In our audio podcast, we have Gerald Horne to talk about the founding of our Nation. He is a professor and the author of countless books including The Counter-Revolution of 1776 and the upcoming The Dawning of the Apocalypse, which is set to be released later this year. In today’s audio episode, Gerald Horne explores the class character of the 1776 revolt, he also brings in vivid details about the geopolitical space during that time that lead to the formation of the country. Gerald Horn also makes a provocative case that 1776 is a counter-revolution. Finally, we connect the events of 1776 to the rest of American history and what it means for us, as a people, for the future.
To listen to Gerald Horne’s WBAI appearance, click here
Excerpt from The Dawning of the Apocalypse
THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT the predicates of the rise of England, moving from the periphery to the center (and inferentially, this is a story about their revolting spawn in North America post-1776). This is also a book about the seeds of the apocalypse, which led to the foregoing—slavery, white supremacy, and settler colonialism (and the precursors of capitalism)—planted in the long sixteenth century (roughly 1492 to 1607), which eventuated in what is euphemistically termed “modernity,” a process that reached its apogee in North America, the essential locus of this work. In these pages I seek to explain the global forces that created this catastrophe—notably for Africans and the indigenous of the Americas—and how the minor European archipelago on the fringes of the continent (the British isles) was poised to come from behind, surge ahead, and maneuver adeptly in the potent slipstream created by Spain, Portugal, the Ottomans, even the Dutch and the French, as this long century lurched to a turning point in Jamestown. Although, as noted, I posit that 1492 is the hinge moment in the rise of Western Europe, I also argue in these pages that it is important to sketch the years before this turning point, especially since it was 1453—the Ottoman Turks seizing Constantinople (today’s Istanbul)—that played a critical role in spurring Columbus’s voyage and, of course, there were other trends that led to 1453, and so on, as we march backward in time.
In brief, and as shall be outlined, the Ottomans enslaved Africans and Europeans, among others, as contemporary Albania and Bosnia suggest. The Spanish, the other sixteenth-century titan, created an escape hatch by spurring the creation of a “Free African” population, which could be armed. Moreover, for 150 years until the late seventeenth century, thousands of Filipinos were enslaved by Spaniards in Mexico, suggesting an alternative to a bonded labor force comprised of Africans or even indigenes. That is, the substantial reliance on enslaved African labor in North America honed by London was hardly inevitable.
Florida’s first slaves came from southern Spain, though admittedly an African population existed in that part of Europe and wound up in North America. Yet at this early juncture, sixteenth-century Spanish law and custom afforded the enslaved rights not systematically enjoyed in what was to become Dixie. Moreover, Spain’s shortage of soldiers and laborers, exacerbated by a fanatical Catholicism that often barred other Europeans under the guise of religiosity—a gambit London did not indulge to the same extent—provided Africans with leverage.
However, as time passed, it was London’s model, then accelerated by Washington, that prevailed,: focusing enslavement tightly on Africans and those of even partial African ancestry, then seeking to expel “Free Negroes” to Sierra Leone and Liberia. London and Washington created a broader base for settler colonialism by way of a “white” population, based in the first instance on once warring, then migrant English, Irish, Scots, and Welsh; then expanding to include other European immigrants mobilized to confront the immense challenge delivered by rambunctious and rebellious indigenous Americans and enslaved Africans. This approach over time also allowed Washington to have allies in important nations and even colonies, providing enormous political leverage.
This approach also had the added “advantage” of dulling class antagonism among settlers, who, perhaps understandably, were concerned less about the cutthroat competition delivered by an enslaved labor force and more with the real prospect of having their throats cut in the middle of the night by those very same slaves. Among the diverse settlers—Protestant and Jewish; English and Irish et al.—there was a perverse mitosis at play as these fragments cohered into a formidable whole of “whiteness,” then white supremacy, which involved class collaboration of the rankest sort between and among the wealthy and those not so endowed.
