Part 1, Chapter 1 : Capitalism-Its Development In The United States

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Part 1, Chapter 1

Parsons, Albert Richard. Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis as defined by some of its apostles. Chicago, Mrs. A. R. Parsons [c1887].

Part I.



Among all nations, the United States of America has alone possessed the opportunity for developing representative or Republican government to its utmost. Separated by two oceans, isolated and comparatively secure from sudden invasion or the diplomatic embroglios of imperialistic Europe and Asia, the united capacity of Republican government to minister to the peace and welfare of its citizens and the experience --history--of one hundred years has formed the record from which the living present learns its lesson of the past. Free government, a free people, was the talismanic charm which caused the emigrant to abandon the old world and hasten to the new.

The population of the colonies in 1776 was 3,500,000. Today the population of the United States is estimated at 65,000,000. The controlling influence which impelled the emigrant to the United States was the belief in the inducement held out that a home for his loved ones could be acquired. It is, therefore, a fact, that the United States has been developed and populated because of economic rather than political influences. It has been and is still the belief of many that the comparative economic freedom which the poor have enjoyed ill this country was owing to its political institutions, its republican form of government. Lord Macauley, whose prognostication is quoted at the opening of this chapter, foresaw what experience has since demonstrated, to-wit: That the Republic itself was the result and the cause of the comparative economic liberty which previled in America.

The revolution of 1776 was precipitated when the British government sought to impose "taxation without representation" upon the colonies, but there was a long antecedent train of offenses which the colonists had endured. The British nobility, aristocrats and landlords had been for years past engaged in seizing upon the wild lands of America and subjecting its inhabitants to the servitude prevailing in the old world. A few noblemen held "patents" from George III, which covered vast regions of territory and embraced millions of acres. The revolution of 1776 was inspired by determination to escape the tyranny of British rule, from the oppressions of which most of the American colonists had fled. The authors of the 'Declaration of Independence gave the key-note of that struggle when they proclaimed the inalienable Rights of Man as the issue involved. During the seven years' war which followed, and for five years afterwards (1787) the inhabitants of the colonies were practically without government or law. Thomas Paine, of whom it has been said he did as much with his pen as. Washington had done with his sword for American liberty, describes in his writings the motives and purposes of the men engaged in that conflict. Paine's work, entitled "Rights of Man," embodied the "American Idea" of liberty as then contended for. He says:

It is therefore a perversion of terms to say that a charter (government) gives rights. It operates by a contrary effect,--that of taking rights away. Rights are inherently in all the inhabitants, but charters, by annulling those rights in the majority, leave the right by exclusion in the bands of a few. If charters were constructed so as to express in direct terms "that every inhabitant who is not a member of a corporation shall not exercise the right of voting," such charters would, in the face, be charters, not of rights, but of exclusion. The effect is the same under the form in which they now stand; the only persons on whom they now operate are the persons whom they exclude.

The period following the war, when the colonies or states were engaged in framing the national constitution, is most instructive, as it was now that the fruits of that struggle were to be garnered. Some of the states were slow to enter the compact and some for a time refused to do so, such was the fear of the people for centralized government. Finally, a reconciliation was brought about mainly by those whose property rights gave them influence and power, and delegates from all the states were chosen to the national convention to form the Federal Constitution. Here were assembled men of varying ideas, instincts and interests. But the predominating influence was the property interest, property in land, etc., but especially in slaves. The people having struggled and suffered for seven long and bloody years, were alive to the importance of the work of the convention and its possible effects upon their welfare. But there were those who reverenced human rights only so far as these did not intrude upon their property rights. Thus began the game of Politics. The convention found it necessary to conduct their proceedings with closed doors, excluding from its sessions all who were not members. Here, for four months the "Star Chamber" (secret) sessions were held in an endeavor to bring about a compromise of divergent interests and ideas upon the property question. The debates were long and heated. At times the convention was threatened with disruption. There were those who believed in a landed aristocracy and restricted suffrage, led by Alexander Hamilton; others wanted free land and manhood suffrage; and still others contended the liberation of the chattel slave was included in the meaning of the Declaration of Independence,--and vise versa. A compromise was finally reached which left the rights of property in slaves, land and money intact. The assertion of the Declaration of independence that "all men were created free and equal, and possessed with certain inalienable rights. among which were life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" was defended by those who favored a constitution framed in accordance with the intent and spirit of that document. The slave, holding interest objected and held that the blacks-the chattel slaves-were not included in the meaning or intent of the Declaration. John Adams, the aristocrat, who also favored a limited monarchy as against Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, Henry, Washington and others, in the memorable debate upon this question said: "What matters it whether you give the food and clothes to the slaves direct, or whether you just give him enough in wages to purchase the same?" This view of the question finally prevailed and was accepted as the basis of compromise. The rights of property triumphed. The wage-worker was categorical with the chattel slave. Indeed the difference was recognized amont the wealthy class as existing not only in form but identical in effect. The Constitutions agreed upon by the convention was submitted to the states-the people for ratification or rejection. Though dissatisfied, the people were induced to accept it, on the ground that universal suffrage, vesting all law-making power in the people; guaranteeing free speech, free press, and unmolested assemblage, the right to keep and bear arms; speedy trial by an impartial jury; and protection against unreasonable and unlawful search or seizure--were constitutional safeguards deemed ample protection for their rights.

