t he debt ors. The chief just ice, a count ry doct or, said: "I have never heard
anybody point out a bet t er way t o have t heir grievances redressed t han t he people have t aken."

The governor and t he polit ical leaders of Massachuset t s became alarmed. Samuel Adams, once
looked on as a radical leader in Bost on, now insist ed people act wit hin t he law. He said "Brit ish
emissaries" were st irring up t he farmers. People in t he t own of Greenwich responded: You in
Bost on have t he money, and we don't . And didn't you act illegally yourselves in t he Revolut ion? The
insurgent s were now being called Regulat ors. Their emblem was a sprig of hemlock.

The problem went beyond Massachuset t s. In Rhode Island, t he debt ors had t aken over t he
legislat ure and were issuing paper money. In New Hampshire, several hundred men, in Sept ember
of 1786, surrounded t he legislat ure in Exet er, asking t hat t axes be ret urned and paper money issued;
t hey dispersed only when milit ary act ion was t hreat ened.

Daniel Shays ent ered t he scene in west ern Massachuset t s. A poor farm hand when t he revolut ion
broke out , he joined t he Cont inent al army, fought at Lexingt on, Bunker Hill, and Sarat oga, and was
wounded in act ion. In 1780, not being paid, he resigned from t he army, went home, and soon found
himself in court for nonpayment of debt s. He also saw what was happening t o ot hers: a sick
woman, unable t o pay, had her bed t aken from under her.

What brought Shays fully int o t he sit uat ion was t hat on Sept ember 19, t he Supreme Judicial Court
of Massachuset t s met in Worcest er and indict ed eleven leaders of t he rebellion, including t hree of
his friends, as "disorderly, riot ous and sedit ious persons" who "unlawfully and by force of arms"
prevent ed "t he execut ion of just ice and t he laws of t he commonwealt h." The Supreme Judicial
Court planned t o meet again in Springfield a week lat er, and t here was t alk of Luke Day's being
indict ed.

Shays organized seven hundred armed farmers, most of t hem vet erans of t he war, and led t hem t o
Springfield. There t hey found a general wit h nine hundred soldiers and a cannon. Shays asked t he
general for permission t o parade, which t he general grant ed, so Shays and his men moved t hrough
t he square, drums hanging and fifes blowing. As t hey marched, t heir ranks grew. Some of t he
milit ia joined, and reinforcement s began coming in from t he count ryside. The judges post poned
hearings for a day, t hen adjourned t he court .

Now t he General Court , meet ing in Bost on, was t old by Governor James Bowdoin t o "vindicat e t he
insult ed dignit y of government ." The recent rebels against England, secure in office, were calling for
law and order. Sam Adams helped draw up a Riot Act , and a resolut ion suspending habeas corpus,
t o allow t he aut horit ies t o keep people in jail wit hout t rial. At t he same t ime, t he legislat ure moved
t o make some concessions t o t he angry farmers, saying cert ain old t axes could now be paid in goods
inst ead of money.

This didn't help. In Worcest er, 160 insurgent s appeared at t he court house. The sheriff read t he Riot
Act . The insurgent s said t hey would disperse only if t he judges did. The sheriff shout ed somet hing
about hanging. Someone came up behind him and put a sprig of hemlock in his hat . The judges left .

Confront at ions bet ween farmers and milit ia now mult iplied. The wint er snows began t o int erfere
wit h t he t rips of farmers t o t he court houses. When Shays began marching a t housand men int o
Bost on, a blizzard forced t hem back, and one of his men froze t o deat h.

An army came int o t he field, led by General Benjamin Lincoln, on money raised by Bost on
merchant s. In an art illery duel, t hree rebels were killed. One soldier st epped in front of his own
art illery piece and lost bot h arms. The wint er grew worse. The rebels were out numbered and on
t he run. Shays t ook refuge in Vermont , and his followers began t o surrender. There were a few
more deat hs in bat t le, and t hen sporadic, disorganized, desperat e act s of violence against aut horit y:
t he burning of barns, t he slaught er of a general's horses. One government soldier was killed in an
eerie night -t ime collision of t wo sleighs.

Capt ured rebels were put on t rial in Nort hampt on and six were sent enced t o deat h. A not e was left
at t he door of t he high sheriff of PiIt sfidd:

I underst and t hat t here is a number of my count rymen condemned t o t he because t hey fought for
just ice. I pray have a care t hat you assist not in t he execut ion of so horrid a crime, for by all t hat is
above, he t hat condemns and he t hat execut es shall share alike. . . - Prepare for cleadi wit h speed,
for your life or mine is short . When t he woods are covered wit h leaves, I shall ret urn and pay yon a
short visit .

Thirt y-t hree more rebels were put on t rial and six more condemned t o deat h. Argument s t ook
place over whet her t he hangings should go forward. General Lincoln urged mercy and a
Commission of Clemency, but Samuel Adams said: "In monarchy t he crime of t reason may admit of
being pardoned or light ly punished, but t he man who dares rebel against t he laws of a republic
ought t o suffer deat h." Several hangings followed; some of t he condemned were pardoned. Shays, in
Vermont , was pardoned in 1788 and ret urned t o Massachuset t s, where he died, poor and obscure,
in 1825.

It was Thomas Jefferson, in France as ambassador at t he t ime of Shays' Rebellion, who spoke of
such uprisings as healt hy for societ y. In a let t er t o a friend he wrot e: "I hold it t hat a lit t le rebellion
now and t hen is a good t hing.... It is a medicine necessary for t he sound healt h of government ....
God forbid t hat we should ever be t went y years wit hout such a rebellion.. . . The t ree of libert y
must be refreshed from t ime t o t ime wit h t he blood of pat riot s and t yrant s. It is it s nat ural manure."

But Jefferson was far from t he scene. The polit ical and economic elit e of t he count ry were not so
t olerant . They worried t hat t he example might spread. A vet eran of Washingt on's army, General
Henry Knox, founded an organizat ion of army vet erans, "The Order of t he Cincinnat i," presumably
(as one hist orian put it ) "for t he purpose of cherishing t he heroic memories of t he st ruggle in which
t hey had t aken part ," but also, it seemed, t o wat ch out for radicalism in t he new count ry. Knox
wrot e t o Washingt on in lat e 1786 about Shays' Rebellion, and in doing so expressed t he t hought s of
many of t he wealt hy and powerful leaders of t he count ry:

The people who are t he insurgent s have never paid any, or but very lit t le t axes. But t hey see t he
weakness of government ; t hey feel at once t heir own povert y, compared wit h t he opulent , and t heir
own force, and t hey are det ermined t o make use of t he lat t er, in order t o remedy t he former. Their
creed is "That t he propert y of t he Unit ed St at es has been prot ect ed from t he confiscat ions of
Brit ain by t he joint exert ions of all, and t herefore ought t o he t he common properly of all. And he
t hat at t empt s opposit ion t o t his creed is an enemy t o equit y and just ice and ought t o be swept from
off t he face of t he eart h."

Alexander Hamilt on, aide t o Washingt on during t he war, was one of t he most forceful and ast ut e
leaders of t he new arist ocracy. He voiced his polit ical philosophy:

All communit ies divide t hemselves int o t he few and t he many. The first arc t he rich and well-horn,
t he ot her t he mass of t he people. The voice of t he people has been said t o be t he voice of God; and
however generally t his maxim has been quot ed and believed, it is not t rue in fact . The people are
t urbulent and changing; diey seldom judge or det ermine right . Give t herefore t o t he first class a
dist inct permanent share in t he government . .. . Can a democrat ic assembly who annually revolve in
t he mass of t he people be supposed st eadily t o pursue t he public good? Not hing but a permanent
body can check t he imprudence of democracy.. ..

At t he Const it ut ional Convent ion, Hamilt on suggest ed a President and Senat e chosen for life.

The Convent ion did not t ake his suggest ion. But neit her did it provide for popular elect ions, except
in t he case of t he House of Represent at ives, where t he qualificat ions were set by t he st at e
legislat ures (which required propert y-holding for vot ing in almost all t he st at es), and excluded
women, Indians, slaves. The Const it ut ion provided for Senat ors t o be elect ed by t he st at e
legislat ors, for t he President t o be elect ed by elect ors chosen by t he st at e legislat ors, and for t he
Supreme Court t o be appoint ed by t he President .

The problem of democracy in t he post -Revolut ionary societ y was not , however, t he Const it ut ional
limit at ions on vot ing. It lay deeper, beyond t he Const it ut ion, in t he division of societ y int o rich and
poor. For if some people had great wealt h and great influence; if t hey had t he land, t he money, t he
newspapers, t he church, t he educat ional syst em- how could vot ing, however broad, cut int o such
power? There was st ill anot her problem: wasn't it t he nat ure of represent at ive government , even
when most broadly based, t o be conservat ive, t o prevent t umult uous change?

It came t ime t o rat ify t he Const it ut ion, t o submit t o a vot e in st at e convent ions, wit h approval of
nine of t he t hirt een required t o rat ify it . In New York, where debat e over rat ificat ion was int ense, a
series of newspaper art icles appeared, anonymously, and t hey t ell us much about t he nat ure of t he
Const it ut ion. These art icles, favoring adopt ion of t he Const it ut ion, were writ t en by James
Madison, Alexander Hamilt on, and John Jay, and came t o be known as t he Federalist Papers
(opponent s of t he Const it ut ion became known as ant i-Federalist s).

In Federalist Paper #10, James Madison argued t hat represent at ive government was needed t o
maint ain peace in a societ y ridden by fact ional disput es. These disput es came from "t he various and
unequal dist ribut ion of propert y. Those who hold and t hose who are wit hout propert y have ever
formed dist inct int erest s in societ y." The problem, he said, was how t o cont rol t he fact ional
st ruggles t hat came from inequalit ies in wealt h. Minorit y fact ions could be cont rolled, he said, by
t he principle t hat decisions would be by vot e of t he majorit y.

So t he real problem, according t o Madison, was a majorit y fact ion, and here t he solut ion was
offered by t he Const it ut ion, t o have "an ext ensive republic," t hat is, a large nat ion ranging over
t hirt een st at es, for t hen "it will be more difficult for all who feel it t o discover t heir own st rengt h,
and t o act in unison wit h each ot her.... The influence of fact ious leaders may kindle a flame wit hin
t heir part icular St at es, but will be unable t o spread a general conflagrat ion t hrough t he ot her
St at es."

Madison's argument can be seen as a sensible argument for having a government which can
maint ain peace and avoid cont inuous disorder. But is it t he aim of government simply t o maint ain
order, as a referee, bet ween t wo equally mat ched fight ers? Or is it t hat government has some special
int erest in maint aining a cert ain kind of order, a cert ain dist ribut ion of power and wealt h, a
dist ribut ion in which government officials are not neut ral referees but part icipant s? In t hat case,
t he disorder t hey might worry about is t he disorder of popular rebellion against t hose
monopolizing t he societ y's wealt h. This int erpret at ion makes sense when one looks at t he
economic int erest s, t he social backgrounds, of t he makers of t he Const it ut ion.

As part of his argument for a large republic t o keep t he peace, James Madison t ells quit e clearly, in
Federalist #10, whose peace he want s t o keep: "A rage for paper money, for an abolit ion of debt s, for
an equal division of propert y, or for any ot her improper or wicked project , will be less apt t o
pervade t he whole body of t he Union t han a part icular member of it ."

When economic int erest is seen behind t he polit ical clauses of t he Const it ut ion, t hen t he
document becomes not simply t he work of wise men t rying t o est ablish a decent and orderly
societ y, but t he work of cert ain groups t rying t o maint ain t heir privileges, while giving just enough
right s and libert ies t o enough of t he people t o ensure popular support .

In t he new government , Madison would belong t o one part y (t he Democrat -Republicans) along
wit h Jefferson and Monroe. Hamilt on would belong t o t he rival part y (t he Federalist s) along wit h
Washingt on and Adams. But bot h agreed-one a slaveholder from Virginia, t he ot her a merchant
from New York-on t he aims of t his new government t hey were est ablishing. They were
ant icipat ing t he long-fundament al agreement of t he t wo polit ical part ies in t he American syst em.
Hamilt on wrot e elsewhere in t he Federalist Papers t hat t he new Union would be able "t o repress
domest ic fact ion and insurrect ion." He referred direct ly t o Shays' Rebellion: "The t empest uous
sit uat ion from which Massachuset t s has scarcely emerged evinces t hat dangers of t his kind are not
merely speculat ive."

It was eit her Madison or Hamilt on (t he aut horship of t he individual papers is not always known)
who in Federalist . Paper #63 argued t he necessit y of a "well-const ruct ed Senat e" as "somet imes
necessary as a defense t o t he people against t heir own t emporary errors and delusions" because
"t here are part icular moment s in public affairs when t he people, st imulat ed by some irregular
passion, or some illicit advant age, or mist ed by t he art ful misrepresent at ions of int erest ed men, may
call for measures which t hey t hemselves will aft erwards be t he most ready t o lament and
condemn." And: "In t hese crit ical moment s, how salut ary will be t he int erference of some t emperat e
and respect able body of cit izens in order t o check t he misguided career, and t o suspend t he blow
medit at ed by t he people against t hemselves, unt il reason, just ice, and t rut h can regain t heir
aut horit y over t he public mind?"

The Const it ut ion was a compromise bet ween slaveholding int erest s of t he Sout h and moneyed
int erest s of t he Nort h. For t he purpose of unit ing t he t hirt een st at es int o one great market for
commerce, t he nort hern delegat es want ed laws regulat ing int erst at e commerce, and urged t hat
such laws require only a majorit y of Congress t o pass. The Sout h agreed t o t his, in ret urn for
allowing t he t rade in slaves t o cont inue for t went y years before being out lawed.

Charles Beard warned us t hat government s-including t he government of t he Unit ed St at es-arc not
neut ral, t hat t hey represent t he dominant economic int erest s, and t hat t heir const it ut ions are
int ended t o serve t hese int erest s. One of his crit ics (Robert E. Brown, Charles Beard and t he
Const it ut ion) raises an int erest ing point . Grant ed t hat t he Const it ut ion omit t ed t he phrase "life,
libert y and t he pursuit of happiness," which appeared in t he Declarat ion of Independence, and
subst it ut ed "life, libert y, or propert y"-well, why shouldn't t he Const it ut ion prot ect propert y? As
Brown says about Revolut ionary America, "pract ically everybody was int erest ed in t he prot ect ion
of propert y" because so many Americans owned propert y.

However, t his is misleading. True, t here were many propert y owners. But some people had much
more t han ot hers. A few people had great amount s of propert y; many people had small amount s;
ot hers had none. Jackson Main found t hat one-t hird of t he populat ion in t he Revolut ionary period
were small fanners, while only 3 percent of t he populat ion had t ruly large holdings and could he
considered wealt hy.

St ill, one-t hird was a considerable number of people who felt t hey had somet hing at st ake in t he
st abilit y of a new government . This was a larger base of support for government t han anywhere in
t he world at t he end of t he eight eent h cent ury. In addit ion, t he cit y mechanics had an import ant
int erest in a government which would prot ect t heir work from foreign compet it ion. As St aught on
Lynd put s it : "How is it t hat t he cit y workingmen all over America overwhelmingly and
ent husiast ically support ed t he Unit ed St at es Const it ut ion?"

This was especially t rue in New York. When t he nint h and t ent h st at es had rat ified t he
Const it ut ion, four t housand New York Cit y mechanics inarched wit h float s and banners t o
celebrat e. Bakers, blacksmit hs, brewers, ship joiners and shipwright s, coopers, cart men and t ailors,
all marched. What Lynd found was t hat t hese mechanics, while opposing elit e rule in t he colonies,
were nat ionalist . Mechanics comprised perhaps half t he New York populat ion. Some were wealt hy,
some were poor, but all were bet t er off t han t he ordinary laborer, t he apprent ice, t he journeyman,
and t heir prosperit y required a government t hat would prot ect t hem against t he Brit ish hat s and
shoes and ot her goods t hat were pouring int o t he colonies aft er t he Revolut ion. As a result , t he
mechanics oft en support ed wealt hy conservat ives at t he ballot box.

The Const it ut ion, t hen, illust rat es t he complexit y of t he American syst em: t hat it serves t he
int erest s of a wealt hy elit e, hut also does enough for small propert y owners, for middle-income
mechanics and farmers, t o build a broad base of support . The slight ly prosperous people who make
up t his base of support are buffers against t he blacks, t he Indians, t he very poor whit es. They
enable t he elit e t o keep cont rol wit h a minimum of coercion, a maximum of law-all made palat able
by t he fanfare of pat riot ism and unit y.

The Const it ut ion became even more accept able t o t he public at large aft er t he first Congress,
responding t o crit icism, passed a series of amendment s known as t he Bill of Right s. These
amendment s seemed t o make t he new government a guardian of people's libert ies: t o speak, t o
publish, t o worship, t o pet it ion, t o assemble, t o be t ried fairly, t o be secure at home against official
int rusion. It was, t herefore, perfect ly designed t o build popular backing for t he new government .
What was not made clear-it was a t ime when t he language of freedom was new and it s realit y
unt est ed-was t he shakiness of anyone's libert y when ent rust ed t o a government of t he rich and

Indeed, t he same problem exist ed for t he ot her provisions of t he Const it ut ion, like t he clause
forbidding st at es t o "impair t he obligat ion of cont ract ," or t hat giving Congress t he power t o t ax
t he people and t o appropriat e money. They all sound benign and neut ral unt il one asks: lax who,
for what ? Appropriat e what , for whom? To prot ect everyone's cont ract s seems like an act of
fairness, of equal t reat ment , unt il one considers t hat cont ract s made bet ween rich and poor,
bet ween employer and employee, landlord and t enant , credit or and debt or, generally favor t he more
powerful of t he t wo part ies. Thus, t o prot ect t hese cont ract s is t o put t he great power of t he
government , it s laws, court s, sheriffs, police, on t he side of t he privileged-and t o do it not , as in
premodern t imes, as an exercise of brut e force against t he weak but as a mat t er of law.

The First Amendment of t he Bill of Right s shows t hat qualit y of int erest hiding behind innocence.
Passed in 1791 by Congress, it provided t hat "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging t he freedom
of speech, or of t he press. . . ." Yet , seven years aft er t he First Amendment became part of t he
Const it ut ion, Congress passed a law very clearly abridging t he freedom of speech.

This was t he Sedit ion Act of 1798, passed under John Adams's administ rat ion, at a t ime when
Irishmen and Frenchmen in t he Unit ed St at es were looked on as dangerous revolut ionaries because
of t he recent French Revolut ion and t he Irish rebellions. The Sedit ion Act made it a crime t o say or
writ e anyt hing "false, scandalous and malicious" against t he government , Congress, or t he
President , wit h int ent t o defame t hem, bring t hem int o disreput e, or excit e popular hat reds against
t hem.

This act seemed t o direct ly violat e t he First Amendment . Yet , it was enforced. Ten Americans were
put in prison for ut t erances against t he government , and every member of t he Supreme Court in
1798-1800, sit t ing as an appellat e judge, held it const it ut ional.

There was a legal basis for t his, one known t o legal expert s, but not t o t he ordinary American, who
would read t he First Amendment and feel confident t hat he or she was prot ect ed in t he exercise of
free speech. That basis has been explained by hist orian Leonard Levy. Levy point s out t hat it was
generally underst ood (not in t he populat ion, but in higher circles) t hat , despit e t he First
Amendment , t he Brit ish common law of "sedit ious libel" st ill ruled in America. This meant t hat
while t he government could not exercise "prior rest raint "-t hat is, prevent an ut t erance or
publicat ion in advance-it could legally punish t he speaker or writ er aft erward. Thus, Congress has
a convenient legal basis for t he laws it has enact ed since t hat t ime, making cert ain kinds of speech a
crime. And, since punishment aft er t he fact is an excellent det errent t o t he exercise of free
expression, t he claim of "no prior rest raint " it self is dest royed. This leaves t he First Amendment
much less t han t he st one wall of prot ect ion it seems at first glance.

Are t he economic provisions in t he Const it ut ion enforced just as weakly? We have an inst ruct ive
example almost immediat ely in Washingt on's first administ rat ion, when Congress's power t o t ax
and appropriat e money was immediat ely put t o use by t he Secret ary of t he Treasury, Alexander
Hamilt on.

Hamilt on, believing t hat government must ally it self wit h t he richest element s of societ y t o make
it self st rong, proposed t o Congress a series of laws, which it enact ed, expressing t his philosophy. A
Bank of t he Unit ed St at es was set up as a part nership bet ween t he government and cert ain banking
int erest s. A t ariff was passed t o help t he manufact urers. It was agreed t o pay bondholders-most of
t he war bonds were now concent rat ed in a small group of wealt hy people-t he full value of t heir
bonds. Tax laws were passed t o raise money for t his bond redempt ion.

One of t hese t ax laws was t he Whiskey 'lax, which especially hurt small fanners who raised grain
t hat t hey convert ed int o whiskey and t hen sold. In 1794 t he fanners of west ern Pennsylvania t ook
up arms and rebelled against t he collect ion of t his t ax. Secret ary of t he Treasury Hamilt on led t he
t roops t o put t hem down. We see t hen, in t he first years of t he Const it ut ion, t hat some of it s
provisions-even t hose paraded most flamboyant ly (like t he First Amendment )-might be t reat ed
light ly. Ot hers (like t he power t o t ax) would be powerfully enforced.

St ill, t he myt hology around t he Founding Fat hers persist s. To say, as one hist orian (Bernard Bailyn)
has done recent ly, t hat "t he dest ruct ion of privilege and t he creat ion of a polit ical syst em t hat
demanded of it s leaders t he responsible and humane use of power were t heir highest aspirat ions" is
t o ignore what really happened in t he America of t hese Founding Fat hers.

Bailyn says:

Everyone knew t he basic prescript ion for a wise and just government . It was so t o balance t he
cont ending powers in societ y t hat no one power could overwhelm t he ot hers and, unchecked,
dest roy t he libert ies t hat belonged t o all. The problem was how t o arrange t he inst it ut ions of
government so t hat t his balance could be achieved.

Were t he Founding Fat hers wise and just men t rying t o achieve a good balance? In fact , t hey did
not want a balance, except one which kept t hings as t hey were, a balance among t he dominant
forces at t hat t ime. They cert ainly did not want an equal balance bet ween slaves and mast ers,
propert yless and propert y holders, Indians and whit e.

As many as half t he people were not even considered by t he Founding Fat hers as among Bailyn's
"cont ending powers" in societ y. They were not ment ioned in t he Declarat ion of Independence, t hey
were absent in t he Const it ut ion, t hey were invisible in t he new polit ical democracy. They were t he
women of early America.


It is possible, reading st andard hist ories, t o forget half t he populat ion of t he count ry. The explorers
were men, t he landholders and merchant s men, t he polit ical leaders men, t he milit ary figures men.
The very invisibilit y of women, t he overlooking of women, is a sign of t heir submerged st at us.

In t his invisibilit y t hey were somet hing like black slaves (and t hus slave women faced a double
oppression). The biological uniqueness of women, like skin color and facial charact erist ics for
Negroes, became a basis for t reat ing t hem as inferiors. True, wit h women, t here was somet hing
more pract ically import ant in t heir biology t han skin color-t heir posit ion as childbearers-but t his
was not enough t o account for t he general push backward for all of t hem in societ y, even t hose who
did not bear children, or t hose t oo young or t oo old for t hat . It seems t hat t heir physical
charact erist ics became a convenience for men, who could use, exploit , and cherish someone who
was at t he same t ime servant , sex mat e, companion, and bearer-t eacher-ward en of his children.

Societ ies based on privat e propert y and compet it ion, in which monogamous families became
pract ical unit s for work and socializat ion, found it especially useful t o est ablish t his special st at us
of women, somet hing akin t o a house slave in t he mat t er of int imacy and oppression, and yet
requiring, because of t hat int imacy, and long-t erm connect ion wit h children, a special
pat ronizat ion, which on occasion, especially in t he face of a show of st rengt h, could slip over int o
t reat ment as an equal. An oppression so privat e would t urn out hard t o uproot .

Earlier societ ies-in America and elsewhere-in which propert y was held in common and families
were ext ensive and complicat ed, wit h aunt s and uncles and grandmot hers and grandfat hers all
living t oget her, seemed t o t reat women more as equals t han did t he whit e societ ies t hat lat er
overran t hem, bringing "civilizat ion" and privat e propert y.

In t he Zuni t ribes of t he Sout hwest , for inst ance, ext ended families- large clans-were based on t he
woman, whose husband came t o live wit h her family. It was assumed t hat women owned t he
houses, and t he fields belonged t o t he clans, and t he women had equal right s t o what was
produced. A woman was more secure, because she was wit h her own family, and she could divorce
t he man when she want ed t o, keeping t heir propert y.

Women in t he Plains Indian t ribes of t he Midwest did not have farming dut ies hut had a very
import ant place in t he t ribe as healers, herbalist s, and somet imes holy people who gave advice.
When bands lost t heir male leaders, women would become chieft ains. Women learned t o shoot
small bows, and t hey carried knives, because among t he Sioux a woman was supposed t o be able t o
defend herself against at t ack.

The pubert y ceremony of t he Sioux was such as t o give pride t o a young Sioux maiden:

Walk t he good road, my daught er, and t he buffalo herds wide and dark as cloud shadows moving
over t he prairie will follow you... . Be dut iful, respect ful, gent le and modest , my daught er. And
proud walking. If t he pride and t he virt ue of t he women arc lost , t he spring will come but t he
buffalo t rails will t urn t o grass. Be st rong, wit h t he warm, st rong heart of t he eart h. No people goes
down unt il t heir women are weak and dishonored. . ..

It would be an exaggerat ion t o say t hat women were t reat ed equally wit h men; but t hey were
t reat ed wit h respect , and t he communal nat ure of t he societ y gave t hem a more import ant place.

The condit ions under which whit e set t lers came t o America creat ed various sit uat ions for women.
Where t he first set t lement s consist ed almost ent irely of men, women were import ed as sex slaves,
childbearers, companions. In 1619, t he year t hat t he first black slaves came t o Virginia, ninet y
women arrived at Jamest own on one ship: "Agreeable persons, young and incorrupt ... sold wit h
t heir own consent t o set t lers as wives, t he price t o be t he cost of t heir own t ransport at ion."

Many women came in t hose early years as indent ured servant s- oft en t eenaged girls-and lived lives
not much different from slaves, except t hat t he t erm of service had an end. They were t o be
obedient t o mast ers and mist resses. The aut hors of Americans Working Women (Baxandall,
Gordon, and Reverby) describe t he sit uat ion:

They were poorly paid and oft en t reat ed rudely and harshly, deprived of good food and privacy. Of
course t hese t errible condit ions provoked resist ance. Living in separat e families wit hout much
cont act wit h ot hers in t heir posit ion, indent ured servant s had one primary pat h of resist ance open
t o t hem: passive resist ance, t rying t o do as lit t le work as possible and t o creat e difficult ies for t heir
mast ers and mist resses. Of course t he mast ers and mist resses did not int erpret it t hat way, but saw
t he difficult behavior of t heir servant s as sullenness, laziness, malevolence and st upidit y.

For inst ance, t he General Court of Connect icut in 1645 ordered t hat a cert ain "Susan C., for her
rebellious carriage t oward her mist ress, t o be sent t o t he house of correct ion and be kept t o hard
labor and coarse diet , t o be brought fort h t he next lect ure day t o be publicly correct ed, and so t o be
correct ed weekly, unt il order be given t o t he cont rary."

Sexual abuse of mast ers against servant girls became commonplace. The court records of Virginia
and ot her colonies show mast ers brought int o court for t his, so we can assume t hat t hese were
especially flagrant cases; t here must have been many more inst ances never brought t o public light .

In 1756, Elizabet h Sprigs wrot e t o her fat her about her servit ude:

What we unfort unat e English People suffer here is beyond t he probabilit y of you in England t o
Conceive, let it suffice t hat I one of t he unhappy Number, am t oiling almost Day and Night , and
very oft en in t he Horses druggery, wit h only t his comfort t hat you Bit ch you do not halfe enough,
and t hen t ied up and whipp'd t o t hat Degree t hat you'd not serve an Animal, scarce any t hing but
Indian Corn and Salt t o eat and t hat even begrudged nay many Negroes are bet t er used, almost
naked no shoes nor st ockings t o wear ... what rest we can get is t o rap ourselves up in a Blanket and
ly upon t he Ground. ...

What ever horrors can be imagined in t he t ransport of black slaves t o America must be mult iplied
for black women, who were oft en one-t hird of t he cargo. Slave t raders report ed:

I saw pregnant women give birt h t o babies while chained t o corpses which our drunken overseers
had not removed... . packed spoon-fashion t hey oft en gave birt h t o children in t he scalding
perspirat ion from t he human cargo. ... On board t he ship was a young negro woman chained t o t he
deck, who had lost her senses soon aft er she was purchased and t aken on board. A woman named
Linda Brent who escaped from slavery t old of anot her burden:

But I now ent ered on my fift eent h year-a sad epoch in t he life of a slave girl. My mast er began t o
whisper foul words in my ear. Young as I was, I could not remain ignorant of t heir import . . .. My
mast er met me at every t urn, reminding me t hat I belonged t o him, and swearing by heaven and
eart h t hat he would compel me t o submit t o him. If I went out for a breat h of fresh air, aft er a day of
unwearied t oil, his foot st eps dogged me. If I knelt by my mot her's grave, his dark shadow fell on me
even t here. The light heart which nat ure had given me became heavy wit h sad forebodings. .. .

Even free whit e women, not brought as servant s or slaves but as wives of t he early set t lers, faced
special hardships. Eight een married women came over on t he Mayflower. Three were pregnant , and
one of t hem gave birt h t o a dead child before t hey landed. Childbirt h and sickness plagued t he
women; by t he spring, only four of t hose eight een women were st ill alive.

Those who lived, sharing t he work of building a life in t he wilderness wit h t heir men, were oft en
given a special respect because t hey were so badly needed. And when men died, women oft en t ook
t ip t he men's work as well. All t hrough t he first cent ury and more, women on t he American front ier
seemed close t o equalit y wit h t heir men.

But all women were burdened wit h ideas carried over from England wit h t he colonist s, influenced
by Christ ian t eachings. English law was summarized in a document of 1632 ent it led "The Lawes
Resolut ions of Womens Right s":

In t his consolidat ion which we call wedlock is a locking t oget her. It is t rue, t hat man and wife arc
one person, but underst and in what manner. When a small brooke or lit t le river incorporat et h wit h
Rhodanus, Humber, or t he Thames, t he poor rivulet looset h her name.... A woman as soon as she is
married is called covert ... t hat is, "veiled"; as it were, clouded and overshadowed; she hat h lost her
surname. I may more t ruly, farre away, say t o a married woman, Her new self is her superior; her
companion, her mast er. . ..

Julia Spruill describes t he woman's legal sit uat ion in t he colonial period: ''The husband's cont rol
over t he wife's person ext ended t o t he right of giving her chast isement . . .. But he was not ent it led
t o inflict permanent injury or deat h on his wife. . . ."

As for propert y: "Besides absolut e possession of his wife's personal propert y and a life est at e in her
lands, t he husband t ook any ot her income t hat might be hers. He collect ed wages earned by her
labor. . . . Nat urally it followed t hat t he proceeds of t he joint labor of husband and wife belonged t o
t he husband."

For a woman t o have a child out of wedlock was a crime, and colonial court records are full of"
cases of women being arraigned for "bast ardy"-t he fat her of t he child unt ouched by t he law and on
t he loose. A colonial periodical of 1747 reproduced a speech "of Miss Polly Baker before a Court of
Judicat ure, at Connect icut near Bost on in New England; where she was prosecut ed t he fift h t ime
for having a Bast ard Child." (The speech was Benjamin Franklin's ironic invent ion.) May it please
t he honourable bench t o indulge me in a few words: I am a poor, unhappy woman, who have no
money t o fee lawyers t o plead for me.. .. This is t he fift h t ime, gent lemen, t hat I have been dragg'd
before your court on t he same account ; t wice I have paid heavy fines, and t wice have been brought
t o publick punishment , for want of money t o pay t hose fines. This may have been agreeable t o t he
laws, and I don't disput e it ; but since laws arc somet imes unreasonable in t hemselves, and t herefore
repealed; and ot hers bear t oo hard on t he subject in part icular circumst ances ... I t ake t he libert y t o
say, t hat I t hink t his law, by which I am punished, bot h unreasonable in it self, and part icularly
severe wit h regard t o me... . Abst ract ed from t he law, I cannot conceive ... what t he nat ure of my
offense is. T have brought five fine children int o t he world, at t he risque of my life; I have
maint ained t hem well by my own indust ry, wit hout burdening t he t ownship, and would have done
it bet t er, if it had not been for t he heavy charges and fines I have paid.. . . nor has anyone t he least
cause of complaint against me, unless, perhaps, t he minist ers of just ice, because T have had
children wit hout being married, by which t hey missed a wedding fee. But can t his be a fault of
mine? .. .

What must poor young women do, whom cust oms and nat ure forbid t o solicit t he men, and who
cannot force t hemselves upon husbands, when t he laws t ake no care t o provide t hem any, and yet
severely punish t hem if t hey do t heir dut y wit hout t hem; t he dut y of t he first and great command of
nat ure and nat ure's Cod, increase and mult iply; a dut y from t he st eady performance of which
not hing has been able t o det er me, but for it s sake I have hazarded t he loss of t he publick est eem,
and have frequent ly endured pub-lick disgrace and punishment ; and t herefore ought , in my humble
opinion, inst ead of a whipping, t o have a st at ue erect ed t o my memory. The fat her's posit ion in t he
family was expressed in The Spect at or, an influent ial periodical in America and England: "Not hing
is more grat ifying t o t he mind of man t han power or dominion; and ... as I am t he fat her of a family
... I am perpet ually t aken up in giving out orders, in prescribing dut ies, in hearing part ies, in
administ ering just ice, and in dist ribut ing rewards and punishment s.... In short , sir, I look upon my
family as a pat riarchal sovereignt y in which I am myself bot h king and priest ."

No wonder t hat Purit an New England carried over t his subject ion of women. At a t rial of a woman
for daring t o complain about t he work a carpent er had done for her, one of t he powerful church
fat hers of Bost on, t he Reverend John Cot t on, said: ". . . t hat t he husband should obey his wife, and
not t he wife t he husband, t hat is a false principle. For God hat h put anot her law upon women:
wives, be subject t o your husbands in all t hings."

A best -selling "pocket book," published in London, was widely read in t he American colonies in t he
1700s. It was called Advice t o a Daught er:

You must first lay it down for a Foundat ion in general, That t here is Inequalit y in Sexes, and t hat
for t he bet t er Economy of t he World; t he Men, who were t o be t he Law-givers, had t he larger share
of Reason best ow'd upon t hem; by which means your Sex is t he bet t er prepar'd for t he Compliance
t hat is necessary for t he performance of t hose Dudes which seem'd t o be most properly assign'd t o
it .... Your Sex want et h our Reason for your Conduct , and our St rengt h for your Prot ect ion: Ours
want et h your Gendeness t o soft en, and t o ent ert ain us. ...

Against t his powerful educat ion, it is remarkable t hat women nevert heless rebelled. Women rebels
have always faced special disabilit ies: t hey live under t he daily eye of t heir mast er; and t hey are
isolat ed one from t he ot her in households, t hus missing t he daily camaraderie which has given
heart t o rebels of ot her oppressed groups.

Anne Hut chinson was a religious woman, mot her of t hirt een children, and knowledgeable about
healing wit h herbs. She defied t he church fat hers in t he early years of t he Massachuset t s Bay
Colony by insist ing t hat she, and ot her ordinary people, could int erpret t he Bible for t hemselves. A
good speaker, she held meet ings t o which more and more women came (and even a few men), and
soon groups of sixt y or more were gat hering at her home in Bost on t o list en t o her crit icisms of
local minist ers. John Wmt hrop, t he governor, described her as "a woman of a haught y and fierce
carriage, of a nimble wit and act ive spirit , and a very voluble t ongue, more bold t han a man, t hough
in underst anding and judgement , inferior t o many women."

Anne Hut chinson was put on t rial t wice: by t he church for heresy, and by t he government for
challenging t heir aut horit y. At her civil t rial she was pregnant and ill, but t hey did not allow her t o
sit down unt il she was close t o collapse. At her religious t rial she was int errogat ed for weeks, and
again she was sick, but challenged her quest ioners wit h expert knowledge of t he Bible and
remarkable eloquence. When finally she repent ed in writ ing, t hey were not sat isfied. They said:
"Her repent ance is not in her count enance."

She was banished from t he colony, and when she left for Rhode Island in 1638, t hirt y-five families
followed her. Then she went t o t he shores of Long Island, where Indians who had been defrauded
of t heir land t hought she was one of t heir enemies; t hey killed her and her family. Twent y years
lat er, t he one person back in Massachuset t s Bay who had spoken up for her during her t rial, Mary
Dyer, was hanged by t he government of t he colony, along wit h t wo ot her Quakers, for "rebellion,
sedit ion, and presumpt uous obt ruding t hemselves."

It remained rare for women t o part icipat e openly in public affairs, alt hough on t he sout hern and
west ern front iers condit ions made t his occasionally possible. Julia Spruill found in Georgia's early
records t he st ory of Mary Musgrove Mat hews, daught er of an Indian mot her and an English fat her,
who could speak t he Creek language and became an adviser on Indian affairs t o Governor James
Oglet horpe of Georgia. Spruill finds t hat as t he communit ies became more set t led, women were
t hrust back fart her from public life and seemed t o behave more t imorously t han before. One
pet it ion: "It is not t he province of our sex t o reason deeply upon t he policy of t he order."

During t he Revolut ion, however, Spruill report s, t he necessit ies of war brought women out int o
public affairs. Women formed pat riot ic groups, carried out ant i-Brit ish act ions, wrot e art icles for
independence. They were act ive in t he campaign against t he Brit ish t ea t ax, which made t ea prices
int olerably high. They organized Daught ers of Libert y groups, boycot t ing Brit ish goods, urging
women t o make t heir own clot hes and buy only American-made t hings. In 1777 t here was a
women's count erpart t o t he Bost on lea Part y-a "coffee part y," described by Abigail Adams in a let t er
t o her husband John:

One eminent , wealt hy, st ingy merchant (who is a bachelor) had a hogshead of coffee in his st ore,
which he refused t o sell t he commit t ee under six shillings per pound. A number of females, some
say a hundred, some say more, assembled wit h a cart and t runks, marched down t o t he warehouse,
and demanded t he keys, which he refused t o deliver. Upon which one of t hem seized him by his
neck and t ossed him int o t he cart . Upon his finding no quart er, he delivered t he keys when diey
t ipped up t he cart and discharged him; t hen opened t he warehouse, hoist ed out t he coffee
t hemselves, put it int o t he t runks and drove off. ... A large concourse of men st ood amazed, silent
spect at ors of t he whole t ransact ion.

It has been point ed out by women hist orians recent ly t hat t he cont ribut ions of working-class
women in t he American Revolut ion have been most ly ignored, unlike t he gent eel wives of t he
leaders (Dolly Madison, Mart ha Washingt on, Abigail Adams). Margaret Corbin, called "Dirt y
Kat e," Deborah Sampson Garnet , and "Molly Pit cher" were rough, lower-class women, pret t ified
int o ladies by hist orians. While poor women, in t he last years of t he fight ing, went t o army
encampment s, helped, and fought , t hey were represent ed lat er as prost it ut es, whereas Mart ha
Washingt on was given a special place in hist ory books for visit ing her husband at Valley Forge.

When feminist impulses are recorded, t hey are, almost always, t he writ ings of privileged women
who had some st at us from which t o speak freely, more opport unit y t o writ e and have t heir
writ ings recorded. Abigail Adams, even before t he Declarat ion of Independence, in March of 1776,
wrot e t o her husband:

... in t he new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you t o make, T desire you would
remember t he ladies, and be more generous t o t hem t han your ancest ors. Do not put such unlimit ed
power in t he hands of husbands. Remember, all men would be t yrant s if t hey could. If part icular
care and at t ent ion are not paid t o t he ladies, we are det ermined t o foment a rebellion, and will not
hold ourselves bound t o obey t he laws in which we have no voice of represent at ion.

Nevert heless, Jefferson underscored his phrase "all men are creat ed equal" by his st at ement t hat
American women would be "t oo wise t o wrinkle t heir foreheads wit h polit ics." And aft er t he
Revolut ion, none of t he new st at e const it ut ions grant ed women t he right t o vot e, except for New
Jersey, and t hat st at e rescinded t he right in 1807. New York's const it ut ion specifically disfranchised
women by using t he word "male."

While perhaps 90 percent of t he whit e male populat ion were lit erat e around 1750, only 40 percent
of t he women were. Working-class women had lit t le means of communicat ing, and no means of
recording what ever sent iment s of rebelliousness t hey may have felt at t heir subordinat ion. Not only
were t hey bearing children in great numbers, under great hardships, but t hey were working in t he
home. Around t he t ime of t he Declarat ion of Independence, four t housand women and children in
Philadelphia were spinning at home for local plant s under t he "put t ing out " syst em. Women also
were shopkeepers and innkeepers and engaged in many t rades. They were bakers, t inworkers,
brewers, t anners, ropemakers, lumberjacks, print ers, mort icians, woodworkers, st ay-makers, and

Ideas of female equalit y were in t he air during and aft er t he Revolut ion, Tom Paine spoke out for
t he equal right s of women. And t he pioneering book of Mary Wollst onecraft in England, A
Vindicat ion of t he Right s of Women, was reprint ed in t he Unit ed St at es short ly aft er t he
Revolut ionary War. Wollst onecraft was responding t o t he English conservat ive and opponent of
t he French Revolut ion, Edmund Burke, who had writ t en in his Reflect ions on t he Revolut ion in
France t hat "a woman is but an animal, and an animal not of t he highest order." She wrot e:

I wish t o persuade women t o endeavor t o acquire st rengt h, bot h of mind and body, and t o convince
t hem t hat soft phrases, suscept ibilit y of heart , delicacy of sent iment , and refinement of t ast e, are
almost synonymous wit h epit het s of weakness, and t hat t hose beings who arc only t he object s of
pit y and t hat kind of love . .. will soon become object s of cont empt .. . .

I wish t o show t hat t he first object of laudable ambit ion is t o obt ain a charact er as a human being,
regardless of t he dist inct ion of sex.

Bet ween t he American Revolut ion and t he Civil War, so many element s of American societ y were
changing-t he growt h of populat ion, t he movement west ward, t he development of t he fact ory
syst em, expansion of polit ical right s for whit e men, educat ional growt h t o mat ch t he new
economic needs-t hat changes were bound t o t ake place in t he sit uat ion of women. In preindnst rial
America, t he pract ical need for women in a front ier societ y had produced some measure of equalit y;
women worked at import ant jobs-publishing newspapers, managing t anneries, keeping t averns,
engaging in skilled work. In cert ain professions, like midwifery, t hey had a monopoly. Nancy CoIt
t ells of a grandmot her, Mart ha Moore Ballard, on a farm in Maine in 1795, who "baked and brewed,
pickled and preserved, spun and sewed, made soap and dipped candles" and who, in t went y-five
years as a midwife, delivered more t han a t housand babies. Since educat ion t ook place inside t he
family, women had a special role t here.

There was complex movement in different direct ions. Now, women were being pulled out of t he
house and int o indust rial life, while at t he same t ime t here was pressure for women t o st ay home
where t hey were more easily cont rolled. The out side world, breaking int o t he solid eubicle of t he
home, creat ed fears and t ensions in t he dominant male world, and brought fort h ideological
cont rols t o replace t he loosening family cont rols: t he idea of "t he woman's place," promulgat ed by
men, was accept ed by many women.

As t he economy developed, men dominat ed as mechanics and t radesmen, and aggressiveness
became more and more defined as a male t rait . Women, perhaps precisely because more of t hem
were moving int o t he dangerous world out side, were t old t o be passive. Clot hing st yles developed-
for t he rich and middle class of course, but , as always, t here was t he int imidat ion of st yle even for
t he poor-in which t he weight of women's clot hes, corset s and pet t icoat s, emphasized female
separat ion from t he world of act ivit y.

It became import ant t o develop a set of ideas, t aught in church, in school, and in t he family, t o keep
women in t heir place even as t hat place became more and more unset t led. Barbara Welt er (Dimit y
Convict ions) has shown how powerful was t he "cult of t rue womanhood" in t he years aft er 1820.
The woman was expect ed t o be pious. A man writ ing in The Ladies' Reposit ory: "Religion is
exact ly what a woman needs, for it gives her t hat dignit y t hat best s suit s her dependence." Mrs.
John Sandford, in her book Woman, in Her Social and Domest ic Charact er, said: "Religion is just
what woman needs. Wit hout it she is ever rest less or unhappy."

Sexual purit y was t o be t he special virt ue of a woman. It was assumed t hat men, as a mat t er of
biological nat ure, would sin, but woman must not surrender. As one male aut hor said: "If you do,
you will be left in silent sadness t o bewail your credulit y, imbecilit y, duplicit y, and premat ure
prost it ut ion." A woman wrot e t hat females would get int o t rouble if t hey were "high spirit ed not
prudent ."

The role began early, wit h adolescence. Obedience prepared t he girl for submission t o t he first
proper mat e. Barbara Welt er describes t his:

The assumpt ion is t wofold: t he American female was supposed t o be so infinit ely lovable and
provocat ive t hat a healt hy male could barely cont rol himself when in t he same room wit h her, and
t he same girl, as she "conies out " of t he cocoon of her family's prot ect iveness, is so palpit at ing wit h
undirect ed affect ion, so filled t o t he brim wit h t ender feelings, t hat she fixes her love on t he first
person she sees. She awakes from t he midsummer night 's dream of adolescence, and it is t he
responsibilit y of her family and societ y t o see t hat her eyes fall on a suit able mat ch and not some
clown wit h t he head of an ass. They do t heir part by such rest rict ive measures as segregat ed (by sex
and/or class) schools, dancing classes, t ravel, and ot her ext ernal cont rols. She is required t o exert
t he inner cont rol of obedience. The combinat ion forms a kind of societ al chast it y belt which is not
unlocked unt il t he marriage part ner has arrived, and adolescence is formally over.

When Amelia Bloomer in 1851 suggest ed in her feminist publicat ion t hat women wear a kind of
short skirt and pant s, t o free t hemselves from t he encumbrances of t radit ional dress, t his was
at t acked in t he popular women's lit erat ure. One st ory has a girl admiring t he "bloomer" cost ume,
but her professor admonishes her t hat t hey are "only one of t he many manifest at ions of t hat wild
spirit of socialism and agrarian radicalism which is at present so rife in our land."

In The Young Lady's Book of 1830: ",.. in what ever sit uat ion of life a woman is placed from her
cradle t o her grave, a spirit of obedience and submission, pliabilit y of t emper, and humilit y of mind,
are required from her." And one woman wrot e, in 1850, in t he book Green-wood Leaves: "True
feminine genius is ever t imid, doubt ful, and clingingly dependent ; a perpet ual childhood." Anot her
book, Recollect ions of a Sout hern Mat ron: "If any habit of his annoyed me, I spoke of it once or
t wice, calmly, t hen bore it quiet ly." Giving women "Rules for Conjugal and Domest ic Happiness,"
one book ended wit h: "Do not expect t oo much."

The woman's job was t o keep t he home cheerful, maint ain religion, he nurse, cook, cleaner,
seamst ress, flower arranger. A woman shouldn't read t oo much, and cert ain books should be
avoided. When Harriet Mart ineau, a reformer of t he 1830s, wrot e Societ y in America, one reviewer
suggest ed it he kept away from women: "Such reading will unset t le t hem for t heir t rue st at ion and
pursuit s, and t hey will t hrow t he world back again int o confusion."

A sermon preached in 1808 in New York:

How int erest ing and import ant are t he dut ies devolved on females as wives . .. t he counsellor and
friend of t he husband; who makes it her daily st udy t o light en his cares, t o soot he his sorrows, and
t o augment his joys; who, like a guardian angel, wat ches over his int erest s, warns him against
dangers, comfort s him under t rials; and by her pious, assiduous, and at t ract ive deport ment ,
const ant ly endeavors t o render him more virt uous, more useful, more honourable, and more happy.

Women were also urged, especially since t hey had t he job of educat ing children, t o he pat riot ic.
One women's magazine offered a prize t o t he woman who wrot e t he best essay on "I low May an
American Woman Best Show Her Pat riot ism."

It was in t he 1820s and 1830s, Nancy CoIt t ells us (The Bonds of Womanhood), t hat t here was an
out pouring of novels, poems, essays, sermons, and manuals on t he family, children, and women's
role. The world out side was becoming harder, more commercial, more demanding. In a sense, t he
home carried a longing for some Ut opian past , some refuge from immediacy.

Perhaps it made accept ance of t he new economy easier t o be able t o see it as only part of life, wit h
t he home a haven. In 1819, one pious wife wrot e: ". . . t he air of t he world is poisonous. You must
carry an ant idot e wit h you, or t he infect ion will prove fet al." All t his was not , as CoIt point s out , t o
challenge t he world of commerce, indust ry, compet it ion, capit alism, hut t o make it more palat able.

The cult of domest icit y for t he woman was a way of pacifying her wit h a doct rine of "separat e but
equal"-giving her work equally as import ant as t he man's, hut separat e and different . Inside t hat
"equalit y" t here was t he fact t hat t he woman did not choose her mat e, and once her marriage t ook
place, her life was det ermined. One girl wrot e in 1791: "The die is about t o be cast which will
probably det ermine t he fut ure happiness or misery of my life.... I have always ant icipat ed t he event
wit h a degree of solemnit y almost equal t o t hat which will t erminat e my present exist ence."

Marriage enchained, and children doubled t he chains. One woman, writ ing in 18)3: "The idea of
soon giving birt h t o my t hird child and t he consequent dut ies I shall he called t o discharge
dist resses me so I feel as if I should sink." This despondency was light ened by t he t hought t hat
somet hing import ant was given t he woman t o do: t o impart t o her children t he moral values of self-
rest raint and advancement t hrough individual excellence rat her t han common act ion.

The new ideology worked; it helped t o produce t he st abilit y needed by a growing economy. But it s
very exist ence showed t hat ot her current s were at work, not easily cont ained. And giving t he
woman her sphere creat ed t he possibilit y t hat she might use t hat space, t hat t ime, t o prepare for
anot her kind of life.

The "cult of t rue womanhood" could not complet ely erase what was visible as evidence of woman's
subordinat e st at us: she could not vot e, could not own propert y; when she did work, her wages
were one-fourt h t o one-half what men earned in t he same job. Women were excluded from t he
professions of law and medicine, from colleges, from t he minist ry.

Put t ing all women int o t he same cat egory-giving t hem all t he same domest ic sphere t o cult ivat e-
creat ed a classificat ion (by sex) which blurred t he lines of class, as Nancy CoIt point s out .
However, forces were at work t o keep raising t he issue of class. Samuel Slat er had int roduced
indust rial spinning machinery in New England in 1789, and now t here was a demand for young
girls-lit erally, "spinst ers"-t o work t he spinning machinery in fact ories. In 1814, t he power loom was
int roduced in Walt ham, Massachuset t s, and now all t he operat ions needed t o t urn cot t on fiber
int o clot h were under one roof. The new t ext ile fact ories swift ly mult iplied, wit h women 80 t o 90
percent of t heir operat ives-most of t hese women bet ween fift een and t hirt y.

Some of t he earliest indust rial st rikes t ook place in t hese t ext ile mills in t he 1830s. Eleanor Flexner
(A Cent ury of St ruggle) gives figures t hat suggest why: women's daily average earnings in 1836
were less t han 371/2 cent s, and t housands earned 25 cent s a day, working t welve t o sixt een hours a
day. In Pawt ucket , Rhode Island, in 1824, came t he first known st rike of women fact ory workers;
202 women joined men in prot est ing a wage cut and longer hours, but t hey met separat ely. Four
years lat er, women in Dover, New Hampshire, st ruck alone. And in Lowell, Massachuset t s, in 1834,
when a young woman was fired from her job, ot her girls left t heir looms, one of t hem t hen climbing
t he t own pump and making, according t o a newspaper report , "a flaming Mary Wollst onecraft
speech on t he right s of women and t he iniquit ies of t he 'moneyed arist ocracy' which produced a
powerful effect on her audit ors and t hey det ermined t o have t heir own way, if t hey died for it ."

A journal kept by an unsympat het ic resident of Chicopee, Massachuset t s, recorded an event of May
2, 1843:

Great t urnout among t he girls .. . aft er breakfast t his morning a procession preceded by a paint ed
window curt ain for a banner went round t he square, t he number sixt een. They soon came past
again .. . t hen numbered fort y-four. They marched around a while and t hen dispersed. Aft er dinner
t hey sallied fort h t o t he number of fort y-t wo and marched around t o Cabot . ... They marched
around t he st reet s doing t hemselves no credit . ...

There were st rikes in various cit ies in t he 1840s, more milit ant t han t hose early New England
"t urnout s," but most ly unsuccessful. A succession of st rikes in t he Allegheny mills near Pit t sburgh
demanded a short er workday. Several rimes in t hose st rikes, women armed wit h st icks and st ones
broke t hrough t he wooden gat es of a t ext ile mill and st opped t he looms.

Cat harine Beecher, a woman reformer of t he t ime, wrot e about t he fact ory syst em:

Let me now present t he fact s I learned by observat ion or inquiry on t he spot . I was t here in mid-
wint er, and every morning I was awakened at five, by t he bells calling t o labor. The t ime allowed
for dressing and breakfast was so short , as many t old t rie, t hat bot h were performed hurriedly, and
t hen t he work at t he mill was begun by lamplight , and prosecut ed wit hout remission t ill t welve,
arid chiefly in a st anding posit ion. Then half an hour only allowed for dinner, from which t he t ime
for going and ret urning was deduct ed. Then back t o t he mills, t o work t ill seven o'clock. ... it must
be remembered t hat all t he hours of labor are spent in rooms where oil lamps, t ogedier wit h from
40 t o 80 persons, are exhaust ing t he healt hful principle of t he air ... and where t he air is loaded wit h
part icles of cot t on t hrown from t housands of cards, spindles, and looms.

And t he life of upper-class women? Frances Trollope, an Englishwoman, in her book
Domest ic Manners of t he Americans, wrot e;

Let me be permit t ed t o describe t he day of a Philadelphia!! lady of t he first class... .

This lady shall be t he wife of a senat or and a lawyer in t he highest reput e and pract ice.. . . She rises,
and her first hour is spent in t he scrupulously nice arrangement of her dress; she descends t o her
parlor, neat , st iff, and silent ; her breakfast is brought in by her free black foot man; she eat s her fried
ham and her salt fish, and drinks her coffee in silence, while her husband reads one newspaper, and
put s anot her under his elbow; and t hen perhaps, she washes t he cups and saucers. Her carriage is
ordered at eleven; t ill t hat hour she is employed in t he past ry room, her snow-whit e apron
prot ect ing her mouse-colored silk. Twent y minut es before her carriage should appear, she ret ires t o
her chamber, as she calls it ; shakes and folds up her st ill snowwhit e apron, smoot hs her rich dress,
and . .. set s on her elegant bonnet .. . t hen walks downst airs, just at t he moment t hat her free black
coachman announces t o her free black foot man t hat t he carriage wait s. She st eps int o it , and gives
t he word: "Drive t o t he Dorcas Societ y."

At Lowell, a Female Labor Reform Associat ion put out a series of "Fact ory Tract s." The first was
ent it led "Fact ory Life as It Is By an Operat ive" and spoke of t he t ext ile mill women as "not hing more
nor less t han slaves in every sense of t he word! Slaves, t o a syst em of labor which requires t hem t o
t oil from five unt il seven o'clock, wit h one hour only t o at t end t o t he want s of nat ure-slaves t o t he
will and requirement s of t he 'powers t hat be.'..."

In 1845, t he New York Sim carried t his it em:

"Mass Meet ing of Young Women"-We are request ed t o call t he at t ent ion of t he young women of
t he cit y engaged in indust rious pursuit s t o t he call for a mass meet ing in t he Park t his aft ernoon at
4 o'clock.

We are also request ed t o appeal t o t he gallant ry of t he men of t his cit y . . . and respect fully ask
t hem not t o be present at t his meet ing as t hose for whose benefit it is called prefer t o deliberat e by
t hemselves.

Around t hat t ime, t he New York Herald carried a st ory about "700 females, generally of t he most
int erest ing st at e and appearance," meet ing "in t heir endeavor t o remedy t he wrongs and
oppressions under which t hey labor." The Herald edit orialized about such meet ings: ". .. we very
much doubt whet her it will t erminat e in much good t o female labor of any descript ion.... All
combinat ions end in not hing."

The t ide of Nancy CoIt 's book The Bonds of Womanhood reflect s her double view of what was
happening t o women in t he early ninet eent h cent ury. They were t rapped in t he bonds of t he new
ideology of "women's sphere" in t he home, and, when forced out t o work in fact ories, or even in
middle-class professions, found anot her kind of bondage. On t he ot her hand, t hese condit ions
creat ed a common consciousness of t heir sit uat ion and forged bonds of solidarit y among t hem.

Middle-class women, barred from higher educat ion, began t o monopolize t he profession of
primary-school t eaching. As t eachers, t hey read more, communicat ed more, and educat ion it self
became subversive of old ways of t hinking. They began t o writ e for magazines and newspapers, and
st art ed some ladies' publicat ions. Lit eracy among women doubled bet ween 1780 and 1840. Women
became healt h reformers. They formed movement s against double st andards in sexual behavior and
t he vict imizat ion of prost it ut es. They joined in religious organizat ions. Some of t he most powerful
of t hem joined t he ant islavery movement . So, by t he t ime a clear feminist movement emerged in t he
1840s, women had become pract iced organizers, agit at ors, speakers.

When Emma Willard addressed t he New York legislat ure in 1819 on t he subject of educat ion for
women, she was cont radict ing t he st at ement made just t he year before by Thomas Jefferson (in a
let t er) in which he suggest ed women should not read novels "as a mass of t rash" wit h few
except ions. "For a like reason, t oo, much poet ry should not be indulged." Female educat ion should
concent rat e, he said, on "ornament s t oo, and t he amusement s of life. . . . These, for a female, are
dancing, drawing, and music."

Emma Willard t old t he legislat ure t hat t he educat ion of women "has been t oo exclusively direct ed
t o fit t hem for displaying t o advant age t he charms of yout h and beaut y." The problem, she said, was
t hat "t he t ast e of men, what ever it might happen t o be, has been made int o a st andard for t he
format ion of t he female charact er." Reason and religion t each us, she said, t hat "we t oo are primary
exist ences ... not t he sat ellit es of men."

In 1821, Willard founded t he Troy Female Seminary, t he first recognized inst it ut ion for t he
educat ion of girls. She wrot e lat er of how she upset people by t eaching her st udent s about t he
human body:

Mot hers visit ing a class at t he Seminary in t he early t hirt ies were so shocked at t he sight of a pupil
drawing a heart , art eries and veins on a blackboard t o explain t he circulat ion of t he blood, t hat t hey
left t he room in shame and dismay. lb preserve t he modest y of t he girls, and spare t hem t oo
frequent agit at ion, heavy paper was past ed over t he pages in t heir t ext books which depict ed t he
human body.

Women st ruggled t o ent er t he all-male professional schools. Dr. Harriot Hunt , a woman physician
who began t o pract ice in 1835, was t wice refused admission t o Harvard Medical School. But she
carried on her pract ice, most ly among women and children. She believed st rongly in diet , exercise,
hygiene, and ment al healt h. She organized a Ladies Physiological Societ y in 1843 where she gave
mont hly t alks. She remained single, defying convent ion here t oo.

Elizabet h Blackwell got her medical degree in 1849, having overcome many rebuffs before being
admit t ed t o Geneva College. She t hen set up t he New York Dispensary for Poor Women and
Children "t o give t o poor women an opport unit y of consult ing physicians of t heir own sex." In her
first Annual Report , she wrot e:

My first medical consult at ion was a curious experience. In a severe case of pneumonia in an elderly
lady I called in consult at ion a kind-heart ed physician of high st anding. .. . This gent leman, aft er
seeing t he pat ient , went wit h me int o t he parlour. There he began t o walk about t he room in some
agit at ion, exclaiming, "A most ext raordinary case! Such a one never happened t o me before; I really
do not know what t o do!" I list ened in surprise and much perplexit y, as it was a clear case of
pneumonia and of no unusual degree of danger, unt il at last I discovered t hat his perplexit y relat ed
t o me, not t o t he pat ient , and t o t he propriet y of consult ing wit h a lady physician!

Oberlin College pioneered in t he admission of women. But t he first girl admit t ed t o t he t heology
school t here, Ant oinet t e Brown, who graduat ed in 1850, found t hat her name was left off t he class
list . Wit h Lucy St one, Oberlin found a formidable resist er. She was act ive in t he peace societ y and
in ant islavery work, t aught colored st udent s, and organized a debat ing club for girls. She was
chosen t o writ e t he commencement address, t hen was t old it would have t o be read by a man. She
refused t o writ e it .

Lucy St one began lect uring on women's right s in 1847 in a church in Gardner, Massachuset t s,
where her brot her was a minist er. She was t iny, weighed about 100 pounds, was a marvelous
speaker. As lect urer for t he American Ant i-Slavery Societ y, she was, at various t imes, deluged wit h
cold wat er, sent reeling by a t hrown book, at t acked by mobs.

When she married Henry Blackwell, t hey joined hands at t heir wedding and read a st at ement :

While we acknowledge our mut ual affect ion by publicly assuming t he relat ionship of husband and
wife ... we deem it a dut y t o declare t hat t his act on our part implies no sanct ion of, nor promise of
volunt ary obedience t o such of t he present laws of marriage as refuse t o recognize t he wife as an
independent , rat ional being, while t hey confer upon t he husband an injurious and unnat ural
superiorit y. . . .

She was one of t he first t o refuse t o give up her name aft er marriage. She was "Mrs. St one." When
she refused t o pay t axes because she was not represent ed in t he government , officials t ook all her
household goods in payment , even her baby's cradle.

Aft er Amelia Bloomer, a post mist ress in a small t own in New York St at e, developed t he bloomer,
women act ivist s adopt ed it in place of t he old whale-boned bodice, t he corset s and pet t icoat s.
Elizabet h Cady St ant on, who was one of t he leaders of t he feminist movement in t his period, t old
of how she first saw a cousin of hers wearing bloomers:

To see my cousin wit h a lamp in one hand and a baby in t he ot her, walk upst airs, wit h ease and
grace while, wit h flowing robes, I pulled myself up wit h difficult y, lamp and baby out of t he
quest ion, readily convinced me t hat t here was sore need of a reform in woman's dress and I
prompt ly donned a similar cost ume.

Women, aft er becoming involved in ot her movement s of reform- ant islavery, t emperance, dress
st yles, prison condit ions-t urned, emboldened and experienced, t o t heir own sit uat ion. Angelina
Grimke, a sout hern whit e woman who became a fierce speaker and organizer against slavery, saw
t hat movement leading furt her:

Let us all first wake up t he nat ion t o lift millions of slaves of bot h sexes from t he dust , and t urn
t hem int o men and t hen ... it will he an easy mat t er t o t ake millions of females from t heir knees and
set t hem on t heir feet , or in ot her words t ransform t hem from babies int o women.

Margaret Fuller was perhaps t he most formidable int ellect ual among t he feminist s. Her st art ing
point , in Woman in t he Ninet eent h Cent ury, was t he underst anding t hat "t here exist s in t he minds
of men a t one of feeling t oward woman as t oward slaves...." She cont inued: "We would have every
arbit rary harrier t hrown down. We would have every pat h open t o Woman as freely as t o Man."
And: "What woman needs is not as a woman t o act or rule, but as a nat ure t o grow, as an int ellect
t o discern, as a soul t o live freely and unimpeded. . . ."

There was much t o overcome. One of t he most popular writ ers of t he mid-ninet eent h cent ury, t he
Reverend John Todd (one of his many best -selling books gave advice t o young men on t he result s of
mast urbat ion-"t he mind is great ly det eriorat ed"), comment ed on t he new feminist mode of dress:

Some have t ried t o become semi-men by put t ing on t he Bloomer dress. Let me t ell you in a word
why it can never be done. It is t his: woman, robed and folded in her long dress, is beaut iful. She
walks gracefully. ... If she at t empt s t o run, t he charm is gone. . . . Take off t he robes, and put on
pant s, and show t he limbs, and grace and myst ery are all gone.

In t he 1830s, a past oral let t er from t he General Associat ion of Minist ers of Massachuset t s
commanded minist ers t o forbid women t o speak from pulpit s: ". .. when she assumes t he place and
t one of man ... we put ourselves in self-defense against her."

Sarah Grimke, Angelina's sist er, wrot e in response a series of art icles, "Let t ers on t he Condit ion of
Women and t he Equalit y of t he Sexes":

During t he early part of my life, my lot was cast among t he but t erflies of t he fashionable world; and
of t his class of women, I am const rained t o say, bot h from experience and observat ion, t hat t heir
educat ion is miserably deficient ; t hat t hey are t aught t o regard marriage as t he one t hing needful,
t he only avenue t o dist inct ion.. . .

