Conceived in Liberty, Volume I
A New Land, A New People:
The American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century
by Murray N. Rothbard
This first volume is about the seventeenth century and the English colonies in North America. Dr. Rothbard laments that this important period is glossed over by most historians (1). It was during this time that the British learned that the Americans were not to be toyed with, and were deadly serious about freedom.
The very first point Dr. Rothbard hastily makes is that the American continent was first “discovered” thousands of years ago by people from Asia who crossed at the Bering Strait, where apparently at one time one could walk from what is now Russia to what is now Alaska. (Editor’s note: There are also theories that other peoples came here from Europe and Africa, though none stayed as permanently as the people who became known as “Indians.”)
In Europe, as Dr. Rothbard starts the book, until around the eleventh century, poverty and squalor prevailed because of feudalism. Then, feudalism began to crack, and among areas that were free of feudal restrictions, trade picked up and spread (2). Consequently, goods and services became more available, and many people prospered. Trade routes were developed by land or sea or both.
This lasted for quite a long time, until the fourteenth century when it came to a halt. The reason it stopped was the new wealth was tempting to the powerful (read government authority), who wanted to get that wealth to use for their own purposes which were inimical to freedom and prosperity (3). New nation-states were forming and, of course, governments are always looking for sources of money. The systems imposed on economies were to all intents and purposes mercantile systems. We have, at least a couple of times in past essays, discussed what Dr. Rothbard defined as mercantilism, and compared it with the system the Founders rebelled against and the system we are languishing under today. What galls me the most is that people today are out in la-la land pretending to believe, even actually believing that what we have is “free-market capitalism” and that we have it because of the wars we have fought. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mercantilism meant taxes and regulations and, in those days, ruination of trade routes. Monopoly privileges were granted by governments to merchants in exchange for the merchants' collection of taxes (4).
However, as Dr. Rothbard points out, the free market has a way of surviving: Taxes and regulations were evaded, easily perhaps. As much as I love modern technology, the downside to it is that regulations and taxes can be enforced much more rigorously now, and they are. So, in 2009, we are not benefiting from a free market nearly as much as we could be.
Many explorations of the earth, including Columbus's, were in hopes of enhancing trade.
After about a century of mercantilism and successful attempts to get around its rules, mercantilism began to crack, and economic progress began to move forward again (5). It has been shown that, contrary to some historians, a free market does not need a centralized government to develop. Quite the contrary (6).
The specific thing important to this essay is the ascension of the Tudor dynasty in England in 1485. They re-applied medieval repression in an efficient manner. There was cruel enforcement of the rules and prohibition of dissent. This was the model for the future domination of the people of America (7).
While the New World looked promising to Europeans who were under the yoke of stultifying mercantilism, England, which had settled the biggest part of North America, had been under feudalism for centuries and did not know anything else.
I think feudalism is very close to socialism (or fascism). The government is the true owner of land and decides who “owns” how much and under what conditions. From 1066 until at least the 1600s, large tracts were parceled out (by government) to favored warlords. Farmers (peasants) who lived on the land were compelled to obey the overlord and were not allowed to move elsewhere, and the land was not allowed to be broken up into smaller parcels (8). The farmers were serfs, and required to work for free in exchange for rent on the land they were forced to remain on. This was lightened up by the late 1300s when money could be paid instead.
The English had thought of the Irish as savages, and had imposed feudalism on them, along with “surplus poor” English people who were sent to Ireland to form a colony.
As for the New World, the English government granted tracts of land to favored monopolists. These were interested in profits so they sold parcels of land to individual colonists. This was good (assuming Indians did not already own the land in question), but it would have been better if the colonists could have simply homesteaded the land for free, rather than having to pay for it (9), leaving government and monopolists out of the picture.
In Part II of the volume, Dr. Rothbard turns to the Southern colonies in the seventeenth century.
In England, the whole idea of colonization was to siphon off “surplus poor” and “undesirables.” They had formed plantations in Ireland, and so followed the same procedures in the New World.
Dr. Rothbard starts with the Virginia colony. Right away he points out that the most important decisions, those regarding land, commerce, native relations, etc., had been pre-made by the British government before any colonists arrived. Feudalism was implemented and the American Indians were driven from land that was rightfully theirs. This was modeled after the policies the English had foisted on Ireland (10).
England was imperialistic on the high seas, too. Even though in 1602 it had agreed that the open sea was government-free and open to all for fishing, Dutch competition caused worry for English fishing, so there was an about-face, with a declaration that England possessed exclusive fishing rights in certain areas, and anyone else who wanted to fish had to pay a tax. Restriction and belligerency were on the increase (11).
The Virginia colony did so poorly that most of the people died. The government-imposed system, malaria, and the hard labor required were the reasons. Communist-type principles were foisted on unwilling colonists by the Virginia Company, which had received the land grant. This caused an incentive to skip work, as each was guaranteed a fair share of the common store (12). Between the malaria and the excessively strict laws, it is no wonder that most people died. Leaving was not allowed.
And, like the Obama administration and the Bush administration before it, the powers-that-were tried to solve the problems by inflicting more of the cause of the problems (13).
Finally, the system started to crack; the communist-type regime started to dissolve with grants of small plots of land to individuals who were then allowed to keep the fruits of their labor (14). The Virginia Company was taken over by liberals (classical liberals, that is, meaning of a more libertarian bent and, while it seems strange now, these liberals were predominately Puritans), who made changes that were desperately needed. Conditions, not to mention the people's morale, improved by leaps and bounds. They were even allowed to elect a General Assembly (those who could vote, that is but at least that is better than nobody having a voice at all) (15). Improvements in growing methods made tobacco a staple.
Things were not perfect. The Virginia Company still regulated the economy quite a bit, from who could have how much land to how much of what crop was planted to pricing.