The United States formed a vast, unsettled, inexhaustible region. A comparatively small strip of country from Maine to Florida was sparsely inhabited. All who desired could acquire a competency, The wage-class felt no apprehension on that score. The doors of the nation were thrown open and the poor and miserable and despoiled of every clinic were invited to come to the "Iand of the free and home of the brave," as the "harbor and refuge of the oppressed." That invitation was eagerly heard and quickly accepted, and to this fact alone is due the rapid development and growth of the Republic. For years after the adoption of the Constitution the slave trade flourished and thousands upon thousands of ignorant helpless Africans were kidnapped and brought in chains to the United States. The treatment of the great populous tribes of Indians was of a similar character. Those who could not be subdued and enslaved were killed, and as America was the native heath of the Indian they chose death rather than slavery, until there remains scarcely a remnant of this once powerful race upon the continent. About 1830, when population had greatly increased, in common with land values and other property, the special advantages of chattel-slaves labor which was so apparent in a new, unsettled country began to diminish. With a growth of population came, an augmentation Of wage-laborers, and the modes of industry, such as manufacture, etc., where Hot very well adapted to chattellabor. It began to appear that wage labor was cheaper and therefore more remunerative to capital than was chattel-slave labor. There arose in consequence conflicting interests upon this subject, which by degrees--as population increased --developed into sectional conflicts, which were geographically designated "north" and "south."

For certain forms of labor--agriculture for instance--chattel-slave labor was considered to be more profitable than wage labor. But in manufacture and all departments of skilled industry the labor of wage-workers was preferred because more remunerative. The supply of chattel-slaves was cut off by a law enacted prohibiting the slave trade, and this fact was alone sufficient to cause the death-blow to that form of labor. But the simple, primitive forms of production for which the labor of chattel-slaves was adopted caused the owners of that form of capital to invest it where it would bring the greatest returns. Therefore the slave-holding interests gravitated to the southern portion of the United States, where a mild climate, lengthened seasons and consequently cheaper clothes, fuel and shelter was to be obtained. The propertied class--capitalists-were intent only on profits and losses. Out of these two forms of labor-chattel and wage-arose the "irrepressible conflict" and the political shibboleth, "America must be all slave or all free." The slave-holding interests became alarmed at the increasing power of the wage-labor system. They perceived their "vested right" to lawfully, constitutionally hold property in slaves to be threatened. Their power bad until now been supreme in national affairs and they were blinded with arrogance. They refused all overtures to peaceably manumit their slaves by means of gradual emancipation, to be recompensed out of the public treasury, but, on the contrary, indignantly rejected all such proposals and insisted upon their constitutional right to extend slavery into the Territories. Their attitude sharpened the contest between the wage-labor capitalists and the chattel slaveowners. Upon the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency of the United States in 1860 "the South" seceeded from "the North" and set up a Confederacy which recognized chattle-slave labor as its corner-stone. Mr. Lincoln, though in sentiment an "Abolitionist," an ardent defender of man's abstract right to life and liberty, was also, for the time being, the representative of the wage-labor system. The exigencies of the war of the rebellion afforded the sought-for opportunity, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued as "a military necessity." Chattel-slave labor was abolished and the system of wage-labor established in its stead. While upon its surface this struggle between the "North" and the "South" was waged ostensibly in behalf of "free" against "slave" labor, and was apparently a political question waged for the preservation of the Union, it was, in fact, an economic question growing out of the two diverse and conflicting systems of labor, viz.: chattel and wage. The owners of capital in the form of chattel-slaves were compelled by armed revolution to relinquish that form of property. They threw themselves as a barrier across the pathway of societary evolution, of historic development and were swept aside by its irresistable force.

The Rebellion of 1861 was a failure. The Rebellion of 1776 was a success. The former was a struggle against the evolutionary development of modern capitalism; the latter was fought on the line with and for progress. Both contests are generally regarded as political; but the underlying, moving cause in each was economic. The apparently political character of these two revolutionary struggles arises from the fact the contest in both instances was waged by one portion of the propertied class against the other upon questions of property.

Ever since the organization of the Government of the United States there has existed among the people a small, but earnest minority, known as "Abolitionists," because they advanced the abstract right of "all men" to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." But the Abolitionists were an insignificant minority. Their demands were never heeded until the requirements of modern capitalism began to require an extension of the system of wage labor in preference to the system of chattel-slave labor. Capital invested in wage labor and capital invested in chattel-slave labor were hostile in their interests. The slave-holding interests were more sensitive and apprehensive of injury and were in consequence easily mobilized on the political battle-field. From the organization of the Government up to the slave-holders' rebellion in 1861 the propertied interests in chattel-slaves had practical control and direction of the affairs of Government.

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February 08, 2017 19:13:28 :
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