She said: "T ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim t o equalit y. All I ask of our bret hren
is t hat t hey will t ake t heir feet from off our necks, and permit us t o st and upright on t he ground
which God has designed us t o occupy. ... To me it is perfect ly clear t hat what soever it is morally
right for a man t o do, it is morally right for a woman t o do."

Sarah could writ e wit h power; Angelina was t he firebrand speaker. Once she spoke six night s in a
row at t he Bost on Opera House. To t he argument of some well-meaning fellow abolit ionist s t hat
t hey should not advocat e sexual equalit y because it was so out rageous t o t he common mind t hat it
would hurt t he campaign for t he abolit ion of slavery, she responded:

We cannot push Abolit ionism forward wit h all our might unt il we t ake up t he st umbling block out
of t he road.. . . If we surrender t he right t o speak in public t his year, we must surrender t he right t o
pet it ion next year, and t he right t o writ e t he year aft er, and so on. What t hen can woman do for t he
slave, when she herself is under t he feet of man and shamed int o silence?

Angelina was t he first woman (in 1838) t o address a commit t ee of t he Massachuset t s st at e
legislat ure on ant islavery pet it ions. She lat er said: "I was so near faint ing under t he t remendous
pressure of feeling. . . ." Her t alk at t ract ed a huge crowd, and a represent at ive from Salem proposed
t hat "a Commit t ee be appoint ed t o examine t he foundat ions of t he St at e House of Massachuset t s t o
see whet her it will bear anot her lect ure from Miss Grimke!"

Speaking out on ot her issues prepared t he way for speaking on t he sit uat ion of women: Dorot hea
Dix, in 1843, addressed t he legislat ure of Massachuset t s on what she saw in t he prisons and
almshouses in t he Bost on area:

I t ell what I have seen, painful and shocking as t he det ails oft en are. ... I proceed, gendemen, briefly
t o call your at t ent ion t o t he present st at e of insane persons confined wit hin t his Commonwealt h in
cages, closet s, cellars, st alls, pens; chained, naked, beat en wit h rods, and lashed int o obcdi Frances
Wright was a writ er, founder of a Ut opian communit y, immigrant from Scot land in 1824, a fight er
for t he emancipat ion of slaves, for birt h cont rol and sexual freedom. She want ed free public
educat ion for all children over t wo years of age in st at e-support ed hoarding schools. She expressed
in America what t he Ut opian socialist Charles Fourier had said in France, t hat t he progress of
civilizat ion depended on t he progress of women. In her words:

I shall vent ure t he assert ion, t hat , unt il women assume t he place in societ y which good sense and
good feeling alike assign t o t hem, human improvement must advance but feebly.... Men will ever
rise or fall t o t he level of t he ot her sex. ... Let t hem not imagine t hat t hey know aught of t he delight s
which int ercourse wit h t he ot her sex can give, unt il t hey have felt t he sympat hy of mind wit h
mind, and heart wit h heart ; unt il t hey bring int o t hat int ercourse every affect ion, every t alent , every
confidence, every refinement , every respect . Unt il power is annihilat ed on one side, fear and
obedience on t he ot her, and bot h rest ored t o t heir birt hright -equalit y.

Women put in enormous work in ant islavery societ ies all over t he count ry, gat hering t housands of
pet it ions t o Congress. Eleanor Flexner writ es in A Cent ury of St ruggle:

Today, count less file boxes in t he Nat ional Archives in Washingt on bear wit ness t o t hat
anonymous and heart -breaking labor. The pet it ions arc yellowed and frail, glued t oget her, page on
page, covered wit h ink blot s, signed wit h scrat chy pens, wit h an occasional erasure by one who
fearfully t hought bet t er of so bold an act ... . They bear t he names of women's ant i-slavery societ ies
from New England t o Ohio.,. .

In t he course of t his work, event s were set in mot ion t hat carried t he movement of women for t heir
own equalit y racing alongside t he movement against slavery. In 1840, a World Ant i-Slavery Societ y
Convent ion met in London. Aft er a fierce argument , it was vot ed t o exclude women, but it was
agreed t hey could at t end meet ings in a curt ained enclosure. The women sat in silent prot est in t he
gallery, and William Lloyd Garrison, one abolit ionist who had fought for t he right s of women, sat
wit h t hem.

It was at t hat t ime t hat Elizabet h Cady St ant on met Lucret ia MoIt and ot hers, and began t o lay t he
plans t hat led t o t he first Women's Right s Convent ion in hist ory. It was held at Seneca Falls, New
York, where Elizabet h Cady St ant on lived as a mot her, a housewife, full of resent ment at her
condit ion, declaring: "A woman is a nobody. A wife is everyt hing." She wrot e lat er:

I now fully underst ood t he pract ical difficult ies most women had t o cont end wit h in t he isolat ed
household, and t he impossibilit y of woman's best development if, in cont act , t he chief part of her
life, wit h servant s and children, .. . The general discont ent I felt wit h woman's port ion as wife,
mot her, housekeeper, physician, and spirit ual guide, t he chaot ic condit ion int o which everyt hing
fell wit hout her const ant supervision, and t he wearied, anxious look of t he majorit y of women,
impressed me wit h t he st rong feeling t hat some act ive measures should he t aken t o remedy t he
wrongs of societ y in general and of women in part icular. My experiences at t he World Ant i-Slavery
Convent ion, all T had read of t he legal st at us of women, and t he oppression I saw everywhere,
t oget her swept across my soul.... I could not see what t o do or where t o begin-my only t hought was
a public meet ing for prot est and discussion.

An announcement was put in t he Seneca Count y Courier calling for a meet ing t o discuss t he "right s
of woman" t he 19t h and 20t h of July. Three hundred women and some men came. A Declarat ion of
Principles was signed at t he end of t he meet ing by sixt y-eight women and t hirt y-t wo men. It made
use of t he language and rhyt hm of t he Declarat ion of Independence:

When in t he course of human event s, it becomes necessary for one port ion of t he family of man t o
assume among t he people of t he eart h a posit ion different from t hat t hey have hit hert o occupied ...

We hold t hese t rut hs t o be self-evident : t hat all men and women are creat ed equal; t hat t hey are
endowed by t heir Creat or wit h cert ain inalienable right s; dial among t hese are life, libert y and t he
pursuit of happiness.. ..

The hist ory of mankind is a hist ory of repeat ed injuries and usurpat ions on t he part of man t oward
woman, having in direct object t he est ablishment of an absolut e t yranny over her. To prove t his, let
fact s be submit t ed t o a candid world.. . .

Then came t he list of grievances: no right t o vot e, no right t o her wages or t o propert y, no right s in
divorce cases, no equal opport unit y in employment , no ent rance t o colleges, ending wit h: "He had
endeavored, in every way t hat he could, t o dest roy her confidence in her own powers, t o lessen her
self-respect and t o make her willing t o lead a dependent and abject life...."

And t hen a series of resolut ions, including: "That all laws which prevent woman from occupying
such a st at ion in societ y as her conscience shall dict at e, or which place her in a posit ion inferior t o
t hat of man, are cont rary t o t he great precept of nat ure, and t herefore of no force or aut horit y."

A series of women's convent ions in various part s of t he count ry followed t he one at Seneca Falls. At
one of t hese, in 1851, an aged black woman, who had been born a slave in New York, t all, t hin,
wearing a gray dress and whit e t urban, list ened t o some male minist ers who had been dominat ing
t he discussion. This was Sojourner Trut h. She rose t o her feet and joined t he indignat ion of her race
t o t he indignat ion of her That man over t here says t hat woman needs t o be helped int o carriages
and lift ed over dit ches. .. . Nobody ever helps me int o carriages, or over mud-puddles or gives me
any best place. And a'nt I a woman?

Look at my arm! T have ploughed, and plant ed, and gat hered int o barns, and no man could head me!
And a'nt I a woman?

I would work as much and eat as much as a man, when T could get it , and bear t he lash as well.
And a'nt I a woman?

I have borne t hirt een children and seen em most all sold off t o slavery, and when I cried out wit h
my mot her's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a'nt I a woman?

Thus were women beginning t o resist , in t he 1830s and 1840s and 1850s, t he at t empt t o keep t hem
in t heir "woman's sphere." They were t aking part in all sort s of movement s, for prisoners, for t he
insane, for black slaves, and also for all women.

In t he midst of t hese movement s, t here exploded, wit h t he force of government and t he aut horit y of
money, a quest for more land, an urge for nat ional expansion.


If women, of all t he subordinat e groups in a societ y dominat ed by rich whit e males, were closest t o
home (indeed, in t he home), t he most int erior, t hen t he Indians were t he most foreign, t he most
ext erior. Women, because t hey were so near and so needed, were dealt wit h more by pat ronizat ion
t han by force. The Indian, not needed-indeed, an obst acle-could be dealt wit h by sheer force,
except t hat somet imes t he language of pat ernalism preceded t he burning of villages.

And so, Indian Removal, as it has been polit ely called, cleared t he land for whit e occupancy
bet ween t he Appalachians and t he Mississippi, cleared it for cot t on in t he Sout h and grain in t he
Nort h, for expansion, immigrat ion, canals, railroads, new cit ies, and t he building of a huge
cont inent al empire clear across t o t he Pacific Ocean. The cost in human life cannot be accurat ely
measured, in suffering not even roughly measured. Most of t he hist ory books given t o children pass
quickly over it .

St at ist ics t ell t he st ory. We find t hese in Michael Rogin's Fat hers and Children: In 1790, t here were
3,900,000 Americans, and most of t hem lived wit hin 50 miles of t he At lant ic Ocean. By 1830, t here
were 13 million Americans, and by 1840, 4,500,000 had crossed t he Appalachian Mount ains int o t he
Mississippi Valley-t hat huge expanse of land crisscrossed by rivers flowing int o t he Mississippi
from east and west . In 1820, 120,000 Indians lived east of t he Mississippi. By 1844, fewer t han
30,000 were left . Most of t hem had been forced t o migrat e west ward. But t he word "force" cannot
convey what happened.

In t he Revolut ionary War, almost every import ant Indian nat ion fought on t he side of t he Brit ish.
The Brit ish signed for peace and went home; t he Indians were already home, and so t hey cont inued
fight ing t he Americans on t he front ier, in a set of desperat e holding operat ions. Washingt on's war-
enfeebled milit ia could not drive t hem back. Aft er scout ing forces were demolished one aft er t he
ot her, he t ried t o follow a policy of conciliat ion. His Secret ary of War, Henry Knox, said: "The
Indians being t he prior occupant s, possess t he right of t he soil." His Secret ary of St at e, Thomas
Jefferson, said in 1791 t hat where Indians lived wit hin st at e boundaries t hey should not be
int erfered wit h, and t hat t he government should remove whit e set t lers who t ried t o encroach on
t hem.

But as whit es cont inued t o move west ward, t he pressure on t he nat ional government increased. By
t he t ime Jefferson became President , in 1800, t here were 700,000 whit e set t lers west of t he
mount ains. They moved int o Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, in t he Nort h; int o Alabama and Mississippi in
t he Sout h. These whit es out numbered t he Indians about eight t o one. Jefferson now commit t ed t he
federal government t o promot e fut ure removal of t he Creek and t he Cherokee from Georgia.
Aggressive act ivit y against t he Indians mount ed in t he Indiana t errit ory under Governor William
Henry Harrison.

When Jefferson doubled t he size of t he nat ion by purchasing t he Louisiana t errit ory from France in
1803-t hus ext ending t he west ern front ier from t he Appalachians across t he Mississippi t o t he
Rocky Mount ains-he t hought t he Indians could move t here. He proposed t o Congress t hat Indians
should be encouraged t o set t le down on smaller t ract s and do farming; also, t hey should be
encouraged t o t rade wit h whit es, t o incur debt s, and t hen t o pay off t hese debt s wit h t ract s of land.
".. . Two measures are deemed expedient . First t o encourage t hem t o abandon hunt ing... - Secondly,
To Mult iply t rading houses among t hem ... leading t hem t hus t o agricult ure, t o manufact ures, and
civilizat ion...."

Jefferson's t alk of "agricult ure . . . manufact ures . . . civilizat ion" is crucial. Indian removal was
necessary for t he opening of t he vast American lands t o agricult ure, t o commerce, t o market s, t o
money, t o t he development of t he modern capit alist economy. Land was indispensable for all t his,
and aft er t he Revolut ion, huge sect ions of land were bought up by rich speculat ors, including
George Washingt on and Pat rick Henry. In Nort h Carolina, rich t ract s of land belonging t o t he
Chickasaw Indians were put on sale, alt hough t he Chickasaws were among t he few Indian t ribes
fight ing on t he side of t he Revolut ion, and a t reat y had been signed wit h t hem guarant eeing t heir
land. John Donelson, a st at e surveyor, ended up wit h 20,000 acres of land near what is now
Chat t anooga. His son-in-law made t went y-t wo t rips out of Nashville in 1795 for land deals. This
was Andrew Jackson.

Jackson was a land speculat or, merchant , slave t rader, and t he most aggressive enemy of t he
Indians in early American hist ory. He became a hero of t he War of 1812, which was not (as usually
depict ed in American t ext books) just a war against England for survival, but a war for t he
expansion of t he new nat ion, int o Florida, int o Canada, int o Indian t errit ory.

Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief and not ed orat or, t ried t o unit e t he Indians against t he whit e invasion:

The way, and t he only way, t o check and t o st op t his evil, is for all t he Redmen t o unit e in claiming
a common and equal right in t he land, as it . was at first and should be yet ; for it was never divided,
but belongs t o all for t he use of each. That no part has a right t o sell, even t o each ot her, much less
t o st rangers-t hose who want all and will not do wit h less.

Angered when fellow Indians were induced t o cede a great t ract of land t o t he Unit ed St at es
government , Tecumseh organized in 1811 an Indian gat hering of five t housand, on t he bank of t he
Tallapoosa River in Alabama, and t old t hem: "Let t he whit e race perish. They seize your land; t hey
corrupt your women, t hey t rample on t he ashes of your dead! Back whence t hey came, upon a t rail
of blood, t hey must be driven."

The Creeks, who occupied most of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, were divided among
t hemselves. Some were willing t o adopt t he civilizat ion of t he whit e man in order t o live in peace.
Ot hers, insist ing on t heir land and t heir cult ure, were called "Red St icks." The Red St icks in 1813
massacred 250 people at P'ort Mims, whereupon Jackson's t roops burned down a Creek village,
killing men, women, children. Jackson est ablished t he t act ic of promising rewards in land and
plunder: ". .. if eit her part y, cherokees, friendly creeks, or whit es, t akes propert y of t he Red St icks,
t he properly belongs t o t hose who t ake it ."

Not all his enlist ed men were ent husiast ic for t he right ing. There were mut inies; t he men were
hungry, t heir enlist ment t erms were up, t hey were t ired of light ing and want ed t o go home. Jackson
wrot e t o his wife about "t he once brave and pat riot ic volunt eers .. . sunk ... t o mere whining,
complaining, sedit ioners and mut ineers.. .." When a sevent een-year-old soldier who had refused t o
clean up his food, and t hreat ened his officer wit h a gun, was sent enced t o deat h by a court -mart ial,
Jackson t urned down a plea for commut at ion of sent ence and ordered t he execut ion t o proceed. He
t hen walked out of earshot of t he firing squad.

Jackson became a nat ional hero when in 1814 he fought t he Bat t le of Horseshoe Bend against a
t housand Creeks and killed eight hundred of t hem, wit h few casualt ies on his side. His whit e
t roops had failed in a front al at t ack on t he Creeks, but t he Cherokees wit h him, promised
government al friendship if t hey joined t he war, swam t he river, came up behind t he Creeks, and
won t he bat t le for Jackson.

When t he war ended, Jackson and friends of his began buying up t he seized Creek lands. He got
himself appoint ed t reat y commissioner and dict at ed a t reat y which t ook away half t he land of t he
Creek nat ion. Rogin says it was "t he largest single Indian cession of sout hern American land." It
t ook land from Creeks who had fought wit h Jackson as well as t hose who had fought against him,
and when Big Warrior, a chief of t he friendly Creeks, prot est ed, Jackson said:

List en.. . . The Unit ed St at es would have been just ified by t he Great Spirit , had t hey t aken all t he
land of t he nat ion.. .. List en-t he t rut h is, t he great body of t he Creek chiefs and warriors did not
respect t he power of t he Unit ed St at es-They t hought we were an insignificant nat ion-t hat we
would be overpowered by t he Brit ish... . They were fat wit h eat ing beef- t hey want ed flogging. .. .
We bleed our enemies in such eases t o give t hem t heir senses.

As Rogin put s it : "Jackson had conquered 't he cream of t he Creek count ry,' and it would guarant ee
sout hwest ern prosperit y. He had supplied t he expanding cot t on kingdom wit h a vast and valuable

Jackson's 1S14 t reat y wit h t he Creeks st art ed somet hing new and import ant . It grant ed Indians
individual ownership of land, t hus split t ing Indian from Indian, breaking up communal
landholding, bribing some wit h land, leaving ot hers out -int roducing t he compet it ion and conniving
t hat marked t he spirit of West ern capit alism. It fit t ed well t he old Jeffersonian idea of how t o
handle t he Indians, by bringing t hem int o "civilizat ion."

From 1814 t o 1824, in a series of t reat ies wit h t he sout hern Indians, whit es t ook over t hree-fourt hs
of Alabama and Florida, one-t hird of Tennessee, one-fift h of Georgia and Mississippi, and part s of
Kent ucky and Nort h Carolina. Jackson played a key role in t hose t reat ies, and, according t o Rogin,
"His friends and relat ives received many of t he pat ronage appoint ment s-as Indian agent s, t raders,
t reat y commissioners, surveyors and land agent s...."

Jackson himself described how t he t reat ies were obt ained: "... we addressed ourselves feelingly t o
t he predominant and governing passion of all Indian t ribes, i.e., t heir avarice or fear." He
encouraged whit e squat t ers t o move int o Indian lands, t hen t old t he Indians t he government could
not remove t he whit es and so t hey had bet t er cede t he lands or be wiped out . He also, Rogin says,
"pract iced ext ensive bribery."

These t reat ies, t hese land grabs, laid t he basis for t he cot t on kingdom, t he slave plant at ions. Every
t ime a t reat y was signed, pushing t he Creeks from one area t o t he next , promising t hem securit y
t here, whit es would move int o t he new area and t he Creeks would feel compelled t o sign anot her
t reat y, giving up more land in ret urn for securit y elsewhere.

Jackson's work had brought t he whit e set t lement s t o t he border of Florida, owned by Spain. Here
were t he villages of t he Seminole Indians, joined by some Red St ick refugees, and encouraged by
Brit ish agent s in t heir resist ance t o t he Americans. Set t lers moved int o Indian lands. Indians
at t acked. At rocit ies t ook place on bot h sides. When cert ain villages refused t o surrender people
accused of murdering whit es, Jackson ordered t he villages dest royed.

Anot her Seminole provocat ion: escaped black slaves t ook refuge in Seminole villages. Some
Seminoles bought or capt ured black slaves, but t heir form of slavery was more like African slavery
t han cot t on plant at ion slavery. The slaves oft en lived in t heir own villages, t heir children oft en
became free, t here was much int ermarriage bet ween Indians and blacks, and soon t here were
mixed Indian-black villages-all of which aroused sout hern slaveowners who saw t his as a lure t o
t heir own slaves seeking freedom.

Jackson began raids int o Florida, arguing it was a sanct uary for escaped slaves and for marauding
Indians. Florida, he said, was essent ial t o t he defense of t he Unit ed St at es. It was t hat classic
modern preface t o a war of conquest . Thus began t he Seminole War of 1818, leading t o t he
American acquisit ion of Florida. It appears on classroom maps polit ely as "Florida Purchase, 1819"-
but it came from Andrew Jackson's milit ary campaign across t he Florida border, burning Seminole
villages, seizing Spanish fort s, unt il Spain was "persuaded" t o sell. He act ed, he said, by t he
"immut able laws of self-defense."

Jackson t hen became governor of t he Florida Territ ory. He was able now t o give good business
advice t o friends and relat ives. 'lb a nephew, he suggest ed holding on t o propert y in Pensacola. To a
friend, a surgeon-general in t he army, he suggest ed buying as many slaves as possible, because t he
price would soon rise.

Leaving his milit ary post , he also gave advice t o officers on how t o deal wit h t he high rat e of
desert ion. (Poor whit es-even if willing t o give t heir lives at first -may have discovered t he rewards
of bat t le going t o t he rich.) Jackson suggest ed whipping for t he first t wo at t empt s, and t he t hird
t ime, execut ion.

The leading books on t he Jacksonian period, writ t en by respect ed hist orians (The Age of Jackson
by Art hur Sdilesinger; The Jacksonian Persuasion by Marvin Meyers), do not ment ion Jackson's
Indian policy, but t here is much t alk in t hem of t ariffs, banking, polit ical part ies, polit ical rhet oric.
If you look t hrough high school t ext books and element ary school t ext books in American hist ory
you will find Jackson t he front iersman, soldier, democrat , man of t he people-not Jackson t he
slaveholder, land speculat or, execut ioner of dissident soldiers, ext erminat or of Indians, This is not
simply hindsight (t he word used for t hinking back different ly on t he past ). Aft er Jackson was
elect ed President in 1828 (following John Quincy Adams, who had followed Monroe, who had
followed Madison, who had followed Jefferson), t he Indian Removal bill came before Congress and
was called, at t he t ime, "t he leading measure" of t he Jackson administ rat ion and "t he great est
quest ion t hat ever came before Congress" except for mat t ers of peace and war. By t his t ime t he t wo
polit ical part ies were t he Democrat s and Whigs, who disagreed on banks and t ariffs, but not on
issues crucial for t he whit e poor, t he blacks, t he Indians-alt hough some whit e working people saw
Jackson as t heir hero, because he opposed t he rich man's Bank.

Under Jackson, and t he man he chose t o succeed him, Mart in Van Buren, sevent y t housand Indians
east of t he Mississippi were forced west ward. In t he Nort h, t here weren't t hat many, and t he
Iroquois Confederat ion in New York st ayed. But t he Sac and Fox Indians of Illinois were removed,
aft er t he Black Hawk War (in which Abraham Lincoln was an officer, alt hough he was not in
combat ). When Chief Black Hawk was defeat ed and capt ured in 1832, he made a surrender speech:

I fought hard. But your guns were well aimed. The bullet s flew like birds in t he air, and whizzed by
our cars like t he wind t hrough t he t rees in t he wint er. My warriors fell around me.. . . The sun rose
dim on us in t he morning, and at night it sunk in a dark cloud, and looked like a ball of fire. That
was t he last sun t hat shone on Black Hawk. ... He is now a prisoner t o t he whit e men.. .. He has
done not hing for which an Indian ought t o be ashamed. He has fought for his count rymen, t he
squaws and papooses, against whit e men, who came year aft er year, t o cheat t hem and t ake away
t heir lands. You know t he cause of our making war. It is known t o all whit e men. They ought t o be
ashamed of it . Indians are not deceit ful. The whit e men speak bad of t he Indian and look at him
spit efully. But t he Indian does not t ell lies. Indians do not st eal.

An Indian who is as bad as t he whit e men could not live in our nat ion; he would be put t o deat h,
and eat en up by t he wolves. The whit e men are bad schoolmast ers; t hey carry false books, and deal
in false act ions; t hey smile in t he face of t he poor Indian t o cheat him; t hey shake t hem by t he hand
t o gain t heir confidence, t o make t hem drunk, t o deceive t hem, and ruin our wives. We t old t hem t o
leave us alone, and keep away from us; t hey followed on, and beset our pat hs, and t hey coiled
t hemselves among us, like t he snake. They poisoned us by t heir t ouch. We were not safe. We lived
in danger. We were becoming like t hem, hypocrit es and liars, adult erous lazy drones, all t alkers
and no workers. .. .

The whit e men do not scalp t he head; but t hey do worse-t hey poison t he heart .. . . Farewell, my
nat ion! . .. Farewell t o Black Hawk.

Black Hawk's bit t erness may have come in part from t he way he was capt ured. Wit hout enough
support t o hold out against t he whit e t roops, wit h his men st arving, hunt ed, pursued across t he
Mississippi, Black Hawk raised t he whit e flag. The American commander lat er explained: "As we
neared t hem t hey raised a whit e flag and endeavored t o decoy us, but we were a lit t le t oo old for
t hem." The soldiers fired, killing women and children as well as warriors. Black Hawk fled; he was
pursued and capt ured by Sioux in t he hire of t he army. A government agent t old t he Sac and Fox
Indians: "Our Great Fat her .. . will forbear no longer. He has t ried t o reclaim t hem, and t hey grow
worse. He is resolved t o sweep t hem from t he face of t he eart h. ... If t hey cannot be made good t hey
must be killed."

The removal of t he Indians was explained by Lewis Cass-Secret ary of War, governor of t he
Michigan t errit ory, minist er t o France, president ial candidat e:

A principle of progressive improvement seems almost inherent in human nat ure. . .. We are all
st riving in t he career of life t o acquire riches of honor, or power, or some ot her object , whose
possession is t o realize t he day dreams of our imaginat ions; and t he aggregat e of t hese effort s
const it ut es t he advance of societ y. But t here is lit t le of t his in t he const it ut ion of our savages.

Cass-pompous, pret ent ious, honored (Harvard gave him an honorary doct or of laws degree in 1836,
at t he height of Indian removal)- claimed t o be an expert on t he Indians. But he demonst rat ed again
and again, in Richard Drinnon's words (Violence in t he American Experience: Winning t he West ),
a "quit e marvelous ignorance of Indian life." As governor of t he Michigan Territ ory, Cass t ook
millions of acres from t he Indians by t reat y: "We must frequent ly promot e t heir int erest against
t heir inclinat ion."

His art icle in t he Nort h American Review in 1830 made t he case for Indian Removal. We must not
regret , he said, "t he progress of civilizat ion and improvement , t he t riumph of indust ry and art , by
which t hese regions have been reclaimed, and over which freedom, religion, and science are
ext ending t heir sway." He wished t hat all t his could have been done wit h "a smaller sacrifice; t hat
t he aboriginal populat ion had accommodat ed t hemselves t o t he inevit able change of t heir
condit ion... . But such a wish is vain. A barbarous people, depending for subsist ence upon t he
scant y and precarious supplies furnished by t he chase, cannot live in cont act wit h a civilized
communit y."

Drinnon comment s on t his (writ ing in 1969): "Here were all t he necessary grounds for burning
villages and uproot ing nat ives, Cherokee and Seminole, and lat er Cheyenne, Philippine, and
Viet namese," If t he Indians would only move t o new lands across t he Mississippi, Cass promised in
1825 at a t reat y council wit h Shawnees and Cherokees, "The Unit ed St at es will never ask for your
land t here. This I promise you in t he name of your great fat her, t he President . That count ry he
assigns t o his red people, t o be held by t hem and t heir children's children forever."

The edit or of t he Nort h American Review, for whom Cass wrot e t his art icle, t old him t hat his
project "only defers t he fat e of t he Indians. In half a cent ury t heir condit ion beyond t he Mississippi
will be just what it is now on t his side. Their ext inct ion is inevit able." As Drinnon not es, Cass did
not disput e t his, yet published his art icle as it was.

Everyt hing in t he Indian herit age spoke out against leaving t heir land. A council of Creeks, offered
money for t heir land, said: "We would not receive money for land in which our fat hers and friends
are buried." An old Choct aw chief said, responding, years before, t o President Monroe's t alk of
removal: "I am sorry I cannot comply wit h t he request of my fat her. . . . We wish t o remain here,
where we have grown up as t he herbs of t he woods; and do not wish t o be t ransplant ed int o
anot her soil." A Seminole chief had said t o John Quincy Adams: "Here our navel st rings were first
cut and t he blood from t hem sunk int o t he eart h, and made t he count ry dear t o us."

Not all t he Indians responded t o t he whit e officials' common designat ion of t hem as "children" and
t he President as "fat her." It was report ed t hat when Tecumseh met wit h William Henry Harrison,
Indian fight er and fut ure President , t he int erpret er said: "Your fat her request s you t o t ake a chair."
Tecumseh replied: "My fat her! The sun is my fat her, and t he eart h is my mot her; I will repose upon
her bosom."

As soon as Jackson was elect ed President , Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi began t o pass laws t o
ext end t he st at es' rule over t he Indians in t heir t errit ory. These laws did away wit h t he t ribe as a
legal unit , out lawed t ribal meet ings, t ook away t he chiefs' powers, made t he Indians subject t o
milit ia dut y and st at e t axes, but denied t hem t he right t o vot e, t o bring suit s, or t o t est ify in court .
Indian t errit ory was divided up, t o be dist ribut ed by st at e lot t ery. Whit es were encouraged t o
set t le on Indian land.

However, federal t reat ies and federal laws gave Congress, not t he st at es, aut horit y over t he t ribes.
The Indian Trade and Int ercourse Act , passed by Congress in 1802, said t here could be no land
cessions except by t reat y wit h a t ribe, and said federal law would operat e in Indian t errit ory.
Jackson ignored t his, and support ed st at e act ion.

It was a neat illust rat ion of t he uses of t he federal syst em: depending on t he sit uat ion, blame could
be put on t he st at es, or on somet hing even more elusive, t he myst erious Law before which all men,
sympat het ic as t hey were t o t he Indian, must bow. As Secret ary of War John Eat on explained t o
t he Creeks of Alabama (Alabama it self was an Indian name, meaning "Here we may rest "): "It is not
your Great Fat her who does t his; but t he laws of t he Count ry, which he and every one of his people
is bound t o regard."

The proper t act ic had now been found. The Indians would not be "forced" t o go West . But if t hey
chose t o st ay t hey would have t o abide by st at e laws, which dest royed t heir t ribal and personal
right s and made t hem subject t o endless harassment and invasion by whit e set t lers covet ing t heir
land. If t hey left , however, t he federal government would give t hem financial support and promise
t hem lands beyond t he Mississippi. Jackson's inst ruct ions t o an army major sent t o t alk t o t he
Choct aws and Cherokees put it t his way:

Say t o my reel Choct aw children, and my Chickasaw children t o list en-my whit e children of
Mississippi have ext ended t heir law over t heir count ry. .. . Where t hey now are, say t o t hem, t heir
fat her cannot prevent t hem from being subject t o t he laws of t he st at e of Mississippi. . .. The
general government will be obliged t o sust ain t he St at es in t he exercise of t heir right . Say t o t he
chiefs and warriors t hat I am t heir friend, t hat I wish t o act as t heir friend but t hey must , by
removing from t he limit s of t he St at es of Mississippi and Alabama and by being set t led on t he lands
I offer t hem, put it in my power t o be such-There, beyond t he limit s of any St at e, in possession of
land of t heir own, which t hey shall possess as long as Grass grows or wat er runs. I am and will
prot ect t hem and be t heir friend and lat her.

That phrase "as long as Grass grows or wat er runs" was t o be recalled wit h bit t erness by
generat ions of Indians. (An Indian GI, vet eran of Viet nam, t est ifying publicly in 1970 not only about
t he horror of t he war but about his own malt reat ment as an Indian, repeat ed t hat phrase and began
t o weep.) As Jackson t ook office in 1829, gold was discovered in Cherokee t errit ory in Georgia.
Thousands of whit es invaded, dest royed Indian propert y, st aked out claims. Jackson ordered
federal t roops t o remove t hem, but also ordered Indians as well as whit es t o st op mining. Then he
removed t he t roops, t he whit es ret urned, and Jackson said he could not int erfere wit h Georgia's
aut horit y.

The whit e invaders seized land and st ock, forced Indians t o sign leases, heat up Indians who
prot est ed, sold alcohol t o weaken resist ance, killed frame which Indians needed for food. But t o put
all t he blame on whit e mobs, Rogin says, would be t o ignore "t he essent ial roles played by plant er
int erest s and government policy decisions." Food short ages, whiskey, and milit ary at t acks began a
process of t ribal disint egrat ion. Violence by Indians upon ot her Indians increased.

Treat ies made under pressure and by decept ion broke up Creek, Choct aw, and Chickasaw t ribal
lands int o individual holdings, making each person a prey t o cont ract ors, speculat ors, and
polit icians. The Chickasaws sold t heir land individually at good prices and went west wit hout
much suffering. The Creeks and Choct aws remained on t heir individual plot s, but great numbers of
t hem were defrauded by land companies. According t o one Georgia bank president , a st ockholder
in a land company, "St ealing is t he order of t he day."

Indians complained t o Washingt on, and Lewis Cass replied:

Our cit izens were disposed t o buy and t he Indians t o sell. . .. The subsequent disposit ion which
shall he made of t hese payment s seems t o be ut t erly beyond t he reach of t he Government .. . . The
improvident habit s of t he Indian cannot be cont rolled by regulat ions.... If t hey wast e it , as wast e it
t hey t oo oft en will, it is deeply t o be regret t ed yet st ill it is only exercising a right conferred upon
t hem by t he t reat y.

The Creeks, defrauded of t heir land, short of money and food, refused t o go West . St arving Creeks
began raiding whit e farms, while Georgia milit ia and set t lers at t acked Indian set t lement s. Thus
began t he Second Creek War. One Alabama newspaper sympat het ic t o t he Indians wrot e: "The war
wit h t he Creeks is all humbug. It is a base and diabolical scheme, devised by int erest ed men, t o
keep an ignorant race of people from maint aining t heir just right s, and t o deprive t hem of t he small
remaining pit t ance placed under t heir cont rol."

A Creek man more t han a hundred years old, named Speckled Snake, react ed t o Andrew Jackson's
policy of removal:

Brot hers! I have list ened t o many t alks from our great whit e fat her. When he first came over t he
wide wat ers, he was but a lit t le man ... very lit t le. His legs were cramped by sit t ing long in his big
boat , and he begged for a lit t le land t o light his fire on. ... But when t he whit e man had warmed
himself before t he Indians' fire and filled himself wit h t heir hominy, he became very large. Wit h a
st ep he best rode t he mount ains, and his feet covered t he plains and t he valleys. His hand grasped
t he east ern and t he west ern sea, and his head rest ed on t he moon. Then he became our Great
Fat her. He loved his red children, and he said, "Get a lit t le furt her, lest I t read on t hee."

Brot hers! I have list ened t o a great many t alks from our great fat her. But t hey always began and
ended in t his-"Get a lit de furt her; you are t oo Dale Van Every, in his book The Disinherit ed, sums
up what removal meant t o t he Indian:

In t he long record of man's inhumanit y exile has wrung moans of anguish from many different
peoples. Upon no people could it ever have fallen wit h a more shat t ering impact t han upon t he
east ern Indians. The Indian was peculiarly suscept ible t o every sensory at t ribut e of every nat ural
feat ure of his surroundings. He lived in t he open. He knew every marsh, glade, hill t op, rock, spring,
creek, as only t he hunt er can know t hem. He had never fully grasped t he principle est ablishing
privat e ownership of land as any more rat ional t han privat e ownership of air but he loved t he land
wit h a deeper emot ion t han could any propriet or. He felt himself as much a part of it as t he rocks
and t rees, t he animals and birds. His homeland was holy ground, sanct ified for him as t he rest ing
place of t he bones of his ancest ors and t he nat ural shrine of his religion. He conceived it s wat erfalls
and ridges, it s clouds and mist s, it s glens and meadows, t o be inhabit ed by t he myriad of spirit s
wit h whom he held daily communion. It was from t his rain-washed land of forest s, st reams and
lakes, t o which he was held by t he t radit ions of his forebears and his own spirit ual aspirat ions, t hat
he was t o be driven t o t he arid, t reeless plains of t he far west , a desolat e region t hen universally
known as t he Great American Desert .

According t o Van Every, just before Jackson became President , in t he 1820s, aft er t he t umult of t he
War of 1812 and t he Creek War, t he sout hern Indians and t he whit es had set t led down, oft en very
close t o one anot her, and were living in peace in a nat ural environment which seemed t o have
enough for all of t hem. They began t o see common problems. Friendships developed. Whit e men
were allowed t o visit t he Indian communit ies and Indians oft en were guest s in whit e homes.
Front ier figures like Davy Crocket t and Sam Houst on came out of t his set t ing, and bot h-unlike
Jackson-became lifelong friends of t he Indian.

The forces t hat led t o removal did not come, Van Every insist s, from t he poor whit e front iersmen
who were neighbors of t he Indians. They came from indust rializat ion and commerce, t he growt h of
populat ions, of railroads and cit ies, t he rise in value of land, and t he greed of businessmen. "Part y
managers and land speculat ors manipulat ed t he growing excit ement . . . . Press and pulpit whipped
up t he frenzy." Out of t hat frenzy t he Indians were t o end up dead or exiled, t he land speculat ors
richer, t he polit icians more powerful. As for t he poor whit e front iersman, he played t he part of a
pawn, pushed int o t he first violent encount ers, but soon dispensable.

There had been t hree volunt ary Cherokee migrat ions west ward, int o t he beaut iful wooded count ry
of Arkansas, but t here t he Indians found t hemselves almost immediat ely surrounded and
penet rat ed by whit e set t lers, hunt ers, t rappers. These West Cherokees now had t o move fart her
west , t his t ime t o arid land, land t oo barren for whit e set t lers. The federal government , signing a
t reat y wit h t hem in 1828, announced t he new t errit ory as "a permanent home ... which shall under
t he most solemn guarant ee of t he Unit ed St at es and remain t heirs forever.. . ." It was st ill anot her
lie, and t he plight of t he west ern Cherokees became known t o t he t hree-fourt hs of t he Cherokees
who were st ill in t he East , being pressured by t he whit e man t o move on.

Wit h 17,000 Cherokees surrounded by 900,000 whit es in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, t he
Cherokees decided t hat survival required adapt at ion t o t he whit e man's world. They became
fanners, blacksmit hs, carpent ers, masons, owners of propert y. A census of 1826 showed 22,000
cat t le, 7,600 horses, 46,000 swine, 726 looms, 2,488 spinning wheels, 172 wagons, 2,943 plows, 10
saw mills, 31 grist mills, 62 blacksmit h shops, 8 cot t on machines, 18 schools.

The Cherokees' language-heavily poet ic, met aphorical, beaut ifully expressive, supplement ed by
dance, drama, and rit ual-had always been a language of voice and gest ure. Now t heir chief,
Sequoyah, invent ed a writ t en language, which t housands learned. The Cherokees' newly
est ablished Legislat ive Council vot ed money for a print ing press, which on February 21, 1828, began
publishing a newspaper, t he Cherokee Phoenix, print ed in bot h English and Seqnoyah's Cherokee.

Before t his, t he Cherokees had, like Indian t ribes in general, done wit hout formal government . As
Van Every put s it :

The foundat ion principle of Indian government had always been t he reject ion of government . The
freedom of t he individual was regarded by pract ically all Indians nort h of Mexico as a canon
infinit ely more precious t han t he individual's dut y t o his communit y or nat ion. This anarchist ic
alt it ude ruled all behavior, beginning wit h t he smallest social unit , t he family. The Indian parent
was const it ut ionally reluct ant t o discipline his children.' Their every exhibit ion of self-will was
accept ed as a favorable indicat ion of t he development of mat uring charact er.. . , There was an
occasional assembling of a council, wit h a very loose and changing membership, whose decisions
were not enforced except by t he influence of public opinion. A Moravian minist er who lived among
t hem described Indian societ y:

Thus has been maint ained for ages, wit hout convulsions and wit hout civil discords, t his t radit ional
government , of which t he world, perhaps, does not offer anot her example; a government in which
diere are no posit ive laws, but only long est ablished habit s and cust oms, no code of jurisprudence,
but t he experience of former t imes, no magist rat es, but advisers, t o whom t he people nevert heless,
pay a willing and implicit obedience, in which age confers rank, wisdom gives power, and moral
goodness secures t it le t o universal respect .

Now, surrounded by whit e societ y, all t his began t o change. The Cherokees even st art ed t o emulat e
t he slave societ y around t hem: t hey owned more t han a t housand slaves. They were beginning; t o
resemble t hat civilizat ion t he whit e men spoke about , making what Van Every calls "a st upendous
effort " t o win t he good will of Americans. They even welcomed missionaries and Christ ianit y. None
of t his made t hem more desirable t han t he land t hey lived on.

Jackson's 1829 message t o Congress made his posit ion clear: "I informed t he Indians inhabit ing
part s of Georgia and Alabama t hat t heir at t empt t o est ablish an independent government would
not be count enanced by t he Execut ive of t he Unit ed St at es, and advised t hem t o emigrat e beyond
t he Mississippi or submit t o t he laws of t hose St at es.1' Congress moved quickly t o pass a removal

There were defenders of t he Indians. Perhaps t he most eloquent was Senat or Theodore
Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, who t old t he Senat e, debat ing removal:

We have crowded t he t ribes upon a few miserable acres on our sout hern front ier; it is all t hat is left
t o t hem of t heir once boundless forest ; and st ill, like t he horse-leech, our insat iat ed cupidit y cries,
give! give! ... Sir ... Do t he obligat ions of just ice change wit h t he color of t he skin?

The Nort h was in general against t he removal bill. The Sout h was for it . It passed t he House 102 t o
97. It passed t he Senat e narrowly. It did not ment ion force, but provided for helping t he Indians t o
move. What it implied was t hat if t hey did not , t hey were wit hout prot ect ion, wit hout funds, and
at t he mercy of t he st at es.

Now t he pressures began on t he t ribes, one by one. The Choct aws did not want t o leave, but fift y of
t heir delegat es were offered secret bribes of money and land, and t he Treat y of Dancing Rabbit
Creek was signed: Choct aw land east of t he Mississippi was ceded t o t he Unit ed St at es in ret urn
for financial help in leaving, compensat ion for propert y left behind, food for t he first year in t heir
new homes, and a guarant ee t hey would never again be required t o move. For t went y t housand
Choct aws in Mississippi, t hough most of t hem hat ed t he t reat y, t he pressure now became
irresist ible. Whit es, including liquor dealers and swindlers, came swarming ont o t heir lands. The
st at e passed a law making it a crime for Choct aws t o t ry t o persuade one anot her on t he mat t er of

In lat e 1831, t hirt een t housand Choct aws began t he long journey west t o a land and climat e t ot ally
different from what t hey knew. "Marshaled by guards, hust led by agent s, harried by cont ract ors,
t hey were being herded on t he way t o an unknown and unwelcome dest inat ion like a flock of sick
sheep." They went on ox wagons, on horses, on foot , t hen t o be ferried across t he Mississippi River.
The army was supposed t o organize t heir t rek, hut it t urned over it s job t o privat e cont ract ors who
charged t he government as much as possible, gave t he Indians as lit t le as possible. Everyt hing was
disorganized. Food disappeared. Hunger came. Van Every again:

The long somber columns of groaning ox wagons, driven herds and st raggling crowds on foot
inched on west ward t hrough swamps and forest s, across rivers and over hills, in t heir crawling
st ruggle from t he lush lowlands of t he Gulf t o t he arid plains of t he west . In a kind of deat h spasm
one of t he last vest iges of t he original Indian world was being dismembered and it s collapsing
remnant s jammed bodily int o an alien new world.

The first wint er migrat ion was one of t he coldest on record, and people began t o t he of pneumonia.
In t he summer, a major cholera epidemic hit Mississippi, and Choct aws died by t he hundreds. The
seven t housand Choct aws left behind now refused t o go, choosing subjugat ion over deat h. Many of
t heir descendant s st ill live in Mississippi.

As for t he Cherokees, t hey faced a set of laws passed by Georgia: t heir lands were t aken, t heir
government abolished, all meet ings prohibit ed. Cherokees advising ot hers not t o migrat e were t o
be imprisoned. Cherokees could not t est ify in court against any whit e. Cherokees could not dig for
t he gold recent ly discovered on t heir land. A delegat ion of t hem, prot est ing t o t he federal
government , received t his reply from Jackson's new Secret ary of War, Eat on: "If you will go t o t he
set t ing sun t here you will be happy; t here you can remain in peace and quiet ness; so long as t he
wat ers run and t he oaks grow t hat count ry shall be guarant eed t o you and no whit e man shall be
permit t ed t o set t le near you."

The Cherokee nat ion addressed a memorial t o t he nat ion, a public plea for just ice. They reviewed
t heir hist ory:

Aft er t he peace of 1783, t he Cherokees were an independent people, absolut ely so, as much as any
people on eart h. They had been allies t o Great Brit ain. . . . The Unit ed St at es never subjugat ed t he
Cherokees; on t he cont rary, our fat hers remained in possession of t heir count ry and wit h arms in
t heir hands. ... In 1791, t he t reat y of Holst on was made.... The Cherokees acknowledged t hemselves
t o be under t he prot ect ion of t he Unit ed St at es, and of no ot her sovereign.... A cession of land was
also made t o t he Unit ed St at es. On t he ot her hand, t he Unit ed St at es ... st ipulat ed t hat whit e men
should not hunt on t hese lands, not even ent er t he count ry, wit hout , a passport ; and gave a solemn
guarant ee of all Cherokee lands not ceded. . ..

They discussed removal:

We are aware t hat some persons suppose it will be for our advant age t o remove beyond t he
Mississippi. We t hink ot herwise. Our people universally t hink ot herwise. . .. We wish t o remain on
t he land of our fat hers. We have a perfect and original right t o remain wit hout int errupt ion or
molest at ion. The t reat ies wit h us, and laws of t he Unit ed St at es made in pursuance of t reat ies,
guarant ee our residence and our privileges, and secure us against int ruders- Our only request is,
t hat diese t reat ies may he fulfilled, and t hese laws execut ed.. . .

Now t hey went beyond hist ory, beyond law:

We ent reat t hose t o whom t he foregoing paragraphs arc addressed, t o remember t he great law of
love. "Do t o ot hers as ye would t hat ot hers should do t o you." .. . We pray t hem t o remember t hat ,
for t he sake of principle, t heir forefat hers were compelled t o leave, t herefore driven from t he old
world, and t hat t he winds of persecut ion waft ed t hem over t he great wat ers and landed t hem on
t he shores of t he new world, when t he Indian was t he sole lord and propriet or of t hese ext ensive
domains-Let t hem remember in what way t hey were received by t he savage of America, when
power was in his hand, and his ferocit y could not be rest rained by any human arm. We urge t hem
t o hear in mind, t hat t hose who would not ask of t hem a cup of cold wat er, and a spot of eart h ... are
t he descendant s of t hese, whose origin, as inhabit ant s of Nort h America, hist ory and t radit ion are
alike insufficient t o reveal. Let t hem bring t o remembrance all t hese fact s, and t hey cannot , and we
are sure, t hey will not fail t o remember, and sympat hize wit h us in diese our t rials and sufferings.

Jackson's response t o t his, in his second Annual Message t o Congress 111 December 1830, was t o
point t o t he fact t hat t he Choct aws and Chickasaws had already agreed t o removal, and t hat "a
speedy removal" of t he rest would offer many advant ages t o everyone. For whit es it "will place a
dense and civilized populat ion in large t ract s of count ry now occupied by a few savage hunt ers."
For Indians, it will "perhaps cause t hem, gradually, under t he prot ect ion of t he Government and
t hrough t he influence of good counsels, t o cast off t heir savage habit s and become an int erest ing,
civilized, and Christ ian communit y."

He reit erat ed a familiar t heme. "Toward t he aborigines of t he count ry no one can indulge a more
friendly feeling t han myself. . . ." However: "The waves of populat ion and civilizat ion are rolling t o
t he west ward, and we now propose t o acquire t he count ries occupied by t he red men of t he Sout h
and West by a fair exchange. . .."

Georgia passed a law making it a crime for a whit e person t o st ay in Indian t errit ory wit hout t aking
an oat h t o t he st at e of Georgia. When t he whit e missionaries in t he Cherokee t errit ory declared
t heir sympat hies openly for t he Cherokees t o st ay, Georgia milit ia ent ered t he t errit ory in t he
spring of 1831 and arrest ed t hree of t he missionaries, including Samuel Worcest er. They were
released when t hey claimed prot ect ion as federal employees (Worcest er was a federal post mast er).
Immediat ely t he Jackson administ rat ion t ook away Worcest er's job, and t he milit ia moved in again
t hat summer, arrest ing t en missionaries as well as t he whit e print er of t he Cherokee Phoenix. They
were beat en, chained, and forced t o march 35 miles a day t o t he count y jail. A jury t ried t hem, found
t hem guilt y. Nine were released when t hey agreed t o swear allegiance t o Georgia's laws, but
Samuel Worcest er and Elizur But ler, who refused t o grant legit imacy t o t he laws repressing t he
Cherokees, were sent enced t o four years at hard labor.

This was appealed t o t he Supreme Court , and in Worcest er v. Georgia, John Marshall, for t he
majorit y, declared t hat t he Georgia law on which Worcest er was jailed violat ed t he t reat y wit h t he
Cherokees, which by t he Const it ut ion was binding on t he st at es. He ordered Worcest er freed.
Georgia ignored him, and President Jackson refused t o enforce t he court order.

Georgia now put Cherokee land on sale and moved milit ia in t o crush any sign of Cherokee
resist ance. The Cherokees followed a policy of nonviolence, t hough t heir propert y was being t aken,
t heir homes were being burned, t heir schools were closed, t heir women mist reat ed, and liquor was
being sold in t heir churches t o render t hem even more helpless.

The same year Jackson was declaring st at es' right s for Georgia on t he Cherokee quest ion in 1832, he
was at t acking Sout h Carolina's right t o nullify a federal t ariff. His easy reelect ion in 1832 (687,000
t o 530,000 for his opponent Henry Clay) suggest ed t hat his ant i-Indian policies were in keeping
wit h popular sent iment , at least among t hose whit e males who could vot e (perhaps 2 million of t he
t ot al populat ion of 13 million). Jackson now moved t o speed up Indian removal. Most of t he
Choct aws and some of t he Cherokees were gone, but t here were st ill 22,000 Creeks in Alabama,
18,000 Cherokees in Georgia, and 5,000 Seminoles in Florida.

The Creeks had been fight ing for t heir land ever since t he years of Columbus, against Spaniards,
English, French, and Americans. But by 1832 t hey had been reduced t o a small area in Alabama,
while t he populat ion of Alabama, growing fast , was now over 300,000. On t he basis of ext ravagant
promises from t he federal government , Creek delegat es in Washingt on signed t he Treat y of
Washingt on, agreeing t o removal beyond t he Mississippi. They gave up 5 million acres, wit h t he
provision t hat 2 million of t hese would go t o individual Creeks, who could eit her sell or remain in
Alabama wit h federal prot ect ion. Van Every writ es of t his t reat y:

The int erminable hist ory of diplomat ic relat ions bet ween Indians and whit e men had before 1832
recorded no single inst ance of a t reat y which had not been present ly broken by t he whit e part ies t o
it ... however solemnly embellished wit h such t erms as "permanent ," "forever," "for all t ime," "so long
as t he sun shall rise." . .. But no agreement bet ween whit e men and Indians had ever been so soon
abrogat ed as t he 1832 Treat y of Washingt on. Wit hin days t he promises made in it on behalf of t he
Unit ed St at es had been broken.

A whit e invasion of Creek lands began-loot ers, land seekers, defrauders, whiskey sellers, t hugs-
driving t housands of Creeks from t heir homes int o t he swamps and forest s. The federal government
did not hing. Inst ead it negot iat ed a new t reat y providing for prompt emigrat ion west , managed by
t he Creeks t hemselves, financed by t he nat ional government . An army colonel, dubious t hat t his
would work, wrot e:

They fear st arvat ion on t he rout e; and can it be ot herwise, when many of t hem are nearly st arving
now, wit hout t he embarrassment of a long journey on t heir hands.... You cannot have an idea of t he
det eriorat ion which diese Indians have undergone during t he last t wo or t hree years, from a general
st at e of comparat ive plent y t o t hat of unqualified wret chedness and want . The free egress int o t he
nat ion by t he whit es; encroachment s upon t heir lands, even upon t heir cult ivat ed fields; abuses of
t heir person; host s of t raders, who, like locust s, have devoured t heir subst ance and inundat ed t heir
homes wit h whiskey, have dest royed what lit t le disposit ion t o cult ivat ion t he Indians may once
have had.. .. They are brow beat , and cowed, and imposed upon, and depressed wit h t he feeling t hat
t hey have no adequat e prot ect ion in t he Unit ed St at es, and no capacit y of self-prot ect ion in
t hemselves.

Nort hern polit ical sympat hizers wit h t he Indian seemed t o be fading away, preoccupied wit h ot her
issues. Daniel Webst er was making a rousing speech in t he Senat e for t he "aut horit y of law ... t he
power of t he general government ," but he was not referring t o Alabama, Georgia, and t he Indians-
he was t alking about Sout h Carolina's nullificat ion of t he t ariff.

Despit e t he hardships, t he Creeks refused t o budge, but by 1836, bot h st at e and federal officials
decided t hey must go. Using as a pret ext some at t acks by desperat e Creeks on whit e set t lers, it was
declared t hat t he Creek nat ion, by making "war," had forfeit ed it s t reat y right s.

The army would now force it t o migrat e west . Fewer t han a hundred Creeks had been involved in
t he "war,'1 but a t housand had fled int o t he woods, afraid of whit e reprisals. An army of eleven
t housand was sent aft er t hem. The Creeks did not resist , no shot s were fired, t hey surrendered.
Those Creeks presumed by t he army t o be rebels or sympat hizers were assembled, t he men
manacled and chained t oget her t o inarch west ward under milit ary guard, t heir women and
children t railing aft er t hem. Creek communit ies were invaded by milit ary det achment s, t he
inhabit ant s driven t o assembly point s and marched west ward in bat ches of t wo or t hree t housand.
No t alk of compensat ing t hem for land or propert y left behind.

Privat e cont ract s were made for t he march, t he same kind t hat had failed for t he Choct aws. Again,
delays and lack of food, shelt er, clot hing, blanket s, medical at t ent ion. Again, old, rot t ing
st eamboat s and ferries, crowded beyond capacit y, t aking t hem across t he Mississippi. "By
midwint er t he int erminable, st umbling procession of more t han 15,000 Creeks st ret ched from
border t o border across Arkansas." St arvat ion and sickness began t o cause large numbers of deat hs.
"The passage of t he exiles could be dist inguished from afar by t he howling of t railing wolf packs
and t he circling flocks of buzzards," Van Every writ es.

Eight hundred Creek men had volunt eered t o help t he Unit ed St at es army fight t he Seminoles in
Florida in ret urn for a promise t hat t heir families could remain in Alabama, prot ect ed by t he federal
government unt il t he men ret urned. The promise was not kept . The Creek families were at t acked
by land-hungry whit e marauders-robbed, driven from t heir homes, women raped. Then t he army,
claiming it was for t heir safet y, removed t hem from Creek count ry t o a concent rat ion camp on
Mobile Bay. Hundreds died t here from lack of food and from sickness.

When t he warriors ret urned from t he Seminole War, t hey and t heir families were hust led west .
Moving t hrough New Orleans, t hey encount ered a yellow fever plague. They crossed t he
Mississippi-611 Indians crowded ont o t he aged st eamer Monmout h. It went down in t he
Mississippi River and 311 people died, four of t hem t he children of t he Indian commander of t he
Creek volunt eers in Florida. A New Orleans newspaper wrot e:

The fearful responsibilit y for t his vast sacrifice of human life rest s on t he cont ract ors .. . The
avaricious disposit ion t o increase t he profit s on t he speculat ion first induced t he chart ering of
rot t en, old, and unseawort hy boat s, because t hey were of a class t o be procured cheaply; and t hen
t o make t hose increased profit s st ill larger, t he Indians were packed upon t hose crazy vessels in
such crowds t hat not t he slight est regard seems t o have been paid t o t heir safet y, comfort , or even

The Choct aws and Chickasaws had quickly agreed t o migrat e. The Creeks were st ubborn and had
t o be forced. The Cherokees were pract icing a nonviolent resist ance. One t ribe-t he Seminoles-
decided t o fight .

Wit h Florida now belonging t o t he Unit ed St at es, Seminole t errit ory was open t o American land-
grabbers. They moved down int o nort h Florida from St . August ine t o Pensacola, and down t he
fert ile coast al st rip. In 1823, t he Treat y of Camp Moult rie was signed by a few Seminoles who got
large personal landholdings in nort h Florida and agreed t hat all t he Seminoles would leave
nort hern Florida and every coast al area and move int o t he int erior. This meant wit hdrawing int o
t he swamps of cent ral Florida, where t hey could not grow food, where even wild game could not

The pressure t o move west , out of Florida, mount ed, and in 1834 Seminole leaders were assembled
and t he U.S. Indian agent t old t hem t hey must move west . Here were some of t he replies of t he
Seminoles at t hat meet ing:

We were all made by t he same Great Fat her, and are all alike His Children. We all came from t he
same Mot her, and were suckled at t he same breast . Therefore, we are brot hers, and as brot hers,
should t reat t oget her in an amicable way.

Your t alk is a good one, but my people cannot say t hey will go. We are not willing t o do so. If t heir
t ongues say yes, t heir heart s cry no, and call t hem liars.

If suddenly we t ear our heart s from t he homes around which t hey are t wined, our heart -st rings will

The Indian agent managed t o get fift een chiefs and subchiefs t o sign a removal t reat y, t he U.S.
Senat e prompt ly rat ified it , and t he War Depart ment began making preparat ions for t he migrat ion.
Violence bet ween whit es and Seminoles now erupt ed.

A young Seminole chief, Osceola, who had been imprisoned and chained by t he Indian agent
Thompson, and whose wife had been delivered int o slavery, became a leader of t he growing
resist ance. When Thompson ordered t he Seminoles, in December 1835, t o assemble for t he journey,
no one came. Inst ead, t he Seminoles began a series of guerrilla at t acks on whit e coast al set t lement s,
all along t he Florida perimet er, st riking in surprise and in succession from t he int erior. They
murdered whit e families, capt ured slaves, dest royed propert y. Osceola himself, in a light ning
st roke, shot down Thompson and an army lieut enant .

That same day, December 28, 1835, a column of 110 soldiers was at t acked by Seminoles, and all but
t hree soldiers were killed. One of t he survivors lat er t old t he st ory:

It was 8 o'clock. Suddenly I heard a rifle shot .. . followed by a musket shot .... I had not t ime t o
t hink of t he meaning of diese shot s, before a volley, as if from a t housand rifles, was poured in upon
us from t he front , and all along our left flank.... I could only see t heir heads and arms, peering out
from t he long grass, far and near, and from behind t he pine t rees.. . .

It was t he classic Indian t act ic against a foe wit h superior firearms. General George Washingt on
had once given part ing advice t o one of his officers: "General St . Clair, in t hree words, beware of
surprise... . again and again, General, beware of surprise."

Congress now appropriat ed money for a war against t he Seminoles. In t he Senat e, Henry Clay of
Kent ucky opposed t he war; he was an enemy of Jackson, a crit ic of Indian removal. But his Whig
colleague Daniel Webst er displayed t hat unit y across part y lines which became st andard in
American wars:

The view t aken by t he gent leman from Kent ucky was undoubt edly t he t rue one. But t he war rages,
t he enemy is in force, and t he account s of t heir ravages are disast rous. The execut ive government
has asked for t he means of suppressing diese host ilit ies, and it was ent irely proper t hat t he bill
should pass.

General Winfield Scot t t ook charge, hut his columns of t roops, marching impressively int o
Seminole t errit ory, found no one. They became t ired of t he mud, t he swamps, t he heat , t he sickness,
t he hunger-t he classic fat igue of a civilized army fight ing people on t heir own land. No one want ed
t o face Seminoles in t he Florida swamps. In 1836, 103 commissioned officers resigned from t he
regular army, leaving only fort y-six. In t he spring of 1837, Major General Jesup moved int o t he war
wit h an army of t en t housand, but t he Seminoles just faded int o t he swamps, coming out from t ime
t o t ime t o st rike at isolat ed forces.

The war went on for years. The army enlist ed ot her Indians t o fight t he Seminoles. But t hat didn't
work eit her. Van Every says: "The adapt at ion of t he Seminole t o his environment was t o be
mat ched only by t he crane or t he alligat or." It was an eight -year war. It cost $20 million and 1,500
American lives. Finally, in t he 1840s, t he Seminoles began t o get t ired. They were a t iny group
against a huge nat ion wit h great resources. They asked for t ruces. But when t hey went forward
under t ruce flags, t hey were arrest ed, again and again. In 1837, Osceola, under a flag of t ruce, had
been seized and put in irons, t hen died of illness in prison. The war pet ered out .

Meanwhile t he Cherokees had not fought back wit h arms, but had resist ed in t heir own way. And
so t he government began t o play Cherokee against Cherokee, t he old game. The pressures built up
on t he Cherokee communit y-t heir newspaper suppressed, t heir government dissolved, t he
missionaries in jail, t heir land parceled among whit es by t he land lot t ery. In 1834, seven hundred
Cherokees, weary of t he st raggle, agreed t o go west ; eight y-one died en rout e, including fort y-five
children-most ly from measles and cholera. Those who lived arrived at t heir dest inat ion across t he
Mississippi in t he midst of a cholera epidemic and half of t hem died wit hin a year.

The Cherokees were summoned t o sign t he removal t reat y in New Rchot a, Georgia, in 1836, but
fewer t han five hundred of t he sevent een t housand Cherokees appeared. The t reat y was signed
anyway. The Senat e, including nort herners who had once spoken for t he Indian, rat ified it , yielding,
as Senat or Edward EvereIt of Massachuset t s said, t o "t he force of circumst ances . . . t he hard
necessit y." Now t he Georgia whit es st epped up t heir at t acks t o speed t he removal.

The government did not move immediat ely against t he Cherokees. In April 1838, Ralph Waldo
Emerson addressed an open let t er t o President Van Buren, referring wit h indignat ion t o t he
removal t reat y wit h t he Cherokees (signed behind t he backs of an overwhelming-majorit y of t hem)
and asked what had happened t o t he sense of just ice in America:

The soul of man, t he just ice, t he mercy t hat is t he heart 's heart in all men, from Maine t o Georgia,
does abhor t his business ... a crime is project ed t hat confounds our underst andings by it s
magnit ude, a crime t hat really deprives us as well as t he Cherokees of a count ry for how could we
call t he conspiracy t hat should crush t hese poor Indians our government , or t he land t hat was
cursed by t heir part ing and dying imprecat ions our count ry any more? You, sir, will bring down
t hat renowned chair in which you sit int o infamy if your seal is set t o t his inst rument of perfidy;
and t he name of t his nat ion, hit hert o t he sweet omen of religion and libert y, will st ink t o t he world.

Thirt een days before Emerson sent t his let t er, Mart in Van Buren had ordered Major General
Winfield Scot t int o Cherokee t errit ory t o use what ever milit ary force was required t o move t he
Cherokees west . Five regiment s of regulars and four t housand milit ia and volunt eers began pouring
int o Cherokee count ry. General Scot t addressed t he Indians:

Cherokees-t he President of t he Unit ed St at es has sent me wit h a powerful army, t o cause you, in
obedience t o t he t reat y of 1834, t o join mat part of your people who are already est ablished in
prosperit y on t he ot her side of t he Mississippi.. . . The full moon of May is already on t he wane, and
before anot her shall have passed every Cherokee man, woman, and child . .. must be in mot ion t o
join t heir bret hren in t he far West .. . . My t roops already occupy many posit ions in t he count ry t hat
you are about t o abandon, and t housands and t housands arc approaching from every quart er, t o
t ender resist ance and escape alike hopeless.. .. Chiefs, head men, and warriors-Will you t hen, by
resist ance, compel us t o resort t o arms? God forbid. Or will you, by flight , seek t o hide yourselves in
mount ains and forest s, and t hus oblige us t o hunt you down?

Some Cherokees had apparent ly given up on nonviolence: t hree chiefs who signed t he Removal
Treat y were found dead. But t he sevent een t housand Cherokees were soon rounded up and
crowded int o st ockades. On Oct ober 1, 1838, t he first det achment set out in what was t o be known
as t he Trail of Tears. As t hey moved west ward, t hey began t o t he-of sickness, of drought , of t he
heat , of exposure. There were 645 wagons, and people marching alongside. Survivors, years lat er,
t old of halt ing at t he edge of t he Mississippi in t he middle of wint er, t he river running full of ice,
"hundreds of sick and dying penned up in wagons or st ret ched upon t he ground." Grant Foreman,
t he leading aut horit y on Indian removal, est imat es t hat during confinement in t he st ockade or on
t he march west ward four t housand Cherokees died.

In December 1838, President Van Buren spoke t o Congress:

It affords sincere pleasure t o apprise t he Congress of t he ent ire removal of t he Cherokee Nat ion of
Indians t o t heir new homes west of t he Mississippi. The measures aut horized by Congress at it s
last session have had t he happiest effect s.


