America was born bankrupt. We won a war we shouldn’t have won and created a country without any funding or industry. That’s the good part. The rest of it, not so much.
The United States is named that because we didn’t start out as a country. We were 13 colonies, all lined up against the Atlantic Ocean. The original thirteen were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
The thing we had in common was original colonization by England, The French had Maine and the Spanish had Florida. All the rest were added after we became a “single” nation. Thus the United States because, in theory, our Constitution turned us into a single nation: “E Pluribus Unum,” or one from many.
Technically, we are one country. We pay taxes to a central government. The fifty stars on the flag represent all current states. The original 13 colonies are commemorated by a stripe (thirteen stripes) on that flag.
From a cultural and historic point of view, there are huge differences between the fifty states. Texas, for example, was its own country before we took it from Mexico.
California also belonged to Mexico and many of its oldest residents are descendants from the Mexican gentry who stole the land from the Native Americans who already lived there. It’s important to remember that North America was not an uninhabited empty space waiting for Europeans to come and take over.
Nor were the original residents white or English-speaking. The language of California and Texas was Spanish, plus the dialects of Native Americans. English came later. Many languages have been spoken here and still are.
At some undetermined moment in time, pre-Americans decided that if they weren’t going to be allowed to be “real” Englishmen (and vote in Paliament), they might as well do their own thing. A lot of the bruhaha came out of Boston with the infamous tea party et al. We always were a rowdy bunch.
We tried a loose confederacy. It didn’t work. We needed a central government, an army, a navy. An economy other than importing slaves. Money that would be accepted everywhere. (Early on, each state issued its own currency.) Schools, libraries, and industry waited in the wings.
The Constitutional Convention was attended by leading figures from each colony, each of whom had his own ideas about building a country. As a group, they were intelligent, well-educated, and wealthy.
And now, enter slavery.
The North imported Black people from Africa, then sold them to Southern slave traders. Despite rumors to the contrary, there were slaves in the north. But the northern states also had a strong group of abolitionists. Although importing slaves made some people fabulously rich, it wasn’t the basis for an expanding economy. Even families who built their fortunes on slavery weren’t willing to admit it.
The south had other ideas. They had an almost entirely agrarian lifestyle. Slaves were how they managed their huge plantations. If there weren’t slaves, how could they manage to be so rich and powerful? They might have to work! They might have to pay their workers, an idea so shocking to southerners that they would not join the union if slavery was not allowed.
The battle of slavery vs. abolition began before the revolution. The south was wedded to slavery. By the years before the Revolution, the north was getting ready to move on to an industrial economy.
Then came America’s deal with the devil. We did not foresee a union that didn’t include the south, so we enabled slavery. Which everyone knew was wrong, including the southerners. But money speaks louder than principals as we all have discovered in recent years.
Our Founding Fathers knew that ultimately, there would be a civil war. How do we know they knew it? Because they wrote about it in their diaries and letters. They talked about it and wrote down the conversations. John and Abigail Adams were strong abolitionists. For years, Abigail Adams would not live in the White House because slaves had built it.
We won the revolution but lost everything else.
FREE WITHOUT BENEFITS
The people who were freed from slavery were supposed to get some land, a mule, and a few cows so they could build their own communities, but these attempts were sabotaged. They stayed in the south and were effectively slaves, but without the benefit of getting housed and fed. Jim Crow filled in for official slavery and when that stopped working, black people moved north in the hopes of building a better life.
Somehow, in the course of years, we also put through a Civil Rights amendment that was supposed to finally put an end to Jim Crow laws and the oppression of Black people. That didn’t quite work out either. Some things are better, many are just the same, a lot is worse.
Question: If our Founding Fathers were so smart, how come they didn’t see that slavery would come back to bite us in the ass?
Answer: They knew it was wrong and knew that it would result in a civil war. They could keep slavery and form a stronger nation, or eliminate slavery and end up with two weak countries, one slave, one free. They chose what they thought was the lesser of the two evils.
It wasn’t the lesser evil. Long term, it was the greatest evil. It has twisted and corrupted our country from day one. Until we come to terms with our deeply racist past, we will never be at peace.
The Right Thing went head-to-head with The Bottom Line. The Right Thing lost. Imagine that!
Meanwhile, back in the Blackstone Valley, the American industrial revolution was aborning. In December 1789, just as the Constitution was passed, Samuel Slater Slater’s Mill was up and running. It was the first successful water-powered cotton-factory in the United States.
Mills grew along the Blackstone from Worcester to Providence, then sprouted by the Merrimack in Lowell, and eventually, throughout New England. Wherever the rivers ran, mills and factories followed.
By the early 1900s, the Blackstone River in Massachusetts was grossly polluted. In 1971, the Blackstone River was labeled “one of America’s most polluted rivers” by Audubon magazine. It was a low point for the region. We’re still cleaning up.
As for slavery, it’s illegal. But low-end employees of corporations are in no better position than slaves. They work for almost nothing and if they get laid off, their payoff is nothing.
We have a very long way to go.