All of this was labor-intensive, and had the market been truly free, it may not have been sustainable (of course as it was government ate up a lot of productivity, so maybe it would have). Slaves and indentured servants were doing a lot of the work, and of course in a free market there is no slavery.
The pendulum swings. King James did not take kindly to what little classical liberalism there was, even though most of the people were better off. Far from liberal, King James had wanted to ban tobacco on health grounds, just as paternalistic, authoritarian government bans cannabis and strictly regulates tobacco today (16). In 1624, the Virginia Company's charter was annulled, the King effectively stealing the colony. The King then appointed many of the officials. Legislative and judicial powers were combined which, as we know, is too much concentration of power (17).
Of course, the richest tobacco planters had the lion's share of decision-making power. They held many positions in the assembly and many major county offices (18). Most farmers were small farmers who, along with their families, did most of the work themselves. They were hard working and productive, and were more nearly free than they could have ever hoped to be in backward, feudalistic England (19). Crops, mostly tobacco were mainly sold to England.
Tobacco grew to the point that supply outran demand, forcing the price down, making it tough on small farmers who had to compete with large plantations and their bond-servant labor. But, regardless of mythology, the big planters did not have it easy either, as managing their holdings was quite more than a full-time job (20). But they did cultivate learning. Many founded “free schools,” which educated the children of those able to pay and those unable to pay (21).
Religion played a major role in the 17th century. In England, the Crown wanted to bring the Anglican Church under its domination in order to loot church property. In the New World, its stated purpose was to out-compete Catholic Spain. That is one of the main reasons, the Crown said, the Virginia colony was planted in the first place. Anglicanism was by law the official religion of the colony. Compulsory church attendance and certain Anglican rules were mandatory, although rarely enforced because of economic necessities. There was no separation of church and state at the parish (the smallest political unit) level. The church vestry ran the show, and could levy taxes. Catholicism was banned.
Liberalism ebbed and flowed, as did loyalty to the Crown. England left Virginia alone for a while, making it independent, and Virginia learned enough about defiance to groom itself for future revolution (22).
Dr. Rothbard devoted an entire chapter called “British Mercantilism Over Virginia” (23). I think the word “over” is especially appropriate, as mercantilism then and mercantilism now is actually rule over the population. More and more power gravitated to the governor of the colony as more rules were made to favor the establishment. Today, as I write this at the end of October, 2009, President Obama has put a cap on CEO salaries in the big banks and other big businesses that have received “stimulus” money. Anyone who accepts money from the government can expect strings to be attached, whether that money is a gift or a loan. Power gravitates toward government, and government power gravitates toward the executive. This is how it always seems to be in the absence of a free market.
The governor of Virginia colony made sure that he and his planter allies got the best land and had a monopoly on the Indian fur trade. They also worked for the re-establishment of the Anglican Church to instill conformist “values” (24).
This is an example of how the church was used by the state to keep people obedient. Today it is the mainstream “news” media. Right now, in late October, 2009, the Obama administration is calling down Fox News and conservative talk radio for not toeing the party line.
The Virginia colony persecuted non-Anglicans, particularly the Quakers, as “Dissenters” (25). I guess the Quakers were the “Fox News” of their day, failing to dish out government propaganda.
So, while Fox News and some conservatives seem to be on the right track now in condemning socialized medicine and other authoritarian schemes, where were they during Bush's long strides into socialism?
As for Obama, what he is advocating is not really that different. He uses high-sounding terms, but he also emphasized that the school day should be lengthened and the school year should be lengthened, even abolishing summer vacation. This is so alarming for a list of reasons. I remember so well how very much my summers meant to me. Even today, those precious summers affect me. Without them, where would I be? As for the school day, I realize that Barack Obama is an ambitious, highly intelligent young man who probably thrived on school. But does he not remember how much more slowly the hours tick by for a child or even a teenager? In the second grade, my mornings were two-and-a-half hours long. That time seemed longer than an eight-hour workday does now. A forty-five-minute class period in high school seemed longer than two hours do now. And, then there is homework ... and asinine zero-tolerance policies ... has he never heard of burnout? This essay is coming from someone who was a highly energetic child who could not sit still, but one needs to understand that there are as many Alices as there are Baracks and there are all gradations in between.
Well, enough of that. Suffice it to say that today's students will fare no better than students in the Virginia colony as far as critical thinking outside the box and questioning of authority are concerned. In fact it will be worse, the super-long hours and loss of vacation time will take away time for growing and learning, and demoralized, bored students in too many cases will throw in the towel.
But that is what they are really after! God forbid the members of the up-and-coming generations should want to cast off their chains!
So freedom ebbed and flowed, and so did relations with the Indians. Sometimes there was war. The colony stole land from the Indians when they could have bought it instead. The Indians massacred colonists a couple of times, and the colonists burned Indian homes and crops. But sometimes they traded and gifted. The Indians saved the colonists from starvation at least once.
Now we get to (Nathaniel) Bacon's Rebellion, the revolution in Virginia. Dr. Rothbard discusses revolution in general (27) and emphasizes that it is not cut and dried. Among participants in a general revolution, each has his own specific reasons. The motives on both sides change throughout. People are not about to interrupt their daily lives and assume all the risk of participating in a revolution unless they have multiple grievances, and then some situation is the spark that lights the fire (28).
Some writers believe that the American Revolution (and the revolution in Virginia) was “conservative,” or against government disruptions of the status quo. Nor was this one in Virginia any “class struggle” as leftists might see it. It was against rich people, but only certain rich people, those who had government special privilege (29). It was not against wealth per se (that would be pretty stupid), but for whom the government was acting against, i.e., the non-establishment, whether rich or poor.
The grievances were mostly against the government and were for the most part libertarian grievances against mercantilist rules. But they were also the opposite: grievances against too much leniency toward the Indians (30). This was actually the main grievance.