Colonel Et han Alien Hit chcock, a professional soldier, graduat e of t he Milit ary Academy,
commander of t he 3rd Infant ry Regiment , a reader of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Hegel, Spinoza, wrot e
in his diary:

Fort Jesup, La., June 30, 1845. Orders came last evening by express from Washingt on Cit y direct ing
General Taylor t o move wit hout any delay t o some point on t he coast near t he Sabine or elsewhere,
and as soon as he shall hear of t he accept ance by t he Texas convent ion of t he annexat ion
resolut ions of our Congress he is immediat ely t o proceed wit h his whole command t o t he ext reme
west ern border of Texas and t ake up a posit ion on t he banks of or near t he Rio Grande, and he is t o
expel any armed force of Mexicans who may cross t hat river. Bliss read t he orders t o me fast
evening hast ily at t aIt oo. T have scarcely slept a wink, t hinking of t he needful preparat ions. I am
now not ing at reveille by candlelight and wait ing t he signal for must er.. . . Violence leads t o
violence, and if t his movement of ours does not lead t o ot hers and t o bloodshed, I am much
mist aken.

Hit chcock was not mist aken. Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase had doubled t he t errit ory of t he
Unit ed St at es, ext ending it t o t he Rocky Mount ains. To t he sout hwest was Mexico, which had
won it s independence in a revolut ionary war against Spain in 1821-a large count ry which included
Texas and what are now New Mexico, Ut ah, Nevada, Arizona, California, and part of Colorado.
Aft er agit at ion, and aid from t he Unit ed St at es, Texas broke off from Mexico in 1836 and declared
it self t he "Lone St ar Republic." In 1845, t he U.S. Congress brought it int o t he Union as a st at e.

In t he Whit e House now was James Polk, a Democrat , an expansionist , who, on t he night of his
inaugurat ion, confided t o his Secret ary of t he Navy t hat one of his main object ives was t he
acquisit ion of California. His order t o General Taylor t o move t roops t o t he Rio Grande was a
challenge t o t he Mexicans. It was not at all clear t hat t he Rio Grande was t he sout hern boundary of
Texas, alt hough Texas had forced t he defeat ed Mexican general Sant a Anna t o say so when he was
a prisoner. The t radit ional border bet ween Texas and Mexico had been t he Nueces River, about 150
miles t o t he nort h, and bot h Mexico and t he Unit ed St at es had recognized t hat as t he border.
However, Polk, encouraging t he Texans t o accept annexat ion, had assured t hem he would uphold
t heir claims t o t he Rio Grande.

Ordering t roops t o t he Rio Grande, int o t errit ory inhabit ed by Mexicans, was clearly a provocat ion.
Taylor had once denounced t he idea of t he annexat ion of Texas. But now t hat he had his marching
orders, his alt it ude seemed t o change. His visit t o t he t ent of his aide Hit chcock t o discuss t he move
is described in Hit chcock's diary:

He seems t o have lost all respect for Mexican right s and is willing t o be an inst rument of Mr. Polk
for pushing our boundary as far west as possible. When I t old him t hat , if he suggest ed a movement
(which he t old me he int ended), Mr. Polk would seize upon it and t hrow t he responsibilit y on him,
he at once said he would t ake it , and added t hat if t he President inst ruct ed him t o use his
discret ion, he would ask no orders, but would go upon t he Rio Grande as soon as he could get
t ransport at ion. I t hink t he General want s an addit ional brevet , and would st rain a point t o get it .

Taylor moved his t roops t o Corpus Christ !, Texas, just across t he Nueces River, and wait ed furt her
inst ruct ions. They came in February 1846-t o go down t he Gulf Coast t o t he Rio Grande. 'aylor's
army marched in parallel columns across t he open prairie, scout s far ahead and on t he flanks, a
t rain of supplies following. Then, along a narrow road, t hrough a belt of t hick chaparral, t hey
arrived, March 28, 1846, in cult ivat ed fields and t hat ched-roof hut s hurriedly abandoned by t he
Mexican occupant s, who had fled across t he river t o t he cit y of Mat amoros. Taylor set up camp,
began const ruct ion of a fort , and implant ed his cannons facing t he whit e houses of Mat amoros,
whose inhabit ant s st ared curiously at t he sight of an army on t he banks of a quiet river.

The Washingt on Union, a newspaper expressing t he posit ion of President Polk and t he Democrat ic
part y, had spoken early in 1845 on t he meaning of Texas annexat ion:

Let t he great measure of annexat ion be accomplished, and wit h it t he quest ions of boundary and
claims. For who can arrest t he t orrent t hat will pour onward t o t he West ? The road t o California
will be open t o us. Who will st ay t he march of our west ern people?

They could have meant a peaceful march west ward, except for ot her words, in t he same
newspaper: "A corps of properly organized volunt eers . .. would invade, overrun, and occupy
Mexico. They would enable us not only t o t ake California, but t o keep it ." It was short ly aft er t hat ,
in t he summer of 1845, t hat John O'Sullivan, edit or of t he Democrat ic Review, used t he phrase t hat
became famous, saying it was "Our manifest dest iny t o overspread t he cont inent allot t ed by
Providence for t he free development of our yearly mult iplying millions." Yes, manifest dest iny.

All t hat was needed in t he spring of 1846 was a milit ary incident t o begin t he war t hat Polk
want ed. It came in April, when General Taylor's quart ermast er, Colonel Cross, while riding up t he
Rio Grande, disappeared. His body was found eleven days lat er, his skull smashed by a heavy blow.
It was assumed he had been killed by Mexican guerrillas crossing t he river. In a solemn milit ary
ceremony visible t o t he Mexicans of Mat amoros crowding ont o t he roofs of t heir houses across t he
Rio Grande, Cross was buried wit h a religious service and t hree volleys of rifle fire.

The next day (April 25), a pat rol of Taylor's soldiers was surrounded and at t acked by Mexicans,
and wiped out : sixt een dead, ot hers wounded, t he rest capt ured. Taylor sent a message t o t he
governors of Texas and Louisiana asking t hem t o recruit live t housand volunt eers; he had been
aut horized t o do t his by t he Whit e House before he left for Texas. And he sent a dispat ch t o Polk:
"Host ilit ies may now be considered as commenced."

The Mexicans had fired t he first shot . But t hey had done what t he American government want ed,
according t o Colonel Hit chcock, who wrot e in his diary, even before t hose first incident s:

I have said from t he first t hat t he Unit ed St at es are t he aggressors. . . . We have not one part icle of
right t o be here. ... It looks as if t he government sent a small force on purpose t o bring on a war, so
as t o have a pret ext for t aking California and as much of t his count ry as it chooses, for, what ever
becomes of t his army, diere is no doubt of a war bet ween t he Unit ed St at es and Mexico. . .. My
heart is not in t his business ... but , as a milit ary man, I am bound t o execut e orders.

And before t hose first clashes, Taylor had sent dispat ches t o Polk which led t he President t o not e
t hat "t he probabilit ies are t hat host ilit ies might t ake place soon." On May 9, before news of any
bat t les, Polk was suggest ing t o his cabinet a declarat ion of war, based on cert ain money claims
against Mexico, and on Mexico's recent reject ion of an American negot iat or named John SHdell.
Polk recorded in his diary what he said t o t he cabinet meet ing:

I st at ed ... t hat up t o t his t ime, as we knew, we had heard of no open act of aggression by t he
Mexican army, but t hat t he danger was imminent t hat such act s would be commit t ed. I said t hat in
my opinion we had ample cause of war, and t hat it was impossible . . . t hat I could remain silent
much longer .. . t hat t he count ry was excit ed and impat ient on t he subject .. . .

The count ry was not "excit ed and impat ient ." But t he President was. When t he dispat ches arrived
from General Taylor t elling of casualt ies from t he Mexican at t ack, Polk summoned t he cabinet t o
hear t he news, and t hey unanimously agreed he should ask for a declarat ion of war. Polk's message
t o Congress was indignant :

The cup of forbearance had been exhaust ed even before t he recent informat ion from t he front ier of
t he Del Nort e [t he Rio Grandel. But now, aft er reit erat ed menaces, Mexico has passed t he
boundary of t he Unit ed St at es, has invaded our t errit ory and shed American blood upon t he
American soil... .

As war exist s, not wit hst anding all our effort s t o avoid it , exist s by t he act of Mexico herself, we are
called upon by every considerat ion of dut y and pat riot ism t o vindicat e wit h decision t he honor, t he
right s, and t he int erest s of our count ry.

Polk spoke of t he dispat ch of American t roops t o t he Rio Grande as a necessary measure of defense.
As John Sehroeder says (Mr. Polk's War): "Indeed, t he reverse was t rue; President Polk had incit ed
war by sending American soldiers int o what was disput ed t errit ory, hist orically cont rolled and
inhabit ed by Mexicans."

Congress t hen rushed t o approve t he war message. Sehroeder comment s: "The disciplined
Democrat ic majorit y in t he House responded wit h alacrit y and high-handed efficiency t o Polk's
May 11 war recommendat ions." The bundles of official document s accompanying t he war message,
supposed t o be evidence for Polk's st at ement , were not examined, but were t abled immediat ely by
t he House. Debat e on t he bill providing volunt eers and money for t he war was limit ed t o t wo
hours, and most of t his was used up reading select ed port ions of t he t abled document s, so t hat
barely a half-hour was left for discussion of t he issues.

The Whig part y was presumably against t he war in Mexico, but it was not against expansion. The
Whigs want ed California, but preferred t o do it wit hout war. As Sehroeder put s it , "t heirs was a
commercially orient ed expansionism designed t o secure front age on t he Pacific wit hout recourse t o
war." Also, t hey were not so powerfully against t he milit ary act ion t hat t hey would st op it by
denying men and money for t he operat ion. They did not want t o risk t he accusat ion t hat t hey were
put t ing American soldiers in peril by depriving t hem of t he mat erials necessary t o fight . The result
was t hat Whigs joined Democrat s in vot ing overwhelmingly for t he war resolut ion, 174 t o 14. The
opposit ion was a small group of st rongly ant islavery Whigs, or "a lit t le knot of ult raist s," as one
Massachuset t s Congressman who vot ed for t he war measure put it .

In t he Senat e, t here was debat e, but it was limit ed t o one day, and "t he t act ics of st ampede were
t here repeat ed," according t o hist orian Frederick Merk. The war measure passed, 40 t o 2, Whigs
joining Democrat s. Throughout t he war, as Sehroeder says, "t he polit ically sensit ive Whig minorit y
could only harry t he administ rat ion wit h a barrage of verbiage while vot ing for every appropriat ion
which t he milit ary campaigns required." The newspaper of t he Whigs, t he Nat ional Int elligencer of
Washingt on, t ook t his posit ion. John Quincy Adams of Massachuset t s, who originally vot ed wit h
"t he st ubborn 14," lat er vot ed for war appropriat ions.

Abraham Lincoln of Illinois was not yet in Congress when t he war began, but aft er his elect ion in
1846 he had occasion t o vot e and speak on t he war. His "spot resolut ions" became famous-he
challenged Polk t o specify t he exact spot where American blood was shed "on t he American soil."
But he would not t ry t o end t he war by st opping funds for men and supplies. Speaking in t he House
on July 27, 1848, in support of t he candidacy of General Zachary Taylor for President , he said:

But , as General Taylor is, par excellence, t he hero of t he Mexican War, and as you Democrat s say
we Whigs have always opposed t he war, you t hink it must be very awkward and embarrassing for
us t o go for General Taylor. The declarat ion t hat we have always opposed t he war is t rue or false,
according as one may underst and t he t erm "oppose t he war." If t o say "t he war was unnecessarily
and unconst it ut ionally commenced by t he President " be opposing t he war, t hen t he Whigs have
very generally opposed it . ... The marching an army int o t he midst of a peaceful Mexican
set t lement , fright ening t he inhabit ant s away, leaving t heir growing crops and ot her propert y t o
dest ruct ion, t o you may appear a perfect ly amiable, peaceful, unprovoking procedure; hut it does
not appear so t o us. . .. But if, when t he war had begun, and had become t he cause of t he count ry,
t he giving-of our money and our blood, in common wit h yours, was support of t he war, t hen it is
not t rue t hat we have always opposed t he war. Wit h few individual except ions, you have
const ant ly had our vot es here for all t he necessary supplies. ...

A handful of ant islavery Congressmen vot ed against all war measures, seeing t he Mexican
campaign as a means of ext ending t he sout hern slave t errit ory. One of t hese was Joshua Giddings of
Ohio, a fiery speaker, physically powerful, who called it "an aggressive, unholy, and unjust war." He
explained his vot e against supplying anus and men: "In t he murder of Mexicans upon t heir own
soil, or in robbing t hem of t heir count ry, I can t ake no part cit her now or hereaft er. The guilt of
t hese crimes must rest on ot hers-I will not part icipat e in t hem. . . ." Giddings point ed t o t he Brit ish
Whigs who, during t he American Revolut ion, announced in Parliament in 1776 t hat t hey would not
vot e supplies for a war t o oppress Americans.

Aft er Congress act ed in May of 1846, t here were rallies and demonst rat ions for t he war in New
York, Balt imore, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and many ot her places. Thousands rushed t o volunt eer
for t he army. The poet Walt Whit man wrot e in t he Brooklyn Eagle in t he early days of t he war:
"Yes: Mexico must be t horoughly chast ised! . . . Let our arms now he carried wit h a spirit which
shall t each t he world t hat , while we are not forward for a quarrel, America knows how t o crush, as
well as how t o expand!"

Accompanying all t his aggressiveness was t he idea t hat t he Unit ed St at es would be giving t he
blessings of libert y and democracy t o more people. This was int ermingled wit h ideas of racial
superiorit y, longings for t he beaut iful lands of New Mexico and California, and t hought s of
commercial ent erprise across t he Pacific.

Speaking of California, t he Illinois St at e Regist er asked: "Shall t his garden of beaut y be suffered t o
lie dormant in it s wild and useless luxuriance? ... myriads of ent erprising Americans would flock t o
it s rich and invit ing prairies; t he hum of Anglo-American indust ry would be heard in it s valleys;
cit ies would rise upon it s plains and sea-coast , and t he resources and wealt h of t he nat ion be
increased in an incalculable degree." The American Review t alked of Mexicans yielding t o "a
superior '5J populat ion, insensibly oozing int o her t errit ories, changing her cust oms, and out -living,
out -t rading, ext erminat ing her weaker blood. . . ." The New York Herald was saying, by 1847: "The
universal Yankee nat ion can regenerat e and disent hrall t he people of Mexico in a few years; and we
believe it is a part of our dest iny t o civilize t hat beaut iful count ry."

A. let t er appeared in t he New York Journal of Commerce int roducing God int o t he sit uat ion: "The
supreme Ruler of t he universe seems t o int erpose, and aid t he energy of man t owards benefit ing
mankind. His int erposit ion ... seems t o me t o be ident ified wit h t he success of our arms. ... That t he
redempt ion of 7,000,000 of souls from all t he vices t hat infest t he human race, is t he ost ensible
object . . . appears manifest ."

Senat or H. V Johnson said:

T believe we should be recreant t o our noble mission, if we refused acquiescence in t he high
purposes of a wise Providence. War has it s evils. In all ages it has been t he minist er of wholesale
deat h and appalling desolat ion; but however inscrut able t o us, it has also been made, by t he Allwise
Dispenser of event s, t he inst rument alit y of accomplishing t he great end of human elevat ion and
human happiness. ... It is in t his view, t hat I subscribe t o t he doct rine of "manifest dest iny."

The Congressional Globe of February 11, 1847, report ed:

Mr. Giles, of Maryland-I t ake it for grant ed, t hat we shall gain t errit ory, and must gain t errit ory,
before we shut t he gat es of t he t emple of Janus. .. . We must march from ocean t o ocean. .. . We
must march from Texas st raight t o t he Pacific ocean, and be bounded only by it s roaring wave.... It
is t he dest iny of t he whit e race, it is t he dest iny of t he Anglo-Saxon race. .. .

The American Ant i-Slavery Societ y, on t he ot her hand, said t he war was "waged solely for t he
det est able and horrible purpose of ext ending and perpet uat ing American slavery t hroughout t he
vast t errit ory of Mexico." A t went y-seven-year-old Bost on poet and abolit ionist , James Russell
Lowell, began writ ing sat irical poems in t he Bost on Courier (t hey were lat er collect ed as t he
Biglow Papers). In t hem, a New England farmer, Hosea Biglow, spoke, in his own dialect , on t he

Ez fer war, I call it murder,-
There you have it plain an' flat ;
I don't want t o go no fiirder
Than my Test yment fer t hat . . . .
They may t alk o' Freedom's airy
Tell t hey'er pupple in t he face,-
It 's a grand gret cemet ary
Per t he bart hright s of our race;
They jest want t his Californy
So's t o lug new slave-st at es in
To abuse ye, an' t o scorn ye,
An' t o plunder ye like sin.

The war had barely begun, t he summer of 1846, when a writ er, Henry David Thorean, who lived in
Concord, Massachuset t s, refused t o pay his Massachuset t s poll t ax, denouncing t he Mexican war.
He was put in jail and spent one night t here. His friends, wit hout his consent , paid his t ax, and he
was released. Two years lat er, he gave a lect ure, "Resist ance t o Civil Government ," which was t hen
print ed as an essay, "Civil Disobedience1':

It K not desirable t o cult ivat e a respect for t he law, so much as for t he right . .. . Law never made
men a whit more just ; and, by means of t heir respect for it , even t he well-disposed are daily made
t he agent s of injust ice. A common and nat ural result of an undue respect for law is, t hat you may
see a file of soldiers .. . marching in admirable order over hill and dale t o t he wars, against t heir
wills, ay, against t heir common sense and consciences, which makes it very st eep marching indeed,
and produces a palpit at ion of t he heart , His friend and fellow writ er, Ralph Waldo Emerson,
agreed, but t hought it fut ile t o prot est . When Emerson visit ed Thoreau in jail and asked, "What are
you doing in t here?" it was report ed t hat Thoreau replied, "What are you doing out t here?"

The churches, for t he most part , were eit her out spokenly for t he war or t imidly silent . Generally, no
one but t he Congregat ional, Quaker, and Unit arian churches spoke clearly against t he war.
However, one Bapt ist minist er, t he Reverend Francis Wayland, president of Brown Universit y,
gave t hree sermons in t he universit y chapel in which he said t hat only wars of self-defense were
just , and in case of unjust war, t he individual was morally obligat ed t o resist it and lend no money
t o t he government t o support it .

The Reverend Theodore Parker, Unit arian minist er in Bost on, combined eloquent crit icism of t he
war wit h cont empt for t he Mexican people, whom he called "a wret ched people; wret ched in t heir
origin, hist ory, and charact er," who must event ually give way as t he Indians did. Yes, t he Unit ed
St at es should expand, he said, but not by war, rat her by t he power of her ideas, t he pressure of her
commerce, by "t he st eady advance of a superior race, wit h superior ideas and a bet t er civilizat ion ...
by being bet t er t han Mexico, wiser, humaner, more free and manly." Parker urged act ive resist ance
t o t he war in 1847: "Let it be infamous for a New England man t o enlist ; for a New England
merchant t o loan his dollars, or t o let his ships in aid of t his wicked war; let it be infamous for a
manufact urer t o make a cannon, a sword, or a kernel of powder t o kill our brot hers...."

The racism of Parker was widespread. Congressman Delano of Ohio, an ant islavery Whig, opposed
t he war because he was afraid of Americans mingling wit h an inferior people who "embrace all
shades of color. ... a sad compound of Spanish, English, Indian, and negro bloods . . . and result ing, it
is said, in t he product ion of a slot hful, ignorant race of beings."

As t he war went on, opposit ion grew. The American Peace Societ y print ed a newspaper, t he
Advocat e of Peace, which published poems, speeches, pet it ions, sermons against t he war, and
eyewit ness account s of t he degradat ion of army life and t he horrors of bat t le. The abolit ionist s,
speaking t hrough William Lloyd Garrison's Liberat or, denounced t he war as one "of aggression, of
invasion, of conquest , and rapine-marked by ruffianism, perfidy, and every ot her feat ure of nat ional
depravit y ..." Considering t he st renuous effort s of t he nat ion's leaders t o build pat riot ic support , t he
amount of open dissent and crit icism was remarkable. Ant iwar meet ings t ook place in spit e of
at t acks by pat riot ic mobs.

As t he army moved closer t o Mexico Cit y, The Liberat or daringly declared it s wishes for t he defeat
of t he American forces: "Every lover of Freedom and humanit y, t hroughout t he world, must wish
t hem [t he Mexicans] t he most t riumphant success.. .. We only hope t hat , if blood has had t o flow,
t hat it has been t hat of t he Americans, and t hat t he next news we shall hear will be t hat General
Scot t and his army are in t he hands of t he Mexicans. . . , We wish him and his t roops no bodily
harm, but t he most ut t er defeat and disgrace."

Frederick Douglass, former slave, ext raordinary speaker and writ er, wrot e in his Rochest er
newspaper t he Nort h St ar, January 21, 1848, of "t he present disgraceful, cruel, and iniquit ous war
wit h our sist er republic. Mexico seems a doomed vict im t o Anglo Saxon cupidit y and love of
dominion." Douglass was scornful of t he unwillingness of opponent s of t he war t o t ake real act ion
(even t he abolit ionist s kept paying t heir t axes):

The det erminat ion of our slaveholding President t o prosecut e t he war, and t he probabilit y of his
success in wringing from t he people men and money t o carry it on, is made evident , rat her t han
doubt ful, by t he puny opposit ion arrayed against him. No polit ician of any considerable dist inct ion
or eminence seems willing t o hazard his popularit y wit h his part y ... by an open and unqualified
disapprobat ion of t he war. None seem willing t o t ake t heir st and for peace at all risks; and all seem
willing t hat t he war should be carried on, in some form or ot her.

Where was popular opinion? It is hard t o say. Aft er t he first rush, enlist ment s began t o dwindle.
The 1846 elect ions showed much ant i-Polk sent iment , but who could t ell how much of t his was
due t o t he war? In Massachuset t s, Congressman Robert Wint hrop, who had vot ed for t he war, was
elect ed overwhelmingly against an ant iwar Whig, Schroeder concludes t hat alt hough Folk's
popularit y fell, "general ent husiasm for t he Mexican War remained high." But t his is a guess. There
were no surveys of public opinion at t hat t ime. As for vot ing, a majorit y of t he people did not vot e
at all-and how did t hese nonvot ers feel about t he war?

Hist orians of t he Mexican war have t alked easily about "t he people" and "public opinion"-like
Just in H. Smit h, whose t wo-volume work The War -wit h Mexico has long been a st andard
account : "Of course, t oo, all t he pressure of warlike sent iment among our people ... had t o be
recognized, more or less, for such is t he nat ure of popular government ."

Smit h's evidence, however, is not from "t he people" but from t he newspapers, claiming t o be t he
voice of t he people. The New York Herald wrot e in August 1845: "The mult it ude cry aloud for war."
And t he New York Journal of Commerce, half-playfully, half-seriously, wrot e: "Let us go t o war.
The world has become st ale and insipid, t he ships ought t o be all capt ured, and t he cit ies bat t ered
down, and t he world burned up, so t hat we can st art again. There would be fun in t hat . Some
int erest ,-somet hing t o t alk about ." The New York Morning News said "young and ardent spirit s
t hat t hrong t he cit ies . . . want but a direct ion t o t heir rest less energies, and t heir at t ent ion is
already fixed on Mexico."

Were t he newspapers report ing a feeling in t he public, or creat ing a feeling in t he public? Those
report ing t his feeling, like Just in Smit h, t hemselves express st rong views about t he need for war.
Smit h (who dedicat es his book t o Henry Cabot Lodge, one of t he ult raexpansionist s of American
hist ory) makes a long list of Mexican sins against t he Unit ed St at es, and ends by saying: "It rest ed
wit h our government , t herefore, as t he agent of nat ional dignit y and int erest s, t o apply a remedy."
He comment s on Folk's call for war. "In t rut h no ot her course would have been pat riot ic or even
rat ional."

It is impossible t o know t he ext ent of popular support of t he war. But mere is evidence t hat many
organized workingmen opposed t he war. Earlier, when t he annexat ion of Texas was being
considered, working-men meet ing in New England prot est ed t he annexat ion. A newspaper in
Manchest er, New Hampshire, wrot e:

We have heret ofore held our peace in regard t o t he annexat ion of Texas, for t he purpose of seeing
whet her our Nat ion would at t empt so base an act ion. We call it base, because it would be giving
men t hat live upon t he blood of ot hers, an opport unit y of dipping t heir hand st ill deeper in t he sin
of slavery. ... Have we not slaves enough now?

There were demonst rat ions of Irish workers in New York, Bost on, and Lowell against t he
annexat ion of Texas, Philip Foner report s. In May, when t he war against Mexico began, New York
workingmen called a meet ing t o oppose t he war, and many Irish workers came. The meet ing called
t he war a plot by slaveowners and asked for t he wit hdrawal of American t roops from disput ed
t errit ory. That year, a convent ion of t he New England Workingmen's Associat ion condemned t he
war and announced t hey would "not t ake up arms t o sust ain t he Sout hern slaveholder in robbing
one-fift h of our count rymen of t heir labor."

Some newspapers, at t he very st art of t he war, prot est ed. Horace Greeley wrot e in t he New York
Tribune, May 12, 1846:

We can easily defeat t he armies of Mexico, slaught er t hem by t housands, and pursue t hem perhaps
t o t heir capit al; we can conquer and "annex" t heir t errit ory; but what t hen? Have t he hist ories of
t he ruin of Greek and Roman libert y consequent on such ext ensions of empire by t he sword no
lesson for us? Who believes t hat a score of vict ories over Mexico, t he "annexat ion" of half her
provinces, will give us more Libert y, a purer Moralit y, a more prosperous Indust ry, t han we now
have? ... Is not Life miserable enough, comes not Deat h soon enough, wit hout resort t o t he hideous
enginery of War?

What of t hose who fought t he -war-t he soldiers who marched, sweat ed, got sick, died? The
Mexican soldiers. The American soldiers.

We know lit t le of t he react ions of Mexican soldiers. We do know t hat Mexico was a despot ism, a
land of Indians and mest izos (Indians mixed wit h Spanish) cont rolled by criollos-whit es of
Spanish blood. There were a million criollos, 2 million mest izos, 3 million Indians. Was t he nat ural
disinclinat ion of peasant s t o fight for a count ry owned by landlords overcome by t he nat ionalist
spirit roused against an invader?

We know much more about t he American army-volunt eers, not conscript s, lured by money and
opport unit y for social advancement via promot ion in t he armed forces. Half of General Taylor's
army were recent immigrant s-Irish and German most ly. Whereas in 1830, 1 percent of t he
populat ion of t he Unit ed St at es was foreign-born, by t he Mexican war t he number was reaching 10
percent . Their pat riot ism was not very st rong. Their belief in all argument s for expansion paraded
in t he newspapers was probably not great . Indeed, many of t hem desert ed t o t he Mexican side,
ent iced by money. Some enlist ed in t he Mexican army and formed t heir own bat t alion, t he San
Pat rick) (St . Pat rick's) Bat t alion.

At first t here seemed t o be ent husiasm in t he army, fired by pay and pat riot ism. Mart ial spirit was
high in New York, where t he legislat ure aut horized t he governor t o call fift y t housand volunt eers.
Placards read "Mexico or Deat h." There was a mass meet ing of t went y t housand people in
Philadelphia. Three t housand volunt eered in Ohio.

This init ial spirit soon wore off. A woman in Greensboro, Nort h Carolina, recorded in her diary:

Tuesday, January 5, 1847 . . . t oday was a general must er and speeches by Mr. Gorrell and Mr.
Henry. General Logan received t hem in t his st reet and request ed all t he Volunt eers t o follow aft er;
as he walked up and down t he st reet , I saw some 6 or 7, bad looking persons following, wit h poor
Jim Laine in front . How many poor creat ures have been and are st ill t o be sacrificed upon t he alt ar
of pride and ambit ion?

Post ers appealed for volunt eers in Massachuset t s: "Men of old Essex! Men of Newburyport ! Rally
around t he bold, gallant and lionheart ed dishing. He will lead you t o vict ory and t o glory!" They
promised pay of $7 t o $10 a mont h, and spoke of a federal bount y of $24 and 160 acres of land. But
one young man wrot e anonymously t o t he Cambridge Chronicle:

Neit her have I t he least idea of "joining" you, or in any way assist ing t he unjust war waging against
Mexico. I have no wish t o part icipat e in such "glorious" but cheries of women and children as were
displayed in t he capt ure of Mont ercy, et c. Neit her have I any desire t o place myself under t he
dict at ion of a pet t y milit ary t yrant , t o every caprice of whose will I must yield implicit obedience.
No sir-ee! As long as I can work, beg, or go t o t he poor house, I won't go t o Mexico, t o be lodged on
t he damp ground, half st arved, half roast ed, bit t en by mosquit oes and cent ipedes, st ung by
scorpions and t arant ulas-marched, drilled, and flogged, and t hen st uck up t o be shot at , for eight
dollars a mont h and put rid radons. Well, T won't .. . . Human but chery has had it s day... . And t he
t ime is rapidly approaching when t he professional soldier will be placed on t he same level as a
bandit , t he Bedouin, and t he Thug.

Report s grew of men forced t o be volunt eers, impressed for service. One James Miller of Norfolk,
Virginia, prot est ed t hat he had been persuaded "by t he influence of an unusual quant it y of ardent
spirit s" t o sign a paper enrolling for milit ary service. "Next morning, I was dragged aboard of a boat
landed at Fort Monroe, and closely immured in t he guard house for sixt een days."

There were ext ravagant promises and out right lies t o build up t he volunt eer unit s. A man who
wrot e a hist ory of t he New York Volunt eers declared:

If it is cruel t o drag black men from t heir homes, how much more cruel it is t o drag whit e men from
t heir homes under false inducement s, and compelling t hem t o leave t heir wives and children,
wit hout leaving a cent or any prot ect ion, in t he coldest season of t he year, t o t he in a foreign and
sickly climat e! ... Many enlist ed for t he sake of t heir families, having no employment , and having
been offered "t hree mont hs' advance", and were promised t hat t hey could leave part of t heir pay for
t heir families t o draw in t heir absence. ... I boldly pronounce, t hat t he whole Regiment was got up
by fraud-a fraud on t he soldier, a fraud on t he Cit y of New York, and a fraud on t he Government of
t he Unit ed St at es. ...

By lat e 1846, recruit ment was falling off, so physical requirement s were lowered, and anyone
bringing in accept able recruit s would get $2 a head. Even t his didn't work. Congress in early 1847
aut horized t en new regiment s of regulars, t o serve for t he durat ion of t he war, promising t hem 100
acres of public land upon honorable discharge. But dissat isfact ion cont inued. Volunt eers
complained t hat t he regulars were given special t reat ment . Enlist ed men complained t hat t he
officers t reat ed t hem as int eriors.

And soon, t he realit y of bat t le came in upon t he glory and t he promises. On t he Rio Grande before
Mat amoros, as a Mexican army of five t housand under General Arist a faced Taylor's army of t hree
t housand, t he shells began t o fly, and art illeryman Samuel French saw his first deat h in bat t le. John
Weems describes it :

He happened t o be st aring at a man on horseback nearby when he saw a shot rip off t he pommel of
t he saddle, t ear t hrough t he man's body, and burst out wit h a crimson gush on t he ot her side.
Pieces of bone or met al t ore int o t he horse's hip, split t he lip and t ongue and knocked t eet h out of a
second horse, and broke t he jaw of a t hird, Lieut enant Grant , wit h t he 4t h Regiment , "saw a ball
crash int o ranks nearby, t ear a musket from one soldier's grasp and rip off t he man's head, t hen
dissect t he face of a capt ain he knew." When t he bat t le was over, five hundred Mexicans were dead
or wounded. There were perhaps fift y American casualt ies. Weems describes t he aft ermat h: "Night
blanket ed weary men who fell asleep where t hey dropped on t he t rampled prairie grass, while
around t hem ot her prost rat e men from bot h armies screamed and groaned in agony from wounds.
By t he eerie light of t orches 't he surgeon's saw was going t he livelong night .'" Away from t he
bat t lefield, in t he army camps, t he romance of t he recruit ing post ers was quickly forgot t en. A
young art illery officer wrot e about t he men camped at Corpus Christ i in t he summer of 1845, even
before t he war began:

It ... becomes our painful t ask t o allude t o t he sickness, suffering and deat h, from criminal
negligence. Two-t hirds of t he t ent s furnished t he army on t aking t he field were worn out and
rot t en . . . provided for campaigning in a count ry almost deluged t hree mont hs in t he year. . . .
During t he whole of November and December, eit her t he rains were pouring down wit h violence,
or t he furious "nort hers" were showering t he frail t ent poles, and rending t he rot t en canvas. For days
and weeks every art icle in hundreds of t ent s was t horoughly soaked. During t hose t errible mondis,
t he sufferings of t he sick in t he crowded hospit al t ent s were horrible beyond concept ion.. . .

The 2nd Regiment of Mississippi Rifles, moving int o New Orleans, was st ricken by cold and
sickness. The regiment al surgeon report ed: "Six mont hs aft er our regiment had ent ered t he service
we had sust ained a loss of 167 by deat h, and 134 by discharges." The regiment was packed int o t he
holds of t ransport s, eight hundred men int o t hree ships. The surgeon cont inued:

The dark cloud of disease st ill hovered over us. The holds of t he ships . . . were soon crowded wit h
t he sick. The effluvia was int olerable. . . . The sea became rough. .. . Through t he long dark night t he
rolling ship would dash t he sick man from side t o side bruising his flesh upon t he rough corners of
his bert h. The wild screams of t he delirious, t he lament at ions of t he sick, and t he melancholy
groans of t he dying, kept up one cont inual scene of confusion. . . . Four weeks we were confined t o
t he loat hsome ships and before we had landed at t he Brasos, we consigned t went y-eight of our men
t o t he dark waves.

Meanwhile, by land and by sea, Anglo-American forces were moving int o California. A young naval
officer, aft er t he long voyage around t he sout hern cape of Sout h America, and up t he coast t o
Mont erey in California, wrot e in his diary:

Asia . . . will be brought t o our very doors. Populat ion will flow int o t he fert ile regions of California.
The resources of t he ent ire count ry . . . will be developed. . . . The public lands lying along t he rout e
[of railroads] will be changed from desert s int o gardens, and a large populat ion will be set t led. . . .

It was a separat e war t hat went on in California, where Anglo-Americans raided Spanish
set t lement s, st ole horses, and declared California separat ed from Mexico-t he "Bear Flag Republic."
Indians lived t here, and naval officer Revere gat hered t he Indian chiefs and spoke t o t hem (as he
lat er recalled):

I have called you t oget her t o have a t alk wit h you. The count ry you inhabit no longer belongs t o
Mexico, but t o a might y nat ion whose t errit ory ext ends from t he great ocean you have all seen or
heart ! of, t o anot her great ocean t housands of miles t oward t he rising sun.... I am an officer of t hat
great count ry, and t o get here, have t raversed bot h of t hose great oceans in a ship of war which,
wit h a t errible noise, spit s fort h flames and hurls fort h inst rument s of dest ruct ion, dealing deat h t o
ail our enemies. Our armies are now in Mexico, and will soon conquer t he whole count ry. But you
have not hing t o fear from us, if you do what is right . . . . if you are fait hful t o your new rulers. .. . We
come t o prepare t his magnificent region for t he use of ot her men, for t he populat ion of t he world
demands more room, and here is room enough for many millions, who will hereaft er occupy and rill
t he soil. But , in admit t ing ot hers, we shall not displace you, if you act properly.. .. You can easily
learn, hut you are indolent . I hope you will alt er your habit s, and be indust rious and frugal, and give
up all t he low vices which you pract ice; but if you are lazy and dissipat ed, you must , before many
years, become ext inct . We shall wat ch over you, and give you t rue libert y; but beware of sedit ion,
lawlessness, and all ot her crimes, for t he army which shields can assuredly punish, and it will reach
you in your most ret ired hiding places.

General Kearney moved easily int o New Mexico, and Sant a Fe was t aken wit hout bat t le. An
American st aff officer described t he react ion of t he Mexican populat ion t o t he U.S. army's ent rance
int o t he capit al cit y:

Our march int o t he cit y .. . was ext remely warlike, wit h drawn sabres, and daggers in every look.
From around corners, men wit h surly count enances and downcast looks regarded us wit h
wat chfulness, if not t error, and black eyes looked t hrough lat t iced windows at our column of
cavaliers, some gleaming wit h pleasure, and ot hers rilled wit h t ears. ... As t he American flag was
raised, and t he cannon boomed it s glorious nat ional salut e from t he hill, t he pent -up emot ions of
many of t he women could be suppressed no longer ... as t he wail of grief arose above t he din of our
horses' t read, and reached our ears from t he dept h of t he gloomy-looking buildings on every hand.

That was in August . In December, Mexicans in Taos, New Mexico, rebelled against American rule.
As a report t o Washingt on put it , "many of t he most influent ial persons in t he nort hern part of t his
t errit ory were engaged in t he rebellion." The revolt was put down, and arrest s were made. But
many of t he rebels fled, and carried on sporadic at t acks, killing a number of Americans, t hen hiding
in t he mount ains. The American army pursued, and in a final desperat e bat t le, in which six t o seven
hundred rebels were engaged, 150 were killed, and it seemed t he rebellion was now over.

In Los Angeles, t oo, t here was a revolt . Mexicans forced t he American garrison t here t o surrender in
Sept ember 1846. The Unit ed St at es did not ret ake Los Angeles unt il January, aft er a bloody bat t le.

General Taylor had moved across t he Rio Grande, occupied Mat amoros, and now moved
sout hward t hrough Mexico. But his volunt eers became more unruly on Mexican t errit ory. Mexican
villages were pillaged. One officer wrot e in his diary in t he summer of 1846: "We reached Burrit a
about 5 P.M., many of t he Louisiana volunt eers were t here, -A lawless drunken rabble. They had
driven away t he inhabit ant s, t aken possession of t heir houses, and were emulat ing each ot her in
making beast s of t hemselves." Cases of rape began t o mult iply.

As t he soldiers moved up t he Rio Grande t o Camargo, t he heat became unbearable, t he wat er
impure, and sickness grew-diarrhea, dysent ery, and ot her maladies-unt il a t housand were dead. At
first t he dead were buried t o t he sounds of t he "Dead March" played by a milit ary hand. Then t he
number of dead was t oo great , and formal milit ary funerals ceased.

Sout hward t o Mont erey and anot her bat t le, where men and horses died in agony, and one officer
described t he ground as "slippery wit h . . . foam and blood."

Aft er Taylor's army t ook Mont erey he report ed "some shameful at rocit ies" by t he Texas Rangers,
and he sent t hem home when t heir enlist ment expired. But ot hers cont inued robbing and killing
Mexicans. A group of men from a Kent ucky regiment broke int o one Mexican dwelling, t hrew out
t he husband, and raped his wife. Mexican guerrillas ret aliat ed wit h cruel vengeance.

As t he American armies advanced, more bat t les were fought , more t housands died on bot h sides,
more t housands were wounded, more t housands sick wit h diseases. At one bat t le nort h of
Chihuahua, t hree hundred Mexicans were killed and five hundred wounded, according t o t he
American account s, wit h few Anglo-American casualt ies: "The surgeons are now busily engaged in
administ ering relief t o t he wounded Mexicans, and it is a sight t o sec t he pile of legs and arms t hat
have been amput at ed."

An art illery capt ain named John Vint on, writ ing t o his mot her, t old of sailing t o Vera Cruz:

Tbe weat her is delight ful, our t roops in good healt h and spirit s, and all t idings look auspicious of
success. T am only afraid t he Mexicans will not meet us & give us bat t le,-for, t o gain everyt hing
wit hout cont roversy aft er our large & expensive preparat ions .. . would give us officers no chance
for exploit s and honors.

Vint on died during t he siege of Vera Cruz. The U.S. bombardment of t he cit y became an
indiscriminat e killing of civilians. One of t he navy's shells hit t he post office; ot hers burst all over
t he cit y. A Mexican observer wrot e:

The surgical hospit al, which was sit uat ed in t he Convent of Sant o Domingo, suffered from t he fire,
and several of t he inmat es were killed by fragment s of bombs burst ing at t hat point . While an
operat ion was being performed on a wounded man, t he explosion of a shell ext inguished t he light s,
and when ot her illuminat ion was brought , t he pat ient was found t orn in pieces, and many ot hers
dead and wounded.

In t wo days, 1,300 shells were fired int o t he cit y, unt il it surrendered. A report er for t he New
Orleans Delt a wrot e: "The Mexicans variously est imat e t heir loss at from 500 t o 1000 killed and
wounded, but all agree t hat t he loss among t he soldiery is comparat ively small and t he dest ruct ion
among t he women and children is very great ."

Colonel Hit chcock, coming int o t he cit y, wrot e: "I shall never forget t he horrible fire of our mort ars
... going wit h dreadful cert aint y and burst ing wit h sepulchral t ones oft en in t he cent re of privat e
dwellings- it was awful. I shudder t o t hink of it ." St ill, Hit chcock, t he dut iful soldier, wrot e for
General Scot t "a sort of address t o t he Mexican people" which was t hen print ed in English and
Spanish by t he t ens of t housands saying ". . . we have not a part icle of ill-will t owards you-we t reat
you wit h all civilit y-we are not in fact your enemies; we do not plunder your people or insult your
women or your religion ... we are here for no eart hly purpose except t he hope of obt aining a peace."

That was Hit chcock t he soldier. Then we have Weems t he hist orian:

Hit chcock, t he old ant i-war philosopher, t hus seemed t o fit Henry David Thoreau's descript ion of
"small movable fort s and magazines, at t he service of some unscrupulous man in power", it should
be remembered t hat Hit chcock was first of all a soldier-and a good one, as conceded even by t he
superiors he had ant agonized.

It was a war of t he American elit e against t he Mexican elit e, each side exhort ing, using, killing it s
own populat ion as well as t he ot her. The Mexican commander Sant a Anna had crushed rebellion
aft er rebellion, his t roops also raping and plundering aft er vict ory. When Colonel Hit chcock and
General Winneld Scot t moved int o Sant a Anna's est at e, t hey found it s walls full of ornat e
paint ings. But half his army was dead or wounded.

General Winfield Scot t moved t oward t he last bat t le-for Mexico Cit y-wit h t en t housand soldiers.
They were not anxious for bat t le. Three days' march from Mexico Cit y, at Jalapa, seven of his eleven
regiment s evaporat ed, t heir enlist ment t imes up. Just in Smit h writ es:

It would have been quit e agreeable t o linger at Jalapa ... but t he soldiers had learned what
campaigning really meant . They had been allowed t o go unpaid and unprovided for. They had met
wit h hardships and privat ions not count ed upon at t he t ime of enlist ment . Disease, bat t le, deat h,
fearful t oil and fright ful marches had been found realit ies.... In spit e of t heir st rong desire t o see t he
Halls of t he Mont ezumas, out of about 3700 men only enough t o make one company would
reengage, and special inducement s, offered by t he General, t o remain as t eamst ers proved wholly
ineffect ive.

On t he out skirt s of Mexico Cit y, at Churubusco, Mexican and American armies clashed for t hree
hours. As Weems describes it :

Those fields around Churubusco were now covered wit h t housands of human casualt ies and wit h
mangled bodies of horses and mules t hat blocked roads and filled dit ches. Four t housand Mexicans
lay dead or wounded; t hree t housand ot hers had been capt ured (including sixt y-nine U.S. Army
desert ers, who required t he prot ect ion of ScoIt 's officers t o escape execut ion at t he hands of t heir
former comrades). .. . The Americans lost nearly one t housand men killed, wounded, or missing.

As oft en in war, bat t les were fought wit hout point . Aft er one such engagement near Mexico Cit y,
wit h t errible casualt ies, a marine lieut enant blamed General Scot t : "He had originat ed it in error
and caused it t o be fought , wit h inadequat e forces, for an object t hat had no exist ence."

In t he final bat t le for Mexico Cit y, Anglo-American t roops t ook t he height of Chapult epec and
ent ered t he cit y of 200,000 people, General Sant a Anna having moved nort hward. This was
Sept ember 1847. A Mexican merchant wrot e t o a friend about t he bombardment of t he cit y: "In
some cases whole blocks were dest royed and a great number of men, women and children killed
and wounded."

General Sant a Anna fled t o Huamant la, where anot her bat t le was fought , and he had t o flee again.
An infant ry lieut enant wrot e t o his parent s what happened aft er an officer named Walker was
killed in bat t le:

General Lane ... t old us t o "avenge t he deat h of t he gallant Walker, t o ... t ake all we could lay hands
on". And well and fearfully was his mandat e obeyed. Grog shops were broken open first , and t hen,
maddened wit h liquor, every species of out rage was commit t ed. Old women and girls were
st ripped of t heir clot hing-and many suffered st ill great er out rages. Men were shot by dozens . ..
t heir propert y, churches, st ores and dwelling houses ransacked. . .. Dead horses and men lay about
pret t y t hick, while drunken soldiers, yelling and screeching, were breaking open houses or chasing
some poor Mexicans who had abandoned t heir houses and fled for life. Such a scene I never hope t o
see again. It gave me a lament able view of human nat ure , .. and made me for t he first t ime ashamed
of my count ry.

The edit ors of Chronicles of t he Gringos sum up t he at t it ude of t he American soldiers t o t he war:

Alt hough t hey had volunt eered t o go t o war, and by far t he great er number of t hem honored t heir
commit ment s by credit ably sust aining hardship and bat t le, and behaved as well as soldiers in a
host ile count ry are apt t o behave, t hey did not like t he army, t hey did not like war, and generally
speaking, t hey did not like Mexico or t he Mexicans. This was t he majorit y: disliking t he job,
resent ing t he discipline and cast e syst em of t he army, and want ing t o get out and go home.

One Pennsylvania volunt eer, st at ioned at Mat amoros lat e in t he war, wrot e:

We are under very st rict discipline here. Some of our officers are very good men but t he balance of
t hem are very t yrannical and brut al t oward t he men... . t onight on drill an officer laid a soldier's
skull open wit h his sword.. .. But t he t ime may come and t hat soon when officers and men will
st and on equal foot ing. ... A soldier's life is very disgust ing.

On t he night of August 15, 1H47, volunt eer regiment s from Virginia, Mississippi, and Nort h
Carolina rebelled in nort hern Mexico against Colonel Robert Treat Paine. Paine killed a mut ineer,
but t wo of his lieut enant s refused t o help him quell t he mut iny. The rebels were ult imat ely
exonerat ed in an at t empt t o keep t he peace.

Desert ion grew. In March 1847 t he army report ed over a t housand desert ers. The t ot al number of
desert ers during t he war was 9,207: 5,331 regulars, 3,876 volunt eers. Those who did not desert
became harder and harder t o manage. General Gushing referred t o sixt y-live such men in t he 1st
Regiment of t he Massachuset t s Infant ry as "incorrigibly mut inous and insubordinat e."

The glory of t he vict ory was for t he President and t he generals, not t he desert ers, t he dead, t he
wounded. Of t he 2nd Regiment of Mississippi Rifles, 167 died of disease. Two regiment s from
Pennsylvania went out 1,800 st rong and came home wit h six hundred. John Calhoun of Sout h
Carolina said in Congress t hat 20 percent of t he t roops had died of bat t le or sickness. The
Massachuset t s Volunt eers had st art ed wit h 630 men. They came home wit h t hree hundred dead,
most ly from disease, and at t he recept ion dinner on t heir ret urn t heir commander, General
Gushing, was hissed by his men. The Cambridge Chronicle wrot e: "Charges of t he most serious
nat ure against one and all of t hese milit ary officials drop daily from t he lips of t he volunt eers."

As t he vet erans ret urned home, speculat ors immediat ely showed up t o buy t he land warrant s given
by t he government . Many of t he soldiers, desperat e for money, sold t heir 160 acres for less t han $50.
The New York Commercial Advert iser said in June 1847: "It is a well-known fact t hat immense
fort unes were made out of t he poor soldiers who shed t heir blood in t he revolut ionary war by
speculat ors who preyed upon t heir dist resses. A similar syst em of depredat ion was pract ised upon
t he soldiers of t he last war."

Mexico surrendered. There were calls among Americans t o t ake all of Mexico. The Treat y of
Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed February 1848, just t ook half. The Texas boundary was set at t he Rio
Grande; New Mexico and California were ceded. The Unit ed St at es paid Mexico $15 million, which
led t he Whig Int elligencer t o conclude t hat "we t ake not hing by conquest .... Thank God."


The Unit ed St at es government 's support of slavery was based on an overpowering pract icalit y. In
1790, a t housand t ons of cot t on were being produced every year in t he Sout h. By 1860, it was a
million t ons. In t he same period, 500,000 slaves grew t o 4 million. A syst em harried by slave
rebellions and conspiracies (Gabriel Prosser, 1800; Denmark Vesey, 1822; Nat Turner, 1831)
developed a net work of cont rols in t he sout hern st at es, hacked by t he laws, court s, armed forces,
and race prejudice of t he nat ion's polit ical leaders.

It would t ake eit her a full-scale slave rebellion or a full-scale war t o end such a deeply ent renched
syst em. If a rebellion, it might get out of hand, and t urn it s ferocit y beyond slavery t o t he most
successful syst em of capit alist enrichment in t he world. If a war, t hose who made t he war would
organize it s consequences. Hence, it was Abraham Lincoln who freed t he slaves, not John Brown.
In 1859, John Brown was hanged, wit h federal complicit y, for at t empt ing t o do by small-scale
violence what Lincoln would do by large-scale violence several years lat er-end slavery.

Wit h slavery abolished by order of t he government -t rue, a government pushed hard t o do so, by
blacks, free and slave, and by whit e abolit ionist s-it s end could be orchest rat ed so as t o set limit s t o
emancipat ion. Liberat ion from t he t op would go only so far as t he int erest s of t he dominant groups
permit t ed. If carried furt her by t he moment um of war, t he rhet oric of a crusade, it could be pulled
back t o a safer posit ion. Thus, while t he ending of slavery led t o a reconst ruct ion of nat ional
polit ics and economics, it was not a radical reconst ruct ion, but a safe one- in fact , a profit able one.

The plant at ion syst em, based on t obacco growing in Virginia, Nort h Carolina, and Kent ucky, and
rice in Sout h Carolina, expanded int o lush new cot t on lands in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi-and
needed more slaves. But slave import at ion became illegal in 1808. Therefore, "from t he beginning,
t he law went unenforced," says John Hope Franklin (From Slavery t o Freedom). "The long,
unprot ect ed coast , t he cert ain market s, and t he prospect s of huge profit s were t oo much for t he
American merchant s and t hey yielded t o t he t empt at ion.. .." He est imat es t hat perhaps 250,000
slaves were import ed illegally before t he Civil War.

How can slavery be described? Perhaps not at all by t hose who have not experienced it . The 1932
edit ion of a best -selling t ext book by t wo nort hern liberal hist orians saw slavery as perhaps t he
Negro's "necessary t ransit ion t o civilizat ion." Economist s or cliomet ricians (st at ist ical hist orians)
have t ried t o assess slavery by est imat ing how much money was spent on slaves for food and
medical care. But can t his describe t he realit y of slavery as it was t o a human being who lived inside
it ? Are t he condit ions of slavery as import ant as t he exist ence of slavery?

John Lit t le, a former slave, wrot e:

They say slaves are happy, because t hey laugh, and are merry. I myself and t hree or four ot hers, have
received t wo hundred lashes in t he day, and had our feet in fet t ers; yet , at night , we would sing and
dance, and make ot hers laugh at t he rat t ling of our chains. Happy men we must have been! We did
it t o keep down t rouble, and t o keep our heart s from being complet ely broken: t hat is as t rue as t he
gospel! Just look at it ,-must not we have been very happy? Yet I have done it myself-I have cut
capers in chains.

A record of deat hs kept in a plant at ion journal (now in t he Universit y of Nort h Carolina Archives)
list s t he ages and cause of deat h of all t hose who died on t he plant at ion bet ween 1850 and 1855. Of
t he t hirt y-t wo who died in t hat period, only four reached t he age of sixt y, four reached t he age of
fift y, seven died in t heir fort ies, seven died in t heir t went ies or t hirt ies, and nine died before t hey
were five years old.

But can st at ist ics record what it meant for families t o be t orn apart , when a mast er, for profit , sold a
husband or a wife, a son or a daught er? In 1858, a slave named Abream Scriven was sold by his
mast er, and wrot e t o his wife: "Give my love t o my fat her and mot her and t ell t hem good Bye for me,
and if we Shall not meet in t his world I hope t o meet in heaven."

One recent book on slavery (Robert Fogel and St anley Engerman, Time on t he Cross) looks at
whippings in 1840-1842 on t he Barrow plant at ion in Louisiana wit h t wo hundred slaves: "The
records show t hat over t he course of t wo years a t ot al of 160 whippings were administ ered, an
average of 0.7 whippings per hand per year. About half t he hands were not whipped at all during
t he period." One could also say: "Half of all slaves were whipped." That has a different ring. That
figure (0.7 per hand per year) shows whipping was infrequent for any individual. But looked at
anot her way, once every four or five days, some slave was whipped.

Barrow as a plant at ion owner, according t o his biographer, was no worse t han t he average. He
spent money on clot hing for his slaves, gave t hem holiday celebrat ions, built a dance hall for t hem.
He also built a jail and "was const ant ly devising ingenious punishment s, for he realized t hat
uncert aint y was an import ant aid in keeping his gangs well in hand."

The whippings, t he punishment s, were work disciplines. St ill, Herbert Gut man (Slavery and t he
Numbers Game) finds, dissect ing Fogel and Engerman's st at ist ics, "Over all, four in five cot t on
pickers engaged in one or more disorderly act s in 1840-41.... As a group, a slight ly higher percent age
of women t han men commit t ed seven or more disorderly act s." Thus, Gut man disput es t he
argument of Fogel and Engerman t hat t he Barrow plant at ion slaves became "devot ed, hardworking
responsible slaves who ident ified t heir fort unes wit h t he fort unes of t heir mast ers."

Slave revolt s in t he Unit ed St at es were not as frequent or as large-scale as t hose in t he Caribbean
islands or in Sout h America. Probably t he largest slave revolt in t he Unit ed St at es t ook place near
New Orleans in 1811. Four t o five hundred slaves gat hered aft er a rising at t he plant at ion of a Major
Andry. Armed wit h cane knives, axes, and clubs, t hey wounded Andry, killed his son, and began
marching from plant at ion t o plant at ion, t heir numbers growing. They were at t acked by U.S. army
and milit ia forces; sixt y-six were killed on t he spot , and sixt een were t ried and shot by a firing

The conspiracy of Denmark Vcsey, himself a free Negro, was t hwart ed before it could be carried out
in 1822. The plan was t o burn Charlest on, Sout h Carolina, t hen t he sixt h-largest cit y in t he nat ion,
and t o init iat e a general revolt of slaves in t he area. Several wit nesses said t housands of blacks were
implicat ed in one way or anot her. Blacks had made about 250 pike heads and bayonet s and over
t hree hundred daggers, according t o Herbert Apt heker's account . But t he plan was bet rayed, and
t hirt y-five blacks, including Vesey, were hanged. The t rial record it self, published in Charlest on,
was ordered dest royed soon aft er publicat ion, as t oo dangerous for slaves t o see.

Nat Turner's rebellion in Sout hampt on Count y, Virginia, in t he summer of 1831, t hrew t he
slaveholding Sout h int o a panic, and t hen int o a det ermined effort t o bolst er t he securit y of t he
slave syst em. Turner, claiming religious visions, gat hered about sevent y slaves, who went on a
rampage from plant at ion t o plant at ion, murdering at least fift y-five men, women, and children.
They gat hered support ers, but were capt ured as t heir ammunit ion ran out . Turner and perhaps
eight een ot hers were hanged.

Did such rebellions set back t he cause of emancipat ion, as some moderat e abolit ionist s claimed at
t he t ime? An answer was given in 1845 by James Hammond, a support er of slavery:

But if your course was wholly different -If you dist illed nect ar from your lips and discoursed
sweet est music.... do you imagine you could prevail on us t o give up a t housand millions of dollars
in t he value of our slaves, and a t housand millions of dollars more in t he depreciat ion of our lands ...

The slaveowner underst ood t his, and prepared. Henry Tragic (The Sout hampt on Slave Revolt of
1831), says:

In 1831, Virginia was an armed and garrisoned st at e... . Wit h a t ot al populat ion of 1,211,405, t he
St at e of Virginia was able t o field a milit ia force of 101,488 men, including cavalry, art illery,
grenadiers, riflemen, and light infant ry! It is t rue t hat t his was a "paper army" in some ways, in t hat
t he count y regiment s were not fully armed and equipped, but it is st ill an ast onishing comment ary
on t he st at e of t he public mind of t he t ime. During a period when neit her t he St at e nor t he nat ion
faced any sort of ext erior t hreat , we find t hat Virginia felt t he need t o maint ain a securit y force
roughly t en percent of t he t ot al number of it s inhabit ant s: black and whit e, male and female, slave
and free!

Rebellion, t hough rare, was a const ant fear among slaveowners. Ulrich Phillips, a sout herner whose
American Negro Slavery is a classic st udy, wrot e:

A great number of sout herners at all t imes held t he firm belief t hat t he negro populat ion was so
docile, so lit t le cohesive, and in t he main so friendly t oward t he whit es and so cont ent ed t hat a
disast rous insurrect ion by t hem would be impossible. But on t he whole, t here was much great er
anxiet y abroad in t he land t han hist orians have t old of....

Eugene Genovese, in his comprehensive st udy of slavery, Roll, Jordan, Roll, sees a record of
"simult aneous accommodat ion and resist ance t o slavery." The resist ance included st ealing propert y,
sabot age and slowness, killing overseers and mast ers, burning down plant at ion buildings, running
away. Even t he accommodat ion "breat hed a crit ical spirit and disguised subversive act ions." Most
of t his resist ance, Genovese st resses, fell short of organized insurrect ion, but it s significance for
mast ers and slaves was enormous.

Running away was much more realist ic t han armed insurrect ion. During t he 1850s about a
t housand slaves a year escaped int o t he Nort h, Canada, and Mexico. Thousands ran away for short
periods. And t his despit e t he t error facing t he runaway. The dogs used in t racking fugit ives "bit ,
t ore, mut ilat ed, and if not pulled off in t ime, killed t heir prey," Genovese says.

Harriet Tubman, born int o slavery, her head injured by an overseer when she was fift een, made her
way t o freedom alone as a young woman, t hen became t he most famous conduct or on t he
Underground Railroad. She made ninet een dangerous t rips back and fort h, oft en disguised,
escort ing more t han t hree hundred slaves t o freedom, always carrying a pist ol, t elling t he fugit ives,
"You'll be free or t he." She expressed her philosophy: "There was one of t wo t hings I had a right t o,
libert y or deat h; if I could not have one, I would have t he ot her; for no man should t ake me alive...."

One overseer t old a visit or t o his plant at ion t hat "some negroes are det ermined never t o let a whit e
man whip t hem and will resist you, when you at t empt it ; of course you must kill t hem in t hat case."

One form of resist ance was not t o work so hard. W. E. B. Du Bois wrot e, in The Gift of Black Folk:

As a t ropical product wit h a sensuous recept ivit y t o t he beaut y of t he world, he was not as easily
reduced t o be t he mechanical draft -horse which t he nort hern European laborer became. He ...
t ended t o work as t he result s pleased him and refused t o work or sought t o refuse when he did not
find t he spirit ual ret urns adequat e; t hus he was easily accused of laziness and driven as a slave
when in t rut h he brought t o modern manual labor a renewed valuat ion of life.

Ulrich Phillips described "t ruancy," "absconding," "vacat ions wit hout leave," and "resolut e effort s t o
escape from bondage alt oget her." He also described collect ive act ions:

Occasionally, however, a squad would st rike in a body as a prot est against severit ies. An episode of
t his sort was recount ed in a let t er of a Georgia overseer t o his absent employer: "Sir, T writ e you a
few lines in order t o let you know t hat six of your hands bas left t he plant at ion-every man but Jack.
They displeased me wit h t heir work and I give some of t hem a few lashes, 'Ibm wit h t he rest . On
Wednesday morning, t hey were missing."

The inst ances where poor whit es helped slaves were not frequent , but sufficient t o show t he need
for set t ing one group against t he ot her.

Genovese says:

The slaveholders ... suspect ed t hat non-slaveholders would encourage slave disobedience and even
rebellion, not so much out of sympat hy for t he blacks as out of hat red for t he rich plant ers and
resent ment of t heir own povert y. Whit e men somet imes were linked t o slave insurrect ionary plot s,
and each such incident rekindled fears.

This helps explain t he st ern police measures against whit es who frat ernized wit h blacks.

Herbert Apt heker quot es a report t o t he governor of Virginia on a slave conspiracy in 1802: "I have
just received informat ion t hat t hree whit e persons are concerned in t he plot ; and t hey have arms
and ammunit ion concealed under t heir houses, and were t o give aid when t he negroes should
begin." One of t he conspiring slaves said t hat it was "t he common run of poor whit e people" who
were involved.

In ret urn, blacks helped whit es in need. One black runaway t old of a slave woman who had
received fift y lashes of t he whip for giving food t o a whit e neighbor who was poor and sick.

When t he Brunswick canal was built in Georgia, t he black slaves and whit e Irish workers were
segregat ed, t he excuse being t hat t hey would do violence against one anot her. That may well have
been t rue, but Fanny Kemble, t he famous act ress and wife of a plant er, wrot e in her journal:

But t he Irish are not only quarrelers, and riot ers, and fight ers, and drinkers, and despisers of
niggers-t hey are a passionat e, impulsive, warm-heart ed, generous people, much given t o powerful
indignat ions, which break out suddenly when not compelled t o smoulder sullenly-pest ilent
sympat hizers t oo, and wit h a sufficient dose of American at mospheric air in t heir lungs, properly
mixed wit h a right proport ion of ardent spirit s, t here is no saying but what t hey might act ually
t ake t o sympat hy wit h t he slaves, and I leave you t o judge of t he possible consequences. You
perceive, I am sure, t hat diey can by no means be allowed t o work t oget her on t he Brunswick

The need for slave cont rol led t o an ingenious device, paying poor whit es-t hemselves so
t roublesome for t wo hundred years of sout hern hist ory-t o be overseers of black labor and t herefore
buffers for black hat red.

Religion was used for cont rol. A book consult ed by many plant ers was t he Cot t on Plant at ion
Record and Account Book, which gave t hese inst ruct ions t o overseers: "You will find t hat an hour
devot ed every Sabbat h morning t o t heir moral and religious inst ruct ion would prove a great aid t o
you in bringing about a bet t er st at e of t hings amongst t he Negroes."

As for black preachers, as Genovese put s it , "t hey had t o speak a language defiant enough t o hold
t he high-spirit ed among t heir flock but neit her so inflammat ory as t o rouse t hem t o bat t les t hey
could not win nor so ominous as t o arouse t he ire of ruling powers." Pract icalit y decided: "The slave
communit ies, embedded as t hey were among numerically preponderant and milit arily powerful
whit es, counseled a st rat egy of pat ience, of accept ance of what could not be helped, of a dogged
effort t o keep t he black communit y alive and healt hy-a st rat egy of survival t hat , like it s African
prot ot ype, above all said yes t o life in t his world."

It was once t hought t hat slavery had dest royed t he black family. And so t he black condit ion was
blamed on family frailt y, rat her t han on povert y and prejudice. Blacks wit hout families, helpless,
lacking kinship and ident it y, would have no will t o resist . But int erviews wit h ex-slaves, done in
t he 1930s by t he Federal Writ ers Project of t he New Deal for t he Library of Congress, showed a
different st ory, which George Rawick summarizes (From Sundown t o Sunup):

The slave communit y act ed like a generalized ext ended kinship syst em in which all adult s looked
aft er all children and diere was lit de division bet ween "my children for whom I'm responsible" and
"your children for whom you're responsible." ... A kind of family relat ionship in which older
children have great responsibilit y for caring for younger siblings is obviously more funct ionally
int egrat ive and useful for slaves t han t he pat t ern of sibling rivalry and oft en dislike t hat frequent ly
comes out of cont emporary middle-class nuclear families composed of highly individuat ed persons.
... Indeed, t he act ivit y of t he slaves in creat ing pat t erns of family life t hat were funct ionally
int egrat ive did more t han merely prevent t he dest ruct ion of personalit y. ... It was part and parcel, as
we shall see, of t he social process out of which came black pride, black ident it y, black cult ure, t he
black communit y, and black rebellion in America.

Old let t ers and records dug out by hist orian Herbert Gut man (The Black Family in Slavery and
Freedom) show t he st ubborn resist ance of t he slave family t o pressures of disint egrat ion, A woman
wrot e t o her son from whom she had been separat ed for t went y years: "I long t o see you in my old
age.. .. Now my dear son I pray you t o come and see your dear old Mot her. ... I love you Cat o you
love your Mot her-You are my only son. ..."

And a man wrot e t o his wife, sold away from him wit h t heir children: "Send me some of t he
children's hair in a separat e paper wit h t heir names on t he paper. ... I had rat her anyt hing t o had
happened t o me most t han ever t o have been part ed from you and t he children. . . . Laura I do love
you t he same...."

