Thursday, November 29, 2007

American Proletarian Republicanism

American Exceptionalism is based upon proletarian republicanism.

In England and the Commonwealth the rule of the Master over his 'servants' was postulated under the Master Servant Act which determined the condition of the working class as one of indentured servitude. This Act remained the basis of labour law in Canada even after it was reformed. However its concept of a fiduciary responsibility of the worker to the boss remains as the basis of all labour relations law to this day in the British Commonwealth.

Because America was founded upon the concept of the free land movement, which Edwin Gibbon Wakefield so bitterly complained about, this concept was actively resisted and the liberal ideal of a free contract for labour was embraced.

It was for this reason French and Irish Canadians in the 19th Century often traveled freely to the United States to work, and then came back home to farm.
Which lead to bitter complaints from Nativist Americans about 'illegal immigrants' and 'Papists'.

It was quite common during the building of the Great Lakes Canals, the grunt work being done by Irish 'Navvies'. And it was this free movement of workers between Canada and the U.S. that led to Rebellion of 1837 in Canada where the rebels embraced the liberal ideals of American Proletarian Republicanism; free labour and free trade.

Citizenship and Justice in the Lives
and Thoughts of Nineteenth-Century American Workers

Delivered at
Brasenose College, Oxford University
April 29, May 3, and May 6, 1991

Master-and-servant legislation in Britain and the United States
shared the same roots in the fourteenth-century Statute of Laborers
and the Elizabethan Statute of Artificers. The law imposed criminal
sanctions against workers who left their employment without
the master’s permission. Those sanctions applied to wage earners
as well as to slaves, indentured servants, and apprentice.23 In
1823 the British Parliament renewed the law’s provision that abandoning
work could lead to criminal prosecution before a justice of
the peace and a sentence of up to three months at hard labor after
which the workers’ still owed their masters all contracted labor
time. The new British law did, however, eliminate the magistrates’
powers of supervision of conditions of employment, which
had been part of the Elizabethan law but had lapsed into disuse.
Daphne Simon has calculated that during the 1860s an average
of ten thousand men and women in England and Wales were
prosecuted each year for leaving their jobs, most of them agricultural
laborers, household workers, miners, and workers in potteries
and cutlery trades.

During the same decade that Britain’s Parliament renewed the
law of criminal sanctions, American courts discarded it. A book
by Robert J. Steinfeld sheds important light on this development.
Steinfeld argues that the decisive legal judgments hinged on the
claims of owners of indentured servants, and they were couched
in language that sharply contrasted the legal position of wage
earners to that of slaves. Although all northern states by 1820
either had prohibited chattel slavery or had decreed the eventual
manumission of all children subsequently born to slaves, migrants
from Europe who had contracted themselves into temporary bondage
for specified periods of time continued to arrive and be sold
in the ports of Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore. Pennsylvania,
the most common destination of such servants, had enacted
regulations of the trade by 1818, to require schooling for servants’
children and to inhibit the separation of families and the sale of
servants outside of the state.

Virtually all the new arrivals were sold to rural employers —
for labor in the fields, within households, or on construction
projects. In the northern cities the rapid disappearance of journeymen
residing within the households of employing artisans, the
substitution of day-to-day money wages for board and services provided
by the master’s wife (“found”), and the large influx of
immigrant journeymen after 1790 had undermined the eighteenth century
reliance of Philadelphia’s artisans on indentured whites
and of New York’s artisans on black slaves. In New York City,
where the owning of slaves had been remarkably equally distributed
throughout the white population before the Revolution, most
slaves of 1800 were found in households of the wealthy, and
bondspeople still employed by artisans had declined to only 18 percent
of the total. White artisans, laborers, and household workers
alike vociferously objected to being called “servants” and to physical
punishments, which they considered badges of servitude.26
Both chattel slavery in its New York and New Jersey agricultural
strongholds and indentured servitude on Pennsylvania
farms were plagued with runaways and with (often successful)
efforts of bondspeople to negotiate better terms with their owners.
Shane White’s study of the decline of slavery in New York has
produced evidence of many black slaves negotiating their way to
freedom through long-term indentures, especially after the enactment
of the gradual manumission law of 1799. Simultaneously,
popular antipathy toward bondage for white people created difficulties
for owners who sought to enforce the terms of indentures.

The troubled persistence of indentured servitude is revealed
by the experiences of Ludwig Gall — ironically a German follower
of Charles Fourier — who came to Pennsylvania in 1819 in
search of a site for a phalanstery. Gall brought eleven servants
with him. When they arrived in Philadelphia, Gall recorded:
They had scarcely come ashore when they were greeted as
countrymen by people who told them that contracts signed in
Europe were not binding here; . . . that they were free as birds
here; that they didn’t have to pay for their passage, and nobody
would think ill of them if they used the money instead
to toast the health of their European masters. . . , The last
scoundrel said: “Follow me, dear countrymen; don’t let yourselves
be wheedled away into the wilderness.”

Gall resorted to the threat of debtors’ prison to make his “companions”
repay their passage. He brought one defiant servant
before a justice of the peace and had him incarcerated, only to
discover that he (Gall) had to pay the prisoner’s maintenance,
and a late payment the second week set the man free. Although
that servant seems to have enjoyed his stay with a “boisterous
group” of three hundred debtors, who “formed their own little
republic” in the Walnut Street prison, the other ten were persuaded
by the threat of jail to indenture themselves to Gall for
three to four years, in return for Gall’s promise to pay them ten
dollars a year.

Gall’s troubles did not end there. His anxiety to rush the
servants out of the city before they learned the ways of American
life was well founded: five men whom he had boarded apart from
his family deserted him the day he left Philadelphia. The remaining
servants made Gall cut short his westward journey in Harrisburg.
Five days after his departure from Philadelphia, he wrote:
“Two of my servants deserted me between Montjoie and here
[Harrisburg]; and my choice was to continue the journey with
hired help, whom I should have to pay $2 a day, or stay here
perforce.” He rented “a pretty country house” with thirty-six tillable
acres, “precisely as much as the [one man and two women]
who remained true to me can care for with two horses.”

Alas, the remaining man did not “remain true” for long. He
soon demanded a seat at the family table and a good Sunday suit,
and on Gall’s refusal, he absconded. A neighborhood farmer
captured the man and had him jailed by the justice of the peace.
From prison the man spent six weeks negotiating the terms of his,
own release, while Gall paid his maintenance. His prison had
cards, whiskey, and in fact, growled Gall, “Methodists with a
misplaced love of humanity supplied him and his fellows with
an abundance of food and drink. . . . Indeed, everything was in
vain. In the end I had to let the fellow go.”

Just to rub it in, the “French-speaking Swiss immigrant,”
whom Gall hired in the servant’s place, threatened to drag Gall
before a justice of the peace for asking him to feed the horses on
Sunday (in violation of state Sabbath laws). Gall settled out of
court: paying the hired man half the anticipated fine.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company reproduced Gall’s
experience on a larger scale, when it brought some five hundred
laborers from Ireland in 1829, only to have them depart for Baltimore
or to nearby railroad construction, where higher wages were
available. Prosecution of the runaways proved prohibitively costly
to the company, and juries refused to convict the workers. Even a
federal judge who was willing to enforce Maryland’s 1715 statute
against runaway servants acknowledged that bound wage labor
was “opposed to the principles of our free institutions and . . .
repugnant to our feelings.” Both the canal laborers and those
working nearby on the new railroad struck several times during
the next six years over wages and over control of hiring, inducing
President Jackson to dispatch federal troops in 1834 to maintain
order. But no worker faced imprisonment for breach of contract,
such as they would have risked in England.

The repugnance felt by the federal judge had been written
into law by the Supreme Court of Indiana in an 1821 ruling on
The case of Mary Clark, a woman of color. The case was brought
by a free black woman in a free state, whose master made the
familiar claim that she had bound herself voluntarily in 1816 “to
serve him as an indented servant and house-maid for 20 years.”
When her suit for habeas corpus was denied by a lower court,
Clark appealed to the state supreme court, which set her free with
the resounding declaration that no one but apprentices, soldiers,
and sailors could be subjected to criminal prosecution for deserting
a job in violation of a contract. Because a contract for service
“must be performed under the eye of the master” and might “require
a number of years,” enforcement of such performance by
law “would produce a state of servitude as degrading and demoralizing
in its consequences, as a state of absolute slavery.”

Although legal commentaries soon began to quote The case of
Mary Clark, it did not appear frequently as a cited precedent until
after the Civil War. By that time the adoption by former Confederate
states of Black Codes — labor codes applying specifically
to African Americans, whose central feature was the imposition
of criminal prosecution for those who failed to sign one-year labor
contracts, or who left a job after they had signed such a contract —
had evoked a vigorous reaction, first from black southerners and
then from the federal Congress. “I hope soon to be called a citizen
of the U.S. and have the rights of a citizen,” a black soldier
from South Carolina had written in 1866. “I am opposed myself
to working under a contract. I am as much at liberty to hire a
White man to work as he to hire me, I expect to stay in the South
after I am mustered out of service, but not to hire myself to a

The soldier’s conception of liberty was enshrined in the 1866
Civil Rights Act, and subsequently in the Fourteenth Amendment
to the Constitution, both of which nullified contractual requirements
of the Black Codes, and put in their place national principles
of “freedom of contract” to regulate both economic and
family life. The promise sought by the black soldier of equal
application of the principle of employment at will had become the
law of the land. Its practical significance for the daily lives of
southern rural workers provides an especially dramatic illustration
of the impact of democracy on the law of wage labor and will
receive close attention in my final lecture.


Native America and the Evolution of Democracy

"Are Anarchists Thugs?"

Jamestown; The Birth of Capitalism

Jamestown; the beginning of Globalization

The Era Of The Common Man

1666 The Creation Of The World

The Many Headed Hydra

Plutocrats Rule

American Fairy Tale

Slavery in Canada


The Origin of American Conspiracy Theories

History of Slavery

The Truth Shall Set Ye Free

Cooperative Commonwealth=Free Market

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