Yesterday I found my self feeling burned out and decided to repair to a local restaurant to forget about the world, election and the lot for an hour or so.
Wanting to do more than just watch TV at the place I grabbed a book off a shelf right next to the back door. It was the 1921 edition of the History of the United States by Charles and Mary Beard which incidentally was the US History Textbook for Fitchburg High school back in 1934.
I managed to finish about 10% of the 600+ pages in my sitting. As I sat and read while waiting for and eating my supper it hit me how little of the information I was reading is known or understood by the adults of today let alone taught to students. More importantly there were bits that jumped out at me that is very significant in this election cycle.
Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about both the minimum wage and “income inequality” yet most people don’t understand how many of the people who came to America in the early colonial days had little or nothing or sold themselves into bondage simply to get here. The historical norm was a form of servitude either to a Lord or to a piece of land. As the Beards noted:
“It has been estimated that two-thirds of all the immigrants into Pennsylvania between the opening of the eighteenth century and the outbreak of the Revolution were in bondage”
and the need for labor meant that the companies were not above kidnapping:
In 1680 it was officially estimated that “ten thousand persons were spirited away” to america. Many of the victims of the practice were young children for the traffic in them was highly profitable. Orphans and dependents were sometimes disposed of in america by relatives unwilling to support them. In a single year, 1627, about fifteen hundred children were shipped to Virginia.
And mind you all of what I’ve just quoted was NOT including the slave trade from Africa.
And even for those who weren’t in bondage the American Dream as we understand it today came from the unremitting labors of those willing to break their backs to make a go of it and even so had to deal with “quit rents” under Royal Charters that were in effect: “really a feudal payment from freeholders , an a source of income for the Crown as well as for the proprietors” (said proprietors being the Lords granted Crown charters and grants of land).
While rich throughout history have always had comfort and wealth In modern America the degree of comfort, pleasure and autonomy and relative safety that people at or near the bottom of the ladder live so dwarfs the condition of early American settlers (let alone the people of the rest of the world) that such a condition would have been considered an idylistic fantasy for those people for whom unrelenting toil and the threat of death by disease or warfare were the norm.
So the next time someone decides to give you a speech about the evils of “income inequality” as they text from their iPhone that gives them not only worldwide communication but access to almost the entirety of human knowledge of all time ask them the question that has never occurred to them between facebook posts:
“Income inequality compared to when?”
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