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Unformatted text preview: Midterm #2 Rachel Albright Guy Chet Early-American Honors Survey August 18, 2008 Albright 1 Marxist historiography studies the importance of social class and eco- nomic limitations as the reasons behind major events in history. Deciding how you interpret the past is very important because it allows you to recognize significant patterns that occur in order to have a better understanding of why events happened in the past as well as the ability to predict outcomes of events happening in the present. There are many different kinds of historical interpretations- for example, a person could see that key historical phenomenon occurred due to patterns of racism or gender issues. However, for me the structure that seems most prominent in history is the recurrent theme of social and economic repression, revolution, and reorganization that fits the marxist historical model. In this essay, I will use the historical events that caused and were effected by the English Inclosure Acts, Bacon's Rebellion, and Shay's Rebellion as examples of how American (and partially English) history fits into the marxist historical interpretation. The Inclosure Acts are great examples of how the oppression of the lower class and the social battle between them and upper classes can cause major historical events. According to the authors of America's History, the gold and silver Spain and other European countries claimed from the Americas greatly disrupted the European economy in a period that is known as the Price Revolution. This revolution resulted in a huge inflation of goods such as wool and grains. Because of this increase, profit- Midterm #2 Albright 2 minded landowners urged Parliament to pass a series of Inclosure Acts that would close off previously public land in order to grow more crops and graze more sheep. The problem with this was that the common lands supported the poor and landless, allowing them the resources to survive and feed their families. The fencing off of these once shared lands caused a widespread movement of laborers from the countryside to the towns growing due to the forthcoming Industrial Revolution. Without these displaced peoples, the supply of cheap labor which fed the factories that would jump-start the revolution would have been significantly less sizable. However, only a lucky few would get enough work or money to remain in the cities. For the rest of the displaced population, America offered a promise of regular work and guaranteed land through indentured servitude. Thus, the Aristocratic suppression of the landless through the Inclosure Acts not only helped fuel the coming Industrial Revolution, but also helped populate and create a social class in America. As soon as a social class was established in America, the battle for power between the elite and working class began. A prime example of such power struggles can be seen in Virginia in 1676 with Bacon's Rebellion. This rebellion, led by Nathaniel Bacon, was the first revolt in American Colonies in which discontent frontiersmen fought for rights they felt were being withheld from them by the Governor. Bacon and his rioters- which were mostly made up of frontiersmen, Indentured Servants, and Slavesfought for a more aggressive Indian Policy and lower prices for tobacco, and against special privileges given to those close to Governor Berkley. In other words, they were fighting for fairer policies for the working class. An interesting result of this rebellion was a series of laws specifically against any non-christian, non-white laborer (which were Midterm #2 Albright 3 basically the enslaved Africans and Indians). According to Edmund S. Morgan in his book American Slavery, American Freedom, these laws were created in order to forestall another rebellion of poor whites by banding together all of the white classes against the slaves and creating a form of political racism, which did not exist before. Fearing an increase in lower class planters, the gentry urged the Virginian population to turn away from indentured servants (who would eventually join the society as poor planters) and to invest in slaves (who were bound to a lifetime of servitude due to these new laws). In addition, the Virginian elite began to bribe the poor whites by reducing their taxes and allowing them to vote in exchange for their promise to elect the wealthy into the House of Burgesses. Due to this trading, the social position of the planter elite was solidified, and they used their control of the House of Burgesses to out the political power of the Royal Governor. Because of the discontent of the lower working class and the rebellion that followed, racism was instilled in the American political system which would eventually lead to the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movements. In addition, this rebellion gave increasing power to the American elite who were dissatisfied with the imperial treatment and provided a stepping stone to the eventual War of Independence in America. After the American Revolution, the new nation began to work on paying off its wartime debt. While most states tried to assist their indebted farmer-majority through payment instillations and printed currency, Massachusetts' lack of debtor-relief legislation caused a highly regressive tax that would lead to the new nation's first rebellion. The major problem was that the farm lands in western and central Massachusetts had a barter economy, while the industrialized eastern portion's economy was monetary. Midterm #2 Albright 4 When small farmers could not meet their debt, they were forced to sell their land. This not only condemned their families to extreme poverty, but also took away their right to vote. In addition, Massachusetts re-wrote its credit schemes to be administered by elected, rather than appointed, officials. So the poor farmers were unfairly subjected to a higher tax than the wealthy eastern merchants, and the only way they had to voice their opinion was to rebel. Led by Daniel Shays, the armed rebellion alarmed the nation's leaders and made them aware of several issues overlooked by the Articles of Confederation. George Washington, who closely followed the happenings of the rebellion, was alarmed by the helplessness of the confederation in the face of revolt, and consequently ended his retirement in order to fight for a more centralized government. At the same time, James Madison unsuccessfully attempted to change the weakness in the Articles of Confederation. Because his efforts were blocked by a small minority in congress, Madison decided that the only way to resolve the states' problems was to go elsewhere. He called for a gathering of states in 1786, and then again in 1787. The second meeting was the Constitutional Convention where a new, stronger government was created under the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, the economic repression by the merchant elite in Massachusetts cause our nation's leaders to band together to create the document that to this day regulates our government. These are just a few examples of how social class and economic oppres- sion has brought about change in American history. The recurrent theme of repression, revolution, and re-organization has been apparent throughout history and provides an obvious explanation of why a series of events occurred. It is because of this reoccurring pattern that I have taken a marxist interpretation of historical events. Midterm #2 Albright 5 Bibliography Burt, Richard, and John M. Archer, eds. Enclosure Acts: Sexuality, Property, and Culture in Early Modern England. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994. Questia Media America, Inc. 21 Mar. 2008 <http://www.questia.com> Henretta, James A., David Brody, Lynn Dumenil, and Susan Ware. America's History. 5th ed. Vol. 1. Boston: Bedford / St. Martin, 2004. Morgan, Edmund S. American Slavery, American Freedom. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1975 ...
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This note was uploaded on 08/18/2008 for the course HIST 2675 taught by Professor Chet during the Spring '08 term at North Texas.
- Spring '08