Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism
Transitionfrom Feudalism to Capitalism
Thetransition from feudalism to capitalism has occurred invarious stages over the ages. The existence of the feudal system inBritain during its early periods of civilization was carried on toAmerica when part of it became a British colony. The society in thisages was mainly feudal. The nobles and aristocrats were the rulingclass while the rest of the population occupied the lowerhierarchies. The American Revolution brought about a change whichresulted in the replacement of the ruling class with wealthycommoners. This change also facilitated the transitionfrom feudalism to capitalism.
In the middle age, thefeudal society was made up of the clergy,fighters, and workers. The Lords owned the land.Atthat time, the land was the primary source ofwealth since it produced all goods that wereneeded in themarket. Therefore, owning large tracts of land meant that a personwas wealthy. Lords owned up to about 10,000 manors in variouscountries. TheKing was the absolute owner of all property. He ownedvariouspieces of land all across the country (Huberman, 7). The workers whowere called serfs, cultivated and took care of the landfor the benefit of the lords. The serfs had a small portionof land on which they farmedtheir food. They worked on the land without pay,and every produce that came out of the farm belonged to the lord. Ifanything wassold, theproceeds would begiven to theLord.Whenever a serfdied, his heir would take up tenancy subject to tax paid to the ownerof the land. The land could be used to "buy" the support,favoror allegiance of another person ( Huberman, 5)
The church in thefeudal society had a lot of power since it was considered to beconsistent. Kings would come and go, but the Churchalways remained. During this period, the church had a lot ofinfluence and owned the largest pieces of land. These farms wereacquired throughvarious means. For instance, whenever someone was about to die, theywould give their land to the church togain favorin God`s eyes. Landwasgiven to thechurch as a token of appreciation for taking care of the poor andsick in the society. Nobles and Lordsalso gave land to the church whenever a war or conquest wasvictorious. Eventually, the church ended up being the largest ownerof land in Western Europe (Huberman, 9).
Industrializationushered in the very first stages of the transition from feudalism tocapitalism. The various changes in the means of production andexchange brought about issues between merchants, traders, and thechurch. The Protestant Reformation spearheaded by Calvinsupported capitalism. The traders,merchants, manufacturers, and bankers needed a religion thatsupported their views. The Protestant Reformation encouragedcapitalism as opposed to the earlier churches (Huberman, 63)
The feudalism in Britainextended to the colonies in America. The aristocrats in Britain, whowere nobles by birth, looked down upon the colonial leaders inAmerica. For instance, Benjamin Franklin, who was a man of immensewealth and intelligence wasseen as a merecommoner. He wasreferred to as"an almanac maker, a chimney doctor, a printer`s devil, anatheist, a father of several bastards." The future forefathersof America wereregarded asinsignificant provincials and men of commercialwealth. They weremocked anddiscriminated by the aristocratsdespite their efforts to dress well and act like gentlemen (Horde &Meyer)
This unequal treatmentof people basedon their socialclass waseliminated whenthe thirteen British colonies in America gained independence. Thissignified the movement from feudalism to capitalism. Inthe Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jeffersonstated that "all men are created equal."Thismeant that no individual wasbetter than the other. All people, rich or poor, noble or not, wereentitled to equal treatment. The United States Constitution providedthat, "TheUnites States shall grant no titles of nobility."The Constitution does not create the aristocratic titles that werethe allowedin the British society (Jillson, 603).
Despite this progresstowards equality, the colonialleaders felt threatened by the poor. Before gaining independence, theAmericans had to protest against taxation. The poor people also tookto the streets to protest. They held meetings without involving theleading class. As a result, the colonialleaders felt that participation of the poor in the protests gave thema sense of importance that the gentlemen did not get at that time.They were afraid that the stability of the society was beingthreatened (Horde & Meyer). Later during the making of theConstitution,James Madison said:" the first object of government is the protection of differentand unequal faculties of acquiring property."He was ofthe idea that,the government should provide more protection to the people withwealth. Those without wealth were to begiven lessprotection. He believed that since people with wealthwere the minority, the majority would exercise their right to vote,take property and distribute it among themselves through a majorityvote (Jillson, 600).
There is a differencebetween a limited government and absolute tyranny. Thelimited government is established by the constitution.A constitution is a system of laws, norms, and beliefs which govern astate. It confers rights and obligations on individuals and thenation at large. A limited government has to operate within theconfines of the constitution. An absolute tyranny,on the other handis where the government or a ruling class has complete control overindividuals, it has the absolute power to make law, and distributeproperty (Jillson, 603).
A limited governmentis one that has "just powers from the consent of the governed."The power that the government has isderived from thepeople who agree to come together, form a state, and choose theleaders to governthem. Therefore, a limited government cannot exercise power beyondwhat isgiven to it bythe people. The government cannot impose laws without theparticipation of the citizens.The "no taxation without representation" slogan wasused by thecolonialists who felt that they needed to beincluded inmaking policies on taxation, specifically the Stamp Act. Thismeant that they had to have been represented in Parliament when theAct was made (Horde & Meyer).
The articles ofconfederation weremade after thethirteen British colonies gained independence. These articlesformed the confederation of the states. It created sovereign,independent states and a weak national government. These articlesfailed since the nationalgovernment could not enforce the laws it made in Congress. Aftereight years, the constitution wasmade. Itincluded the bill of rights which protected the fundamentalrights of everyAmerican regardless of their social class (Jillson, 602).
In conclusion, it isevident that the transition from the feudalism to capitalism wasinfluenced bythe new ruling class who took part in the American Revolution. Thesewealthy commoners changed the state of things from a societydependent of social and political stratificationto one that wasbased onequality of all individuals.
Horde, Ellen,and Meyer, Muffie,Liberty! The American Revolution.PBS. 2004
Huberman, Leo. Man`sWorldly Goods: the Story of the Wealth of Nations.New York. Monthly Review Press, 1968.
Jillson, Calvin."Constitutional Making: Alignment and Realignment in the
Federal Convention of 1787".AmericanPolitical Science Review,Vol 75 No 3(1981).pp598-612.
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