I know this is not the same thing, but reading White Trash by Nancy Isenberg made a major impression on me. I assumed that almost every white American who settled the country early got free land when land grants were given. I didn’t understand there were class aspects to it. But one of the things Dr. Isenberg stressed in her book was that the white people felt the uncultivated land seen as territory by many Native Americans was being “wasted” because no one was “using” it. I mean she just kept stressing how these guys had a real hang-up about this notion of “wasted land” coming from England where people were fighting each other for land for centuries.
It made me think about how the land had been divided in England before the immigrants arrived. The upper class had divided most of the large tracts of land up for themselves. There were a few properties for the middle class, and the lower class were renters.
The original newcomers to the New World were, by and large, from the upper class, alongside their servants. Those people claimed or bought land, and servants eventually earned their way into buying some.
But Isenberg says from that time forward, there was a big push to send boatloads of poor people from the Old World to the New World to build things up with their low-cost labor. There wasn’t much intention of giving these folks land. When and if they managed to earn their way out of indentured servitude, there were small, less desirable tracts of land for them.
They replicated the Old World class system here.
When I read the old genealogical records in my family history about how land is being divided in England, it is clearly a system of managing scarcity. The land is being rationed.
They didn’t need to do that with the New World, but they did. I guess they had the King’s boundary to abide to give them a sense of scarcity. But replicating the class system wholesale from the Old World is yet another one of the original problems with the alleged restart that was the United States.
I wonder what would have happened if we would have had a “cleaner” capitalism to start our country.
Thanks for this interesting and informative piece.