Eric V. Snow



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Accompanying the mask Hodge wore was a certain amount of lying. He had to do less of it than the slaves because he was not under surveillance as much as them, and telling the truth did not have as drastic a penalty for him generally. But in a mitigated form, the same phenomenon still manifested itself. Hudson noted that due to the nature of the game laws, which constituted one of the worst continuing oppression they experienced, even honest laborers were "obliged to practise a certain amount of deception." He knew one shepherd who lied by denying to his employing farmer that his dog ever hunted for hares, when in fact he did. Since the shepherd refuses to believe killing a hare is robbing anyone, "if he is obliged to tell a lie to save himself from the consequences he does not consider that it is a lie." Hodge's mask also could simply be a refusal to volunteer information, a way to conceal his financial affairs from prying outsiders. In one parish, after initial suspicion of its offer to let allotments had abated, the laborers hesitated to say these kept them off relief, because they feared their rents would be hiked, etc. Behind the gestures of deference, a non-deferent mind could well lurk, such as one old woman who bowed a deep curtsey to her squire, yet referred to him very familiarly out of earshot. His gamekeeper complained to others about his wages, his lack of perquisites, his lack of fees in shooting season except when the place was let for the season to another--but went to the squire hat in hand. As Jeffries described: "They hardly dared open their mouths when they saw him, and yet spoke of him afterwards as if he sat with them at bacon and cabbage time." In Stotfold parish, Bedford, right after the Swing Riots mob locally had been dispersed, according to the parish's rector, at least some laborers were suddenly "'touching their hats' to their masters--who never did so in their lives before."645 As noted above, such rituals of deference are not without meaning even when the performer is not very sincere about them, because they help the elite maintain a necessary social distance that otherwise would be lost or lessened by routine face-to-face interactions. In the case of the laborers of Stotfold parish, they may have suddenly began following certain rituals of deference to clearly signal they had accepted defeat and their subordinate position after the village rioted and their ringleaders were arrested. Some of the concessions that had been made to the laborers locally may have encouraged these gestures, such as exemption from taxes and the dismissal of the assistant overseer, even as the vestry did not concede their demands for a wage hike. Although Hodge's mind was often concealed by a mask, the level of distortions about him are significantly lower than that about African-American slaves, due in part to the lack of operative racism between the classes, but also because the mask was indeed thinner and his more open complaints, ensuring the avoidance of perverse misreadings of his personality similar to Elkins's about the slaves.
How Farmworkers Could "Run Away"--Resistance Through Migration and Emigration
Another form of resistance, analogous to the slaves' running away, was to migrate to another part of England or to emigrate abroad in search of better jobs, opportunities, and treatment. Moving was not an act necessarily intended to affront the local rural elite, because sometimes they were happy to encourage it when faced with paying high rates year around. Lord Egremont in Sussex paid a number of emigrants' expenses, of about ten pounds per adult and five per child, and Petworth parish paid at least five per adult and three pounds and ten shillings per child, which came to 107 emigrants over five years (1832-36) who left for Canada. The rector of Petworth, while perhaps ignoring the effects of the New Poor Law excessively, attributed nearly all the drop in relief expenses in his parish in recent years to emigration. Other times emigration met with opposition, but either way it still had the function of limiting local employers' bargaining power with their laborers in the long run. Migration introduces into the picture the competition of other employers for labor, which limits what the local parish farmers can do in lowering wages or otherwise mistreating their laborers. Those dealt with badly enough long enough compared to known conditions elsewhere are apt to "vote with their feet" and leave. As mentioned above (pp. 28-29), the principal reason for the northern laborers' superior conditions and treatment was due to the nearby presence of industrial and mining employment which drove up the price of labor (wages) due to its relative scarcity. While in England, Olmsted found cases on the Salisbury plain of very large farms in which it appeared one farmer employed an entire village. Using such monopsonic power, analogous to the stereotypical "one company town," these farmers paid rock-bottom wages of six or seven shillings a week.646
Under these conditions, only two main solutions presented themselves: (1) flee the "one-farmer village," or (2) organize, and so form a union with theoretically equal power in the labor market. Many eventually chose the first option, and simply left, especially towards the end of the nineteenth century. As for the other . . . while Arch's union gained strength, Warwickshire's County Chamber of Agriculture met to consider the laborers' demands, a group of about thirty tenant farmers and several major landowners. They desired a settlement soon because if the union's demand for sixteen shillings per week was not granted, the men could get twenty-three or twenty-seven by going north by train: "Owing to migration and the state of the general labour market, wages are still going up." During one strike, Arch noted some locked-out laborers accepted offers from "Gentlemen" seeking workers for cotton mills and railways, and emigration agents "were prowling around, picking and choosing the most likely, and tempting them across the sea." Although Arch had initially opposed emigration, he later changed his mind. He committed considerable personal time and union money to supporting those who wished migrate within England or leave it altogether. He visited Canada to investigate conditions for laborers there.647 Arch saw that by pitting different employers against one another and encouraging laborers to move, higher wages could be gained for members of his union, even if they changed occupations, and went into another industry. These actions aided even those left behind since migration reduced the number of glutted local labor markets in southern England which had empowered employers when pushing down wages.
