Tuesday, November 15, 2011

American Roots of Collegiality: (1766-1790)

During the mid-to-late 1700s, the core premise of collegiality (self-government) seemed to reach its logical and political conclusion: the rejection of virtual representation.  For instance, according to Thomas Slaughter, an Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University, during the Stamp Act crisis of 1766, the Stamp Act resisters “did not accept the notion of virtual representation,” primarily because “the problems of divided sovereignty between the British Parliament and the colonial assemblies.”1 Moreover, for Kenneth M. Dolbeare, a Professor of American Politics at the University of Massachusetts, The Declaration of Independence (1776) embodied this deep distrust of “old world” governmental institutions (demanding churches and their oppressive kings), and, thereby, relied upon and further strengthened the conceptual foundation of collegiality within American political culture.2
In this way, the agrarian and frontier independence movements (1760’s-1790’s), along with two well-documented rebellions (Daniel Shay’s and the Whiskey Rebellion) appropriated much of the collegiality within The Declaration of Independence.  According to Peter N. Moore, an Assistant Professor of History at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, as these protesters “quickly turned to extralegal solutions,” they claimed “the heritage of the Revolution and its promises of liberty and local autonomy.”3 As such, these political movements unwittingly invoked collegiality’s core conviction in decentralized, non-authoritarian alternatives; and, thereby, rejected Eastern aristocratic representation with violent hostility toward the idea of central government, tarred and feathered tax collectors, occupied county courts, and squatter’s rights.
While these backcountry communities of early Western America unconsciously sought to redress their specific local grievances by exercising collegiality, the word “anarchy” became attached to them and began take on a negative connotation.  According to Slaughter, Moore, and others, the wealthy, anti-Christian Anglican Eastern merchants and politicians fixed the word anarchy upon the Western protesters, because, from their perspective this term meant “rapine, devastation, licentiousness, and unrest.”4 This conforms only insofar as these Easterners relied upon a liberal democratic outlook, which allows them to view the Westerners as fundamentally incapable of self-governance within the pursuit of the common interest.  Within numerous correspondences and newspaper articles, this point of view allowed many Easterners to equate anarchy with “wild ranting fury,” “chaos,” and a “Hobbesian-type fear” towards any movement for greater local autonomy or collegiality.5
To this end, many prominent figures in the newly constituted central government exhibited this perspective.  In particular, George Washington and Alexandra Hamilton regarded these early moves towards decentralization and collegiality on the frontier as “treason against society, against liberty, against everything that ought to be dear to a free, enlightened, and prudent people.”6 Thus, Eastern elites came to view themselves as the “friends of order,” and with absolute dedication they sought to uphold the rule of law for the maintenance of the status quo, and, thereby, the restriction of collegiality and decentralization.    
By contrast, the backcountry, evangelical Westerners viewed themselves as the “friends of liberty” within the press.  As Slaughter explains in great detail, for example, that for most of these early Western Americans involved in the frontier independence movement, the Easterners:
…aimed to subdue the passions unloosed by the Revolutionary experience, reintroduce a more hierarchical political order with themselves at the top, and secure the obedience of those below.7

Insofar as this Western view of the political reality during the 1770s through the1790s reflects the justification of their movement, it finds resonance with the deep skepticism towards any deference of position-based authority (non-authoritarianism) embodied in collegiality.  This deep distrust, thereby, informs the perspective for a reality that:
Once a society has this style of thought, that every activity requires licensing, underwriting, [and] deciding by abstract power, it becomes inevitably desirable for an ambitious man to seek power and for a vigorous nation to be a Great Power.8      


1.      Thomas P. Slaughter, The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 19; and Malcolm Freiberg, ed., Journals of the House of Representation of Massachusetts (Boston, 1971), XLI, 76.

2.      12. Kenneth M. Dolbeare and Patricia Dolbeare, American Ideologies: The Competing Political Beliefs of the 1970’s 3rd ed. (Chicago: Rand McNally College Publishing, 1978), 93; and Forman., 89; and Albert Weisbord, The Conquest of Power (New York: Covici-Friede Publishers, 1937), 227; and Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism (London: Freedom Press, 1996), 30-32.

3.      13. Peter N. Moore, “Regulator Movments and Other Rebellions, 1760s-1790s” in The Encyclopedia of American Social Movements, ed. Immanuel Ness, (New York: M.E. Sharpe INC, 2004), 765-766; and David P. Szatmary, Shay’s Rebellion: The Making of an Agraian Insurrection (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), 131-5, 177; and Slaughter explains that for Anti-federalists, “It made little difference that the central government after 1787 would be managed by elected Americans rather than British politicians over whom [Westerners] had virtually no influence. “The problems of representation remained largely the same.” 26, 193; and also see Alexander Hamilton to George Washington., Aug. 2, 1794, Papers of A.H., XVII, 15-19; and A.H. to G.W., Aug. 5, 1794, ibid., 24-58; notes 88, ibid., 58; Barbara Clark Smith, “Social Visions of the American Resistance Movement,” in The Transforming Hand of Revolution: Reconsidering the American Revolution as a Social Movement, ed. Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert, (Charlottesvile: University of Virginia Press, 1996), 27-30, 38-40. 

4.      Slaughter., 134, 138-9, 193-4.

5.       Ibid., 195, 198, n23 of 198-202; and A.H. to William Bradford, Aug. 8, 1794, Papers of A.H., XVII, 76-77. Hobbes held that the life of man outside the protection of the sovereign is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” 

6.       Slaughter., 198.

7.       Ibid., 134, 193-195; and John Taylor, An Enquiry into the Principles and tendency of Certain Public Measures (Philadelphia, 1794); and letters of the fiends of liberty frequently appeared in the General Advertiser, Boston Independent Chronicle, and New York Patriotic Register; and Peter N. Moore, “Regulator Movements and Other Rebellions, 1760s-1790s” in The Encyclopedia of American Social Movements, ed. Immanuel Ness, (New York: M.E. Sharpe INC, 2004), 766 explains that the agrarian protesters believed that the political and social system “had been betrayed by specific monied interests intent on enriching themselves at the expense of the common good.”  

8.       Paul Goodman, “Normal Politics and The Psychology of Power” in The Anarchist Reader, ed. George Woodcock, (New York, Humanities Press, 1977), 95; and Leon P. Baradat, Political Ideologies: Their Origins and Impacts 9th ed. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2006), 133; and “Anarchism” in The New Encyclopedia Britannica Vol 1, 15 ed, (Chicago, 2002), 371.

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