The revolution itself failed, but Nathaniel Bacon and other leaders of the revolution were elected to high office and were able to make a few changes, despite the governor. The governor was not open to stricter anti-Indian laws, but condoned the Bacon crowd because he knew that there were 2,000-odd armed citizens who favored Bacon. Now, if this shows anything it is that an armed citizenry will behoove government officials to think twice before crossing them (31). The Bacon crowd, backed up by arms, made their way into power and passed “Bacon's Laws,” which were mostly libertarian aside from Indian policies. So, in a way, the revolution succeeded.
Well, power corrupts. Bacon became more of a despot as his power grew, insisting on a revolt against England, plundering, enforcing loyalty oaths (to him) and declaring martial law (32). Bacon suddenly died, and the revolution fell apart as a result (although I think it might have succeeded had power not corrupted it). The old governor proceeded to aggrandize himself more than ever (33). But, revolution became deeply ingrained in the minds of the Virginians.
Dr. Rothbard then turns his attention to nearby Maryland. There, the main dispute seemed to be over religion. It was a feudal colony but it had an assembly of landholders and was more liberal than Virginia religion-wise. The Puritans and the Catholics tolerated each other.
But, grievances mounted (34). Rents rose as tobacco prices dropped. There were issues about the Quakers, who placed God's laws over the state's laws. They were eventually expelled, but later were not just tolerated but welcomed.
Although Maryland was feudalistic, the conditions in the New World with its land abundance and liberal (classical, that is) tendencies, land was gradually bought up by the settlers, so feudalism gradually gave way to a market economy (35).
The main characteristic of feudalism, Dr. Rothbard says (36), is the “quitrent.” This is the rent landholders must pay (either in money or some other way such as a certain quantity of tobacco) to the big landlord to whom government granted the land. There was no getting around it: Pay or lose your land. Moving did not help as this landlord owned all the land. How our property tax differs from feudal quitrents escapes me.
Turning to the Carolinas, a very familiar name crops up: John Locke! Yes, this is the John Locke, one of the forebears of contemporary libertarianism, and one of the philosophers who greatly influenced our Founders (37). Locke, of course, was a staunch defender of private property.
But, there is private property and there is private property. Private property under feudalism and private property in a free market are two different animals (despite leftist rhetoric - the leftists are out to lunch on economics anyhow).
Locke, hired by proprietors, drew up a scheme of hierarchy for the feudal Carolinas. This work was called Fundamental Constitutions, and it is to be compared and contrasted with Civil Government, written about ten years later, which defended individualism and laissez-faire.
The agreement Locke wrote was not really very good in the minds of today's libertarians, but at least it did include trial by jury and a large measure of religious freedom for believers in God. Non-believers were excluded from legal protections, however (38).
That is where John Locke was at that time. Fortunately, the Carolinas' assembly was ahead of him and never ratified the plan. Rather, the system that came into being distributed land widely, even though the proprietors got a large share.
The ebbs and flows of relative freedom vs. authoritarianism in the Carolinas continued. It depended upon who was the strongest, the people who favored freedom or the Crown and proprietors who didn't. Exiles from Virginia bolstered freedom, but the shoddy treatment of the Indians bolstered authority. Religious toleration and economic liberty (or lack thereof) seem to be the most important factors.
Now, Dr. Rothbard begins his discussion of the North in Part III of the volume, The Founding of New England. One way this area contrasted with the South was in religion. The Church of England, which was established and thus taxpayer supported, was dominant in the South, whereas in New England most people had come over to be able to practice their religion undisturbed (39).
The Plymouth colony that came over on the Mayflower is of particular interest. For one thing, this is the one that is in the establishment's history books. While in school, I was under the impression that this was the first colony. Of course it was not. It is also interesting because this colony is an object lesson in private property. The death rate was high for a long time because they insisted on a communist-type system. When they finally divided up the land into private plots, crops (corn was the main crop) grew in abundance. People worked hard because they knew it was their own families they were working for (40).
Governor William Bradford instituted the private-property system. I am proud to be a descendant of his as he apparently started the free market system here. I am not sure just how free the market became, but it was certainly a major stride forward. People stopped dying and started to enjoy a much better quality of life.
Like the rest of us, though, Bradford was by no means perfect. There was no religious freedom in the colony (41).
The Plymouth colony and many others had left England to go first to the Netherlands because of religious intolerance in their own country. People originally hoped to go back some day, but the main industry in England, unfinished cloth, was essentially destroyed by government greed. To bolster tax revenues, the government established a monopoly on trade in unfinished cloth, giving one company the special privilege and taking away 50 percent of the profits. This was one main cause of a depression (the Thirty Years' War on the continent being another), and the government dealt with the depression in ways similar to those, centuries later, of Hoover and Roosevelt (42).
So, the Plymouth colonists landed in Massachusetts. Later on, in England, there were great strides toward economic liberty, that is, as long as England had the sense to stay at least behind the scenes of the Thirty Years' War. They had “only” acted through diplomacy and subsidies (43). Once England did enter the war, taxes were raised to finance it over the libertarian objections of Parliament. No taxes would be ratified until some grievances were addressed. So, true to form, the Crown dissolved Parliament and arrested opposition leaders (44). The Puritans, which most of these colonists were, had been oppressed but now it would get worse. On the continent, the Catholics were prevailing against the Protestants, and this was likely to spread to England, so America was looking really good to the Puritans (45).
It was not that freedom was their long suit. They may have been sympathetic to economic freedom, knowing that economic freedom and prosperity go together. They did, however, set up a “theocracy” in Massachusetts. Theocracy means rule by God, but in reality it is rule by people who use God as an excuse to make everyone over in their own image. Of course, strict, unquestioning obedience to civil authority was part and parcel of the system. Natural liberties were to be regarded as a “wild beast” and to be tamed by “authority” (46).
Though ministers were selected by congregations, town governments paid their generous salaries (47). These ministers had a great deal of power over the people. Only church members could vote, and the minister had to approve all memberships.
