The American War of Independence
Revolution or counter-revolution?
Black Lives Matter movement spokes people have exhibited considerable perspicuity on the origins of police and their murderous violence against Black people lately. It is now axiomatic in the movement that modern-day police derive directly from the slave-catcher patrols of the epoch of slavery before the Civil War. There is a deep understanding among the conscious activists of the origins of racism in this country, and the role of police in enforcing a racially-biased system of repression which continued after the Civil War and Reconstruction, and down to modern times.
Yet the roots of this system’s original foundation in a nascent capitalism that preserved and extended an aristocratic slavery system within it, is still little understood.
The origins of 1776
The American War of independence, otherwise known as the “American Revolution,” is still thought of as a great progressive event overall, which drove out a feudal monarchy and instituted democratic principles which still seems to some to ring true even now, underneath the brutal cacophony of modern-day U.S. imperialism, with its puppet dictatorships, militarist atrocities, and racist police murders.
But the origins of this system tell a more sordid story. The events of 1775-81 in the British colonies of continental North America were in reality little more than the establishment of not only a new empire, but of one based squarely on a pre-capitalist slave system that held back and squelched both the revolutionary impulses of the multi-racial masses, and, in large measure, even the development of capitalism itself.
Yet the late 17th and 18th Centuries, like the era of the English Revolution of the 1640s, was indeed full of great revolutionary rumblings, and of outright revolts. This was the age of the big mercantile empires, which arose out of feudalism after the European “discovery” of the New World, and which were the cradle of capitalism—what Marx called the era of primitive capitalist accumulation. This era produced the bourgeois revolutions of England and France. The question is, to what extent was the American War of Independence a “revolution?” The answer has as much to do with the working class—including the slaves—of this era as it has to do with the bourgeoisie.
Just as industrial capitalism produced its grave diggers in the industrial proletariat, so the period of mercantile empires produced its own working class grave-diggers: the slaves, seamen, maritime and related workers. These were the working people who produced the wealth, which enriched the merchants and bankers of this era, and thus laid the basis for the development of capitalism, and the final overthrow of kings and nobility. They fought hard for their freedom and equality. But they were not yet able to inherit the new world, which their labor had made possible.
One of the least understood, often ignored and actively covered up aspects of the origins of the American War of Independence lies in the rebellions and other mass actions that rose up from the working classes, starting with both slaves and indentured servants, acting together. Just a hundred years earlier, in 1675-76, a prosperous Virginian merchant’s son and former aide to the governor named Nathaniel Bacon led an armed revolt in Virginia, in which a small army of white and Black freemen including some women, bond servants and slaves who were promised their freedom, rose up, burned Jamestown, looted the estates of the governor’s supporters, and forced the governor to flee (temporarily) to a British ship in the Chesapeake Bay. The revolt was crushed, and 23 were executed (including some of the women, who chose to die with the soldiers.)
A Leveller vs. a Royalist
The governor, Sir William Berkeley was a royalist and a representative of the old regime in England against which the parliamentarian revolution of the 1640s had been fought. Bacon, who was called a “leveler” by the governor’s supporters, acted in a tradition of rebellion by servants, sailors, slaves and others that in the colonies went back at least to 1663. The restoration in England had initiated a radical “diaspora,” as refugees who had supported the regicide of Charles I stowed away or otherwise fled from the mother country to the colonies, thus setting up a new tradition of revolt in the “New World” which continued right down to 1776 and beyond.
Bacon’s revolt had begun as an attack on certain Indian tribes who occupied lands in the Appalachians, which were coveted by landless white settlers, which morphed into a workers and slaves rebellion. But the true historical significance of Bacon’s Rebellion lies in what happened afterward: the racial identity of slavery as being for Blacks only.1
The connection to the English revolution
Opposition to “slavery” had been a big issue among the masses in the English Revolution, but the word had not been limited to the now standard image of the slave on the plantation. Nor was slavery identified as a racial category.
