That’s what the Founders of this nation used to call the majority of European settlers. They were “white savages”, and no better than the Native Americans. Many of the white savages were indentured servants. They sold their lives to colonial property owners to work on their farms, businesses or homes for a period of time, usually three to seven years. Unlike African slaves, an indentured servant was freed when his indenture ran out. Some indentured servants knew a trade. They could come to Ben Franklin with their hats in their hands and beg a loan to open a business. Those indentured servants with generous employers would end their terms with their own tools. They could scratch out a living on the frontier.
Most of the American settlers were not that lucky. It was a fortunate person who came out of his indenture without owing his employer for food, lodging, or some trumped up excuse. There was a case where a person indentured to a miller had to serve an extra two years because his brother died three years into his indenture. The survivor had to work an extra two years to fulfill his brother’s contract.
Indentured servants lived under terrible conditions, as they lived under the same conditions as slaves. They could be physically or sexually abused with no resort to the law. If they tried to escape, they would be jailed for breaking the contract. Those who escaped had little recourse but to head for the frontier and take their chances with the natives. When given the choice between the frontier and another period of indenture, the frontier looked pretty damned good to a majority of freed servants.
Even the frontier was no guarantee of freedom, as the land in western Pennsylvania, New York State, and Kentucky was already owned. William Penn was granted Pennsylvania by the king of England. That meant that Penn and his heirs owned any land within that grant and had the right to charge rent to any settlers. Indentured servants ended up becoming tenant farmers who owed rent to their landlords, and the said landlords were not shy about collecting. Of course the western land in the other colonies was also owned through royal grant, and those settlers were also charged rents for their subsistence farms.
Then came the American Revolution and our all wise and kindly founding fathers put an end to indentured servitude, and the abused servants turned into our brave western pioneers. Right?
The American Revolution certainly had the support of the former indentured servants. Most of the guerrilla companies in the western states were composed of former indentured servants who couldn’t wait to take a shot at their tormentors. The Revolution did nothing to improve the lot of either indentured servants or the tenant farmers in the west. The indenture was a legal contract that continued to be honored in all thirteen states after the revolution.
Although the Constitution recognized indentured servants as citizens for purposes of congressional recognition, there was little change in the lives of either the indentured servants or the tenant farmers in the west. To the founders of this country, the tenant farmers were only “white savages”. They were treated little better than animals. They improved and cultivated the lands the founders owned. They fought the original inhabitants of America for the landed gentry, but they received the same consideration as slaves or natives.
This is the glorious past that our tea bagging libertarian brethren would bring us back to. The life of a tenant farmer was brief, brutal, and nasty. Work began at sun-up and continued after sun-down. After months of back breaking labor, their landlords would leave them barely enough to live on. If you failed to pay most of your crops in rent, the landowner had the right to send the sheriff to drive you off the land. Stop and think for a moment. After spending years being abused by some fop, you become a free man and move west to build a better life. In fact, you might have even fought in the Revolutionary War! You clear the land, you plant the crops, you fight off the natives, and then some bastard from Boston or Philadelphia comes riding up and demands more than half your crop. If you don’t give it to him, the sheriff comes with armed deputies to arrest you and drive your wife and kids off the land that you developed!
But our founding fathers would never do anything like that? Right?
After the establishment of the Constitution, the new government was desperately in need of funds. Alexander Hamilton proposed a tax on whiskey production. It was a two tiered tax. The large distilleries had the financial resources to pay a yearly rate, and their businesses were not hurt at all. However, the tenant farmers in western Pennsylvania supplemented their incomes by making corn whiskey. These small business people could not afford to pay a yearly fee and were forced to pay by the quart. Of course their customers, most of them tenant farmers, could not afford the price mark up from the tax. Essentially the government tax put them out of business.
Of course the tenant farmers rebelled. They continued to brew and sell their whiskey and shot anybody who tried to collect the tax. It was one thing for the land owner to demand his rent. It was another for the government to come in and take food out their kid’s mouths. The tenant farmers had just about enough and they were not ready to stand down. They actually might have stood a chance of winning, except that their landlord was none other than George Washington.
Before the Revolution, Washington bought thousands of acres of undeveloped land from the sons of William Penn. Technically, the sale was illegal as Washington was a citizen of the Virginia Colony and not of Pennsylvania. William Penn’s progeny were notorious spendthrifts and always in need of ready cash. So the sale went down, and if the Crown discovered it, Washington would have been fined and the land confiscated by the Crown.
Of course the Whiskey Rebellion, as it was called, was centered right in Washington’s holdings. The first Commander and Chief of the American army led his troops to Pennsylvania and violently ended America’s first tax revolt. Alexander Hamilton accompanied Washington as his aid decamp. In truth, not many tenants were killed in the rebellion. Many were arrested and brought back to Philadelphia where they were pardoned. Others ran away to Ohio where they killed more natives, improved more land, and ended up paying rent to the people whom the new federal government granted Ohio to. Washington also evicted all his tenants and replaced them with indentured servants.
This is the glorious past the libertarians want to return us to.
The scariest thing about libertarians is that they can vote. As a general rule they cannot tell the difference between The Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and The Federalist Papers. They are so gullible they actually believe the income tax is illegal and so ignorant that there is no way to explain it to them. As Glen Cook puts it, they fell out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down. Unfortunately for us and the rest of the world, there are no IQ provisions for citizenship. Libertarians can vote. Small wonder the economy is tanking around us.