I am sure I have no clue how much good it does the individual to practice Biblical morality when the club of government is about to come down on one's head. Even this is under the naive assumption that the “authority” that is wielding the club even understands what the Bible is really saying. The obedient subject is actually obeying the club-wielder rather than God, and to me that is completely pagan. You are not your brother's keeper; rather, you need to be your brother's brother. This is why Thomas Jefferson and the Founders were quite determined to keep church and state separate.
Dr. Rothbard makes some interesting comments on the forcing of people into a set of moral rules (48). This only spawns hypocrisy. Those who believe in a moral code do not need to be coerced. Those who do not believe in it might act according to the code, but go on believing differently. They are made to be hypocrites because they are forced to act one way even as they believe another.
I call this “acting lessons.” When a kid, if I was told I would have to behave in a certain way in order to get a privilege (or in some cases to exercise a right, as children do have rights), I'd behave in that way. However, once obtaining the privilege, my behavior reverted.
“Keep your Sunday dress on through lunch,” I'd hear, “and you can play outside all afternoon.” So, I would, but do you think I preferred a frilly dress and Mary-Janes to shorts and bare feet? Hah! That will be the day! In fact I hated them worse! I was putting on an act. All I know about acting (quite a bit, perhaps) I learned in this manner. Later on, for the boss, I put on an act of not realizing quitting time was soon. Especially on Friday!
And of course people were encouraged to rat on each other (49), just as today 800 number hotlines are available to report suspicious activity.
It should surprise nobody that the rules were not just about religion any more than the restrictions we languish under today are just about security (or health care). Laborers and indentured servants got the brunt as keeping them in their place was important to the well-connected and powerful (50).
Then, enter one Roger Williams, a minister or church teacher, who seriously stirred the pot with decentralist/libertarian ideas. Not only did he believe that church authority should not be backed by any civil authority, but that the Crown should not be making land grants. The land belonged to the Indians, he correctly believed; therefore if one wanted land, one should make them an offer for it (51).
Williams was strong-armed into recanting, but fortunately he said this again, and more (52). Finally Williams was exiled after he repeatedly refused to recant, but some of the colonists prepared to follow him. The authorities were then determined to ship him against his will back to England, but he fled alone on foot before they could (53). After Indians had put him up for the winter, some colonists then joined him in a move. He founded Providence, bought land from the Indians and was determined to preserve religious freedom (54).
Williams, who had Dissenter roots in England, was probably the most libertarian of his time in his religious freedom views. He called for liberty of all religions, not just Christian sects.
In the new place, there were some problems about land allocation, but the religious freedom stuck. Roger Williams subsequently invited Anne Hutchinson and her following to move there after she had been tossed out of Massachusetts for heresies. Once there, she and her husband saw to the continuation of religious freedom (55). This lasted until they were overthrown by their deposed authoritarian former governor, but a compromise was reached in Hutchinson's favor.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts continued its harassment, and Anne died in a raid the Indians conducted on Massachusetts' behalf. The so-called “Christians” in Massachusetts gloated, but her spirit lived long after the theocracy ended.
Her legacy lives on today in the minds of Christians who realize that civil government action is not the best way – is not any way — to make people “good.”
Well, it should surprise nobody that trouble brewed in Rhode Island, too. Roger Williams became very moderate, and he and the authoritarians wanted to get rid of a real libertarian-leaning radical, Samuell Gorton and his followers, and they enlisted Massachusetts to do it. Of course, the Puritans in Massachusetts were willing as long as they got to rule (56).
In the end, troops from Massachusetts overcame the Gortonites and dragged them back to Boston. The Gortonites surrendered on condition they go back as “guests” rather than prisoners, but governments never keep their promises, so they were dragged there after they surrendered. Once there, the brave Samuell Gorton got to speak in church one last time, and he said there is only Christ, and all of the ordinances and ministers were man made. Gorton and his followers barely escaped the death penalty. Rather, they were put on a chain gang and worked in public, where they defiantly went on preaching. Finally, they were banished, rather than killed, and they went back home (57). I have to wonder if there was some divine intervention there when one must consider the disregard the Puritans had for life.
Roger Williams had been a pretty good libertarian (at least by seventeenth century standards). While in England, he had become involved with the Levellers and other libertarian movement organizations, but the movement collapsed. That must have been really discouraging. Eventually, the power he had in Rhode Island took its toll on him.
He took a major fall. This was not a fall down the stairs. Would that it were something that could be so quickly recovered from. But it was an about-face on his philosophy. We don't know why, but Dr. Rothbard thought it was the corrupting influence of power along with the disappointment over the demise of the libertarian movement in England.
The first sign of Williams' fall was his imposition of, of all things, a draft. The draft is about the most authoritarian of institutions; it is but slavery, not different from any other kind of slavery. There was resistance on the part of the Baptists, who were very libertarian in their views. In fact, they believed that government is anti-Christian (58). I am inclined to agree. I cannot be certain that government per se is anti-Christian, but many things government does clearly go against the laws of God. It routinely lies, cheats, steals, and kills.
Williams believed that individuals must obey officials, but never said anything about how or why some became officials (59). A passenger ship with the whole population aboard was what he used as an analogy, but who owns the ship to make decisions? And, why should there be only one ship? He could not answer, and as far as I know neither could anyone else since.
He started right in by centralizing Rhode Island. Towns lost their home rule first. Then, civil liberties were viciously attacked. Liquor was compulsorily licensed and taxed. “Verbal incivilities” were outlawed, probably defined about as well as “sexting” is today. Morality was legislated and punishments intensified.
The Anne Hutchinson incident, along with Massachusetts-led aggression against the Indians, brought the various authoritarian colonies together and a New England Confederation was formed (60). This almost amounted to a new layer of centralized government, but it was enough of a republic that a colony could nullify its decisions (61). Rhode Island was still too individualistic to be admitted.
