An excerpt from an interview with William Hogeland at The Boston Review by David V. Johnson. Here they’re talking about Herman Husband, “a North Carolina assemblyman who was involved in the 1760s North Carolina Regulator Movement–a populist uprising against wealthy, corrupt colonial officers…” and Hogeland’s latest book, Founding Finance: How Debt, Speculation, Foreclusures, Protests, and Crackdowns Made Us a Nation (University of Texas Press).
WH: Husband is to me one of the most important and fascinating Americans of the period, but he did not ultimately endorse where the country was going. In the 1790s he became dead set against all the economic and financial policies of the Washington administration and came to great grief in opposing those policies during the Whiskey Rebellion. Husband ended up being imprisoned by George Washington, whom Husband had once admired immensely, and dying of pneumonia contracted while in prison. So his story is far from uplifting in any typical sense, and I think that’s one reason that he and some of the other characters I discuss are less well-known.
Husband was committed to what they then called “regulation,” and he meant something like what we mean today by the term, except it was a populist idea of regulation. The immense power of wealth would be “regulated” or restrained by ordinary people. And the rich would have to submit to a government that would actually be interested in equalizing wealth, income, and benefits. It seems like an anachronism to discuss such ideas prevailing in the 1760s and 70s, but actually Husband started working on them in the 50s and 60s. This is much of the burden of my book: you start really looking and you find that things that seem like New Deal ideas, or even socialistic and communist ideas, were alive and well in that period, to the great dismay of most of the famous founders. I think Husband is important because he represents many thousands of people we don’t hear about who had completely different ideas about finance and economics than those embraced by the founders.
DJ: His journey, though, is similar to Thomas Paine’s, whose story is well known. One thing your book suggests is that Husband’s religious beliefs made him a difficult figure for modern progressives to embrace.
WH: One of the things that’s tricky and little-known is that many of the egalitarian, populist democrats of the founding period came to their egalitarianism partly through fervent Christian millennial evangelicalism, which today is more frequently associated with the right wing. Husband is a great representative of the many people in the founding of America whose convictions about fairness and equality and democracy came out of religious experience.
Image: North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?ct=ddl&sp=search&k=Markers&sv=K-62%20-%20HERMAN%20HUSBAND%201724-1795