Monday, February 25, 2013

We the People...

The United States founding fathers, a group of propertied elites, slave holders, noted lawyers and wealthy merchants, created a system designed to prevent a truly democratic state. Ray Raphael in The First American Revolution: Before Lexington and Concord describes the colonialists as being intensely democratic, disavowing all leadership. In fact, "when they elected representatives, they did so on a day-to-day basis." The founders were concerned with "the excess of democracy" as one delegate to the convention said. James Madison, "father" of the Constitution, wrote in The Federalist Papers 10: "Democracies have ever been...incompatible with...the rights of property...[because it would threaten] the unequal distribution of property." The new Constitution put property rights ahead of human rights. It established a republic in which courts protected minority rights and property rights from majority sentiment, and government power was limited.

Only the House of Representatives would be directly elected by the people, at least the limited group of six percent of the white, male property-owning population that was allowed to vote. Sheldon Wolin, in Democracy Inc. writes, "The Constitution of the Founders compressed the political role of citizen into an act of 'choosing' and designed it to minimize the direct expression of a popular will." The president was not directly elected, but rather citizens voted for electors who chose the president in the Electoral College. Senators were selected by state legislators, and judges were appointed by the president. It created a representative, not participatory or direct, democracy. The "right to vote" is not even mentioned in the Constitution. Cliff DuRand, author of "Recreating Democracy in a Globalized State, explains "From the beginning the country was designed to be undemocratic." The role of the people was limited to choosing from among the political elite the representatives who would rule them.

Mass production and new forms of energy and transportation allowed industrialists to accumulate wealth rapidly. This wealth was used to amass more resources and control over the economy. Industrialists bought up their competitors and formed monopolies. They enriched themselves through cheap labor. Workers were housed in unsanitary factory towns and forced to work in unsafe conditions. They were paid low wages and charged high prices for basic goods in factory-owned stores. Many of the wealthiest people in US history made their riches during the industrial revolution: oil magnate John D. Rockefeller; steamboat and railroad businessman Cornelius Vanderbilt; Andrew Carnegie with his empire of steel; financiers Jay Gould, Andrew Mellon and J. P. Morgan; and mass producer of automobiles Henry Ford.Wealth became more concentrated in the hands of a few robber barons, who used it as political leverage.  Bribery of politicians and bureaucrats and the gift of political positions and contracts in return for favors and loyalty ran rampant. The result was two political parties loyal to the elites with narrow agendas that were unwilling to challenge the status quo in any meaningful way. In 1886, the Supreme Court voided 230 state laws that regulated corporations, primarily freight rates charged to farmers, on the basis that the regulations deprived corporations of property without due process. Of 307 Fourteenth Amendment cases considered by the Supreme Court between 1890 and 1910, 288 were about protecting corporate rights, only 19 about people.  Business and consumer laws are written to favor corporate profits at the expense of those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

 Only half the US public is registered to vote, and only half of registered voters vote. "Of, by and for the people", sadly no.

The founding fathers fundamentally agreed that there was a popular democratic movement that had to be suppressed. Pennsylvania was radically introducing a constitution that removed property qualifications both for voting and for holding office. Schools parrot simplistic notions and teach that the “Founding Fathers” stood up for “liberty and freedom” for all, but the revolution was much more complex than that. What the Founding Fathers really wanted was the same “liberty and freedom” that the elite in the “mother country” possessed; and as hard as it may be to accept, they cared little for the “liberty and freedom” of others who were viewed as common “rabble,”  the Founding Fathers were perceptive enough to understand that the revolution would fail unless they could find a way to convince most of the farmers, artisans and budding entrepreneurs in America to support the rebellion. (This would be a good trick to pull off, because at the time most Americans disliked the wealthy and elite in America, more than they did the British.) The true ingenuity on the part of the Founding Fathers was their promise to all Americans that – if they would support the revolution – then the elite would agree to create an “entirely new social order.” Once the rebellion was successful, the political debate for the next decade revolved around how the promises made to masses would be quantified. Of course the elite – ever fearful of the masses – sought to retain as much power as possible,

 There exists a lack of political power.  "Political power" refers to the ability to change some aspect of society. This kind of political power can be expressed via election, or economic action through strikes. The people who worked in the steel mills and the auto plants and in the mines had terrible jobs. They were dangerous. They were low-paying. And what happened, because of the labor unions, those lousy jobs in time were transformed into better rewarding jobs. Year after year, anti-union laws and rulings cripple the ability of workers to earn a living wage while pro-business legislation and government policies encourage and  a race to the bottom of lower and lower labor costs. The result is that most people who have  jobs -- often multiple jobs --  are working longer and longer hours, but they remain mired in permanent poverty.

Martin Luther King shortly before his assassination said: "The dispossessed of this nation -- the poor, both white and Negro -- live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty."

 A century earlier Frederick Douglass said “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

The Revolution meant freedom, first and foremost, to wealthy landowners, and also to merchants, craftsmen, and shopkeepers. Only grudgingly has it meant "freedom" for others.

Everyone has heard about Australia and its convicts, but the same is true of America. 50,000 British convicts were transported to America, but, i addition, during the first three quarters of the eighteenth century, over 300,000 white immigrants arrived in the thirteen colonies. Just half of these were free, a third  were indentured servants who were essentially slaves for the duration of their terms of servitude and could be bought and sold at their “owner’s” whim. Their sale has been compared to that of horses and cows at a market or fair. The legal status of indentured servants in the colonies was “chattel” – literally property, their unexpired terms  willable to heirs. George Washington owned twelve white people, along with his black slaves. He was worried about both running off to the British. Says Phillips, “black slaves, selling for roughly three times as much, often got better treatment because they were a lifetime investment. With indentured servants, an employer’s optimal return lay in obtaining as much sweat and output as possible over four, five, or seven years.” Though today we focus mostly on slavery, and we should not downplay the reality or cruelty of black slavery, it is forgotten that in the early days of colonial America, it was indentured servants who provided the needed agriculture labor, only to be replaced later by black slaves. This transition from servants to slave occurred at different times in these regions, West Indies, the Chesapeake, South Carolina, and Georgia, and at different rates. For the first two centuries of the history of British North America, one word best characterizes the status of the vast majority of immigrants – servitude. Children could be indentured for periods of 15 years and kidnapping children was not a felony in England until 1814. Before then the English Government allowed the crime of kidnapping to flourish without serious restraint. Thus some of the early settlers of the New World were children stolen from their families in the Old.

There is every reason to believe that modern capitalists are not greatly disturbed by the idea of returning to this master/servant relationship. There has been the  abolition rather than the broadening of workers rights everywhere. Many employers seek a government run by the rich, who lwith little  concern for the welfare of those beneath them. In Texas republican Debbie Riddle introduced House Bill that would jail folks who hire undocumented workers but would exempt anyone who hires “the help” for their homes, thereby effectively legalizing indenture  for illegal immigrants. The economic system still work against freedom, with some modern innovations.

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