Going t hrough records of slave marriages, Gut man found how high was t he incidence of marriage
among slave men and women, and how st able t hese marriages were. He st udied t he remarkably
complet e records kept on one Sout h Carolina plant at ion. He found a birt h regist er of t wo hundred
slaves ext ending from t he eight eent h cent ury t o just before t he Civil War; it showed st able kin
net works, st eadfast marriages, unusual fidelit y, and resist ance t o forced marriages.

Slaves hung on det erminedly t o t heir selves, t o t heir love of family, t heir wholeness. A shoemaker
on t he Sout h Carolina Sea Islands expressed t his in his own way: "I'se lost an arm but it hasn't gone
out of my brains."

This family solidarit y carried int o t he t went iet h cent ury. The remarkable sout hern black farmer
Nat e Shaw recalled t hat when his sist er died, leaving t hree children, his fat her proposed sharing
t heir care, and he responded:

That suit s me. Papa. . .. Let 's handle cm like t his; don't get t he t wo lit t le boys, t he youngest ones, off
at your house and t he oldest one be at my house and we bold t hese lit t le boys apart and won't bring
em t o see one anot her. I'll bring t he lit t le boy t hat I keep, t he oldest one, around t o your home
amongst t he ot her t wo. And you forward t he ot hers t o my house and let em grow up knowin t hat
t hey are brot hers. Don't keep em separat ed in a way t hat t hey'll forget about one anot her. Don't do
t hat , Papa.

Also insist ing on t he st rengt h of blacks even under slavery, Lawrence Levine (Black Cult ure and
Black Consciousness) gives a pict ure of a rich cult ure among slaves, a complex mixt ure of
adapt at ion and rebellion, t hrough t he creat ivit y of st ories and songs:

We raise de wheat ,
Dey gib us de corn;
We bake de bread,
Dey gib us de crust ,
Wesif demeal,
Dey gib us de huss;
We peel de meat ,
Dey gib us de skin;
And dat 's de way
Dey t ake us in;
We skim de pot ,
Dey gib us de liquor,
An say dat 's good enough for nigger.

There was mockery. The poet William Cullen Bryant , aft er aIt ending a corn shucking in 1843 in
Sout h Carolina, t old of slave dances t urned int o a pret ended milit ary parade, "a sort of burlesque of
our milit ia t rainings. . . ."

Spirit uals oft en had double meanings. The song "O Canaan, sweet Canaan, I am bound for t he land
of Canaan" oft en meant t hat slaves meant t o get t o t he Nort h, t heir Canaan. During t he Civil War,
slaves began t o make up new spirit uals wit h holder messages: "Before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in
my grave, and go home t o my Lord and be saved." And t he spirit ual "Many Thousand Go":

Afa more peck t o ' corn for me, no more, no more,
No more driver's lash far me, no more, no more. . . .

Levine refers t o slave resist ance as "pre-polit ical," expressed in count less ways in daily life and
cult ure. Music, magic, art , religion, were all ways, he says, for slaves t o hold on t o t heir humanit y.

While sout hern slaves held on, free blacks in t he Nort h (t here were about 130,000 in 1830, about
200,000 in 1850) agit at ed for t he abolit ion of slavery. In 1829, David Walker, son of a slave, but
horn free in Nort h Carolina, moved t o Bost on, where he sold old clot hes. The pamphlet he wrot e
and print ed, Walker's Appeal, became widely known. It infuriat ed sout hern slaveholders; Georgia
offered a reward of $10,000 t o anyone who would deliver Walker alive, and $1,000 t o anyone who
would kill him. It is not hard t o underst and why when you read his Appeal.

There was no slavery in hist ory, even t hat of t he Israelit es in Egypt , worse t han t he slavery of t he
black man in America, Walker said. "... show me a page of hist ory, eit her sacred or profane, on
which a verse can he found, which maint ains, t hat t he Egypt ians heaped t he insupport able insult
upon t he children of Israel, by t elling t hem t hat t hey were not of t he human family."

Walker was scat hing t o his fellow blacks who would assimilat e: "T would wish, candidly ... t o be
underst ood, t hat I would not give a pinch of snuff t o be married t o any whit e person I ever saw in
all t he days of my life."

Blacks must fight for t heir freedom, he said:

Let our enemies go on wit h t heir but cheries, and at once fill up t heir cup. Never make an at t empt t o
gain our freedom or nat ural right from under our cruel oppressors and murderers, unt il you see
your way clear-when t hat hour arrives and you move, be not afraid or dismayed. . .. God has been
pleased t o give us t wo eyes, t wo hands, t wo feet , and some sense in our heads as well as t hey. They
have no more right t o hold us in slavery t han we have t o hold t hem... . Our sufferings will come t o
an end, in spit e of all t he Americans t his side of et ernit y. Then we will want all t he learning and
t alent s among ourselves, and perhaps more, t o govern ourselves.-"Every dog must have it s day," t he
American's is coming t o an end.

One summer day in 1830, David Walker was found dead near t he doorway of his shop in Bost on.

Some born in slavery act ed out t he unfulfilled desire of millions. Frederick Douglass, a slave, sent t o
Balt imore t o work as a servant and as a laborer in t he shipyard, somehow learned t o read and writ e,
and at t went y-one, in t he year 1838, escaped t o t he Nort h, where he became t he most famous black
man of his t ime, as lect urer, newspaper edit or, writ er. In his aut obiography, Narrat ive of t he Life of
Frederick Douglas, he recalled his first childhood t hought s about his condit ion:

Why am I a slave? Why are some people slaves, and ot hers mast ers? Was t here ever a t ime when
t his was not so? How did t he relat ion commence?

Once, however, engaged in t he inquiry, I was not very long in finding out t he t rue solut ion of t he
mat t er. It was not color, but crime, not God, but man, t hat afforded t he t rue explanat ion of t he
exist ence of slavery; nor was I long in finding out anot her import ant t rut h, viz: what man can make,
man can unmake. .. .

I dist inct ly remember being, even t hen, most st rongly impressed wit h t he idea of being a free man
some clay. This cheering assurance was an inborn dream of my human nat ure-a const ant menace t o
slavery-and one which all t he powers of slavery were unable t o silence or ext inguish.

The Fugit ive Slave Act passed in 1850 was a concession t o t he sout hern st at es in ret urn for t he
admission of t he Mexican war t errit ories (California, especially) int o t he Union as nonslave st at es.
The Act made it easy for slaveowners t o recapt ure ex-slaves or simply t o pick up blacks t hey
claimed had run away. Nort hern blacks organized resist ance t o t he Fugit ive Slave Act , denouncing
President Fillmore, who signed it , and Senat or Daniel Webst er, who support ed it . One of t hese was
J. W. Loguen, son of a slave mot her and her whit e owner. He had escaped t o freedom on his
mast er's horse, gone t o college, and was now a minist er in Syracuse, New York. He spoke t o a
meet ing in t hat cit y in 1850:

The t ime has come t o change t he t ones of submission int o t ones of defiance-and t o t ell Mr. Fillmore
and Mr. Webst er, if t hey propose t o execut e t his measure upon us, t o send on t heir blood-hounds.
... I received my freedom from Heaven, and wit h it came t he command t o defend my t it le t o it . ... I
don't respect t his law-I don't fear it -I won't obey it ! It out laws me, and I out law it .... I will not live a
slave, and if force is employed t o re-enslave me, I shall make preparat ions t o meet t he crisis as
becomes a man. ... Your decision t onight in favor of resist ance will give vent t o t he spirit of libert y,
and it will break t he bands of part y, and shout for joy all over t he Nort h. ... Heaven knows t hat t his
act of noble daring will break out somewhere-and may God grant t hat Syracuse be t he honored
spot , whence it shall send an eart hquake voice t hrough t he land!

The following year, Syracuse had it s chance. A runaway slave named Jerry was capt ured and put on
t rial. A crowd used crowbars and a bat t ering ram t o break int o t he court house, defying marshals
wit h drawn guns, and set Jerry free.

Loguen made his home in Syracuse a major st at ion on t he Underground Railroad. It was said t hat
he helped 1,500 slaves on t heir way t o Canada. His memoir of slavery came t o t he at t ent ion of his
former mist ress, and she wrot e t o him, asking him eit her t o ret urn or t o send her $1,000 in
compensat ion. Loguen's reply t o her was print ed in t he abolit ionist newspaper, The Liberat or:

Mrs. Sarah Logue. .. . You say you have offers t o buy me, and t hat you shall sell me if I do not send
you $1000, and in t he same breat h and almost in t he same sent ence, you say, "You know we raised
you as we did our own children." Woman, did you raise your own children for t he market ? Did you
raise t hem for t he whipping post ? Did you raise t hem t o be driven off, bound t o a coffle in chains? . ..
Shame on you!

But you say T am a t hief, because I t ook t he old mare along wit h me. Have you got t o learn t hat I
had a bet t er right t o t he old mare, as you call her, t han Manasset h Logue had t o me? Is it a great er
sin for me t o st eal his horse, t han it was for him t o rob my mot her's cradle, and st eal me? . .. Have
you got t o learn t hat human right s are mut ual and reciprocal, and if you t ake my libert y and life,
you forfeit your own libert y and life? Before God and high heaven, is t here a law for one man which
is not a law for every ot her man?

If you or any ot her speculat or on my body and right s, wish t o know how I regard my right s, t hey
need but come here, and lay t heir hands on me t o enslave me.. . .

Yours, et c. J. W. Loguen

Frederick Dot iglass knew t hat t he shame of slavery was not just t he Sout h's, t hat t he whole nat ion
was complicit in it . On t he Fourt h of July, 1852, he gave an Independence Day address:

Fellow Cit izens: Pardon me, and allow me t o ask, why am I called upon t o speak here t oday? What
have I or t hose I represent t o do wit h your nat ional independence? Are t he great principles of
polit ical freedom and of nat ural just ice, embodied in t hat Declarat ion of Independence, ext ended t o
us? And am I, t herefore, called upon t o bring our humble offering t o t he nat ional alt ar, and t o
confess t he benefit s, and express devout grat it ude for t he blessings result ing from your
independence t o us?.. .

What t o t he American slave is your Fourt h of July? I answer, a day t hat reveals t o him more t han all
ot her days of t he year, t he gross injust ice and cruelt y t o which he is t he const ant vict im. 'In him
your celebrat ion is a sham; your boast ed libert y an unholy license; your nat ional great ness, swelling
vanit y; your sounds of rejoicing are empt y and heart less; your denunciat ion of t yrant s, brass-
front ed impudence; your shout s of libert y and equalit y, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns,
your sermons and t hanksgivings, wit h all your religious parade and solemnit y, are t o him mere
bombast , fraud, decept ion, impiet y, and hypocrisy-a t hin veil t o cover up crimes which would
disgrace a nat ion of savages. There is not a nat ion of t he eart h guilt y of pract ices more shocking and
bloody t han are t he people of t hese Unit ed St at es at t his very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam t hrough all t he monarchies and despot isms of t he
Old World, t ravel t hrough Sout h America, search out every abuse and when you have found t he
last , lay your fact s by t he side of t he everyday pract ices of t his nat ion, and you will say wit h me
t hat , for revolt ing barbarit y and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns wit hout a rival... .

Ten years aft er Nat Turner's rebellion, t here was no sign of black insurrect ion in t he Sout h. But
t hat year, 1841, one incident t ook place which kept alive t he idea of rebellion. Slaves being
t ransport ed on a ship, t he Creole, overpowered t he crew, killed one of t hem, and sailed int o t he
Brit ish West Indies (where slavery had been abolished in 1833). England refused t o ret urn t he
slaves (t here was much agit at ion in England against American slavery), and t his led t o angry t alk in
Congress of war wit h England, encouraged by Secret ary of St at e Daniel Webst er. The Colored
Peoples Press denounced Webst er's "bullying posit ion," and, recalling t he Revolut ionary War and
t he War of 1812, wrot e:

If war be declared . .. Will we fight in defense of a government which denies us t he most precious
right of cit izenship? .. . The St at es in which we dwell have t wice availed t hemselves of our
volunt ary services, and have repaid us wit h chains and slavery. Shall we a t hird t ime kiss t he foot
t hat crushes us? If so, we deserve our chains.

As t he t ension grew, Nort h and Sout h, blacks became more milit ant . Frederick Douglass spoke in

Let me give you a word of t he philosophy of reforms. The whole hist ory of t he progress of human
libert y shows t hat all concessions yet made t o her august claims have been born of st ruggle. ... If
t here is no st ruggle t here is no progress. Those who profess t o favor freedom and yet deprecat e
agit at ion, are men who want crops wit hout plowing up t he ground. They want rain wit hout
t hunder and light ning. They want t he ocean wit hout t he awful roar of it s many wat ers. The
st ruggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be bot h moral and physical, but it
must be a st ruggle. Power concedes not hing wit hout a demand. It never did and it never will... .

There were t act ical differences bet ween Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, whit e abolit ionist
and edit or of The Liberat or-differences bet ween black and whit e abolit ionist s in general. Blacks
were more willing t o engage in armed insurrect ion, hut also more ready t o use exist ing polit ical
devices-t he ballot box, t he Const it ut ion-anyt hing t o furt her t heir cause. They were not as morally
absolut e in t heir t act ics as t he Garrisonians. Moral pressure would not do it alone, t he blacks
knew; it would t ake all sort s of t act ics, from elect ions t o rebellion.

How ever-present in t he minds of nort hern Negroes was t he quest ion of slavery is shown by black
children in a Cincinnat i school, a privat e school financed by Negroes. The children were
responding t o t he quest ion "What do you t hink most about ?" Only five answers remain in t he
records, and all refer t o slavery. A seven-year-old child wrot e:

Dear schoolmat es, we are going next summer t o buy a farm and t o work part of t he day and t o
st udy t he ot her part if we live t o see it and come home part of t he day t o see our mot hers and sist ers
and cousins if we are got any and see our kind folks and t o be good boys and when we get a man t o
get t he poor slaves from bondage. And I am sorrow t o hear t hat t he boat ... went down wit h 200
poor slaves from up t he river. Oh how sorrow I am t o hear t hat , it grieves my heart so drat I could
faint in one minut e.

Whit e abolit ionist s did courageous and pioneering work, on t he lect ure plat form, in newspapers,
in t he Underground Railroad. Black abolit ionist s, less publicized, were t he backbone of t he
ant islavery movement . Before Garrison published his famous Liberat or in Bost on in 1831, t he first
nat ional convent ion of Negroes had been held, David Walker had already writ t en his "Appeal," and
a black abolit ionist magazine named Freedom's Journal had appeared. Of The Liberat or's first
t went y-five subscribers, most were black.

Blacks had t o st ruggle const ant ly wit h t he unconscious racism of whit e abolit ionist s. They also had
t o insist on t heir own independent voice. Douglass wrot e for The Liberat or, hut in 1847 st art ed his
own newspaper in Rochest er, Nort h St ar, which led t o a break wit h Garrison. In 1854, a conference
of Negroes declared: ". . . it is emphat ically our bat t le; no one else can fight it for us. . . . Our relat ions
t o t he Ant i-Slavery movement must be and are changed. Inst ead of depending upon it we must lead
it ."

Cert ain black women faced t he t riple hurdle-of being abolit ionist s in a slave societ y, of being black
among whit e reformers, and of being women in a reform movement dominat ed by men. When
Sojourner Trut h rose t o speak in 1853 in New York Cit y at t he Fourt h Nat ional Woman's Right s
Convent ion, it all came t oget her. There was a host ile mob in t he hall shout ing, jeering, t hreat ening.
She said:

I know t hat it feels a kind o' hissin' and t icklin' like t o see a colored woman get up and t ell you
about t hings, and Woman's Right s. We have all been t hrown down so low t hat nobody t hought
we'd ever get up again; but ... we will come up again, and now I'm here. . . . we'll have our right s; see
if we don't ; and you can't st op us from t hem; see if you can. You may hiss as much as yon like, but it
is comin'. ... I am sit rin' among you t o wat ch; and every once and awhile I will come out and t ell you
what t ime of night it is. ...

Aft er Nat Turner's violent uprising and Virginia's bloody repression, t he securit y syst em inside t he
Sout h became t ight er. Perhaps only an out sider could hope t o launch a rebellion. It was such a
person, a whit e man of ferocious courage and det erminat ion, John Brown, whose wild scheme it
was t o seize t he federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and t hen set off a revolt of slaves t hrough
t he Sout h.

Harriet Tubman, 5 feet t all, some of her t eet h missing, a vet eran of count less secret missions
pilot ing blacks out of slavery, was involved wit h John Brown and his plans. But sickness prevent ed
her from joining him. Frederick Douglass t oo had met wit h Brown. He argued against t he plan from
t he st andpoint of it s chances of success, but he admired t he ailing man of sixt y, t all, gaunt , whit e-

Douglass was right ; t he plan would not work. The local milit ia, joined by a hundred marines under
t he command of Robert E. Lee, surrounded t he insurgent s. Alt hough his men were dead or
capt ured, John Brown refused t o surrender: he barricaded himself in a small brick building near t he
gat e of t he armory. The t roops bat t ered down a door; a marine lieut enant moved in and st ruck
Brown wit h his sword. Wounded, sick, he was int errogat ed. W. E. B. Du Bois, in his book John
Brown, writ es:

Pict ure t he sit uat ion: An old and blood-bespat t ered man, half-dead from t he wounds inflict ed but a
few hours before; a man lying in t he cold and dirt , wit hout sleep for fift y-five nerve-wrecking hours,
wit hout food for nearly as long, wit h t he dead bodies of his t wo sons almost before his eyes, t he
piled corpses of his seven slain comrades near and afar, a wife and a bereaved family list ening in
vain, and a Lost Cause, t he dream of a lifet ime, lying dead in his heart . . . .

Lying t here, int errogat ed by t he governor of Virginia, Brown said: "You had bet t er-all you people at
t he Sout h-prepare yourselves for a set t lement of t his quest ion.. . . You may dispose of me very
easily-I am nearly disposed of now, but t his quest ion is st ill t o be set t led,-t his Negro quest ion, I
mean; t he end of t hat is not yet ."

Du Bois appraises Brown's act ion:

If his foray was t he work of a handful of fanat ics, led by a lunat ic and repudiat ed by t he slaves t o a
man, t hen t he proper procedure would have been t o ignore t he incident , quiet ly punish t he worst
offenders and eit her pardon t he misguided leader or send him t o an asylum... . While insist ing t hat
t he raid was t oo hopelessly and ridiculously small t o accomplish anyt hing .. . t he st at e nevert heless
spent $250,000 t o punish t he invaders, st at ioned from one t o t hree t housand soldiers in t he vicinit y
and t hrew t he nat ion int o t urmoil.

In John Brown's last writ t en st at ement , in prison, before he was hanged, he said: "T, John Brown,
am quit e cert ain t hat t he crimes of t his guilt y land will never be purged away but wit h blood."

Ralph Waldo Emerson, not an act ivist himself, said of t he execut ion of John Brown: "He will make
t he gallows holy as t he cross."

Of t he t went y-t wo men in John Brown's st riking force, five were black. Two of t hese were killed on
t he spot , one escaped, and t wo were hanged by t he aut horit ies. Before his execut ion, John
Copeland wrot e t o his parent s:

Remember t hat if I must t he T t he in t rying t o liberat e a few of my poor and oppressed people from
my condit ion of servit ude which Cod in his Holy Writ has hurled his most bit t er denunciat ions
against ...

I am not t errified by t he gallows....

I imagine t hat I hear you, and all of you, mot her, fat her, sist ers, and brot hers, say-"No, t here is not a
cause for which we, wit h less sorrow, could see you t he." Believe me when I t ell you, t hat t hough
shut up in prison and under sent ence of deat h, I have spent more happy hours here, and .. . T would
almost as lief t he now as at any t ime, for I feel t hat I am prepared t o meet my Maker. .. .

John Brown was execut ed by t he st at e of Virginia wit h t he approval of t he nat ional government . It
was t he nat ional government which, while weakly enforcing t he law ending t he slave t rade, st ernly
enforced t he laws providing for t he ret urn of fugit ives t o slavery. It was t he nat ional government
t hat , in Andrew Jackson's administ rat ion, collaborat ed wit h t he Sout h t o keep abolit ionist
lit erat ure out of t he mails in t he sout hern st at es. It was t he Supreme Court of t he Unit ed St at es
t hat declared in 1857 t hat t he slave Dred Scot t could not sue for his freedom because he was not a
person, but propert y.

Such a nat ional government would never accept an end t o slavery by rebellion. It would end slavery
only under condit ions cont rolled by whit es, and only when required by t he polit ical and economic
needs of t he business elit e of t he Nort h. It was Abraham Lincoln who combined perfect ly t he needs
of business, t he polit ical ambit ion of t he new Republican part y, and t he rhet oric of
humanit arianism. He would keep t he abolit ion of slavery not at t he t op of his list of priorit ies, but
close enough t o t he t op so it could be pushed t here t emporarily by abolit ionist pressures and by
pract ical polit ical advant age.

Lincoln could skillfully blend t he int erest s of t he very rich and t he int erest s of t he black at a
moment in hist ory when t hese int erest s met . And he could link t hese t wo wit h a growing sect ion of
Americans, t he whit e, up-and-coming, economically ambit ious, polit ically act ive middle class. As
Richard Ilofst adt er put s it :

Thoroughly middle class in his ideas, he spoke for t hose millions of Americans who had begun t heir
lives as hired workers-as farm hands, clerks, t eachers, mechanics, flat boat men, and rail-split t ers-
and had passed int o t he ranks of landed farmers, prosperous grocers, lawyers, merchant s,
physicians and polit icians.

Lincoln could argue wit h lucidit y and passion against slavery on moral grounds, while act ing
caut iously in pract ical polit ics. lie believed "t hat t he inst it ut ion of slavery is founded on injust ice
and bad policy, but t hat t he promulgat ion of abolit ion doct rines t ends t o increase rat her t han abat e
it s evils." (Put against t his Frederick Douglass's st at ement on st ruggle, or Garrison's "Sir, slavery
will not be overt hrown wit hout excit ement , a most t remendous excit ement ") Lincoln read t he
Const it ut ion st rict ly, t o mean t hat Congress, because of t he Tent h Amendment (reserving t o t he
st at es powers not specifically given t o t he nat ional government ), could not const it ut ionally bar
slavery in t he st at es.

When it was proposed t o abolish slavery in t he Dist rict of Columbia, which did not have t he right s
of a st at e bat was direct ly under t he jurisdict ion of Congress, Lincoln said t his would be
Const it ut ional, but it should not be done unless t he people in t he Dist rict want ed it . Since most
t here were whit e, t his killed t he idea. As Hofst adt er said of Lincoln's st at ement , it "breat hes t he fire
of an uncompromising insist ence on moderat ion."

Lincoln refused t o denounce t he Fugit ive Slave Law publicly. He wrot e t o a friend: "I confess T hat e
t o see t he poor creat ures hunt ed down . .. but I bit e my lips and keep quiet ." And when he did
propose, in 1849, as a Congressman, a resolut ion t o abolish slavery in t he Dist rict of Columbia, he
accompanied t his wit h a sect ion requiring local aut horit ies t o arrest and ret urn fugit ive slaves
coming int o Washingt on. (This led Wendell Phillips, t he Bost on abolit ionist , t o refer t o him years
lat er as "t hat slavehound from Illinois.") He opposed slavery, but could not see blacks as equals, so a
const ant t heme in his approach was t o free t he slaves and t o send t hem back t o Africa.

In his 1858 campaign in Illinois for t he Senat e against St ephen Douglas, Lincoln spoke different ly
depending on t he views of his list eners (and also perhaps depending on how close it was t o t he
elect ion). Speaking in nort hern Illinois in July (in Chicago), he said:

Let us discard all t his quibbling about t his man and t he ot her man, t his race and t hat race and t he
ot her race being inferior, and t herefore t hey must be placed in an inferior posit ion. Let us discard all
t hese t hings, and unit e as one people t hroughout t his land, unt il we shall once more st and up
declaring t hat all men are creat ed equal.

Two mont hs lat er in Charlest on, in sout hern Illinois, Lincoln t old his audience:

I will say, t hen, t hat I am not , nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way t he social
and polit ical equalit y of t he whit e and black races (applause); t hat I am not , nor ever have been, in
favor of making vot ers or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying t hem t o hold office, nor t o int ermarry
wit h whit e people.. . .

And inasmuch as t hey cannot so live, while t hey do remain t oget her t here must be t he posit ion of
superior and inferior, and J as much as any ot her man am in favor of having t he superior posit ion
assigned t o t he whit e race.

Behind t he secession of t he Sout h from t he Union, aft er Lincoln was elect ed President in t he fall of
1860 as candidat e of t he new Republican part y, was a long series of policy clashes bet ween Sout h
and Nort h. The clash was not over slavery as a moral inst it ut ion-most nort herners did not care
enough about slavery t o make sacrifices for it , cert ainly not t he sacrifice of war. It was not a clash of
peoples (most nort hern whit es were not economically favored, not polit ically powerful; most
sout hern whit es were poor farmers, not decisionmakers) hut of elit es. The nort hern elit e want ed
economic expansion-free land, free labor, a free market , a high prot ect ive t ariff for manufact urers, a
bank of t he Unit ed St at es. The slave int erest s opposed all t hat ; t hey saw Lincoln and t he
Republicans as making cont inuat ion of t heir pleasant and prosperous way of life impossible in t he
fut ure.

So, when Lincoln was elect ed, seven sout hern st at es seceded from t he Union. Lincoln init iat ed
host ilit ies by t rying t o repossess t he federal base at Fort Sumt er, Sout h Carolina, and four more
st at es seceded. The Confederacy was formed; t he Civil War was on.

Lincoln's first Inaugural Address, in March 1861, was conciliat ory t oward t he Sout h and t he
seceded st at es: "I have no purpose, direct ly or indirect ly, t o int erfere wit h t he inst it ut ion of slavery
in t he St at es where it exist s. I believe I have no lawful right t o do so, and I have no inclinat ion t o do
so." And wit h t he war four mont hs on, when General John C. Fremont in Missouri declared mart ial
law and said slaves of owners resist ing t he Unit ed St at es were t o he free, Lincoln count ermanded
t his order. He was anxious t o hold in t he Union t he slave st at es of Maryland, Kent ucky, Missouri,
and Delaware. it was only as t he war grew more bit t er, t he casualt ies mount ed, desperat ion t o win
height ened, and t he crit icism of t he abolit ionist s t hreat ened t o unravel t he t at t ered coalit ion
behind Lincoln t hat he began t o act against slavery. Hofst adt er put s it t his way: "Like a delicat e
baromet er, he recorded t he t rend of pressures, and as t he Radical pressure increased he moved
t oward t he left ." Wendell Phillips said t hat if Lincoln was able t o grow "it is because we have
wat ered him."

Racism in t he Nort h was as ent renched as slavery in t he Sout h, and it would t ake t he war t o shake
bot h. New York blacks could not vot e unless t hey owned $250 in propert y (a qualificat ion not
applied t o whit es). A proposal t o abolish t his, put on t he ballot in 1860, was defeat ed t wo t o one
(alt hough Lincoln carried New York by 50,000 vot es). Frederick Douglass comment ed: "The black
baby of Negro suffrage was t hought t oo ugly t o exhibit on so grand an occasion. The Negro was
st owed away like some people put out of sight t heir deformed children when company comes."

Wendell Phillips, wit h all his crit icism of Lincoln, recognized t he possibilit ies in his elect ion.
Speaking at t he Tremont Temple in Bost on t he day aft er t he elect ion, Phillips said:

If t he t elegraph speaks t rut h, for t he first t ime in our hist ory t he slave has chosen a President of t he
Unit ed St at es. . . . Not an Abolit ionist , hardly an ant islavcry man, Mr. Lincoln consent s t o represent
an ant islavery idea. A pawn on t he polit ical chessboard, his value is in his posit ion; wit h fair effort ,
we may soon change him for knight , bishop or queen, and sweep t he board. (Applause)
Conservat ives in t he Bost on upper classes want ed reconciliat ion wit h t he Sout h. At one point t hey
st ormed an abolit ionist meet ing at t hat same Tremont Temple, short ly aft er Lincoln's elect ion, and
asked t hat concessions be made t o t he Sout h "in t he int erest s of commerce, manufact ures,
agricult ure."

The spirit of Congress, even aft er t he war began, was shown in a resolut ion it passed in t he summer
of 1861, wit h only a few dissent ing vot es: "... t his war is not waged . . . for any purpose of...
overt hrowing or int erfering wit h t he right s of est ablished inst it ut ions of t hose st at es, but ... t o
preserve t he Union."

The abolit ionist s st epped up t heir campaign. Emancipat ion pet it ions poured int o Congress in 1861
and 1862. In May of t hat year, Wendell Phillips said: "Abraham Lincoln may not wish it ; he cannot
prevent it ; t he nat ion may not will it , but t he nat ion cannot prevent it . I do not care what men want
or wish; t he negro is t he pebble in t he cog-wheel, and t he machine cannot go on unt il you get him
out ."

In July Congress passed a Confiscat ion Act , which enabled t he freeing of slaves of t hose fight ing
t he Union. But t his was not enforced by t he Union generals, and Lincoln ignored t he
nonenforcement . Garrison called Lincoln's policy "st umbling, halt ing, prevaricat ing, irresolut e,
weak, besot t ed," and Phillips said Lincoln was "a first -rat e second-rat e man."

An exchange of let t ers bet ween Lincoln and Horace Greeley, edit or of t he New York Tribune, in
August of 1862, gave Lincoln a chance t o express his views. Greeley wrot e:

Dear Sir. I do not int rude t o t ell you-for you must know already-t hat a great proport ion of t hose
who t riumphed in your elect ion ... are sorely disappoint ed and deeply pained by t he policy you
seem t o be pursuing wit h regard t o t he slaves of rebels,... We require of you, as t he first servant of
t he Republic, charged especially and preeminent ly wit h t his dut y, t hat you EXECUTE THE
LAWS. ... We t hink you arc st rangely and disast rously remiss . .. wit h regard t o t he emancipat ing
provisions of t he new Confiscat ion Act ....

We t hink you are unduly influenced by t he councils ... of cert ain polit icians hailing from t he Border
Slave St at es.

Greeley appealed t o t he pract ical need of winning t he war. "We must have scout s, guides, spies,
cooks, t eamst ers, diggers and choppers from t he blacks of t he Sout h, whet her we allow t hem t o
fight for us or not .... I ent reat you t o render a heart y and unequivocal obedience t o t he law of t he

Lincoln had already shown his at t it ude by his failure t o count ermand an order of one of his
commanders, General Henry Halleck, who forbade fugit ive Negroes t o ent er his army's lines. Now
he replied t o Greeley:

Dear Sir: ... I have not meant t o leave any one in doubt . .. . My paramount object in t his st ruggle is t o
save t he Union, and is not eit her t o save or dest roy Slavery. If I could save t he Union wit hout
freeing any slave, I would do it ; and if I could save it by freeing all t he slaves, I would do it ; and if I
could do it by freeing some and leaving ot hers alone, I would also do t hat . What I do about Slavery
and t he colored race, T do because it helps t o save t his Union; and what T forbear, I forbear because
I do not believe it would help t o save t he Union. . .. T have here st at ed my purpose according t o my
view of official dut y, and I int end no modificat ion of my oft -expressed personal wish t hat all men,
everywhere, could be free. Yours. A. Lincoln.

So Lincoln dist inguished bet ween his "personal wish" and his "official dut y."

When in Sept ember 1862, Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipat ion Proclamat ion, it was a
milit ary move, giving t he Sout h four mont hs t o st op rebelling, t hreat ening t o emancipat e t heir
slaves if t hey cont inued t o fight , promising t o leave slavery unt ouched in st at es t hat came over t o
t he Nort h:

That on t he 1st day of January, AD 1863, all persons held as slaves wit hin any St at e or designat ed
part of a St at e t he people whereof shall t hen be in rebellion against t he Unit ed St at es shall be t hen,
t henceforward and forever free. . . .

Thus, when t he Emancipat ion Proclamat ion was issued January 1, 1863, it declared slaves free in
t hose areas st ill fight ing against t he Union (which it list ed very carefully), and said not hing about
slaves behind Union lines. As Hofst adt er put it , t he Emancipat ion Proclamat ion "had all t he moral
grandeur of a bill of lading." The London Spect at or wrot e concisely: "The principle is not t hat a
human being cannot just ly own anot her, hut t hat he cannot own him unless he is loyal t o t he
Unit ed St at es."

Limit ed as it was, t he Emancipat ion Proclamat ion spurred ant islavery forces. By t he summer of
1864, 400,000 signat ures asking legislat ion t o end slavery had been gat hered and sent t o Congress,
somet hing unprecedent ed in t he hist ory of t he count ry. That April, t he Senat e had adopt ed t he
Thirt eent h Amendment , declaring an end t o slavery, and in January 1865, t he House of
Represent at ives followed.

Wit h t he Proclamat ion, t he Union army was open t o blacks. And t he more blacks ent ered t he war,
t he more it appeared a war for t heir liberat ion. The more whit es had t o sacrifice, t he more
resent ment t here was, part icularly among poor whit es in t he Nort h, who were draft ed by a law
t hat allowed t he rich t o buy t heir way out of t he draft for $300. And so t he draft riot s of 1863 t ook
place, uprisings of angry whit es in nort hern cit ies, t heir t arget s not t he rich, far away, but t he
blacks, near at hand. It was an orgy of deat h and violence. A black man in Det roit described what
he saw: a mob, wit h kegs of beer on wagons, armed wit h clubs and bricks, marching t hrough t he
cit y, at t acking black men, women, children. He heard one man say: "If we are got t o he killed up for
Negroes t hen we will kill every one in t his t own."

The Civil War was one of t he bloodiest in human hist ory up t o t hat t ime: 600,000 dead on bot h
sides, in a populat ion of 30 million-t he equivalent , in t he Unit ed St at es of 1978, wit h a populat ion of
250 million, of 5 million dead. As t he bat t les became more int ense, as t he bodies piled up, as war
fat igue grew, t he exist ence of blacks in t he Sout h, 4 million of t hem, became more and more a
hindrance t o t he Sout h, and more and more an opport unit y for t he Nort h. Du Bois, in Black
Reconst ruct ion, point ed t his out :

.. . t hese slaves had enormous power in t heir hands. Simply by st opping work, t hey could t hreat en
t he Confederacy wit h st arvat ion. By walking int o t he Federal camps, t hey showed t o doubt ing
Nort herners t he easy possibilit y of using t hem t hus, but by t he same gest ure, depriving t heir
enemies of t heir use in just t hese fields....

It was t his plain alt ernat ive t hat brought Lee's sudden surrender. Eit her t he Sout h must make
t erms wit h it s slaves, free t hem, use t hem t o fight t he Nort h, and t hereaft er no longer t reat t hem as
bondsmen; or t hey could surrender t o t he Nort h wit h t he assumpt ion t hat t he Nort h aft er t he war
must help t hem t o defend slavery, as it had before.

George Rawick, a sociologist and ant hropologist , describes t he development of blacks up t o and
int o t he Civil War:

The slaves went from being fright ened human beings, t hrown among st range men, including fellow
slaves who were not t heir kinsmen and who did not speak t heir language or underst and t heir
cust oms and habit s, t o what W. E. B. DuBois once described as t he general st rike whereby
hundreds of t housands of slaves desert ed t he plant at ions, dest roying t he Smit h's abilit y t o supply
it s army.

Black women played an import ant part in t he war, especially t oward t he end. Sojourner Trut h, t he
legendary ex-slave who had been act ive in t he women's right s movement , became recruit er of black
t roops for t he Union army, as did Josephine St . Pierre Ruffin of Bost on. Harriet Tubman raided
plant at ions, leading black and whit e t roops, and in one expedit ion freed 750 slaves. Women moved
wit h t he colored regiment s t hat grew as t he Union army marched t hrough t he Sout h, helping t heir
husbands, enduring t errible hardships on t he long milit ary t reks, in which many children died.
They suffered t he fat e of soldiers, as in April 1864, when Confederat e t roops at Fort Pillow,
Kent ucky, massacred Union soldiers who had surrendered-black and whit e, along wit h women
and children in an adjoining camp.

It has been said t hat black accept ance of slavery is proved by t he fact t hat during t he Civil War,
when t here were opport unit ies for escape, most slaves st ayed on t he plant at ion. In fact , half a
million ran away- about one in five, a high proport ion when one considers t hat t here was great
difficult y in knowing where t o go and how t o live.

The owner of a large plant at ion in Sout h Carolina and Georgia wrot e in 1862: "This war has t aught
us t he perfect impossibilit y of placing t he least confidence in t he negro. In t oo numerous inst ances
t hose we est eemed t he most have been t he first t o desert us." That same year, a lieut enant in t he
Confederat e army and once mayor of Savannah, Georgia, wrot e: "I deeply regret t o learn t hat t he
Negroes st ill cont inue t o desert t o t he enemy."

A minist er in Mississippi wrot e in t he fall of 1862: "On my arrival was surprised t o hear t hat our
negroes st ampeded t o t he Yankees last night or rat her a port ion of t hem.... I t hink every one, but
wit h one or t wo except ions will go t o t he Yankees. Eliza and her family are cert ain t o go. She does
not conceal her t hought s but plainly manifest s her opinions by her conduct -insolent and insult ing."
And a woman's plant at ion journal of January 1865:

The people are all idle on t he plant at ions, most of t hem seeking t heir own pleasure. Many servant s
have proven fait hful, ot hers false and rebellious against all aut horit y and rest raint . .. . Their
condit ion is one of perfect anarchy and rebellion. They have placed t hemselves in perfect
ant agonism t o t heir owners and t o all government and cont rol.. . . Nearly all t he house servant s
have left t heir homes; and from most of t he plant at ions t hey have gone in a body.

Also in 1865, a Sout h Carolina plant er wrot e t o t he New York Tribune t hat t he conduct of t he
Negro in t he lat e crisis of our affairs has convinced me t hat we were all laboring under a delusion....
I believed t hat t hese people were cont ent , happy, and at t ached t o t heir mast ers. But event s and
reflect ion have caused me t o change t hese posit ions.. .. If t hey were cont ent , happy and at t ached t o
t heir mast ers, why did t hey desert him in t he moment of his need and flock t o an enemy, whom
t hey did not know; and t hus left t heir perhaps really good mast ers whom t hey did know from

Genovese not es t hat t he war produced no general rising of slaves, but : "In Lafayet t e Count y,
Mississippi, slaves responded t o t he Emancipat ion Proclamat ion by driving off t heir overseers and
dividing t he land and implement s among t hemselves." Apt heker report s a conspiracy of Negroes in
Arkansas in 1861 t o kill t heir enslavers. In Kent ucky t hat year, houses and barns were burned by
Negroes, and in t he cit y of New Cast le slaves paraded t hrough t he cit y "singing polit ical songs, and
shout ing for Lincoln," according t o newspaper account s. Aft er t he Emancipat ion Proclamat ion, a
Negro wait er in Richmond, Virginia, was arrest ed for leading "a servile plot ," while in Yazoo Cit y,
Mississippi, slaves burned t he court house and fourt een homes.

There were special moment s: Robert Smalls (lat er a Sout h Carolina Congressman) and ot her
blacks t ook over a st eamship, The Plant er, and sailed it past t he Confederat e guns t o deliver it t o
t he Union navy.

Most slaves neit her submit t ed nor rebelled. They cont inued t o work, wait ing t o see what
happened. When opport unit y came, t hey left , oft en joining t he Union army. Two hundred
t housand blacks were in t he army and navy, and 38,000 were killed. Hist orian James McPherson
says: "Wit hout t heir help, t he Nort h could not have won t he war as soon as it did, and perhaps it
could not have won at all."

What happened t o blacks in t he Union army and in t he nort hern cit ies during t he war gave some
hint of how limit ed t he emancipat ion would be, even wit h full vict ory over t he Confederacy. Off-
dut y black soldiers were at t acked in nort hern cit ies, as in Zanesvillc, Ohio, in February 1864, where
cries were heard t o "kill t he nigger." Black soldiers were used for t he heaviest and dirt iest work,
digging t renches, hauling logs and camion, loading ammunit ion, digging wells for whit e regiment s.
Whit e privat es received $13 a mont h; Negro privat es received $10 a mont h.

Lat e in t he war, a black sergeant of t he Third Sout h Carolina Volunt eers, William Walker, marched
his company t o his capt ain's t ent and ordered t hem t o st ack arms and resign from t he army as a
prot est against what he considered a breach of cont ract , because of unequal pay. He was court -
mart ialed and shot for mut iny. Finally, in June 1864, Congress passed a law grant ing equal pay t o
Negro soldiers.

The Confederacy was desperat e in t he lat t er part of t he war, and some of it s leaders suggest ed t he
slaves, more and more an obst acle t o t heir cause, be enlist ed, used, and freed. Aft er a number of
milit ary defeat s, t he Confederat e secret ary of war, Judah Benjamin, wrot e in lat e 1864 t o a
newspaper edit or in Charlest on: ". . . It is well known t hat General Lee, who commands so largely
t he confidence of t he people, is st rongly in favor of our using t he negroes for defense, and
emancipat ing t hem, if necessary, for t hat purpose. . . ." One general, indignant , wrot e: "If slaves will
make good soldiers, our whole t heory of slavery is wrong."

By early 1865, t he pressure had mount ed, and in March President Davis of t he Confederacy signed a
"Negro Soldier Law" aut horizing t he enlist ment of slaves as soldiers, t o be freed by consent of t heir
owners and t heir st at e government s. But before it had any significant effect , t he war was over.

Former slaves, int erviewed by t he Federal Writ ers' Project in t he t hirt ies, recalled t he war's end.
Susie Melt on:

I was a young gal, about t en years old, and we done heard t hat Lincoln gonna t urn t he niggers free.
OF missus say t here wasn't not hin' t o it . Then a Yankee soldier t old someone in Williamsburg t hat
Lincoln done signed t he 'mancipat ion. Was wint ert ime and might y cold t hat night , but everybody
commenced get t ing ready t o leave. Didn't care not hin' about missus - was going t o t he Union lines.
And all t hat night t he niggers danced and sang right out in t he cold. Next morning at day break we
all st art ed out wit h blanket s and clot hes and pot s and pans and chickens piled on our backs, 'cause
missus said we couldn't t ake no horses or cart s. And as t he sun come up over t he t rees, t he niggers
st art ed t o singing:

Sun, you be here and I'll be gone
Sun, you be here and I'll be gime
Sun, you be here and Til be gone
Bye, bye, don't grieve aft er me
Won't give you my place, not for yours
Bye, bye, don't grieve aft er me
Cause you be here and I'll be gone.

Anna Woods:

We wasn't t here in Texas long when t he soldiers marched in t o t ell us t hat we were free. ... I
remembers one woman. She jumped on a barrel and she shout ed. She jumped off and she shout ed.
She jumped hack on again and shout ed some more. She kept t hat up for a long t ime, just jumping
on a barrel and back off again.

Annie Mae Weat hers said:

I remember hearing my pa say t hat when somebody came and hollered, "You niggers is free at last ,"
say he just dropped his hoc and said in a queer voice, "Thank God for t hat ."

The Federal Writ ers' Project recorded an ex-slave named Fannie Berry:

Niggers shout in' and clappin' hands and singin'! Chillun runnin' all over t he place beat in' t ime and
yellin'! Everybody happy. Sho' did some celebrat in'. Run t o t he kit chen and shout in t he window:

"Mammy, don't you cook no more.

You's free! You's free!"

Many Negroes underst ood t hat t heir st at us aft er t he war, what ever t heir sit uat ion legally, would
depend on whet her t hey owned t he land t hey worked on or would be forced t o be semislaves for
ot hers. In 1863, a Nort h Carolina Negro wrot e t hat "if t he st rict law of right and just ice is t o be
observed, t he count ry around me is t he ent ailed inherit ance of t he Americans of African descent ,
purchased by t he invaluable labor of our ancest ors, t hrough a life of t ears and groans, under t he lash
and yoke of t yranny."

Abandoned plant at ions, however, were leased t o former plant ers, and t o whit e men of t he Nort h.
As one colored newspaper said: "The slaves were made serfs and chained t o t he soil. . . . Such was
t he boast ed freedom acquired by t he colored man at t he hands of t he Yankee."

Under congressional policy approved by Lincoln, t he propert y confiscat ed during t he war under
t he Confiscat ion Act of July 1862 would revert t o t he heirs of t he Confederat e owners. Dr. John
Rock, a black physician in Bost on, spoke at a meet ing: "Why t alk about compensat ing mast ers?
Compensat e t hem for what ? What do you owe t hem? What does t he slave owe t hem? What does
societ y owe t hem? Compensat e t he mast er? . . . It is t he slave who ought t o be compensat ed. The
propert y of t he Sout h is by right t he propert y of t he slave. . . ."

Some land was expropriat ed on grounds t he t axes were delinquent , and sold at auct ion. But only a
few blacks could afford t o buy t his. In t he Sout h Carolina Sea Islands, out of 16,000 acres up for sale
in March of 1863, freedmen who pooled t heir money were able t o buy 2,000 acres, t he rest being
bought by nort hern invest ors and speculat ors. A freedman on t he Islands dict at ed a let t er t o a
former t eacher now in Philadelphia:

My Dear Young Missus: Do, my missus, t ell Linkum dat we want s land - dis bery land dat is rich
wid de sweat ob de face and de blood ob we back. . . . We could a bin buy all we want , but dey
make dc lot s t oo big, and cut we out .

De word cum from Mass Linkum 's self, dat we t ake out claims and hold on t er urn, an' plant um,
and he will see dat we get urn, every man t en or t went y acre. We t oo glad. We st ake out an' list ,
but fore de t ime for plant , dese commissionaries sells t o whit e folks all de best land. Where

In early 1865, General William T. Shcrman held a conference in Savannah, Georgia, wit h t went y
Negro minist ers and church officials, most ly former slaves, at which one of t hem expressed t heir
need: "The way we can best t ake care of ourselves is t o have land, and t ill it by our labor. . . ." Four
days lat er Slierman issued "Special Field Order No. 15," designat ing t he ent ire sout hern coast line 30
miles inland for exclusive Negro set t lement . Freedmen could set t le t here, t aking no more t han 40
acres per family. By June 1865, fort y t housand freedmen had moved ont o new farms in t his area. But
President Andrew Johnson, in August of 1865, rest ored t his land t o t he Confederat e owners, and
t he freedmen were forced off, some at bayonet point .

Ex-slave Thomas Hall t old t he Federal Writ ers' Project :

Lincoln got t he praise for freeing us, but did he do it ? He gave us freedom wit hout giving us any
chance t o live t o ourselves and we st ill had t o depend on t he sout hern whit e man for work, food,
and clot hing, and he held us out of necessit y and want in a st at e of servit ude but lit t le bet t er t han

The American government had set out t o fight t he slave st at es in 1861, not t o end slavery, but t o
ret ain t he enormous nat ional t errit ory and market and resources. Yet , vict ory required a crusade,
and t he moment um of t hat crusade brought new forces int o nat ional polit ics: more blacks
det ermined t o make t heir freedom mean somet hing; more whit es-whet her Freedman's Bureau
officials, or t eachers in t he Sea Islands, or "carpet baggers" wit h various mixt ures of
humanit arianism and personal ambit ion-concerned wit h racial equalit y. There was also t he
powerful int erest of t he Republican part y in maint aining cont rol over t he nat ional government ,
wit h t he prospect of sout hern black vot es t o accomplish t his. Nort hern businessmen, seeing
Republican policies as beneficial t o t hem, went along for a while.

The result was t hat brief period aft er t he Civil War in which sout hern Negroes vot ed, elect ed
blacks t o st at e legislat ures and t o Congress, int roduced free and racially mixed public educat ion t o
t he Sout h. A legal framework was const ruct ed. The Thirt eent h Amendment out lawed slavery:
"Neit her slavery nor involunt ary servit ude, except as a punishment for crime whereof t he part y
shall have been duly convict ed, shall exist wit hin t he Unit ed St at es, or any place subject t o t heir
jurisdict ion." The Fourt eent h Amendment repudiat ed t he prewar Dred Scot t decision by declaring
t hat "all persons born or nat uralized in t he Unit ed St at es" were cit izens. It also seemed t o make a
powerful st at ement for racial equalit y, severely limit ing "st at es' right s":

No St at e shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge t he privileges or immunit ies of cit izens
of t he Unit ed St at es; nor shall any St at e deprive any person of life, libert y, or propert y, wit hout due
process of law; nor deny t o any person wit hin it s jurisdict ion t he equal prot ect ion of t he laws.

The Fift eent h Amendment said: "The right of cit izens of t he Unit ed St at es t o vot e shall not be
denied or abridged by t he Unit ed St at es or by any St at e on account of race, color, or previous
condit ion of servit ude." Congress passed a number of laws in t he lat e 1860s and early 1870s in t he
same spirit -laws making it a crime t o deprive Negroes of t heir right s, requiring federal officials t o
enforce t hose right s, giving Negroes t he right t o ent er cont ract s and buy propert y wit hout
discriminat ion. And in 1875, a Civil Right s Act out lawed t he exclusion of Negroes from hot els,
t heat ers, railroads, and ot her public accommodat ions.

Wit h t hese laws, wit h t he Union army in t he Sout h as prot ect ion, and a civilian army of officials in
t he Freedman's Bureau t o help t hem, sout hern Negroes came forward, vot ed, formed polit ical
organizat ions, and expressed t hemselves forcefully on issues import ant t o t hem. They were
hampered in t his for several years by Andrew Johnson, Vice-President under Lincoln, who became
President when Lincoln was assassinat ed at t he close of t he war. Johnson vet oed bills t o help
Negroes; he made it easy for Confederat e st at es t o come back int o t he Union wit hout guarant eeing
equal right s t o blacks. During his presidency, t hese ret urned sout hern st at es enact ed "black codes,"
which made t he freed slaves like serfs, st ill working t he plant at ions. For inst ance, Mississippi in
1865 made it illegal for freedmen t o rent or lease farmland, and provided for t hem t o work under
labor cont ract s which t hey could not break under penalt y of prison. It also provided t hat t he court s
could assign black children under eight een who had no parent s, or whose parent s were poor, t o
forced labor, called apprent iceships - wit h punishment for runaways.

Andrew Johnson clashed wit h Senat ors and Congressmen who, in some cases for reasons of just ice,
in ot hers out of polit ical calculat ion, support ed equal right s and vot ing for t he freedman. These
members of Congress succeeded in impeaching Johnson in 1868, using as an excuse t hat he had
violat ed some minor st at ut e, but t he Senat e fell one vot e short of t he t wo-t hirds required t o remove
him from office. In t he president ial elect ion of t hat year, Republican Ulysses Grant was elect ed,
winning by 300,000 vot es, wit h 700,000 Negroes vot ing, and so Johnson was out as an obst acle.
Now t he sout hern st at es could come back int o t he Union only by approving t he new
Const it ut ional amendment s.

What ever nort hern polit icians were doing t o help t heir cause, sout hern blacks were det ermined t o
make t he most of t heir freedom, in spit e of t heir lack of land and resources. A st udy of blacks in
Alabama in t he first years aft er t he war by hist orian Pet er Kolchin finds t hat t hey began
immediat ely assert ing t heir independence of whit es, forming t heir own churches, becoming
polit ically act ive, st rengt hening t heir family t ies, t rying t o educat e t heir children. Kolchin disagrees
wit h t he cont ent ion of some hist orians t hat slavery had creat ed a "Sambo" ment alit y of submission
among blacks. "As soon as t hey were free, t hese supposedly dependent , childlike Negroes began
act ing like independent men and women."

Negroes were now elect ed t o sout hern st at e legislat ures, alt hough in all t hese t hey were a minorit y
except in t he lower house of t he Sout h Carolina legislat ure. A great propaganda campaign was
undert aken Nort h and Sout h (one which last ed well int o t he t went iet h cent ury, in t he hist ory
t ext books of American schools) t o show t hat blacks were inept , lazy, corrupt , and ruinous t o t he
government s of t he Sout h when t hey were in office. Undoubt edly t here was corrupt ion, but one
could hardly claim t hat blacks had invent ed polit ical conniving, especially in t he bizarre climat e of
financial finagling Nort h and Sout h aft er t he Civil War.

It was t rue t hat t he public debt of Sout h Carolina, $7 million in 1865, went up t o $29 million in
1873, but t he new legislat ure int roduced free public schools for t he first t ime int o t he st at e. Not
only were sevent y t housand Negro children going t o school by 1876 where none had gone before,
but fift y t housand whit e children were going t o school where only t went y t housand had at t ended
in 1860.

Black vot ing in t he period aft er 1869 result ed in t wo Negro members of t he U.S. Senat e (Hiram
Revels and Blanche Bruce, bot h from Mississippi), and t went y Congressmen, including eight from
Sout h Carolina, four from Nort h Carolina, t hree from Alabama, and one each from t he ot her former
Confederat e st at es. (This list would dwindle rapidly aft er 1876; t he last black left Congress in 1901.)
A Columbia Universit y scholar of t he t went iet h cent ury, John Burgess, referred t o Black
Reconst ruct ion as follows:

In place of government by t he most int elligent and virt uous part of t he people for t he benefit of t he
governed, here was government by t he most ignorant and vicious part of t he populat ion.... A black
skin means membership in a race of men which has never of it self succeeded in subject ing passion
t o reason; has never, t herefore, creat ed civilizat ion of any kind.

One has t o measure against t hose words t he black leaders in t he post war Sout h. For inst ance,
Henry MacNeal Turner, who had escaped from peonage on a Sout h Carolina plant at ion at t he age
of fift een, t aught himself t o read and writ e, read law books while a messenger in a lawyer's office in
Balt imore, and medical books while a handyman in a Balt imore medical school, served as chaplain
t o a Negro regiment , and t hen was elect ed t o t he first post war legislat ure of Georgia. In 1868, t he
Georgia legislat ure vot ed t o expel all it s Negro members-t wo senat ors, t went y-five represent at ives-
and Turner spoke t o t he Georgia House of Represent at ives (a black woman graduat e st udent at
At lant a Universit y lat er brought his speech t o light ):

Mr. Speaker.. . . T wish t he members of t his House t o underst and t he posit ion t hat I t ake. I hold
t hat I am a member of t his body. Therefore, sir, I shall neit her fawn or cringe before any part y, nor
st oop t o beg t hem for my right s. .. . I am here t o demand my right s, and t o hurl t hunderbolt s at t he
men who would dare t o cross t he t hreshold of my manhood. . . .

The scene present ed in t his House, t oday, is one unparalleled in t he hist ory of t he world.... Never, in
t he hist ory of t he world, has a man been arraigned before a body clot hed wit h legislat ive, judicial or
execut ive funct ions, charged wit h t he offense of being of a darker hue t han his fellow-men. ... it has
remained for t he St at e of Georgia, in t he very heart of t he ninet eent h cent ury, t o call a man before
t he bar, and t here charge him wit h an act for which he is no more responsible t han for t he head
which he carries upon his shoulders. The Anglo-Saxon race, sir, is a most surprising one.... I was not
aware t hat t here was in t he charact er of t hat race so much cowardice, or so much pusillanimit y. ... I
t ell you, sir, t hat t his is a quest ion which will not t he t oday. This event shall be remembered by
post erit y for ages yet t o come, and while t he sun shall cont inue t o climb t he hills of heaven....

. . . we arc t old mat if black men want t o speak, t hey must speak t hrough whit e t rumpet s; if black
men want t heir sent iment s expressed, t hey must be adult erat ed and sent t hrough whit e
messengers, who will quibble, and equivocat e, and evade, as rapidly as me pendulum of a clock.. . .

The great quest ion, sir is t his: Am I a man? If I am such, I claim t he right s of a man.. . .

Why, sir, t hough we are not whit e, we have accomplished much. We have pioneered civilizat ion
here; we have built up your count ry; we have worked in your fields, and garnered your harvest s, for
t wo hundred and fift y years! And what do we ask of you in ret urn? Do we ask you for compensat ion
for t he sweat our fat hers bore for you-for t he rears you have caused, and t he heart s you have
broken, and t he lives you have curt ailed, and t he blood you have spilled? Do we ask ret aliat ion? We
ask it not . We are willing t o let t he dead past bury it s dead; but we ask you now for our RIGHTS. ..

As black children went t o school, t hey were encouraged by t eachers, black and whit e, t o express
t hemselves freely, somet imes in cat echism st yle. The records of a school in Louisville, Kent ucky:

TEACHER: Now children, you don't t hink whit e people are any bet t er t han you because t hey have
st raight hair and whit e faces?

STUDENTS: No, sir.

TEACHER: No, t hey are no bet t er, but t hey arc different , t hey possess great power, t hey formed
t his great government , t hey cont rol t his vast count ry. . . . Now what makes t hem different from
you? STUDENTS: Money!

TEACHER: Yes, but what enabled t hem t o obt ain it ? How did t hey get money? STUDF.NTS: Got
it off us, st ole it off we all!

Black women helped rebuild t he post war Sout h. Frances Ellen Wat ldns Harper, born t ree in
Balt imore, self-support ing from t he age of t hirt een, working as a nursemaid, lat er as an abolit ionist
lect urer, reader of her own poet ry, spoke all t hrough t he sout hern st at es aft er t he war. She was a
feminist , part icipant in t he 1866 Woman's Right s Convent ion, and founder of t he Nat ional
Associat ion of Colored Women. In t he 1890s she wrot e t he first novel published by a black woman:
lola Leroy or Shadows Uplift ed. In 1878 she described what she had seen and heard recent ly in t he
Sout h:

An acquaint ance of mine, who lives in Sout h Carolina, and has been engaged in mission work,
report s t hat , in support ing t he family, women are t he mainst ay; t hat t wo-t hirds of t he t ruck
gardening is done by t hem in Sout h Carolina; t hat in t he cit y t hey are more indust rious t han t he
men. . ., When t he men lose t heir work t hrough t heir polit ical affiliat ions, t he women st and by
t hem, and say, "st and by your principles."

Through all t he st ruggles t o gain equal right s for blacks, cert ain black women spoke out on t heir
special sit uat ion. Sojourner Trut h, at a meet ing of t he American Equal Right s Associat ion, said:

There is a great st ir about colored men get t ing t heir right s, but not a word about t he colored
women; and if colored men get t heir right s, and not colored women t heirs, you sec t he colored men
will be mast ers over t he women, and it will be just as bad as it was before. So T am for keeping t he
t hing going while t hings are st irring; because if we wait t ill it is st ill, it will t ake a great while t o get
it going again... .

I am above eight y years old; it is about t ime for me t o be going. T have been fort y years a slave and
fort y years free, and would be here fort y years more t o have equal right s for all. I suppose I am kept
here because some-t hing remains for me t o do; I suppose I am yet t o help break t he chain. I have
done a great deal of work; as much as a man, but did not get so much pay. I used t o work in t he field
and bind grain, keeping wit h t he cradler; but men doing no more, got t wice as much pay-... I
suppose T am about t he only colored woman t hat goes about t o speak for t he right s of t he colored
women. I want t o keep t he t hing st irring, now t hat t he ice is cracked. . . .

The Const it ut ional amendment s were passed, t he laws for racial equalit y were passed, and t he
black man began t o vot e and t o hold office. Cut so long as t he Negro remained dependent on
privileged whit es for work, for t he necessit ies of life, his vot e could be bought or t aken away by
t hreat of force. Thus, laws calling for equal t reat ment became meaningless. While Union t roops-
including colored t roops- remained in t he Sout h, t his process was delayed. But t he balance of
milit ary powers began t o change.

The sout hern whit e oligarchy used it s economic power t o organize t he Ku Klux Klan and ot her
t errorist groups. Nort hern polit icians began t o weigh t he advant age of t he polit ical support of
impoverished blacks-maint ained in vot ing and office only by force-against t he more st able sit uat ion
of a Sout h ret urned t o whit e supremacy, accept ing Republican dominance and business legislat ion.
It was only a mat t er of t ime before blacks would be reduced once again t o condit ions not far from

Violence began almost immediat ely wit h t he end of t he war. In Memphis, Tennessee, in May of
1866, whit es on a rampage of murder killed fort y-six Negroes, most of t hem vet erans of t he Union
army, as well as t wo whit e sympat hizers. Five Negro women were raped. Ninet y homes, t welve
schools, and four churches were burned. In New Orleans, in t he summer of 1866, anot her riot
against blacks killed t hirt y-five Negroes and t hree whit es.

Mrs. Sarah Song t est ified before a congressional invest igat ing commit t ee:

Have you been a slave?

I have been a slave.

What did you see of t he riot ing?

I saw t hem kill my husband; it was on Tuesday night , bet ween t en and eleven o'clock; be was shot
in t he head while he was in bed sick, . .. There were bet ween t went y and t hirt y men.. . . They came
int o t he room. . . . Then one st epped back and shot him . . . he was not a yard from him; be put t he
pist ol t o his head and shot him t hree t imes. . .. Then one of t hem kicked him, and anot her shot him
again when he was down. . .. He never spoke aft er he fell. They t hen went running right off and did
not come back again. .. .

The violence mount ed t hrough t he lat e 1860s and early 1870s as t he Ku Klux Klan organized raids,
lynchings, beat ings, burnings. For Kent ucky alone, bet ween 1867 and 1871, t he Nat ional Archives
list s 116 act s of violence. A sampling:

1. A mob visit ed Harrodsburg in Mercer Count y t o t ake from jail a man name Robert son Nov. 14,
1867.. . .

5. Sam Davis hung by a mob in Harrodsburg, May 28, 1868.

6. Wm. Pierce hung by a mob in Christ ian July 12, 1868.

7. Geo. Roger hung by a mob in Bradsfordville Mart in Count y July 11, 1868. ...

10. Silas Woodford age sixt y badly beat en by disguised mob. . .. 109. Negro killed by Ku Klux Klan
in Hay count y January 14, 1871.

A Negro blacksmit h named Charles Caldwell, born a slave, lat er elect ed t o t he Mississippi Senat e,
and known as "a not orious and t urbulent Negro" by whit es, was shot at by t he son of a whit e
Mississippi judge in 1868. Caldwcll fired back and killed t he man. Tried by an all-whit e jury, he
argued self-defense and was acquit t ed, t he first Negro t o kill a whit e in Mississippi and go free
aft er a t rial. But on Christ mas Day 1875, Caldwell was shot t o deat h by a whit e gang. It was a sign.
The old whit e rulers were t aking back polit ical power in Mississippi, and everywhere else in t he
Sout h.

As whit e violence rose in t he 1870s, t he nat ional government , even under President Grant , became
less ent husiast ic about defending blacks, • and cert ainly not prepared t o arm t hem. The Supreme
Court played it s gyroscopic role of pulling t he ot her branches of government back t o more
conservat ive direct ions when t hey went t oo far. It began int erpret ing t he Fourt eent h Amendment -
passed presumably for racial equalit y-in a way t hat made it impot ent for t his purpose. In 1883, t he
Civil Right s Act of 1875, out lawing discriminat ion against Negroes using public facilit ies, was
nullified by t he Supreme Court , which said: "Individual invasion of individual right s is not t he
subject -mat t er of t he amendment ." The Fourt eent h Amendment , it said, was aimed at st at e act ion
only. "No st at e shall ..."

A remarkable dissent was writ t en by Supreme Court Just ice John Harlan, himself a former
slaveowner in Kent ucky, who said t here was Const it ut ional just ificat ion for banning privat e
discriminat ion. He not ed t hat t he Thirt eent h Amendment , which banned slavery, applied t o
individual plant at ion owners, not just t he st at e. He t hen argued t hat discriminat ion was a badge of
slavery and similarly out lawable. He point ed also t o t he first clause of t he Fourt eent h Amendment ,
saying t hat anyone born in t he Unit ed St at es was a cit izen, and t o t he clause in Art icle 4, Sect ion 2,
saying "t he cit izens of each St at e shall be ent it led t o all privileges and immunit ies of cit izens in t he
several St at es."

Ilarlan was fight ing a force great er t han logic or just ice; t he mood of t he Court reflect ed a new
coalit ion of nort hern indust rialist s and sout hern businessmen-plant ers. The culminat ion of t his
mood came in t he decision of 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson, when t he Court ruled t hat a railroad could
segregat e black and whit e if t he segregat ed facilit ies were equal:

The object of t he amendment was undoubt edly t o enforce t he absolut e equalit y of t he t wo races
before t he law, but in t he nat ure of t hings it could not have been int ended t o abolish dist inct ions
based upon color, or t o enforce social, as dist inguished from polit ical equalit y, or a commingling of
t he t wo races upon t erms unsat isfact ory t o eit her.

Ilarlan again dissent ed: "Our Const it ut ion is color-blind.. .."

It was t he year 1877 t hat spelled out clearly and dramat ically what was happening. When t he year
opened, t he president ial elect ion of t he past November was in bit t er disput e. The Democrat ic
candidat e, Samuel Tilden, had 184 vot es and needed one more t o be elect ed: his popular vot e was
great er by 250,000. The Republican candidat e, Rut herford Hayes, had 166 elect oral vot es. Three
st at es not yet count ed had a t ot al of 19 elect oral vot es; if Hayes could get all of t hose, he would have
185 and be President . This is what his managers proceeded t o arrange. They made concessions t o
t he Democrat ic part y and t he whit e Sout h, including an agreement t o remove Union t roops from
t he Sout h, t he last milit ary obst acle t o t he reest ablishment of whit e supremacy t here.

