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July 04, 2012

Happy July 4th to Founding Commie John Adams

One of the funniest things about American politics is how many ideas now derided as Marxist or anti-American or whatever were stated plainly by various American founding fathers. For instance, the Marxist concept of false consciousness was earlier endorsed by John Adams back in 1776:

Such is the frailty of the human heart that very few men who have no property have any judgment of their own. They talk and vote as they are directed by some man of property who has attached their minds to his interest.

Adams claimed this in order to argue that men without property shouldn't be allowed to vote. But before you get too mad at the Dead White Guy, he follows that up with this:

[P]ower always follows property. This I believe to be as infallible a maxim in politics, as that action and reaction are equal is in mechanics. Nay, I believe we may advance one step farther, and affirm that the balance of power in a society accompanies the balance of property in land. The only possible way, then, of preserving the balance of power on the side of equal liberty and public virtue is to make the acquisition of land easy to every member of society; to make a division of the land into small quantities, so that the multitude may be possessed of landed estates. If the multitude is possessed of the balance of real estate, the multitude will have the balance of power, and in that case the multitude will take care of the liberty, virtue, and interest of the multitude in all acts of government.

It's easy to imagine that today Adams would extend this to mean property of all kinds, not just land. Thank god no one in America reads books, or things might really get out of control.

P.S. These people also hate America.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at July 4, 2012 04:40 PM

...and Tommy Paine was right there with him, if not considerably more radical.

Also, there's this gem from Ben Franklin:

"The Remissness of our People in Paying Taxes is highly blameable; the Unwillingness to pay them is still more so. I see, in some Resolutions of Town Meetings, a Remonstrance against giving Congress a Power to take, as they call it, the People's Money out of their Pockets, tho' only to pay the Interest and Principal of Debts duly contracted. They seem to mistake the Point. Money, justly due from the People, is their Creditors' Money, and no longer the Money of the People, who, if they withold it, should be compell'd to pay by some Law.

All Property, indeed, except the Savage's temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it."

On Property

Posted by: Jack Crow at July 4, 2012 05:25 PM

"Bunch of commies."

Wow! I did not know I was a communist too! I am glad I just found out or I could not have become an American.....

Posted by: Rupa Shah at July 4, 2012 05:55 PM

Eh, didn't click the PS link. Sigh, for duplicated effort.

Posted by: Jack Crow at July 4, 2012 06:14 PM

Mister Jon sir,

Y'all going to get into real trouble with that lower case g on God.

Posted by: otto at July 4, 2012 06:50 PM

Based on Latin American history, I'd say Adams was correct. I have wondered for ages why the non-slave-holding US developed so differently from quite similar parts of South America, particularly the Southern Cone, where slavery was never very extensive. This issue of land holdings may have had something to do with it.

Posted by: setty at July 5, 2012 06:35 AM

the Adams quote may also shed light on what's the matter with kansas- how it is that some of the 99% continue to cast supporting votes to political platforms that benefit the 1%

Posted by: frankenduf at July 5, 2012 09:18 AM


Posted by: N E at July 5, 2012 09:19 AM


Posted by: N E at July 5, 2012 09:19 AM

still fabulous

Posted by: N E at July 5, 2012 09:22 AM

This one is definitely up my alley. As one of the older admirers of this blog (who frequently doesn’t get it) I think I get this one and I love it! John Adams, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, et al – I loved them all – and I wasn’t aware of this “other” more reasonable, rational, “human” side to their nature, until now, that your post (its links, Post Script. and Comments) points out so well.

I think this is great news, pertinent to our times. I am inspired to help spread the news that it’s finally time to: “make a division of the land into small [enough] quantities, so that the multitude may be possessed of landed estates.” And of course that would be, “Just for Openers!”

The earlier post, of your manifesto (parody?) of the “Declaration of Independence,” not so much… I think you make a lot of great points, but for me it was too cute and clever. It is not something we should joke about.
Compliments to Jack Crow for his remarks and website, but how angry is he? Could a hug from Paul K. Chappell help?

Posted by: Grandpa Ken at July 5, 2012 11:26 AM

I think Republicans would sign on to this easily too. US house (small quantity of land) ownership rate is close to 65%. Close to 75% for Whites, less than 50% for Hispanics and Blacks.
As for your suggestion of division of other property into "small quantities". I suppose a share of stock fits and is accessible to absolutely everybody. Maybe we should follow up on that Social Security privatization scheme after all.

Posted by: LV at July 5, 2012 12:26 PM

Most of us are just "Rider's on the Storm", wouldn't want property; spend it as fast as we get it. That's what makes elite "Elite".

Posted by: Ah Chu at July 5, 2012 01:03 PM

The problem I have with Marxism is that it's the equivalent of cutting yourself with a knife in order to prove band-aids are useful. It certainly wasn't an accident that the "revolutions" under Stalin and Hitler turned out the way they did. Under Marx/Hegel/Lenin's idea of heightening the contradictions, you're supposed to heap power on top of power and tell everyone "look at how contradictory this all is" then explain how history repeats itself as a farce.

I don't know if this is happening in the US, but the war on terror seems to fit the bill.

Posted by: Lewis at July 5, 2012 06:38 PM

somewhere in the middle there "40 acres & a mule" became "40 assets & a mutual fund" and totally wrecked the pragmatic aspects of private property.

Posted by: hapa at July 5, 2012 08:58 PM

Posted by: weird person at July 5, 2012 09:54 PM

"I informed you in my last, of the success of our first expedition against the Indians. A second has gone against them, the result of which is not yet known. Our public credit is good, but the abundance of paper has produced a spirit of gambling in the funds, which has laid up our ships at the wharves, as too slow instruments of profit, and has even disarmed the hand of the tailor of his needle and thimble. They say the evil will cure itself. I wish it may; but I have rarely seen a gamester cured, even by the disasters of his vocation." -- Thomas Jefferson, 1791

Posted by: Lewis at July 5, 2012 10:52 PM

Steal The Red Man's and git rich. STILL as popular as always as long as WE all get a little something. Ah, wealth AND power, nothing like it.
THANK GOD for The Second Amendment.

ABSOLUTELY no disrespect for The Founding Fathers intended, but it is what it is.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 6, 2012 12:58 AM

Our floundering fathers, murderers, interlopers, and thieves.

Posted by: Robert Payne at July 6, 2012 01:27 PM