Monday, January 30, 2012

How the plutocrats took power

For many like Ron Paul, a belief in the abstract and nebulous "libertarianism" is closely linked to the myths surrounding the origin of the Constitution and the ideals of the Founding Fathers of America. But far from being a revolutionary event that encouraged a genuine development of democratic values, the War of Independence was a strictly conservative affair. The colonial rebellion was not the work of enraged peasants but of landed "country gentlemen". It is clear that the real beneficiaries of the break with Britain were the landowners and wealthy traders who were able to expand their own wealth without interference. Although Paine’s call to arms, based on abstractions and ideals, appealed to the ordinary person, all the material benefits went to the wealthy.

"The Founding Fathers did lead the war for independence from Britain. But they did not do it for the equal right of all to life, liberty, and equality. Their intention was to set up a new government that would protect the property of slave owners, land speculators, merchants, and bondholders." Howard Zinn

Despite pretensions of being “enlightened” – sweeping aside monarchy, aristocracy and the established church – the new republic was never designed to be anything other than an oligarchic state. The political institutions and Constitution constructed an array of checks and balances motivated by paranoia, suspicion of central government power that laid the foundation for laissez faire economics.

The desire to protect and then extend private property rights led to a type of liberty intended to allow the pursuit of individual aims and wealth unconstrained by government interference. To those who took up the reins of power, government was to be judged not by its ability to promote prosperity but by its capacity to leave people alone to pursue private ends. The principle that personal opportunity should be maximised reflected the Puritanism and the Protestant work-ethic that saw the acquisition of money as the just result of hard work and the Lord’s blessing.

The Founding Fathers substituted the abstract principles that “all men are created equal” and that power is derived from “the will of the people”. They adopted a definition of “the people” which excluded women, non-landowners and slaves. Those architects of the Declaration of Independence – the land and property owners – were quick to build a system of government based on the division of power that would guard against the “excesses of democracy”. The richer property owners were afraid that, as they were not themselves in the majority, the less well-off would vote to take away their property and arrangements (restricted franchise and/or indirect election) were made to keep power out of the hands of the majority. The president was an elected monarch [see http://www.historytoday.com/frank-prochaska/american-monarchy]

By having two different houses of Congress, a Senate and a House of Representatives, places an obvious obstacle to simple majority rule. There are 435 Representatives and 100 Senators. 51 Senators can block the majority rule. Moreover, Senators are elected for six years instead of the two for which Representatives are elected. The electoral college to elect the president operates intentionally in opposition to majority rule in this same way. In a system of electing the President by mere simple majority, a candidate or party could win by appealing to 51% of the voters. The electoral college serves as a partial safeguard against those who might be able to find and win over a majority. The national popular vote is not the basis for electing a President or Vice President. Since 1944 Gallup Polls have found a majority of Americans have continually expressed support for an official amendment of the U.S. Constitution that would allow for direct election of the president.

Ron Paul like the present White House incumbent and the other aspiring candidates remain indifferent to the concept of majority democracy. He and others are complicit in the camoflage of plutocracy by creating the form and appearance of popular government with only a minimum of substance.

Among the people there grew the feeling that the revolution against the British had been fought for nothing.

Whisky Rebellion.


"Small farmers also protested that Hamilton's excise effectively gave unfair tax breaks to large distillers...Small distillers believed Hamilton deliberately designed the tax to ruin them and promote big business" - Sound familiar?
16,000 armed militiamen that crushed the rebels were led in person by two principal Founding Fathers, President George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, the author of both the central bank and the whiskey tax legislation.(After the tax drove small producers out of competition, Washington went into the whiskey-distilling business, becoming by the time of his death the largest whiskey-entrepreneur in Virginia, if not the nation.)

Shays Rebellion

"Daniel Shays was a poor farmhand from Massachusetts when the Revolution broke out joined the Continental Army ... In 1780, he resigned from the army unpaid and went home to find himself in court for the nonpayment of debts. He soon found that he was not alone in being unable to pay his debts, and began organizing for debt relief...Other Central Massachusetts towns also played prominent roles in the rebellion including Shrewsbury, which supported a staging area for a large march of 400 individuals on the Worcester courthouse in 1786 in an attempt to block the foreclosure of mortgages" Sound familiar?