For the poor, the laborers, seamen, peasants, Diggers, Levelers and others, “slavery” referred to things like the enclosures of common lands, traditionally used for free by farmers and herders to graze flocks or plant vegetables. “Slavery” also referred to impressment, which was the practice, instituted under Cromwell at the behest of the emergent merchant bourgeoisie, to force laborers, on pain of death, to serve in the shipyards and as seamen on both naval and merchant ships.
“Taxation without representation,” which came up in England first, was also considered slavery by those who hadn’t yet received the benefits of the bourgeois revolution.
And “slavery” did also refer to the workers on those plantations and farms in the Americas, but they weren’t all Black. White English, Scots and Irish were also kidnapped to work in the colonies, “transported” as prisoners, or trapped as indentured servants. In England, the soldiers and commoners opposed all these crimes as well as the enslavement of Africans and the growing slave trade. The slave trade was something which English merchants were eager to take over from their Spanish and Portuguese competitors.
The Putney Debates
All of these issues and more were hotly contested in the Putney Debates, held under the auspices of the New Model Army, which had been set up under Cromwell to defeat the royalists. Soldiers as well as other commoners were allowed to speak their minds against a spokesman for the grandees and gentry. In these short-lived debates, the interests of the masses of working people, and those of the bankers, merchants and other bourgeois, clearly diverged.
In the American colonies, the English Revolution had ongoing effects, but with differences. The English gentry was being displaced by the bourgeoisie, and the bourgeoisie had many ways with which to divide and conquer the masses in their home front, but chattel slavery wasn’t one of them. With Bacon’s Rebellion, the American colonial ruling class developed a racist ideology as their chief tool to prevent future combinations of white and Black working people. Slavery began to be defined as exclusively for Blacks only, and only for a life term, while Indian servants would serve 12 years, and Europeans, four to five years. Indentured servitude was gradually phased out altogether. Virginia planters began to substitute African slaves for European indentured servants, and whites on plantations were used for policing and overseeing, not labor. This pattern began right after Bacon’s Rebellion, when some captured servants among the insurgents were sent home, while the slaves faced re-enslavement.
Despite this calculated and imposed racist divide, white and Black insurgents still revolted together over the coming century, and while punishments were more severe against African rebels, whites could still be executed for insurrection. But while Bacon’s Rebellion has been used to posit a theory of “white skin privilege,” which asserted that the white working classes materially benefitted from the special oppression of Blacks, the proletarian experience of the 17th and 18th Centuries tells a different story.
A motley crew: the mercantile proletariat
As the American colonial ruling classes continued dividing the laboring masses according to race in order to protect their rule, the emergent mercantile imperialist empires continued to produce their own gravediggers, which included all races and all nationalities in a spectacular mixing of ethnicities.
While intercontinental trade was expanding at a great rate, and merchants and bankers were accumulating the capital that would soon fuel full-blown capitalism, those who made the ships, and sailed them around the globe were creating their own culture. Seamen were at the heart of the new mercantile proletariat that made the trading system work. Sailors on virtually every ship came from everywhere: England, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, Turkey and Africa. The African seamen were sometimes slaves and often escaped slaves. They all learned to talk to each other in a matter of days or weeks on board any given ship, virtually inventing new pidgin languages as they went along. They were very oppressed, very combative, and they were not divided by race. “The ship was...the first place where working people from those different continents communicated.”2
The effect of this working-class consciousness in the world of the emergent bourgeois revolution cannot be underestimated. For instance, Nathaniel Bacon, besides being denounced as a “leveler,” was also called a “Masaniello” by his elite persecutors in America. A what? Masaniello was a fish-monger in Naples who, in 1647 led what was perhaps the first working-class uprising of the modern world. This was a take-over by the working and poor masses of a major port city in what was then Bourbon-French-owned southern Italy. It didn’t last long, but it left its mark on the emergent revolutionary sub-culture around the world. Seamen, many of them British, brought the word back to England, where it had an immediate effect in the Putney Debates and around the world, including in America, where it triggered this slandering of Nathaniel Bacon almost 30 years later.
