Forwarded from Anthony (reply to Charles)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Apr 19 07:34:59 MDT 2002

Regarding the American Revolution, the Articles of Confederation, the
Constitution, the Bill of Rights, etc. (An answer to Charles Brown

Charles Brown asked a few questions in response to my latest post on
the subject above (To: <marxism at>   Subject: Anthony:
From: "Charles Brown" CharlesB at>  Date: Thu, 18
Apr 2002 15:47:52 -0400 Reply-To: marxism at  Sender:
owner-marxism at

Here are my replies

CB: "What exactly was the (American) revolution in your view ? The
war ?"

Yes, although the revolutiolnary situation had developed before the

CB: "If the result of the revolution was a reactionary change in the
fundamental law, why was it still a revolution ?"

The result of the revolution was independence of the settler states
from the British empire, and an increase in the democratic rights and
political power of the small farmers and petty bourgeois of the
northern settler states. This was a continution of the British
revolution. This was embodied in the Declaration of Indepence and the
Articles of Confederation. This was not reactionary, but petty
bourgeois democratic.

CB: "Are you saying the Constitution coup was a successful

No, it was not a counterrevolution, it was a reactionary coup d'etat
in favor of commercial capital, landowners, land speculators, and
slave owners, i.e. the rich.

The difference between a reactionary coup d'etat and a
counterrevolution, in my view, is that a counterrevolution involves
social conflict, economic crisis, and usually considerable blood
shed. A coup takes place in an office or convention hall. The
imposition of the Constitution is closer to the latter.

"CB: Are you saying that under the Articles of Confederation the
slaves, small farmers , workers,  Indigenous peoples , women were the
ruling class ? That their representatives controlled the state power
or had more influence on it under the Articles of Confederation ?
WHO exactly "directed" the Articles of Confederation against the
British  ?"

I am saying that small farmers and petty bourgeois in the Northern
settler states had more power under the Articles of Confederation
than they did under the Constitution. This is why many of them
rebelled against the imposition of the Constitution behind captain
shay (please study Shay's rebellion.)

I am also saysing that the new settler state was not in a strong
position to conquer more territory West of the Appalachians because
the tribal federations there were strong and well organized. Without
a centralized 'national army' and the power to finance it, the
westward march of the new state could not happen.

I am also saying that the slave owners, big commercial captialists,
and big landowners and speculators were much weaker in relation to
the petty bourgeoisie and farmers under the Articles of confederation
than they were under the Constitution.

In my view there were two ruling classes in the United States until
the Civil War - the bourgeoisie - including the big bourgeoisie, and
the slave owners. The reason the United States seemed so democratic
to so many people for so long, is that the ruling class in the North-
the WHOLE bourgeoisie, was a very large proportion of the population
- maybe 50%.

CB: "I can see that the Constitution federalized or centralized the
state power more than the Articles of Confederation. I don't see how
the Articles of Confederation represented the working classes and
oppresssed peoples' controlling the state power more than the monied

The 'working class' hardly existed in the colonies. There were a lot
of slaves, indentured servants, apprentices, and small farmers who
worked for wages part time. Since 'free white men' could go steal a
piece of land from the tribal lands to the West if they had a gun,
some friends with guns, and balls - it was hard to keep any free
person working for wages full time. A permanent class of wage workers
didn't really start to form until the British tried to starve Ireland
to death in the potato famine of 1844 - creating huge wave of
immigration that could not be absorbed by land theft.

CB. "What was the Bill of Rights ? A counter coup ?"

Not exactly. The Bill of Rights was a concession to the small farmers
and artisans to prevent Shays' rebellion and other powerful
opposition from spreading into a second revolution. Patrick Henry
incidentally, one of the members of the Constitutional assembly,
refused to signed the constitution and was a leader of the opposition
to it. You can attribute the Bill of Rights in large part to his

CB: "Why would it (war against tribal socieites, slave catching in
free states, etc.) have been impossible under the Articles of
Confederation ?"

Because under the articles states rights were predominant. The
federal government could not impose taxes on indidviduals, and could
raise money from states only with the agreement of the state - New
York might agree, and pay. Virginia might disagree and not pay.

This meant that organizing and financing an army was virtually

Also, the laws of the individual states, under the articles, had
priority over the national laws - so if the United States outlawed
slaver, but Virigina didn't - Virginia's laws had priority and
slavery would have remained in force. By the same token however, any
state could outlaw slavery within its own bondaries, and the Federal
government could not interfere (by sending people in to catch escaped

Of course, there is a lot more to be said about this - but read the
Beard's book, read the Articles, read Tom Paine, read Patrick Henry,
and you will get the rest of the answer.

CB: "Whereas the Articles of Confederation were written for the
people and against the rich ?"

I didn't say that. They were written by the leaders of the settler
state - and were a bad compromise between the emerging factions
within that settler state. But they did have the effect i already

CB: "There's also _Early Years of the Republic_ by Herbert Aptheker.
He criticizes the Beard thesis as vulgar materialist, for treating
the Constitution as a simple reflex of the ruling class and not the
result of a class struggle between rich and poor, and thereby a mixed
document in terms of progress. The Bill of Rights would be the major
evidence of struggle by oppressed and exploited classes."

See above re the Bill of Rights. I haven't read Aptheker's book for
30 years, but when I did read it I found it to be an apology for the
destruction of the indegenous tribal socieites by the white settler
state. I also found it to be very poorly written. But then, maybe my
memory is bad. In general Marxist historiography regarding the United
States - especially Aptheker, Novak, and Foner is - in my humble
opinion, shallow at best, and at worst an apology for early American

CB: "It was ratified by a vote of the states. As this approval was
not based on force, ... This vote could be interpreted as a
retroactive ratification of the authority the Convention took."

I think you should look at thow could vote, who couldn't vote, who
did vote, and who didn't vote, and how the vote was organized. It was
not democratic: slaves could not vote, women could not vote, people
without property could not vote, etc. etc. But, you are probably
right that the majority of the free white men in the settler state
either supported the Constitution, or felt it didn't matter. A
significant minority however, rebelled - that is why, after all, the
Bill of Rights was added on long after the Constitution had been

All the best, Anthony

Louis Proyect, lnp3 at on 04/19/2002

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