(Author’s note. The original head photo was John Adams. This composite sketch was lent to me courtesy of http://wethepeoplegame.com/ and Bob Snizek. They hold all legal rights to it.)
His hair was unkempt for it had not been brushed in years. His clothes were tattered and mended; they were meant for farm work and not for addressing the members of the Pennsylvania Assembly. Yet he stood before the assembled leaders of colonial Pennsylvania and he preached fire and brimstone. He called down the wrath of God upon the crowned heads of Europe and the land speculators in New York. He preached the New Jerusalem on the American Continent. His America was one that Superman would be proud of for it was founded on Truth and Justice. Staring at his audience, no, his congregation, with eyes of fire, he preached the damnation of slaveholders, and condemned those who abused the natives to eternal hellfire. When he was finished, his audience rose to applaud their hero. His name was Herman Husband. His detractors called him the Mad Man of the Mountains, but his fellow members of the Pennsylvania assembly called him a man of God.
Born to a wealthy family in Maryland, Husband got religion from working for his tavern keeper uncle. That same uncle also taught him the value of hard work. Those lessons were so well learned that young Herman could not readjust to the frivolous life of a Maryland plantation owner’s son. He found their vapid imitation of British court life sinful, and he could not abide slavery. He soon moved away and bought his own plantation. He left the Anglican Church, which he felt was the home of the antichrist, and joined the Quakers. Proving that there was no fanatic quite like a convert, Husband became the most dedicated of Quakers. Forsaking all vanity, he refused to brush his hair and wore only work clothes. Even though his plantation and business interests made him a very wealthy man, he lived as frugally as a pauper. Despite his frugality and his uncompromising religious beliefs, his children adored him, and all three of his wives felt he was the world’s greatest mate.
His first wife gladly converted to the Society of Friends, his second wife joined him in exile when the Quaker elders banished him, and his third wife and all his children helped him escape when King George had a price on his head. Husband refused to compromise when it came to religion. It was his firm belief that God spoke to each and every human being regardless of race or gender. When he criticized the Quaker elders for forbidding revelation contrary to Quaker doctrine, the elders banished him. Husband could care less. His church was the invisible church on the right hand of God. No earthly authority had the right to tell him he wasn’t one of the elect.
Husband joined with fellow banished Quakers, angry Baptists, defrocked Methodists, and other heretics who became what is known as the Regulators. They did not earn that name for their religious beliefs. On the contrary, religion was the most unregulated thing about them. To them, accepting Jesus as their lord and savior automatically made them the equals of any popes or bishops. They could not care less about historic inaccuracies in the Bible. To them, the book was a divination tool. The will of God was revealed through relating the Bible stories to the modern world. It mattered not to them that there was no historic Moses, the Ten Commandments were still God’s own truth.
While the Regulators could not agree on dogma or ritual, they did agree on politics. Amazingly, the Regulators were in total agreement that God wanted a progressive tax on wealth. It also came to a surprise to George Washington that God hated land speculators and wanted title given to the people who actually developed the land. Alexander Hamilton was not amused to hear that God demanded low interest loans to farmers. Imagine Thomas Jefferson’s outrage when he discovered that the Almighty not only wanted him to free his slaves, but to pay reparations for the indignities of being owned. The Regulators also felt that Africans and Native Americans had equal rights in the eyes of God and both should enjoy full civil rights on earth.
The name Regulators came from their belief that good government was government that protected the rights of the poor from the depredations of the wealthy. Laws should be passed to assure everybody of equal opportunities, and that everybody had an equal voice in government. Back when George Washington was still having tea with the Royal Governor of Virginia, and John Adams was campaigning for a British peerage, the Regulators were calling for an America free of European tyranny. The King was not happy, nor were the governors of Maryland and Virginia. It was not long before the Regulators became an illegal organization and Herman Husband fled into the mountains of Pennsylvania.
Husband the fugitive came to settle in the Allegheny Mountains. Known only as the Quaker, he worked amongst the the trappers and hunters who settled around Pittsburgh. Eventually he built a homestead where his wife and children joined him. His neighbors respected him not just as a farmer but as a preacher. He shared his vision of the American West as a new Jerusalem, and his dream of welcoming the reign of Christ through establishing just laws. In those days before the Rapture became dogma, Christians believed that the reign of Christ could be brought into existence through the efforts of human beings. Husband had a vision of the New Jerusalem ruled through a complex legislature based on strict term limits. His neighbors so loved his vision that they elected him to the Pennsylvania legislature twice.
There was no greater champion of the American Revolution than Herman Husband. To him, George Washington was a latter day Joshua, bringing down the walls of the British Jericho. Later, Husband would be shocked and dismayed by his hero. Not only was Washington an absentee land owner in Husband’s own beloved Alleghenies, but Washington’s presidency was a repudiation of everything Husband lived and worked for. The grand old man of the Regulators saw the Constitution as a work of Satan, and a means for the rich to exploit and abuse the poor. Having the general who led the revolution as the first president under that Satanic document almost shattered Husband’s belief in God.
Almost, but not quite. Despite the unfair taxation that exploited his neighbors, and laws that protected land speculators from prosecution from their tenants, Husband continued to believe. He continued to preach his New Jerusalem based on the equality of man. He continued to preach a progressive tax against wealth, civil rights for all, and an end to the damnable institution of slavery. When his neighbors rebelled against the Federal Government over Hamilton’s Whiskey Tax, which provided the likes of George Washington with a lucrative monopoly, Herman Husband was the first to join in.
He was also to be the first of many to be arrested without due process and the only one to be prosecuted for the crime of sedition. There were many Federalists who heard him preach against a government that forced hard working farmers off their land, and imposing taxes that sent working men into the poor house. Worse of all, he preached against slavery, and in the early days of the US government, that was a constitutional violation. Out of the 28 people to be prosecuted for the Whiskey Rebellion, Herman Husband was one of two to be found guilty. The rest were found not guilty despite judge’s orders to enter a guilty verdict. Washington, adroit politician that he was, pardoned him so he would not become a martyr to the anti Federalist cause. The pardon didn’t come a minute too soon. Herman Husband contracted pneumonia from being kept in an unheated cell in December and died soon after being released.
Poor Herman Husband never lived to see his American Jerusalem and was betrayed by the very heroes he prayed for. The religious movement he helped to found transmuted into today’s religious right. The social movement he helped start continued after his death, and later influenced such thinkers as Karl Marx and Charles Dickens. I find it funny that the only founding father I have any affection for was the great-grandfather of today’s born again movement. If there was any Christian who truly deserved heaven, it was Herman Husband, because it was he and not Washington or Jefferson, and especially not Hamilton, who embodied the American spirit of Liberty and Equality. Only Herman Husband embodied the best qualities of the religious and of the socialist. May his memory be restored as an example to us all.
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.