New York Rebellion, 1741
Seamen, together with other allies in the maritime trades such as ship builders, sail and rope makers, longshoremen, porters, and so forth went on to lead revolts all over, including in the British colonies in America. One of the most important was in New York in 1741. It was characterized by a Black and white unity that drove the ruling cliques crazy.
The 1741 rebellion was plotted specifically to take place on St. Patrick’s Day, because Patrick had abolished slavery in Ireland in the late 5th Century. The plot was hatched in dock-side pubs such as Hughson’s Tavern, which was known as communistic because it offered free food and drink to those who couldn’t afford it, and served as a cultural center for song, dance, and planning resistance. The plotters were sailors, maritime workers and slaves, who, as laborers in this area along the waterfront, were an intimate part of working people generally. The pub was also a notorious site for fencing stolen materials—this was part of the underground workers’ culture in the mercantile empire.
New York was a slave-trading hub, along with Boston and Providence Rhode Island, and these colonies were just as much involved with slavery as their Southern compatriots. All these cities held many slaves working in urban occupations. In the 1741 rebellion, fires would terrorize New York for weeks. The cry went up that, “the negroes are rising!” Some 13 African men were burned at the stake, and many exiled. Hughson’s Tavern was destroyed, and four whites, including John Hughson and his wife, were executed along with the Blacks.3
Maritime workers’ rebellions such as 1741 were numerous and went on for decades, as did slave revolts in the South. Slave revolts in the South prior to 1776 are often underestimated in contemporary accounts, which usually focus on slavery as it existed after independence. But the ’76 war was in its resolution a big defeat for slave rebellion in the mainland colonies; and this had a dampening effect on future revolts.4
Prior to 1776, slave revolts, and rumors of revolts, were many indeed. In Stono’s Revolt in 1739, some 29 settlers were killed in South Carolina, one of the most slavery-intensive colonies. The triumphant rebels marched south to Spanish-controlled Florida, attracting other fleeing slaves on their way. Stono’s revolt had revealed a factor, which was critical to both the Southern colonies and slave owners generally: a competing mercantile empire, namely the Spanish, the colonial overlords of Florida (until 1763), had helped instigate the 1739 rising.5
Although a slave-owning power itself, Spanish authorities, operating out of St. Augustine, used African troops over many years to attack mainland slaveholders in South Carolina. Slaves throughout the Southern colonies had come to see St. Augustine as a refuge from slavery, and many successfully fled there and found non-enslaved occupations. The colony of Georgia had been originally established as a non-slave buffer against the Spanish, to protect South Carolina; but this obviously wasn’t working in the case of Stono’s Rebellion. (Georgia later became a major slave-holding state.)
The practice by the big colonial powers of using African military forces against each other was pervasive, including by Britain, much to the horror of the British-American slave-holding colonists. African-staffed military forces (as well as allied Maroon colonies of escaped slaves) were even used on occasion to put down slave revolts. Much of the motivation for this practice came from the Caribbean colonies of these French, Spanish and British powers. Unlike the mainland colonies of British America, the Caribbean colonies had huge slave majorities in their populations, and were subject to frequent, large and often brutal slave revolts, which many times sent white colonists fleeing to the mainland British colonies. Here, they sought better protection against slave revolts, and eventually became promoters of the ’76 rebellion against the crown.
Now we have come down to the real reasons that the American War of Independence was initiated, and it had nothing to do with the so-called great democratic principles of the enlightenment, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. British observers gagged at the hypocrisy when they read that document at the time, due to one definitive factor: slavery.
Real reasons for the War of Independence...
The American colonists had many concerns with their colonial Motherland, which grew over time. As early as the mid 1600s, American colonists started complaining about the deficiency in the trade of Africans reaching their shores. The English Revolution had begun a process of “liberating” (i.e., privatizing) trade, specifically the slave trade, from the Crown’s exclusive control, which had heretofore been conducted through agencies such as the Royal African Company (RAC.) This break from mercantilism was a key factor in the bourgeois revolution: “free trade.” But mercantilist rules still applied in the colonies.
