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The Key of Liberty, the Life and Democratic Writings of William Manning: ‘A Laborer’ by “Michael Merrill, Sean Wilentz, Book Review Example

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Book Review

A laborer, a foot soldier and yet the most charismatic proponent for active democracy in America, William Manning aspired the popular egalitarian faith of American Revolution and his aftermath. His heroism lies in bearing the prodigy of the events during the period and his vehement criticism on the Federalist policies, giving a bird’s eye view regarding social origin of American politics. His narration was agile and steered the nerves of the human sentiments, it speaks of exploitation, oppression and the partial attitude on the neglected poor peasantry by the so called rich and the elite of the society. It clearly elaborates the causes and conditions that have led to the American Revolution and the situation thereafter. However, his work remained unpublished during his times, until his work was included in John Harvard University. Our analysis would circumscribe on the attributions of this noted political scriber, the philosophical, historical and theoretical analysis of his work and time.

Historical Analysis

William Manning in his political essays described his journey in the political turmoil of the era. He depicts the crux and the situation that lead to the formation and evaluation of democracy in America. His ideas, cynicism were of much applause as he was the person in conflict. The words and criticism were the expression of a man in exploitation. He was not a mere observer or a follower of other ideas during the period, but a farmer who had the infallible experience of being in the grassroots of the society, who knew what the actual political conflict was and how it had affected him personally and his genre.

According to Henry David Thoreau, “You shall see men that you have never heard before..whose names you don’t know..rude and sturdy, experienced and wise men, keeping their castles ..or chopping alone in the woods..who were out not only in ’75 or 1812, but have been out every day of their lives, greater men than Homer, or Chaucer, or Shakespeare, only they never got time to say so..” Manning was a farmer in Billerica, Massachusetts, born in 1747. He participated in the battle of Concord and was an active proponent of Shays’ Rebellion, a critique of Hamilton’s fiscal policies as well as a thinker and a writer of the post war America. Nathan O. Hatch observed his writing as, “the rarest kind of historical evidence, a window on the mind of a man who would generally be considered among the ‘inarticulate’.”

Manning joined the family business at a young age and faced the harsh realities of the system. Interpersonal relationships between the customer and seller had created a vicious circle of debt and there was little scope of commercialization. Later Manning with his pursuits tried to follow new business strategies to form his new style of continuing his work. He was a man with reasonable riches and did not have to worry much about his sustenance. However, he wanted to contribute his experience and fight the war against arbitrage of the political bias towards the weaker sections of the society.

In 1790 he wrote his first political scripture in which he condemned the atrocities of the elite class of the society, in which he elaborately carved the insinuations of the capitalists and how they manipulated political and economic power to oppress the poor. He was especially conversant during the bloody revolution and upsurge against these capitalists, and after he witnessed the carnage and corpses of his friends killed in the struggle. Though not an active participant in the later battles, he continued to carry out his role in the struggle of American independence, sometimes as a supplier of gunpowder or in some cases feeding the American soldiers whilst they passed their home. In the coming years he took interest in the affairs of his town and was chosen as selectman, town constable and tax collector.

The Massachusetts Regulation in the mid 1780’s, led by Daniel Shay’s, once more sparked the writer and his indigenous apathy for the inflicted people. He strongly supported the movement with the struggle that crippled the farmers and he evolved his political thoughts on how the rich used their power to dominate and exploit the needy, how farmers were purged in the dearth of tax and debt, how their goods and efforts were subsidized and how they fell prey to money lenders and how the ‘Many’ were denied government existence. Moreover, how the elite or the ‘few’ carved niche positions in the government and political processes to further facilitate their vested interests. His efforts continued and he voiced his opinions like a common American on the autocratic tendencies of the governmental machinery in the disguise of democracy.

Philosophical Analysis

The writing of Manning, gives us a clear insight of the early years and the rise of democracy in America, a vivid reconciliation of the origin of democratic reforms and the thoughts of the common man beyond the catapulted boundaries set up by the elite of the revolutionary era, how the people movement coordinated, suffered and finally gained momentum, for the ultimate realization of physical democracy.

Manning first described in his work the infinite distance between the ‘Many’ and the ‘Few’, much like the Marx version of the capitalist and the proletariat. Communism, class struggle and control of the resources and production means of the elite were his main attributions.

Theoretical Analysis

Manning also was vocal about the economic scenario that prevailed during the era. He was a crafted businessman who borrowed, loaned and repaid in the ongoing system of commercialization. He analyzed how trade and commerce were affected in absence of proper norms, how they fluctuated at the whims and fancies of the elite, how the money lenders forced them to live a life of disdain. Manning was a happy man, he found ways and means to flourish his business, close the debt load on his family, took care of a small home with 14 children..he praised commercialization and money making because these are the aspects that can remove starvation and make people happy. He spoke about the good work of the emerging state-chartered banks, which would end the volatility of the money lenders and throttle the federalist influence on credit. Manning was not an external blindfolded follower of communalism, and did not blame the entire chaos, to the machinery of state. Though he may have had blemishes about the rich and poor, the many and few; he believed that individual efforts combined with the contribution of the state would help in the development of the weaker class. So the state machinery should be equipped with the vocal strength of a combination of forces, from all sectors and strata of people. It should not be used as a proprietary right of the individuals. He helped in the development of Billerica, employed his experience in the formation of a strong threshold both in economic and political scenario, helped people form opinions about the political leaders, how leaders with purged and embalmed vision needs to replaced with new and dynamic leaders, warranted with the vision of development and growth. Basically he adorned ‘Labour’ as the factor of personal and overall development force in the country

The writers Michael Merrill, Professor at the Labor Education Center, Institute of Management and Labor Relations, Rutgers University and Sean Wilentz, professor of History, Princeton University have elaborately explained the writings of Manning in the introduction. They have also added modern connotations and scripted the manual in a more user friendly manner, easily decipherable by the readers. They were indeed successful in bringing out the lost yet the one of the most important work that describes the plinth of American democracy.

References

Holton, Woody.(2005), An “Excess of Democracy” — Or a Shortage?: The Federalists’ Earliest Adversarie, Journal of the Early Republic, Last Retrieved on October 2, 2009

Mark Voss-Hubbard. (1996), Journal of Social History, The Amesbury-Salisbury strike and the social origins of political nativism in antebellum Massachusetts. Last Retrieved on October 2, 2009

William E. Forbath (1996), Habermas on Law and Democracy: Critical Exchanges: Part II: Law, Politics, Economics, and Rights Last Retrieved on October 2, 2009

Hayden  j. Richards, Jr (2002), Redefining the Second Amendment: The Antebellum Right to Keep and Bear Arms and Its Present Legacy, Last Retrieved on October 2, 2009

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