Of course, immediately there was a Puritan crackdown and tax levy on member colonies. But, arguments about wars and other matters threatened to pull the confederation apart (62). The confederation did not pull apart, and the crackdown, especially the zero-tolerance policies toward Quakers, got even worse. In fact, a “Cart and Whip Act” was passed whereby Quakers were to be tied behind a cart and dragged out of the colony while being whipped (63).
Dr. Rothbard was, for the most part, an objective writer, unlike some people who will remain nameless just now; he did not go off on an indignant libertarian tangent. However, I have been reading between the lines here and have detected his anger over these horrendous punishments that the Quakers were subjected to, and his admiration (which I share) for the Quakers who continually defied the punishments. They were no more than banished from the colony in this manner when they went right back and resumed their ministry.
The Cart and Whip Act was used primarily against Quaker women (64). The women were stripped to the waist for the dragging and whipping ceremonies, and I cannot but compare this with the pornography censorship of today.
It is human nature, and some humans will not exercise their God-given free will to rise above their nature. These are often the same humans (I am using the term loosely) who get themselves into positions of “authority.” They presume they are better than the rest of us, just as the Puritans believed they were better than the Quakers.
It is rewarding to see that the more the Quakers were persecuted, the more determined they became. Not only that, but the general population started to oppose the persecution (65). Would that people had that much backbone today. If they did, my dream of general strikes and pro-freedom, anti-government demonstrations on every street would come true.
In Plymouth colony at that time, we might be shocked to see that it was necessary to get government permission to build a church (66).
Let us not forget that today one must grovel, and pay, for a permit (permission) to build a church, a home, or anything else. And hoops have to be jumped through. All kinds of bureaucratic approvals and licenses are involved. Today the excuse is “safety” or “environment” (actually this is a cash cow for government coffers), whereas in colonial times it was religious conformity. In both cases, any official who wanted to stop the building did not have to look far to find some rule to trot out to serve his or her own ends.
But the theocracy was actually done in by economics. The devout Puritans knew nothing about the natural laws of economics. This law is not dealt with very much in the Bible except in a very general way. “Thou shalt not steal” really does say it all, but only if you already understand economics.
Consequently, trade was suspect as it took time away from “Godly” concerns (67). They did understand the value of time (which most people today do not) and did not waste any on activities they believed were unnecessary. So, trade was discouraged unless it was monopolized and/or heavily regulated. The fur trade was the main trade, and governments imposed price controls, taxes, and licensure on traders. It should not be a surprise that in Roger Williams' Rhode Island (before he fell) the fur trade was more free and furs did not become scarce as they did elsewhere in New England, where other types of trade were turned to (68).
Price controls played particular havoc, as we have seen in other Rothbard works. Land was cheap and plentiful while the numbers of people were low. So, the demand for labor far outstripped the supply, forcing market wages way up. Most of the indentured servants and black slaves were not farm workers (69). The government in Massachusetts passed a maximum wage law in addition to compulsory service during harvests. Of course, this only encouraged free workers to cut back on hours or move away.
Enforcement being impossible and the laws of economics being inevitable, the scheme only lasted six months. But, when the working class began to prosper, the establishment became angry and slapped the controls back on, this time with a minimum of hours to be worked, and with conscription. Can anyone spell “slavery”?
At the same time, economic ignorance (read mercantilist fallacies) brought about price ceilings on products. The powers-that-be seemed to think that if wages were depressed then prices ought to be also. They had no knowledge of what Rothbard students learn early, that market prices fluctuate relative to each other, due primarily to shifting supplies and demands.
Many such mercantilist schemes were tried in many places but all met with failure.
Mercantilism (the system dominant at that time and the system we have been saddled with for numerous decades and expect to be for the foreseeable future) is based on the idea that it is a legitimate function of government to direct the economy (70). The Obama administration assumes this, as did the sorry Bush administration before it. This goes way back, as I pointed out in my 2005 essay, to the Lincoln era. The economy is faltering badly, as is obvious to the many who cannot find work and are deeply in debt. I fervently wish the establishment and its lapdog, the mainstream media, would place the blame where it belongs, but this is not something I can hope for. My greatest hope lies in the freedom movement as exemplified by Ron Paul, the Campaign for Liberty, and also the Tea Party if the latter can stay away itself from neoconservative influence. But these could be stopped at any time.
Power seems to swing back and forth between the Democrats and the Republicans, as the government becomes more powerful. Those in high places want their party, and hence themselves, to be in control. The struggling regular people see that the party in control is not solving problems, so they turn to the other one. Of course, very few are aware of smaller parties and those who are seem afraid to vote for them because if they do the worse of two evils will win the election. We saw this in the off-year 2009 elections where there was a Republican sweep in what few races there were; and in early 2010 in a special election in Massachusetts to fill the seat held by the late Ted Kennedy, a Republican whose voting record in Massachusetts was indecisive at best, won, when a thoroughgoing Libertarian was available.
I think that the royal, feudal mercantilism of the seventeenth century had more similarities to than differences from today's mercantilism. Government had the final say. Owners of the means of production have to obey rules rather than discern and follow the dictates of the free market, and when losses occur, these owners have to absorb all the losses, while any profits have to be shared with government.
It is unlikely that anyone in the colonies pretended they had a free market. Maybe they were fooled into thinking the rules were good, but at least they realized that they had to obey rules. Today, particularly on the left, there is pretense that the market is unregulated and that this and corporate greed are what are causing the problems. On the right, you see an even crazier pretense, that we were both free and prosperous until noon on January 20, 2009, and then suddenly everything went belly-up.
Cause and effect in economics takes time. Had Bush's policies been free market we would still be benefiting from them even with Obama's crazy socialist/mercantilist policies, and the harm from Obama's policies would (and will) manifest itself down the road. People need to see this.
People think of merchants, or capitalists, as a “class.” They are not (71). Remember Rothbard's Man, Economy and State. If government grants privileges, it grants them to particular favorites, and this is at the expense of other capitalists, or would-be merchants or capitalists who were excluded altogether by government action.