At first the colonists got their way in terms of the “freeing” of the slave trade, but more and more they conflicted with London’s wishes. They traded in products such as sugar with Britain’s rivals France and Spain, against imperial rules that required everything to go through British ports first. And, they punched their way into the British-dominated slave trade through ports such as Providence, Rhode Island, which became the chief American slave-trading hub in the 1700s.6
Trade issues and, of course taxes, especially following the 1763 treaty that ended the Seven-Year War between Britain, France and Spain (known in the U.S. as the French and Indian War), were also major factors of dispute; as was the endless question of Westward expansion, in which the colonists, both North and South, were the chief instigators of conflicts with Native Americans. But slavery was the biggest issue, and also the most under-represented and overlooked issue in most traditional histories.
...All tied in with slavery
All of the colonists’ issues with Britain tied into slavery. But the chief issue is hardly mentioned: the British were rapidly becoming abolitionists! Despite the fact that British merchants were the world’s chief slave-traders, and despite the fact that British New World colonies had mostly slave-driven economies, Britain itself was quickly moving toward capitalist development. There were many signals of rising abolitionism coming out of this that frightened the American slave masters, starting with Oliver Cromwell, who threatened to arm the slaves to restrain the settlers in the 1640s, and strong abolitionist statements aimed at American colonists by British parliamentarians. But two more recent incidents stood out. First was the Somerset court decision of 1772.
In Somerset, in a case brought by a visiting American colonist’s slave, an English judge ruled that any slave brought into England would be free. To colonists who, unlike British rulers, had based their entire economy on slaves as lifetime property, this was anathema. Was this soon to be extended to the colonies?
The second and tipping-point event was the threat made in 1775 by the governor of Virginia—the most powerful and oldest slave colony—that Britain would give refuge to any American slave that reached its control, and arm those who were capable. That statement was throwing down the gauntlet. There had been talk before of the British freeing slaves, including by British generals, and many slaves were already coming together in groups to plan for the day. But this ruling by Lord Dunmore, coming as it did in the year that hostilities began, was the topper. American colonists’ slave private-property, indeed their whole economy, was threatened by the British, as they had long suspected.
Meanwhile, the “motley crew” of maritime-led working people of all ethnicities and races were the driving force in the revolutionary upsurge sweeping through the colonies. Seamen were in the lead of multiple struggles, especially against impressment. As in the English Revolution, this use of “press gangs” to kidnap and coerce so-called “recruits” for labor on British ships was equated with slavery. Protests were massive, violent, and often successful in freeing victims of impressment as well as capturing the responsible British naval officers and forcing them to capitulate. Similarly, crews of ethnically diverse rebels were behind the big protests against British tax policies, such as the Boston Tea Party, which was actually many such events. Even more significant was the Gaspee incident, in which, in 1772, rebels attacked a British revenue schooner which had run aground near Providence, Rhode Island, captured the crew and set the vessel on fire.
Rebellious activity did not sit well with gentlemen
It’s important to understand that all this rebellious activity from below did not sit well with the slave-holding, or slave-trade dependent elite in the colonies. The consensus among the elites was that the revolution should be moved “inside,” out of the streets, and into the meeting halls of gentlemen’s debates, where the property-owning powerful held the floor. John Adams for instance, a Harvard graduate and lawyer, and later the second president of the U.S., successfully defended the British soldiers who had shot protestors in the 1770 “Boston Massacre” in court, calling the protesters a “motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, (sic) Irish teagues and outlandish Jack Tarrs,” and making an explicitly racist appeal in court, claiming that the looks of the Afro-Indian sailor Crispus Attucks, a leader of the protest, “would be enough to terrify any person.” This unpopular move coincided with his earlier legal career of defending slaveholders against slaves who had brought suits against them in court.7
The protestors of Boston were a seamen-led gang of maritime workers who “resented the British soldiers who labored for lower-than-customary wages along the waterfront.” And they were a mixed-race group, which noted artist and “revolutionary” hero Paul Revere totally falsified in his famous engraving of the event. He rendered “the ‘motley rabble’ more respectable by leaving Black faces out of the crowd and putting in entirely too many gentlemen”8
What was really going on here? The colonial slave-owning and slavery-dependent ruling class was waging class war against both the working classes of the colonies, and their mercantile imperialist overlords in London. And they were doing it to defend and extend their political economy based on slavery.