The Reluctance of Laborers to Move and Other Obstacles to Migration
Although laborers considering migration and emigration faced nowhere near the same number of legal and practical hurdles American slaves did when it came to running away, major impediments still existed. Always the settlement and poor laws lurked in the background, as already described extensively above (pp. 69-70, 278-79, 282-84). They created cages for the local poor, making them afraid to move away and lose their right to receive parish relief, not to mention removable from where they migrated to when becoming chargeable. Another problem was why many slaves did not want to permanently run away to the North or elsewhere: breaking ties with family and friends. While the laborers did not risk the actual dissolution of their family by leaving, like the slaves, they would lose all or most contact with friends and family left behind. Arch noticed on his travels working that most of the laborers he encountered routinely complained about their lot in life, but they made no effort to better themselves, not budging "an inch from the place and position in which they found themselves. The fact was, very few of them could write a letter, so the majority were afraid to go from home, because they would not be able to communicate with their friends."648 In a study of Brenchley, Kent Wojciechowska found the laborers were the least mobile of all the occupational groups she studied in the 1851-1871 period besides farmers. For the laborers, 32.1 percent persisted from 1851 to 1861 and 33.2 percent from 1861 to 1871. The corresponding percentages for farmers were 35.4 percent and 30.9 percent, for tradesman and craftsmen, 31.9 percent and 23.9 percent, professionals, 22.2 percent and 6.1 percent, domestics, 9.2 percent and 7.9 percent, and those in commerce, 14.7 percent and 8.3 percent. These differences confirmed contemporaries' generalizations about farmworkers' relative immobility compared to others, especially when they normally did not move as far afield when they did leave. The movement that did occur was concentrated among the unattached--young single men and women, or widows and widowers--demonstrating how family ties restrained it. Obviously then, the fall of the laborers' average marriage ages during the early nineteenth century was no aid to finding better jobs elsewhere. Laborers perhaps ended up in an adjacent parish or in the same county, unlike the professionals, who were often not born in this parish and were more likely to leave it for a place far away. The Poor Law Commissioners found even when they offered to finance laborers willing to move elsewhere in England, few signed up, and many of those who did eventually returned.649 Another factor behind the laborers' lack of willingness to leave was when the farmer who steadily employed them was stable, which Wojciechowska's data demonstrates as a class they were, and did not move, neither did his laborers.650 Those in tied cottages--the "company housing" of the employing farmer--were inevitably less mobile, as were the children of laborers in such houses, because farmers sometimes threatened to evict elderly parents if their children did not work for them.651 Despite all the disincentives to leave, enough farmworkers did around the time of the French Wars to make up a major part of those working as spinners in the Bolton area. Workers there arrived from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, showing migration started also from rural areas far away, not just from local ones.652 Being an individualistic response to bad conditions, migration for the laborers had the advantage of avoiding direct confrontations with the rural elite. But this solution failed to solve the main problem facing English farmworkers: Except when seasonal or local labor shortages exist, groups of unorganized laborers simply lack the marketing power to effectively bargain for wages with a few oligopolistic or one monopsonic farmer as the main parish employer(s), because it is much easier to play "divide and conquer" with a large group than a small, making them compete against one another.

