“No Property! No Property!”

by PETER LINEBAUGH

Let’s remember Thomas Lewis of Ghana.  He was sold as a slave to a Danish trader, and then worked in N.Y., Carolina, Jamaica, and Florida before going to London in 1770.  Slave catchers caught him riverside and trepanned him down river to sea but not before Granville Sharp, the Greek scholar, musician, and abolitionist could obtain a writ of habeas corpus.

Thomas Lewis’s allies were the common people of the neighborhood where he was apprehended, they heard his shouts and summoned Granville Sharp who was able to obtain the writ. That was on the Fourth of July 1770.  The wind died down and the writ was served upon the ship captain taking Lewis.  Lewis was released and then freed.  On hearing the jury’s verdict on behalf of Lewis the assembled onlookers triumphantly shouted, “No Property!  No Property!”

Let’s remember also the prosperous grain dealer (“corn factor”) named John Rusby who during the terrible famine of 1800 was found guilty on the Fourth of July of regrating the market of oats in Mark Lane, London.  Regrating is buying in order to sell in the same market.  The high court of Britain denounced his “shameless effrontery.” The Lord Chief Justice believed  sharp market practices were prohibited by common law, a law going back many, many centuries.  Leaflets were produced denouncing that concept of property that food could be sold to profit dealers while consumers were left to beg or steal or starve.  The people shouted, “Bread! Bread!”

Adam Smith believed that forestalling, engrossing, and regrating were as imaginary as witchcraft. However, the burning of “witches” and the profiteering upon the starving still existed then, as they do now. Rusby’s house was attacked and he escaped by leaping over a back wall. Street lights were smashed to prevent identification of the rioters.  The War Office sent troops, and quiet returned by one o’clock in the morning.  It was but one incident in a great transformation of the coming year defeating the ‘moral economy’ and turning England into an armed camp.

In reflecting on these legal cases and the social struggles giving rise to them, what conclusions might be drawn?  People are not property is one, and property serves people is another.

The Declaration of Independence surely requires amendment to reflect this.  Unamended, it set in motion an expansion of slavery and principles antithetical to the moral economy.

Peter Linebaugh teaches history at the University of Toledo. The London Hanged and (with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. His essay on the history of May Day is included in Serpents in the Garden. His latest book is the Magna Carta Manifesto. He can be reached at:plineba@yahoo.com

Peter Linebaugh teaches history at the University of Toledo. His books included: The London Hanged,(with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic and Magna Carta Manifesto. His essay on the history of May Day is included in Serpents in the Garden. His latest book is Stop Thief! The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance.  He can be reached at:plineba@yahoo.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times