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Fight for Independence: Shays' Rebellion and Other Protests

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In the United States the citizens are granted inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is, as long as they possess a disproportionate amount of wealth in comparison to the middle and lower class. Otherwise, they are granted exploitation, subjugation, and ramifications due to their social and economic status. The founding fathers credited with the drafting and creation of The Constitution established a foundation for a system of government which supports and propels forwards the best interest of the upper class in America, while subsequently depriving and suppressing the needs of the rest of society.

To understand how America arrived to its current state of upper-class supremacy it’s important to understand and analyze its inception and how it came to be. In early America colonist were confronted with the issue of being ruled tyrannically by a monarchy across the ocean. These colonists were unfairly taxed, exploited, and subject to violence on the whims of Great Britain at the time, in which they had no representation or say in the matter. What started off initially as a struggle to retain their rights as British subjects soon evolved into a full-blown revolution for independence (Greenberg, 2.1). The ensuing battles and unrelenting, unyielding nature of the British government would spawn a document known as the Declaration of Independence. The document contained the colonist’s desire to break off and separate from Great Britain, and further defined that people possessed certain inalienable rights, government was to be created by the people and for the people, and if government failed to protect people’s rights they reserved the right to withdraw from said government and establish a new one (Greenberg, 2.1).

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Having made their intentions clear the Revolutionary War would persist for some time. In the midst of the war the leaders of the revolution would congregate to draft yet another document, this time one which served to lay a foundation for how a central government would be organized, what powers it possessed, and what limitations it was bound by. Thusly, the Articles of Confederation came to be, which served as America’s first true constitution. It’s intended purpose was to create “a loose confederation of states”, supported by a very limited, but central body of government (Greenberg, 2.2). However, it was quickly evident that this newly formed government had little to no ability to be effectively govern at all, and could do little in the way of facilitating and promoting the interests of the newly formed confederation of states. With no power to oversee and regulate commerce, enforce laws passed by Congress, settle transgressions and disputes between states, or establish a national currency the central government was essentially a government only in name (Greenberg, 2.2). Taxes were an entirely voluntary action which the states largely opted out of, and national laws required a majority nine of thirteen votes casted by the states to be passed. This would further cripple the government of its ability to finance its actions and create national changes they deemed appropriate.

This series of events is what ultimately sparked the movement of the wealthy, upper-class to take advantage of a scattered, ununified, and naïve America and widen the gap of disproportionately possessed wealth and power among the social classes. At the upper echelon of the social class structure resided white, male property owners who held the lion share of wealth in America at the time. Bankers, merchants, and big landowners held enormous influence over political and economic matters, even dominating local press in service to their best interests (Parenti, 5). In contrast the working-class endured harsh and punishing poverty, subjected to high costs of living, high taxes, and low incomes for the work they performed (Parenti, 7). This forced many people to take out loans at incredibly high interest rates, which drove them even further into poverty. This was bolstered even further by the fact that so many obstacles and restrictions were placed on who was permitted to participate in the political process in the nation. In order to qualify to vote one must be white and possess property for instance, which automatically prevented Native Americans, Blacks, and women of any race from participating, which accounted for a large percentage of the population. Furthermore, in order to hold a position in office one had to meet strict, steep property qualifications that even excluded many voting eligible whites (Parenti, 5). While the working class represented the majority of the population, it was clear that interests of the rich minority were being served above theirs. This sparked revolts and rebellions where people would strike against their unfair working and living conditions, culminating in several large, and violent battles. One such infamous revolt was led by Daniel Shays in Massachusetts, 1786, known as Shays’ Rebellion. Farmland was being seized and their owners imprisoned on the basis of failing to pay state taxes. This prompted a group of men to arm and overtake the courthouses to prevent the judges from delivering any further orders (Greenberg, 2.3). State militia was dispatched to suppress the insurrection, resulting in multiple deaths and several people wounded.

Without any real way of enforcing national laws and policies, and regulating national commerce the affluent class of the nation was limited in their means to further their interests. Furthermore, the increasing amount of rebellions among the lower classes instilled fear in them, and they doubted the state’s ability to suppress and prevent further insurrections from occurring. So; under the guise of doing what was best for the nation, the framers convened in Virginia, 1787, in order to bolster the power of the central government and revise the Articles of Confederation (Parenti, 6). This new Constitution was meant to better consolidate the government’s power so it would be able to better serve the people of America and promote their best interests. Unfortunately for the majority class though, their representation was nonexistent in the deliberations. The men in attendance were deemed the framers, aiming to create a new constitutional framework. The framers consisted primarily of very wealthy, affluent men who were “holders of government bonds, real estate investors, successful merchants, bankers, lawyers, and owners of large plantations worked by slaves” (Greenberg, 2.4). This played a major role in the writing of the Constitution, as many of the revisions were implicitly directed towards furthering the interest of wealthy, white, male property owners. They would go on to grant Congress the power to regulate and protect western territories, which some of the framers being land speculators had investments in. They granted Congress the power to tax, regulate commerce, establish a currency, and pay debts accrued in pursuit of the defense and welfare of the United States (Parenti, 9). The abolition of slavery was withheld in order to appease the slave states in attendance, and instead slavery was addressed on a different level. Regarded as property, it was to be included in the Constitution that three-fifths of the slave population in a state would be counted towards the total representation a state would receive in the House of Representatives. This would go on to greatly empower the slave states which effected the spread of slavery into new territory and further discourage abolition efforts from Congress going forwards (Parenti, 10). Additionally, in response to revolts such as Shays Rebellion, they would charge Congress with organizing militia forces to protect states from further insurrections, which manufacturers and industrial barons benefitted greatly from due to massive worker strikes that were to come (Parenti, 10).

This power and control exercised by the wealthy, upper class over the conception and parameters of the Constitution delivered massive blows to the quality of democracy in the United States. The delegates of the constitutional convention feared democracy and this guided their actions and decisions. To subdue and contain the wants and needs of the “propertyless majority” (Parenti, 10) the founders would go on to separate the government into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. They implemented a system of checks and balances in the branches, which culminated in a convoluted and difficult process by which the Constitution could be amended. The intention was to “fragment power without democratizing it” (Parenti, 10), further robbing the majority faction of its ability to participate in political matters. Voters had little power in who was elected into official government positions, relegated to only directly being able to elect the House of Representatives under the Constitution. Slaves, Native Americans, and women were all still excluded from participating in political affairs as well. Upon submitting this Constitution for ratification, the democratic practice of popular vote was bypassed in favor of state conventions handling the process. These conventions were comprised of mainly the wealthy, upper class similar to the framers (Parenti, 14). The Constitution was the effort of a very powerful minority and democracy had little to do with its conception.

In Edward Greenberg’s “The Struggle for Democracy” and in Dr. Parenti’s “Democracy for the Few”, we see very different perspectives on how and why the class power of early America formed the way it did. Namely; Parenti takes a very critical stance on the decisions and motives behind the framer’s actions. He places a large emphasis on the fact that wealth and power appeared to be the primary motivating factor in many of their decisions regarding the Constitution. He claims many textbook writers ignore or even deny the strong desire held by the framers to strengthen central government in order to further their own financial gains and protect themselves from the other classes of society (Parenti, 6). He draws attention to the utilization and exploitation of the government’s ability to tax the public in order to support and bolster private fortunes, and how this is a practice that continues into the modern day (Parenti, 9). Parenti suggests that the framer’s proceeded believing that the best interests of their own class would be the best interests of every class, never doubting the nobility of their actions despite the hypocrisy of claiming a dedication to liberty while owning slaves (Parenti, 12). Charles Beard’s claim that the framers were influenced by their own class self-interests is referred to as “groundbreaking” by Parenti, and viewed very favorably.

Contrastingly we see a far more neutral, almost forgiving perspective on the founders by Edward Greenberg. He explains that the founders feared excess democracy for several sound reasons, such as the belief that it was resulting in the devaluation of money due to states printing cheap, paper money (Greenberg, 2.3). He mentions incidents such as Shays Rebellion being turning points for American notables, explaining that they feared states lacked the capability to maintain public order under the current Constitution (Greenberg, 2.4). According to Greenberg, America’s leaders feared that the country was at great risk of failing without the aid of a strong central government to provide stability. Greenberg mentions Charles Beard’s book as well, which he takes a more neutral stance on as opposed to Parenti. He informs the reader that Beard is generally believed to have overemphasized the framer’s desire to acquire wealth through their actions. (Greenberg, 2.4). Ultimately Greenberg tries to bring context to the matter and remind the reader that the framers were “launched on a novel and exciting adventure, trying to create a form of government that existed nowhere else during the late eighteenth century” (Greenberg, 2.4).

Where Greenberg and Parenti find common ground is in their belief that this system of upper-class dominance established in early America is something that persists still to this day. Parenti would specifically go on to note in his publication that the pattern of utilizing the government to protect and propagate the interests of the affluent class, which consisted primarily of white, male property owners still, would continue well into the twentieth century. These large landowners often grossly exploited slavery in efforts to expand railroad, oil, and tobacco empires to reap massive profits (Parenti, 18). The addition of federal protection against domestic insurrection would become a commonly utilized and key part in controlling the rebelling masses of workers that was steadily rising at the time. Parenti outlines several incidents where thousands of workers on strike were arrested, and many even injured or murdered by law enforcement forces. As recently as 1937, a crowd of steel workers on strike were attacked by Chicago police, leaving ten dead and forty wounded (Parenti, 19). Parenti draws attention to the government’s use of its newfound power to tax to bolster special interests’ fortunes, a practice still exercised today (Parenti, 9). Greenberg outlines the process of establishing treaties and foreign agreements and how red tape and hold ups by the senate often pressure the President to overstep Congress and establish agreements, which are not legally enforced and more easily disbanded (Greenberg, 1st Chp).