Shays’ Rebellion was put down by a smaller mercenary army, paid for by well-to-do citizens who feared a wholesale attack on property rights.

"... the uprising was the climax of a series of events of the 1780s that convinced a powerful group of Americans that the national government needed to be stronger so that it could create uniform economic policies and protect property owners from infringements on their rights by local majorities...These ideas stemmed from the fear that a private liberty, such as the secure enjoyment of property rights, could be threatened by public liberty - unrestrained power in the hands of the people. James Madison addressed this concept by stating that "Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power."

By 1700, three-fourths of the acreage in New York belonged to fewer than a dozen persons. In the interior of Virginia, seven individuals owned over 1.7 million acres. By 1760, fewer than five hundred men in five colonial cities controlled most of the commerce, shipping, banking, mining, and manufacturing on the eastern seaboard. In Colonial America, the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting much poorer. In those same years, the poor--those who owned no property--represented 14% in 1687 and 29% in 1770. In 1687 in Boston, the top 1% owned about 25% of the wealth. By 1770, the top 1% owned 44%. The Founding Fathers were the 1% and the constitution was to protect their self-interest and to stop the 99% gaining any benefit from the American revolution. George Washington was worth more than half a billion in today's dollars. For full figures of individual Founding Father wealth see http://www.rethinkingschools.org/static/publication/roc2/sla2roc2.pdf

Samuel Adams:
"The Utopian schemes of leveling, and a community of goods, are as visionary and impractical, as those which vest all property in the Crown, are arbitrary, despotic, and in our government unconstitutional."

"[The Framers of the Constitution]... had no wish to usher in democracy in the United States. They were not making war upon the principle of aristocracy and they had no more intention than had the Tories of destroying the tradition of upper-class leadership in the colonies. Although they hoped to turn the Tories out of office, they did not propose to open these lush pastures to the common herd. They did believe, however, that the common people, if properly bridled and reined, might be made allies in the work of freeing the colonies from British rule and that they - the gentry - might reap the benefits without interference. They expected, in other words, to achieve a 'safe and sane' revolution of gentlemen, by gentlemen, and for gentlemen." John C. Miller Origins of the American Revolution.

Most of the population consisted of poor freeholders, tenants, and indentured hands (the latter trapped in servitude for many years). A typical farm family might have a large plot of land but little else, surviving in a one-room house or log cabin, no barns, sheds, draft animals, or machinery. The farmer and his family pulled the plow. Small farmers were burdened by heavy rents, ruinous taxes, and low incomes. To survive, they frequently had to borrow money at high interest rates. To meet their debts, they mortgaged their future crops and went still deeper into debt, caught in that cycle of rural indebtedness which today is still the common fate of agrarian peoples in this and other countries. It tended to cause a community-oriented culture to arise on farms or in towns. Their concept of independence was associated with inter-dependence and cooperation--all for the common good. Women worked with men, families traded labor and animals. In this culture of mutual concern and mutual obligation, working class people took care of one another. They shared common values and interests, completely different from the values of a market-driven approach to life. The wealthy class--shopkeepers, lawyers, bankers, speculators, commercial farmers--had adopted a completely opposite way of life: every person for himself. The capitalist world view of the wealthy class saw the community as a system of exchange between producers and consumers, the moneyed and workers. The holy of holies for the merchant class was the market. According to the view of the merchant class, the state is to be controlled by elites or "better people" who decide what is best for the "common people." Government's role is to protect private ownership. The state's only role is to assure that the impersonal market system runs smoothly. This requires that the government use violent force when it becomes necessary to protect personal property and the rights of capitalists over workers.

Alexander Hamilton at the Constitutional Convention said, “All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. … The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government.”

Those who argue that the Founding Fathers were motivated by high-minded ideals ignore the fact that it was they themselves who repeatedly stated their intention to create a government strong enough to protect the "haves" from the "have-nots". They gave voice to the crassest class prejudices and at no time deny the fact that their concern was to thwart popular control and resist all tendencies toward class "levelling". Their "checks and balances" were chiefly concerned with restraining peoples' power and maintaining their own.

To talk of elitist power today as something new and forget its roots and actually praise the oppressers as spokesmen for liberty and treat their imposed laws under the constitution as admrable achievments is to forget actual real history and fall victim to propaganda and ruling class ideology.

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