08 April 2015

Class Distinctions 1780's




The Anti-Federalists by Jackson Main, 1961, Edited Excerpts

The Untied Sates consisted in the 1780’s of a number of sections and subsections, each with a distinctive social structure, economy, and set of political objectives. The existence of classes was clearly recognized, three were distinguished. They were, as Patrick Henry expressed it, the well-born, the middle, and the lower ranks. Property, not birth, was the major factor in determining class structure.

The well-to-do were greater and lesser planters, merchants in towns and in cities, speculators and landlords, lawyers and ship owners, “River Gods” and “manor lords” – each had particular economic and political aspirations. They shared similar attitudes toward property and politics. The merchants and their allies were usually supported by those farmers who were producing for urban consumption or for export, and who recognized that their welfare depended upon commercial prosperity. The key here is not so much the size of the farm as its location with respect to the market. The great plantations, with their slaves and wealthy masters, developed along the rivers, not so much because of the alluvial soil as because of the transportation facilities.

Frontier farmers’ interests were not so connected with commerce. Typically, they were unable to produce a large surplus either because the land was inferior, or because they lacked the means [slaveless, for instance], or because they were too distant from a market. Since it was difficult to accumulate wealth under such circumstances, the vast majority were small property holders in a local society wherein wealth was more equally distributed.

Frontier society, from Maine to Georgia, did not include extremes of wealth and poverty. There was an embryonic class structure. Property was more equally distributed, and from the bottom to the top was but a short step. The men of the frontier wanted to keep it that way. Such people naturally subscribed to equalitarian or “leveling” principles, and held economic ideas favorable to debtors and members of the “middling sort” generally.




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