The colonists, during the period building up to the American Revolutionary War, were becoming more and more aggressive towards England. However, before Great Britain and Parliament rattled the chains that ‘enslaved Americans and gained the vexation of those seeking liberty’, there was another class of individuals better suited to and far more deserving of the ire of the American masses; some of our founding fathers. They were the wealthy absentee landowners, monopolist merchants, and traders in cahoots with corrupt political dynasties who shared the spoils and opportunities of development. They were colonial Americans who through the luck of being related to those who first arrived from Europe and grabbed the most land for themselves, or by thrift, greed, and shrewd business dealings, were part of what in modern terms we label the top 1% of the social economic class of America. Many of those in this top 1% of wealthy individuals had direct financial dealings with the fattened British merchants, royal governors, and Parliamentary Lords and Ministers. One hand graced the other at the expense of many Americans struggling to keep their farms and remain out of debtor’s prisons.
At first, these wealthy gentlemen became the target of the poor and middle class wrath. However, as protests became more common and hostilities increased with violence and outright revolt, the more enlightened members of the established order realized they could be in very big trouble. And unless the American ruling class wished for a quiet stroll to the hang man’s noose, what occurred in France a couple of decades later with revolution and the guillotine, they had to look around for someone or something to take the blame. That someone was England and that something was the loss of liberty. Therefore many who went on to become our founding fathers switched allegiance. Those English merchants, noblemen, and ministers with whom America’s aristocrats were financially in bed with, were accused of underhanded dealings against the American people. The ingenious plan was to shift blame, including themselves as victims, onto British greed and power mongering. What more, to assure that no accusations would smear their silk breeches and tailored waistcoats, some of these fine gentlemen placed themselves at the head of the revolutionary movement – making the British connection the cad, the scoundrel, and the whipping boy. In the interests of self-preservation, they furiously tried to channel and direct the flood of resentment from themselves onto the British and used the cause for freedom and revolution as a means to do so.
Most of the early protests from the 1760’s riots were staged against great landowners from New York to South Carolina. In every case the anger and frustration of ‘average’ colonials who believed that laws were passed in which they had no power to control was eventually shifted from the wealthy colonial leaders and onto England’s head. By using and financing the King’s troops to act as police who stood before the revolting colonial farmers and tradesmen, the American lawmakers averted being associated with any strong arm tactics to subjugate them. What follows are only a few such examples.
In 1764, the Paxton Boys arrived in Philadelphia demanding increased representation for the west in the local assembly. The western settlers of Pennsylvania were frustrated that they were on the forefront of the wilderness and little was being done towards their safety and well being by the wealthy inhabitants in and around Philadelphia who held the colony’s purse strings. This became a classic struggle between the urban and rural, the haves versus the have-nots and the newcomers – in this case Scottish-Irish immigrants – and the establishment – mostly Quakers of earlier generations. These ‘Paxton Boys’ (named for Paxton, a few miles east of Harrisonburg, PA) marched on Philadelphia in January, 1764 and numbered over 1,500 armed men. A panic stricken Philadelphia turned out in arms. Only through the intervention of Benjamin Franklin and other well known residents of Philadelphia, was violence averted.
In 1766, a tenants’ revolt had to be suppressed by troops. Patents to huge tracts of land had been granted to a few powerful colonists. They in turn granted leases that provided for a perpetual rent to the farmers who worked the land. Failure to pay the rent resulted in ejection from the property. These landowners were allowed to charge and set fees at whim since they basically were the government. Without freehold titles, many farmers could not meet the property qualifications to vote in elections and on juries. This type of draconian rule set up by the Dutch and continued by the British after having seized the colonies, perpetuated the feudal system and power of the few landowners who, through their money and influence, were on politically sound footing to oversee all laws that governed the colonies. This resulted in several clashes between tenants, the landowner’s mercenary armies, and the British soldiers. Many were killed and dozens were injured as the two opposing forces fought over what was growing into outright revolt against American colonial imperialists.
