The American Revolutionary War Was a War for the Economic Interests of the Upper Classes

From HISTORY OF THE SUPREME COURT by GUSTAVUS MYERS

From the chapter THE REAL FORCES OF THE REVOLUTION pp. 76-78

 

[T]he seeds of an economic conflict early developed [between England and Colonial America]. This conflict gathered new and important auxiliaries in the shippers and manufacturers. Timber was abundant in America, and with bonded labor, slaves and low-paid mechanics, ships could be built cheaply and rapidly. A great number of ships were constructed, and profitable cargoes were at hand. Hard by the iron deposits that were discovered, furnaces and foundries were erected; part of the abundance of furs was used for the manufacture of hats, and another part exported in the raw state. Planters, as we have seen, began to utilize their bonded and slave labor in the manufacture of linen and cotton cloth from the cotton and flax cheaply raised on new and fertile soil by the same labor. The wool of the flocks of sheep was turned into woolen cloth, and the hides of the cattle into leather goods. The trade of the colonies became world-wide. These products made lucrative cargoes for the shippers, and supplied an expanding market for the manufacturing planters. But so fast were ships built, that the need for ever-increasing cargoes arose. The American shippers more and more resented the monopoly of the importation of tea granted by the British Government to the East India Company -- tea then being in wide use. Conveying their cargoes to Europe, the American ships brought back cargoes of negro slaves from Africa, but the owners also wanted a share in the return transportation of tea and other commodities.

British Traders Strike at American
During the same period England was becoming a more extensive manufacturing country; in its insular situation, with a fairly dense population dependent upon its industries and foreign trade, its trading class was compelled to bend every effort toward suppressing the threatening American competition. Consequently, Parliament, representing those interests, passed act after act designed to crush the American manufacturer, and cripple the American shipping trade. Various laws prohibited the exportation of hats, and the sale in one colony of hats made in another; iron mills were forbidden; in fact everything that could be made from natural resources was legislated against. A heavy duty was put upon the importation of molasses, then extensively employed in making rum, and also used by fishermen; onerous duties were also put upon tea, nails, glass and paints. The shippers, some of whom individually owned three score ships, attempted to evade these regulations by smuggling, but they were confronted by another set of British laws, enforced by vigilant British officials. From this conflict of trading interests between the trading class of Great Britain, and that of the American colonies, the American Revolution was born. It was estimated that probably nine-tenths of all the tea, wine, fruit, sugar and molasses consumed in the colonies were smuggled. The tea used in the colonies reached alone an item of $2,500,000 annually. Thomas Hancock, the greater part of whose fortune of 70, 000 John Hancock inherited, gathered the larger part of it illicitly in the Dutch tea trade; and in the " Historical Essay." prefaced to his voluminous mass of biographical details in his "Loyalists of the American Revolution," Sabine says that before the Revolution was declared, John Hancock was respondent in the Admiralty Court, in suits o the crown, to recover nearly half a million dollars as penalties for smuggling. The greatest offending port in the practice of smuggling was Boston; there the British Government stationed twelve warships. At least a fourth of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were traders, or both shippers and landholders; more than one of them, Sabine says, was branded with the epithet of smuggler. Among the signers of the Declaration of Independence these were some of those having large shipping interests: John Hancock, John Langdon, Samuel Adams, William Whipple, George Clymer, Stephen Hopkins, Francis Lewis, Philip Livingston, Elbridge Gerry, Joseph Hewes, George Taylor, Roger Sherman, Henry Laurens and Robert Morris.

pp. 83-85 ... associations, called patriotic societies, supplied a small number of volunteers of their own rank, but composed as they were, of certain landowners, traders, and large or small merchants, the greater part of their members remained at home to put through great land acquisitions under cover of the Revolution, or to profit from financial or trade operations at the expense and sacrifice of the Continental army and of the nation. The famous "Sons of Liberty" of New York were composed of middle-class merchants, one of whom, William Mooney, later founded the Society of "St." Tammany -- the Tammany Hall of the future.