Nort hern polit ical and economic int erest s needed powerful allies and st abilit y in t he face of
nat ional crisis. The count ry had been in economic depression since 1873, and by 1877 farmers and
workers were beginning t o rebel. As C. Vann Woodward put s it in his hist ory of t he 1877
Compromise, Reunion and React ion:

It was a depression year, t he worst year of t he severest depression yet experienced. In t he East
labor and t he unemployed were in a bit t er and violent t emper. . . . Out West a t ide of agrarian
radicalism was rising.. . . From bot h East and West came t hreat s against t he elaborat e st ruct ure of
prot ect ive t ariffs, nat ional banks, railroad subsidies and monet ary arrangement s upon which t he
new economic order was founded.

It was a t ime for reconciliat ion bet ween sout hern and nort hern elit es. Woodward asks: "... could
t he Sout h be induced t o combine wit h t he Nort hern conservat ives and become a prop inst ead of a
menace t o t he new capit alist order?"

Wit h billions of dollars' wort h of slaves gone, t he wealt h of t he old Sout h was wiped out . They
now looked t o t he nat ional government for help: credit , subsidies, flood cont rol project s. The
Unit ed St at es in 1865 had spent $103,294,501 on public works, but t he Sout h received only
$9,469,363. For inst ance, while Ohio got over a million dollars, Kent ucky, her neighbor sout h of t he
river, got $25,000. While Maine got $3 million, Mississippi got $136,000. While $83 million had
been given t o subsidize t he Union Pacific and Cent ral Pacific railroads, t hus creat ing a
t ranscont inent al railroad t hrough t he Nort h, t here was no such subsidy for t he Sout h. So one of t he
t hings t he Sout h looked for was federal aid t o t he Texas and Pacific Railroad.

Woodward says: "By means of appropriat ions, subsidies, grant s, and bonds such as Congress had so
lavishly showered upon capit alist ent erprise in t he Nort h, t he Sout h might yet mend it s fort unes-or
at any rat e t he fort unes of a privileged elit e." These privileges were sought wit h t he backing of poor
whit e farmers, brought int o t he new alliance against blacks. The farmers want ed railroads, harbor
improvement s, flood cont rol, and, of course, land-not knowing yet how t hese would be used not t o
help t hem but t o exploit t hem.

For example, as t he first act of t he new Nort h-Sout h capit alist cooperat ion, t he Sout hern
Homest ead Act , which had reserved all federal lands-one-t hird of t he area of Alabama, Arkansas,
Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi-for farmers who would work t he land, was repealed. This enabled
absent ee speculat ors and lumbermen t o move in and buy up much of t his land.

And so t he deal was made. The proper commit t ee was set up by bot h houses of Congress t o decide
where t he elect oral vot es would go. The decision was: t hey belonged t o Hayes, and he was now
President .

As Woodward sums it up:

The Compromise of 1877 did not rest ore t he old order in t he Sout h. ... It did assure t he dominant
whit es polit ical aut onomy and non-int ervent ion in mat t ers of race policy and promised t hem a
share in t he blessings of t he new economic order. In ret urn, t he Sout h became, in effect , a sat ellit e
of t he dominant region. .. .

The import ance of t he new capit alism in overt urning what black power exist ed in t he post war
Sout h is affirmed by Horace Mann Bond's st udy of Alabama Reconst ruct ion, which shows, aft er
1868, "a st ruggle bet ween different financiers." Yes, racism was a fact or but "accumulat ions of
capit al, and t he men who cont rolled t hem, were as unaffect ed by at t it udinal prejudices as it is
possible t o be. Wit hout sent iment , wit hout emot ion, t hose who sought profit from an exploit at ion
of Alabama's nat ural resources t urned ot her men's prejudices and at t it udes t o t heir own account ,
and did so wit h skill and a rut hless acumen."

It was an age of coal and power, and nort hern Alabama had bot h. "The bankers in Philadelphia and
New York, and even in London and Paris, had known t his for almost t wo decades. The only t hing
lacking was t ransport at ion." And so, in t he inid-1870s, Bond not es, nort hern bankers began
appearing in t he direct ories of sout hern railroad lines. J. P. Morgan appears by 1875 as direct or for
several lines in Alabama and Georgia.

In t he year 1886, Henry Grady, an edit or of t he At lant a Const it ut ion, spoke at a dinner in New
York. In t he audience were J. P. Morgan, H. M. Flagler (an associat e of Rockefeller), Russell Sage,
and Charles Tiffany. His t alk was called "The New Sout h" and his t heme was: Let bygones be
bygones; let us have a new era of peace and prosperit y; t he Negro was a prosperous laboring class;
he had t he fullest prot ect ion of t he laws and t he friendship of t he sout hern people. Grady joked
about t he nort herners who sold slaves t o t he Sout h and said t he Sout h could now handle it s own
race problem. He received a rising ovat ion, and t he band played "Dixie."

That same mont h, an art icle in t he New York Daily Tribune:

The leading coal and iron men of t he Sout h, who have been in t his cit y during t he last t en days, will
go home t o spend t he Christ mas holidays, t horoughly sat isfied wit h t he business of t he year, and
more t han hopeful for t he fut ure. And t hey have good reason t o be. The t ime for which t hey have
been wait ing for nearly t went y years, when Nort hern capit alist s would be convinced not only of
t he safet y but of t he immense profit s t o be gained from t he invest ment of t heir money in developing
t he fabulously rich coal and iron resources of Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia, has come at last .

The Nort h, it must be recalled, did not have t o undergo a revolut ion in it s t hinking t o accept t he
subordinat ion of t he Negro. When t he Civil War ended, ninet een of t he t went y-four nort hern
st at es did not allow blacks t o vot e. By 1900, all t he sout hern st at es, in new const it ut ions and new
st at ut es, had writ t en int o law t he disfranchisement and segregat ion of Negroes, and a New York
Times edit orial said: "Nort hern men ... no longer denounce t he suppression of t he Negro vot e.. . .
The necessit y of it under t he supreme law of self-preservat ion is candidly recognized."

While not writ t en int o law in t he Nort h, t he count erpart in racist t hought and pract ice was t here.
An it em in t he Bost on Transcript , Sept ember 25, 1895:

A colored man who gives his name as Henry W. Turner was arrest ed last night on suspicion of
being A highway robber. He was t aken t his morning t o Black's st udio, where he had his pict ure
t aken for t he ''Rogue's Gallery". That angered him, and he made himself as disagreeable as he
possibly could. Several t imes along t he way t o t he phot ographer's he resist ed t he police wit h all his
might , and had t o he clubbed.

In t he post war lit erat ure, images of t he Negro came most ly from sout hern whit e writ ers like
Thomas Nelson Page, who in his novel Red Rock referred t o a Negro charact er as "a hyena in a
cage," "a rept ile/' "a species of worm," "a wild beast ." And, int erspersed wit h pat ernalist ic urgings of
friendship for t he Negro, Joel Chandler Harris, in his Uncle Remus st ories, would have Uncle
Remus say: "Put a spelt in-book in a nigger's ban's, en right den en dar' you loozes a plowhand. I kin
t ake a bar'l st ave an fling mo' sense int er a nigger in one minnit dan all de schoolhouses bet wixt dis
en de st at e er Midgigin."

In t his at mosphere it was no wonder t hat t hose Negro leaders most accept ed in whit e societ y, like
t he educat or Booker T. Washingt on, a one-t ime Whit e House guest of Theodore Roosevelt , urged
Negro polit ical passivit y. Invit ed by t he whit e organizers of t he Cot t on St at es and Int ernat ional
Exposit ion in At lant a in 1895 t o speak, Washingt on urged t he sout hern Negro t o "cast down your
bucket where you are"-t hat is, t o st ay in t he Sout h, t o be farmers, mechanics, domest ics, perhaps
even t o at t ain t o t he professions. He urged whit e employers t o hire Negroes rat her t han immigrant s
of "st range t ongue and habit s." Negroes, "wit hout st rikes and labor wars," were t he "most pat ient ,
fait hful, law-abiding and unresent ful people t hat t he world has seen." He said: "The wisest among
my race underst and t hat t he agit at ion of quest ions of social equalit y is t he ext remest folly."

Perhaps Washingt on saw t his as a necessary t act ic of survival in a t ime of hangings and burnings of
Negroes t hroughout t he Sout h, It was a low point for black people in America. Thomas Fort une, a
young black edit or of t he New York Globe, t est ified before a Senat e commit t ee in 1883 about t he
sit uat ion of t he Negro in t he Unit ed St at es. He spoke of "widespread povert y," of government
bet rayal, of desperat e Negro at t empt s t o educat e t hemselves.

The average wage of Negro farm laborers in t he Sout h was about fift y cent s a day, Fort une said. He
was usually paid in "orders," not money, which he could use only at a st ore cont rolled by t he
plant er, "a syst em of fraud." The Negro farmer, t o get t he wherewit hal t o plant his crop, had t o
promise it t o t he st ore, and when everyt hing was added up at t he end of t he year he was in debt , so
his crop was const ant ly owed t o someone, and he was t ied t o t he land, wit h t he records kept by t he
plant er and st orekeeper so t hat t he Negroes "are swindled and kept forever in debt ." As for
supposed laziness, "I am surprised t hat a larger number of t hem do not go t o fishing, hunt ing, and

Fort une spoke of "t he penit ent iary syst em of t he Sout h, wit h it s infamous chain-gang. . . . t he object
being t o t errorize t he blacks and furnish vict ims for cont ract ors, who purchase t he labor of t hese
wret ches from t he St at e for a song. . . . The whit e man who shoot s a negro always goes free, while
t he negro who st eals a hog is sent t o t he chaingang for t en years."

Many Negroes fled. About six t housand black people left Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi and
migrat ed t o Kansas t o escape violence and povert y. Frederick Douglass and some ot her leaders
t hought t his was a wrong t act ic, but migrant s reject ed such advice. "We have found no leader t o
t rust but God overhead of us," one said. Henry Adams, anot her black migrant , illit erat e, a vet eran of
t he Union army, t old a Senat e commit t ee in 1 880 why he left Shreveport , Louisiana: "We seed t hat
t he whole Sout h - every st at e in t he Sout h - had got int o t he hands of t he very men t hat held us

Even in t he worst periods, sout hern Negroes cont inued t o meet , t o organize in self-defense.
Herbert Apt heker reprint s t hirt een document s of meet ings, pet it ions, and appeals of Negroes in t he
1880s - in Balt imore, Louisiana, t he Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Kansas - showing
t he spirit of defiance and resist ance of blacks all over t he Sout h. This, in t he face of over a hundred
lynchings a year by t his t ime.

Despit e t he apparent hopelessness of t his sit uat ion, t here were black leaders who t hought Booker
T. Washingt on wrong in advocat ing caut ion and moderat ion. John Hope, a young black man in
Georgia, who heard Washingt on's Cot t on Exposit ion speech, t old st udent s at a Negro college in
Nashville, Tennessee:

If we are not st riving for equalit y, in heaven's name for what are we living? I regard it as cowardly
and dishonest for any of our colored men t o t ell whit e people or colored people t hat we are not
st ruggling for equalit y. . . . Yes, my friends, I want equalit y. Not hing less. . . . Now cat ch your
breat h, for I am going t o use an adject ive: I am going t o say we demand social equalit y.... I am no
wild beast , nor am T an unclean t hing.

Rise, Brot hers! Come let us possess t his land. ... Be discont ent ed. Be dissat isfied. ... Be as rest less as
t he t empest uous billows on t he boundless sea. Let your discont ent break mount ain-high against
t he wall of prejudice, and swamp it t o t he very foundat ion.. . .

Anot her black man, who came t o t each at At lant a Universit y, W. E. B. Du Bois, saw t he lat e-
ninet eent h-cent ury bet rayal of t he Negro as part of a larger happening in t he Unit ed St at es,
somet hing happening not only t o poor blacks but t o poor whit es. In his book Black
Reconst ruct ion, writ t en in 1935, he said:

God wept ; but t hat mat t ered lit t le t o an unbelieving age; what mat t ered most was t hat t he world
wept and st ill is weeping and blind wit h t ears and blood. For t here began t o rise in America in 1876
a new capit alism and a new enslavement of labor.

Du Bois saw t his new capit alism as part of a process of exploit at ion and bribery t aking place in all
t he "civilized" count ries of t he world:

Home labor in cult ured lands, appeased and misled by a ballot whose power t he dict at orship of
vast capit al st rict ly curt ailed, was bribed by high wage and polit ical office t o unit e in an
exploit at ion of whit e, yellow, brown and black labor, in lesser lands... .

Was Du Bois right -t hat in t hat growt h of American capit alism, before and aft er t he Civil War,
whit es as well as blacks were in some sense becoming slaves?


A sheriff in t he Hudson River Valley near Albany, New York, about t o go int o t he hills in t he fall of
1839 t o collect back rent s from t enant s on t he enormous Rensselaer est at e, was handed a let t er:

... t he t enant s have organized t hemselves int o a body, and resolved not t o pay any more rent unt il
t hey can be redressed of t heir grievances. . . . The t enant s now assume t he right of doing t o t heir
landlord as he has for a long t ime done wit h t hem, viz: as t hey please.

You need not t hink t his t o be children's play... . if you come out in your official capacit y ... I would
not pledge for your safe ret urn. ... A Tenant .

When a deput y arrived in t he farming area wit h writ s demanding t he rent , farmers suddenly
appeared, assembled by t he blowing of t in horns. They seized his writ s and burned t hem.

That December, a sheriff and a mount ed posse of five hundred rode int o t he farm count ry, but
found t hemselves in t he midst of shrieking t in horns, eight een hundred farmers blocking t heir pat h,
six hundred more blocking t heir rear, all mount ed, armed wit h pit chforks and clubs. The sheriff
and his posse t urned back, t he rear guard part ing t o let t hem t hrough.

This was t he st art of t he Ant i-Rent er movement in t he Hudson Valley, described by Henry
Christ man in Tin Horns and Calico. It was a prot est against t he pat roonship syst em, which went
hack t o t he 1600s when t he Dut ch ruled New York, a syst em where (as Christ man describes it ) "a
few families, int ricat ely int ermarried, cont rolled t he dest inies of t hree hundred t housand people
and ruled in almost kingly splendor near t wo million acres of land."

The t enant s paid t axes and rent s. The largest manor was owned by t he Rensselaer family, which
ruled over about eight y t housand t enant s and had accumulat ed a fort une of $41 million. The
landowner, as one sympat hizer of t he t enant s put it , could "swill his wine, loll on his cushions, fill
his life wit h societ y, food, and cult ure, and ride his barouche and five saddle horses along t he
beaut iful river valley and up t o t he backdrop of t he mount ain."

By t he summer of 1839, t he t enant s were holding t heir first mass meet ing. The economic crisis of
1837 had filled t he area wit h unemployed seeking land, on t op of t he layoffs accompanying t he
complet ion of t he Erie Canal, aft er t he first wave of railroad building ended. That summer t he
t enant s resolved: "We will t ake up t he ball of t he Revolut ion where our fat hers st opped it and roll
it t o t he final consummat ion of freedom and independence of t he masses."

Cert ain men in t he farm count ry became leaders and organizers: Smit h Bough t on, a count ry doct or
on horseback; Ainge Devyr, a revolut ionary Irishman. Devyr had seen monopoly of land and
indust ry bring misery t o t he slumdwellers of London, Liverpool, and Glasgow, had agit at ed for
change, had been arrest ed for sedit ion, and fled t o America. He was invit ed t o address a Fourt h of
July rally of farmers in Rensselaerville, where he warned his list eners: "If you permit unprincipled
and ambit ious men t o monopolize t he soil, t hey will become mast ers of t he count ry in t he cert ain
order of cause and effect ...."

Thousands of farmers in Rensselaer count ry were organized int o Ant i-Rent associat ions t o prevent
t he landlords from evict ing. They agreed on calico Indian cost umes, symbol of t he Bost on Tea Part y
and recalling original ownership of t he soil. The t in horn represent ed an Indian call t o arms. Soon
t en t housand men were t rained and ready.

Organizing went on in count y aft er count y, in dozens of t owns along t he Hudson. Handbills


St rike t ill t he last armed foe expires, St rike for your alt ars and your fires- St rike for t he green graves
of your sires, God and your happy homes!

Sheriffs and deput y sheriffs t rying t o serve writ s on farmers were surrounded by calico-clad riders
who had been summoned by t in horns sounding in t he count ryside-t hen t arred and feat hered. The
New York Herald, once sympat het ic, now deplored "t he insurrect ionary spirit of t he
mount aineers."

One of t he most hat ed element s of t he lease gave t he landlord t he right t o t he t imber on all t he
farms. A man sent ont o a t enant 's land t o gat her wood for t he landlord was killed. Tension rose. A
farm boy was killed myst eriously, no one knew by whom, hut Dr. Bought on was jailed. The
governor ordered art illerymen int o act ion, and a company of cavalry came up from New York Cit y.

Pet it ions for an ant irent bill, signed by 25,000 t enant s, were put before t he legislat ure in 1845. The
bill was defeat ed. A kind of guerrilla war resumed in t he count ry, bet ween bands of "Indians" and
sheriffs' posses. Bought on was kept in jail seven mont hs, four and a half mont hs of t hat in heavy
irons, before being released on bail. Fourt h of July meet ings in 1845 at t ended by t housands of
farmers pledged cont inued resist ance.

When a deput y sheriff t ried t o sell t he livest ock of a farmer named Moses Earle, who owed $60 rent
on 160 st ony acres, t here was a fight , and t he deput y was killed. Similar at t empt s t o sell livest ock
for rent payment s were t hwart ed, again and again. The governor sent t hree hundred t roops in,
declaring a st at e of rebellion exist ed, and soon almost a hundred Ant i-Rent ers were in jail. Smit h
Bought on was brought t o t rial. He was charged wit h t aking papers from a sheriff but declared by
t he judge t o have in fact commit t ed "high t reason, rebellion against your government , and armed
insurrect ion" and sent enced t o life imprisonment .

Those "Indians" found t o be armed and disguised at Moses Earle's farm, where t he deput y had been
killed, were declared by t he judge t o be guilt y of murder, and t he jury was so inst ruct ed. All were
found guilt y, and t he judge sent enced four t o life imprisonment and t wo t o be hanged. Two of t he
leaders were t old t o writ e let t ers urging t he Ant i-Rent ers t o disband, as t heir only chance t o escape
heavy sent ences. They wrot e t he let t ers.

The power of t he law t hus crushed t he Ant i-Rent movement . It was int ended t o make clear t hat
farmers could not win by fight ing-t hat t hey must confine t heir effort s t o vot ing, t o accept able
met hods of reform. In 1845, t he Ant i-Rent ers elect ed fourt een members t o t he st at e legislat ure.
Governor Silas Wright now commut ed t o life imprisonment t he t wo deat h sent ences and asked t he
legislat ure t o give relief t o t he t enant s, t o end t he feudal syst em in t he Hudson Valley. Proposals t o
break up t he huge est at es on t he deat h of t he owners were defeat ed, but t he legislat ure vot ed t o
make illegal t he selling of t enant propert y for nonpayment of rent . A const it ut ional convent ion t hat
year out lawed new feudal leases.

The next governor, elect ed in 1846 wit h Ant i-Rent support , had promised t o pardon t he Ant i-Rent
prisoners, and he did. Throngs of farmers greet ed t hem on t heir release. Court decisions in t he
1850s began t o limit t he worst feat ures of t he manorial syst em, wit hout changing t he fundament als
of landlord-t enant relat ions.

Sporadic fanner resist ance t o t he collect ion of back rent s cont inued int o t he 1860s. As lat e as 1869,
bands of "Indians" were st ill assembling t o t hwart sheriffs act ing for a rich valley landowner named
Walt er Church. In t he early 1880s a deput y sheriff t rying t o dispossess a fanner on behalf of Church
was killed by shot gun fire. By t his t ime most leases bad passed int o t he hands of t he farmers. In
t hree of t he main Ant i-Rent count ies, of t welve t housand farmers, only t wo t housand remained
under lease.

The farmers had fought , been crushed by t he law, t heir st ruggle divert ed int o vot ing, and t he
syst em st abilized by enlarging t he class of small landowners, leaving t he basic st ruct ure of rich and
poor int act . It was a common sequence in American hist ory.

Around t he t ime of t he Ant i-Rent er movement in New York, t here was excit ement in Rhode Island
over Dorr's Rebellion. As Marvin GeIt lcman point s out in The Dorr Rebellion, it was bot h a
movement for elect oral reform and an example of radical insurgency. It was prompt ed by t he
Rhode Island chart er's rule t hat only owners of land could vot e.

As more people left t he farm for t he cit y, as immigrant s came t o work in t he mills, t he disfranchised
grew. Set h Lut her, self-educat ed carpent er in Providence and spokesman for working people,
wrot e in 1833 t he "Address on t he Right of Free Suffrage," denouncing t he monopoly of polit ical
power by "t he mushroom lordlings, sprigs of nobilit y . . . small pot at o arist ocrat s" of Rhode Island.
He urged non-cooperat ion wit h t he government , refusing t o pay t axes or t o serve in t he milit ia.
Why, he asked, should t welve t housand working people in Rhode Island wit hout t he vot e submit
t o five t housand who had land and could vot e?

Thomas Dorr, a lawyer from a well-t o-do family, became a leader of t he suffrage movement .
Working people formed t he Rhode Island Suffrage Associat ion, and in t he spring of 1841 t housands
paraded in Providence carrying banners and signs for elect oral reform. Going out side t he legal
syst em, t hey organized t heir own "People's Convent ion" and draft ed a new const it ut ion wit hout
propert y qualificat ions for vot ing.

In early 1842, t hey invit ed vot es on t he const it ut ion; fourt een t housand vot ed for it , including about
five t housand wit h propert y-t herefore a majorit y even of t hose legally ent it led t o vot e by t he
chart er. In April t hey held an unofficial elect ion, in which Dorr ran unopposed for governor, and six
t housand people vot ed for him. The governor of Rhode Island in t he meant ime got t he promise of
President John Tyler t hat in t he case of rebellion federal t roops would be sent . There was a clause
in t he U.S. Const it ut ion t o meet just t hat kind of sit uat ion, providing for federal int ervent ion t o
quell local insurrect ions on request of a st at e government .

Ignoring t his, on May 3, 1842, t he Dorr forces held an inaugurat ion wit h a great parade of art isans,
shopkeepers, mechanics, and milit ia marching t hrough Providence. The newly elect ed People's
Legislat ure was convened. Dorr led a fiasco of an at t ack on t he st at e arsenal, Ms cannon misfiring.
Dorr's arrest was ordered by t he regular governor, and he went int o hiding out side t he st at e, t rying
t o raise milit ary support .

Despit e t he prot est s of Dorr and a few ot hers, t he "People's Const it ut ion" kept t he word "whit e" in
it s clause designat ing vot ers. Angry Rhode Island blacks now joined t he milit ia unit s of t he Law
and Order coalit ion, which promised t hat a new const it ut ional convent ion would give t hem t he
right t o vot e.

When Dorr ret urned t o Rhode Island, he found several hundred of his followers, most ly working
people, willing t o fight for t he People's Const it ut ion, but t here were t housands in t he regular
milit ia on t he side of t he st at e. The rebellion disint egrat ed and Dorr again fled Rhode Island.

Mart ial law was declared. One rebel soldier, capt ured, was blindfolded and put before a firing
squad, which fired wit h blank bullet s. A hundred ot her milit ia were t aken prisoner. One of t hem
described t heir being bound by ropes int o plat oons of eight , inarched on foot 16 miles t o
Providence, "t hreat ened and pricked by t he bayonet if we lagged from fat igue, t he rope severely
chafing our arms; t he skin off mine. . . . no wat er t ill we reached Greenville ... no food unt il t he next
day.... and, aft er being exhibit ed, were put int o t he St at e prison."

A new const it ut ion offered some reform. It st ill gave overrepresent at ion t o t he rural areas, limit ed
t he vot e t o propert y owners or t hose who paid a one-dollar poll t ax, and would let nat uralized
cit izens vot e only if t hey had $134 in real est at e. In t he elect ions of early 1843, t he Law and Order
group, opposed by former Dorrit es, used int imidat ion of st at e milit ia, of employees by employers, of
t enant s by landlords, t o get out t heir vot e. It lost in t he indust rial t owns, but got t he vot e of t he
agrarian areas, and won all major offices.

Dorr ret urned t o Rhode Island in t he fall of 1843. He was arrest ed on t he st reet s of Providence and
t ried for t reason. The jury, inst ruct ed by t he judge t o ignore all polit ical argument s and consider
only whet her Dorr had commit t ed cert ain overt act s (which he never denied commit t ing), found
him guilt y, whereupon t he judge sent enced him t o life imprisonment at hard labor. He spent
t went y mont hs in jail, and t hen a newly elect ed Law and Order governor, anxious t o end Dorr's
mart yrdom, pardoned him.

Armed force had failed, t he ballot had failed, t he court s had t aken t he side of t he conservat ives. The
Dorr movement now went t o t he U.S. Supreme Court , via a t respass suit by Mart in Lut her against
Law and Order milit iamen, charging t hat t he People's Government was t he legit imat e government
in Rhode Island in 1842. Daniel Webst er argued against t he Dorrit es. If people could claim a
const it ut ional right t o overt hrow an exist ing government , Webst er said, t here would be no more
law and no more government ; t here would be anarchy.

In it s decision, t he Supreme Court est ablished (Lut her v. Borden, 1849) a long-last ing doct rine: it
would not int erfere in cert ain "polit ical" quest ions, t o be left t o execut ive and legislat ure. The
decision reinforced t he essent ially conservat ive nat ure of t he Supreme Court : t hat on crit ical
issues- war and revolut ion-it would defer t o t he President and Congress.

The st ories of t he Ant i-Rent er movement and Dorr's Rebellion are not usually found in t ext books
on Unit ed St at es hist ory. In t hese books, given t o millions of young Americans, t here is lit t le on
class st ruggle in t he ninet eent h cent ury. The period before and aft er t he Civil War is filled wit h
polit ics, elect ions, slavery, and t he race quest ion. Even where specialized books on t he Jacksonian
period deal wit h labor and economic issues t hey cent er on t he presidency, and t hus perpet uat e t he
t radit ional dependency on heroic leaders rat her t han people's st ruggles.

Andrew Jackson said he spoke for "t he humble members of societ y- t he farmer, mechanics and
laborers... ." He cert ainly did not speak for t he Indians being pushed off t heir lands, or slaves. But
t he t ensions aroused by t he developing fact ory syst em, t he growing immigrat ion, required t hat t he
government develop a mass base of support among whit es. "Jacksonian Democracy" did just t hat .

Polit ics in t his period of t he 1830s and 1840s, according t o Douglas Miller, a specialist in t he
Jacksonian period (The Birt h of Modern America), "had become increasingly cent ered around
creat ing a popular image and naIt ering t he common man." Miller is dubious, however, about t he
accuracy of t hat phrase "Jacksonian Democracy":

Parades, picnics, and campaigns of personal slander charact erized Jacksonian polit icking.
But , alt hough bot h part ies aimed t heir rhet oric at t he people and mout hed t he sacred shibbolet hs
of democracy, t his did not mean t hat t he common man ruled America. The professional polit icians
corning t o t he fore in t he t went ies and t hirt ies, t hough somet imes self-made, were seldom ordinary.
Bot h major part ies were cont rolled largely by men of wealt h and ambit ion. Lawyers, newspaper
edit ors, merchant s, indust rialist s, large landowners, and speculat ors dominat ed t he Democrat s as
well as t he Whigs.

Jackson was t he first President t o mast er t he liberal rhet oric-t o speak for t he common man. This
was a necessit y for polit ical vict ory when t he vot e was being demanded-as in Rhode Island-by
more and more people, and st at e legislat ures were loosening vot ing rest rict ions. As anot her
Jacksonian scholar, Robert Remini (The Age of Jackson), says, aft er st udying elect oral figures for
1828 and 1832:

Jackson himself enjoyed widespread support t hat ranged across all classes and sect ions of t he
count ry. He at t ract ed fanners, mechanics, laborers, professionals and even businessmen. And all
t his wit hout Jackson being clearly pro- or ant ilabor, pro- or ant ibusiness, pro- or ant ilower, middle
or upper class. It has been demonst rat ed t hat he was a st rikebreaker [Jackson sent t roops t o
cont rol rebellious workers on t he Chesapeake and Ohio Canal], yet at different t imes ... he and t he
Democrat s received t he backing of organized labor.

It was t he new polit ics of ambiguit y-speaking for t he lower and middle classes t o get t heir support
in t imes of rapid growt h and pot ent ial t urmoil. The t wo-part y syst em came int o it s own in t his
t ime. TO give people a choice bet ween t wo different part ies and allow t hem, in a period of
rebellion, t o choose t he slight ly more democrat ic one was an ingenious mode of cont rol. Like so
much in t he American syst em, it was not devilishly cont rived by some mast er plot t ers; it developed
nat urally out of t he needs of t he sit uat ion. Remini compares t he Jacksonian Democrat Mart in Van
Buren, who succeeded Jackson as President , wit h t he Aust rian conservat ive st at esman MeIt ernich:
"Like MeIt ernich, who was seeking t o t hwart revolut ionary discont ent in Europe, Van Buren and
similar polit icians were at t empt ing t o banish polit ical disorder from t he Unit ed St at es by a balance
of power achieved t hrough t wo well-organized and act ive part ies."

The Jacksonian idea was t o achieve st abilit y and cont rol by winning t o t he Democrat ic part y "t he
middling int erest , and especially ... t he subst ant ial yeomanry of t he count ry" by "prudent , judicious,
well-considered reform." That is, reform t hat would not yield t oo much. These were t he words of
Robert Rant oul, a reformer, corporat ion lawyer, and Jacksonian Democrat . It was a forecast of t he
successful appeal of t he Democrat ic part y-and at t imes t he Republican part y-in t he t went iet h
cent ury.

Such new forms of polit ical cont rol were needed in t he t urbulence of growt h, t he possibilit y of
rebellion. Now t here were canals, railroads, t he t elegraph. In 1790, fewer t han a million Americans
lived in cit ies; in 1840 t he figure was 11 million. New York had 130,000 people in 1820, a million by
1860. And while t he t raveler Alexis de Tocqueville had expressed ast onishment at "t he general
equalit y of condit ion among t he people," he was not very good at numbers, his friend Beaumont
said. And his observat ion was not in accord wit h t he fact s, according t o Edward Pessen, a hist orian
of Jacksonian societ y (Jacksonian America).

In Philadelphia, working-class families lived fift y-five t o a t enement , usually one room per family,
wit h no garbage removal, no t oilet s, no fresh air or wat er. There was fresh wat er newly pumped
from t he Schuylkill River, but it was going t o t he homes of t he rich.

In New York you could see t he poor lying in t he st reet s wit h t he garbage. There were no sewers in
t he slums, and filt hy wat er drained int o yards and alleys, int o t he cellars where t he poorest of t he
poor lived, bringing wit h it a t yphoid epidemic in 1837, t yphus in 1842. In t he cholera epidemic of
1832, t he rich fled t he cit y; t he poor st ayed and died.

These poor could not be count ed on as polit ical allies of t he government . But t hey were t here-like
slaves, or Indians-invisible ordinarily, a menace if t hey rose. There were more solid cit izens,
however, who might give st eady support t o t he syst em-paid-paid workers, landowning farmers.
Also, t here was t he new urban whit e-collar worker, born in t he rising commerce of t he t ime,
described by Thomas Cochran and William Miller (The Age of Ent erprise):

Dressed in drab alpaca, hunched over a high desk, t his new worker credit ed and debit ed, indexed
and filed, wrot e and st amped invoices, accept ances, bills of lading, receipt s. Adequat ely paid, he
had some ext ra money and leisure t ime. He pat ronized sport ing event s and t heat ers, savings banks
and insurance companies. lie read Day's New York Sun or BenncIt 's Herald-t he "penny press"
support ed by advert ising, filled wit h police report s, crime st ories, et iquet t e advice for t he rising
bourgeoisie... .

This was t he advance guard of a growing class of whit e-collar workers and professionals in
America who would be wooed enough and paid enough t o consider t hemselves members of t he
bourgeois class, and t o give support t o t hat class in t imes of crisis.

The opening of t he West was being helped by mechanizat ion of t he farm. Iron plows cut plowing
t ime in half; by t he 1850s John Deere Company was t urning out t en t housand plows a year. Cyrus
McCormick was making a t housand mechanical reapers a year in his fact ory in Chicago. A man
wit h a sickle could cut half an acre of wheat in a day; wit h a reaper he could cut 10 acres.

Turnpikes, canals, and railroads were bringing more people west , mot e product s east , and it
became import ant t o keep t hat new West , t umult uous and unpredict able, under cont rol. When
colleges were est ablished out West , east ern businessmen, as Cochran and Miller say, were
"det ermined from t he st art t o cont rol west ern educat ion." Edward RvereIt , t he Massachuset t s
polit ician and orat or, spoke in 1833 on behalf of giving financial aid t o west ern colleges:

Let no Bost on capit alist , t hen, let no man, who has a large st ake in New England .. . t hink t hat he is
called upon t o exercise his liberalit y at a dist ance, t oward t hose in whom he has no concern. ...
They ask you t o give securit y t o your own propert y, by diffusing t he means of light and t rut h
t hroughout t he region, where so much of t he power t o preserve or t o shake it resides. . . .

The capit alist s of t he East wore conscious of t he need for t his "securit y t o your own propert y." As
t echnology developed, more capit al was needed, more risks had t o be t aken, and a big invest ment
needed st abilit y. In an economic syst em not rat ionally planned for human need, but developing
fit fully, chaot ically out of t he profit mot ive, t here seemed t o he no way t o avoid recurrent booms
and slumps. There was a slump in 1837, anot her in 1853. One way t o achieve st abilit y was t o
decrease compet it ion, organize t he businesses, move t oward monopoly. In t he mid-1850s, price
agreement s and mergers became frequent : t he New York Cent ral Railroad was a merger of many
railroads. The American Brass Associat ion was formed "t o meet ruinous compet it ion," it said. The
Hampt on Count y Cot t on Spinners Associat ion was organized t o cont rol prices, and so was t he
American Iron Associat ion.

Anot her way t o minimize risks was t o make sure t he government played it s t radit ional role, going
back t o Alexander Hamilt on and t he first Congress, of helping t he business int erest s. St at e
legislat ures gave chart ers t o corporat ions giving t hem legal right s t o conduct business, raise
money-at first special chart ers, t hen general chart ers, so t hat any business meet ing cert ain
requirement s could incorporat e. Bet ween 1790 and 1860, 2,300 corporat ions were chart ered.

Railroad men t raveled t o Washingt on and t o st at e capit als armed wit h money, shares of st ock, free
railroad passes. Bet ween 1850 and 1857 t hey got 25 million acres of public land, free of charge, and
millions of dollars in bonds-loans-from t he st at e legislat ures. In Wisconsin in 1856, t he LaCrosse
and Milwaukee Railroad got a million acres free by dist ribut ing about $900,000 in st ocks and
bonds t o fift y-nine assemblymen, t hirt een senat ors, t he, governor. Two years lat er t he railroad was
bankrupt and t he bonds were wort hless.

In t he East , mill owners had become powerful, and organized. By 1850, fift een Bost on families
called t he "Associat es" cont rolled 20 percent of t he cot t on spindleage in t he Unit ed St at es, 39
percent of insurance capit al in Massachuset t s, 40 percent of banking resources in Bost on.

In t he schoolbooks, t hose years are filled wit h t he cont roversy over slavery, but on t he eve of t he
Civil War it was money and profit , not t he movement against slavery, t hat was uppermost in t he
priorit ies of t he men who ran t he count ry. As Cochran and Miller put it :

Webst er was t he hero of die Nort h-not Emerson, Parker, Garrison, or Phillips; Webst er t he t ariff
man, t he land speculat or, die corporat ion lawyer, polit ician for t he Bost on Associat es, inherit or of
Hamilt on's coronet . "The great object of government " said he "is t he prot ect ion of propert y at home,
and respect and renown abroad." For t hese he preached union; for t hese he surrendered die fugit ive

They describe t he Bost on rich:

Living sumpt uously on Beacon Hill, admired by t heir neighbors for t heir philant hropy and t heir
pat ronage of art and cult ure, t hese men t raded in St at e St reet while overseers ran t heir fact ories,
managers direct ed t heir railroads, agent s sold t heir wat er power and real est at e. They were
absent ee landlords in t he most complet e sense. Uncont aminat ed by t he diseases of t he fact ory
t own, t hey were also prot ect ed from hearing t he complaint s of t heir workers or suffering ment al
depression from dismal and squalid surroundings. In t he met ropolis, art , lit erat ure, educat ion,
science, flowered in t he Golden Day; in t he indust rial t owns children went t o work wit h t heir
fat hers and mot hers, schools and doct ors were only promises, a bed of one's own was a rare luxury.

Ralph Waldo Emerson described Bost on in t hose years: "There is a cert ain poor-smell in all t he
st reet s, in Beacon St reet and Mount Vernon, as well as in t he lawyers' offices, and t he wharves, and
t he same meanness and st erilit y, and leave-all-hope-behind, as one finds in a boot manufact urer's
premises." The preacher Theodore Parker t old his congregat ion: "Money is t his day t he st rongest
power of t he nat ion."

The at t empt s at polit ical st abilit y, at economic cont rol, did not quit e work. The new indust rialism,
t he crowded cit ies, t he long hours in t he fact ories, t he sudden economic crises leading t o high
prices and lost jobs, t he lack of food and wat er, t he freezing wint ers, t he hot t enement s in t he
summer, t he epidemics of disease, t he deat hs of children-t hese ]ed t o sporadic react ions from t he
poor. Somet imes t here were spont aneous, unorganized uprisings against t he rich. Somet imes t he
anger was deflect ed int o racial hat red for blacks, religious warfare against Cat holics, nat ivist fury
against immigrant s. Somet imes it was organized int o demonst rat ions and st rikes.

"Jacksonian Democracy" had t ried t o creat e a consensus of support for t he syst em t o make it secure.
Blacks, Indians, women, and foreigners were clearly out side t he consensus. But also, whit e working
people, in large numbers, declared t hemselves out side.

The full ext ent of t he working-class consciousness of t hose years-as of any years-is lost in hist ory,
but fragment s remain and make us wonder how much of t his always exist ed underneat h t he very
pract ical silence of working people. In 1827 an "Address ... before t he Mechanics and Working
Classes ... of Philadelphia" was recorded, writ t en by an "Unlet t ered Mechanic," probably a young
shoemaker, who said:

We find ourselves oppressed on every hand-we labor hard in producing all t he comfort s of life for
t he enjoyment of ot hers, while we ourselves obt ain but a scant y port ion, and even t hat in t he
present st at e of societ y depends on t he will of employers.

Frances Wright of Scot land, an early feminist and Ut opian socialist , was invit ed by Philadelphia
workingmen t o speak on t he Fourt h of July 1829 t o one of t he first cit y-wide associat ions of labor
unions in t he Unit ed St at es. She asked if t he Revolut ion had been fought "t o crush down t he sons
and daught ers of your count ry's indust ry under ... neglect , povert y, vice, st arvat ion, and disease...."
She wondered if t he new t echnology was not lowering t he value of human labor, making people
appendages t o machines, crippling t he minds and bodies of child laborers.

Lat er t hat year, George Henry Evans, a print er, edit or of t he Workingman's Advocat e, wrot e "The
Working Men's Declarat ion of Independence." Among it s list of "fact s" submit t ed t o "candid and
impart ial" fellow cit izens:

l.The laws for levying t axes are . . . operat ing most oppressively on one class of societ y....

3.The laws for privat e incorporat ion are all part ial . .. favoring one class of societ y t o t he expense of
t he ot her. . ..

6.The laws .. . have deprived nine t ent hs of t he members of t he body polit ics, who are not wealt hy,
of t he equal means t o enjoy "life, libert y, and t he pursuit of happiness." ... The lien law in favor of t he
landlords against t enant s ... is one illust rat ion among innumerable ot hers.

Evans believed t hat "all on arriving at adult age are ent it led t o equal propert y."

A cit y-wide "Trades' Union" in Bost on in 1834, including mechanics from Charlest own and women
shoe binders from Eynn, referred t o t he Declarat ion of Independence:

We hold . .. t hat laws which have a t endency t o raise any peculiar class above t heir fellow cit izens,
by grant ing special privileges, are cont rary t o and in defiance of t hose primary principles....

Our public syst em of Educat ion, which so liberally endows t hose seminaries of learning, which ...
are only accessible t o t he wealt hy, while our common schools ... are so illy provided for ... Thus even
in childhood t he poor are apt t o t hink t hemselves inferior.. . .

In his book Most Uncommon Jacksomans, Edward Pessen says: "The leaders of t he Jacksonian
labor movement were radicals.. . . How else describe men who believed American societ y t o be t orn
wit h social conflict , disfigured by t he misery of t he masses, and dominat ed by a greedy elit e whose
power over every aspect of American life was based on privat e propert y?"

Episodes of insurrect ion of t hat t ime have gone unrecorded in t radit ional hist ories. Such was t he
riot in Balt imore in t he summer of 1835, when t he Bank of Maryland collapsed and it s deposit ors
lost t heir savings. Convinced t hat a great fraud had t aken place, a crowd gat hered and began
breaking t he windows of officials associat ed wit h t he bank. When t he riot ers dest royed a house,
t he milit ia at t acked, killing some t went y people, wounding a hundred. The next evening, ot her
houses were at t acked. The event s were report ed in Niles' Weekly Regist er, an import ant
newspaper of t hat t ime:

Last night (Sunday) at dark, t he at t ack was renewed upon Revcrdy Johnson's house. There was
now no opposit ion. It was supposed t hat several t housand people were spect at ors of t he scene. The
house was soon ent ered, and it s furnit ure, a very ext ensive law library, and all it s cont ent s, were
cast fort h, a bonfire made of t hem in front of t he house. The whole int erior of t he house was t orn
out and cast upon t he burning pile. The marble port ico in front , and a great port ion of t he front
wall were t orn down by about 11 o'clock.. .. They proceeded t o t hat of t he mayor of t he cit y, Jesse
Hunt , esq. broke it open, t ook out t he furnit ure, and burnt it before t he door. . ..

During t hose years, t rade unions were forming. (Philip Foner's Hist ory of t he Labor Movement in
t he U.S. t ells t he st ory in rich det ail.) The court s called t hem conspiracies t o rest rain t rade and
t herefore illegal, as when in New York t went y-five members of t he Union Societ y of Journeymen
Tailors were found guilt y of "conspiracy t o injure t rade, riot , assault , bat t ery." The judge, levying
fines, said: "In t his favored land of law and libert y, t he road t o advancement is open t o all.... Every
American knows t hat or ought t o know t hat he has no bet t er friend t han t he laws and t hat he
needs no art ificial combinat ion for his prot ect ion. They are of foreign origin and I am led t o believe
mainly upheld by foreigners."

A handbill was t hen circulat ed t hroughout t he cit y:

The Rich Against t he Poor!

Judge Edwards, t he t ool of t he arist ocracy, against t he people! Mechanics and working men! A
deadly blow has been st ruck at your libert y!... They have est ablished t he precedent t hat
workingmen have no right t o regulat e t he price of labor, or, in ot her words, t he rich are t he only
judges of t he want s of t he poor man.

At Cit y Hall Park, 27,000 people gat hered t o denounce t he court decision, and elect ed a Commit t ee
of Correspondence which organized, t hree mont hs lat er, a convent ion of Mechanics, Farmers, and
Working Men, elect ed by farmers and working people in various t owns in New York St at e. The
convent ion met in Ut ica, drew up a Declarat ion of Independence from exist ing polit ical part ies,
and est ablished an Equal Right s part y.

Alt hough t hey ran t heir own candidat es for office, t here was no great confidence in t he ballot as a
way of achieving change. One of t he great orat ors of t he movement , Set h Lut her, t old a Fourt h of
July rally: "We will t ry t he ballot box first . If t hat will not effect our right eous purpose, t he nest and
last resort is t he cart ridge box." And one sympat het ic local newspaper, t he Albany Microscope,

Remember t he regret t ed fat e of t he working-men-t hey were soon dest royed by hit ching t eams and
rolling wit h part ies. They admit t ed int o t heir ranks, broken down lawyers and polit icians.... They
became pervert ed, and were unconsciously drawn int o a vort ex, from which diey never escaped.

The crisis of 1837 led t o rallies and meet ings in many cit ies. The banks had suspended specie
payment s-refusing t o pay hard money for t he hank not es t hey had issued. Prices rose, and working
people, already hard-pressed t o buy food, found t hat flour t hat had sold at $5.62 a barrel was now
$12 a barrel. Pork went up. Coal went up. In Philadelphia, t went y t housand people assembled, and
someone wrot e t o President Van Buren describing it :

This aft ernoon, t he largest public meet ing I ever saw assembled in Independence Square. It was
called by placards post ed t hrough t he cit y yest erday and last night . It was project ed and carried on
ent irely by t he working classes; wit hout consult at ion or cooperat ion wit h any of t hose who usually
t ake t he lead in such mat t ers. The officers and speakers were of t hose classes.... It was direct ed
against t he banks.

In New York, members of t he Equal Right s part y (oft en called t he Locofocos) announced a
meet ing: "Bread, Meat , Rent , and Fuel! Their prices must come down! The people will meet in t he
Park, rain or shine, at 4 o'clock, P.M. on Monday aft ernoon.... All friends of humanit y det ermined t o
resist monopolist s and ext ort ioners are invit ed t o at t end." The Commercial Regist er, a New York
newspaper, report ed on t he meet ing and what followed:

At 4 o'clock, a concourse of several t housands had convened in front of t he Cit y Hall.. .. One of
t hese orat ors ... is report ed t o have expressly direct ed t he popular vengeance against Mr. EH Hart ,
who is one of our most ext ensive flour dealers on commission. "Fellow cit izens!" he exclaimed, "Mr.
Hart has now 53,000 barrels of flour in his st ore; let us go and offer him eight dollars a barrel, and if
he does not t ake it ..."

A large body of t he meet ing moved off in t he direct ion of Mr. Hart 's st ore . . . t he middle door had
been forced, and some t went y or t hirt y barrels of flour or more, rolled int o t he st reet s, and t he
heads st aved in. At t his point of t ime, Mr. Hart himself arrived on t he ground, wit h a posse of
officers from t he police. The officers were assailed by a port ion of t he mob in Dey St reet , t heir
st aves wrest ed from t hem, and shivered t o pieces. .. .

Barrels of flour, by dozens, fift ies and hundreds were t umbled int o t he st reet from t he doors, and
t hrown in rapid succession from t he windows... . About one t housand bushels of wheat , and four or
five hundred barrels of flour, were t hus want only and foolishly as well as wickedly dest royed. The
most act ive of t he dest ruct ionist s were foreigners-indeed t he great er part of t he assemblage was of
exot ic origin, but t here were probably five hundred or a t housand ot hers, st anding by and abet t ing
t heir incendiary labors.

Amidst t he falling and burst ing of t he barrels and sacks of wheat , numbers of women were
engaged, like t he crones who st rip t he dead in bat t le, filling t he boxes and basket s wit h which t hey
were provided, and t heir aprons, wit h flour, and making off wit h it ....

Night had now closed upon t he scene, but t he work of dest ruct ion did not cease unt il st rong bodies
of police arrived, followed, soon aft erward, by det achment !* of t roops.. . .

This was t he Flour Riot of 1837. During t he crisis of t hat year, 50,000 persons (one-t hird of t he
working class) were wit hout work in New York Cit y alone, and 200,000 (of a populat ion of
500,000) were living, as one observer put it , "in ut t er and hopeless dist ress."

There is no complet e record of t he meet ings, riot s, act ions, organized and disorganized, violent and
nonviolent , which t ook place in t he mid-ninet eent h cent ury, as t he count ry grew, as t he cit ies
became crowded, wit h working condit ions bad, living condit ions int olerable, wit h t he economy in
t he hands of bankers, speculat ors, landlords, merchant s.

In 1835, fift y different t rades organized unions in Philadelphia, and t here was a successful general
st rike of laborers, fact ory workers, hook-binders, jewelers, coal heavers, but chers, cabinet workers-
for t he t en-hour day. Soon t here were t en-hour laws in Pennsylvania and ot her st at es, but t hey
provided t hat employers could have employees sign cont ract s for longer hours. The law at t his t ime
was developing a st rong defense of cont ract s; it was pret ended t hat work cont ract s were volunt ary
agreement s bet ween equals.

Weavers in Philadelphia in t he early 1840s-most ly Irish immigrant s working at home for
employers-st ruck for higher wages, at t acked t he homes of t hose refusing t o st rike, and dest royed
t heir work. A sheriffs posse t ried t o arrest some st rikers, but it was broken up by four hundred
weavers armed wit h musket s and st icks.

Soon, however, ant agonism developed bet ween t hese Irish Cat holic weavers and nat ive-born
Prot est ant skilled workers over issues of religion. In May 1844 t here were Prot est ant -Cat holic riot s
in Kensingt on, a suburb of Philadelphia; nat ivist (ant i-immigrant ) riot ers dest royed t he weavers'
neighborhoods and at t acked a Cat holic church. Middle-class polit icians soon led each group int o a
different polit ical part y (t he nat ivist s int o t he American Republican part y, t he Irish int o t he
Democrat ic part y), part y polit ics and religion now subst it ut ing for class conflict .

The result of all t his, says David Mont gomery, hist orian of t he Kensingt on Riot s, was t he
fragment at ion of t he Philadelphia working class. It "t hereby creat ed for hist orians t he illusion of a
societ y lacking in class conflict ," while in realit y t he class conflict s of ninet eent h-cent ury America
"were as fierce as any known t o t he indust rial world."

The immigrant s from Ireland, fleeing st arvat ion t here when t he pot at o crop failed, were coining t o
America now, packed int o old sailing ships. The st ories of t hese ships differ only in det ail from t he
account s of t he ships t hat earlier brought black slaves and lat er German, It alian, Russian
immigrant s. This is a cont emporary account of one ship arriving from Ireland, det ained at Grosse
Isle on t he Canadian border:

On t he 18t h of May, 1847, t he "Urania", from Cork, wit h several hundred immigrant s on board, a
large proport ion of t hem sick and dying of t he ship-fever, was put int o quarant ine at Grosse Isle.
This was t he first of t he plague-smit t en ships from Ireland which t hat year sailed up t he St .
Lawrence. But before t he first week of June as many as eight y-four ships of various t onnage were
driven in by an east erly wind; and of t hat enormous number of vessels t here was not one free from
t he t aint of malignant t yphus, t he offspring of famine and of t he foul ship-hold.... a t olerably quick
passage occupied from six t o eight weeks. . ..

Who can imagine t he horrors of even t he short est passage in an emigrant ship crowded beyond it s
ut most capacit y of st owage wit h unhappy beings of all ages, wit h fever raging in t heir midst ... t he
crew sullen or brut al from very desperat ion, or paralyzed wit h t error of t he plague-t he miserable
passengers unable t o help t hemselves, or afford t he least relief t o each ot her; one-fourt h, or one-
t hird, or one-half of t he ent ire number in different st ages of t he disease; many dying, some dead; t he
fat al poison int ensified by t he indescribable foulness of t he air breat hed and rebreat hed by t he
gasping sufferers-t he wails of children, t he ravings of t he delirious, t he cries and groans of t hose in
mort al agony!

. .. t here was no accommodat ion of any kind on t he island . . . sheds were rapidly filled wit h t he
miserable people... . Hundreds were lit erally flung on t he beach, left amid t he mud and st ones t o
crawl on t he dry land how t hey could... . Many of t hese ... gasped out t heir last breat h on t hat fat al
shore, not able t o drag t hemselves from t he slime in which t hey lay. ...

It was not unt il t he 1st of November t hat t he quarant ine of Grosse Isle was closed. Upon t hat
barren isle as many as 10,000 of t he Irish race were consigned t o t he grave-pit . . ..

How could t hese new Irish immigrant s, t hemselves poor and despised, become sympat hizers wit h
t he black slave, who was becoming more and more t he cent er of at t ent ion, t he subject of agit at ion
in t he count ry? Indeed, most working-class act ivist s at t his t ime ignored t he plight of blacks. Ely
Moore, a New York t rade union leader elect ed t o Congress, argued in t he House of Represent at ives
against receiving abolit ionist pet it ions. Racist host ilit y became an easy subst it ut e for class
frust rat ion.

On t he ot her hand, a whit e shoemaker wrot e in 1848 in t he Awl, t he newspaper of Lynn shoe
fact ory workers:

... we are not hing but a st anding army t hat keeps t hree million of our bret hren in bondage.. . . Living
under t he shade of Bunker Hill monument , demanding in t he name of humanit y, our right , and
wit hholding t hose right s from ot hers because t heir skin is black! Is it any wonder mat God in his
right eous anger has punished us by forcing us t o drink t he bit t er cup of degradat ion.

The anger of t he cit y poor oft en expressed it self in fut ile violence over nat ionalit y or religion. In
New York in 1849 a mob, largely Irish; st ormed t he fashionable Ast or Place Opera House, where an
English act or, William Charles Macready, was playing Macbet h, in compet it ion wit h an American
act or, Edwin Forrest , who was act ing t he same role in anot her product ion. The crowd, shout ing
"Burn t he damn den of arist ocracy," charged, t hrowing bricks. The milit ia were called out , and in
t he violence t hat followed about t wo hundred people were killed or wounded.

Anot her economic crisis came in 1857. The boom in railroads and manufact uring, t he surge of
immigrat ion, t he increased speculat ion in st ocks and bonds, t he st ealing, corrupt ion, manipulat ion,
led t o wild expansion and t hen crash. By Oct ober of t hat year, 200,000 were unemployed, and
t housands of recent immigrant s crowded int o t he east ern port s, hoping t o work t heir way back t o
Europe. The New York Times report ed: "Every ship for Liverpool now has all t he passengers she
can carry, and mult it udes are applying t o work t heir passage if t hey have no money t o pay for it ."

In Newark, New Jersey, a rally of several t housand demanded t he cit y give work t o t he
unemployed. And in New York, fift een t housand people met at Tompkins Square in downt own
Manhat t an. From t here t hey marched t o Wall St reet and paraded around t he St ock Exchange
shout ing: "We want work!" That summer, riot s occurred in t he slum areas of New York. A mob of
five hundred at t acked t he police one day wit h pist ols and bricks. There were parades of t he
unemployed, demanding bread and work, loot ing shops. In November, a crowd occupied Cit y Hall,
and t he U.S. marines were brought in t o drive t hem out .

Of t he count ry's work force of 6 million in 1850, half a million were women: 330,000 worked as
domest ics; 55,000 were t eachers. Of t he 181,000 women in fact ories, half worked in t ext ile mills.

They organized. Women st ruck by t hemselves for t he first t ime in 1825. They were t he Unit ed
Tailoresses of New York, demanding higher wages. In 1828, t he first st rike of mill women on t heir
own t ook place in Dover, New Hampshire, when several hundred women paraded wit h banners
and flags. They shot off gunpowder, in prot est against new fact ory rules, which charged fines for
coming lat e, forbade t alking on t he job, and required church at t endance. They were forced t o ret urn
t o t he mill, t heir demands unmet , and t heir leaders were fired and blacklist ed.

In Exet er, New Hampshire, women mill workers went on st rike ("t urned out ," in t he language of
t hat day) because t he overseer was set t ing t he clocks back t o get more t ime from t hem. Their st rike
succeeded in exact ing a promise from t he company t hat t he overseers would set t heir wat ches
right .

The "Lowell syst em," in which young girls would go t o work in t he mills and live in dormit ories
supervised by mat rons, at first seemed beneficent , sociable, a welcome escape from household
drudgery or domest ic service. Lowell, Massachuset t s, was t he first t own creat ed for t he t ext ile mill
indust ry; it was named aft er t he wealt hy and influent ial Lowell family. But t he dormit ories became
prisonlike, cont rolled by rules and regulat ions. The supper (served aft er t he women had risen at
four in t he morning and worked unt il seven t hirt y in t he evening) oft en consist ed merely of bread
and gravy.

So t he Lowell girls organized. They st art ed t heir own newspapers. They prot est ed against t he
weaving rooms, which were poorly lit , badly vent ilat ed, impossibly hot in t he summer, damp and
cold in t he wint er. In 1834, a cut in wages led t he Lowell women t o st rike, proclaiming: "Union is
power. Our present object is t o have union and exert ion, and we remain in possession of our own
unquest ionable right s. . . ." But t he t hreat of hiring ot hers t o replace t hem brought t hem back t o
work at reduced wages (t he leaders were fired).

The young women, det ermined t o do bet t er next t ime, organized a Fact ory Girls' Associat ion, and
1,500 went on st rike in 1836 against a raise in boardinghouse charges. Harriet Hanson was an
eleven-year-old girl working in t he mill. She lat er recalled:

I worked in a lower room where T had heard t he proposed st rike fully, if not vehement ly,
discussed. I had been an ardent list ener t o what was said against t his at t empt at "oppression" on
t he part of t he corporat ion, and nat urally T t ook sides wit h t he st rikers. When t he day came on
which t he girls were t o mm out , t hose in t he upper rooms st art ed first , and so many of t hem left
t hat our mill was at once shut down. Then, when t he girls in my room st ood irresolut e, uncert ain
what t o do ... I, who began t o t hink t hey would not go out , aft er all t heir t alk, became impat ient ,
and st art ed on ahead, saying, wit h childish bravado, "I don't care what you do, / am going t o t urn
out , whet her anyone else does or not ," and I marched out , and was followed by t he ot hers. As I
looked back at t he long line t hat followed me, I was more proud t han I have ever been since. . . .

The st rikers marched t hrough t he st reet s of Lowell, singing. They held out a mont h, but t hen t heir
money ran out , diey were evict ed from t he boardinghouses, and many of t hem went back t o work.
The leaders were fired, including Harriet Hanson's widowed mot her, a mat ron in t he
boardinghouse, who was blamed for her child's going out on st rike.

Resist ance cont inued. One mill in Lowell, Herbert Gut man report s, discharged t went y-eight
women for such reasons as "misconduct ," "disobedience," "impudence," "levit y," and "mut iny."
Meanwhile, t he girls t ried t o hold on t o t hought s about fresh air, t he count ry, a less harried way of
life. One of t hem recalled: "I never cared much for machinery. I could not see int o t heir
complicat ions or feel int erest ed in t hem. ... In sweet June weat her I would lean far out of t he
window, and t ry not t o hear t he unceasing clash of sound inside."

In New Hampshire, five hundred men and women pet it ioned t he Amoskeag Manufact uring
Company not t o cut down an elm t ree t o make space for anot her mill. They said it was "a beaut iful
and goodly t ree," represent ing a t ime "when t he yell of t he red man and t he scream of t he eagle were
alone heard on t he hanks of t he Merrimack, inst ead of t wo giant edifices filled wit h t he buzz of
busy and well-remunerat ed indust ry."

In 1835, t went y mills went on st rike t o reduce t he workday from t hirt een and a half hours t o eleven
hours, t o get cash wages inst ead of company scrip, and t o end fines for lat eness. Fift een hundred
children and parent s went out on st rike, and it last ed six weeks. St rikebreakers were brought in,
and some workers went back t o work, but t he st rikers did win a t welve-hour day and nine hours
on Sat urday. That year and t he next , t here were 140 st rikes in t he east ern part of t he Unit ed St at es.

The crisis t hat followed t he 1837 panic st imulat ed t he format ion in 1845 of t he Female Labor
Reform Associat ion in Lowell, which sent t housands of pet it ions t o t he Massachuset t s legislat ure
asking for a t en-hour day. Finally, t he legislat ure decided t o hold public hearings, t he first
invest igat ion of labor condit ions by any government al body in t he count ry. Eliza Hemingway t old
t he commit t ee of t he air t hick wit h smoke from oil lamps burning before sunup and aft er sundown.
Judit h Payne t old of her sickness due t o t he work in t he mills. But aft er t he commit t ee visit ed t he
mills-for which t he company prepared by a cleanup job-it report ed: "Your commit t ee ret urned fully
sat isfied t hat t he order, decorum, and general appearance of t hings in and around t he mills could
not be improved by any suggest ion of t heirs or by any act of t he legislat ure."

The report was denounced by t he Female Labor Reform Associat ion, and t hey worked successfully
for t he commit t ee chairman's defeat at t he next elect ion, t hough t hey could not vot e. But not much
was done t o change condit ions in t he mills. In t he lat e 1840s, t he New England farm women who
worked in t he mills began t o leave t hem, as more and more Irish immigrant s t ook t heir place.

Company t owns now grew up around mills in Rhode Island, Connect icut , New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, using immigrant workers who signed cont ract s pledging everyone in t he family t o
work for a year. They lived in slum t enement s owned by t he company, were paid in scrip, which
t hey could use only at company st ores, and were evict ed if t heir work was unsat isfact ory.

In Pat erson, New Jersey, t he first of a series of mill st rikes was st art ed by children. When t he
company suddenly put off t heir dinner hour from noon t o 1:00 P.M., t he children marched off t he
job, t heir parent s cheering t hem on. They were joined by ot her working people in t he t own-
carpent ers, masons, machinist s-who t urned t he st rike int o a t en-hour-day st ruggle. Aft er a week,
however, wit h t he t hreat of bringing in milit ia, t he children ret urned t o work, and t heir leaders
were fired. Soon aft er, t rying t o prevent more t rouble, t he company rest ored t he noon dinner hour.

It was t he shoemakers of Lynn, Massachuset t s, a fact ory t own nort heast of Bost on, who st art ed t he
largest st rike t o t ake place in t he Unit ed St at es before t he Civil War. Lynn had pioneered in t he use
of sewing machines in fact ories, replacing shoemaker art isans. The fact ory workers in Lynn, who
began t o organize in t he 1830s, lat er st art ed a milit ant newspaper, t he Awl. In 1844, four years
before Marx and Engels's Communist Manifest o appeared, t he Awl wrot e:

The division of societ y int o t he producing and t he non-producing classes, and t he fact of t he
unequal dist ribut ion of value bet ween t he t wo, int roduces us at once t o anot her dist inct ion-t hat of
capit al and labor... . labor now becomes a commodit y.... Ant agonism and opposit ion of int erest is
int roduced in t he communit y; capit al and labor st and opposed.

The economic crisis of 1857 brought t he shoe business t o a halt , and t he workers of Lynn lost t heir
jobs. There was already anger at machine-st it ching replacing shoemakers. Prices were up, wages
were repeat edly cut , and by t he fall of 1859 men were earning $3 a week and women were earning
$1 a week, working sixt een hours a day.

In early 1860, a mass meet ing of t he newly formed Mechanics Associat ion demanded higher wages.
When t he manufact urers refused t o meet wit h t heir commit t ees, t he workers called a st rike for
Washingt on's Birt hday. That morning t hree t housand shoemakers met in t he Lyceum Hall in Lynn
and set up commit t ees of 100 t o post t he names of scabs, t o guard against violence, t o make sure
shoes would not be sent out t o be finished elsewhere.

In a few days, shoeworkers t hroughout New England joined t he st rike-in Nat ick, Newburyport ,
Ilaverhill, Marblehead, and ot her Massachuset t s t owns, as well as t owns in New Hampshire and
Maine. In a week, st rikes had begun in all t he shoe t owns of New England, wit h Mechanics
Associat ions in t went y-five t owns and t went y t housand shoe-workers on st rike. Newspapers
called it "The Revolut ion at t he Nort h," "The Rebellion Among t he Workmen of New England,"
"Beginning of t he Conflict Bet ween Capit al and Labor."

One t housand women and five t housand men marched t hrough t he st reet s of Lynn in a blizzard,
carrying banners and American flags.

Women shoebindcrs and st it chers joined t he st rike and held t heir own mass meet ing. A New York
Herald report er wrot e of t hem: "They assail t he bosses in a st yle which reminds one of t he amiable
females who part icipat ed in t he first French Revolut ion." A huge Ladies' Procession was organized,
t he women marching t hrough st reet s high wit h snowdrift s, carrying signs: "American Ladies Will
Not Be Slaves. . . Weak in Physical St rengt h but St rong in Moral Courage, We Dare Bat t le for t he
Right , Shoulder t o Shoulder wit h our Fat hers, Husbands, and Brot hers." Ten days aft er t hat , a
procession oft en t housand st riking workers, including delegat ions from Salem, Marblehead, and
ot her t owns, men and women, inarched t hrough Lynn, in what was t he great est demonst rat ion of
labor t o t ake place in New England up t o t hat t ime.

Police from Bost on and milit ia were sent in t o make sure st rikers did not int erfere wit h shipment s
of shoes t o be finished out of t he st at e. The st rike processions went on, while cit y grocers and
provisions dealers provided food for t he st rikers. The st rike cont inued t hrough March wit h morale
high, but by April it was losing force. The manufact urers offered higher wages t o bring t he st rikers
back int o t he fact ories, but wit hout recognizing t he unions, so t hat workers st ill had t o face t he
employer as individuals.