Everybody is different and has a different situation, so there are no “classes” unless they are formed by government action. Not only that, but were there “classes” in a free market, the lines would be fine as people are always able to jump from one to another.
There was a battle of sorts in Massachusetts between the merchants and the Puritan fat-cats. The merchants were the “good guys,” regardless of left-wing rhetoric, as they understood that their well-being depended on everybody's well-being, and that depended on more free trade. The Puritan officials also understood that their own wealth and power were the inverse of freedom and free trade.
Fortunately, the liberalization of the Puritan church in England resulted in a liberalization in the new world, too (72). Unfortunately, I am sorry to say, my ancestor Gov. Bradford sided with the opponents of religious toleration (73). I guess his economic reasoning took him only so far. Plymouth colony actually became a ghost town because of these anti-freedom policies.
The more the establishment cracked down, the more people resisted. Many flocked into Quaker and Baptist churches, and elected non-establishment people to higher office (74). Removal of these officials brought about more resistance.
After the restoration of the monarchy in England, which had given way to democracy for a while, the king did some good by extensive land grants to his brother, and this caused some shifts that eventually ended Puritan theocracy in New England (75). Well, even monarchy is not always bad for freedom. But while theocracy was dealt a major blow, mercantilism was not. The monarchy re-imposed many of its economic restrictions and monopolies (76).
Dr. Rothbard then turns to the Dutch colonies in New Netherland, where New York is now. An explanation of what was happening in the Netherlands was in order, although the situation is familiar. There was the establishment who were rich fat-cats, and there were the merchants. I don't think religion was the major factor that it was in New England, but the establishment consisted primarily of Calvinists. The Calvinists were Christians who did not believe in a free will and favored a strong central government. They are a mystery to me. Just suffice it to say that they, like today's neoconservatives, wanted government to direct the entire economy in such a way as to benefit the big guys. This carried over to the colonies in North America. The system was feudal and mercantilist, and there was close to zero freedom for a while (77). The colonies suffered for lack of population and lack of prosperity.
Again, freedom ebbed and flowed and so did colonist well-being.
Finally, changes occurred. They had to. More freedom brought more people. The individual Dutch got along fine with the individual English, of course. Why shouldn't they? But, governments are always greedy and jealous … determined to be number one ... so the Netherlands and England were at odds over the land (78).
The Calvinist theocrats held the power in New Netherland, so there was no religious freedom. Only the Dutch Reformed church was allowed (79). Quakers were imprisoned and expelled, being dragged away by the tail of a cart. (There was no mention of being whipped but that would not surprise me at all as authoritarians so often adopt the perverse ideas other authoritarians lie awake to cook up.) This persecution only served to strengthen the Quakers (80).
When the Duke of York conquered New Netherland for England, the colonists gave right up. They did so not so much because they were greatly outnumbered, but because the English guaranteed them basic freedoms, none of which they had under the Dutch (81). So, New Netherland came to an end. Of course, governments never seem to keep their promises, and the Dutch population went on suffering at the hands of the English (82).
Meanwhile, the colonies, especially authoritarian Plymouth, were harassing the Indians. Indians were required to observe the white man's laws, including strict observance of the Sabbath. It was insulting to the Indians that gun control and taxes were imposed on them and that they were forced to settle their own disputes in the white man's courts. After all, who had been there first? While Indians did get to sit on juries, the fairness of trials was questionable at best (83).
The situation escalated and, long story short, the Indians laid waste to many Plymouth towns, which began “King Philip's War” (Philip, or Metacom, was an Indian chief), and that ended what little freedom there was in Massachusetts. Men ages sixteen to sixty were enslaved and travel permits were required to leave one's town. Who was really the enemy here, Dr. Rothbard wonders, the Indians or the whites' own government? (84). It should surprise nobody that authoritarian New England decided to virtually exterminate the Indians. It was about the land, of course.
Rhode Island, as Dr. Rothbard has discussed earlier, was predominately Quaker and had a relatively libertarian administration. They saw no point in fighting in King Philip's War and believed (rightly, I think) that it was caused by persecution of the Indians (85). But, after Indians laid waste to parts of Rhode Island, the libertarianism faltered. Roger Williams had taken a great fall as we mentioned; in fact he sold Indian prisoners into slavery (86).
In 1675 there was a change of administrations in England that ended what little liberalism there was and began the takeover of New England by the Crown (87). Of course, the idea was to centralize, regulate, and tax. It started in Massachusetts, which put up a valiant resistance, but lost. The Crown had sent Edward Randolph to collar Massachusetts.
New Hampshire was next on Randolph's list. But, once New Hampshire was spoiled, he returned to Massachusetts and became collector of customs, meaning the enforcer of the mercantilist Navigation Acts. He inspected ships, and if they were carrying the wrong articles in the wrong place, he would seize the ship. This authoritarian act is akin to our present-day forfeiture laws, except, under Randolph, shippers were better off than today's victims of forfeiture laws. At least there needed to be evidence of law-breaking, and the ships were not sold with the booty distributed among officials and tattlers until the trial was over. And, unlike today, the people of Massachusetts were aware of the injustice and also aware that a jury can judge both the facts of the case and the law, so there were few convictions (88). The people of Massachusetts, Puritanism notwithstanding, had the gumption to resist Randolph's mercantilist rule.
But later Massachusetts fell, because the pragmatists prevailed over those who stuck to principle (89). Dr. Rothbard seems to be implying that compromise and consensus are not good in important matters and, of course, I agree.
Today, the Libertarian Party is divided between the pragmatic moderates and the hard-core cleavers to principle, of which I am one, and we will be sorry if things go as they have been.
The Crown took over all New England (except good old Rhode Island and Connecticut). There was no representation in government of the people and Edward Randolph held many lucrative offices (90). For the rest of the offices, cronyism was the order of the day.
