This is a response to an Augsburg history class forum question regarding Terry Bouton’s Book, “Taming Democracy”
The revolutionary war was revolutionary in that ordinary Pennsylvanian’s were able to force the reluctant gentry into declaring independence from Britain and disregarding British law to the point where war broke out.
It was revolutionary in that Britain’s foreign policy was so bad (Stamp Act, Townshend Act, banning of printed currency) it forced the American colony to resort to guerilla warfare tactics of rebellion and forced upper class creditors to default on their loans from England, risking their reputation with other foreign banks.
It was revolutionary in that for a brief moment in time, people were able look beyond their own needs and see there was an opportunity for everyone to live better through a democratically elected and represented central government. (according to various publications, written by those who, a) could write and b) had the funds and resources to publish)
It was revolutionary in that the upper class gentry were simply waiting for “the people” to fight the revolutionary war for them, so that they could then impose their version British rule. A complete coup de tant and usurpation of the public and commonwealth whom they so relied upon to build, feed and clean for them. It was a stroke of genius if not absolute dumb luck.
It was revolutionary in that ordinary people believed being rich was sinful and un-Christianlike. It is perhaps easier to want economic equality in times of extreme and common poverty, than when in times of general affluence.
The implications of the revolutionary period, one where “the gospel of moneyed men” was the chief driver for the downfall of all the promises a democracy would have brought the middle and lower classes, are as follows;
- “The people” is a temporary and multitudinous faction representing only the needs of a believed internal majority – represented by those willing to speak up, and potentially join the gentry.
- American democracy will forever be ruled by those willing to take power, whether it be representing their version of “the people” or flat out representing corporate interests and corporate interests only.
- There will always be a majority of the people that do not completely trust government, because they believe government does not trust them. Take for example the “Rings of Protection” in chapter six of “Taming Democracy”. Within each ring was a centre of individuals, intellectually capable of revolting against injustice in their own unique way – not because they feared retribution of the state tax collector and being sued, but because their conscience told them taking money from poor people was wrong, especially when it is given to people that weren’t poor. These beliefs weren’t of their own making, they were inspired by witnessing everyday life of the common man. They also believed (and were justified) that no matter how well they did their job for the gentry, the gentry ultimately did not trust their word.
- A democracy organized by the people will usually lead to limited success. Once working class soldiers and farmers were shown the life of a gentlemen, they were generally turned off of the ideas that got them elected in the first place. Take for example the new land bank that was supposed to replace and take down the Morris private banks and their minimum $20 currency notes. As soon as those elected to build the bank were tempted by Robert Morris, with promises of riches and affluence, they turned away from their constituencies.
- An American democracy will generally consist of the few representing the many – which is problematic at best. The hope that the few will be the most fair, talented, educated, and most concerned with providing justice and a good life for the “common good” is then completely necessary for anyone participating in the democracy. Only those who feel they can do a better, fairer job will attempt to rise above the rest and only those who are comfortable with the status quo will continue to wallow in discontent. (as evidenced by the myriad of Pennsylvanians who would refuse to revolt even when they believed the new American government was nearly and basically the same as the King of England)