Slaveholders ruled in America
As is well-known, all the major leaders in the War of Independence, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, etc., were major slaveholders, and the others went along with the rule of the “gentlemen,” despite democratic pretensions. Benjamin Franklin was a minor slaveholder who was proud of his working-class roots, and who later in life was one of the few leaders to free his own slaves. Yet he was a big defender of unity between the often-squabbling colonies, served as governor of Pennsylvania, and represented the new slave power diplomatically.
In general the “left” of the colonial ruling class served the purpose of coopting the street fighting working class rebels into the cause of independence from Britain, which, despite its enlightenment rhetoric was all about saving the propertied slave-owning classes. Jefferson was perhaps the most hypocritical of the leading gentlemen, guilt ridden over slavery at one point, and accepting its inevitability at another. His draft of the Declaration of Independence included an anti-slavery section, which was quickly taken out on complaint from the southern colonies, while his complaint against British impressment stayed in.
Thomas Paine, a recent English immigrant to the colonies, the author of Common Sense and many anti-slavery pronouncements, was ultimately against the mob, and very much pro-property. His great fear was that the struggles of urban workers, African slaves, and Native Americans might combine. He said that, “...some Massanello (sic) may hereafter arise,” who “may collect together the desperate and discontented, and by assuming to themselves the powers of government, may sweep away the liberties of the continent like a deluge.”9
Similarly, Samuel Adams, cousin to John Adams and a noted radical agitator in the run-up to 1776, showed his true colors later in reaction to Shays Rebellion in 1786-87, which was an uprising of thousands of discontented and indebted farmers led by Daniel Shay, a war veteran. Once defeated, some argued for mercy for the rebels. But Sam Adams said, “In monarchy the crime of treason may admit of being pardoned or lightly punished, but the man who dares rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death.” Some 12 leading rebels were condemned to death.10
Slave revolts ramp up...
In the decade prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1775 the already-panicky slaveholders of the colonies were going apoplectic over slave revolts. Tacky’s Rebellion, a two-month long revolt of slaves in Jamaica in 1760, was followed by more revolts all over the Caribbean. In the British mainland colonies, slave revolts also exploded in Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, North Carolina and Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston was well-known for its slave longshore workers (now a proud union local), as well as Black port pilots, who were a rebellious lot.
In Tacky’s Rebellion, seamen dragooned off ships to help put down the slave revolt were totally indifferent, except when it came to looting slaveholders’ mansions, which they did! The rebellion in Boston involved Irish and Africans working together, and in the rebellion in North Carolina in 1775, a white seafarer helped make the revolt possible with arms. Thus white and Black cooperation in rebellion continued to defy the racist formula imposed after Bacon’s Rebellion.11
...And slaves flee
With the Somerset decision in 1772, and Dunmore’s 1775 declaration right at the onset of the war, slaves fleeing plantations mushroomed tremendously, as did colonists’ hostility to Britain. According to Herbert Aptheker, a loosely-Marxist scholar of the Stalinist stripe, as many as 100,000 colonial slaves fled to British lines in the independence war, as well as to French or Spanish forces, or to safe havens within the colonies—some one-in-six individuals. Georgia declared that it lost 75 to 85 percent of its slaves, while South Carolina did not again have as many slaves as in 1773 until 1790. Both of these two colonies had lost most of their territory to the British by 1780.