Feudalistic/mercantilist regulations stifled the economy. A blatant example cited by Dr. Rothbard was that of the “carters,” or push-cart vendors. The regulations caused a shortage of carting services (91). Added to that, of course, were the old problems of tariffs and religious favoritism.
And, of course, there were rivalries among governments for jurisdiction and power.
The battle between freedom and despotism also ebbed and flowed as it always seemed to. Freedom is certainly ebbing today, but in West New Jersey, during the 1670s, freedom flowed pretty well, as a result of a fellow named Edward Byllinge, whom Dr. Rothbard describes as a “veteran libertarian” (92). He was helped by William Penn, who was also quite liberal, which makes me proud because I am a direct descendant of Penn.
Byllinge had been influenced greatly by the Levellers in England (whom I just have to study) who were instrumental in the libertarian movement there (93).
They were to have a representative assembly, trial by jury, no taxation without representation, religious freedom, and no debtors’ prisons. There were other libertarian provisions, some of which we could only dream of now (94).
But, as in the case of Roger Williams, when the King declared the whole government of West New Jersey to be in the hands of Byllinge, Byllinge fell and repudiated his libertarian principles (95).
William Penn went on to bigger and better things. The King satisfied a debt to the late elder Penn by giving the younger Penn a huge tract of land, most of which was later Pennsylvania. He sought and quickly found settlers for the land by the institution of religious freedom, and exacting low land prices and feudal quitrents (read property taxes; I would really like to know what difference it makes) (96). One of his major achievement was to make peace with the Indians, whom the Quakers recognized as what they are, human beings. And, of course, the Indians reciprocated (97).
Penn did not fall with a resounding splat from libertarian principles the way Roger Williams and Edward Byllinge did, but he did deviate, particularly in the area of taxes (98), but when he went back to England for an extended period, Pennsylvania's government all but stopped. It was because government officials were not paid salaries, but their main livings were made elsewhere. Their priorities were with their own livelihoods, so meetings were rarely held and government “work” rarely went forward. Pennsylvania and its people were none the worse for wear; everything went fine.
William Penn didn't like this. He had not counted on Pennsylvanians having minds of their own after he had done so much to form a haven for Quakers. He expected something in return: money and power. This is yet another example of the corrupting influences of power.
Everything stayed fine in Pennsylvania for the most part.
Meanwhile, things were not going so well to the north. A fellow by the name of “Sir” Edmund Andros, whose name was synonymous with tyranny among Americans, was sent by the Crown to rule (99). He started right in by ending religious freedom and instituting requirements, fees, and taxes. Not only that, but Andros, like Obama, G.W. Bush, and others before them, notably Hoover and FDR, raised government expenditures to the extent that a depression occurred (100). As we have learned, and I hope this can be easily understood, spending one's way out of recession does not work.
Andros was an imperialist, too, spreading his despotism over a large area.
Then, finally in the fall of 1688, James II, the same king who foisted Andros on the colonies, was overthrown. When news of that finally reached America (Andros found out in advance and tried to stonewall the news), a plot to overthrow Andros began (101). He did take his well-deserved fall. There was a revolution, after which he spent a year in jail (102). It was a conservative revolution, meaning the people knew what they were doing, and not only were elections held, but the franchise was extended (103).
The struggle was not completely over. It was difficult to get the Crown (William and Mary were in power then) to recognize the new government, but they did. Not only that, Andros and his lackeys were sent for and shipped back (like a package of lard, I like to believe). I like to imagine the colonists, including my own ancestors, partying on the shore as the ship carrying the prisoners disappeared over the horizon, and I like to think that Andros himself could hear and see the party as he went. It reminds me of the Obama Inauguration where former President Bush's plane was seen taking him back to Texas (no offense to Texas as it is a pretty good state, relatively speaking, at least in the gun rights department). He was probably looking out of the window at the events. I will continue Dr. Rothbard’s book in hopes of reading the colonists would not be disappointed in their new regime as I am in Obama. I have learned not to expect much since power always corrupts, but we'll see what Murray Rothbard, always the optimist, says.
Dare I hope in January of 2013 it will be Obama flying out as Ron Paul is sworn in?
Many writers, Dr. Rothbard says (104), have chalked up this revolution to “class” conflict, “ethnic” conflict, or religious disagreement. I think that is in-the-box thinking as is this entire obsession with race and all this “class struggle” nonsense. It was the ordinary people wanting freedom from self-proclaimed authority, very much like today's Ron Paul supporter. The opposition was the same as the opposition today: politicians, bureaucrats, and their favored cronies (105).
Andros was gone, and good riddance. Unfortunately, however, another evil fiend rose in his place, a fellow by the name of Jacob Leisler. Leisler was a tax-and-spend imperialist, against whom there was plenty of rebellion. He sent troops here and there to quell dissent and conquer new places. He even invaded Canada (106)! To raise the money and manpower for this, very despotic means were used which did even more to spur rebellion (107).
Leisler was determined to carry out the invasion despite lack of cooperation, and the expedition inevitably failed due to lack of coordination, manpower and supplies. Only one place up there was pillaged, but was pillaged thoroughly (108).
Leisler's self-proclaimed authority was on the line, and he dug in his heels by forbidding any emigration and ridiculously ordering any previous emigrants to return (109). Of course his reign continued to go downhill until civil war developed, and Leisler and his men were jailed by a new governor who had recently been sent by the Crown. Long story short, Leisler wound up dead.
Unfortunately, all of this put the old oligarchy back in power, but it was not quite the Andros regime. At least there would be a representative assembly (110). The actions of this assembly were mixed, but one good thing it did was to make sure the governor understood that he had to depend on it for funds.
The seventeenth century was drawing to a close. Some pro-freedom progress had been made giving representative assemblies. But, in Massachusetts, while the Puritan threat had subsided, the Puritans managed to establish their church, so that all taxpayers were compelled to support it (111).