In a sense, as the Ottomans pressed westward, Madrid and Lisbon began to cross the Atlantic as a countermove by way of retreat or even as a way to gain leverage. But with the “discovery” of the Americas, leading to the ravages of the African slave trade, the Iberians, especially Spain, accumulated sufficient wealth and resources to confront their Islamic foes more effectively.
The toxicity of settler colonialism combined with white supremacy not only dulled class antagonism in the colonies. It also solved a domestic problem with the exporting of real and imagined dissidents. In 1549 England was rocked to its foundations by “Kett’s Revolt,” where land was at issue and warehouses were put to the torch and harbors destroyed. A result of this disorienting upheaval, according to one analysis, was to convince the yeomanry to ally with the gentry, a class collaborationist ethos then exported to the settlements. Assuredly, this rebellion shook England to its foundations, forcing the ruling elite to consider alternatives to the status quo, facilitating the thrust across the Atlantic. It is evident that land enclosure in England was tumultuous, making land three times more profitable, as it created disaster for the poorest, providing an incentive for them to try their luck abroad. A plot of land that once employed one or two hundred persons would—after enclosure—serve only the owner and a few shepherds.
This vociferation was unbridled as the unsustainability of the status quo became conspicuous. Palace intrigue, a dizzying array of wars, with allies becoming enemies in a blink of an eye, the sapping spread of diseases, mass death as a veritable norm, bloodthirstiness as a way of life—all this and worse became habitual. This convinced many that taking a gamble on pioneering in the Americas was the “least bad” alternative to the status quo. Indeed, the discrediting of the status quo that was feudalism provided favorable conditions for the rise of a new system: capitalism.
As I write in 2019, there is much discussion about the purported 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in what is now the United States, though Africans enslaved and otherwise were present in northern Florida as early as 1565 or the area due north as early as 1526. As the following paragraphs suggest, this 1619 date is notional at best or, alternatively, seeks to understand the man without understanding the child. In my book on the seventeenth century, noted above, I wrote of the mass enslavement and genocidal impulse that ravaged Africans and indigenous Americans. That book detailed the arrival in full force of the apocalypse; the one at hand limns the precursor: the dawning of this annihilation. The sixteenth century meant the takeoff of the apocalypse, while the following century embodied the boost phase. In brief, this apocalypse spelled the devastation of multiple continents: the Americas, Australia, and Africa not least, all for the ultimate benefit of a relatively tiny elite in London, then Washington.
Thus, for reasons that become clearer below, the enslavement of Africans got off to a relatively “slow” start. From 1501 to 1650, a period during which Portuguese elites, at least until about 1620, and then their Dutch peers, held a dominant position in delivering transatlantic imports of captives: 726,000 Africans were dragged to the Americas, essentially to Spanish settlements and Brazil. By way of contrast, from 1650 to 1775, during London’s and Paris’s ascendancy and the concomitant accelerated development of sugar and tobacco, about 4.8 million Africans were brought to the Americas. Then, for the next century or so, until 1866, almost 5.1 million manacled Africans were brought to the region, at a time when the republicans in North America played a preeminent role in this dirty business. Similarly, at the time of the European invasion of the Americas, there were many millions of inhabitants of these continents, but between 1520 and 1620 the Aztecs and Incas, two of the major indigenous groupings, lost about 90 percent of their populations. In short, the late seventeenth century marked the ascendancy of the apocalypse, and the late sixteenth century marked the time when apocalypse was approaching in seven-league boots.18 Yet the holocaust did not conclude in the seventeenth century, as ghastly as it was. The writer Eduardo Galeano argues that in three centuries, beginning in the 1500s, the “Cerro Rico” alone, one region in South America, “consumed eight million lives.” Thus, due north in California, the indigenous population was about 150,000 in 1846 at the onset of the U.S. occupation, but it was a mere 16,000 by 1890,20 a direct result of a policy that one scholar has termed “genocide.”