Exporting Problems

Observers of England noted in the early 17th century England noted a huge amount of hostility between rich and poor in England. A scot noted in 1614 commented “on the bitter and distrustful’ attitude of English common people towards the gentry and nobility. The poor were not allowed to bear arms due to the risk of them turning on their betters, yet another example of similarities between England and the slave colonies. Similarly, people were afraid they would turn on their betters and stop following orders. This is from Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down.

I the 16th and 17th centuries, as population rapidly expanded, London.. became the refuge of ‘masterless men’ – the victims of enclosure, vagabonds, criminals, to an extent that alarmed contemporaries. One of the arguments advanced i propaganda for colonizing Ireland in 1594 was that ‘the people poor and seditious, which were a burden on the commonwealth,  are drawn forth, whereby the matter of sedition is removed out of the City. The same argument was often used later to advocate exporting ‘the rank multitude’ to Virginia. The judicious Hooker, arguing that ‘extraordinary motions of the spirit’ could be very dangerous suggested that this was especially true in the case of ‘men whose minds are of themselves as dry fuel, apt beforehand unto tumults, seditions and broils.’ Such men, he thought, were to be found among the lower orders of society. They were certainly found in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where we are told in 1633 that ‘people of mean condition … are apt to turn every pretence and colour of grievance into uproar and seditious mutiny.

This class antagonism was exacerbated by the financial hardships of the years from 1620 to 1650, … economically the worst in English history.


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