Many of these runaways fought with the British as redcoats, and many eventually obtained refuge in Nova Scotia and elsewhere.12 (Many who fought with the British died of disease in Dunmore’s botched military endeavors, and many were allegedly re-enslaved in the Caribbean, though this charge came from biased, i.e., pro-slavery sources and is probably false.) Despite endless claims by slavers, the British never returned runaways or paid compensation to former owners.
The so-called “Revolutionary” War had many similarities to the Civil War almost 80 years later, in which the Confederacy claimed, not without merit, to be the true inheritors of the “spirit” of 1776. This included difficulty in retaining militia fighters, most of whom were poor white farmers with crops to get in. (The Confederacy had a huge desertion rate from poor whites who saw the war as a rich man’s fight.) Also, in both wars, whites were needed at home to patrol for slave runaways.
French help turned tide for American colonists
Nevertheless, the settler-colonists won the ’76 war, largely due to the ability to mobilize whites to fight on the basis of fear of slave revolts in which Blacks were going to slit white throats (which happened more frequently in the Caribbean revolts than in the mainland.) However, the American victory had more to do with the French alliance. By 1780 the war, which by then had long been fought in the south, was being lost by the Americans. But the French had just managed to achieve naval superiority over the British (after the last war, and since when were the French and the British NOT at war during this era...one loses count), temporarily to be sure, but by enough edge to give them a key victory over the British in Chesapeake Bay. This enabled them to ferry their troops and American troops by ship down to Yorktown (saving time,) where they trapped the British general Cornwallis by both land and sea, prompting his surrender after a massive bombardment in 1781. French and American forces were involved in equal numbers in this engagement.
The British, worried about the European theater and other parts of their vast empire more than American colonies at this point, gave up, and signed a treaty (Paris, 1783) which was very favorable to the Americans, especially by giving them expansion rights Westward, which had been restricted since the 1763 treaty that ended the Seven Year War. This, combined with the Louisiana Purchase 20 years later, opened up vast areas, which big slave-owners coveted for expansion of their political economy, and northern merchants, bankers and others sought for land speculation (i.e., privatization of land which had hitherto been free.)
After the war, American slave trading ramped up. Domestically, as plantations in the Carolinas and Georgia expanded and took up cotton production, soil-depleted Virginia and Maryland shifted to less labor-intensive crops like wheat, spurring trade in excess slaves. Internationally, following the abolition of the African slave trade in 1807, the British, having regained their naval dominance, actively patrolled the seas to catch slave-traders--many of whom were Americans--and to otherwise harass American shipping. This led to the War of 1812, in which the unprepared Americans once again took on the British empire. As the federal government concentrated on an ultimately failed attempt to conquer Canada, the Chesapeake Bay region was left largely unprotected. Slaves once again fled to British ships by the thousands, and many served as guides to British shore patrols to make night raids on plantations throughout the Chesapeake region to free yet more slaves, often the families of the initial runaways.
Once again, the British used the runaways as troops, and refused to give them up after the war, with one astonishing exception. Receiving pleas from slaveholders, British naval officers actually invited these pitifully naive former owners (who believed their own propaganda about slaves being “kidnapped” by the British) to come on board and try to convince their former slaves to return “home” to bondage! Only about nine out of at least 3,400 escapees still on British ships did return, and these did so only because of age or family members still being held in slavery!13
Slavery was not capitalist
It is well known that the development of slavery in the colonies of all the mercantile empires provided cheap goods and huge profits to rapidly expanding commercial markets world wide, and that this trade provided the capital for the development of capitalism as a political economy, especially in England. But did this mean the slave system was capitalist? No, it did not. Participation of slave-owning producers in commercialism is nothing new; trade and commercialism date back to the early Bronze Age and beyond. In the political economy of slavery, labor power is a fixed capital investment, or constant capital; and the production process is tied to the land. This limits the master’s ability to select workers for special tasks, or to lay them off during idle periods.
