Presented to the International Studies Department
De La Salle University – Manila
Term 3, A.Y. 2017-2018
In partial fulfillment
of the course
Marxist Perspective on United States History (1779-1876)
Samonte, Therese Justine A.
The United States has a vast and complex history, which shapes our view of the present society. In analyzing its history, we can make use of methods of analysis such as Marxism to provide us with a socioeconomic perspective. In this study, the researcher will make use of Marxism as a lens to view the history and social transformation of the United States.
The concept of Marxism is the analysis of history, which is called ‘materialist conception of history’. It was belief that way of production of the material needed in the means of life correlates with the processes of life and the relationships among people (Curtis, 1962). According to Marx, class struggles often arise due to capitalism and economic change. Meaning the different classes, the proletarians and the bourgeoisies, have conflicting socioeconomic interests, which then leads to tension. For example, in primitive communism the people were bound by natural constraints but they were equal socially since everyone would have to engage in hunting and gathering food. But during Feudalism we have two social classes, the nobility and the peasantry. The peasants were producing so many foods more than they need and instead of distributing the surplus equally their products go to the nobility. Therefore the nobility did not have to work, while the peasantry worked harder and were bound by social constraint (Lee, 1990).
In addition, accounts of class struggles have been present throughout the history of all existing society. Wherein the society is arranged through social ranking from free man and slave to lord and serf. For Marx, a person’s class is defined by his or her relationship towards the means of production. Proletarians has no ownership towards the means of production but do all the work while the bourgeoisie own the means of production and live off the surplus created by proletarians. This applies to the United States since they are not exempted from acts of exploitation in the labor force. Martin Hart – Landsberg states that since 1948 the workers’ productivity increased but by the mid 1970s the wages have remained stagnant despite the increase in productivity. Meaning the owners of the means of production stop sharing the gains from the surplus with the workers (2012).
With that the researcher’s use of Marxism as a lens to view the United States History aims to understand how the economic and social changes from 1779-1876 affect the different classes and how their relationship with one another.
Independence, the Critical Period, and the Growth of Nationalism.
The American Revolution had consequences affecting the political, economic, and social life. After the war that resulted in the Independence of the United States from Britain, The Americans needed to establish a stable government. From 1776 to 1789, many efforts were made to stabilize the country including the drafting the Constitution and ratifying the Bill of Rights. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote The Federalist to promote the ratification of the United States Constitution.
The American Revolution not only generated the U.S’ independence but also gave rise to nationalism and a unique system of governance. The common enemy brought the unity, which were the British. And from 1776 to 1787, political experiment occurred at a state level. A representative government defined the American political system, which means that the people are sovereign and entrust limited authority to the government. This then would led to become the basis for the 1787 federal constitution. In terms of the social aspect, the Revolution allowed those in the lower ranks to express their frustrations. The laborers hoped that the Revolution would remove and not reinforce the elite’s traditional political and social advantages (Tindall ; Shi, 1984, p.269).
In 1812, a surge of nationalism struck the Americans. According to Tindall ; Shi (1984), it was due to the abnormal economic prosperity after the war which then gave the Americans a feeling well-being and enhanced the prestige of the national government (p.396). The need for farming, commerce, and manufacturing became apparent due to the shortages in Europe. With that the prices of American products went up and agriculture expanded. This then resulted with many internal conflicts regarding slavery and sectionalism.
B. Slavery and Sectionalism
It was in the 1770s when the issue of slavery was brought into the light. In the 18th century, slavery had vastly increased throughout the American colonies. Anti-slavery movement began in the 18th century. White patriots began to see the injustice of the refusal of liberty towards the blacks. Also, during the war both the Americans and British promised to free the slaves who fought for them. This led to small reforms during the Revolutions. By 1774, the slave trade was abolished by the Continental Congress. This movement then gave a rise to the sectional tension.
As American independence turned into multiple American Revolutions in the 1780s, Americans black and white, northern and southern, found them badly divided over slavery. Northerners focused on fast-paced business and industry, spending their days manufacturing, shipping, and trading goods. Therefore have less economic use for slavery. In 1780, Pennsylvania abolished slavery in its borders. In addition, Article 1 of the Massachusetts, which states that “All men are born equal and free” help guide and inspire slaves to fight for their freedom. By 1790, there were no slaves in Massachusetts. Other northern states gradually abolished slavery by the nineteenth century.
By contrast, the Southern economy relied on slow and steady agricultural growth, especially with the cultivation of tobacco. They see slavery as necessary and legitimate. Planting and picking crops was the work of slaves who supported plantation owners’ with their labor. Nonetheless by 1780 onwards, Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland passed laws permitting owners to free their slaves, which led to the freedom of ten thousand southern slaves and 25 percent of blacks in Maryland were free (Gruver, 1985, p.143).
While the northern states had success in the abolition of slavery, this caused some conflict with the south because they cared only for their own regions and not for the country as a whole. Despite the anti-slavery movements, many blacks were still slaves and those who are free faced discrimination. They were no given equal rights such as those of the whites. This would then lead to a conflict known as the American Civil War.
C. Civil War and Reconstruction
The American Civil War (1861-65) started due to the tensions between northern and southern states regarding slavery, rights, and westward expansion. It is considered to be the bloodiest war ever fought in American soil with an estimated 620,000 plus men casualties (2% of the population). It started in the mid-19th century, the northern and southern regions were having economic differences with the growth the United States were experiencing. The Union won because they had more resources. The industrialization in the north gave way to updated railroads, which were important in transporting personnel and supplies, and production of vital supplies. While the Confederate had more experience fighting and more unified to defend its cause but they had limited supplies and they overlook the Civil War as a test of courage in battle instead of being the first modern or industrialized war. There was also a class struggle in the south, since the ruling class was exempted from actually fighting in the war.
Moving on, with the war industries and farms grew and boomed. The war made the manufacturers wealthy but northern factory workers did not share that fortune. According to Gruver (1985), wages rose only 43 percent during the war, while prices rose 117 percent; real wages were thus reduced to about two-thirds of their 1861 level (p.402). This then led to the formation of labor union to protest for better wages. Clearly manufactures opposed unions and made an effort to stop their workers from joining them.
In the end, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation proclamation, which ordered the freedom of all slaves but it did not free the slaves outside his jurisdiction. In addition, slaves freed themselves by running to Union territory and becoming “contrabands”. On December 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution was ratified. This as a matter of fact ended slavery in the U.S by abolishing slavery. The U.S did not only developed debt and casualties from this war but this also strengthen the central government and increase the power of the national government.
Furthermore, President Lincoln laid down the groundwork for rebuilding the nation with all of the destruction caused by the war. In 1863, he issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which was a way to unify the north and the south. Together with the Process of Readmission all southerners could reinstate themselves as United States citizens by taking a simple loyalty oath (Garraty, J. A., & Carnes, M. C. 2001). This included the Ten Percent Plan wherein a southern state could be reinstated into the Union once ten percent of its voters swore an oath of allegiance to the Union. This does not include Confederate army soldier and government officials.
But many Republicans criticized this plan for not being too harsh and they believe that the south should be punished for starting the war. They also believe equality and that the blacks should be given the right to vote, have land, and to have a decent education. In the end, the reconstruction was a neither a success nor a failure. The south and north reunited and slavery was abolished in the south’s constitutions. But in 1877, slave owners and former Confederate officials returned to power when President Hayes ordered federal troops to leave the south, which then allowed the sharecropping system. The sharecropping system system made sure that living condition of the freed slaves did not improve. The rights that were promised to them will not be granted until the next century.
The class struggles throughout the United States’ history has affected their nation politically and socially ever since their Independence to the Britain up to the end of the Civil war.
The rich history of the United States were filled with class struggles. In 1773, a class struggle occurred at Griffin’s wharf in Boston when a group of colonist protest against the thirteen years of British oppression. The Americans disposed over 300 chests of British tea into the harbor due to Britain imposing taxation without representation. This event called the Boston Tea Party showed that America would not take anymore tyranny and rallied Americans to fight for independence. The American Revolution is another event of a class struggle between the United States bourgeoisie and the Slavocracy in the South versus the bourgeois and feudalism in Britain. The Americans were the actual producers of wealth while Britain benefits. This caused the American ruling class, who were the up-and-coming bourgeoisie, was discontented and did not want to share the wealth produced by the American laborer with the King of England. Peterson (2014) states that “in the epoch of bourgeois revolution, although the political and economic benefits went to the bankers, mercantilists, lawyers, and large landowners, the actual fighting was done by the small farmers, proto-proletariat (artisans and mechanics), slaves, and indentured servants”.
After the revolution, the new ruling class became the oppressors. They became the tax collectors and profiters, which led to conflicts with ordinary people who fought for freedom and equality. This led to an uprising in Massachusetts during 1768 to 1787 known as the Shays’ Rebellion. This class struggle was between war veteran Daniel Shay and four thousands rebels against the ruling class for economic and civil rights injustices with the aggressive tax and debt collection, and political corruption and cronyism. The rebels were unsuccessful due to lack of funds to finance the troops.
Moving forward a few decades, the tension between the capitalist north and the slave-owning south were becoming aggressive. This tension would led to the American Civil War. The American Civil War represented a revolutionary conflict between capitalism in the north (Union), which was a progressive system at that time, in opposition to the slave-owning plantation system of the South (Confederate). These two partisan with different socio-economic systems could no longer coexist in the same state and on the same country therefore the war was a battle system superiority. In addition, pioneers of Marxism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, supported Abraham Lincoln in the fight and abolition of slavery. Capitalism flourished once slavery was abolished. The free slaves were free to work for a wage and free to work as sharecroppers.
This would then lead to a more polarity between the proletarians and bourgeoisie, and a more cruel and advance exploitation of the poor for the pursuit of wealth by the rich. Labor movement and unions were formed to protest the harsh working conditions and low wages. Still capitalism is evident in the United States. According to Marxist prophets, the capitalist United States should have been a model for realizing Marxist predictions; but it is there where the ideology has been least successful (Glaser, 1954). One reason for this failure is that there was no large and class-conscious proletarians to attain the Marxist prediction. In addition, Rossiter (1960) states that the American tradition is very individualistic and lacks the monistic urge to have all things in order, and understands that freedom is an eternal paradox. Another reason is that working conditions in the United States improved. The United States offers the American Dream, which is really a capitalist idea.
From the 30s until 70s, the Abolitionist Movement attempted to achieve immediate emancipation of all slaves and the ending of racial segregation and discrimination.
The aftermath of the Reconstruction would then pave way for the Civil Rights movement in the 60s when African American for equality.
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