In 1768, the ‘Regulator’ movement of small western farmers rampaged against the American colonial gentry through North and South Carolina before being defeated by the authorities at the Battle of the Alamance. Farmers and settlers had been, for years, frustrated by the wealthy landowners and planters who basically ran the government and determined the taxes levied on who we would now consider the ‘working poor.’ They were frustrated by unfair taxes, dishonest sheriffs, and illegal fees all levied and enforced by local assemblies chaired by wealthy Americans. After years of minor clashes, they began to assemble to stand up against local officials who had become corrupt and unworthy tools of the colonial landowners, merchants, and royal governor who in turn represented the King. They eventually armed and labeled themselves ‘Regulators’, and as a last resort, when all peaceful means through petitions, letters of protest, and elections to the Assembly, had failed to redress their grievances, stood in stark defiance of the governor and the local government.
This led to open hostilities and was the first opening salvo of the revolution, but it was not aimed at British tyranny, but at American aristocratic rule. The same influential men with whom these backwoods farmers battled eventually turned against the royal governor and sided with the farmers in revolt against the King. Expressing their contempt against the same principals they at first stood for and benefited from. On May 11, 1771, wealthy merchant Samuel Cornell put up the lofty sum of £6,000 for Royal Governor William Tryon (later royal governor of New York) to send a militia against the ‘Regulators’. The two opposing forces met on May 15th. A heated battle lasted throughout the day in which the Regulators were defeated, but not before both sides suffered up to a hundred casualties. One of the supposed leaders of the Regulators was captured and executed on the spot. Six others were captured and executed some days later. Since the operation was handled by the royal governor, he and England ultimately received the wrath and blame for the violence. Not so the local colonial leaders who had financed the governor’s militia. They went unscathed. Later these same councilmen would be those who cried the loudest against England’s strong armed rule over their colony.
For a true revolt to succeed, it needed to appear that it was a natural outgrowth of homegrown common, ordinary folks. It needed to be peppered with tireless zealot enthusiasts who would be able to recruit others to a growing cause through use of propaganda and misinformation to gain the masses favors. The finest choice for such a role was made ready to order; Samuel Adams. He ultimately became the father of revolution and the driving force that powered the rebellion during this tumultuous period.
Revenge and anger fuels the tireless soul to pursue a cause from morning to dusk, day after day. Samuel Adams was that person. England’s strenuous effort to restrict currency expansion in the colonies was cited as skullduggery by America’s wealthiest provincials. England saw no need for their colonies to develop their own monetary system. Prosperous America decided to snub England and printed money based on expected tax revenues, and issued money on the security of property alone. The Land Manufacture Bank, set up in 1740, was promptly closed down by the authorities – ruining dozens of investors including Samuel Adam’s father, brewer Samuel Adams Sr. By that action alone, Britain gained an enemy for life. Samuel Adams Jr. spent every waking moment determined to see an end to England’s authority in the American colonies. He would get his revenge. He recruited the best and the brightest from Harvard, set up a propaganda machine that would pale modern day techniques used to smear one’s opponent, and capitalized on every move England made to assert her interests in America.
England’s stupidity by giving the American ruling class fodder to pursue their ‘cause for liberty’ only hastened the propaganda machine that ultimately convinced the masses – those who actually placed themselves in harm’s way before British steel – that the only true enemy was not the wealthy or ‘well-ballasted’ American gentlemen, but the fattened British merchants, governors, and Parliamentary Lords. Misconceived acts by Parliament to generate the expected revenue from a people with a higher standard of living than the same class of British subjects living in England only convinced more and more colonials to join the ‘patriot cause.’
The classic economic view of the American Revolution holds that, after the Seven Years War with France (1756-1763), the colonies plunged into an economic depression which sparked off deep resentment against British colonial mercantilism ‘exploitation’. England was suffering their own economic depression which prompted Parliament to enact a series of acts to raise taxation from the colonies and to restrict American trade thereby fueling colonial resentment that exploded in open rebellion.
While there is some truth to this more traditional viewpoint found in school texts as to what led to the American Revolution, its substance is not validated by close scrutiny. Any post-war depression was short-lived and the colonists’ main problems that existed prior to 1775 could not be traced to economic contraction, but breakneck economic expansion. Any ‘exploitative’ measures that England exerted barely worked and on the contrary, in many cases, actually benefited colonial trade. In the case of England’s attempt to impose taxation, it was a dismal failure. So much so that it could hardly be blamed for the harsh conditions the Americans were supposedly subjected to.