Most of t he shoeworkers were nat ive-born Americans, Alan Dawley says in his st udy of t he Lynn
st rike (Class and Communit y). They did not accept t he social and polit ical order t hat kept t hem in
povert y, however much it was praised in American schools, churches, newspapers. In Lynn, he
says, "art iculat e, act ivist Irish shoe and leat her workers joined Yankees in flat ly reject ing t he myt h
of success. Irish and Yankee workers joint ly ... looked for labor candidat es when t hey went t o t he
polls, and resist ed st rikebreaking by local police." Trying t o underst and why t his fierce class spirit
did not lead t o independent revolut ionary polit ical act ion, Dawley concludes t hat t he main reason
is t hat elect oral polit ics drained t he energies of t he resist ers int o t he channels of t he syst em.

Dawley disput es some hist orians who have said t he high rat e of mobilit y of workers prevent ed
t hem from organizing in revolut ionary ways. He says t hat while t here was a high t urnover in Lynn
t oo, t his "masked t he exist ence of a virt ually permanent minorit y who played t he key role in
organizing discont ent ." He also suggest s t hat mobilit y helps people see t hat ot hers are in similar
condit ions. He t hinks t he st ruggle of European workers for polit ical democracy, even while t hey
sought economic equalit y, made t hem class-conscious. American workers, however, had already
gained polit ical democracy by t he 1830s, and so t heir economic bat t les could be t aken over by
polit ical part ies t hat blurred class lines.

Even t his might not have st opped labor milit ancy and t he rise of class consciousness, Dawley says,
if not for t he fact t hat "an ent ire generat ion was sidet racked in t he 1860's because of t he Civil War."
Nort hern wage earners who rallied t o t he Union cause became allied wit h t heir employers.
Nat ional issues t ook over from class issues: "At a t ime when scores of indust rial communit ies like
Lynn were seet hing wit h resist ance t o indust rialism, nat ional polit ics were preoccupied wit h t he
issues of war and reconst ruct ion." And on t hese issues t he polit ical part ies t ook posit ions, offered
choices, obscured t he fact t hat t he polit ical syst em it self and t he wealt hy classes it represent ed
were responsible for t he problems t hey now offered t o solve.

Class-consciousness was overwhelmed during t he Civil War, bot h Nort h and Sout h, by milit ary
and polit ical unit y in t he crisis of war. That unit y was weaned by rhet oric and enforced by arms. It
was a war proclaimed as a war for libert y, but working people would be at t acked by soldiers if t hey
dared t o st rike, Indians would be massacred in Colorado by t he U.S. army, and t hose daring t o
crit icize Lincoln's policies would be put in jail wit hout t rial-perhaps t hirt y t housand polit ical

St ill, t here were signs in bot h sect ions of dissent from t hat unit y- anger of poor against rich,
rebellion against t he dominant polit ical and economic forces.

In t he Nort h, t he war brought high prices for food and t he necessit ies of life. Prices of milk, eggs,
cheese were up 60 t o 100 percent for families t hat had not been able t o pay t he old prices. One
hist orian (Emerson Fit e, Social and Indust rial Condit ions in t he Nort h During t he Civil War)
described t he war sit uat ion: "Employers were wont t o appropriat e t o t hemselves all or nearly all of
t he profit s accruing from t he higher prices, wit hout being willing t o grant t o t he employees a fair
share of t hese profit s t hrough t he medium of higher wages."

There were st rikes all over t he count ry during t he war. The Springfield Republican in 186? said t hat
"t he workmen of almost every branch of t rade have had t heir st rikes wit hin t he last few mont hs,"
and t he San Francisco Evening Bullet in said "st riking for higher wages is now t he rage among t he
working people of San Francisco." Unions were being formed as a result of t hese st rikes.
Philadelphia shoemakers in 1863 announced t hat high prices made organizat ion imperat ive.

The headline in Fincher's Trades' Review of November 21, 1863, "THE REVOLUTION IN NEW
YORK," was an exaggerat ion, but it s list of labor act ivit ies was impressive evidence of t he hidden
resent ment s of t he poor during t he war:

The upheaval of t he laboring masses in New York has st art led t he capit alist s of t hat cit y and
vicinit y.. . .

The machinist s are making a hold st and... . We publish t heir appeal in anot her column.

The Cit y Railroad employees st ruck for higher wages, and made t he whole populat ion, for a few
days, "ride on Shank's mare."...

The house paint ers of Brooklyn have t aken st eps t o count eract t he at t empt of t he bosses t o reduce
t heir wages.

The house carpent ers, we are informed, are pret t y well "out of t he woods" and t heir demands are
generally complied wit h.

The safe-makers have obt ained an increase of wages, and are now at work.

The lit hographic print ers are making effort s t o secure bet t er pay for t heir labor.

The workmen on t he iron clads are yet holding out against t he cont ract ors. ...

The window shade paint ers have obt ained an advance of 25 percent .

The horse shoers are fort ifying t hemselves against t he evils of money and t rade fluct uat ions.

The sash and blind-makers are organized and ask t heir employers for 25 percent addit ional.

The sugar packers are remodelling t heir list of prices.

The glass cut t ers demand 15 percent t o present wages.

Imperfect as we confess our list t o be, t here is enough t o convince t he reader t hat t he social
revolut ion now working it s way t hrough t he land must succeed, if workingmcn are only t rue t o
each ot her.

The st age drivers, t o t he number of 800, are on a st rike.. . .

The workingmen of Bost on are not behind.... in addit ion t o t he st rike at t he Charlest own Navy
Yard. .. .

The riggers are on a st rike. .. .

At t his writ ing it is rumored, says t he Bost on Post , t hat a general st rike is cont emplat ed among t he
workmen in t he iron est ablishment s at Sout h Bost on, and ot her part s of t he cit y.

The war brought many women int o shops and fact ories, oft en over t he object ions of men who saw
t hem driving wage scales down. In New York Cit y, girls sewed umbrellas from six in t he morning
t o midnight , earning $3 a week, from which employers deduct ed t he cost of needles and t hread.
Girls who made cot t on shirt s received t went y-four cent s for a t welve-hour day. In lat e 1863, New
York working women held a mass meet ing t o find a solut ion t o t heir problems. A Working
Women's Prot ect ive Union was formed, and t here was a st rike of women umbrella workers in New
York and Brooklyn. In Providence, Rhode Island, a Ladies Cigar Makers Union was organized.

All t oget her, by 1864, about 200,000 workers, men and women, were in t rade unions, forming
nat ional unions in some of t he t rades, put t ing out labor newspapers.

Union t roops were used t o break st rikes. Federal soldiers were sent t o Cold Springs, New York, t o
end a st rike at a gun works where workers want ed a wage increase. St riking machinist s and t ailors
in St . Louis were forced back t o work by t he army. In Tennessee, a Union general arrest ed and sent
out of t he st at e t wo hundred st riking mechanics. When engineers on t he Reading Railroad st ruck,
t roops broke t hat st rike, as t hey did wit h miners in Tioga Count y, Pennsylvania.

Whit e workers of t he Nort h were not ent husiast ic about a war which seemed t o be fought for t he
black slave, or for t he capit alist , for anyone but t hem. They worked in semislave condit ions
t hemselves. They t hought t he war was profit ing t he new class of millionaires. They saw defect ive
guns sold t o t he army by cont ract ors, sand sold as sugar, rye sold as coffee, shop sweepings made
int o clot hing and blanket s, paper-soled shoes produced for soldiers at t he front , navy ships made of
rot t ing t imbers, soldiers' uniforms t hat fell apart in t he rain.

The Irish working people of New York, recent immigrant s, poor, looked upon wit h cont empt by
nat ive Americans, could hardly find sympat hy for t he black populat ion of t he cit y who compet ed
wit h t hem for jobs as longshoremen, barbers, wait ers, domest ic servant s. Blacks, pushed out of
t hese jobs, oft en were used t o break st rikes. Then came t he war, t he draft , t he chance of deat h. And
t he Conscript ion Act of 1863 provided t hat t he rich could avoid milit ary service: t hey could pay
$300 or buy a subst it ut e. In t he summer of 1863, a "Song of t he Conscript s" was circulat ed by t he
t housands in New York and ot her cit ies. One st anza:

We're earning, Fat her Abraham, t hree hundred t housand more We leave our homes and firesides -
wit h bleeding heart s and sore Since povert y has been our crime, we bow t o t hy decree; We are t he
poor and have no wealt h t o purchase libert y.

When recruit ing for t he army began in July 1863, a mob in New York wrecked t he main recruit ing
st at ion. Then, for t hree days, crowds of whit e workers marched t hrough t he cit y, dest roying
buildings, fact ories, st reet car lines, homes. The draft riot s were complex-ant iblack, ant irich, ant i-
Republican. From an assault on draft headquart ers, t he riot ers went on t o at t acks on wealt hy
homes, t hen t o t he murder of blacks. They marched t hrough t he st reet s, forcing fact ories t o close,
recruit ing more members of t he mob. They set t he cit y's colored orphan asylum on fire. They shot ,
burned, and hanged blacks t hey found in t he st reet s. Many people were t hrown int o t he rivers t o

On t he fourt h day, Union t roops ret urning from t he Bat t le of Get t ysburg came int o t he cit y and
st opped t he riot ing. Perhaps four hundred people were killed. No exact figures have ever been
given, but t he number of lives lost was great er t han in any ot her incident of domest ic violence in
American hist ory.

Joel Tyler Headley (The Great Riot s of New York) gave a graphic day-by-day descript ion of what

Second Day.... t he fire-bells cont inually ringing increased t he t error t hat every hour became more
widespread. Especially was t his t rue of t he negro populat ion. ... At one t ime t here lay at t he corner
of Twent y-sevent h St reet and Sevent h Avenue t he dead body of a negro, st ripped nearly naked, and
around it a collect ion of Irishmen, absolut ely dancing or shout ing like wild Indians.... A negro
barber's shop was next at t acked, and t he t orch applied t o it . A negro lodging house in t he same
st reet next received t he visit of t hese furies, and was soon a mass of ruins. Old men, sevent y years of
age, and young children, t oo young t o comprehend what it all meant , were cruelly beat en and

There were ant idraft riot s-not so prolonged or bloody-in ot her nort hern cit ies: Newark, Troy,
Bost on, Toledo, Evansville. In Bost on t he dead were Irish workers at t acking an armory, who were
fired on by soldiers.

In t he Sout h, beneat h t he apparent unit y of t he whit e Confederacy, t here was also conflict . Most
whit es-t wo-t hirds of t hem-did not own slaves. A few t housand families made up t he plant at ion
elit e. The Federal Census of 1850 showed t hat a t housand sout hern families at t he t op of t he
economy received about $50 million a year income, while all t he ot her families, about 660,000,
received about $60 million a year.

Millions of sout hern whit es were poor fanners, living in shacks or abandoned out houses,
cult ivat ing land so bad t he plant at ion owners had abandoned it . Just before t he Civil War, in
Jackson, Mississippi, slaves working in a cot t on fact ory received t went y cent s a day for board, and
whit e workers at t he same fact ory received t hirt y cent s. A newspaper in Nort h Carolina in August
1855 spoke of "hundreds of t housands of working class families exist ing upon half-st arvat ion from
year t o year."

Behind t he rebel bat t le yells and t he legendary spirit of t he Confederat e army, t here was much
reluct ance t o fight . A sympat het ic hist orian of t he Sout h, E. Mert on Coult er, asked: "Why did t he
Confederacy fail? The forces leading t o defeat were many but t hey may be summed up in t his one
fact : The people did not will hard enough and long enough t o win." Not money or soldiers, but will
power and morale were decisive.

The conscript ion law of t he Confederacy t oo provided t hat t he rich could avoid service. Did
Confederat e soldiers begin t o suspect t hey were fight ing for t he privileges of an elit e t hey could
never belong t o? In April 1863, t here was a bread riot in Richmond. That summer, draft riot s
occurred in various sout hern cit ies. In Sept ember, a bread riot in Mobile, Alabama. Georgia Lee
Tat um, in her st udy Disloyalt y in t he Confederacy, writ es: "Before t he end of t he war, t here was
much disaffect ion in every st at e, and many of t he disloyal had formed int o bands-in some st at es
int o well-organized, act ive societ ies."

The Civil War was one of t he first inst ances in t he world of modern warfare: deadly art illery shells,
Gat ling guns, bayonet charges-combining t he indiscriminat e killing of mechanized war wit h hand-
t o-hand combat . The night mare scenes could not adequat ely be described except in a novel like
St ephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. In one charge before Pet ersburg, Virginia, a regiment of
850 Maine soldiers lost 632 men in half an hour. It was a vast but chery, 623,000 dead on bot h sides,
and 471,000 wounded, over a million dead and wounded in a count ry whose populat ion was 30

No wonder t hat desert ions grew among sout hern soldiers as t he war went on. As for t he Union
army, by t he end of t he war, 200,000 had desert ed.

St ill, 600,000 had volunt eered for t he Confederacy in 1861, and many in t he Union army were
volunt eers. The psychology of pat riot ism, t he lure of advent ure, t he aura of moral crusade creat ed
by polit ical leaders, worked effect ively t o dim class resent ment s against t he rich and powerful, and
t urn much of t he anger against "t he enemy." As Edmund Wilson put it in Pat riot ic Gore (writ t en
aft er World War II):

We have seen, in our most recent wars, how a divided and arguing public opinion may be
convert ed overnight int o a nat ional near-unanimit y, an obedient flood of energy which will carry
t he young t o dest ruct ion and overpower any effort t o st em it . The unanimit y of men at war is like
t hat of a school of fish, which will swerve, simult aneously and apparent ly wit hout leadership,
when t he shadow of an enemy appears, or like a sky darkening flight of grass-hoppers, which, also
all compelled by one impulse, will descend t o consume t he crops.

Under t he deafening noise of t he war, Congress was passing and Lincoln was signing int o law a
whole series of act s t o give business int erest s what t hey want ed, and what t he agrarian Sout h had
blocked before secession. The Republican plat form of 1860 had been a clear appeal t o businessmen.
Now Congress in 1861 passed t he Morrill Tariff. This made foreign goods more expensive, allowed
American manufact urers t o raise t heir prices, and forced American consumers t o pay more.

The following year a Homest ead Act was passed. It gave 160 acres of west ern land, unoccupied and
publicly owned, t o anyone who would cult ivat e it for five years. Anyone willing t o pay $1.25 an acre
could buy a homest ead. Few ordinary people had t he $200 necessary t o do t his; speculat ors moved
in and bought up much of t he land. Homest ead land added up t o 50 million acres. But during t he
Civil War, over 100 million acres were given by Congress and t he President t o various railroads,
free of charge. Congress also set up a nat ional bank, put t ing t he government int o part nership wit h
t he banking int erest s, guarant eeing t heir profit s.

Wit h st rikes spreading, employers pressed Congress for help. The Cont ract Labor Law of 1864
made it possible for companies t o sign cont ract s wit h foreign workers whenever t he workers
pledged t o give t welve mont hs of t heir wages t o pay t he cost of emigrat ion. This gave t he employers
during t he Civil war not only very cheap labor, but st rikebreakers.

More import ant , perhaps, t han t he federal laws passed by Congress for t he benefit of t he rich were
t he day-t o-day operat ions of local and st at e laws for t he benefit of landlords and merchant s.
Gust avus Myers, in his Hist ory of t he Great American Fort unes, comment s on t his in discussing
t he growt h of t he Ast or family's fort une, much of it out of t he rent s of New York t enement s:

Is it not murder when, compelled by want , people are forced t o fest er in squalid, germ-filled
t enement s, where t he sunlight never ent ers and where disease finds a prolific breeding-place?
Unt old t housands went t o t heir deat hs in t hese unspeakable places. Yet , so far as t he' Law was
concerned, t he rent s collect ed by t he Ast ors, as well as by ot her landlords, were honest ly made. The
whole inst it ut ion of Law saw not hing out of t he way in t hese condit ions, and very significant ly so,
because, t o repeat over and over again, Law did not represent t he et hics or ideals of advanced
humanit y; it exact ly reflect ed, as a pool reflect s t he sky, t he demands and self-int erest of t he
growing propert ied classes... .

In t he t hirt y years leading up t o t he Civil War, t he law was increasingly int erpret ed in t he court s t o
suit t he capit alist development of t he count ry. St udying t his, Mort on Horwit z (The
Transfer/nat ion of American Law) point s out t hat t he English commonlaw was no longer holy
when it st ood in t he way of business growt h. Mill owners were given t he legal right t o dest roy
ot her people's propert y by flood t o carry on t heir business. The law of "eminent domain" was used
t o t ake farmers' land and give it t o canal companies or railroad companies as subsidies. Judgment s
for damages against businessmen were t aken out of t he hands of juries, which were unpredict able,
and given t o judges. Privat e set t lement of disput es by arbit rat ion was replaced by court
set t lement s, creat ing more dependence on lawyers, and t he legal profession gained in import ance.
The ancient idea of a fair price for goods gave way in t he court s t o t he idea of caveat empt or (let t he
buyer beware), t hus t hrowing generat ions of consumers from t hat t ime on t o t he mercy of

That cont ract law was int ended t o discriminat e against working people and for business is shown
by Horwit z in t he following example of t he early ninet eent h cent ury: t he court s said t hat if a
worker signed a cont ract t o work for a year, and left before t he year was up, he was not ent it led t o
any wages, even for t he t ime he had worked. But t he court s at t he same t ime said t hat if a building
business broke a cont ract , it was ent it led t o be paid for what ever had been done up t o t hat point .

The pret ense of t he law was t hat a worker and a railroad made a cont ract wit h equal bargaining
power. Thus, a Massachuset t s judge decided an injured worker did not deserve compensat ion,
because, by signing t he cont ract , he was agreeing t o t ake cert ain risks. "The circle was complet ed;
t he law had come simply t o rat ify t hose forms of inequalit y t hat t he market syst em produced."

It was a t ime when t he law did not even pret end t o prot ect working people-as it would in t he next
cent ury. Healt h and safet y laws were eit her nonexist ent or unenforced. In Lawrence,
Massachuset t s, in I860, on a wint er day, t he Pembert on Mill collapsed, wit h nine hundred workers
inside, most ly women. Eight y-eight died, and alt hough t here was evidence t hat t he st ruct ure had
never been adequat e t o support t he heavy machinery inside, and t hat t his was known t o t he
const ruct ion engineer, a jury found "no evidence of criminal int ent ."

Horwit z sums up what happened in t he court s of law by t he t ime of t he Civil War:

By t he middle of t he ninet eent h cent ury t he legal syst em had been reshaped t o t he advant age of
men of commerce and indust ry at t he expense of farmers, workers, consumers, and ot her less
powerful groups wit hin t he societ y. ... it act ively promot ed a legal redist ribut ion of wealt h against
t he weakest groups in t he societ y.

In premodern t imes, t he maldist ribut ion of wealt h was accomplished by simple force. In modern
t imes, exploit at ion is disguised-it is accomplished by law, which has t he look of neut ralit y and
fairness. By t he t ime of t he Civil War, modernizat ion was well under way in t he Unit ed St at es.
Wit h t he war over, t he urgency of nat ional unit y slackened, and ordinary people could t urn more t o
t heir daily lives, t heir problems of survival. The disbanded armies now were in t he st reet s, looking
for work. In June 1865, Fincher's Trades' Review report ed: "As was t o be expect ed, t he ret urned
soldiers are flooding t he st reet s already, unable t o find employment ."

The cit ies t o which t he soldiers ret urned were deat h t raps of t yphus, t uberculosis, hunger, and fire.
In New York, 100,000 people lived in t he cellars of t he slums; 12,000 women worked in houses of
prost it ut ion t o keep from st arving; t he garbage, lying 2 feet deep in t he st reet s, was alive wit h rat s.
In Philadelphia, while t he rich got fresh wat er from t he Schuylkill River, everyone else drank from
t he Delaware, int o which 13 million gallons of sewage were dumped every day. In t he Great
Chicago Fire in 1871, t he t enement s fell so fast , one aft er anot her, t hat people said it sounded like an
eart hquake.

A movement for t he eight -hour day began among working people aft er t he war, helped by t he
format ion of t he first nat ional federat ion of unions, t he Nat ional Labor Union. A t hree-mont h st rike
of 100,000 workers in New York won t he eight -hour day, and at a vict ory celebrat ion in June 1872,
150,000 workers paraded t hrough t he cit y. The New York Times wondered what proport ion of t he
st rikers were "t horoughly American."

Women, brought int o indust ry during t he war, organized unions: cigarmakers, t ailoresses,
umbrella sewers, capmakers, print ers, laundresses, shoeworkers. They formed t he Daught ers of St ,
Crispin, and succeeded in get t ing t he Cigarmakers Union and t he Nat ional Typographical Union t o
admit women for t he first t ime. A woman named Gussie Lewis of New York became corresponding
secret ary of t he Typographers' Union. But t he cigarmakers and t ypographers were only t wo of t he
t hirt y-odd nat ional unions, and t he general at t it ude t oward women was one of exclusion.

In 1869, t he collar laundresses of Troy, New York, whose work involved st anding "over t he wash
t ub and over t he ironing t able wit h furnaces on eit her side, t he t hermomet er averaging 100 degrees,
for wages averaging $2.00 and $3.00 a week" (according t o a cont emporary account ), went on
st rike. Their leader was Kat e Mullaney, second vice-president of t he Nat ional Labor Union. Seven
t housand people came t o a rally t o support t hem, and t he women organized a cooperat ive collar
and cuff fact ory t o provide work and keep t he st rike going. But as t ime went on, out side support
dwindled. The employers began making a paper collar, requiring fewer laundresses. The st rike

The dangers of mill work int ensified effort s t o organize. Work oft en went on around t he clock. At a
mill in Providence, Rhode Island, fire broke out one night in 1866. There was panic among t he six
hundred workers, most ly women, and many jumped t o t heir deat hs from upper-st ory windows.

In Fall River, Massachuset t s, women weavers formed a union independent of t he men weavers.
They refused t o t ake a 10 percent wage cut t hat t he men had accept ed, st ruck against t hree nulls,
won t he men's support , and brought t o a halt 3,500 looms and 156,000 spindles, wit h 3,200
workers on st rike. But t heir children needed food; diey had t o ret urn t o work, signing an "iron-clad
oat h" (lat er called a "yellow-dog cont ract ") not t o join a union.

Black workers at t his t ime found t he Nat ional Labor Union reluct ant t o organize t hem. So t hey
formed t heir own unions and carried on t heir own st rikes-like t he levee workers in Mobile,
Alabama, in 1867, Negro longshoremen in Charlest on, dockworkers in Savannah. This probably
st imulat ed t he Nat ional Labor Union, at it s 1869 convent ion, t o resolve t o organize women and
Negroes, declaring t hat it recognized "neit her color nor sex on t he quest ion of t he right s of labor." A
journalist wrot e about t he remarkable signs of racial unit y at t his convent ion:

When a nat ive Mississippian and an ex-confederat e officer, in addressing a convent ion, refers t o a
colored delegat e who has preceded him as "t he gent leman from Georgia" .. . when an ardent and
Democrat ic part isan (from New York at t hat ) declares wit h a rich Irish brogue t hat he asks for
himself no privilege as a mechanic or as a cit izen t hat he is not willing t o concede t o every ot her
man, whit e or black ... t hen one may indeed be warrant ed in assert ing t hat t ime works curious
changes.. ..

Most unions, however, st ill kept Negroes out , or asked t hem t o form t heir own locals.

The Nat ional Labor Union began t o expend more and more of it s energy on polit ical issues,
especially currency reform, a demand for t he issuance of paper money: Greenbacks. As it became
less an organizer of labor st ruggles, and more a lobbyist wit h Congress, concerned wit h vot ing, it
lost vit alit y. An observer of t he labor scene, F. A. Sorge, wrot e in 1870 t o Karl Marx in England: "The
Nat ional Labor Union, which had such brilliant prospect s in t he beginning of it s career, was
poisoned by Greenbackism and is slowly but surely dying." .

Perhaps unions could not easily see t he limit s t o legislat ive reform in an age where such reform
laws were being passed for t he first t ime, and hopes were high. The Pennsylvania legislat ure in 1869
passed a mine safet y act providing for t he "regulat ion and vent ilat ion of mines, and for t he
prot ect ion of t he lives of t he miners." Only aft er a hundred years of cont inuing accident s in t hose
mines would it be underst ood how insufficient t hose words were-except as a device t o calm anger
among miners.

In 1873, anot her economic crisis devast at ed t he nat ion. It was t he closing of t he banking house of
Jay Cooke-t he banker who during t he war had made $3 million a year in commissions alone for
selling government bonds-t hat st art ed t he wave of panic. While President Grant slept in Cooke's
Philadelphia mansion on Sept ember 18, 1873, t he banker rode downt own t o lock t he door on his
bank. Now people could not pay loans on mort gages: live t housand businesses closed and put t heir
workers on t he st reet .

It was more t han Jay Cooke. The crisis was built int o a syst em which was chaot ic in it s nat ure, in
which only t he very rich were secure. It was a syst em of periodic crisis-1837, 1857, 1873 (and lat er:
1893, 1907, 1919, 1929)-t hat wiped out small businesses and brought cold, hunger, and deat h t o
working people while t he fort unes of t he Ast ors, Vanderbilt s, Rockefellers, Morgans, kept growing
t hrough war and peace, crisis and recovery. During t he 1873 crisis, Carnegie was capt uring t he st eel
market , Rockefeller was wiping out his compet it ors in oil.

"LABOR DEPRESSION IN BROOKLYN" was t he headline in t he New York Herald in November
1873. It list ed closings and layoffs: a felt -skirt fact ory, a pict ure-frame fact ory, a glass-cut t ing
est ablishment , a st eelworks fact ory. And women's t rades: milliners, dressmakers, shoe-binders.

The depression cont inued t hrough t he 1870s. During t he first t hree mont hs of 1874, ninet y
t housand workers, almost half of t hem women, had t o sleep in police st at ions in New York. They
were known as "revolvers" because t hey were limit ed t o one or t wo days a mont h in any one police
st at ion, and so had t o keep moving. All over t he count ry, people were evict ed from t heir homes.
Many roamed t he cit ies looking for food.

Desperat e workers t ried t o get t o Europe or t o Sout h America. In 1878, t he SS Met ropolis, filled
wit h laborers, left t he Unit ed St at es for Sout h America and sank wit h all aboard. The New York
Tribune report ed: "One hour aft er t he news t hat t he ship had gone down arrived in Philadelphia,
t he office of Messrs. Collins was besieged by hundreds of hunger-bit t en, decent men, begging for
t he places of t he drowned laborers."

Mass meet ing and demonst rat ions of t he unemployed t ook place all over t he count ry. Unemployed
councils were set up. A meet ing in New York at Cooper Inst it ut e in lat e 1873, organized by t rade
unions and t he American seed on of t he First Int ernat ional (founded in 1864 in Europe by Marx and
ot hers), drew a huge crowd, overflowing int o t he st reet s. The meet ing asked t hat before bills
became law t hey should be approved by a public vot e, t hat no individual should own more t han
$30,000; t hey asked for an eight -hour day. Also:

Whereas, we are indust rious, law-abiding cit izens, who had paid all t axes and given support and
allegiance t o t he government , Resolved, t hat we will in t his t ime of need supply ourselves and our
families wit h proper food and shelt er and we will send our bills t o t he Cit y '.t reasury, t o he
liquidat ed, unt il we shall obt ain work... .

In Chicago, t went y t housand unemployed marched t hrough t he st reet s t o Cit y Hall asking "bread
for t he needy, clot hing for t he naked, and houses for t he homeless." Act ions like t his result ed in
some relief for about t en t housand families.

In January 1874, in New York Cit y, a huge parade of workers, kept by t he police from approaching
Cit y Hall, went t o Tompkins Square, and t here were t old by t he police t hey couldn't have t he
meet ing. They st ayed, and t he police at t acked. One newspaper report ed:

Police clubs rose and fell. Women and children ran screaming in all direct ions. Many of t hem were
t rampled underfoot in t he st ampede for t he gat es. In t he st reet byst anders were ridden down and
mercilessly clubbed by mount ed officers.

St rikes were called in t he t ext ile mills of Fall River, Massachuset t s. In t he ant hracit e coal dist rict of
Pennsylvania, t here was t he "long st rike," where Irish members of a societ y called t he Ancient
Order of Hibernians were accused of act s of violence, most ly on t he t est imony of a det ect ive
plant ed among t he miners. These were t he "Molly Maguires." They were t ried and found guilt y.
Philip Foner believes, aft er a st udy of t he evidence, t hat t hey were framed because t hey were labor
organizers. lie quot es t he sympat het ic Irish World, which called t hem "int elligent men whose
direct ion gave st rengt h t o t he resist ance of t he miners t o t he inhuman reduct ion of t heir wages."
And he point s t o t he Miners' Journal, put out by t he coal mine owners, which referred t o t he
execut ed men t his way: "What did t hey do? Whenever prices of labor did not suit t hem t hey
organized and proclaimed a st rike."

All t oget her, ninet een were execut ed, according t o Ant hony Bimba (The Molly Maguires). There
were scat t ered prot est s from workingmen's organizat ions, but no mass movement t hat could st op
t he execut ions.

It was a t ime when employers brought in recent immigrant s-desperat e for work, different from t he
st rikers in language and cult ure-t o break st rikes. It alians were import ed int o t he bit uminous coal
area around Pit t sburgh in 1874 t o replace st riking miners. This led t o t he killing of t hree It alians, t o
t rials in which jurors of t he communit y exonerat ed t he st rikers, and bit t er feelings bet ween It alians
and ot her organized workers.

The cent ennial year of 1876-one hundred years aft er t he Declarat ion of Independence-brought fort h
a number of new declarat ions (reproduced by Philip Foner in We t he Ot her People). Whit es and
blacks, separat ely, expressed t heir disillusionment . A "Negro Declarat ion of Independence"
denounced t he Republican part y on which t hey had once depended t o gain full freedom, and
proposed independent polit ical act ion by colored vot ers. And t he Workingmen's part y of Illinois,
at a July 4 celebrat ion organized by German socialist s in Chicago, said in it s Declarat ion of

The present syst em has enabled capit alist s t o make laws in t heir own int erest s t o t he injury and
oppression of t he workers.

It has made t he name Democracy, for which our forefat hers fought and died, a mockery and a
shadow, by giving t o propert y an unproport ionat e amount of represent at ion and cont rol over
Legislat ion.

It has enabled capit alist s ... t o secure government aid, inland grant s and money loans, t o selfish
railroad corporat ions, who, by monopolizing t he means of t ransport at ion arc enabled t o swindle
bot h t he producer and t he consumer.. ..

It has present ed t o t he world t he absurd spect acle of a deadly civil war for t he abolit ion of negro
slavery while t he majorit y of t he whit e populat ion, t hose who have creat ed all t he wealt h of t he
nat ion, are compelled t o suffer under a bondage infinit ely more galling and humiliat ing. . ..

It has allowed t he capit alist s, as a class, t o appropriat e annually 5/6 of t he ent ire product ion of t he
count ry. . . .

It has t herefore prevent ed mankind from fulfilling t heir nat ural dest inies on eart h-crushed out
ambit ion, prevent ed marriages or caused false and unnat ural ones-has short ened human life,
dest royed morals and fost ered crime, corrupt ed judges, minist ers, and st at esmen, shat t ered
confidence, love and honor among men. and made life a selfish, merciless st ruggle for exist ence
inst ead of a noble and generous st ruggle for perfect ion, m which equal advant ages should he given
t o all, and human lives relieved from an unnat ural and degrading compet it ion for bread.. ..

We, t herefore, t he represent at ives of t he workers of Chicago, in mass meet ing assembled, do
solemnly publish and declare .. .

That we are absolved from all allegiance t o t he exist ing polit ical part ies of t his count ry, and t hat as
free and independent producers we shall endeavor t o acquire t he full power t o make our own laws,
manage our own product ion, and govern ourselves, acknowledging no right s wit hout dut ies, no
dut ies wit hout right s. And for t he support of t his declarat ion, wit h a firm reliance on t he assist ance
and cooperat ion of all workingmen, we mut ually pledge t o each ot her our lives, our means, and our
sacred honor.

In t he year 1877, t he count ry was in t he dept hs of t he Depression. That summer, in t he hot cit ies
where poor families lived in cellars and drank infest ed wat er, t he children became sick in large
numbers. The New York Times wrot e: "... already t he cry of t he dying children begins t o be heard. ...
Soon, t o judge from t he past , t here will be a t housand deat hs of infant s per week in t he cit y." That
first week in July, in Balt imore, where all liquid sewage ran t hrough t he st reet s, 139 babies died.

That year t here came a series of t umult uous st rikes by railroad workers in a dozen cit ies; t hey
shook t he nat ion as no labor conflict in it s hist ory had done.

It began wit h wage nit s on railroad aft er railroad, in t ense sit uat ions of already low wages ($1.75 a
day for brakemen working t welve hours), scheming and profit eering by t he railroad companies,
deat hs and injuries among t he workers-loss of hands, feet , fingers, t he crushing of men bet ween

At t he Balt imore & Ohio st at ion in Mart insburg, West Virginia, workers det ermined t o t ight t he
wage cut went on st rike, uncoupled t he engines, ran t hem int o t he roundhouse, and announced no
more t rains would leave Mart insburg unt il t he 10 percent cut was canceled. A crowd of support
gat hered, t oo many for t he local police t o disperse. B. & O. officials asked t he governor for milit ary
prot ect ion, and he sent in milit ia. A t rain t ried t o get t hrough, prot ect ed by t he milit ia, and a
st riker, t rying t o derail it , exchanged gunfire wit h a milit iaman at t empt ing t o st op him. The st riker
was shot in his t high and his arm. His arm was amput at ed lat er t hat day, and nine days lat er he

Six hundred freight t rains now jammed t he yards at Mart insburg. The West Virginia governor
applied t o newly elect ed President Rut herford Hayes for federal t roops, saying t he st at e milit ia was
insufficient . In fact , t he milit ia was not t ot ally reliable, being composed of many railroad workers.
Much of t he U.S. army was t ied up in Indian bat t les in t he West . Congress had not appropriat ed
money for t he army yet , but J. P. Morgan, August Belmont , and ot her bankers now offered t o lend
money t o pay army officers (but no enlist ed men). Federal t roops arrived in Mart insburg, and t he
freight cars began t o move.

In Balt imore, a crowd of t housands sympat het ic t o t he railroad st rikers surrounded t he armory of
t he Nat ional Guard, which had been called out by t he governor at t he request of t he B. & O.
Railroad. The crowd hurled rocks, and t he soldiers came out , firing. The st reet s now became t he
scene of a moving, bloody bat t le. When t he evening was over, t en men or boys were dead, more
badly wounded, one soldier wounded. Half of t he 120 t roops quit and t he rest went on t o t he t rain
depot , where a crowd of t wo hundred smashed t he engine of a passenger t rain, t ore up t racks, and
engaged t he milit ia again in a running bat t le.

By now, fift een t housand people surrounded t he depot . Soon, t hree passenger cars, t he st at ion
plat form, and a locomot ive were on fire. The governor asked for federal t roops, and Hayes
responded. Five hundred soldiers arrived and Balt imore quiet ed down.

The rebellion of t he railroad workers now spread. Joseph Dacus, t hen edit or of t he St . Louis
Republican, report ed:

St rikes were occurring almost every hour. The great St at e of Pennsylvania was in an uproar; New
Jersey was afflict ed by a paralyzing dread; New York was must ering an army of milit ia; Ohio was
shaken from Lake Erie t o t he Ohio River; Indiana rest ed in a dreadful suspense. Illinois, and
especially it s great met ropolis, Chicago, apparent ly hung on t he verge of a vort ex of confusion and
t umult . St . Louis had already felt t he effect of t he premonit ory shocks of t he uprising. . . .

The st rike spread t o Pit t sburgh and t he Pennsylvania Railroad. Again, it happened out side t he
regular union, pent -up anger exploding wit hout plan. Robert Bruce, hist orian of t he 1877 st rikes,
writ es (1877:

Year of Violence) about a flagman named Gus Harris. Harris refused t o go out on a "double-header,"
a t rain wit h t wo locomot ives carrying a double lengt h of cars, t o which railroaders had object ed
because it required fewer workers and made t he brakemen's work more dangerous:

The decision was his own, not part of a concert ed plan or a general underst anding. Had he lain
awake t hat past night , list ening t o t he rain, asking himself if he dared quit , wondering if anyone
would join him, weighing t he chances? Or had he simply risen t o a breakfast t hat did not fill him,
seen his children go off shabby and half-fed, walked brooding t hrough t he damp morning and t hen
yielded impulsively t o st ored-up rage?

When Harris said he would not go, t he rest of t he crew refused t oo. The st rikers now mult iplied,
joined by young boys and men from t he mills and fact ories (Pit t sburgh had 33 iron mills, 73 glass
fact ories, 29 oil refineries, 158 coal mines). The freight t rains st opped moving out of t he cit y. The
Trainman's Union had not organized t his, but it moved t o t ake hold, called a meet ing, invit ed "all
workingmen t o make common cause wit h t heir bret hren on t he railroad."

Railroad and local officials decided t hat t he Pit t sburgh milit ia would not kill t heir fellow
t ownsmen, and urged t hat Philadelphia t roops be called in. By now t wo t housand cars were idle in
Pit t sburgh. The Philadelphia t roops came and began t o clear t he t rack. Rocks flew. Gunfire was
exchanged bet ween crowd and t roops. At least t en people were killed, all workingmen, most of
t hem not railroaders.

Now t he whole cit y rose in anger. A crowd surrounded t he t roops, who moved int o a roundhouse.
Railroad cars were set afire, buildings began t o burn, and finally t he roundhouse it self, t he t roops
marching out of it t o safet y. There was more gunfire, t he Union Depot was set afire, t housands
loot ed t he freight cars. A huge grain elevat or and a small sect ion of t he cit y went up in flames. In a
few days, t went y-four people had been killed (including four soldiers). Sevent y-nine buildings had
been burned t o t he ground. Somet hing like a general st rike was developing in Pit t sburgh: mill
workers, car workers, miners, laborers, and t he employees at t he Carnegie st eel plant .

The ent ire Nat ional Guard of Pennsylvania, nine t housand men, was called out . But many of t he
companies couldn't move as st rikers in ot her t owns held up t raffic. In Lebanon, Pennsylvania, one
Nat ional Guard company mut inied and inarched t hrough an excit ed t own. In Alt oona, t roops
surrounded by riot ers, immobilized by sabot aged engines, surrendered, st acked arms, frat ernized
wit h t he crowd, and t hen were allowed t o go home, t o t he accompaniment of singing by a quart et
in an all-Negro milit ia company.

In Harrisburg, t he st at e capit al, as at so many places, t eenagers made up a large part of t he crowd,
which included some Negroes. Philadelphia milit ia, on t heir way home from Alt oona, shook hands
wit h t he crowd, gave up t heir guns, marched like capt ives t hrough t he st reet s, were fed at a hot el
and sent home. The crowd agreed t o t he mayor's request t o deposit t he surrendered guns at t he cit y
hall. Fact ories and shops were idle. Aft er some loot ing, cit izens' pat rols kept order in t he st reet s
t hrough t he night .

Where st rikers did not manage t o t ake cont rol, as in Pot t sville, Pennsylvania, it may well have been
because of disunit y. The spokesman of t he Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company in t hat
t own wrot e: "The men have no organizat ion, and t here is t oo much race jealousy exist ing among
t hem t o permit t hem t o form one."

In Reading, Pennsylvania, t here was no such problem-90 percent were nat ive-born, t he rest most ly
German. There, t he railroad was t wo mont hs behind in paying wages, and a branch of t he
Trainman's Union was organized. Two t housand people gat hered, while men who had blackened
t heir faces wit h coal dust set about met hodically t earing up t racks, jamming swit ches, derailing
cars, set t ing fire t o cabooses and also t o a railroad bridge.

A Nat ional Guard company arrived, fresh from dut y at t he execut ion of t he Molly Maguires. The
crowd t hrew st ones, fired pist ols. The soldiers fired int o t he crowd. "Six men lay dead in t he
t wilight ," Bruce report s, "a fireman and an engineer formerly employed in t he Reading, a carpent er,
a huckst er, a rolling-mill worker, a laborer.... A policeman and anot her man lay at t he point of
deat h." Five of t he wounded died. The crowd grew angrier, more menacing. A cont ingent of soldiers
announced it would not fire, one soldier saying he would rat her put a bullet t hrough t he president
of Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron. The 16t h Regiment of t he Morrist own volunt eers st acked
it s arms. Some milit ia t hrew t heir guns away and gave t heir ammunit ion t o t he crowd. When t he
Guardsmen left for home, federal t roops arrived and t ook cont rol, and local police began making
arrest s.

Meanwhile t he leaders of t he big railway brot herhoods, t he Order of Railway Conduct ors, t he
Brot herhood of Locomot ive Firemen, t he Brot herhood of Engineers, disavowed t he st rike. There
was t alk in t he press of "communist ic ideas . . . widely ent ert ained ... by t he workmen employed in
mines and fact ories and by t he railroads."

In fact , t here was a very act ive Workingmen's part y in Chicago, wit h several t housand members,
most of t hem immigrant s from Germany and Bohemia. It was connect ed wit h t he First
Int ernat ional in Europe. In t he midst of t he railroad st rikes, t hat summer of 1877, it called a rally.
Six t housand people came and demanded nat ionalizat ion of t he railroads. Albert Parsons gave a
fiery speech. He was from Alabama, had fought in t he Confederacy during t he Civil War, married a
brown-skinned woman of Spanish and Indian blood, worked as a t ypeset t er, and was one of t he
best English-speaking orat ors t he Workingmen's part y had.

The next day, a crowd of young people, not especially connect ed wit h t he rally of t he evening
before, began moving t hrough t he railroad yards, closed down t he freight s, went t o t he fact ories,
called out t he mill workers, t he st ockyard workers, t he crewmen on t he Lake Michigan ships,
closed down t he brickyards and lumberyards. That day also, Albert Parsons was fired from his job
wit h t he Chicago Times and declared blacklist ed.

The police at t acked t he crowds. The press report ed: "The sound of clubs falling on skulls was
sickening for t he first minut e, unt il one grew accust omed t o it . A riot er dropped at every whack, it
seemed, for t he ground was covered wit h t hem." Two companies of U.S. infant ry arrived, joining
Nat ional Guardsmen and Civil War vet erans. Police fired int o a surging crowd, and t hree men were

The next day, an armed crowd of five t housand fought t he police. The police fired again and again,
and when it was over, and t he dead were count ed, t hey were, as usual, workingmen and boys,
eight een of t hem, t heir skulls smashed by clubs, t heir vit al organs pierced by gunfire.

The one cit y where t he Workingmen's part y clearly led t he rebellion was St . Louis, a cit y of flour
mills, foundries, packing houses, machine shops, breweries, and railroads. Here, as elsewhere, t here
were wage cut s on t he railroads. And here t here were perhaps a t housand members of t he
Workingmen's part y, many of t hem bakers, coopers, cabinet makers, cigarmakers, brewery
workers. The part y was organized in four sect ions, by nat ionalit y: German, English, French,

All four sect ions t ook a ferry across t he Mississippi t o join a mass meet ing of railroad men in East
St . Louis. One of t heir speakers t old t he meet ing: "All you have t o do, gendemen, for you have t he
numbers, is t o unit e on one idea-t hat t he workingmen shall rule t he count ry. What man makes,
belongs t o him, and t he workingmen made t his count ry." Railroaders in East St . Louis declared
t hemselves on st rike. The mayor of East St . Louis was a European immigrant , himself an act ive
revolut ionist as a yout h, and railroad men's vot es dominat ed t he cit y.

In St . Louis, it self, t he Workingmen's part y called an open-air mass meet ing t o which five t housand
people came. The part y was clearly in t he leadership of t he st rike. Speakers, excit ed by t he crowd,
became more milit ant : ". . . capit al has changed libert y int o serfdom, and we must right or t he." They
called for nat ionalizat ion of t he railroads, mines, and all indust ry, At anot her huge meet ing of t he
Workingmen's part y a black man spoke for t hose who worked on t he st eamboat s and levees. He
asked: "Will you st and t o us regardless of color?" The crowd shout ed back: "We will!" An execut ive
commit t ee was set up, and it called for a general st rike of all branches of indust ry in St . Louis.

Handbills for t he general st rike were soon all over t he cit y. There was a march of four hundred
Negro st eamboat men and roust about s along t he river, six hundred fact ory workers carrying a
banner: "No Monopoly- Workingmen's Right s." A great procession moved t hrough t he cit y, ending
wit h a rally oft en t housand people list ening t o Communist speakers: "The people are rising up in
t heir might and declaring t hey will no longer submit t o being oppressed by unproduct ive capit al."

David Burbank, in his book on t he St . Louis event s, Reign of t he Rabble., writ es:

Only around St . Louis did t he original st rike on t he railroads expand int o such a syst emat ically
organized and complet e shut -down of all indust ry t hat t he t erm general st rike is fully just ified. And
only t here did t he socialist s assume undisput ed leadership.... no American cit y has come so close t o
being ruled by a workers' soviet , as we would now call it , as St . Louis, Missouri, in t he year 1877.

The railroad st rikes were making news in Europe. Marx wrot e Engcls: "What do you t hink of t he
workers of t he Unit ed St at es? This first explosion against t he associat ed oligarchy of capit al which
has occurred since t he Civil War will nat urally again be suppressed, but can very well form t he
point of origin of an earnest workers1 part y. . . ."

In New York, several t housand gat hered at Tompkins Square. The t one of t he meet ing was
moderat e, speaking of "a polit ical revolut ion t hrough t he ballot box." And: "If you will unit e, we
may have here wit hin five years a socialist ic republic. . . . Then will a lovely morning break over t his
darkened land." It was a peaceful meet ing. It adjourned. The last words heard from t he plat form
were: "What ever we poor men may not have, we have free speech, and no one can t ake it from us."
Then t he police charged, using t heir clubs.

In St . Louis, as elsewhere, t he moment um of t he crowds, t he meet ings, t he ent husiasm, could not be
sust ained. As t hey diminished, t he police, milit ia, and federal t roops moved in and t he aut horit ies
t ook over. The police raided t he headquart ers of t he Workingmen's part y and arrest ed sevent y
people; t he execut ive commit t ee t hat had been for a while virt ually in charge of t he cit y was now in
prison. The st rikers surrendered; t he wage cut s remained; 131 st rike leaders were fired by t he
Burlingt on Railroad.

When t he great railroad st rikes of 1877 were over, a hundred people were dead, a t housand people
had gone t o jail, 100,000 workers had gone on st rike, and t he st rikes had roused int o act ion
count less unemployed in t he cit ies. More t han half t he freight on t he nat ion's 75,000 miles of t rack
had st opped running at t he height of t he st rikes.

The railroads made some concessions, wit hdrew some wage cut s, but also st rengt hened t heir "Coal
and Iron Police." In a number of large cit ies, Nat ional Guard armories were built , wit h loopholes for
guns. Robert Bruce believes t he st rikes t aught many people of t he hardships of ot hers, and t hat
t hey led t o congressional railroad regulat ion. They may have st imulat ed t he business unionism of
t he American Federat ion of Labor as well as t he nat ional unit y of labor proposed by t he Knight s of
Labor, and t he independent labor-farmer part ies of t he next t wo decades.

In 1877, t he same year blacks learned t hey did not have enough st rengt h t o make real t he promise of
equalit y in t he Civil War, working people learned t hey were not unit ed enough, not powerful
enough, t o defeat t he combinat ion of privat e capit al and government power. But t here was more t o


In t he year 1877, t he signals were given for t he rest of t he cent ury: t he blacks would be put back; t he
st rikes of whit e workers would not be t olerat ed; t he indust rial and polit ical elit es of Nort h and
Sout h would t ake hold of t he count ry and organize t he great est march of economic growt h in
human hist ory. They would do it wit h t he aid of, and at t he expense of, black labor, whit e labor,
Chinese labor, European immigrant labor, female labor, rewarding t hem different ly by race, sex,
nat ional origin, and social class, in such a way as t o creat e separat e levels of oppression-a skillful
t erracing t o st abilize t he pyramid of wealt h.

Bet ween t he Civil War and 1900, st eam and elect ricit y replaced human muscle, iron replaced wood,
and st eel replaced iron (before t he Bessemer process, iron was hardened int o st eel at t he rat e of 3 t o
5 t ons a day; now t he same amount could be processed in 15 minut es). Machines could now drive
st eel t ools. Oil could lubricat e machines and light homes, st reet s, fact ories. People and goods could
move by railroad, propelled by st eam along st eel rails; by 1900 t here were 193,000 miles of railroad.
The t elephone, t he t ypewrit er, and t he adding machine speeded up t he work of business.

Machines changed farming. Before t he Civil War it t ook 61 hours of labor t o produce an acre of
wheat . By 1900, it t ook 3 hours, 19 minut es. Manufact ured ice enabled t he t ransport of food over
long dist ances, and t he indust ry of meat packing was born.

St eam drove t ext ile mill spindles; it drove sewing machines. It came from coal. Pneumat ic drills
now drilled deeper int o t he eart h for coal. In 1860, 14 million t ons of coal were mined; by 1884 it
was 100 million t ons. More coal meant more st eel, because coal furnaces convert ed iron int o st eel;
by 1880 a million t ons of st eel were being produced; by 1910, 25 million t ons. By now elect ricit y was
beginning t o replace st eam. Elect rical wire needed copper, of which 30,000 t ons were produced in
1880; 500,000 t ons by 1910.

To accomplish all t his required ingenious invent ors of new processes and new machines, clever
organizers and administ rat ors of t he new corporat ions, a count ry rich wit h land and minerals, and
a huge supply of human beings t o do t he back-breaking, unhealt hful, and dangerous work.
Immigrant s would come from Europe and China, t o make t he new labor force. Farmers unable t o
buy t he new machinery or pay t he new railroad rat es would move t o t he cit ies. Bet ween I860 and
1914, New York grew from 850,000 t o 4 million, Chicago from 110,000 t o 2 million, Philadelphia
from 650,000 t o l'/2 million.

In some cases t he invent or himself became t he organizer of businesses-like Thomas Edison,
invent or of elect rical devices. In ot her cases, t he businessman compiled ot her people's invent ions,
like Gust avus Swift , a Chicago but cher who put t oget her t he ice-cooled railway car wit h t he ice-
cooled warehouse t o make t he first nat ional meat packing company in 1885. James Duke used a new
cigaret t e-rolling machine t hat could roll, past e, and cut t ubes of t obacco int o 100,000 cigaret t es a
day; in 1890 he combined t he four biggest cigaret t e producers t o form t he American Tobacco
Company While some mult imillionaires st art ed in povert y, most did not . A st udy of t he origins of
303 t ext ile, railroad, and st eel execut ives of t he 1870s showed t hat 90 percent came from middle- or
upper-class families. The Horat io Alger st ories of "rags t o riches" were t rue for a few men, but
most ly a myt h, and a useful myt h for cont rol.

Most of t he fort une building was done legally, wit h t he collaborat ion of t he government and t he
court s. Somet imes t he collaborat ion had t o be paid for. Thomas Edison promised New Jersey
polit icians $1,000 each in ret urn for favorable legislat ion. Daniel Drew and Jay Gould spent $1
million t o bribe t he New York legislat ure t o legalize t heir issue of $8 million in "wat ered st ock"
(st ock not represent ing real value) on t he Erie Railroad.

The first t ranscont inent al railroad was built wit h blood, sweat , polit ics and t hievery, out of t he
meet ing of t he Union Pacific and Cent ral Pacific railroads. The Cent ral Pacific st art ed on t he West
Coast going east ; it spent $200,000 in Washingt on on bribes t o get 9 million acres of free land and
$24 million in bonds, and paid $79 million, an overpayment of $36 million, t o a const ruct ion
company which really was it s own. The const ruct ion was done by t hree t housand Irish and t en
t housand Chinese, over a period of four years, working for one or t wo dollars a day.

The Union Pacific st art ed in Nebraska going west . It had been given 12 million acres of free land
and $27 million in government bonds. It creat ed t he Credit Mohilier company and gave t hem $94
million for const ruct ion when t he act ual cost was $44 million. Shares were sold cheaply t o
Congressmen t o prevent invest igat ion. This was at t he suggest ion of Massachuset t s Congressman
Oakes Ames, a shovel manufact urer and direct or of Credit Mobilier, who said: "There is no
difficult y in get t ing men t o look aft er t heir own propert y." The Union Pacific used t went y t housand
workers-war vet erans and Irish immigrant s, who laid 5 miles of t rack a day and died by t he
hundreds in t he heat , t he cold, and t he bat t les wit h Indians opposing t he invasion of t heir t errit ory.

Bot h railroads used longer, t wist ing rout es t o get subsidies from t owns t hey went t hrough. In 1869,
amid music and speeches, t he t wo crooked lines met in Ut ah.

The wild fraud on t he railroads led t o more cont rol of railroad finances by bankers, who want ed
more st abilit y-profit by law rat her t han by t heft . By t he 1890s, most of t he count ry's railway
mileage was concent rat ed in six huge syst ems. Four of t hese were complet ely or part ially
cont rolled by t he House of Morgan, and t wo ot hers by t he bankers Kuhn, Loeb, and Company.

J. P. Morgan had st art ed before t he war, as t he son of a banker who began selling st ocks for t he
railroads for good commissions. During t he Civil War he bought five t housand rifles for $3.50 each
from an army arsenal, and sold t hem t o a general in t he field for $22 each. The rifles were defect ive
and would shoot off t he t humbs of t he soldiers using t hem. A congressional commit t ee not ed t his
in t he small print of an obscure report , but a federal judge upheld t he deal as t he fulfillment of a
valid legal cont ract .

Morgan had escaped milit ary service in t he Civil War by paying $300 t o a subst it ut e. So did John
D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Philip Armour, Jay Gould, and James Mellon. Mellon's fat her had
writ t en t o him t hat "a man may be a pat riot wit hout risking his own life or sacrificing his healt h.
There are plent y of lives less valuable."

It was t he firm of Drexel, Morgan and Company t hat was given a U.S. government cont ract t o float
a bond issue of $260 million. The government could have sold t he bonds direct ly; it chose t o pay t he
bankers $5 million in commission.

On January 2, 1889, as Gust avus Myers report s:

... a circular marked "Privat e and Confident ial" was issued by t he t hree banking houses of Drexel,
Morgan & Company, Brown Brot hers & Company, and Kidder, Peabody & Company. The
most painst aking care was exercised t hat t his document should not find it s way int o t he press or
ot herwise become public.... Why t his fear? Because t he circular was an invit at ion ... t o t he great
railroad magnat es t o assemble at Morgan's house, No. 219 Madison Avenue, t here t o form, in t he
phrase of t he day, an iron-clad combinat ion. ... a compact which would efface compet it ion among
cert ain railroads, and unit e t hose int erest s in an agreement by which t he people of t he Unit ed
St at es would be bled even more effect ively t han before.

There was a human cost t o t his excit ing st ory of financial ingenuit y. That year, 1889, records of t he
Int erst at e Commerce Commission showed t hat 22,000 railroad workers were killed or injured.

In 1895 t he gold reserve of t he Unit ed St at es was deplet ed, while t went y-six New York Cit y banks
had $129 million in gold in t heir vault s. A syndicate of bankers headed by J. P. Morgan & Company,
August Belmont & Company, t he Nat ional Cit y Bank, and ot hers offered t o give t he government
gold in exchange for bonds. President Grover Cleveland agreed. The bankers immediat ely resold
t he bonds at higher prices, making $18 million profit .

A journalist wrot e: "If a man want s t o buy beef, he must go t o t he but cher.... If Mr. Cleveland want s
much gold, he must go t o t he big banker."

While making his fort une, Morgan brought rat ionalit y and organizat ion t o t he nat ional economy.
He kept t he syst em st able. He said: "We do not want financial convulsions and have one t hing one
day and anot her t hing anot her day." He linked railroads t o one anot her, all of t hem t o banks, banks
t o insurance companies. By 1900, he cont rolled 100,000 miles of railroad, half t he count ry's mileage.

Three insurance companies dominat ed by t he Morgan group had a billion dollars in asset s. They
had $50 million a year t o invest -money given by ordinary people for t heir insurance policies. Louis
Brandeis, describing t his in his book Ot her People's Money (before he became a Supreme Court
just ice), wrot e: "They cont rol t he people t hrough t he peoples own money."

John D. Rockefeller st art ed as a bookkeeper in Cleveland, became a merchant , accumulat ed money,
and decided t hat , in t he new indust ry of oil, who cont rolled t he oil refineries cont rolled t he
indust ry. He bought his first oil refinery in 1862, and by 1870 set up St andard Oil Company of Ohio,
made secret agreement s wit h railroads t o ship his oil wit h t hem if t hey gave him rebat es-discount s-
on t heir prices, and t hus drove compet it ors out of business.

One independent refiner said: "If we did not sell out .... we would be crushed out .. .. There was only
one buyer on t he market and we had t o sell at t heir t erms." Memos like t his one passed among
St andard Oil officials: "Wilkerson & Co. received car of oil Monday 13t h... . Please t urn anot her
screw." A rival refinery in Buffalo was rocked by a small explosion arranged by St andard Oil
officials wit h t he refinery's chief mechanic.

The St andard Oil Company, by 1899, was a holding company which cont rolled t he st ock of many
ot her companies. The capit al was $110 million, t he profit was $45 million a year, and John D.
Rockefeller's fort une was est imat ed at $200 million. Before long he would move int o iron, copper,
coal, shipping, and banking (Chase Manhat t an Bank). Profit s would be $81 million a year, and t he
Rockefeller fort une would t ot al t wo billion dollars.

Andrew Carnegie was a t elegraph clerk at sevent een, t hen secret ary t o t he head of t he Pennsylvania
Railroad, t hen broker in Wall St reet selling railroad bonds for huge commissions, and was soon a
millionaire. He went t o London in 1872, saw t he new Bessemer met hod of producing st eel, and
ret urned t o t he Unit ed St at es t o build a million-dollar st eel plant . Foreign compet it ion was kept
out by a high t ariff convenient ly set by Congress, and by 1880 Carnegie was producing 10,000 t ons
of st eel a mont h, making Si1/' million a year in profit . By 1900 he was making $40 million a year, and
t hat year, at a dinner part y, he agreed t o sell his st eel company t o J. P. Morgan. He scribbled t he
price on a not e: $492,000,000.

Morgan t hen formed t he U.S. St eel Corporat ion, combining Carnegie's corporat ion wit h ot hers. He
sold st ocks and bonds for $1,300,000,000 (about 400 million more t han t he combined wort h of t he
companies) and t ook a fee of 150 million for arranging t he consolidat ion. How could dividends be
paid t o all t hose st ockholders and bondholders? By making sure Congress passed t ariffs keeping
out foreign st eel; by closing off compet it ion and maint aining t he price at $28 a t on; and by working
200,000 men t welve hours a day for wages t hat barely kept t heir families alive.

And so it went , in indust ry aft er indust ry-shrewd, efficient businessmen building empires, choking
out compet it ion, maint aining high prices, keeping wages low, using government subsidies. These
indust ries were t he first beneficiaries of t he "welfare st at e." By t he t urn of t he cent ury, American
Telephone and t elegraph had a monopoly of t he nat ion's t elephone syst em, Int ernat ional Harvest er
made 85 percent of all farm machinery, and in every ot her indust ry resources became concent rat ed,
cont rolled. The banks had int erest s in so many of t hese monopolies as t o creat e an int erlocking
net work of powerful corporat ion direct ors, each of whom sat on t he boards of many ot her
corporat ions. According t o a Senat e report of t he early t went iet h cent ury, Morgan at his peak sat
on t he board of fort y-eight corporat ions; Rockefeller, t hirt y-seven corporat ions.

Meanwhile, t he government of t he Unit ed St at es was behaving almost exact ly as Karl Marx
described a capit alist st at e: pret ending neut ralit y t o maint ain order, but serving t he int erest s of t he
rich. Not t hat t he rich agreed among t hemselves; t hey had disput es over policies. But t he purpose of
t he st at e was t o set t le upper-class disput es peacefully, cont rol lower-class rebellion, and adopt
policies t hat would furt her t he long-range st abilit y of t he syst em. The arrangement bet ween
Democrat s and Republicans t o elect Rut herford Hayes in 1877 set t he t one. Whet her Democrat s or
Republicans won, nat ional policy would not change in any import ant way.

When Grover Cleveland, a Democrat , ran for President in 1884, t he general impression in t he
count ry was t hat he opposed t he power of monopolies and corporat ions, and t hat t he Republican
part y, whose candidat e was James Blaine, st ood for t he wealt hy. But when Cleveland defeat ed
Blaine, Jay Gould wired him: "I feel ... t hat t he vast business int erest s of t he count ry will be ent irely
safe in your hands." And he was right .

One of Cleveland's chief advisers was William Whit ney, a millionaire and corporat ion lawyer, who
married int o t he St andard Oil fort une and was appoint ed Secret ary of t he Navy by Cleveland. He
immediat ely set about t o creat e a "st eel navy," buying t he st eel at art ificially high prices from
Carnegie's plant s. Cleveland himself assured indust rialist s t hat his elect ion should not fright en
t hem: "No harm shall come t o any business int erest as t he result of administ rat ive policy so long as
I am President ... a t ransfer of execut ive cont rol from one part y t o anot her does not mean any
serious dist urbance of exist ing condit ions."

The president ial elect ion it self had avoided real issues; t here was no clear underst anding of which
int erest s would gain and which would lose if cert ain policies were adopt ed. It t ook t he usual form
of elect ion campaigns, concealing t he basic similarit y of t he part ies by dwelling on personalit ies,
gossip, t rivialit ies. Henry Adams, an ast ut e lit erary comment at or on t hat era, wrot e t o a friend
about t he elect ion:

We are here plunged in polit ics funnier t han words can express. Very great issues are involved.. . .
But t he amusing t hing is t hat no one t alks about real int erest s. By common consent t hey agree t o let
t hese alone. We are afraid t o discuss t hem. Inst ead of t his t he press is engaged in a most amusing
disput e whet her Mr. Cleveland had an illegit imat e child and did or did not live wit h more t han one
mist ress.

In 1887, wit h a huge surplus in t he t reasury, Cleveland vet oed a bill appropriat ing $100,000 t o give
relief t o Texas farmers t o help t hem buy seed grain during a drought . He said: "Federal aid in such
cases .. . encourages t he expect at ion of pat ernal care on t he part of t he government and weakens
t he st urdiness of our nat ional charact er." But t hat same year, Cleveland used his gold surplus t o pay
off wealt hy bondholders at $28 above t he $100 value of each bond-a gift of $45 million.

The chief reform of t he Cleveland administ rat ion gives away t he secret of reform legislat ion in
America. The Int erst at e Commerce Act of 1887 was supposed t o regulat e t he railroads on behalf of
t he consumers. But Richard Olncy, a lawyer for t he Bost on & Maine and ot her railroads, and soon
t o be Cleveland's At t orney General, t old railroad officials who complained about t he Int erst at e
Commerce Commission t hat it would not he wise t o abolish t he Commission "from a railroad point
of view." He explained:

The Commission ... is or can be made, of great use t o t he railroads. It sat isfies t he popular clamor for
a government supervision of railroads, at t he same t ime t hat t hat supervision is almost ent irely
nominal. . . . The part of wisdom is not t o dest roy t he Commission, but t o ut ilize it .

Cleveland himself, in his 1887 St at e of t he Union message, had made a similar point , adding a
warning: "Opport unit y for safe, careful, and deliberat e reform is now offered; and none of us should
be unmindful of a t ime when an abused and irrit at ed people . . . may insist upon a radical and
sweeping rect ificat ion of t heir wrongs."

Republican Benjamin Harrison, who succeeded Cleveland as President from 1889 t o 1893, was
described by Mat hew Josephson, in his colorful st udy of t he post -Civil War years, The Polit icos:
"Benjamin Harrison had t he exclusive dist inct ion of having served t he railway corporat ions in t he
dual capacit y of lawyer and soldier. He prosecut ed t he st rikers [of 1877] in t he federal court s . .. and
he also organized and commanded a company of soldiers during t he st rike. ..."

Harrison's t erm also saw a gest ure t oward reform. The Sherman Ant i-Trust Act , passed in 1890,
called it self "An Act t o prot ect t rade and commerce against unlawful rest raint s" and made it illegal
t o form a "combinat ion or conspiracy" t o rest rain t rade in int erst at e or foreign commerce. Senat or
John Sherman, aut hor of t he Act , explained t he need t o conciliat e t he crit ics of monopoly: "They
had monopolies ... of old, but never before such giant s as in our day. You must heed t heir appeal or
be ready for t he socialist , t he communist , t he nihilist . Societ y is now dist urbed by forces never felt
before. . . ," When Cleveland was elect ed President again in 1892, Andrew Carnegie, in Europe,
received a let t er from t he manager of his st eel plant s, Henry Clay Frick: "I am very sorry for
President Harrison, but T cannot see t hat our int erest s are going t o be affect ed one way or t he ot her
by t he change in administ rat ion." Cleveland, facing t he agit at ion in t he count ry caused by t he panic
and depression of 1893, used t roops t o break up "Coxey's Army," a demonst rat ion of unemployed
men who had come t o Washingt on, and again t o break up t he nat ional st rike on t he railroads t he
following year.

