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Forced Founder: Indians, Debtors, Slaves & The Making Of The American Revolution In Virginia

1905 words - 8 pages

In his book Forced Founder: Indians, Debtors, Slaves & the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia historian Woody Holton answers the question of why the Virginia gentry declared independence and challenges the notion that they sought to join the movement for independence from Britain in a confident act of defiance based on their control of the colony’s affairs, leading the common man into the American Revolution. Holton argues that because the Virginia gentlemen doubted their ability to maintain firm control over the affairs of the colony, it was the actions and the desires of the common man and the dealings with the small farmers, the British merchants, the Indians, and the ...view middle of the document...

Speculators and the gentry’s major complaint concerning both acts of legislature was that by limiting the amount of land that the elites could obtain at a low price and then sell to the non-elites at a higher price, both had a negative impact on their financial standing and was akin to tyranny. The author explores the idea that the Indians in the lands that were denied to the colonials became united, in secret, in their efforts to frustrate British interests at encroachment. Holton surmises that the Indians wanted the British to know that they were banding together in order to cause more fear among them and to increase their standing at the bargaining table and, therefore, adding to the Indians’ influence on the decision of the Virginia gentry to seek Independence in order to gain access to Indian lands. In chapter two, the author argues British trade regulations did more than just affect the gentry. Holton goes to great length in this chapter to describe the negative effect that British trade regulations had on the small tobacco growers that made up the strength of Virginia’s economic base. Because of the price fixing effect that resulted from the British policies, the small growers in Virginia were pushed to the point of bankruptcy. This had a destabilizing effect on the entire colony, which the gentry were forced to deal with, on top of their own financial concerns. Virginians, both from the elite and non elite classes, knew that the only way that they could achieve true economic freedom and maximize their financial gain would be to achieve Independence from English rule.
In the next two chapters of Founding Fathers Holton explores the impact and consequences of the colonial leaderships’ participation in boycotts of British manufactured goods and their hesitancy to export tobacco to the mother country in protest of the restrictive trade policies such as the Townshend Acts. Although the decision to boycott was made by the Virginia gentry in protest of Parliaments perceived disregard for the civil liberties of the colonials, the hardship placed on the non-elites that could not afford to not do business pushed them to the breaking point, financially. The small farmers could not afford to abstain from doing British merchants for the very real fear of losing everything. Though the gentry took steps to alleviate the resulting issue of debt by suspending debtor’s courts, it did not do much to eliminate the fact that small planters were now broke because of the nonexportation edict, the recession, and the collapse of tobacco prices due to bumper crops in the years prior to 1770. The loss of cash from tobacco sales drove the small planters further into debt because they did not have the assets to purchase essential goods from merchants, forcing a deeper dependence on credit-buying out of desperation. The resulting dissent of the small farmers added to the explosive situation that was building in Virginia, further pushing the gentry...

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