The method of reinvestment between the two systems is substantially different. Under slavery, growth and expansion is accomplished by buying more land or more slaves, a quantitative process; whereas capitalism grows qualitatively through expansion of plant and equipment. Slavery limited the development of banking and industry, by tying everything into this limited land-based economy. Slavery held back technological development as well. While the invention of the cotton gin did give a big profit boost to the slave system, Eli Whitney’s other invention, that of interchangeable parts, was utilized much more in the North. These weaknesses proved fatal for the slaveholders, as the North moved ahead in production, expansion and population growth, and was essentially a capitalist political economy by the 1840s.14
Thus slavery actually held back capitalist development in colonial areas where it was dominant, including in the southern states of the U.S. This is the final nail in the coffin of any “revolution” of 1776. Despite all the fancy words and promises of “democracy” and “liberty,” the colonial ruling classes united around building a new mercantile empire on an aristocratic slave-based economy, when their mother country, despite its own hypocrisy as an imperial and slave-trading power, was already heading in a different direction.
In his vigorous defense of the American War of Independence as a “democratic” revolution, Herbert Aptheker falls all over himself insisting that the democratic ideals it professed somehow hold sway over the fundamental nature of the society it brought into being. Yes, this war was a successful anti-colonial overturn, but why does Aptheker say that it was “fortunate for the Revolutionary cause that political and economic considerations kept the British from actively waging an anti-slavery war?” Or that the “mass flight for freedom” by slaves during the “revolution” was “pathetic?” Or that Maroons “disturbed” considerable areas of “rebeldom?” (my emphasis.) Aptheker turns Marxism on its head. It’s more important to him that the fine words of “democracy,” unfulfilled today, stand over an independent new empire based on slavery, than that the slaves therein should secure their freedom.15
The U.S. Civil War, which was indeed the revolutionary social overturn that 1776 was not, was itself unfinished, in the sense that capitalism was able to tap into the Southern slave legacy to make huge profits off the various Jim Crow measures, such as the criminalization of Black people, which were quickly instituted as the era of Reconstruction ebbed and enforced by racist KKK terror. Major corporations which built fortunes off of this slavery by another name, and presenting themselves as “persons” today, continue to keep the United States in the category of oppressive oligarchy as when it began in 1776.
1 A good description of Bacon’s Rebellion and the aftermath is in Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker’s excellent, The Many Headed Hydra, Sailors, Slaves Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, Boston, 2000, pp. 136-37.
2 Linebaugh and Rediker, pp. 152. This work is essential for understanding how the development of the working class in the formative period of capitalism actually worked.
3 A slave graveyard was found recently in New York City. On the 1741 uprising, see: Linebaugh and Rediker, pp. 174-79.
4 Eugene D. Genovese, in Roll Jordan Roll, the World the Slaves Made, New York 1972, gives a brilliant description of slave culture post-1776. But it somewhat downplays the role of slave revolts in the culture.
5 Gerald Horne, The Counter-Revolution of 1776, Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America, New York, 2014, p. 111.
6 W.E. Burghardt Du Bois, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade To the United States of America, Harvard Historical Studies, 1896. This monograph, packed with informative research, is based on Du Bois’ doctoral dissertation. It was his first published piece.
7 Linebaugh and Rediker, p. 232 and 237; and Gerald Horne, p. 19.
8 Linebaugh and Rediker, pp. 233-34.
9 Quoted in Linebaugh and Rediker, p. 238.
10 Howard Zinn, A Peoples History of the U.S., Chapter 5, “A Kind of Revolution.”
11 Linebaugh and Rediker, pp. 221-27.
12 Herbert Aptheker, The American Revolution 1763-1783, International Publishers, 1969, pp. 218-19.
13 A few of the escapees appealed to were in Bermuda. Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy, Slavery and the War in Virginia, 1772-1832, New York, 2013, pp. 357-59.
14 See Eugene D. Genovese, The Political Economy of Slavery, Studies in the Economy and Society of the Slave South, Vintage edition, 1967, pp. 15-23.
15 Herbert Aptheker, pp. 218-19