Meanwhile, t he Supreme Court , despit e it s look of somber, black-robed fairness, was doing it s bit
for t he ruling elit e. How could it be independent , wit h it s members chosen by t he President and
rat ified by t he Senat e? How could it be neut ral bet ween rich and poor when it s members were
oft en former wealt hy lawyers, and almost always came from t he upper class? Early in t he
ninet eent h cent ury t he Court laid t he legal basis for a nat ionally regulat ed economy by est ablishing
federal cont rol over int erst at e commerce, and t he legal basis for corporat e capit alism by making t he
cont ract sacred.

In 1895 t he Court int erpret ed t he Sherman Act so as t o make it harmless. It said a monopoly of
sugar refining was a monopoly in manufact uring, not commerce, and so could not be regulat ed by
Congress t hrough t he Sherman Act (U.S. v. E. C. Knight Co.). The Court also said t he Sherman Act
could be used against int erst at e st rikes (t he railway st rike of 1894) because t hey were in rest raint
of t rade. It also declared unconst it ut ional a small at t empt by Congress t o t ax high incomes at a
higher rat e (Pollock v. Farmers'' Loan & Trust Company). In lat er years it would refuse t o break up
t he St andard Oil and American Tobacco monopolies, saying t he Sherman Act barred only
"unreasonable" combinat ions in rest raint of t rade.

A New York banker t oast ed t he Supreme Court in 1895: "I give you, gent lemen, t he Supreme Court
of t he Unit ed St at es-guardian of t he dollar, defender of privat e propert y, enemy of spoliat ion, sheet
anchor of t he Republic."

Very soon aft er t he Fourt eent h Amendment became law, t he Supreme Court began t o demolish it
as a prot ect ion for blacks, and t o develop it as a prot ect ion for corporat ions. However, in 1877, a
Supreme Court decision (Munn v. Illinois) approved st at e laws regulat ing t he prices charged t o
fanners for t he use of grain elevat ors. The grain elevat or company argued it was a person being
deprived of propert y, t hus violat ing t he Fourt eent h Amendment 's declarat ion "nor shall any St at e
deprive any person of life, libert y, or propert y wit hout due process of law." The Supreme Court
disagreed, saying t hat grain elevat ors were not simply privat e propert y but were invest ed wit h "a
public int erest " and so could be regulat ed.

One year aft er t hat decision, t he American Bar Associat ion, organized by lawyers accust omed t o
serving t he wealt hy, began a nat ional campaign of educat ion t o reverse t he Court decision. It s
president s said, at different t imes: "If t rust s are a defensive weapon of propert y int erest s against t he
communist ic t rend, t hey are desirable." And: "Monopoly is oft en a necessit y and an advant age."

By 1886, t hey succeeded. St at e legislat ures, under t he pressure of aroused farmers, had passed laws
t o regulat e t he rat es charged farmers by t he railroads. The Supreme Court t hat year (Wabasb v.
Illinois) said st at es could not do t his, t hat t his was an int rusion on federal power. That year alone,
t he Court did away wit h 230 st at e laws t hat had been passed t o regulat e corporat ions.

By t his t ime t he Supreme Court had accept ed t he argument t hat corporat ions were "persons" and
t heir money was propert y prot ect ed by t he due process clause of t he Fourt eent h Amendment .
Supposedly, t he Amendment had been passed t o prot ect Negro right s, but of t he Fourt eent h
Amendment cases brought before t he Supreme Court bet ween 1890 and 1910, ninet een dealt wit h
t he Negro, 288 dealt wit h corporat ions.

The just ices of t he Supreme Court were not simply int erpret ers of t he Const it ut ion. They were
men of cert ain backgrounds, of cert ain int erest s. One of t hem (Just ice Samuel Miller) had said in
1875: "It is vain t o cont end wit h Judges who have been at t he bar t he advocat es for fort y years of
railroad companies, and all forms of associat ed capit al. . . ." In 1893, Supreme Court Just ice David J.
Brewer, addressing t he New York St at e Bar Associat ion, said:

It is t he unvarying law t hat t he wealt h of t he communit y will he in t he hands of t he few. . . . The
great majorit y of men are unwilling t o endure t hat long self-denial and saving which makes
accumulat ions possible . .. and hence it always has been, and unt il human nat ure is remodeled
always will be t rue, t hat t he wealt h of a nat ion is in t he hands of a few, while t he many subsist
upon t he proceeds of t heir daily t oil.

This was not just a whim of t he 1880s and 189()s-it went hack t o t he Founding Fat hers, who had
learned t heir law in t he era of Blackst one's Comment aries, which said: "So great is t he regard of t he
law for privat e propert y, t hat it will not aut horize t he least violat ion of it ; no, not even for t he
common good of t he whole communit y."

Cont rol in modern t imes requires more t han force, more t han law. It requires t hat a populat ion
dangerously concent rat ed in cit ies and fact ories, whose lives are t illed wit h cause for rebellion, be
t aught t hat all is right as it is. And so, t he schools, t he churches, t he popular lit erat ure t aught t hat
t o be rich was a sign of superiorit y, t o be poor a sign of personal failure, and t hat t he only way
upward for a poor person was t o climb int o t he ranks of t he rich by ext raordinary effort and
ext raordinary luck.

In t hose years aft er t he Civil War, a man named Russell Conwell, a graduat e of Yale Law School, a
minist er, and aut hor of best -selling books, gave t he same lect ure, "Acres of Diamonds," more t han
five t housand t imes t o audiences across t he count ry, reaching several million people in all. His
message was t hat anyone could get rich if he t ried hard enough, t hat everywhere, if people looked
closely enough, were "acres of diamonds." A sampling:

I say t hat you ought t o get rich, and it is your dut y t o get rich.... The men who get rich may be t he
most honest men you find in t he communit y. Let me say here clearly .. . ninet y-eight out of one
hundred of t he rich men of America are honest . That is why t hey arc rich. That is why diey are
t rust ed wit h money. That is why t hey carry on great ent erprises and find plent y of people t o work
wit h t hem. It is because t hey are honest men. ...

... I sympat hize wit h t he poor, but t he number of poor who are t o be sympat hised wit h is very
small. To sympat hize wit h a man whom God has punished for his sins ... is t o do wrong.... let us
remember t here is not a poor person in t he Unit ed St at es who was not made poor by his own
short comings. ...

Conwell was a founder of Temple Universit y. Rockefeller was a donor t o colleges all over t he
count ry and helped found t he Universit y of Chicago. Hunt ingt on, of t he Cent ral Pacific, gave
money t o t wo Negro colleges, Hampt on Inst it ut e and Tuskegee Inst it ut e. Carnegie gave money t o
colleges and t o libraries. Johns Hopkins was founded by a millionaire merchant , and millionaires
Cornelius Vanderbilt , Exra Cornell, James Duke, and Leland St anford creat ed universit ies in t heir
own names.

The rich, giving part of t heir enormous earnings in t his way, became known as philant hropist s.
These educat ional inst it ut ions did not encourage dissent ; t hey t rained t he middlemen in t he
American syst em-t he t eachers, doct ors, lawyers, administ rat ors, engineers, t echnicians, polit icians-
t hose who would be paid t o keep t he syst em going, t o be loyal buffers against t rouble.

In t he meant ime, t he spread of public school educat ion enabled t he learning of writ ing, reading,
and arit hmet ic for a whole generat ion of workers, skilled and semiskilled, who would be t he
lit erat e labor force of t he new indust rial age. It was import ant t hat t hese people learn obedience t o
aut horit y. A journalist observer of t he schools in t he 1890s wrot e: "The unkindly spirit of t he
t eacher is st rikingly apparent ; t he pupils, being complet ely subjugat ed t o her will, are silent and
mot ionless, t he spirit ual at mosphere of t he classroom is damp and chilly."

Back in 1859, t he desire of mill owners in t he t own of Lowell t hat t heir workers be educat ed was
explained by t he secret ary of t he Massachuset t s Board of Educat ion:

The owners of fact ories are more concerned t han ot her classes and int erest s in t he int elligence of
t heir laborers. When t he lat t er are well-educat ed and t he former are disposed t o deal just ly,
cont roversies and st rikes can never occur, nor can t he minds of t he masses be prejudiced by
demagogues and cont rolled by t emporary and fact ious considerat ions.

Joel Spring, in his book Educat ion and t he Rise of t he Corporat e St at e, says: "The development of a
fact ory-like syst em in t he ninet eent h-cent ury schoolroom was not accident al."

This cont inued int o t he t went iet h cent ury, when William Bagley's Classroom Management became
a st andard t eacher t raining t ext , reprint ed t hirt y t imes. Bagley said: "One who st udies educat ional
t heory aright can see in t he mechanical rout ine of t he classroom t he educat ive forces t hat are slowly
t ransforming t he child from a lit t le savage int o a creat ure of law and order, fit for t he life of civilized
societ y."

It was in t he middle and lat e ninet eent h cent ury t hat high schools developed as aids t o t he
indust rial syst em, t hat hist ory was widely required in t he curriculum t o fost er pat riot ism. Loyalt y
oat hs, t eacher cert ificat ion, and t he requirement of cit izenship were int roduced t o cont rol bot h t he
educat ional and t he polit ical qualit y of t eachers. Also, in t he lat t er part of t he cent ury, school
officials-not t eachers-were given cont rol over t ext books. Laws passed by t he st at es barred cert ain
kinds of t ext books. Idaho and Mont ana, for inst ance, forbade t ext books propagat ing "polit ical"
doct rines, and t he Dakot a t errit ory ruled t hat school libraries could not have "part isan polit ical
pamphlet s or books." Against t his gigant ic organizat ion of knowledge and educat ion for ort hodoxy
and obedience, t here arose a lit erat ure of dissent and prot est , which had t o make it s way from
reader t o reader against great obst acles. Henry George, a self-educat ed workingman from a poor
Philadelphia family, who became a newspaperman and an economist , wrot e a book t hat was
published in 1879 and sold millions of copies, not only in t he Unit ed St at es, but all over t he world.
His book Progress and Povert y argued t hat t he basis of wealt h was land, t hat t his was becoming
monopolized, and t hat a single t ax on land, abolishing all ot hers, would bring enough revenue t o
solve t he problem of povert y and equalize wealt h in t he nat ion. Readers may not have been
persuaded of his solut ions, but t hey could see in t heir own lives t he accuracy of his observat ions:

It is t rue t hat wealt h has been great ly increased, and t hat t he average of comfort , leisure and
refinement has been raised; hut t hese gains are not general. In t hem t he lowest class do not share.. . .
This associat ion of povert y wit h progress is t he great enigma of our t imes. ... There is a vague but
general feeling of disappoint ment ; an increased bit t erness among t he working classes; a widespread
feeling of unrest and brooding revolut ion.. . . The civ-ili7,ed world is t rembling on t he verge of a
great movement . Eit her it must he a leap upward, which will open t he way t o advances yet
undreamed of, or it must he a plunge downward which will carry us back t oward barbarism. ...

A different kind of challenge t o t he economic and social syst em was given by Edward Bellamy, a
lawyer and writ er from west ern Massachuset t s, who wrot e, in simple, int riguing language, a novel
called Looking Backward, in which t he aut hor fells asleep and wakes up in t he year 2000, t o find a
socialist ic societ y in which people work and live cooperat ively. Looking Backward, which
described socialism vividly, lovingly, sold a million copies in a few years, and over a hundred groups
were organized around t he count ry t o t ry t o make t he dream come t rue.

It seemed t hat despit e t he st renuous effort s of government , business, t he church, t he schools, t o
cont rol t heir t hinking, millions of Americans were ready t o consider harsh crit icism of t he exist ing
syst em, t o cont emplat e ot her possible ways of living. They were helped in t his by t he great
movement s of workers and farmers t hat swept t he count ry in t he 1880s and 1890s. These
movement s went beyond t he scat t ered st rikes and t enant s' st ruggles of t he period 1830-1877. They
were nat ionwide movement s, more t hreat ening t han before t o t he ruling elit e, more dangerously
suggest ive. It was a t ime when revolut ionary organizat ions exist ed in major American cit ies, and
revolut ionary t alk was in t he air.

In t he 1880s and 1890s, immigrant s were pouring in from Europe at a fast er rat e t han before. They
all went t hrough t he harrowing ocean voyage of t he poor. Now t here were not so many Irish and
German immigrant s as It alians, Russians, Jews, Greeks-people from Sout hern and East ern Europe,
even more alien t o nat ive-born Anglo-Saxons t han t he earlier newcomers.

How t he immigrat ion of different et hnic groups cont ribut ed t o t he fragment at ion of t he working
class, how conflict s developed among groups facing t he same difficult condit ions, is shown in an
art icle in a Bohemian newspaper, Svornost , of February 27, 1880. A pet it ion of 258 parent s and
guardians at t he Throop School in New York, signed by over half t he t axpayers of t he school
dist rict , said "t he pet it ioners have just as much right t o request t he t eaching of Bohemian as have
t he German cit izens t o have German t aught in t he public schools.... In opposit ion t o t his, Mr.
Vocke claims t hat t here is a great deal of difference bet ween Germans and Bohemians, or in ot her
words, t hey are superior."

The Irish, st ill recalling t he hat red against t hem when t hey arrived, began t o get jobs wit h t he new
polit ical machines t hat want ed t heir vot e. Those who became policemen encount ered t he new
Jewish immigrant s. On July 30, 1902, New York's Jewish communit y held a mass funeral for an
import ant rabbi, and a riot t ook place, led by Irish who resent ed Jews coming int o t heir
neighborhood. The police force was dominant ly Irish, and t he official invest igat ion of t he riot
indicat ed t he police helped t he riot ers: ". .. it appears t hat charges of unprovoked and most brut al
clubbing have been made against policemen, wit h t he result t hat t hey were reprimanded or fined a
day's pay and were yet ret ained upon t he force." There was desperat e economic compet it ion among
t he newcomers. By 1880, Chinese immigrant s, brought in by t he railroads t o do t he backbreaking
labor at pit iful wages, numbered 75,000 in California, almost one-t ent h of t he populat ion. They
became t he object s of cont inuous violence. The novelist Bret Hart e wrot e an obit uary for a Chinese
man named Wan Lee:

Dead, my revered friends, dead. St oned t o deat h in t he st reet s of San Francisco, in t he year of grace
1869 by a mob of halfgrown boys and Christ ian school children.

In Rock Springs, Wyoming, in t he summer of 1885, whit es at t acked five hundred Chinese miners,
massacring t went y-eight of t hem in cold blood.

The new immigrant s became laborers, housepaint ers, st onecut t ers, dit chdiggers. They were oft en
import ed en masse by cont ract ors. One It alian man, t old he was going t o Connect icut t o work on
t he railroad, was t aken inst ead t o sulfat e mines in t he Sout h, where he and his fellows were
wat ched over by armed guards in t heir barracks and in t he mines, given only enough money t o pay
for t heir railroad fare and t ools, and very lit t le t o eat . He and ot hers decided t o escape. They were
capt ured at gunpoint , ordered t o work or t he; t hey st ill refused and were brought before a judge,
put in manacles, and, five mont hs aft er t heir arrival, finally dismissed. "My comrades t ook t he t rain
for New York. I had only one dollar, and wit h t his, not knowing eit her t he count ry or t he language,
I had t o walk t o New York. Aft er fort y-t wo days I arrived in t he cit y ut t erly exhaust ed."

Their condit ions led somet imes t o rebellion. A cont emporary observer t old how "some It alians who
worked in a localit y near Deal Lake, New Jersey, failing t o receive t heir wages, capt ured t he
cont ract or and shut him up in t he shant y, where he remained a prisoner unt il t he count y sheriff
came wit h a posse t o his rescue."

A t raffic in immigrant child laborers developed, eit her by cont ract wit h desperat e parent s in t he
home count ry or by kidnapping. The children were t hen supervised by "padrones" in a form of
slavery, somet imes sent out as beggar musicians. Droves of t hem roamed t he st reet s of New York
and Philadelphia.

As t he immigrant s became nat uralized cit izens, t hey were brought int o t he American t wo-part y
syst em, invit ed t o be loyal t o one part y or t he ot her, t heir polit ical energy t hus siphoned int o
elect ions. An art icle in L'lt alia, in November 1894, called for It alians t o support t he Republican
part y:

When American cit izens of foreign birt h refuse t o ally t hemselves wit h t he Republican Part y, t hey
make war upon t heir own welfare. The Republican Part y st ands for all t hat t he people fight for in
t he Old World. It is t he champion of freedom, progress, order, and law. It is t he st eadfast foe of
monarchial class role.

There were 5!/2 million immigrant s in t he 1880s, 4 million in t he 1890s, creat ing a labor surplus t hat
kept wages down. The immigrant s were more cont rollable, more helpless t han nat ive workers; t hey
were cult urally displaced, at odds wit h one anot her, t herefore useful as st rikebreakers. Oft en t heir
children worked, int ensifying t he problem of an oversized labor force and joblessness; in 1880 t here
were 1,118,000 children under sixt een (one out of six) at work in t he Unit ed St at es. Wit h everyone
working long hours, families oft en became st rangers t o one anot her. A pant s presser named Morris
Rosenfeld wrot e a poem, "My Boy," which became widely reprint ed and recit ed:

I have a lit t le boy at home,
A pret t y lit t le son;
I t hink somet imes t he world is mine
In him, my only one. . . .

'Ere dawn my labor drives me fort h; Tis night when I am free; A st ranger am I t o my child; And
st ranger my child t o me. ...

Women immigrant s became servant s, prost it ut es, housewives, fact ory workers, and somet imes
rebels. Leonora Barry was born in Ireland and brought t o t he Unit ed St at es. She got married, and
when her husband died she went t o work in a hosiery mill in upst at e New York t o support t hree
young children, earning 65 cent s her first week. She joined t he Knight s of Labor, which had fift y
t housand women members in 192 women's assemblies by 1886. She became "mast er workman" of
her assembly of 927 women, and was appoint ed t o work for t he Knight s as a general invest igat or,
t o "go fort h and educat e her sist er working-women and t he public generally as t o t heir needs and
necessit ies." She described t he biggest problem of women workers: "Through long years of
endurance t hey have acquired, as a sort of second nat ure, t he habit of submission and accept ance
wit hout quest ion of any t erms offered t hem, wit h t he pessimist ic view of life in which t hey see no
hope." Her report for t he year 1888 showed: 537 request s t o help women organize, 100 cit ies and
t owns visit ed, 1,900 leaflet s dist ribut ed.

In 1884, women's assemblies of t ext ile workers and hat makers went on st rike. The following year
in New York, cloak and shirt makers, men and women (holding separat e meet ings but act ing
t oget her), went on st rike. The New York World called it "a revolt for bread and but t er." They won
higher wages and short er hours.

That wint er in Yonkers, a few women carpet weavers were fired for joining t he Knight s, and in t he
cold of February, 2,500 women walked out and picket ed t he mill. Only seven hundred of t hem were
members of t he Knight s, but all t he st rikers soon joined. The police at t acked t he picket line and
arrest ed t hem, but a jury found t hem not guilt y. A great dinner was held by working people in New
York t o honor t hem, wit h t wo t housand delegat es from unions all over t he cit y. The st rike last ed
six mont hs, and t he women won some of t heir demands, get t ing back t heir jobs, but wit hout
recognit ion of t heir union.

What was ast onishing in so many of t hese st ruggles was not t hat t he st rikers did not win all t hat
t hey want ed, but t hat , against such great odds, t hey dared t o resist , and were not dest royed.

Perhaps it was t he recognit ion t hat day-t o-day combat was not enough, t hat fundament al change
was needed, which st imulat ed t he growt h of revolut ionary movement s at t his t ime. The Socialist
Labor part y, formed in 1877, was t iny, and t orn by int ernal argument s, but it had some influence in
organizing unions among foreign workers. In New York, Jewish socialist s organized and put out a
newspaper. In Chicago, German revolut ionaries, along wit h nat ive-born radicals like Albert
Parsons, formed Social Revolut ionary clubs. In 1883, an anarchist congress t ook place in Pit t sburgh.
It drew up a manifest o:

... All laws are direct ed against t he working people. . .. Even t he school serves only t he purpose of
furnishing t he offspring of t he wealt hy wit h t hose qualit ies necessary t o uphold t heir class
dominat ion. The children of t he poor get scarcely a formal element ary t raining, and t his, t oo, is
mainly direct ed t o such branches as t end t o producing prejudices, arrogance, and servilit y; in short ,
want of sense. The Church finally seeks t o make complet e idiot s out of t he mass and t o make t hem
forego t he paradise on eart h by promising a fict it ious heaven. The capit alist press, on t he ot her
hand, t akes care of t he confusion of spirit s in public life. . .. The workers can t herefore expect no
help from any capit alist ic part y in t heir st ruggle against t he exist ing syst em. They must achieve
t heir liberat ion by t heir own effort s. As in former t imes, a privileged class never surrenders it s
t yranny, neit her can it be expect ed t hat t he capit alist s of t his age will give up t heir rulership
wit hout being forced t o do it . ...

The manifest o asked "equal right s for all wit hout dist inct ion t o sex or race." It quot ed t he
Communist Manifest o: "Workmen of all lands, unit e! You have not hing t o lose but your chains; you
have a world t o win!"

In Chicago, t he new Int ernat ional Working People's Associat ion had five t housand members,
published newspapers in five languages, organized mass demonst rat ions and parades, and t hrough
it s leadership in st rikes was a powerful influence in t he t went y-t wo unions t hat made up t he
Cent ral Labor Union of Chicago. There were differences in t heory among all t hese revolut ionary
groups, but t he t heorist s were oft en brought t oget her by t he pract ical needs of labor st ruggles, and
t here were many in t he mid-1880s. hi early 1886, t he Texas & Pacific Railroad fired a leader of t he
dist rict assembly of t he Knight s of Labor, and t his led t o a st rike which spread t hroughout t he
Sout hwest , t ying up t raffic as far as St . Louis and Kansas Cit y. Nine young men recruit ed in New
Orleans as marshals, brought t o Texas t o prot ect company propert y, learned about t he st rike and
quit t heir jobs, saying, "as man t o man we could not just ifiably go t o work and t ake t he bread out of
our fellow-workmen's mout hs, no mat t er how much we needed it ourselves." They were t hen
arrest ed for defrauding t he company by refusing t o work, and sent enced t o t hree mont hs in t he
Galvest on count y jail.

The st rikers engaged in sabot age. A news dispat ch from At chison, Kansas:

At 12:45 t his morning t he men on guard at t he Missouri Pacific roundhouse were surprised by t he
appearance of 35 or 40 masked men. The guards were corralled in t he oil room by a det achment of
t he visit ors who st ood guard wit h pist ols .. . while t he rest of t hem t horoughly disabled 12
locomot ives which st ood in t he st alls.

In April, in East St . Louis, t here was a bat t le bet ween st rikers and police. Seven workingmen were
killed, whereupon workers burned t he freight depot of t he Louisville & Nashville. The governor
declared mart ial law and sent in seven hundred Nat ional Guardsmen. Wit h mass arrest s, violent
at t acks by sheriffs and deput ies, no support from t he skilled, paid-paid workers of t he Railway
Brot herhoods, t he st rikers could not hold out . Aft er several mont hs t hey surrendered, and many of
t hem were blacklist ed.

By t he spring of 1886, t he movement for an eight -hour day had grown. On May 1, t he American
Federat ion of Labor, now five years old, called for nat ionwide st rikes wherever t he eight -hour day
was refused. Terence Powderly, head of t he Knight s of Labor, opposed t he st rike, saying t hat
employers and employees must first he educat ed on t he eight -hour day, but assemblies of t he
Knight s made plans t o st rike. The grand chief of t he Brot herhood of Locomot ive Engineers opposed
t he eight -hour day, saying "t wo hours less work means t wo hours more loafing about t he corners
and t wo hours more for drink," but railroad workers did not agree and support ed t he eight -hour
movement .

So, 350,000 workers in 11,562 est ablishment s all over t he count ry went out on st rike. In Det roit ,
11,000 workers marched in an eight -hour parade. In New York, 25,000 formed a t orchlight
procession along Broadway, headed by 3,400 members of t he Bakers' Union. In Chicago, 40,000
st ruck, and 45,000 were grant ed a short er working day t o prevent t hem from st riking. Every
railroad in Chicago st opped running, and most of t he indust ries in Chicago were paralyzed. The
st ockyards were closed down.

A "Cit izens' Commit t ee" of businessmen met daily t o map st rat egy in Chicago. The st at e milit ia had
been called out , t he police were ready, and t he Chicago Mail on May 1 asked t hat Albert Parsons
and August Spies, t he anarchist leaders of t he Int ernat ional Working People's Associat ion, be
wat ched. "Keep t hem in view. Hold t hem personally responsible for any t rouble t hat occurs. Make
an example of t hem if t rouble occurs."

Under t he leadership of Parsons and Spies, t he Cent ral Labor Union, wit h t went y-t wo unions, had
adopt ed a fiery resolut ion in t he fall of 1885:

Be it Resolved, That we urgent ly call upon t he wage-earning class t o arm it self in order t o he able t o
put fort h against t heir exploit ers such an argument which alone can be effect ive: Violence, and
furt her be it Resolved, t hat not wit hst anding t hat we expect very lit t le from t he int roduct ion of t he
eight -hour day, we firmly promise t o assist our more backward bret hren in t his class st ruggle wit h
all means and power at our disposal, so long as t hey will cont inue t o show an open and resolut e
front t o our common oppressors, t he arist ocrat ic vagabonds and exploit ers. Our war-cry is "Deat h
t o t he foes of t he human race."

On May 3, a series of event s t ook place which were t o put Parsons and Spies in exact ly t he posit ion
t hat t he Chicago Mail had suggest ed ("Make an example of t hem if t rouble occurs"). That day, in
front of t he McCormick Harvest er Works, where st rikers and sympat hizers fought scabs, t he
police fired int o a crowd of st rikers running from t he scene, wounded many of t hem, and killed
four. Spies, enraged, went t o t he print ing shop of t he Arbeit er-Zeit ung and print ed a circular in
bot h English and German:


Workingmen, t o Anns!!!

. . . You have for years endured t he most abject humiliat ions; . . . you have worked yourself t o
deat h... your Children you have sacrificed t o t he fact ory lord-in short : you have been miserable and
obedient slaves all t hese years: Why? To sat isfy t he insat iable greed, t o fill t he coffers of your
t hieving mast er? When you ask t hem now t o lessen your burdens, he sends his bloodhounds out t o
shoot you, kill you! ... To arms we call you, t o arms!

A meet ing was called for Haymarket Square on t he evening of May 4, and about t hree t housand
persons assembled. It was a quiet meet ing, and as st orm clouds gat hered and t he hour grew lat e,
t he crowd dwindled t o a few hundred. A det achment of 180 policemen showed up, advanced on t he
speakers' plat form, ordered t he crowd t o disperse. The speaker said t he meet ing was almost over. A
bomb t hen exploded in t he midst of t he police, wounding sixt y-six policemen, of whom seven lat er
died. The police fired int o t he crowd, killing several people, wounding t wo hundred.

Wit h no evidence on who t hrew t he bomb, t he police arrest ed eight anarchist leaders in Chicago.
The Chicago Journal said: "Just ice should be prompt in dealing wit h t he arrest ed anarchist s. The
law regarding accessories t o crime in t his St at e is so plain t hat t heir t rials will be short ." Illinois law
said t hat anyone incit ing a murder was guilt y of t hat murder. The evidence against t he eight
anarchist s was t heir ideas, t heir lit erat ure; none had been at Haymarket t hat day except Fielden,
who was speaking when t he bomb exploded. A jury found t hem guilt y, and t hey were sent enced t o
deat h. Their appeals were denied; t he Supreme Court said it had no jurisdict ion.

The event aroused int ernat ional excit ement . Meet ings t ook place in France, Holland, Russia, It aly,
Spain. In London a meet ing of prot est was sponsored by George Bernard Shaw, William Morris,
and Pet er Kropot kin, among ot hers. Shaw had responded in his charact erist ic way t o t he t urning
down of an appeal by t he eight members of t he Illinois Supreme Court : "If t he world must lose eight
of it s people, it can bet t er afford t o lose t he eight members of t he Illinois Supreme Court ."

A year aft er t he t rial, four of t he convict ed anarchist s-Albert Parsons, a print er, August Spies, an
upholst erer, Adolph Eischer, and George Engel-were hanged. Louis Lingg, a t went y-one-year-old
carpent er, blew himself up in his cell by exploding a dynamit e t ube in his mout h. Three remained
in prison.

The execut ions aroused people all over t he count ry. There was a funeral march of 25,000 in
Chicago. Some evidence came out t hat a man named Rudolph Schnaubelt , supposedly an anarchist ,
was act ually an agent of t he police, an agent provocat eur, hired t o t hrow t he bomb and t hus enable
t he arrest of hundreds, t he dest ruct ion of t he revolut ionary leadership in Chicago. But t o t his day it
has not been discovered who t hrew t he bomb.

While t he immediat e result was a suppression of t he radical movement , t he long-t erm effect was t o
keep alive t he class anger of many, t o inspire ot hers-especially young people of t hat generat ion-t o
act ion in revolut ionary causes. Sixt y t housand signed pet it ions t o t he new governor of Illinois, John
Pet er Alt geld, who invest igat ed t he fact s, denounced what had happened, and pardoned t he t hree
remaining prisoners. Year aft er year, all over t he count ry, memorial meet ings for t he Haymarket
mart yrs were held; it is impossible t o know t he number of individuals whose polit ical awakening-
as wit h Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, long-t ime revolut ionary st alwart s of t he next
generat ion-came from t he Haymarket Affair.

(As lat e as 1968, t he Haymarket event s were alive; in t hat year a group of young radicals in Chicago
blew up t he monument t hat had been erect ed t o t he memory of t he police who died in t he
explosion. And t he t rial of eight leaders of t he ant iwar movement in Chicago around t hat t ime
evoked, in t he press, in meet ings, and in lit erat ure, t he memory of t he first "Chicago Eight ," on t rial
for t heir ideas.) Aft er Haymarket , class conflict and violence cont inued, wit h st rikes, lockout s,
blacklist ing, t he use of Pinkert on det ect ives and police t o break st rikes wit h force, and court s t o
break t hem by law. During a st rike of st reet car conduct ors on t he Third Avenue Line in New York a
mont h aft er t he Haymarket Affair, police charged a crowd of t housands, using t heir clubs
indiscriminat ely: "The New York Sun report ed: "Men wit h broken scalps were crawling off in all
direct ions...."

Some of t he energy of resent ment in lat e 1886 was poured int o t he elect oral campaign for mayor of
New York t hat fall. Trade unions formed an Independent Labor part y and nominat ed for mayor
Henry George, t he radical economist , whose Progress and Povert y had been read by t ens of
t housands of workers. George's plat form t ells somet hing about t he condit ions of life for workers in
New York in t he 1880s. It demanded:

1. t hat propert y qualificat ions be abolished for members of juries.

2. t hat Grand Jurors be chosen from t he lower-class as well as from t he upperclass, which
dominat ed Grand Juries.

3. t hat t he police not int erfere wit h peaceful meet ings.

4. t hat t he sanit ary inspect ion of buildings be enforced.

5. t hat cont ract labor be abolished in public works.

6. t hat t here be equal pay for equal work for women.

7. t hat t he st reet cars be owned by t he municipal government .

The Democrat s nominat ed an iron manufact urer, Abram HewiIt , and t he Republicans nominat ed
Theodore Roosevelt , at a convent ion presided over by EJihu Root , a corporat ion lawyer, wit h t he
nominat ing speech given by Chauncey Depew, a railroad direct or. In a campaign of coercion and
bribery, HewiIt was elect ed wit h 41 percent of t he vot e, George came second wit h 31 percent of t he
vot e, and Roosevelt t hird wit h 2 7 percent of t he vot e. The New York World saw t his as a signal:

The deep-voiced prot est conveyed in t he 67,000 vot es for Henry George against t he combined
power of bot h polit ical part ies, of Wall St reet and t he business int erest s, and of t he public press
should be a warning t o t he communit y t o heed t he demands of Labor so far as t hey are just and
reasonable. . ..

In ot her cit ies in t he count ry t oo, labor candidat es ran, polling 25,000 out of 92,000 vot es in
Chicago, elect ing a mayor in Milwaukee, and various local officials in Fort Wort h, Texas, Eat on,
Ohio, and Leadville, Colorado.

It seemed t hat t he weight of Haymarket had not crushed t he labor movement . The year 1886
became known t o cont emporaries as "t he year of t he great uprising of labor." From 1881 t o 1885,
st rikes had averaged about 500 each year, involving perhaps 150,000 workers each year. In 1886
t here were over 1,400 st rikes, involving 500,000 workers. John Commons, in his Hist ory of t he
Labor Movement in t he Unit ed St at es, saw in t hat :

... t he signs of a great movement by t he class of t he unskilled, which had finally risen in rebellion.. . .
The movement bore in every way t he aspect of a social war. A frenzied hat red of labour for capit al
was shown in every import ant st rike.. .. Ext reme bit t erness t oward capit al manifest ed it self in all
t he act ions of t he Knight s of Labor, and wherever t he leaders undert ook t o hold it wit hin bounds,
t hey were generally discarded by t heir followers. . ..

Even among sout hern blacks, where all t he milit ary, polit ical, and economic force of t he sout hern
st at es, wit h t he acquiescence of t he nat ional government , was concent rat ed on keeping t hem docile
and working, t here were sporadic rebellions. In t he cot t on fields, blacks were dispersed in t heir
work, but in t he sugar fields, work was done in gangs, so t here was opport unit y for organized
act ion. In 1HKO, t hey had st ruck t o get a dollar a day inst ead of 75 cent s, t hreat ening t o leave t he
st at e. St rikers were arrest ed and jailed, but t hey walked t he roads along t he sugar fields, carrying
banners: "A DOLLAR A DAY OR KANSAS." They were arrest ed again and again for t respassing,
and t he st rike was broken.

By 1886, however, t he Knight s of Labor was organizing in t he sugar fields, in t he peak year of t he
Knight s' influence. The black workers, unable t o feed and clot he t heir families on t heir wages, oft en
paid in st ore scrip, asked a dollar a day once more. The following year, in t he fall, close t o t en
t housand sugar laborers went on st rike, 90 percent of t hem Negroes and members of t he Knight s.
The milit ia arrived and gun bat t les began.

Violence erupt ed in t he t own of Thibodaux, which had become a kind of refugee village where
hundreds of st rikers, evict ed from t heir plant at ion shacks, gat hered, penniless and ragged, carrying
t heir bed clot hing and babies. Their refusal t o work t hreat ened t he ent ire sugar crop, and mart ial
law was declared in Thibodaux. Henry and George Cox, t wo Negro brot hers, leaders in t he Knight s
of Labor, were arrest ed, locked up, t hen t aken from t heir cells, and never heard from again. On t he
night of November 22, shoot ing broke out , each side claiming t he ot her was at fault ; by noon t he
next day, t hirt y Negroes were dead or dying, and hundreds wounded. Two whit es were wounded.
A Negro newspaper in New Orleans wrot e:

. . . Lame men and blind women shot ; children and hoary-headed grandsires rut hlessly swept down!
The Negroes offered no resist ance; t hey could not , as t he killing was unexpect ed. Those of t hem not
killed t ook t o t he woods, a majorit y of t hem finding refuge in t his cit y.. . .

Cit izens of t he Unit ed St at es killed by a mob direct ed by a St at e judge. .. . Laboring men seeking an
advance in wages, t reat ed as if diey were dogs! . ..

At such t imes and upon such occasions, words of condemnat ion fall like snow-flakes upon molt en
lead. The blacks should defend t heir lives, and if needs must t he, t he wit h t heir faces t oward t heir
persecut ors fight ing for t heir homes, t heir children and t heir lawful right s.

Nat ive-born poor whit es were not doing well eit her. In t he Sout h, t hey were t enant farmers rat her
t han landowners. In t he sout hern cit ies, t hey were t enant s, not homeowners. C. Vann Woodward
not es (Origins of t he New Sout h) t hat t he cit y wit h t he highest rat e of t enancy in t he Unit ed St at es
was Birmingham, wit h 90 percent . And t he slums of t he sout hern cit ies were among t he worst ,
poor whit es living like t he blacks, on unpaved dirt st reet s "choked up wit h garbage, filt h and mud,"
according t o a report of one st at e board of healt h.

There were erupt ions against t he convict labor syst em in t he Sout h, in which prisoners were leased
in slave labor t o corporat ions, used t hus t o depress t he general level of wages and also t o break
st rikes. In t he year 1891, miners of t he Tennessee Coal Mine Company were asked t o sign an "iron-
clad cont ract ": pledging no st rikes, agreeing t o get paid in scrip, and giving up t he right t o check
t he weight of t he coal t hey mined (t hey were paid by t he weight ). They refused t o sign and were
evict ed from t heir houses. Convict s were brought in t o replace t hem.

On t he night of Oct ober 31, 1891, a t housand armed miners t ook cont rol of t he mine area, set five
hundred convict s free, and burned down t he st ockades in which t he convict s were kept . The
companies surrendered, agreeing not t o use convict s, not t o require t he "ironclad cont ract /' and t o
let t he miners check on t he weight of t he coal t hey mined.

The following year, t here were more such incident s in Tennessee. C. Vann Woodward calls t hem
"insurrect ions." Miners overpowered guards of t he Tennessee Coal and Iron Company, burned t he
st ockades, shipped t he convict s t o Nashville. Ot her unions in Tennessee came t o t heir aid. An
observer report ed back t o t he Chat t anooga Federat ion of Trades:

I should like t o impress upon people t he ext ent of t his movement . I have seen t he writ t en assurance
of reinforcement s t o t he miners of fully 7500 men, who will be on t he field in t en hours aft er t he
first shot is fired. . .. The ent ire dist rict is as one over t he main proposit ion, "t he convict s must go". I
count ed 840 rifles on Monday as t he miners passed, while t he vast mult it ude following t hem
carried revolvers. The capt ains of t he different companies are all Grand Army men. Whit es and
Negroes are st anding shoulder t o shoulder.

That same year, in New Orleans, fort y-t wo union locals, wit h over t went y t housand members,
most ly whit e but including some blacks (t here was one black on t he st rike commit t ee), called a
general st rike, involving half t he populat ion of t he cit y. Work in New Orleans came t o a st op. Aft er
t hree days-wit h st rikebreakers brought in, mart ial law, and t he t hreat of milit ia-t he st rike ended
wit h a compromise, gaining hours and wages but wit hout recognit ion of t he unions as bargaining
agent s.

The year 1892 saw st rike st ruggles all over t he count ry: besides t he general st rike in New Orleans
and t he coal miners' st rike in Tennessee, t here was a railroad swit chmen's st rike in Buffalo, New
York, and a copper miners' st rike in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. The Coeur d'Alene st rike was marked by
gun bat t les bet ween st rikers and st rikebreakers, and many deat hs. A newspaper account of July 11,
1892, report ed:

... The long-dreaded conflict bet ween t he forces of t he st rikers and t he nonunion men who have
t aken t heir places has come at last . As a result five men are known t o be dead and 16 are already in
t he hospit al; t he Frisco mill on Canyon Creek is in nuns; t he Gem mine has surrendered t o t he
st rikers, t he anus of it s employees have been capt ured, and t he employees t hemselves have been
ordered out of t he count ry. Flushed wit h t he success of t hese vict ories t he t urbulent element
among t he st rikers are preparing t o move upon ot her st rongholds of t he non-union men... .

The Nat ional Guard, brought in by t he governor, was reinforced by federal t roops: six hundred
miners were rounded up and imprisoned in bullpens, scabs brought back, union leaders fired, t he
st rike broken.

In early 1892, t he Carnegie St eel plant at Homest ead, Pennsylvania, just out side of Pit t sburgh, was
being managed by Henry Clay Frick while Carnegie was in Europe. Frick decided t o reduce t he
workers' wages and break t heir union. He built a fence 3 miles long and 12 feet high around t he
st eelworks and t opped it wit h barbed wire, adding peepholes for rifles. When t he workers did not
accept t he pay cut , Frick laid off t he ent ire work force. The Pinkert on det ect ive agency was hired t o
prot ect st rikebreakers.

Alt hough only 750 of t he 3,800 workers at Homest ead belonged t o t he union, t hree t housand
workers met in t he Opera House and vot ed overwhelmingly t o st rike. The plant was on t he
Monongahela River, and a t housand picket s began pat rolling a 10-mile st ret ch of t he river. A
commit t ee of st rikers t ook over t he t own, and t he sheriff was unable t o raise a posse among local
people against t hem.

On t he night of July 5, 1892, hundreds of Pinkert on guards boarded barges 5 miles down t he river
from Homest ead and moved t oward t he plant , where t en t housand st rikers and sympat hizers
wait ed. The crowd warned t he Pinkert ons not t o st ep off t he barge. A st riker lay down on t he
gangplank, and when a Pinkert on man t ried t o shove him aside, he fired, wounding t he det ect ive in
t he t high. In t he gunfire t hat followed on bot h sides, seven workers were killed, The Pinkert ons
had t o ret reat ont o t he barges. They were at t acked from all sides, vot ed t o surrender, and t hen were
beat en by t he enraged crowd. There were dead on bot h sides. For t he next several days t he st rikers
were in command of t he area. Now t he st at e went int o act ion: t he governor brought in t he milit ia,
armed wit h t he lat est rifles and Gat ling guns, t o prot ect t he import of st rikebreakers.

St rike leaders were charged wit h murder; 160 ot her st rikers were t ried for ot her crimes. All were
acquit t ed by friendly juries. The ent ire St rike Commit t ee was t hen arrest ed for t reason against t he
st at e, but no jury would convict t hem. The st rike held for four mont hs, but t he plant was
producing st eel wit h st rikebreakers who were brought in, oft en in locked t rains, not knowing t heir
dest inat ion, not knowing a st rike was on. The st rikers, wit h no resources left , agreed t o ret urn t o
work, t heir leaders blacklist ed.

One reason for t he defeat was t hat t he st rike was confined t o Homest ead, and ot her plant s of
Carnegie kept working. Some blast furnace workers did st rike, but t hey were quickly defeat ed, and
t he pig iron from t hose furnaces was t hen used at Homest ead. The defeat kept unionizat ion from
t he Carnegie plant s well int o t he t went iet h cent ury, and t he workers t ook wage cut s and increases
in hours wit hout organized resist ance.

In t he midst of t he Homest ead st rike, a young anarchist from New York named Alexander
Berkman, in a plan prepared by anarchist friends in New York, including his lover Emma Goldman,
came t o Pit t sburgh and ent ered t he office of Henry Clay Frick, det ermined t o kill him. Berkman's
aim was poor; he wounded Frick and was overwhelmed, t hen was t ried and found guilt y of
at t empt ed murder. He served fourt een years in t he st at e penit ent iary. His Prison Memoirs of an
Anarchist gave a graphic descript ion of t he assassinat ion at t empt and of his years in prison, when
he changed his mind about t he usefulness of assassinat ions but remained a dedicat ed revolut ionary.
Emma Goldman's aut obiography, Living My Life, conveys t he anger, t he sense of injust ice, t he
desire for a new kind of life, t hat grew among t he young radicals of t hat day.

The year 1893 saw t he biggest economic crisis in t he count ry's hist ory. Aft er several decades of wild
indust rial growt h, financial manipulat ion, uncont rolled speculat ion and profit eering, it all
collapsed: 642 banks failed and 16,000 businesses closed down. Out of t he labor force of 15 million,
3 million were unemployed. No st at e government vot ed relief, but mass demonst rat ions all over t he
count ry forced cit y government s t o set up soup kit chens and give people work on st reet s or parks.
In New York Cit y, in Union Square, Emma Goldman addressed a huge meet ing of t he unemployed
and urged t hose whose children needed food t o go int o t he st ores and t ake it . She was arrest ed for
"incit ing t o riot " and sent enced t o t wo years in prison. In Chicago, it was est imat ed t hat 200,000
people were wit hout work, t he floors and st airways of Cit y Hall and t he police st at ions packed
every night wit h homeless men t rying t o sleep.

The Depression last ed for years and brought a wave of st rikes t hroughout t he count ry. The largest
of t hese was t he nat ionwide st rike of railroad workers in 1894 t hat began at t he Pullman Company
in Illinois, just out side of Chicago.

Annual wages of railroad workers, according t o t he report of t he commissioner of labor in 1890,
were $957 for engineers, t he arist ocrat s of t he railroad-but $575 for conduct ors, $212 for brakemen,
and $124 for laborers. Railroad work was one of t he most dangerous jobs in America; over t wo
t housand railroad workers were being killed each year, and t hirt y t housand injured. The railroad
companies called t hese "act s of God" or t he result of "carelessness" on t he part of t he workers, but
t he Locomot ive Firemen's Magazine said: "It comes t o t his: while railroad managers reduce t heir
force and require men t o do double dut y, involving loss of rest and sleep . . . t he accident s are
chargeable t o t he greed of t he corporat ion."

It was t he Depression of 1893 t hat propelled Eugene Debs int o a lifet ime of act ion for unionism and
socialism. Debs was from Terre Haut e, Indiana, where his fat her and mot her ran a st ore. He had
worked on t he railroads for four years unt il he was ninet een, but left when a friend was killed aft er
falling under a locomot ive. He came back t o join a Railroad Brot herhood as a hilling clerk. At t he
t ime of t he great st rikes of 1877, Debs opposed t hem and argued t here was no "necessary conflict
bet ween capit al and labor." But when he read Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, it deeply
affect ed him. He followed t he event s at Homest ead, Coeur d'Alene, t he Buffalo swit chmen's st rike,
and wrot e:

If t he year 1892 t aught t he world any lesson wort hy of heed, it was t hat t he capit alist class, like a
devilfish, had grasped t hem wit h it s t ent acles and was dragging t hem down t o fat homless dept hs of
degradat ion. 'lb escape t he prehensile clut ch of t hese monst ers, const it ut es a st anding challenge t o
organized labor for 1893.

In t he midst of t he economic crisis of 1893, a small group of railroad workers, including Debs,
formed t he American Railway Union, t o unit e all railway workers. Debs said:

2 79 A life purpose of mine has been t he federat ion of railroad employees. 1b unify t hem int o one
great body is my object . . . . Class enrollment fost ers class prejudices and class selfishness. ... It has
been my life's desire t o unify railroad employees and t o eliminat e t he arist ocracy of labor ... and
organize t hem so all will he on an equalit y. ...

Knight s of Labor people came in, virt ually merging t he old Knight s wit h t he American Railway
Union, according t o labor hist orian David Mont gomery.

Debs want ed t o include everyone, but blacks were kept out : at a convent ion in 1894, t he provision
in t he const it ut ion barring blacks was affirmed by a vot e of 112 t o 100. Lat er, Debs t hought t his
might have had a crucial effect on t he out come of t he Pullman st rike, for black workers were in no
mood t o cooperat e wit h t he st rikers.

In June 1894, workers at t he Pullman Palace Car Company went on st rike. One can get an idea of
t he kind of support t hey got , most ly from t he immediat e vicinit y of Chicago, in t he first mont hs of
t he st rike, from a list of cont ribut ions put t oget her by t he Reverend William H. Carwardine, a
Met hodist past or in t he company t own of Pullman for t hree years (he was sent away aft er he
support ed t he st rikers):

Typographical Union #16 Paint ers and Decorat ors Union #147 Carpent ers' Union No. 23 Thirt y-
fourt h Ward Republican Club Grand Crossing Police Hyde Park Wat er Depart ment Picnic at
Gardener's Park Milk Dealer's Union Hyde Park Liquor Dealers Fourt eent h Precinct Police St at ion
Swedish Concert Chicago Fire Depart ment German Singing Societ y Cheque from Anaconda,
Mont ana The Pullman st rikers appealed t o a convent ion of t he American Railway Union for
support :

Mr. President and Brot hers of t he American Railway Union. We st ruck at Pullman because we
were wit hout hope. We joined t he American Railway Union because it gave us a glimmer of hope.
Twent y t housand souls, men, women and lit t le ones, have t heir eyes t urned t oward t his convent ion
t oday, st raining eagerly t hrough dark despondency for a glimmer of t he heavensent message you
alone can give us on t his eart h... .

You all must know t hat t he proximat e cause of our st rike was t he discharge of t wo members of our
grievance commit t ee.... Five reduct ions in wages.. .. The last was t he most severe, amount ing t o
nearly t hirt y per cent , and rent s had not fallen. .. .

Wat er which Pullman buys from t he cit y at 8 cent s a t housand gallons he ret ails lo us at 500
percent advance. .. . Gas which sells at 75 cent s per t housand feet in Hyde Park, just nort h of us, he
sells for $2.25. When we went t o t ell him our grievances he said we were all his "children.".. .

Pullman, bot h t he man and t he t own, is an ulcer on t he body polit ic. He owns t he houses, t he
schoolhouses, and churches of God in t he t own he gave his once humble name....

And t hus t he merry war-t he dance of skelet ons bat hed in human t ears-goes on, and it will go on,
brot hers, forever, unless you, t he American Railway Union, st op it ; end it ; crush it out .

The American Railway Union responded. It asked it s members all over t he count ry not t o handle
Pullman cars. Since virt ually all passenger t rains had Pullman cars, t his amount ed t o a boycot t of all
t rains-a nat ionwide st rike. Soon all t raffic on t he t went y-four railroad lines leading out of Chicago
had come t o a halt . Workers derailed freight cars, blocked t racks, pulled engineers off t rains if t hey
refused t o cooperat e.

The General Managers Associat ion, represent ing t he railroad owners, agreed t o pay t wo t housand
deput ies, sent in t o break t he st rike. But t he st rike went on. The At t orney General of t he Unit ed
St at es, Richard Olney, a former railroad lawyer, now got a court injunct ion against blocking t rains,
on t he legal ground t hat t he federal mails were being int erfered wit h. When t he st rikers ignored
t he injunct ion, President Cleveland ordered federal t roops t o Chicago. On July 6, hundreds of cars
were burned by st rikers.

The following day, t he st at e milit ia moved in, and t he Chicago Times report ed on what followed:

Company C. Second Regiment . . . disciplined a mob of riot ers yest erday aft ernoon at Fort y-nint h
and Loomis St reet s. The police assist ed and . . . finished t he job. There is no means of knowing how
many riot ers were killed or wounded. The mob carried off many of it s dying and injured.

A crowd of five t housand gat hered. Rocks were t hrown at t he milit ia, and t he command was given
t o fire.

... To say t hat t he mob went wild is but a weak expression.. . . The command t o charge was given. . ..
From t hat moment only bayonet s were used. ... A dozen men in t he front line of riot ers received
bayonet woiinds. . ..

Tearing up cobble st ones, t he mob made a det ermined charge.... t he word was passed along t he line
for each officer t o t ake care of himself. One by one, as occasion demanded, t hey fired point blank
int o t he crowd.. .. The police followed wit h t heir clubs. A wire fence enclosed t he t rack. The riot ers
had forgot t en it ; when t hey t urned t o fly t hey were caught in a t rap.

The police were not inclined t o be merciful, and driving t he mob against t he barbed wires clubbed
it unmercifully. .. . The crowd out side t he fence rallied t o t he assist ance of t he riot ers.... The shower
of st ones was incessant . . ..

The ground over which t he fight had occurred was like a bat t lefield. The men shot by t he t roops
and police lay about like logs.. ..

In Chicago t hat day, t hirt een people were killed, fift y-t hree seriously wounded, seven hundred
arrest ed. Before t he st rike was over, perhaps t hirt y-four were dead. Wit h fourt een t housand police,
milit ia, t roops in Chicago, t he st rike was crushed. Debs was arrest ed for cont empt of court , for
violat ing t he injunct ion t hat said he could not do or say anyt hing t o carry on t he st rike. He t old t he
court : "It seems t o me t hat if it were not for resist ance t o degrading condit ions, t he t endency of our
whole civilizat ion would be downward; aft er a while we would reach t he point where t here would
be no resist ance, and slavery would come," Debs, in court , denied he was a socialist . But during his
six mont hs in prison, he st udied socialism and t alked t o fellow prisoners who were socialist s. Lat er
he wrot e: "I was t o be bapt ized in Socialism in t he roar of conflict ... in t he gleam of every bayonet
and t he flash of every rifle t he class st ruggle was revealed. ... This was my first pract ical st ruggle in

Two years aft er he came out of prison, Debs wrot e in t he Rail-way Times:

The issue is Socialism versus Capit alism. I am for Socialism because T am for humanit y. We have
been cursed wit h t he reign of gold long enough. Money const it ut es no proper basis of civilizat ion.
The t ime has come t o regenerat e societ y-we are on t he eve of a universal change.

Thus, t he eight ies and ninet ies saw burst s of labor insurrect ion, more organized t han t he
spont aneous st rikes of 1877. There were now revolut ionary movement s influencing labor st ruggles,
t he ideas of socialism affect ing labor leaders. Radical lit erat ure was appearing, speaking of
fundament al changes, of new possibilit ies for living.

In t his same period, t hose who worked on t he land-farmers, Nort h and Sout h, black and whit e-
were going far beyond t he scat t ered t enant prot est s of t he pre-Civil War years and creat ing t he
great est movement of agrarian rebellion t he count ry had ever seen.

When t he Homest ead Act was being discussed in Congress in 1860, a Senat or from Wisconsin said
he support ed it :

.. . because it s benign operat ion will post pone for cent uries, if it will not forever, all serious conflict
bet ween capit al and labor in t he older free St at es, wit hdrawing t heir surplus populat ion t o creat e
in great er abundance t he means of subsist ence.

The Homest ead Act did not have t hat effect . It did not bring t ranquilit y t o t he East by moving
Americans t o t he West . It was not a safet y valve for discont ent , which was t oo great t o be
cont ained t hat way. As Henry Nash Smit h says (Virgin Land), and as we have seen: "On t he
cont rary, t he t hree decades following it s passage were marked by t he most bit t er and widespread
labor t rouble t hat had yet been seen in t he Unit ed St at es."

It also failed t o bring peace t o t he farm count ry of t he West . Hamlin Garland, who made so many
Americans aware of t he life of t he farmer, wrot e in t he preface t o his novel Jason Edwards: 'Tree
land is gone. The last acre of available farmland has now passed int o privat e or corporat e hands." In
Jason Edwards a Bost on mechanic t akes his family West , drawn by advert ising circulars. But he
finds t hat all land wit hin 30 miles of a railroad has been t aken up by speculat ors. He st ruggles for
five years t o pay off a loan and get t it le t o his farm, and t hen a st orm dest roys his wheat just before
harvest .

Behind t he despair so oft en regist ered in t he farm count ry lit erat ure of t hat day, t here must have
been visions, from t ime t o t ime, of a different way t o live. In anot her Garland novel, A Spoil of
Office, t he heroine speaks at a farmers' picnic:

I see a t ime when t he fanner will not need t o live in a cabin on a lonely farm. I see t he fanners
coming t oget her in groups. I see t hem wit h t ime t o read, and t ime t o visit wit h t heir fellows. I see
t hem enjoying lect ures in beaut iful halls, erect ed in every village. I see t hem gat her like t he Saxons
of old upon t he green at evening t o sing and dance. T see cit ies rising near t hem wit h schools, and
churches, and concert halls and t heat ers. I see a day when t he farmer will no longer be a drudge and
his wife a bond slave, but happy men and women who will go singing t o t heir pleasant t asks upon
t heir fruit ful farms. When t he boys and girls will not go west nor t o t he cit y; when life will be
wort h living. In t hat day t he moon will be bright er and t he st ars more glad, and pleasure and poet ry
and love of life come back t o t he man who t ills t he soil.

Hamlin Garland dedicat ed Jason Ed-wards, writ t en in 1891, t o t he Farmers Alliance. It was t he
Farmers Alliance t hat was t he core of t he great movement of t he 1880s and 1890s lat er known as t he
Populist Movement .

Bet ween 1860 and 1910, t he U.S. army, wiping out t he Indian villages on t he Great Plains, paved t he
way for t he railroads t o move in and t ake t he best land. Then t he farmers came for what was left .
From 1860 t o 1900 t he populat ion of t he Unit ed St at es grew from 31 million t o 75 million; now 20
million people lived west of t he Mississippi, and t he number of farms grew from 2 million t o 6
million. Wit h t he crowded cit ies of t he East needing food, t he int ernal market for food was more
t han doubled; 82 percent of t he farm produce was sold inside t he Unit ed St at es.

Farming became mechanized-st eel plows, mowing machines, reapers, harvest ers, improved cot t on
gins for pulling t he fibers away from t he seed, and, by t he t urn of t he cent ury, giant combines t hat
cut t he grain, t hreshed it , and put it in bags. In 1830 a bushel of wheat had t aken t hree hours t o
produce. By 1900, it t ook t en minut es. Specializat ion developed by region: cot t on and t obacco in
t he Sout h, wheat and corn in t he Midwest .

Land cost money, and machines cost money-so farmers had t o borrow, hoping t hat t he prices of
t heir harvest s would st ay high, so t hey could pay t he bank for t he loan, t he railroad for
t ransport at ion, t he grain merchant for handling t heir grain, t he st orage elevat or for st oring it . But
t hey found t he prices for t heir produce going down, and t he prices of t ransport at ion and loans
going up, because t he individual farmer could not cont rol t he price of his grain, while t he
monopolist railroad and t he monopolist banker could charge what t hey liked.

William Faulkner, in his novel The Hamlet , described t he man on whom sout hern farmers

He was t he largest landholder ... in one count y, and Just ice of t he Peace in t he next , and elect ion
commissioner in bot h.... He was a fanner, a usurer, a vet erinarian.... He owned most of t he good land
in t he count y and held mort gages on most of t he rest . He owned t he st ore and t he cot t on gin and
t he combined grist mill and blacksmit h shop.. ..

The farmers who could not pay saw t heir homes and land t aken away. They became t enant s. By
1880, 25 percent of all farms were rent ed by t enant s, and t he number kept rising. Many did not even
have money t o rent and became farm laborers; by 1900 t here were 4J/2 million farm laborers in t he
count ry. It was t he fat e t hat await ed every farmer who couldn't pay his debt s.

Could t he squeezed and desperat e farmer t urn t o t he government for help? Lawrence Goodwyn, in
his st udy of t he Populist movement (The Democrat ic Promise), says t hat aft er t he Civil War bot h
part ies now were cont rolled by capit alist s. They were divided along Nort h-Sout h lines, st ill hung
over wit h t he animosit ies of t he Civil War. This made it very hard t o creat e a part y of reform
cut t ing across bot h part ies t o unit e working people Sout h and Nort h-t o say not hing of black and
whit e, foreign-born and nat ive-born.

The government played it s part in helping t he bankers and hurt ing t he farmers; it kept t he amount
of money-based on t he gold supply- st eady, while t he populat ion rose, so t here was less and less
money in circulat ion. The farmer had t o pay off his debt s in dollars t hat were harder t o get . The
bankers, get t ing t he loans back, were get t ing dollars wort h more t han when t hey loaned t hem out -
a kind of int erest on t op of int erest . That is why so much of t he t alk of farmers' movement s in t hose
days had t o do wit h put t ing more money in circulat ion-by print ing greenbacks (paper money for
which t here was no gold in t he t reasury) or by making silver a basis for issuing money.

It was in Texas t hat t he Farmers Alliance movement began. It was in t he Sout h t hat t he crop-lien
syst em was most brut al. By t his syst em t he fanner would get t he t hings he needed from t he
merchant : t he use of t he cot t on gin at harvest t ime, what ever supplies were necessary. He didn't
have money t o pay, so t he merchant would get a lien-a mort gage on his crop-on which t he farmer
might pay 25 percent int erest . Goodwyn says "t he crop lien syst em became for millions of
Sout herners, whit e and black, lit t le more t han a modified form of slavery." The man wit h t he ledger
became t o t he farmer "t he furnishing man," t o black farmers simply "t he Man." The farmer would
owe more money every year unt il finally his farm was t aken away and he became a t enant .

Goodwyn gives t wo personal hist ories t o illust rat e t his. A whit e farmer in Sout h Carolina, bet ween
1887 and 1895, bought goods and services from t he furnishing merchant for $2,681.02 but was able
t o pay only $687.31, and finally He had t o give his land t o t he merchant . A black farmer named Mat t
Brown, in Black Hawk, Mississippi, bet ween 1884 and 1901, bought his supplies from t he Jones
st ore, kept falling furt her and furt her behind, and in 1905 t he last ent ry in t he merchant 's ledger is
for a coffin and burial supplies.

How many rebellions t ook place against t his syst em we don't know. In Delhi, Louisiana, in 1889, a
gat hering of small farmers rode int o t own and demolished t he st ores of merchant s "t o cancel t heir
indebt edness," t hey said.

In t he height of t he 1877 Depression, a group of whit e farmers gat hered t oget her on a farm in Texas
and formed t he first "Farmers Alliance." In a few years, it was across t he st at e. By 1882, t here were
120 suballiances in t welve count ies. By 1886, 100,000 farmers had joined in t wo t housand
suballiances. They began t o offer alt ernat ives t o t he old syst em: join t he Alliance and form
cooperat ives; buy t hings t oget her and get lower prices. They began put t ing t heir cot t on t oget her
and selling it cooperat ively-t hey called it "bulking."

In some st at es a Grange movement developed; it managed t o get laws passed t o help farmers. But
t he Grange, as one of it s newspapers put it , "is essent ially conservat ive and furnishes a st able, well-
organized, rat ional and orderly opposit ion t o encroachment s upon t he libert ies of t he people, in
cont rast t o t he lawless, desperat e at t empt s of communism." It was a t ime of crisis, and t he Grange
was doing t oo lit t le. It lost members, while t he Farmers Alliance kept growing.

From t he beginning, t he Farmers Alliance showed sympat hy wit h t he growing labor movement .
When Knight s of Labor men went on st rike against a st eamship line in Galvest on, Texas, one of t he
radical leaders of t he Texas Alliance, William Lamb, spoke for many (but not all) Alliance members
when he said in an open let t er t o Alliance people: "Knowing t hat t he day is not far dist ant when t he
Farmers Alliance will have t o use Boycot t on manufact urers in order t o get goods direct , we t hink it
is a good t ime t o help t he Knight s of Labor. . .." Goodwyn says: "Alliance radicalism-Populism-
began wit h t his let t er."

The Texas Alliance president opposed joining t he boycot t , but a group of Alliance people in Texas
passed a resolut ion:

Whereas we see t he unjust encroachment s t hat t he capit alist s are making upon all t he different
depart ment s of labor ... we ext end t o t he Knight s of Labor our heart y sympat hy in t heir manly
st ruggle against monopolist ic oppression and ... we propose t o st and by t he Knight s.

In t he summer of 1886, in t he t own of Cleburne, near Dallas, t he Alliance gat hered and drew up
what came t o be known as t he "Cleburne Demands"-t he first document of t he Populist movement ,
asking "such legislat ion as shall secure t o our people freedom from t he onerous and shameful abuses
t hat t he indust rial classes are now suffering at t he hands of arrogant capit alist s and powerful
corporat ions." They called for a nat ional conference of all labor organizat ions "t o discuss such
measures as may be of int erest t o t he laboring classes," and proposed regulat ion of railroad rat es,
heavy t axat ion of land held only for speculat ive purposes, and an increase in t he money supply.

The Alliance kept growing. By early 1887, it had 200,000 members in t hree t housand suballiances.
By 1892 farmer lect urers had gone int o fort y-t hree st at es and reached 2 million farm families in
what Goodwyn calls "t he most massive organizing drive by any cit izen inst it ut ion of ninet eent h
cent ury America," It was a drive based on t he idea of cooperat ion, of farmers creat ing t heir own
cult ure, t heir own polit ical part ies, gaining a respect not given t hem by t he nat ion's powerful
indust rial and polit ical leaders.

Organizers from Texas came t o Georgia t o form alliances, and in t hree years Georgia had 100,000
members in 134 of t he 137 count ies. In Tennessee, t here were soon 125,000 members and 3,600
suballiances in ninet y-t wo of t he st at e's ninet y-six count ies. The Alliance moved int o Mississippi
"like a cyclone," someone said, and int o Louisiana and Nort h Carolina. Then nort hward int o Kansas
and t he Dakot as, where t hirt y-five cooperat ive warehouses were set up.

One of t he leading figures in Kansas was Henry Vincent , who st art ed a journal in 1886 called The
American Nonconformist , and Kansas Indust rial Liberat or, saying in t he first issue:

This journal will aim t o publish such mat t er as will t end t o t he educat ion of t he laboring classes,
t he farmers and t he producer, and in every st ruggle it will endeavor t o t ake t he side of t he
oppressed as against t he oppressor.. ..

By 1889, t he Kansas Alliance had fift y t housand members and was elect ing local candidat es t o

Now t here were 400,000 members in t he Nat ional Farmers Alliance. And t he condit ions spurring
t he Alliance onward got worse. Corn which had brought 45 cent s a bushel in 1870 brought 10 cent s
a bushel in 1889. Harvest ing wheat required a machine t o bind t he wheat before it became t oo dry,
and t his cost several hundred dollars, which t he farmer had t o buy on credit , knowing t he $200
would be t wice as hard t o get in a few years. Then he had pay a bushel of corn in freight cost s for
every bushel he shipped. He had t o pay t he high prices demanded by t he grain elevat ors at t he
t erminals. In t he Sout h t he sit uat ion was worse t han anywhere-90 percent of t he farmers lived on
credit .