The Tamer Confrontations Between Hodge and His Masters
Like the slaves, sometimes laborers confronted their employers or the local landowners in an unorganized, small-scale manner. These conflicts, like the Swing Riots compared to the slave revolts, featured far less violence than those between slaves and their owners and overseers, mainly because the absence of corporal punishment for adult laborers eliminated the main provocation for violent retaliation. It is singularly difficult to find any stories of laborers killing or physically attacking a bailiff, a steward, a farmer, or a landowner, while similar stories about the slaves' attacking their superiors abound. A number of incidents illustrate that Hodge's mask was thinner than Sambo's, and that he undertook fewer deferential rituals and made more open complaints. Jeffries described the case of a laborer interrupting an argument about the value of a mechanical reaper between a farmer, his wife, both in a gig, and his son, who worked as bailiff. The reaper complained, "Measter . . . cam't you send us out some better tackle than this yer stuff?," and poured some ale out onto the stubble with a grimace of total disgust. The farmer, by no means a small and poor one, merely sharply replied, "It be the same as I drink myself," and drove off. Robert Long, who farmed 280 acres in Bedfordshire, complained in his diary about the shortage of laborers and independence of his men during harvest--two factors which are no mere coincidence. He had boasted to others he had had the same men all year, even during harvest, but now he lost all confidence in them because they were taking advantage of the seasonal and local labor shortage to break one of his rules: "I always threaten to discharge a man who fetches beer from a public house, but in Harvest time when the corn wants cutting (and they know it) it cannot be carried out."653 The background to these incidents was harvest, which was one time of the year farmworkers had some economic power, and so the farmers were not so apt to fire laborers for complaining or breaking rules. These cases illustrate a certain straightforwardness not encountered with American slaves often, excepting those few who were defiant when the lash was going to be applied, or from pampered house servants. The difference resulted not from any of Hodge's intrinsic virtues compared to Sambo's, but because the risks and costs of defiance were lower for the laborers--especially during harvest! Changing employers and finding work was easy then. Hence, the farmer engaged in haymaking (discussed above, p. 227) heard the grumbling of his laborers, but they did not walk off the job when he suddenly imposed overtime on them, because the local employment situation had recently deteriorated. The members of a subordinate class obviously are much more likely to openly complain when the ability of the dominant class to punish is for some reason restricted. And when the social system allows the subordinate class' members to express more complaints openly based on the hidden transcript's content, the more continual but gradual emotional release involved makes violence less likely to occur compared to when some subject population, having worn a thick mask almost continually, suddenly and finally finds some way to vent its feelings against the dominant class.654 Hodge's lower propensity to violence than Sambo is partially based on this difference, besides the others attached to the frontier ethic and how the exaggerated gentlemanly ethic of protecting one's personal honor against insults through dueling and other acts of violence was found among the Southern white male population generally, not just its uppermost elite.