While Greenberg and Parenti focused more so on the actions and motives of the founding fathers and provided less examples of how modern-day practices directly correlate with those of the founders, Michael Moore in “Stupid White Men” provides a far more updated analysis of the current state of affairs and how the affluent, upper class is still to this day abusing their federal power to further their interests. Moore is outwardly opposed to the upper classes influence over the quality of the working class’s lives, claiming they often overexaggerate and mislead the public into believing that the economy isn’t doing well and there isn’t enough wealth to go around in order to justify downsizing and budget cuts. More interestingly though Moore in this publication cites several facts regarding the wealth distribution in the United States, stating that from 1979 onwards the richest one percent of the population have seen a staggering 157 percent increase in wages while the bottom twenty percent are losing around one-hundred dollars a year (Moore, Dow-Wow-Wow, 4).

The United States today is still very much dominated by the wealthy, upper-class. Parenti and Moore both provide sound arguments as to why this is the case. Control of the media, unresponsiveness to the majority’s desires, and exploitation of the government to further class self-interest, all of which were tactics of affluent class members in early America are still executed today. Control and monopolization of information has been a common method of exercising dominance over the public for years and a means of carefully deciding which agendas are pushed and which aren’t. Many people obtain their news from television broadcasted news stations, which in the United States are almost entirely controlled by large corporations. Infact; 788 broadcast-TV stations are controlled by as little as 8 enormous media giants, greatly influencing the look and feel of each of these stations (freepress.net). These large companies will often merge in order to consolidate their influence, making it possible to establish a monopoly over a specific type of service and unfairly restrict access to or charge excessive fees in order to use. For example, in 2018 AT&T and Time Warner completed a merger which will allow them to do just that, crippling competition from other entities in the same field or new competitors entering the marketplace (Laroia).

The concept of Net Neutrality, whereby large companies like AT&T, Charter, and Verizon are prevented from moderating and controlling which content on the internet is available to the public, is under attack from large special interest group today in America (Clement). These companies run by the upper echelon of the wealthy, upper-class stand to gain massive profits from the repeal of such policies. An overwhelming majority of people across the entire spectrum of the political sphere wish to maintain Net Neutrality and reject the ratification and alteration of it (Clement). Lobbying for more control is continued in spite of this fact though, directly going against the principles of democracy and majority rules similar to how the founding fathers conducted affairs in early America.

An even more obvious example of upper-class dominance occurred recently in the United States when President Donald Trump and his administration issued the longest ever partial government shutdown, which lasted a total of thirty-five days. Trump’s motivation for enacting the shutdown was the insistence that funding was direly needed in order to fund the construction of the wall he aims to place on the United States border. The mentioned wall is a highly contentious topic in the United States, and the apparent lack of funding for it shows many believe it is not the best course of action. This shutdown had massive repercussions which was felt most by working class Americans and the economy. Calculations from the Congressional Budget Office show the shutdown accrued $11 billion in costs for the U.S. economy, of which $3 billion will be unrecoverable (Roberts and Green). An estimated 800,000 federal workers were put on leave or required to work without pay, some of which won’t receive any form of back pay or compensation (Roberts and Green). In spite of the obvious opposition and suffering many experienced under this shutdown it continued under the premise that it was for the good of the nation and its people. Belonging to the upper-class, Trump and his many of his administration members were not victimized by the shutdown, and did not have to suffer the consequences and hardships that ensued. This bared an eerie resemblance to the founding fathers’ sentiments about their own actions, whereby they approached issues with a high-minded attitude to justify their decisions, another observation noted by Dr. Parenti in his literature. It resembled another notion of the founders as well where they believed that officials in government need to be unresponsive to the masses’ wishes in their decision making, and make decisions based on their own intuition and judgement.

America was founded in an attempt to gain independence from a tyrannical overlord and obtain equal rights for the colonies. Unfortunately for the majority of the American population though that same tyranny they so recently had broken away from would reappear in the form of their own government, led by the wealthy, propertied men that claimed to fight for liberty and justice. These men would go on to establish the foundation for a system where those fortunate enough to possess a vast amount of wealth, or the correct birth right would enjoy the full freedom the United States had to offer, while everyone else would be limited. Americans today are still recovering from the decisions of the founders and struggling against the systemic oppression of the upper-class that has been prevalent for years. The quality of democracy in the United States is in a far better state than it’s ever been today, but there’s still much to do in order to obtain equality for all.                   

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