The first principal colonial economic restriction was the 1660 Navigation Act. It restricted trade to and from the colonies to British vessels. It turned out to be a huge beneficial prize to New England which produced much of the English fleet. It employed thousands of colonial tradesmen which poured British sterling directly into the colonial financial structure. By 1775, nearly a third of all English ships were being constructed in America. Over four thousand British ships docked at American ports. Far from discouraging trade, the provision ensured that Americans had a huge merchant fleet waiting to disperse their exports.
Enumeration – a quota system that defined levels of production and targeting them for British markets – bandied as a major abuse, also proved highly profitable to the American economy. The main American crops affected were tobacco, rice, and indigo. The quotas demanded on exceeded all expectations. For example, exports of tobacco to Scotland alone rose from 12 million pounds in 1746 to an astonishing 48 million by 1771. During the same period exports to London markets rose from 26 million to 45 million pounds. Would the Americans have made more profit if they were allowed to sell directly to other markets rather than through England? The answer is obtained if one looks at what happened after America gained its independence. After reaching a high of 100 million pounds in exports in 1775, it dropped to just 51 million by 1814.
During the years leading up to the American Revolution, Americans benefited enormously from piracy and smuggling. It added millions of hard sterling into the colonial coffers. Raiding Spanish ships was estimated to bring in £100,000 a year to New York City alone. The richest man in New England, John Hancock, and eventually the President of the Continental Congress – leading the fight against England, gained his millions in wealth from smuggling, often in cahoots with the same British merchants and ministers with whom he had publically claimed as his enemy. By promoting revolution, he eventually got away without paying well over a £100,000 in penalties for his illegal business dealings. Smuggling involved mainly embargoed goods supplied by North American producers to European markets. Many of England’s acts imposed on the colonists encouraged a colonial illicit trade providing a captive market for American merchants. The profits were enormous to say the least.
England was justifiably charged with trying to limit industries in the colonies. But their efforts failed. The three main acts: Iron, Woolens, and Hat Acts all proved dismally ineffective. By 1775, there were more forges working in America than in Britain with the output far greater than England’s. By the Revolution, there were no woolen imports to America so the British failed to find a captive market. Hats were barred from exports, but there were 842 hatters operating throughout the colonies at the time of the revolution – 532 in Pennsylvania alone.
As a people, colonial grumbling against their government did not emerge from financial hardships brought about by England’s harsh rule that ‘enslaved’ her subjects. Any problems Americans originally had towards the laws of the land were with their own colonial leaders. Colonists were given free realm by England to pick and choose their own lawmakers who in turn chose, far too often, to fatten their own coffers at the local populace’s expense. Many of these future patriots and Founding Fathers were able to continue their stature and profitable established norms by propagating a rebellion. They found a likely target and initiated a cause – the call for liberty. If truth be told, many of the wealthy 1% of America’s population held control over the colonies and therefore should have been the subject of colonists’ wrath. However, through manipulation and shrewd handling, blame was shifted from them and onto the back of a misinformed and self-destructing British Parliament. As historian Robert Harvey so poignantly states: “It was a potent alliance – the rich feeding upon the frustration of the poor to vent their anger against the common enemy – remote Britain. It helped to defuse the class antagonism between the two.”
Time and again this pattern repeats itself throughout history including the most recent USA national election. Wealthy investors secured their political interests through misinformation and propaganda to feed upon the frustration and fears of the ‘lower classes’ to vent their anger against a common enemy – in this case mainly immigrants; the historical backbone of this nation. The have-nots are, and if history continues to hold true, will remain the cannon fodder of the haves.
Harvey, Robert. A Few Bloody Noses. The Realities and Mythologies of the American Revolution. 2002: The Overlook Press, New York, NY.
Kaminski, John P. The Founders on the Founders. 2008: The University of Virginia Press,Charlottesville, VA.
Phillips, Kevin. 1775. 2012: Penguin Group, Viking Press, New York, NY.
Raphael, Ra. Founders, The People Who Brought You a Nation. 2009: The New Press, New
Alamance Battleground. North Carolina Historical Sites. http://www.nchistoricsites.org/alamance/alamanc.htm
Crown Vs. William Prendergast. Historical Society of the New York Courts. http://www.nycourts.gov/history/legal-history-new-york/legal-history-eras-01/history-new-york-legal-eras-crown-predergast.html
 Harvey, pg. 18
 Historical Society of the New York Courts.
 Harvey, pg. 18
 Ibid, pg. 24
 Ibid, pp 18-19
 Ibid, pg. 21