Food Riots as a Method of Resistance
Immortalized by Thompson's article on the subject, the food riot was yet another means by which the laboring class protested against high food prices in an organized manner, invoking the moral economy of the landed elite's own paternalistic ideology. These riots always remained remarkable for the English crowd's general refusal to attack personally the bakers, millers, shopkeepers, farmers, middlemen, etc. that were seen as its opponents. And this was despite the strong ill-effects prices hikes for bread or other basic foodstuffs caused when so many were so close to subsistence as it was. The rioting crowds employed the medieval "just price" model, in which they set a price (which the seller would judge too low from prevailing market conditions). Then they would offer to pay for the food, and would only seize it without any compensation when the seller still resisted. One wagon loaded with wheat and flour was intercepted by a group of women, who threw the bags over the side. When told he could sell it at forty shillings a sack, or that they would take it all without payment if he refused, the driver (a farmer) soon capitulated: "If that must be the price, it must be the price." In one report, the sheriff of Gloucestershire in 1766 noted the crowd visited one farmhouse. They politely said they could thresh the grain and pay five shillings per bushel for it, an offer the farmer accepted. Later on, in the main markets, they visited all who sold food, setting their own prices: "They returned in general the produce [i.e., the money] to the proprietors or in their absence left the money for them; and behaved with great regularity and decency where they were not opposed, with outrage and violence where they was: but pilfered very little." In other cases, such as at Drayton, Oxford in 1766, the Isle of Ely, 1795, and Handborough, Oxford, 1795, the food rioters even "conscripted" a constable or magistrate to superintend their forced sales at relatively low prices to legitimize their actions. Especially in these cases, the crowd's attitude was that if their superiors did not enforce the laws from the Elizabethan and early Stuart period that allowed magistrates to force sales and set low prices and which prohibited many of the standard activities of middlemen, they would force them to do so! The key difference between the paternalistic model and the crowd's was it had the power and right to initiate itself proceedings to enforce it, rather than passively waiting for their betters to altruistically do so. While the laborers themselves were not necessarily the leaders or initiators of these riots--Thompson lists two cases of gangs involved in construction work starting riots later joined by farmworkers--they still constituted a major means of rural protest.655
This kind of organized action was simply unknown among American slaves, whose struggles against their owners featured different forms of "direct action." Excepting those few "hiring their own time," the slaves did not have to support their own families independently and were automatically furnished with some given allowance of food from their masters. They never had to take action against those involved in marketing, especially when Southern slaveholders generally aimed at producing the food, such as corn and pork, required for their slaves' subsistence right on the plantation. The English lower orders often got away with these riots, even when troops and convictions followed in a number of cases, because many of the magistrates were somewhat sympathetic. It is unimaginable slaves could escape without punishment committing similar acts, which was because they were fundamentally regarded as "outside" their society and legal system, while English rural workers were included, but in a subordinate position. The laborers had not only the freedom to organize impromptu protests and crowd actions inconceivable to slaves, but an ability to avoid much of the punishment that should have followed. Helping them in their cause was how the local rural elite in times of crisis was often somewhat divided, giving an opening to the local protesting crowd. The farmers and gentry, at least in the eighteenth century, were often unsupportive of the middleman's and shopkeeper's commercial ethos, especially when they wished to head off a riot by taking various proactive measures. Sometimes at these moments some paternalistically-oriented magistrates encouraged prosecutions against at least the minor players in the local market place to demonstrate they cared to the plebes. Such divisions did not exist among Southern whites, poor or rich, when facing restive black slaves, making it much more difficult for this subordinate class to take advantage of divisions among the elite to accomplish its own objectives. The food riot as a means of protest again illustrates the much lower level of violence in English society compared to the Southern United States. According to the research of Stevenson, apparently no English crowds during food riots killed anyone deliberately from the beginning of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth. The violence involved normally targeted property, not people, and was often threatened without actually being performed, such as those farmers in Cornwall intimidated by crowds bearing ropes along with contracts forcing horded grain to be sold at low prices, or by anonymous letters sent to those in authority or those possessing grain before any action was taken.656
The Swing Riots Generally Considered
