Thursday, July 04, 2013

Revolução Americana?

Há uma escola de pensamento que defende que a chamada  "Revolução Americana" não foi revolução nenhuma, foi apenas uma guerra de independência que manteve o essencial das instituições sociais e politicas pre-existentes nas "colónias", apenas substituindo, no topo, a autoridade britânica pela do Congresso e do Presidente.

Nomeadamente, durante a "guerra fria", creio que tal posição era bastante popular tanto entre os conservadores e liberais-conservadores como entre os marxistas. Os primeiros apoiavam a sua tese de que os grandes projectos de transformação social conduzem ao "Terror" nos exemplos das revoluções Russa e Francesa, e dava-lhes jeito poder tirar a Revolução Americana da equação; os segundos porque, sendo os EUA os lideres do mundo capitalista, também gostavam de ter um argumento para não por a Revolução Americana no mesmo patamar que as "gloriosas" Francesa e Russa.

Mas, será que a Revolução Americana não foi mesmo uma revolução? Sobre isso Robert Nisbet apresentou uma versão que talvez possa ser considerada "dissidente" - Was there an American Revolution?

If there was a genuine revolution in America, we shall find it not in the sphere of ideological tracts—which history demonstrates may or may not yield actual revolution—but rather in the social sphere.

Whether we follow Tocqueville and Taine in seeing centralization and collectivization of political power as the principal consequence of revolution, or more radical historians in seeing individual liberty and welfare as the chief consequence, it is invariably the impact on the intermediate social sphere—on the ties to land, kindred, class, estate, and servitude of one kind or another—that is at the heart of the matter.

Consider the French Revolution. Scholars may differ among themselves as to whether, in the final analysis, it was the individual with his rights and liberties or the political state with its centralized power and national solidarity that had the greater triumph. But what is unmistakably clear is that the whole complex of social authorities, allegiances, and functions, so largely the heritage of the medieval period, was vitally changed during the French Revolution. The real essence of this revolution was not its Reign of Terror, formidable as that was, but the legislation enacted by successive French revolutionary governments—legislation that profoundly affected the nobility, the traditional family, the corporate nature of property, the laws of primogeniture and entail, the place of religion in society, the guilds, and other groups. (...)

Now it is worth stressing that the social sphere is commonly “feudal” in nature when we find it being assaulted by the hammer blows of revolution. Feudalism invites revolution because it virtually consecrates inequality—the prime cause of revolution everywhere. It succumbs rather easily because of its seeming inability to command wide loyalties and because it is unable, by its nature, to mobilize the necessary military power quickly and effectively. Feudalism’s characteristic diffusion and decentralization of power results in an inability to draw upon a central power in crises. Marxists have told us much about how capitalism and its associated political structures are subject to revolution. But, in truth, all the revolutions of modern history have been launched against systems more nearly feudal than capitalist. It may well be that the overriding effect of modernization in both its economic and political manifestations is to sterilize the revolutionary impulse. (...)

In light of these observations, let us now consider the American Revolution. Was there in the colonies a social order that can reasonably be called feudal?

Can conflicts originating in inequality, in social class, property, and religion be discerned in America in whatever degree, analogous to the conflicts leading up to the English, French, and Russian revolutions?

Finally, can substantial changes, effected politically, within revolutionary circumstances, be found taking place in the social structure of America during the last two decades following the outbreak of war with England?

The answer to these questions is yes.

 An American “feudal stage” has often been denied or effaced by historians in their stress on the homogeneous middle-class character of American colonial history. But there was indeed a solid substructure of feudalism in the American colonies.

Feudalism has less to do with knights, castles, and dukedoms than with “ties of dependence” uniting individuals of all classes into society. I am inclined to think that a feudal system necessarily emerges whenever a relatively small number of persons seek to live in a new territory with great expanses of land to be had by the well-off or energetic, where ties with a central authority are weak or absent, where localism is enforced by topography as well as custom, and where landed property tends to create the fundamental rights and privileges in society. Certainly by the mid-1700s the American colonies met these feudal criteria, no matter how loath we may be to apply them to the Pilgrims and others of established historical fancy, who we are prone to believe left all European history behind when they came to the New World.

 A Land-based Class System

In the colonies, land counted for a very great deal. And where a social system is rooted in the land, land-hunger is the common and abiding accompaniment—a hunger than directs itself particularly to large manorial estates.

Nearly three million acres in New York alone were occupied by large, essentially manorial, estates. The Van Rensselaer manor on the Hudson measured some 24 by 20 miles. The Fairfax estate in Virginia had, at the height of its prosperity, some six million acres. There were very large estates in the Carolinas, and in most of the other colonies as well—New England alone forming the exception. How could there not have been a substantial admixture of feudalism where such land holdings existed, assuming, as we have every right to assume, the survival of customs, conventions, and authorities brought to the New World from the Old?

From these great manorial holdings in America sprang a class system that was a vivid, if today often minimized, feature of colonial life. Feudal in essence, it had the large landowners at the top. As Richard Morris has pointed out, families such as the Livingstons, De Lanceys, and Schuylers had a place in the social hierarchy and in politics not a bit different from that enjoyed in England at the time by such members of the nobility as the Duke of Bedford, the Marquess of Rockingham, and Lord Shelburne. Below the landed class fell tenant farmers, artisans, mechanics, small freeholders, laborers, indentured servants, and the very large class of Negro slaves. (...)