In Libertarian Land, I think the American Revolution went down something like this. Little Tommy Jefferson went into their clubhouse (with the no icky girls allowed sign on the door.) and said, “That George III is a real poophead. I don’t want to play with him anymore.”
And little Al Hamilton replied, “Me too. Let’s get rid of him.”
Georgie Washington added “I’m tired of playing with this hatchet. Let’s have a revolution instead. You got book learnin’, Tommy. Why don’t you write him a letter and tell him to go soak his head?”
In the real world, the founders of America were a very diverse group. Many shared a common tie with the Masons, which only reaffirms the Mason’s mission of bringing different people together. Jefferson and Washington spoke for the southern agrarian plantation owners. Alexander Hamilton was the most progressive of the founders, but even he spoke primarily for the northern industrialists. Then there were other founders such as John Adams and John Jay who were determined to see to it that the wealthy had the same special privileges as they had under England. All these people were brought together out of a common need to escape British rule. Jefferson wanted an agrarian utopia while Adams wanted a hereditary Senate in imitation of the British House of Lords, but all put aside their differences to achieve a common goal.
The Declaration of Independence was a legal document telling the British Monarch that the colonies were demanding independence. It has no standing in American Law. It was an inspiring piece penned by the inimitable Jefferson. It had the effect of winning the loyalty of those who were going to die in the upcoming war. Still, the Declaration of Independence was written in the proper legal language of the time. When they said “All Men are created equal”, it was not the generic term as it is generally used. Men was defined as people of substance with money or property. It did not include women who were still chattel. It did not mean slaves or children. They were legally chattel as well. Men meant upper class white males.
By the end of the revolution, African slavery was still an accepted institution. Children were still sold into apprenticeship and adults could still sell themselves into indentured servitude. You could still be jailed for your debts and most of the thirteen states limited the vote to people above a certain income level. In the State of Maryland you had to be both wealthy and Catholic to vote. In Massachusetts you were only allowed to vote if you were a Congregationalist. Each state was autonomous and sent representatives to Philadelphia mostly to negotiate trade. Britain was killing the colonial industries by supplying finished goods at prices local craftsmen would not beat. The south still sold its cotton to England but at much lower prices. New York and New Jersey went to war over access to New York Harbor. The Free Market reigned supreme and the only one happy about it was England.
Thirteen independent nations were being eaten to death by England and internal rivalry. Free Market capitalism was tearing the fledgling US into shreds and leaving the door open to England walking in and taking America back without a shot being fired. This is why there is a Constitution. This is why we are not the Confederated States of America. The wealthiest and most influential men in the new nation joined together to create a more perfect union. That is why they needed the Federalist Papers.
Keep in mind there was a lot of resistance to a Constitution. On the whole the southern states wanted it. They needed protection from England purchasing their cotton for too little money. On the other hand, the northern states had influential citizens who were making a fortune by buying cheap finished goods from Europe and a tariff would cut into their trade. So Madison, Hamilton, and Jay got together and wrote newspaper articles in favor of the Constitution. Put together, the Federalist Papers are a fascinating document. It outlines the philosophy behind the Constitution. It explains the economic and political conditions of the day. It has little to do with the Constitution itself.
You will find nothing inspiring in the Constitution. This is why the libertarian propagandists rarely quote it and libertarians never read it. It is as bland as oatmeal and as exciting as watching hot grannies knit sweaters. Alexander Hamilton did not conceive it after a night of peyote buttons and cheap tequila. The Constitution of the United States was written by a committee. Many people worked on the Constitution, and the finished document had little in common with the hopes of the Federalist Papers. Alexander Hamilton fought against the Bill of Rights. Jay must have cursed when the rabble were awarded the vote, but managed to slip in the electoral college anyway. The south was happy to get a central government which could both ratify and enforce treaties with Europe. The north was pissed because the new Federal Government could impose and enforce tariffs, ending England’s domination of American trade. More to the point, the new Federal Government had the right to impose and collect taxes. How and when the Federal Government can regulate business is written into the Constitution, even though Hamilton and Madison both argued against it.
The most frustrating thing about the Constitution is its vagueness. It was a document that was designed to change with the times. You can peruse the constitution all your life but you will not find one word that enshrines capitalism as our only possible economic system. There is no clause that makes the income tax illegal. There is nothing that says we have to vote for either Democrats or Republicans. The people who joined together to create the Constitution understood that conditions change. They expected their tomorrow to be different than their today, and they left it to us as to how we wanted to interpret the Constitution. The Constitution shall not fall because we voted for the single payer system. There is nothing unconstitutional about unions.
The libertarians have forgotten that the American Revolution was more than the hand full of dead statesmen they canonized into their lords and saviors. They forgot that Jefferson had very little influence on the Constitution. Alexander Hamilton created the first American Tax, and that Washington lead troops to put down the Whiskey Tax rebellion. They are like Christianoids and the Bible. They have no idea of what the Constitution says or represents but parrot any damned babble that their leaders tell them. Laws that protect American industries, impose taxes, and impose limits to unacceptable behavior are written in the Constitution. Libertarians can hold their breath and kick their heels all they want, and it will still not change the fact that they are the greatest threat to the Constitution since George III.