The riots that hold pride of place in the history of the farmworkers' struggle with the rural elite were the Swing riots of 1830-1831, with the bulk of incidents occurring in the November and December of 1830. The laborers during it generally sought above all to destroy threshing machines that would rob them of winter employment in arable areas, and also to condemn low wages and how the Old Poor Law was administered. While the rioters used rather varied modes of protest, with some common in some counties and others rare or non-existent elsewhere, a general pattern can still be outlined. First normally came semi-literate, threatening letters to those in authority along with acts of arson. Used as a protest tool, arson had the advantage of being carried out surreptitiously. After Swing was over, it was to present problems for years to come in some areas. Then second crowds formed, whose members often forced others to join with them. They approached those in authority to intimidate them into granting their demands for higher wages and "levied" upon them an immediate handout in money or perhaps beer. The crowds then generally destroyed the local farmers' threshing machines. In East Anglia, the riots took a somewhat different form, because (as described above, pp. 150, 274) the farmers took advantage of the laborers' unrest to attack the parsons' tithes and landlords' rents. The riots affected a broad swath of England, generally developing most strongly in low-wage arable counties, while higher wage, pastoral ones were much less affected, with the counties south of Caird's wage line being the most riot-prone. Hobsbawm and Rude found some 386 threshing machines and 26 other pieces of agricultural machinery were destroyed over a period of about one year (August 1830-September 1831). Some 314 cases of arson were recorded in the same period. The size of the mobs involved ranged up to 2,000 who rioted against police at Ringwood, the 1,000 who destroyed Headley's poor-house, another 1,000 who gathered at Chichester to meet the justices and large farmers to demand a wage increase, and 700-800 gathered for incidents in Micheldever. One hundred to 300 were common elsewhere in other actions. The riots and related arsons were fairly general in Berkshire, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Berkshire, and Wiltshire, with important hot spots in Norfolk and Huntingdon. The area for about twenty-five miles outside London was mostly unaffected, perhaps due to the minimal arable area nearby compared to pasture and the effects of the metropolis in providing alternative employment and raising wages. Much of East Anglia outside Norfolk, Dorset, Buckingham, Bedford, and Cambridge, with a fair amount of the adjoining Midland counties, were only partially affected, despite laborers in many of these areas experienced conditions as bad as those which did riot generally. The 1,976 rioters sentenced or acquitted were the tip of the iceberg of those guilty, and were more likely the leaders and others who committed particularly noxious offenses or those unlucky enough to be easily recognized and caught. The broad national scope of this uprising compared to any slave revolt in the United States is obvious, as well as its relative bloodlessness, as discussed above (pp. 271-74), in which the rioters actually killed no one, and the elite carried out only 19 executions, although the number of transportations inflicted was indeed high (481 actually sailed out of 505 sentenced).657
How Laborers Did Benefit Some from the Swing Riots
The Swing Riots, despite the repression that soon followed, did secure the farmworkers at least some temporary benefits. For some years afterwards, farmers were intimidated against using the machines that took away the late fall/winter work of threshing from the laborers--ironically, a task which they normally strongly disliked intrinsically. Part of this was because the economic benefits for small farmers of machine threshing were marginal to begin with when so many parishes had large labor surpluses anyway. A temporary wage increase did occur in some areas. More significant were its effects on broader national questions. The unrest among the laborers helped undermine the landed elite's confidence in itself and its standing in the eyes of the middle class, thus aiding in the passage of the Reform bill of 1832. The immediate repression by the Special Commission was enough to place the laborers back into a sullen acceptance of their position, in contrast to the significant number of local magistrates who initially deal with them leniently. But the rural elite, increasingly affected by the ideology of classical economics and Malthusianism itself, now saw the practical need to do something about the Old Poor Law's defects, especially under the Speenhamland system of family allowances. With middle class ideologues in full support, it responded to the Swing Riots in the long run through the New Poor Law of 1834. By tightening the screws of work discipline and using the workhouse as an engine to deter applicants, they created a better way to control the laborers in the future. While some reported the laborers' attitudes improved after the passage of the New Poor Law, this was surely due to their masks thickening. They now felt more of a need to keep their jobs because the fear of being committed to the workhouse. When the Poor Law Commission concluded that "the moral conduct of the labouring classes is said to be improved, and a better feeling to exist between them and their masters," the authors were being deceived and deceiving themselves by the outward show the farmworkers presented to those with power in rural areas.658 So the Swing Riots had considerable influence on the course of English national politics, more than even Turner's rebellion did in the United States. But in contrast to the history of artisans in English urban areas, the farmworkers were much more quiescent, figuring little in the history of Chartism. While the Swing riots were quite spectacular compared to any American slave revolt in the numbers engaged and size of restive areas during the two-month period in which they were most intense, still the farmworkers mounted no more further major efforts at organized resistance until the unions formed in the 1860s and (especially) early 1870s, making them as a group about as tranquil in this regard as American slaves during much of the nineteenth century.
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