To meet t his sit uat ion, t he Texas Alliance formed a st at ewide cooperat ive, a great Texas Exchange,
which handled t he selling of t he farmers' cot t on in one great t ransact ion. But t he Exchange it self
needed loans t o advance credit t o it s members; t he banks refused. A call was issued t o farmers t o
scrape t oget her t he needed capit al for t he Exchange t o operat e. Thousands came on June 9, 1888, t o
t wo hundred Texas court houses and made t heir cont ribut ions, pledging $200,000. Ult imat ely,
$80,000 was act ually collect ed. It was not enough. The farmers' povert y prevent ed t hem from
helping t hemselves. The banks won, and t his persuaded t he Alliances t hat monet ary reform was

There was one vict ory along t he way. Farmers were being charged t oo much for jut e bags (t o put
cot t on in), which were cont rolled by a t rust . The Alliance farmers organized a boycot t of jut e, made
t heir own bags out of cot t on, and forced t he jut e manufact urers t o st art selling t heir bags at 5 cent s
a yard inst ead of 14 cent s.

The complexit y of Populist belief was shown in one of it s import ant leaders in Texas, Charles
Macune. He was a radical in economics (ant it rust , and capit alist ), a conservat ive in polit ics
(against a new part y independent of t he Democrat s), and a racist . Macune carne forward wit h a
plan t hat was t o become cent ral t o t he Populist plat form-t he sub-Treasury plan. The government
would have it s own warehouses where farmers would st ore produce and get cert ificat es from t his
sub-Treasury. These would be greenbacks, and t hus much more currency would be made available,
not dependent on gold or silver, but based on t he amount of farm produce.

There were more Alliance experiment s. In t he Dakot as, a great cooperat ive insurance plan for
farmers insured t hem against loss of t heir crops. Where t he big insurance companies had asked 50
cent s an acre, t he cooperat ive asked 25 cent s or less. It issued t hirt y t housand policies, covering 2
million acres.

Macune's sub-Treasury plan depended on t he government . And since it would not be t aken up by
t he t wo major part ies, it meant (against Macune's own beliefs) organizing a t hird part y. The
Alliances went t o work. In 1890 t hirt y-eight Alliance people were elect ed t o Congress. In t he
Sout h, t he Alliance elect ed governors in Georgia and Texas. It t ook over t he Democrat ic part y in
Georgia and won t hree-fourt hs of t he seat s in t he Georgia legislat ure, six of Georgia's t en

This was, however, Goodwyn says, "an elusive revolut ion, because t he part y machinery remained in
t he hands of t he old crowd, and t he crucial chairmanships of import ant commit t ees, in Congress, in
t he st at e legislat ures, remained in t he hands of t he conservat ives, and corporat e power, in t he
st at es, in t he nat ion, could use it s money t o st ill get what it want ed."

The Alliances were not get t ing real power, but t hey were spreading new ideas and a new spirit .
Now, as a polit ical part y, t hey became t he People's part y (or Populist part y), and met in convent ion
in 1890 in Topeka, Kansas. The great Populist orat or from t hat st at e, Mary Ellen Lease, t old an
ent husiast ic crowd:

Wall St reet owns t he count ry. It is no longer a government of t he people, by t he people, and for t he
people, but a government of Wall St reet , by Wall St reet and for Wall St reet .... Our laws are t he
out put of a syst em which clot hes rascals in robes and honest y in rags. . .. t he polit icians said we
suffered from overproduct ion. Overproduct ion, when 10,000 lit t lechildren . .. st arve t o deat h every
year in t he U.S. and over 100,000 shop girls in New York arc forced t o sell t heir virt ue for bread. ,..

There are t hirt y men in t he Unit ed St at es whose aggregat e wealt h is over one and one-half billion
dollars. There are half a million looking for work.. .. We want money, land and t ransport at ion. We
want t he abolit ion of t he Nat ional Banks, and we want t he power t o make loans direct from t he
government . We want t he accursed foreclosure syst em wiped out . . . . We will st and by our homes
and st ay by our firesides by force if necessary, and we will not pay our debt s t o t be loan-shark
companies unt il t he Government pays it s debt s t o us.

Tbe people are at bay, let t he bloodhounds of money who have dogged us t hus far beware.

At t he People's part y nat ional convent ion in 1892 in St . Louis, a plat form was drawn up. The
preamble was writ t en by, and read t o t he assemblage by, anot her of t he great orat ors of t he
movement , Ignat ius Donnelly:

We meet in t he midst of a nat ion brought t o t he verge of moral, polit ical and mat erial ruin.
Corrupt ion dominat es t he ballot box, t he legislat ures, t he Congress, and t ouches even t he ermine of
t he bench. These people are demoralized. . .. The newspapers are subsidized or muzzled; public
opinion silenced; business prost rat e, our homes covered wit h mort gages, labor impoverished, and
t he land concent rat ing in t he hands of capit alist s.

The urban workmen are denied t he right of organizat ion for self-prot ect ion; import ed pauperized
labor beat s down t heir wages; a hireling st anding army . .. est ablished t o shoot t hem down... . The
fruit s of t he t oil of millions are boldly st olen t o build up colossal fort unes. . .. From t he same prolific
womb of government al injust ice we breed t wo classes-paupers and millionaires... .

A People's part y nominat ing convent ion in Omaha in July of 1892 nominat ed James Weaver, an
Iowa Populist and former general in t he Union army, for President . The Populist movement was
now t ied t o t he vot ing syst em. Their spokesman Polk had said t hey could "link t heir hands and
heart s t oget her and march t o t he ballot box and t ake possession of t he government , rest ore it t o t he
principles of our fat hers, and run it in t he int erest of t he people." Weaver got over a million vot es,
but lost .

A new polit ical part y had t he job of unit ing diverse groups-nort hern Republicans and sout hern
Democrat s, urban workers and count ry fanners, black and whit e. A Colored Farmers Nat ional
Alliance grew in t he Sout h and had perhaps a million members, hut it was organized and led by
whit es. There were also black organizers, but it was not easy for t hem t o persuade black farmers
t hat , even if economic reforms were won, blacks would have equal access t o t hem. Blacks had t ied
t hemselves t o t he Republican part y, t he part y of Lincoln and civil right s laws. The Democrat s were
t he part y of slavery and segregat ion. As Goodwyn put s it , "in an era of t ranscendent whit e
prejudice, t he curbing of 'vicious corporat e monopoly' did not carry for black farmers t he ring of
salvat ion it had for whit e agrarians."

There were whit es who saw t he need for racial unit y. One Alabama newspaper wrot e:

The whit e and colored Alliance are unit ed in t heir war against t rust s, and in t he promot ion of t he
doct rine t hat farmers should est ablish cooperat ive st ores, and manufact ures, and publish t heir own
newspapers, conduct t heir own schools, and have a hand in everyt hing else t hat concerns t hem as
cit izens or affect s t hem personally or collect ively.

The official newspaper of t he Alabama Knight s of Labor, t he Alabama Sent inel, wrot e: "The
Bourbon Democracy are t rying t o down t he Alliance wit h t he old cry 'nigger'. It won't work
t hough."

Some Alliance blacks made similar calls for unit y. A leader of t he Florida Colored Alliance said:
"We are aware of t he fact t hat t he laboring colored man's int erest s and t he laboring whit e man's
int erest are one and t he same."

When t he Texas People's part y was founded in Dallas in t he summer of 1891, it was int erracial, and
radical. There was blunt and vigorous debat e among whit es and blacks. A black delegat e, act ive in
t he Knight s of Labor, dissat isfied wit h vague st at ement s about "equalit y," said:

If we are equal, why does not t he sheriff summon Negroes on juries? And why hang up t he sign
"Negro", in passenger cars. I want t o t ell my people what t he People's Part y is going t o do. T want
t o t ell t hem if it is going t o work a black and whit e horse in t he same field.

A whit e leader responded by urging t here be a black delegat e from every dist rict in t he st at e. "They
are in t he dit ch just like we are." When someone suggest ed t here be separat e whit e and black
Populist clubs which would "confer t oget her," R. M. Humphrey, t he whit e leader of t he Colored
Alliance, object ed: "This will not do. The colored people arc part of t he people and t hey must be
recognized as such." Two blacks were t hen elect ed t o t he st at e execut ive commit t ee of t he part y.

Blacks and whit es were in different sit uat ions. The blacks were most ly field hands, hired laborers;
most whit e Alliance people were farm owners. When t he Colored Alliance declared a st rike in t he
cot t on fields in 1891 for a dollar a day wages for cot t on pickers, Leonidas Polk, head of t he whit e
Alliance, denounced it as hurt ing t he Alliance farmer who would have t o pay t hat wage. In
Arkansas, a t hirt y-year-old black cot t on picker named Ben Pat t erson led t he st rike, t raveling from
plant at ion t o plant at ion t o get support , his band growing, engaging in gun bat t les wit h a whit e
posse. A plant at ion manager was killed, a cot t on gin burned. Pat t erson and his band were caught ,
and fift een of t hem were shot t o deat h.

There was some black-whit e unit y at t he ballot box in t he Sout h- result ing in a few blacks elect ed
in Nort h Carolina local elect ions. An Alabama whit e fanner wrot e t o a newspaper in 1892: "I wish
t o God t hat Uncle Sam could put bayonet s around t he ballot box in t he black belt on t he first
Monday in August so t hat t he Negro could get a fair vot e." There were black delegat es t o t hird-
part y convent ions in Georgia: t wo in 1892, t went y-four in 1894, The Arkansas People's part y
plat form spoke for t he "downt rodden, regardless of race."

There were moment s of racial unit y. Lawrence Goodwyn found in east Texas an unusual coalit ion
of black and whit e public officials: it had begun during Reconst ruct ion and cont inued int o t he
Populist period. The st at e government was in t he cont rol of whit e Democrat s, but in Grimes
Count y, blacks won local offices and sent legislat ors t o t he st at e capit al. The dist rict clerk was a
black man; t here were black deput y sheriffs and a black school principal. A night -riding Whit e
Man's Union used int imidat ion and murder t o split t he coalit ion, but Goodwyn point s t o "t he long
years of int erracial cooperat ion in Grimes Count y" and wonders about missed opport unit ies.

Racism was st rong, and t he Democrat ic part y played on t his, winning many fanners from t he
Populist part y. When whit e t enant s, failing in t he crop-lien syst em, were evict ed from t heir land
and replaced by blacks, race hat red int ensified. Sout hern st at es were drawing up new
const it ut ions, st art ing wit h Mississippi in 1890, t o prevent blacks from vot ing by various devices,
and t o maint ain ironclad segregat ion in every aspect of life.

The laws t hat t ook t he vot e away from blacks-poll t axes, lit eracy t est s, propert y qualificat ions-also
oft en ensured t hat poor whit es would not vot e. And t he polit ical leaders of t he Sout h knew t his. At
t he const it ut ional convent ion in Alabama, one of t he leaders said he want ed t o t ake away t he vot e
from "all t hose who arc unfit and unqualified, and if t he rule st rikes a whit e man as well as a negro
let him go." In Nort h Carolina, t he Charlot t e Observer saw disfranchisement as "t he st ruggle of t he
whit e people of Nort h Carolina t o rid t hemselves of t he dangers of t he rule of negroes and t he lower
class of whit es."

Tom Wat son, t he Populist leader of Georgia, pleaded for racial unit y:

You are kept apart t hat you may be separat ely fleeced of your earnings. You are made t o hat e each
ot her because upon t hat hat red is rest ed t he keyst one of t he arch of financial despot ism which
enslaves you bot h. You arc deceived and blinded t hat you may not see how t his race ant agonism
perpet uat es a monet ary syst em which beggars bot h.

According t o t he black scholar Robert Alien, t aking a look at Populism (Reluct ant Reformers),
Wat son want ed black support for a whit e man's part y. No doubt , when Wat son found t his
support embarrassing and no longer useful, he became as eloquent in affirming racism as he had
been in opposing it .

St ill, Wat son must have addressed some genuine feelings in poor whit es whose class oppression
gave t hem some common int erest wit h blacks. When H. S. Doyle, a young black preacher who
support ed Wat son for Congress, was t hreat ened by a lynch mob, he came t o Wat son for
prot ect ion, and t wo t housand whit e farmers helped Doyle escape.

It was a t ime t hat illust rat ed t he complexit ies of class and race conflict . Fift een blacks were
lynched during Wat son's elect ion campaign. And in Georgia aft er 1891 t he Alliance-cont rolled
legislat ure, Alien point s out , "passed t he largest number of ant i-black bills ever enact ed in a single
year in Georgia hist ory." And yet , in 1896, t he Georgia st at e plat form of t he People's part y
denounced lynch law and t errorism, and asked t he abolit ion of t he convict lease syst em.

C. Vann Woodward point s t o t he unique qualit y of t he Populist experience in t he Sout h: "Never
before or since have t he t wo races in t he Sout h come so close t oget her as t hey did during t he
Populist st ruggles."

The Populist movement also made a remarkable at t empt t o creat e a new and independent cult ure
for t he count ry's farmers. The Alliance Lect ure Bureau reached all over t he count ry; it had 35,000
lect urers. The Populist s poured out books and pamphlet s from t heir print ing presses. Woodward

One gat hers from yellowed pamphlet s t hat t he agrarian ideologist s undert ook t o re-educat e t heir
count rymen from t he ground up. Dismissing "hist ory as t aught in our schools" as "pract ically
valueless", t hey undert ook t o writ e it over-formidable columns of it , from t he Greek down. Wit h no
more compunct ion t hey t urned all hands t o t he revision of economics, polit ical t heory, law, and
government .

The Nat ional Economist , a Populist magazine, had 100,000 readers. Goodwyn count s over a
t housand Populist journals in t he 1890s. There were newspapers like t he Comrade, published in t he
cot t on count ry of Louisiana, and t he Toiler's Friend, in rural Georgia. Also, Revolut ion was
published in Georgia. In Nort h Carolina, t he Populist print ing plant was burned. In Alabama, t here
was t he Living Trut h. It was broken int o in 1892, it s t ype scat t ered, and t he next year t he shop was
set afire, but t he press survived and t he edit or never missed an issue.

Hundreds of poems and songs came out of t he Populist movement , like "The Fanner Is t he Man":

. . . t he farmer is t he man The Fanner is t he man Lives on credit t ill t he fall Wit h t he int erest rat es
so high It 's a wonder he don't t he And t he mort gage man's t he one t hat get s it all.

The farmer is t he man The farmer is t he man Lives on credit t ill t he fall And his pant s are wearing
t hin His condit ion it 's a sin lie's forgot t hat he's t he man t hat feeds t hem all.

Books writ t en by Populist leaders, such as Henry Demarest Lloyd's Wealt h Against
Commonwealt h, and William Harvey Coin's Financial School, were widely read. An Alabama
hist orian of t hat t ime, William GarroIt Brown, said about t he Populist movement t hat "no ot her
polit ical movement -not t hat of 1776, nor t hat of 1860-1861-ever alt ered Sout hern life so profoundly."

According t o Lawrence Goodwyn, if t he labor movement had been able t o do in t he cit ies what t he
Populist s did in t he rural areas, "t o creat e among urban workers a cult ure of cooperat ion, self-
respect , and economic analysis," t here might have been a great movement for change in t he Unit ed
St at es. There were only fit ful, occasional connect ions bet ween t he farmer and labor movement s.
Neit her spoke eloquent ly enough t o t he ot her's needs. And yet , t here were signs of a common
consciousness t hat might , under different circumst ances, lead t o a unified, ongoing movement .

Norman Pollack says, on t he basis of a close st udy of midwest ern Populist newspapers, t hat
"Populism regarded it self as a class movement , reasoning t hat farmers and workers were assuming
t he same mat erial posit ion in societ y." An edit orial in t he Farmers' Alliance spoke of a man working
fourt een t o sixt een hours a day: "He is brut alized bot h morally and physically. He has no ideas, only
propensit ies, he has no beliefs, only inst inct s." Pollack sees t hat as a homespun version of Marx's
idea of workers' alienat ion from his human self under capit alism, and finds many ot her parallels
bet ween Populist and Marxist ideas.

Undoubt edly, Populist s, along wit h most whit e Americans, had racism and nat ivism in t heir
t hinking. But part of it was t hat t hey simply did not t hink race as import ant as t he economic
syst em. Thus, t he Farmers' Alliance said: "The people's part y has sprung int o exist ence not t o make
t he black man free, but t o emancipat e all men ... t o gain for all indust rial freedom, wit hout which
t here can be no polit ical freedom. . . ."

More import ant t han t heoret ical connect ions were t he Populist expressions of support for workers
in act ual st ruggles. The Alliance-Independent of Nebraska, during t he great st rike at t he Carnegie
st eel plant , wrot e: "All who look beneat h t he surface will see t hat t he bloody bat t le fought at
Homest ead was a mere incident in t he great conflict bet ween capit al and labor." Coxey's march of
t he unemployed drew sympat hy in t he farm areas; in Osceola, Nebraska, perhaps five t housand
people at t ended a picnic in Coxey's honor. During t he Pullman st rike, a farmer wrot e t o t he
governor of Kansas: "Unquest ionably, nearly, if not quit e all Alliance people are in fullest sympat hy
wit h t hese st riking men."

On t op of t he serious failures t o unit e blacks and whit es, cit y workers and count ry fanners, t here
was t he lure of elect oral polit ics-all of t hat combining t o dest roy t he Populist movement . Once
allied wit h t he Democrat ic part y in support ing William Jennings Bryan for President in 1896,
Populism would drown in a sea of Democrat ic polit ics. The pressure for elect oral vict ory led
Populism t o make deals wit h t he major part ies in cit y aft er cit y. If t he Democrat s won, it would be
absorbed. If t he Democrat s lost , it would disint egrat e. Elect oral polit ies brought int o t he t op
leadership t he polit ical brokers inst ead of t he agrarian radicals.

There were t hose radical Populist s who saw t his. They said fusion wit h t he Democrat s t o t ry t o
"win" would lose what t hey needed, an independent polit ical movement . They said t he much-
ballyhooed free silver would not change anyt hing fundament al in t he capit alist syst em. One Texas
radical said silver coinage would "leave undist urbed all t he condit ions which give rise t o t he undue
concent rat ion of wealt h."

Henry Demarest Lloyd not ed t hat t he Bryan nominat ion was subsidized in part by Marcus Daly (of
Anaconda Copper) and William Randolph Hearst (of t he silver int erest s in t he West ). He saw
t hrough t he rhet oric of Bryan t hat st irred t he crowd of t went y t housand at t he Democrat ic
Convent ion ("we have pet it ioned, and our pet it ions have been scorned; we have ent reat ed, and our
ent reat ies have been disregarded; we have begged, and t hey have mocked when our calamit y came.
We beg no longer; we ent reat no more, we pet it ion no more. We defy t hem!"). Lloyd wrot e bit t erly:

The poor people are t hrowing up t heir hat s in t he air for t hose who promise t o lead t hem out of t he
wilderness by way of t he currency rout e. . .. The people arc t o be kept wandering fort y years in t he
currency labyrint h, as t hey have for t he last fort y years been led up and down t he t ariff bill.

In t he elect ion of 1896, wit h t he Populist movement ent iced int o t he Democrat ic part y, Bryan, t he
Democrat ic candidat e, was defeat ed by William McKinley, for whom t he corporat ions and t he
press mobilized, in t he first massive use of money in an elect ion campaign. Even t he hint of
Populism in t he Democrat ic part y, it seemed, could not be t olerat ed, and t he big guns of t he
Est ablishment pulled out all t heir ammunit ion, t o make sure.

It was a t ime, as elect ion t imes have oft en been in t he Unit ed St at es, t o consolidat e t he syst em aft er
years of prot est and rebellion. The black was being kept under cont rol in t he Sout h. The Indian was
being driven off t he west ern plains for good; on a cold wint er day in 1890, U.S. army soldiers
at t acked Indians camped at Wounded Knee, Sout h Dakot a, and killed t hree hundred men, women,
and children. It was t he climax t o four hundred years of violence t hat began wit h Columbus,
est ablishing t hat t his cont inent belonged t o whit e men. But only t o cert ain whit e men, because it
was clear by 1896 t hat t he st at e st ood ready t o crush labor st rikes, by t he law if possible, by force if
necessary. And where a t hreat ening mass movement developed, t he t wo-part y syst em st ood ready
t o send out one of it s columns t o surround t hat movement and drain it of vit alit y.

And always, as a way of drowning class resent ment in a flood of slogans for nat ional unit y, t here
was pat riot ism. McKinley had said, in a rare rhet orical connect ion bet ween money and flag:

... t his year is going t o be a year of pat riot ism and devot ion t o count ry. I am glad t o know t hat t he
people in every part of t he count ry mean t o be devot ed t o one flag, t he glorious St ars and St ripes;
t hat t he people of t his count ry mean t o maint ain t he financial honor of t he count ry as sacredly as
t hey maint ain t he honor of t he flag.

The supreme act of pat riot ism was war. Two years aft er McKinley became President , t he Unit ed
St at es declared war on Spain.


Theodore Roosevelt wrot e t o a friend in t he year 1897: "In st rict confidence ... I should welcome
almost any war, for I t hink t his count ry needs one."

The year of t he massacre at Wounded Knee, 1890, it was officially declared by t he Bureau of t he
Census t hat t he int ernal front ier was closed. The profit syst em, wit h it s nat ural t endency for
expansion, had already begun t o look overseas. The severe depression t hat began in 1893
st rengt hened an idea developing wit hin t he polit ical and financial elit e of t he count ry: t hat overseas
market s for American goods might relieve t he problem of underconsumpt ion at home and prevent
t he economic crises t hat in t he 1890s brought class war.

And would not a foreign advent ure deflect some of t he rebellious energy t hat went int o st rikes and
prot est movement s t oward an ext ernal enemy? Would it not unit e people wit h government , wit h
t he armed forces, inst ead of against t hem? This was probably not a conscious plan among most of
t he elit e-but a nat ural development from t he t win drives of capit alism and nat ionalism.

Expansion overseas was not a new idea. Even before t he war against Mexico carried t he Unit ed
St at es t o t he Pacific, t he Monroe Doct rine looked sout hward int o and beyond t he Caribbean.
Issued in 1823 when t he count ries of Lat in America were winning independence from Spanish
cont rol, it made plain t o European nat ions t hat t he Unit ed St at es considered Lat in America it s
sphere of influence. Not long aft er, some Americans began t hinking int o t he Pacific: of Hawaii,
Japan, and t he great market s of China.

There was more t han t hinking; t he American armed forces had made forays overseas. A St at e
Depart ment list , "Inst ances of t he Use of Unit ed St at es Armed Forces Abroad 1798-1945"
(present ed by Secret ary of St at e Dean Rusk t o a Senat e commit t ee in 1962 t o cit e precedent s for t he
use of aimed force against Cuba), shows 103 int ervent ions in t he affairs of ot her count ries bet ween
1798 and 1895. A sampling from t he list , wit h t he exact descript ion given by t he St at e Depart ment :

1852-53-Argent ina. Marines were landed and maint ained in Buenos Aires t o prot ect American
int erest s during a revolut ion.

1853-Nicaragua-t o prot ect American lives and int erest s during polit ical dist urbances.

1853-54-Japan-The "Opening of Japan" and t he Perry Expedit ion. [The St at e Depart ment does not
give more det ails, but t his involved t he use of warships t o force Japan t o open it s port s t o t he
Unit ed St at es.) 1853-54-Ryukyu and Bonin Islands-Commodore Perry on t hree visit s before going
t o Japan and while wait ing for a reply from Japan made a naval demonst rat ion, landing marines
t wice, and secured a coaling concession from t he ruler of Naha on Okinawa, lie also demonst rat ed
in t he Bonin Islands. All t o secure facilit ies for commerce.

1854-Nicaragua-San Juan del Nort e [Greyt own was dest royed t o avenge an insult t o t he American
Minist er t o Nicaragua.] 1855-Uruguay-U.S. and European naval forces landed t o prot ect American
int erest s during an at t empt ed revolut ion in Mont evideo.

1859-China-For t he prot ect ion of American int erest s in Shanghai.

1860-Angola, Port uguese West Africa-To prot ect American lives and propert y at Kissembo when
t he nat ives became t roublesome.

1893-Hawaii-Ost ensibly t o prot ect American lives and propert y; act ually t o promot e a provisional
government under Sanford B. Dole. This act ion was disavowed by t he Unit ed St at es.

1894-Nicaragua-To prot ect American int erest s at Bluefields following a revolut ion.

Thus, by t he 1890s, t here had been much experience in overseas probes and int ervent ions. The
ideology of expansion was widespread in t he upper circles of milit ary men, polit icians,
businessmen-and even among some of t he leaders of farmers' movement s who t hought foreign
market s would help t hem.

Capt ain A. T. Mahan of t he U.S. navy, a popular propagandist for expansion, great ly influenced
Theodore Roosevelt and ot her American leaders. The count ries wit h t he biggest navies would
inherit t he eart h, he said. "Americans must now begin t o look out ward." Senat or Henry Cabot
Lodge of Massachuset t s wrot e in a magazine art icle:

In t he int erest s of our commerce ... we should build t he Nicaragua canal, and for t he prot ect ion of
t hat canal and for t he sake of our commercial supremacy in t he Pacific we should cont rol t he
Hawaiian islands and maint ain our influence in Samoa. .. . and when t he Nicaraguan canal is built ,
t he island of Cuba ... will become a necessit y... . The great nat ions are rapidly absorbing for t heir
fut ure expansion and t heir present defense all t he wast e places of t he eart h. It is a movement which
makes for civilizat ion and t he advancement of t he race. As one of t he great nat ions of t he world t he
Unit ed St at es must not fall out of t he line of march.

A Washingt on Post edit orial on t he eve of t he Spanish-American war:

A new consciousness seems t o have come upon us-t he consciousness of st rengt h-and wit h it a new
appet it e, t he yearning t o show our st rengt h.. . . Ambit ion, int erest , land hunger, pride, t he mere joy
of fight ing, what ever it may be, we are animat ed by a new sensat ion. We arc face t o face wit h a
st range dest iny. The t ast e of Empire is in t he mout h of t he people even as t he t ast e of blood in t he
jungle.. ..

Was t hat t ast e in t he mout h of t he people t hrough some inst inct ive lust for aggression or some
urgent self-int erest ? Or was it a t ast e (it indeed it exist ed) creat ed, encouraged, advert ised, and
exaggerat ed by t he millionaire press, t he milit ary, t he government , t he eager-t o-please scholars of
t he t ime? Polit ical scient ist John Burgess of Columbia Universit y said t he Teut onic and Anglo-
Saxon races were "part icularly endowed wit h t he capacit y for est ablishing nat ional st at es . .. t hey
are ent rust ed ... wit h t he mission of conduct ing t he polit ical civilizat ion of t he modern world."

Several years before his elect ion t o t he presidency, William McKinley said: "We want a foreign
market for our surplus product s." Senat or Albert Beveridge of Indiana in early 1H97 declared:
"American fact ories are making more t han t he American people can use- American soil is producing
more t han t hey can consume. Fat e has writ t en our policy for us; t he t rade of t he world must and
shall be ours." The Depart ment of St at e explained in 1898:

It seems t o be conceded mat every year we shall be confront ed wit h an increasing surplus of
manufact ured goods for sale in foreign market s if American operat ives and art isans are t o be kept
employed t he year around.

The enlargement of foreign consumpt ion of t he product s of our mills and workshops has, t herefore,
become a serious problem of st at esmanship as well as of commerce.

These expansionist milit ary men and polit icians were in t ouch wit h one anot her. One of Theodore
Roosevelt 's biographers t ells us: "By 1890, Lodge, Roosevelt , and Mahan had begun exchanging
views," and t hat t hey t ried t o get Mahan off sea dut y "so t hat he could cont inue full-t ime his
propaganda for expansion." Roosevelt once sent Henry Cabot Lodge a copy of a poem by Rudyard
Kipling, saying it was "poor poet ry, but good sense from t he expansionist st andpoint ."

When t he Unit ed St at es did not annex Hawaii in 1893 aft er some Americans (t he combined
missionary and pineapple int erest s of t he Dole family) set up t heir own government , Roosevelt
called t his hesit ancy "a crime against whit e civilizat ion." And he t old t he Naval War College: "All
t he great mast erful races have been fight ing races. ... No t riumph of peace is quit e so great as t he
supreme t riumph of war."

Roosevelt was cont empt uous of races and nat ions he considered inferior. When a mob in New
Orleans lynched a number of It alian immigrant s, Roosevelt t hought t he Unit ed St at es should offer
t he It alian government some remunerat ion, but privat ely he wrot e his sist er t hat he t hought t he
lynching was "rat her a good t hing" and t old her he had said as much at a dinner wit h "various dago
diplomat s ... all wrought up by t he lynching."

William James, t he philosopher, who became one of t he leading ant i-imperialist s of his t ime, wrot e
about Roosevelt t hat he "gushes over war as t he ideal condit ion of human societ y, for t he manly
st renuousness which it involves, and t reat s peace as a condit ion of blubberlike and swollen
ignobilit y, fit only for huckst ering weaklings, dwelling in gray t wilight and heedless of t he higher
life. . . ."

Roosevelt 's t alk of expansionism was not just a mat t er of manliness and heroism; he was conscious
of "our t rade relat ions wit h China." Lodge was aware of t he t ext ile int erest s in Massachuset t s t hat
looked t o Asian market s. Hist orian Marilyn Young has writ t en of t he work of t he American China
Development Company t o expand American influence in China for commercial reasons, and of
St at e Depart ment inst ruct ions t o t he American emissary in China t o "employ all proper met hods
for t he ext ension of American int erest s in China." She says (The Rhet oric of Empire) t hat t he t alk
about market s in China was far great er t han t he act ual amount of dollars involved at t he t ime, but
t his t alk was import ant in shaping American policy t oward Hawaii, t he Philippines, and all of Asia.

While it was t rue t hat in 1898, 90 percent of American product s were sold at home, t he 10 percent
sold abroad amount ed t o a billion dollars. Walt er Lafeber writ es (The New Empire): "By 1893,
American t rade exceeded t hat of every count ry in t he world except England. Farm product s, of
course, especially in t he key t obacco, cot t on, and wheat areas, had long depended heavily on
int ernat ional market s for t heir prosperit y." And in t he t went y years up t o 1895, new invest ment s by
American capit alist s overseas reached a billion dollars. In 1885, t he st eel indust ry's publicat ion^^ of
St eel wrot e t hat t he int ernal market s were insufficient and t he overproduct ion of indust rial
product s "should be relieved and prevent ed in t he fut ure by increased foreign t rade."

Oil became a big export in t he 1880s and 1890s: by 1891, t he Rockefeller family's St andard Oil
Company account ed for 90 percent of American export s of kerosene and cont rolled 70 percent of
t he world market . Oil was now second t o cot t on as t he leading product sent overseas.

There were demands for expansion by large commercial farmers, including some of t he Populist
leaders, as William Appleman Williams has shown in The Root s of t he Modern American Empire.
Populist Congressman Jerry Simpson of Kansas t old Congress in 1892 t hat wit h a huge agricult ural
surplus, farmers "must of necessit y seek a foreign market ." True, he was not calling for aggression or
conquest -but once foreign market s were seen as import ant t o prosperit y, expansionist policies,
even war, might have wide appeal.

Such an appeal would be especially st rong if t he expansion looked like an act of generosit y-helping
a rebellious group overt hrow foreign rule-as in Cuba. By 1898, Cuban rebels had been fight ing t heir
Spanish conquerors for t hree years in an at t empt t o win independence. By t hat t ime, it was possible
t o creat e a nat ional mood for int ervent ion.

It seems t hat t he business int erest s of t he nat ion did not at first want milit ary int ervent ion in
Cuba. American merchant s did not need colonies or wars of conquest if t hey could just have free
access t o market s. This idea of an "open door" became t he dominant t heme of American foreign
policy in t he t went iet h cent ury. It was a more sophist icat ed approach t o imperialism t han t he
t radit ional empire-building of Europe. William Appleman Williams, in The Tragedy of American
Diplomacy^ says:

This nat ional argument is usually int erpret ed as a bat t le bet ween imperialist s led by Roosevelt and
Lodge and ant i-imperialist s led by William Jennings Bryan and Carl Schurz. It is far more accurat e
and illuminat ing, however, t o view it as a t hree-cornered fight . The t hird group was a coalit ion of
businessmen, int ellect uals, and polit icians who opposed t radit ional colonialism and advocat ed
inst ead a policy of an open door t hrough which America's preponderant economic st rengt h would
ent er and dominat e all underdeveloped areas of t he world.

However, t his preference on t he part of some business groups and polit icians for what Williams
calls t he idea of "informal empire," wit hout war, was always subject t o change. If peaceful
imperialism t urned out t o be impossible, milit ary act ion might be needed.

For inst ance, in lat e 1897 and early 1898, wit h China weakened by a recent war wit h Japan, German
milit ary forces occupied t he Chinese port of Tsingt ao at t he mout h of Kiaochow Bay and demanded
a naval st at ion t here, wit h right s t o railways and coal mines on t he nearby peninsula of Shant ung.
Wit hin t he next few mont hs, ot her European powers moved in on China, and t he part it ion of
China by t he major imperialist powers was under way, wit h t he Unit ed St at es left behind.

At t his point , t he New York Journal of Commerce, which had advocat ed peaceful development of
free t rade, now urged old-fashioned milit ary colonialism. Julius PraIt , a hist orian of U.S.
expansionism, describes t he t urnabout :

This paper, which has been heret ofore charact erized as pacifist , ant i-imperialist , and devot ed t o t he
development of commerce in a free-t rade world, saw t he foundat ion of it s fait h crumbling as a
result of t he t hreat ened part it ion of China. Declaring t hat free access t o t he market s of China, wit h
it s 400,000,000 people, would largely solve t he problem of t he disposal of our surplus
manufact ures, t he Journal came out not only for a st ern insist ence upon complet e equalit y of right s
in China but unreservedly also for an ist hmian canal, t he acquisit ion of Hawaii, and a mat erial
increase in t he navy-t hree measures which it had hit hert o st renuously opposed. Not hing could be
more significant t han t he manner in which t his paper was convert ed in a few weeks. . . .

There was a similar t urnabout in U.S. business at t it udes on Cuba in 1898. Businessmen had been
int erest ed, from t he st art of t he Cuban revolt against Spain, in t he effect on commercial
possibilit ies t here. There already was a subst ant ial economic int erest in t he island, which President
Grover Cleveland summarized in 1896:

It is reasonably est imat ed t hat at least from $30,000,000 t o $50,000,000 of American capit al are
invest ed in t he plant at ions and in railroad, mining, and ot her business ent erprises on t he island.
The volume of t rade bet ween t he Unit ed St at es and Cuba, which in 1889 amount ed t o about
$64,000,000, rose in 1893 t o about $103,000,000.

Popular support of t he Cuban revolut ion was based on t he t hought t hat t hey, like t he Americans of
1776, were fight ing a war for t heir own liberat ion. The Unit ed St at es government , however, t he
conservat ive product of anot her revolut ionary war, had power and profit in mind as it observed t he
event s in Cuba. Neit her Cleveland, President during t he first years of t he Cuban revolt , nor
McKinley, who followed, recognized t he insurgent s officially as belligerent s; such legal recognit ion
would have enabled t he Unit ed St at es t o give aid t o t he rebels wit hout sending an army. But t here
may have been fear t hat t he rebels would win on t heir own and keep t he Unit ed St at es out .

There seems also t o have been anot her kind of fear. The Cleveland administ rat ion said a Cuban
vict ory might lead t o "t he est ablishment of a whit e and a black republic," since Cuba had a mixt ure
of t he t wo races. And t he black republic might be dominant . This idea was expressed in 1896 in an
art icle in The Sat urday Review by a young and eloquent imperialist , whose mot her was American
and whose fat her was English-Winst on Churchill. He wrot e t hat while Spanish rule was bad and
t he rebels had t he support of t he people, it would be bet t er for Spain t o keep cont rol:

A grave danger represent s it self. Two-fift hs of t he insurgent s in t he field arc negroes. These men .. .
would, in t he event of success, demand a predominant share hi t he government of t he count ry . ..
t he result being, aft er years of fight ing, anot her black republic.

The reference t o "anot her" black republic meant Hait i, whose revolut ion against France in 1803 had
led t o t he first nat ion run by blacks in t he New World. The Spanish minist er t o t he Unit ed St at es
wrot e t o t he U.S. Secret ary of St at e:

In t his revolut ion, t he negro element has t he most import ant part . Not only t he principal leaders
are colored men, bur at least eight -t ent hs of t heir support ers. . . . and t he result of t he war, if t he
Island can be declared independent , will be a secession of t he black element and a black Republic.

As Philip Foner says in his t wo-volume st udy The Spanish-Cuban-American War, "The McKinley
Administ rat ion had plans for dealing wit h t he Cuban sit uat ion, but t hese did not include
independence for t he island." He point s t o t he administ rat ion's inst ruct ions t o it s minist er t o Spain,
St ewart Wbodford, asking him t o t ry t o set t le t he war because it "injuriously affect s t he normal
funct ion of business, and t ends t o delay t he condit ion of prosperit y," but not ment ioning freedom
and just ice for t he Cubans. Foiier explains t he rush of t he McKinley administ rat ion int o war (it s
ult imat um gave Spain lit t le t ime t o negot iat e) by t he fact t hat "if t he Unit ed St at es wait ed t oo long,
t he Cuban revolut ionary forces would emerge vict orious, replacing t he collapsing Spanish regime."

In February 1898, t he U.S. bat t leship Maine, in Havana harbor as a symbol of American int erest in
t he Cuban event s, was dest royed by a myst erious explosion and sank, wit h t he loss of 268 men.
There was no evidence ever produced on t he cause of t he explosion, but excit ement grew swift ly in
t he Unit ed St at es, and McKinley began t o move in t he direct ion of war. Walt er Lafeber says:

The President did not want war; he had been sincere and t ireless in his effort s t o maint ain t he
peace. By mid-March, however, lie was beginning t o discover t hat , alt hough he did not want war,
he did want what only a war could provide: t he disappearance of t he t errible uncert aint y in
American polit ical and economic life, and a solid basis from which t o resume t he building of t he
new American commercial empire.

At a cert ain point in t hat spring, bot h McKinley and t he business communit y began t o sec t hat
t heir object , t o get Spain out of Cuba, could not be accomplished wit hout war, and t hat t heir
accompanying object , t he securing of American milit ary and economic influence in Cuba, could not
be left t o t he Cuban rebels, hut could be ensured only by U.S. int ervent ion. The New York
Commercial Advert iser, at first against war, by March 10 asked int ervent ion in Cuba for "humanit y
and love of freedom, and above all, t he desire t hat t he commerce and indust ry of every part of t he
world shall have full freedom of development in t he whole world's int erest ."

Before t his, Congress had passed t he Teller Amendment , pledging t he Unit ed St at es not t o annex
Cuba. It was init iat ed and support ed by t hose people who were int erest ed in Cuban independence
and opposed t o American imperialism, and also by business people who saw t he "open door" as
sufficient and milit ary int ervent ion unnecessary. But by t he spring of 1898, t he business communit y
had developed a hunger for act ion. The Journal of Commerce said: "The Teller amendment . . . must
be int erpret ed in a sense somewhat different from t hat which it s aut hor int ended it t o bear."

There were special int erest s who would benefit direct ly from war. In Pit t sburgh, cent er of t he iron
indust ry, t he Chamber of Commerce advocat ed force, and t he Chat t anooga Tradesman said t hat
t he possibilit y of war "has decidedly st imulat ed t he iron t rade." It also not ed t hat "act ual war would
very decidedly enlarge t he business of t ransport at ion." In Washingt on, it was report ed t hat a
"belligerent spirit " had infect ed t he Navy Depart ment , encouraged "by t he cont ract ors for
project iles, ordnance, ammunit ion and ot her supplies, who have t hronged t he depart ment since t he
dest ruct ion of t he Maine."

Russell Sage, t he banker, said t hat if war came, "There is no quest ion as t o where t he rich men
st and." A survey of businessmen said t hat John Jacob Ast or, William Rockefeller, and Thomas
Fort une Ryan were "feeling milit ant ." And J. P. Morgan believed furt her t alk wit h Spain would
accomplish not hing.

On March 21, 1H98, Henry Cabot Lodge wrot e McKinley a long let t er, saying he had t alked wit h
"bankers, brokers, businessmen, edit ors, clergymen and ot hers" in Bost on, Lynn, and Nahant , and
"everybody," including "t he most conservat ive classes," want ed t he Cuban quest ion "solved." Lodge
report ed: "They said for business one shock and t hen an end was bet t er t han a succession of spasms
such as we must have if t his war in Cuba went on." On March 25, a t elegram arrived at t he Whit e
House from an adviser t o McKinley, saying: "Big corporat ions here now believe we will have war.
Believe all would welcome it as relief t o suspense."

Two days aft er get t ing t his t elegram, McKinley present ed an ult imat um t o Spain, demanding an
armist ice. He said not hing about independence for Cuba. A spokesman for t he Cuban rebels, part
of a group of Cubans in New York, int erpret ed t his t o mean t he U.S. simply want ed t o replace
Spain. He responded:

In t he face of t he present proposal of int ervent ion wit hout previous recognit ion of independence, it
is necessary for us t o go a st ep fart her and say t hat we must and will regard such int ervent ion as
not hing less t han a declarat ion of war by t he Unit ed St at es against t he Cuban revolut ionist s. . . .

Indeed, when McKinley asked Congress for war on April II, he did not recognize t he rebels as
belligerent s or ask for Cuban independence. Nine days lat er, Congress, by joint resolut ion, gave
McKinley t he power t o int ervene. When American forces moved int o Cuba, t he rebels welcomed
t hem, hoping t he Teller Amendment would guarant ee Cuban independence.

Many hist ories of t he Spanish-American war have said t hat "public opinion" in t he Unit ed St at es
led McKinley t o declare war on Spain and send forces t o Cuba. True, cert ain influent ial newspapers
had been pushing hard, even hyst erically. And many Americans, seeing t he aim of int ervent ion as
Cuban independence-and wit h t he Teller Amendment as guarant ee of t his int ent ion-support ed t he
idea. But would McKinley have gone t o war because of t he press and some port ion of t he public
(we had no public opinion surveys at t hat t ime) wit hout t he urging of t he business communit y?
Several years aft er t he Cuban war, t he chief of t he Bureau of Foreign Commerce of t he Depart ment
of Commerce wrot e about t hat period:

Underlying t he popular sent iment , which might have evaporat ed in t ime, which forced t he Unit ed
St at es t o t ake up arms against Spanish rule in Cuba, were our economic relat ions wit h t he West
Indies and t he Sout h American republics.. . . The Spanish-American War was hat an incident of a
general movement of expansion which had it s root s in t he changed environment of an indust rial
capacit y far beyond our domest ic powers of consumpt ion. It was seen t o be necessary for us not
only t o find foreign purchasers for our goods, but t o provide t he means of making access t o foreign
market s easy, economical and safe.

American labor unions had sympat hy for t he Cuban rebels as soon as t he insurrect ion against Spain
began in 1895. But t hey opposed American expansionism. Bot h t he Knight s of Labor and t he
American Federat ion of Labor spoke against t he idea of annexing Hawaii, which McKinley
proposed in 1897. Despit e t he feeling for t he Cuban rebels, a resolut ion calling for U.S. int ervent ion
was defeat ed at t he 1897 convent ion of t he AFL. Samuel Gompers of t he AFL wrot e t o a friend: "The
sympat hy of our movement wit h Cuba is genuine, earnest , and sincere, but t his does not for a
moment imply t hat we are commit t ed t o cert ain advent urers who are apparent ly suffering from
Hyst eria. . . ."

When t he explosion of t he Maine in February led t o excit ed calls for war in t he press, t he mont hly
journal of t he Int ernat ional Associat ion of Machinist s agreed it was a t errible disast er, but it not ed
t hat t he deat hs of workers in indust rial accident s drew no such nat ional clamor. It point ed t o t he
LaIt imer Massacre of Sept ember 10, 1897, during a coal st rike in Pennsylvania. Miners marching on
a highway t o t he LaIt imermint -Aust rians, Hungarians, It alians, Germans-who had originally been
import ed as st rikebreakers but t hen organized t hemselves, refused t o disperse, whereupon t he
sheriff and his deput ies opened fire, killing ninet een of t hem, most shot in t he back, wit h no out cry
in t he press. The labor journal said t hat t he . .. carnival of carnage t hat t akes place every day, mont h,
and year in t he realm of indust ry, t he t housands of useful lives annually sacrificed t o t he Moloch of
greed, t he blood t ribut e paid by labor t o capit alism, brings fort h no shout for vengeance and
reparat ion. . .. Deat h comes in t housands of inst ances in mill and mine, claims his vict ims, and no
popular uproar is heard.

The official organ of t he Connect icut AFT, The Craft sman, also warned about t he hyst eria worked
up by t he sinking of t he Maine:

A gigant ic .. . and cunningly-devised scheme is being worked ost ensibly t o place t he Unit ed St at es
in t he front rank as a naval and milit ary power. The real reason is t hat t he capit alist s will have t he
whole t hing and, when any workingmen dare t o ask for t he living wage ... t hey will be shot down
like dogs in t he st reet s.

Some unions, like t he Unit ed Mine Workers, called for U.S. int ervent ion aft er t he sinking of t he
Maine. But most were against war. The t reasurer of t he American Longshoremen's Union, Bolt on
Hall, wrot e "A Peace Appeal t o Labor," which was widely circulat ed:

If t here is a war, you will furnish t he corpses and t he t axes, and ot hers will get t he glory.
Speculat ors will make money out of it -t hat is, out of you. Men will get high prices for inferior
supplies, leaky boat s, for shoddy clot hes and past eboard shoes, and you will have t o pay t he bill,
and t he only sat isfact ion you will get is t he privilege of hat ing your Spanish fellow-workmen, who
arc really your brot hers and who have had as lit t le t o do wit h t he wrongs of Cuba as you have.

Socialist s opposed t he war. One except ion was t he Jewish Daily Forward. The People, newspaper
of t he Socialist Labor part y, called t he issue of Cuban freedom "a pret ext " and said t he government
want ed war t o "dist ract t he at t ent ion of t he workers from t heir real int erest s." The Appeal t o
Reason, anot her Socialist newspaper, said t he movement for war was "a favorit e met hod of rulers
for keeping t he people from redressing domest ic wrongs." In t he San Francisco Voice of Labor a
Socialist wrot e: "It is a t errible t hing t o t hink t hat t he poor workers of t his count ry should be sent
t o kill and wound t he poor workers of Spain merely because a few leaders may incit e t hem t o do

But aft er war was declared, Foner says, "t he majorit y of t he t rade unions succumbed t o t he war
fever." Samuel Gompers called t he war "glorious and right eous" and claimed t hat 250,000 t rade
unionist s had O " & volunt eered for milit ary service. The Unit ed Mine
Workers point ed t o higher coal prices as a result of t he war and said: "The coal and iron t rades have
not been so healt hy for some years past as at present ."

The war brought more employment and higher wages, hut also higher prices. Foner says: "Not only
was t here a st art ling increase in t he cost of living, hut , in t he absence of an income t ax, t he poor
found t hemselves paying almost ent irely for t he st aggering cost s of t he war t hrough increased
levies on sugar, molasses, t obacco, and ot her t axes. . . ." Gompers, publicly for t he war, privat ely
point ed out t hat t he war had led t o a 20 percent reduct ion of t he purchasing power of workers'

On May Day, 1898, t he Socialist Labor part y organized an ant iwar parade in New York Cit y, but
t he aut horit ies would not allow it t o t ake place, while a May Day parade called by t he Jewish Daily
Forward, urging Jewish workers t o support t he war, was permit t ed. The Chicago Labor World
said: "This has been a poor man's war-paid for by t he poor man. The rich have profit ed by it , as t hey
always do.. .."

The West ern Labor Union was founded at Salt Lake Cit y on May 10, 1898, because t he AFL had not
organized unskilled workers. It want ed t o bring t oget her all workers "irrespect ive of occupat ion,
nat ionalit y, creed or color" and "sound t he deat h knell of every corporat ion and t rust t hat has
robbed t he American laborer of t he fruit s of his t oil.. . ." The union's publicat ion, not ing t he
annexat ion of Hawaii during t he war, said t his proved t hat "t he war which st art ed as one of relief
for t he st arving Cubans has suddenly changed t o one of conquest ."

The predict ion made by longshoreman Bolt on Hall, of wart ime corrupt ion and profit eering, t urned
out t o be remarkably accurat e. Richard Morris's Encyclopedia of American Hist ory gives st art ling

Of t he more t han 274,000 officers and men who served hi t he army during t he Spanish-American
War and t he period of demobilizat ion, 5,462 died in t he various t heat ers of operat ion and in camps
in t he U.S. Only 379 of t he deat hs were bat t le casualt ies, t he remainder being at t ribut ed t o disease
and ot her causes.

The same figures are given by Walt er Millis in his book The Mart ial Spirit . In t he Encyclopedia
t hey are given t ersely, and wit hout ment ion of t he "embalmed beef" (an army general's t erm) sold t o
t he army by t he meat packers-meat preserved wit h boric acid, nit rat e of pot ash, and art ificial
coloring mat t er.

In May of 1898, Armour and Company, t he big meat packing company of Chicago, sold t he army
500,000 pounds of beef which had been sent t o Liverpool a year earlier and had been ret urned. Two
mondis lat er, an army inspect or t est ed t he Armour meat , which had been st amped and approved by
an inspect or of t he Bureau of Animal Indust ry, and found 751 cases cont aining rot t en meat . In t he
first sixt y cases be opened, he found fourt een t ins already burst , "t he effervescent put rid cont ent s of
which were dist ribut ed all over t he cases." (The descript ion comes from t he Report of t he
Commission t o Invest igat e t he Conduct of t he War Depart ment in t he War -wit h Spain, made t o
t he Senat e in 1900.) Thousands of soldiers got food poisoning. There are no figures on how many of
t he five t housand noncombat deat hs were caused by t hat .

1'lie Spanish forces were defeat ed in t hree mont hs, in what John Hay, t he American Secret ary of
St at e, lat er called a "splendid lit t le war." The American milit ary pret ended t hat t he Cuban rebel
army did not exist . When t he Spanish surrendered, no Cuban was allowed t o confer on t he
surrender, or t o sign it . General William ShaIt er said no armed rebels could ent er t he capit al cit y of
Sant iago, and t old t he Cuban rebel leader, General Calixt o Garci'a, t hat not Cubans, but t he old
Spanish civil aut horit ies, would remain in charge of t he municipal offices in Sant iago.

American hist orians have generally ignored t he role of t he Cuban rebels in t he war; Philip Foner, in
his hist ory, was t he first t o print Garcfa's let t er of prot est t o General Shaft er:

I have not been honored wit h a single word from yourself informing me about t he negot iat ions for
peace or t he t erms of t he capit ulat ion by t he Spaniards.

. .. when t he quest ion arises of appoint ing aut horit ies in Sant iago de Cuba ... I cannot see but wit h
t he deepest regret t hat such aut horit ies are not elect ed by t he Cuban people, but are t he same ones
select ed by t he Queen of Spain....

A rumor t oo absurd t o be believed, General, describes t he reason of your measures and of t he orders
forbidding my army t o ent er Sant iago for t ear of massacres and revenge against t he Spaniards.
Allow me, sir, t o prot est against even t he shadow of such an idea. We are not savages ignoring t he
rules of civilized warfare. We are a poor, ragged army, as ragged and poor as was t he army of your
forefat hers in t heir noble war for independence. ...

Along wit h t he American army in Cuba came American capit al. Foner writ es:

Even before t he Spanish flag was down in Cuba, U.S. business int erest s set out t o make t heir
influence felt . Merchant s, real est at e agent s, st ock speculat ors, reckless advent urers, and promot ers
of all kinds of get -rich schemes flocked t o Cuba by t he t housands. Seven syndicat es bat t led each
ot her for cont rol of t he franchises for t he Havana St reet Railway, which were finally won by
Percival Karquhar, represent ing t he Wall St reet int erest s of New York. Thus, simult aneously wit h
t he milit ary occupat ion began ... commercial occupat ion.

The Lumbermen's Review, spokesman for t he lumber indust ry, said in t he midst of t he war: "The
moment Spain drops t he reigns of government in Cuba . -. t he moment will arrive for American
lumber int erest s t o move int o t he island for t he product s of Cuban forest s. Cuba st ill possesses
10,000,000 acres of virgin forest abounding in valuable t imber ... nearly every foot of which would
be saleable in t he Unit ed St at es and bring high prices."

Americans began t aking over railroad, mine, and sugar propert ies when t he war ended. In a few
years, $30 million of American capit al was invest ed. Unit ed Fruit moved int o t he Cuban sugar
indust ry. It bought 1,900,000 acres of land for about t went y cent s an acre. The American Tobacco
Company arrived. By t he end of t he occupat ion, in 1901, Foner est imat es t hat at least 80 percent of
t he export of Cuba's minerals were in American hands, most ly Bet hlehem St eel.

During t he milit ary occupat ion a series of st rikes t ook place. In Sept ember 1899, a gat hering of
t housands of workers in Havana launched a general st rike for t he eight -hour day, saying, ".. . we
have det ermined t o promot e t he st ruggle bet ween t he worker and t he capit alist . For t he workers of
Cuba will no longer t olerat e remaining in t ot al subject ion." The American General William Ludlow
ordered t he mayor of Havana t o arrest eleven st rike leaders, and U.S. t roops occupied railroad
st at ions and docks. Police moved t hrough t he cit y breaking up meet ings. But t he economic act ivit y
of t he cit y had come t o a halt . Tobacco workers st ruck. Print ers st ruck. Bakers went on st rike.
Hundreds of st rikers were arrest ed, and some of t he imprisoned leaders were int imidat ed int o
calling for an end t o t he st rike.

The Unit ed St at es did not annex Cuba. But a Cuban Const it ut ional Convent ion was t old t hat t he
Unit ed St at es army would not leave Cuba unt il t he PlaIt Amendment , passed by Congress in
February 1901, was incorporat ed int o t he new Cuban Const it ut ion. This Amendment gave t he
Unit ed St at es "t he right t o int ervene for t he preservat ion of Cuban independence, t he maint enance
of a government adequat e for t he prot ect ion of life, propert y, and individual libert y...." It also
provided for t he Unit ed St at es t o get coaling or naval st at ions at cert ain specified point s.

The Teller Amendment and t he t alk of Cuban freedom before and during t he war had led many
Americans-and Cubans-t o expect genuine independence. The PlaIt Amendment was now seen, not
only by t he radical and labor press, but by newspapers and groups all over t he Unit ed St at es, as a
bet rayal. A mass meet ing "of t he American Ant i-Imperialist League at Faneuil Hall in Bost on
denounced it , ex-governor George Bout well saying: "In disregard of our pledge of freedom and
sovereignt y t o Cuba we are imposing on t hat island condit ions of colonial vassalage."

In Havana, a t orchlight procession of fift een t housand Cubans marched on t he Const it ut ional
Convent ion, urging t hem t o reject t he Amendment . But General Leonard Wood, head of t he
occupat ion forces, assured McKinley: "The people of Cuba lend t hemselves readily t o all sort s of
demonst rat ions and parades, and lit t le significance should be at t ached t o t hem."

A commit t ee was delegat ed by t he Const it ut ional Convent ion t o reply t o t he Unit ed St at es'
insist ence t hat t he PlaIt Amendment be included in t he Const it ut ion. The commit t ee report ,
Pemncia a la Convent ion, was writ t en by a black delegat e from Sant iago. It said:

For t he Unit ed St at es t o reserve t o it self t he power t o det ermine when t his independence was
t hreat ened, and when, t herefore, it should int ervene t o preserve it , is equivalent t o handing over t he
keys t o our house so t hat t hey can ent er it at any t ime, whenever t he desire seizes t hem, day or
night , whet her wit h good or evil design.


The only Cuban government s t hat would live would be t hose which count on t he support and
benevolence of t he Unit ed St at es, and t he clearest result of t his sit uat ion would be t hat we would
only have feeble and miserable government s . .. condemned t o live more at t ent ive t o obt aining t he
blessings of t he Unit ed St at es t han t o serving and defending t he int erest s of Cuba.. . .

The report t ermed t he request for coaling or naval st at ions "a mut ilat ion of t he fat herland." It

A people occupied milit arily is being t old t hat before consult ing t heir own government , before
being free in t heir own t errit ory, t hey should grant t he milit ary occupant s who came as friends and
allies, right s and powers which would annul t he sovereignt y of t hese very people. That , is t he
sit uat ion creat ed for us by t he met hod which t he Unit ed St at es has just adopt ed. It could not be
more obnoxious and inadmissible.

Wit h t his report , t he Convent ion overwhelmingly reject ed t he PlaIt Amendment .

Wit hin t he next t hree mont hs, however, t he pressure from t he Unit ed St at es, t he milit ary
occupat ion, t he refusal t o allow t he Cubans t o set up t heir own government unt il t hey acquiesced,
had it s effect ; t he Convent ion, aft er several refusals, adopt ed t he PlaIt Amendment . General
Leonard Wood wrot e in 1901 t o Theodore Roosevelt : "There is, of course, lit t le or no independence
left Cuba under t he PlaIt Amendment ."

Cuba was t hus brought int o t he American sphere, but . not as an out - -right colony. However, t he
Spanish-American war did lead t o a number -of direct annexat ions by t he Unit ed St at es. Puert o
Rico, a neighbor of ' Cuba in t he Caribbean, belonging t o Spain, was t aken over by U.S. milit ary
forces. The Hawaiian Islands, one-t hird of t he way across t he Pacific, which had already been
penet rat ed by American missionaries and pineapple plant at ion owners, and had been described by
American officials as "a ripe pear ready t o be plucked," was annexed by joint resolut ion of Congress
in July of 1898. Around t he same t ime, Wake Island, 2,300 miles west of Hawaii, on t he rout e t o
Japan, was occupied. And Guam, t he Spanish possession in t he Pacific, almost all t he way t o t he
Philippines, was t aken. In December of 1898, t he peace t reat y was signed wit h Spain, officially
t urning over t o t he Unit ed St at es Guam, Puert o Rico, and t he Philippines, for a payment of $20

There was heat ed argument in t he Unit ed St at es about whet her or not t o t ake t he Philippines. As
one st ory has it , President McKinley t old a group of minist ers visit ing t he Whit e House how he
came t o his decision:

Before you go I would like t o say just a word about t he Philippine business.... The t rut h is I didn't
want t he Philippines, and when t hey came t o us as a gift from t he gods, I did not know what t o do
wit h t hem. ... T sought counsel from all sides-Democrat s as well as Republicans-but got lit t le help.

I t hought first we would only t ake Manila; t hen Luzon, t hen ot her islands, perhaps, also.

T walked t he floor of t he Whit e House night aft er night unt il midnight ; and I am not ashamed t o
t ell you, gent lemen, t hat T went down on my knees and prayed Almight y God for light and
guidance more t han one night . And one night lat e it came t o me t his way-I don't know how it was,
but it came:

1. That we could not give t hem back t o Spain-t hat would be cowardly and dishonorable.

2. That we could not t urn t hem over t o France or Germany, our commercial rivals in t he Orient -dial
would be bad business and discredit able.

3. That we could not leave t hem t o t hemselves-t hey were unfit for self-government -and t hey would
soon have anarchy and misrule over diere worse t han Spain's was; and 4. That t here was not hing
left for us t o do but t o t ake t hem all and t o educat e t he Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and
Christ ianize t hem, and by God's grace do t he very best we could by t hem, as our fellow men for
whom Christ also died. And t hen I went t o bed and went t o sleep and slept soundly.

The Filipinos did not get t he same message from God. In February 1899, t hey rose in revolt against
American rule, as t hey had rebelled several t imes against t he Spanish. Emilio Agiiinaldo, a Filipino
leader, who had earlier been brought back from China by U.S. warships t o lead soldiers against
Spain, now became leader of t he insurrect ion fight ing t he Unit ed St at es. He proposed Filipino
independence wit hin a U.S. prot ect orat e, but t his was reject ed.

It t ook t he Unit ed St at es t hree years t o crush t he rebellion, using sevent y t housand t roops-four
t imes as many as were landed in Cuba- and t housands of bat t le casualt ies, many t imes more t han in
Cuba. It was a harsh war. For t he Filipinos t he deat h rat e was enormous from bat t le casualt ies and
from disease.

The t ast e of empire was on t he lips of polit icians and business int erest s t hroughout t he count ry
now. Racism, pat ernalism, and t alk of money mingled wit h t alk of dest iny and civilizat ion. In t he
Senat e, Albert Beveridge spoke, January 9, 1900, for t he dominant economic and polit ical int erest s
of t he count ry:

Mr. President , t he t imes call for candor. The Philippines are ours forever. . . . And just beyond t he
Philippines are China's illimit able market s, We will not ret reat from eit her. .. . We will not
renounce our part in t he mission of our race, t rust ee, under God, of t he civilizat ion of t he world. . . .

The Pacific is our ocean... . Where shall we t urn for consumers of our surplus? Geography answers
t he quest ion. China is our nat ural cust omer. . .. The Philippines give us a base at t he door of all t he
East .. ..

No land in America surpasses in fert ilit y t he plains and valleys of Luzon. Rice and coffee, sugar and
cocoanut s, hemp and t obacco. . . . The wood of t he Philippines can supply t he furnit ure of t he
world for a cent ury t o come. At Cuba t he best informed man on t he island t old me t hat 40 miles of
Cuba's mount ain chain are pract ically mount ains of coal.. ..

I have a nugget of pure gold picked up in it s present form on t he banks of a Philippine creek.. . .

My own belief is t hat t here are not 100 men among t hem who comprehend what Anglo-Saxon self-
government even means, and t here arc over 5,000,000 people t o be governed.

It has been charged t hat our conduct of t he war has been cruel. Senat ors, it has been t he reverse. , . .
Senat ors must remember t hat we are not dealing wit h Americans or Europeans. We are dealing
wit h Orient als.

The fight ing wit h t he rebels began, McKinley said, when t he insurgent s at t acked American forces.
But lat er, American soldiers t est ified t hat t he Unit ed St at es had fired t he first shot . Aft er t he war,
an army officer speaking in Bost on's Faneuil Hall said his colonel had given him orders t o provoke a
conflict wit h t he insurgent s.

In February 1899, a banquet t ook place in Bost on t o celebrat e t he Senat e's rat ificat ion of t he peace
t reat y wit h Spain. President McKinley himself had been invit ed by t he wealt hy t ext ile
manufact urer W. B. PlunkeIt t o speak. It was t he biggest banquet in t he nat ion's hist ory: t wo
t housand diners, four hundred wait ers. McKinley said t hat imperial designs lurk in t he American
mind," and at " t he same banquet , t o t he same (liners, his Post mast er General, Charles Emory Smit h,
said t hat "what we want is a market for "our surplus."

William James, t he Harvard philosopher, wrot e a let t er t o t he Bost on Transcript about "t he cold
pot grease of McKinley's can't at t he recent Bost on banquet " and said t he Philippine operat ion
"reeked of t he infernal adroit ness of t he great depart ment st ore, which has reached perfect
expert ness in t he art of killing silent ly, and wit h no public squalling or commot ion, t he neighboring
small concerns."

James was part of a movement of prominent American businessmen, polit icians, and int ellect uals
who formed t he Ant i-Imperialist League in 1898 and carried on a long campaign t o educat e t he
American public about t he horrors of t he Philippine war and t he evils of imperialism. It was an odd
group (Andrew Carnegie belonged), including ant ilabor arist ocrat s and scholars, unit ed in a
common moral out rage at what was being done t o t he Filipinos in t he name of freedom. What ever
t heir differences on ot her mat t ers, t hey would all agree wit h William James's angry st at ement :
"God damn t he U.S. for it s vile conduct in t he Philippine Isles."

The Ant i-Imperialist League published t he let t ers of soldiers doing dut y in t he Philippines. A
capt ain from Kansas wrot e: "Caloocan was supposed t o cont ain 17,000 inhabit ant s. The Twent iet h
Kansas swept t hrough it , and now Caloocan cont ains not one living nat ive." A privat e from t he
same out fit said he had "wit h my own hand set fire t o over fift y houses of Filipinos aft er t he vict ory
at Caloocan. Women and children were wounded by our fire."

A volunt eer from t he st at e of Washingt on wrot e: "Our fight ing blood was up, and we all want ed t o
kill 'niggers.' .. . This shoot ing human beings beat s rabbit hunt ing all t o pieces."

It was a t ime of int ense racism in t he Unit ed St at es. In t he years bet ween 1889 and 1903, on t he
average, every week, t wo Negroes were lynched by mobs-hanged, burned, mut ilat ed. The Filipinos
were brown-skinned, physically ident ifiable, st range-speaking and st ra