An established religion—a “state church”—is another aspect of life that is feudal in root and connotation. In most of the colonies, religious establishment existed in one degree or other. Congregationalism reigned in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, and the Church of England in a number of other colonies. Yet in none, so far as I can ascertain, did a majority of the people actually profess the established faith.

Is it difficult to suppose widespread resentment on the part of the majority at the thought of paying taxes to support a church to which they did not belong and may even have detested? Even where taxes were light and only randomly collected, the symbolic aspect was important. Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, and Methodists in Virginia were bound to have resented paying taxes in support of the Church of England and a clergy notoriously given to sloth and drink.

Laws of Inheritance

Where feudalism exists in any degree, so do the customs of primogeniture and entail, the first granting the inheritance of fixed property only the oldest son, the second fixing land firmly to family line. These customs existed throughout Europe and were also familiar to the colonists. When the Revolution broke out, only two colonies had abolished primogeniture, only one had abolished entail.

Some historians of the American Revolution belittle the effect in the colonies of the laws of primogeniture and entail and of religious establishment because contemporary research into the records of that time finds evidence of only infrequent legal recourse or attempted recourse. But the comparative study of social movements makes plain enough that there is little correlation between the symbolic importance attached to issues and their measurable incidence. Think only of abortion (...) in our own day!

 Now let us consider the changes which took place so suddenly in traditional American social institutions and values–changes fully meriting the label “revolutionary.”

First, there is the relation between land and the family. Although discontent with the laws of primogeniture and entail had certainly existed for a long time, only Pennsylvania and Maryland had abolished the former and only South Carolina the latter, prior to the outbreak of the revolutionary war. Yet within a single decade of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, all but two states abolished entail, and in these two, entail had become relatively insignificant in any case. Within another five years, primogeniture had become illegal in every state and all had established some form of partible inheritance. Only two states, North Carolina and New Jersey, failed to include daughters as well as sons in the new laws of inheritance. Elsewhere full equality became the rule. (...)

Nor should we overlook the revolutionary impact of the confiscations of large Tory-owned estates, with shares of these holdings going to American patriots. The exact number of acres involved is less significant than the fact of confiscation and distribution. For an appropriate parallel in our own day we should have to imagine state confiscation of a substantial number of large “disloyal” business corporations, with ownership of shares turned over to loyal citizens. The sense of revolutionary acquisition among the citizens in that day of overwhelmingly landed wealth must have been substantial. (...)

It was inevitable that the shocks of the war with England would produce revolutionary consequences in the religious realm as well. Agitation for release from the exactions of religious establishment could hardly help but become part of the act of war against England in those colonies where the Congregational church was established.

True, the laws pertaining to religion were not everywhere overthrown in a single spasm. In parts of New England, disestablishment did not occur until the nineteenth century. Nor was there by any means firm agreement among the leaders of the revolutionary war as to its desirability. John Adams and others had serious misgivings on the matter, and the Baptists and Quakers who had begun to work for religious freedom before the Revolution found considerable opposition to their labors. The historical fact is, however, that religious liberty did become a matter of burning concern to a great many Americans during the Revolution. (...)

There remains the deeply troubling question posed by the presence of Negro slaves in America. At the time of the Revolution, there were about a half-million slaves in the 13 colonies–most of them in the South, but a fair number, perhaps 55,000, in the North. It would be splendid indeed if we could say that under the principles of liberty and equality proclaimed by the American founders these slaves were given their freedom. Obviously, we cannot. But it by no means follows that the position of the Negro in America was insulated from revolutionary thought and action.

In 1774, the Continental Congress decreed an “American Association” (that is, a nonimportation agreement) pertaining to slavery, and the prohibition on slave-trading seems to have held up throughout the war. In July 1774, Rhode Island enacted a law that thenceforth all slaves brought into the colony should be freed.(...) Delaware prohibited importation in 1776, Virginia in 1778, and Maryland in 1783 (for a term of years), with North Carolina imposing a higher tax on each Negro imported. States where there were few slaves proceeded under the stimulus of the Revolution to effect the immediate or gradual abolition of slavery itself. In short, the planting of the seeds of abolitionism was one of the major acts of the American Revolution. (...)

The contrast between the principles of freedom and equality on the one hand and the presence of a half-million black slaves on the other no more escaped men like Jefferson and Adams than it did Edmund Burke and other Whigs in England. It is precisely the awareness of this contrast that marks the real beginning of the long and tragic story of black liberation in America, a story that would have its next great episode in the Civil War and that would still be unfolding during the 1960s.

The American Revolution failed the Negro. Nevertheless, as Bernard Bailyn has written, “as long as the institution of slavery lasted, the burden of proof would lie with its advocates to show why the statement that ‘all men are created equal’ did not mean precisely what it said: all men, ‘white or black.’”
 Já agora, e nomeadamente a respeito da confiscação das propriedades dos "lealistas", podemos ir a Seymour Martin Lipset, segundo o qual "although the French Revolution, the other great 18th-century upheaval, is more generally regarded as a 'real' revolution, the American one was revolutionary indeed. Some statistics drawn from the work of students of comparative revolutions, R.R Palmer and Patrice Higonnet, point up the radical effects from the latter. As much property was confiscated in the United States as in France on a per capita basis. Many more people were political emigres from America than from France." (Continental Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada, página 11).

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