Fourth of July is this week and we are hearing all the calls to be patriotic. But what does it mean to be patriotic when every politician is either attacking us or useless to defend our interests? What does it mean to wave the flag of a government that is trying to discriminate against millions of people based on their religion? How can we be patriotic when law enforcement shoots down black and brown people without consequence? And how can we be patriotic when the government is blatantly being ran for and by the super wealthy? These things may seem to be worse than ever this year, but they are not deviations from the way the U.S. government functions. The way this government functions began with the American Revolution.
What was the American Revolution really about? Like many other European nations, England conquered many parts of the world including North America to expand its empire and wealth. In the North American colonies, the economy was growing and the rich wanted to keep the profits to themselves rather than give a portion back to the
King in England. In the late 1700’s, there was a push by the wealthy elite in the colonies to break away from Great Britain. After killing and displacing millions of Native people, the wealthy wanted their own state in North America.
The leaders of the colonies were a small group of very rich white men who were either owners of slave plantations or were merchants who profited from slavery. Among these were Benjamin Franklin who had a massive fortune, James Madison who owned huge slave plantations, and George Washington who was a large landowner. This new ruling class was already very powerful – 69 percent of those that signed the Declaration of Independence had held colonial office for Britain.
But the wealthy were not the only people living in the colonies. The vast majority of people were small farmers, workers, slaves and indentured servants. Indentured servants were poor people from Europe who had to pay for their trip to North America by working off their debt for a number of years.
It was from these lower ranks that people sacrificed and shed the most blood in the American Revolution. The first known casualty of the Revolution was Crispus Attucks, a Black dockworker.
The Revolution began when the rich decided to break away from England but many people fought because they thought that the Revolution could give them the opportunity to realize their own ideals. There were many who fought for their rights as working and poor people – not simply to replace one group of oppressors for another. In 1766, 1,700 armed tenants in New York took over some of the King’s land, closed the courts and broke open the jails – but eventually they were crushed.
Even after the War of Independence with Britain was over, the Revolution continued from below with Shays Rebellion. In 1786-7, thousands of poor farmers were organized into a militia to fight against enormous debts that pushed them into poverty. Because of armed protests of former soldiers demanding compensation for their service, the capital of the US was moved from urban Philadelphia to Washington D.C. which was cut off from major populations. There were also smaller rebellions that united slaves and white indentured servants.
Just seven years after passing the First Amendment – supposedly granting freedom of speech – Congress passed the Sedition Act, which organized repression against anyone critical of the government.
Yes there was a revolution in America – and it helped bring about the system of exploitation we have today. The attacks against us by the Trump administration are just the latest, most severe version of the policies of every administration – for the rich and against the rest of us. We need to fight for our own Revolution, one that can finally allow working and poor people to take charge and run society to meet our needs (and truly uphold the rights of all people regardless of their race or religion). This will be the real American Revolution.