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American Character - Ch. 4: The Elite and the Masses (1607 - 1876)
https://www.booktalk.org/american-character-ch-4-the-elite-and-the-masses-1607-1876-t30261.html
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Author:  Chris OConnor [ Wed Aug 21, 2019 10:39 pm ]
Post subject:  American Character - Ch. 4: The Elite and the Masses (1607 - 1876)

American Character - Ch. 4: The Elite and the Masses (1607 - 1876)

Please use this thread to discuss the above chapter.

Author:  LevV [ Tue Oct 01, 2019 7:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Character - Ch. 4: The Elite and the Masses (1607 - 1876)

In the opening pages of this chapter Woodard makes an important point about the beginnings of the march toward a liberal democracy in England. It is my feeling that most people believe that everyone shared equally in this gradual progression. In the early days of English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution while the landed gentry and wealthy merchants were gaining power from the king, the very opposite was happening for the vast majority of the population.

We are told that during this changing power structure millions of peasants were torn from their ancestral lands to make way for large commercial farms and sheep pastures. Peasants who had been working the soil and struggling with nature for generations were suddenly stripped of their means of a livelihood and forced to stream into crowded cities and work for starvation wages. In the words of Sir Francis Bacon, becoming little more than "housed beggars". In fact, malnutrition was so bad that on average they stood six inches shorter and lived half as long as the propertied middle and upper-class people.

By the 18th century, showing little awareness of the early history of these people and their hard work on the land, they even came to be looked on as an inferior race with one social commentator, Arthur Young, quoted as saying, "Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor or they will never be industrious".

Author:  Robert Tulip [ Tue Oct 01, 2019 7:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Character - Ch. 4: The Elite and the Masses (1607 - 1876)

The theme I found most interesting was how the Southern aristocrats in the US were opposed to independence, preferring the stable framework of British rule.

Author:  LevV [ Wed Oct 02, 2019 8:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Character - Ch. 4: The Elite and the Masses (1607 - 1876)

Robert Tulip wrote:
The theme I found most interesting was how the Southern aristocrats in the US were opposed to independence, preferring the stable framework of British rule.


And, of course, historically, this makes perfect sense. Established by slave lords from Barbados as a bastion of aristocratic privilege, Southern aristocrats had good reason to be fearful that in an independent country, with the added influence of the more democratically minded Northern areas, the "unwashed masses" who by virtue of their numbers could press for serious political and economic changes.

It's worth remembering that even the great John Locke, arguably the most influential intellectual of the period, didn't mean everyone when speaking of the "people", but rather men of property who were capable of exercising this freedom. Woodard quotes Locke on his stated beliefs about the causes of poverty. It is not the "scarcity of provisions or the want of employment, but the relaxation of discipline and corruption of manners, virtue and industry ... and vice and idleness"

Author:  DWill [ Wed Oct 02, 2019 4:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Character - Ch. 4: The Elite and the Masses (1607 - 1876)

The Southern aristocrats of course changed their thinking and supported a break with Britain when they saw that the mother country wasn't keen on perpetuating slavery.

It's hard to fathom, today, what seems a blindness to the effect of simple circumstance on people's social status. Poor people must have been born with less acumen and poor characters. They got just what they deserved based on their merits. It wouldn't do to help them get a leg up; that would only spread the contagion of inferiority to the higher levels of society. Differences in skin tone made even more plain and permanent the perceived separation of the worthy from the debased.

Slave owners going on and on about liberty seems insane to us, but Woodard explains how that made perfect sense to them. Looking back to classical Greece, as these aristocrats were fond of doing, warned them about the limits of democracy as much as it extolled democracy. The legitimate demos needed to be a select group. And Greece was also a slave culture.

Interesting how Woodard brings out the anti-democratic convictions of the colonial and early American leaders before Jackson. The republic that the Constitution established wasn't what the libertarian-minded folks of Appalachia wanted--too dependent on central power and the wealthy elite classes of lawyers and doctors. What would have happened, had the fierce individualists not been thwarted by the limits to expansion, is the break-up of the U.S. into at least two countries, but maybe more than that, without the need for a Civil War.

Author:  KindaSkolarly [ Wed Oct 02, 2019 8:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Character - Ch. 4: The Elite and the Masses (1607 - 1876)

I didn't sign up for this discussion but I couldn't help overhearing.

The Confederacy was promised a lot by British Prime Minister Palmerston. His goal was to first split the US into north and south with the war of secession, and then do another division, east-west. For that one he planned to use the Mormons. They hated the US govt, and Palmerston sent agents in among them to fan that hatred. Without Palmerston and his decade of agitation in the south, there may not have been a Civil War in the US.

Author:  DWill [ Thu Oct 03, 2019 12:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Character - Ch. 4: The Elite and the Masses (1607 - 1876)

I'd not heard about Palmerston's involvement. Very interesting. I wanted to add something I picked up from reading a bit of Jon Meacham's book on Andrew Jackson, American Lion. Woodard calls Jackson "unlettered." While it is true that he had little formal schooling, he did educate himself to a degree and was a capable writer. He claimed to read three chapters of the Bible every day, and his library included volumes on American and some European history.

Author:  KindaSkolarly [ Fri Oct 04, 2019 9:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Character - Ch. 4: The Elite and the Masses (1607 - 1876)

Palmerston also agitated in the northern states. North-south war was vital to his plan to re-take America. He beefed up the British troop presence in Canada, too. He assumed that if Lincoln sued for peace in the south, then the Union would look for conquests in the north while it had a large army assembled. But the Brits would stop the invasion, and with the Mormons and mercenaries in the west, and the British navy blockading along the eastern seaboard, the Union would not be able to survive. Britain would be able to dictate surrender terms and essentially return America to colonial status.

But the Union won, and Palmerston died in 1865, so that was that.

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