Tuesday, August 16, 2011

There is nothing more truly American...  

Than paying too much for land. A fair case can be made our country was invented not so much by religious hard-liners (despite what the TP imagines) as men who knew where wealth really, really comes from.  Like Ethan Allen (from a new biography review):
Randall works hard to make this a story about salt-of-the-earth, democratic New England settlers fighting off New York's aristocratic land barons—so hard, in fact, that you have to admire the effort. Alas, the evidence won't conform. The Green Mountain Boys were driven less by ideology than by a desire to keep their land and, at least in Allen's case, to legalize deeds bought on the cheap to sell for a hefty profit. Both sides were gambling wildly, and as the imperial conflict heated up, the stakes rose.
Back in London, groups of well-connected investors were eying quantities of land so vast as to make the Vermont speculation seem like child's play. The greatest of these ventures was the proposed colony of Vandalia, covering 20 million acres in what now comprises West Virginia and Kentucky. Parties to the enterprise at various times included Benjamin Franklin and two of George Washington's brothers. Unfortunately, Virginia claimed the land in question, as did Connecticut and Pennsylvania—each state having sold the land to settlers and investors—although by 1774 it was all, according to the British government, under the jurisdiction of Québec. Vermont, in short, was a very big story writ small.
Indeed, who wasn't a land speculator in this freewheeling age? George Washington, a former surveyor, had amassed thousands of acres in the Ohio valley and spent 10 years lobbying the governor of Virginia to legalize his titles. Gen. Thomas Gage, who would lead British forces against Washington, held 18,000 acres, and had married into one of the greatest landowning families on the continent. When fighting broke out in 1775, these contested speculations loomed in the background.
Just how these contests over land play into the Revolution is one of the most debated questions in American history. In 1909, historian Carl Becker argued that the American Revolution was not so much about home rule as "who should rule at home." The struggle for independence, in other words, centered less on exalted principles than on the quest for political and economic power by provincial elites. Popular among muckraking classes during the age of Robber Barons, this interpretation was hard to reconcile with a patriotic account of the nation's founding and eventually fell out of favor. [More]
There are times I think this insatiable desire for land, even over cash, is hard-wired into my genes. If so, maybe I can trace my ancestry back to some illustrious figures of our past, albeit illegitimately, no doubt.


Anonymous said...

I didn't know believing in God made you a religious hardliner.

John Phipps said...


I have re-read that sentence several times and do no think it says or implies that. Believing in God makes you a deist which many founding fathers were, notably Washington, jefferson, and Franklin.

But the politicizing of fundamentalist Christianity is clearly hard-line. Biblical literalism is one example. It is also clear from remarks by Palin, Bachmann, and Perry that they intend to run on a Chrtirather revisionist history, rather than acknowledge our past as what the facts demonstrate: a secular democracy albeit influenced by Christian mores and leaders.

Btw, further proof of TP hardline positions is their significant rejection of Romney as a Christian.

America was settled by many folks for many reasons. While some like the puritans had strong religious goals, the vast majority were impoverished, in trouble, or out to make their fortune.

Anonymous said...

John, you are just such a physiocrat

John Phipps said...


Thanks. It's always reassuring to have a diagnosis for your own affliction.

Seriously, I had never heard the term.

Anonymous said...

I liked your headline, "What is more American than paying too much for land?". Have you ever really paid too much for land? In the 70's I was aggressively buying land, but never got overextended. Then in the 80's I was wondering if maybe I had made a mistake, but now it looks o.k. Is 5,000 plus going to look good in another 10 years?