This relative liberalism was short-lived as some big shots wanted to re-institute the plunder in Massachusetts. Their chance came when the witch hunt came to Salem in 1692 (112).
Dr. Rothbard, in Chapter 59, gives an interesting account of the witch trials and it was, indeed, a classic witch hunt, whereby if somebody did not like somebody else, witchcraft allegations were made.
We all know pretty much what a witch-hunt is. A present-day example that comes to mind is that of Sheriff Arpaio in Maricopa County, Arizona, who behaves as if he has never heard of the Constitution, and who is waging a vendetta against his opponents (113). Also, there was a witch-hunt against Vietnam War protesters in the late 1960s, to name another example.
Today, outspoken dissidents need to be on guard. How the Obama administration will treat Census resisters in 2010 remains to be seen. Suffice it to say I will not talk to strangers through the door when they knock, much less open the door. Witch-hunts have happened throughout human history and probably will continue, at least as long as we are under the yoke of strong governments.
In Salem, eventually fully informed juries (114) and the people in general saw the light and ended the hunts (115).
As the book winds down, Dr. Rothbard simply states that, at the turn of the eighteenth century, the colonies were still under the Crown's oligarchic rule, only enough progress had been made that each colony had its assembly as a buffer between the Crown's despotism and the people's desire for liberty (116).
As Dr. Rothbard said at the beginning, history's most important consideration is the battle between freedom and self-proclaimed authority. The pendulum swings back and forth, giving first one the upper hand and then the other. I believe the pendulum swings very far into authority and then not very far into liberty.
(1) Rothbard, Murray Conceived in Liberty Volume I A New Land, A New People: The American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century (Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1999) P. 10.
(2) Ibid. P. 15, 16.
(3) Ibid. P. 17.
(4) Ibid. P. 19, 20.
(5) Ibid. P. 31.
(6) Ibid. P. 31, 32.
(7) Ibid. P.32, 33.
(8) Ibid. P. 48.
(9) Ibid. P. 49.
(10) Ibid. P. 53, 54.
(11) Ibid. P. 56.
(12) Ibid. P. 57-59.
(13) Ibid. P. 60.
(14) Ibid. P. 60.
(15) Ibid. P. 61.
(16) Ibid. P. 42.
(17) Ibid. P. 65, 66.
(18) Ibid. P. 67.
(19) Ibid. P. 68.
(20) Ibid. P. 68, 69.
(21) Ibid. P. 69.
(22) Ibid. P. 86.
(23) Ibid. P. 87-94.
(24) Ibid. P. 91.
(25) Ibid. P. 91.
(26) Ibid. P. 91.
(27) Ibid. P. 103 on.
(28) Ibid. P. 104.
(29) Ibid. P. 105.
(30) Ibid. P. 105.
(31) Ibid. P. 107.
(32) Ibid. P. 110.
(33) Ibid. P. 111.
(34) Ibid. P. 118.
(35) Ibid. P. 119.
(36) Ibid. P. 119.
(37) Ibid. P. 123.
(38) Ibid. P. 123.
(39) Ibid. P. 157.
(40) Ibid. P. 161, 162.
(41) Ibid. P. 162, 163.
(42) Ibid. P. 166. Also see my last year's essay's segment on Rothbard's America's Great Depression at http://alicelillieandher.blogspot.com/2009/04/americas-great-depression.html
(43) Ibid. P. 167.
(44) Ibid. P. 168.
(45) Ibid. P. 169.
(46) Ibid. P. 176, 177.
(47) Ibid. P. 175
(48) Ibid. P. 177, 178.
(49) Ibid. P. 178.
(50) Ibid. P. 180, 181.
(51) Ibid. P. 183.
(52) Ibid. P. 183, 184.
(53) Ibid. P. 185.
(54) Ibid. P. 186.
(55) Ibid. P. 194, 195.
(56) Ibid. P. 200.
(57) Ibid. P. 202.
(58) Ibid. P. 215.
(59) Ibid. P. 215, 216.
(60) Ibid. P. 230, 231.
(61) Ibid. P. 231.
(62) Ibid. P. 234-236.
(63) Ibid. P. 247.
(64) Ibid. P. 247.
(65) Ibid. P. 248.
(66) Ibid. P. 249, 250.
(67) Ibid. P. 251, 252.
(68) Ibid. P. 253.
(69) Ibid. P. 254.
(70) Ibid. P. 260.
(71) Ibid. P. 261.
(72) Ibid. P. 271.
(73) Ibid. P. 273.
(74) Ibid. P. 275.
(75) Ibid. P. 281.
(76) Ibid. P. 288.
(77) Ibid. P. 302.
(78) Ibid. P. 303.
(79) Ibid. P. 320.
(80) Ibid. P. 320.
(81) Ibid. P. 323.
(82) Ibid. P. 326-328.
(83) Ibid. P. 344-346.
(84) Ibid. P. 346.
(85) Ibid. P. 350.
(86) Ibid. P. 351.
(87) Ibid. P. 355.
(88) Ibid. P. 367, 368.
(89) Ibid. P. 371.
(90) Ibid. P. 376.
(91) Ibid. P. 382.
(92) Ibid. P. 397.
(93) Ibid. P. 398.
(94) Ibid. P. 398.
(95) Ibid. P. 400.
(96) Ibid. P. 403.
(97) Ibid. P. 404.
(98) Ibid. P. 405, 406.
(99) Ibid. P. 412.
(100) Ibid. P. 413.
(101) Ibid. P. 423.
(102) Ibid. P. 424.
(103) Ibid. P. 425.
(104) Ibid. P. 434.
(105) Ibid. P. 435.
(106) Ibid. P. 441.
(107) Ibid. P. 442.
(108) Ibid. P. 443.
(109) Ibid. P. 444.
(110) Ibid. P. 447.
(111) Ibid. P. 451.
(112) Ibid. P. 453.
(115) Rothbard P. 458.
(116) Ibid. P. 508.