Inspiring Slogans for the Mass [sic].
As a means of inciting popular temper and winning faith, the associated governing classes now professed to take up some of the very doctrines for the advocacy of which, previously, they or their ancestors had punished men with prison sentences or summary execution. Clause I of the Bill of Rights of Pennsylvania asserted: " That. all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain, natural, inherent and inalienable rights, amongst which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."' In various forms other colonies asserted the same. But the landowners, shippers, traders and lawyers, composing the majority who adopted the Declaration of Independence, apparently decided not to allow so momentous a declaration to receive the stamp of their authority. Giving the people the form, and smothering the substance, they omitted the all-important doctrine that every man was entitled to acquire and own property, and they left in the Declaration the meaningless phrase that every man was entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They were not ignorant of the fact that to live and enjoy life, the means of subsistence must first be assured; the prospect, however, of a surrender of their own caste, powers and privileges, a curtailment of the projects many of them had in hand and soon carried out, and the entrance of democracy into the affairs of government, affrighted them. That the Revolution was essentially and definitely a traders' rebellion for liberty of trade to get what they wanted, make what they willed, and sell where they could, no small proportion of the workers were fully sensible. To get recruits, desperate action was found necessary. At the instigation of the merchants, small guerrilla mobs were repeatedly organized to terrorize and coerce the passive, unwilling or antagonistic. Bounties, then considered enormous, were held out as inducements for enlistment; the price (in paper) for a single recruit was, according to Sabine, as high sometimes as $750 and $1,000 on enlistment for the war, and the donation, in addition, of land bounties and emolument, by Congress. It was these inducements that brought into the Revolutionary army so large a number of foreigners.

pp. 117-119 [I]n the following pages ... it will be further seen how Washington, Hamilton, James Wilson, Robert Morris, Gouverneur Morris, the Carrolls, Samuel Chase, John Jay, Thomas Fitzsimmons, Thomas Mifflin and other notables who either directly or indirectly caused the adoption of the Constitution, and some of whom formed the first bench of the Supreme Court, were abetting or putting through great fraudulent undertakings.

[Birdman note: I do not find Myers' examples particularly compelling. They are basically assertions that speculators bought up the land claims of Revolutionary War veterans, sometimes when they were drunk, by taking advantage of the veterans' need of money.]

From the chapter FROM JAYS RESIGNATION TO MARSHALL'S ACCESSION pp. 222-223
Of the two appointments as Associate justices made by President John Adams -- those of Bushrod Washington and Alfred Moore -- one is deserving of particular note. Adams was an extremely rich man; his private income was reputed to be $25,000 a year, which, at that time, was regarded as something enormous. In his reverence for wealth, and his class distrust of the "lower orders," Adams was outspoken to a point approaching what his enemies viewed as the very extreme of bigotry. But this charge was not well founded. Adams simply voiced with honest belief the views held by his whole class, and demanded by their interests; where Hamilton in Adams' position would have cautiously and unctuously cajoled the public, Adams threw calculating tact aside. Appointing corrupt men to office, conniving at the most colossal frauds and thefts when committed by members of his class, Adams was an ideal head for a government run by capitalists for capitalists. In the dull chronicles of the usual historical weaving, Adams has had to bear the odium of the disgraceful Alien and Sedition law, the real purpose of which was to stifle liberty of speech and of press. But the actual authors of this law were the landholders and other associated politico-capitalists obtaining huge areas of public land by fraud, and scheming either to have confiscated estates vested in themselves or in their immediate connections. These men naturally objected to the caustic diatribes against their meditated alliance with the British governing class with the object of putting down the French Revolution. They were savagely upset by the biting exposure of their great frauds, either accomplished or projected. In these frauds nearly every member of the Cabinet and Senate had a hand as also many members of the House of Representatives. The claim for more than 11,000,000 acres of the 35,000,000 acres obtained by that grant bribed through the Georgia Legislature in 1795, was held by Adams' Massachusetts friends; and, as we shall see, Adams' son, John Quincy Adams, was one of the attorneys who later successfully argued that claim to a validation through the Supreme Court of the United States.

 

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