FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

“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

More articles by:

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@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail