Monday, May 16, 2016

The War of the Regulation

The War of the Regulation (or the Regulator Movement) was an uprising in the British North America's Carolina colonies, lasting from about 1765 to 1771, in which citizens took up arms against colonial officials. Though the rebellion did not change the power structure, some historians consider it a catalyst to the American Revolutionary War.


The origins of the War of Regulation stem from a dramatic population increase in North and South Carolina during the 1760s, following migration from the larger eastern cities to the rural west. The inland section of the colonies had once been predominantly composed of planters with an agricultural economy. Merchants and lawyers began to move west, upsetting the social and political structure. They were joined by new Scots-Irish immigrants, who populated the backcountry.

At the same time, the local inland agricultural community suffered from a deep economic depression, due to severe droughts throughout the previous decade. The loss of crops cost farmers not only their direct food source, but also their primary means of an income, which led many to rely on the goods being brought by newly arrived merchants. As income was cut off, the local planters often fell into debt. The merchants, in turn, relied on lawyers and the court to settle disputes. Debts were not uncommon at the time, but from 1755 to 1765, the cases brought to the docket increased nearly sixteen-fold, from seven annually to 111 in Orange County, North Carolina alone.

Such court cases could often lead to planters losing their homes and property, so they grew to resent the presence of the newcomers. The shift in population and politics eventually led to an imbalance within the colony's courthouses, where the newly arrived and well-educated lawyers used their superior knowledge of the law to their sometimes unjust advantage. A small clique of wealthy officials formed and became an exclusive inner circle in charge of the legal affairs of the area. The group was seen as a 'courthouse ring', or a small bunch of officials who grabbed most of the political power for themselves.

In 1764, several thousand people from North Carolina, mainly from Orange, Anson, and Granville counties in the western region, were extremely dissatisfied with the wealthy North Carolina officials, whom they considered cruel, arbitrary, tyrannical and corrupt. Local sheriffs collected taxes, as supported by the courts; the sheriffs and courts had sole control over their local regions. Many of the officers were very greedy and often would band together with other local officials for their own personal gain. The entire system depended on the integrity of local officials, many of whom engaged in extortion; taxes collected often enriched the tax collectors directly. At times, sheriffs would intentionally remove records of their tax collection in order to go back to residents to ask for more taxes. The system was endorsed by the colonial governor, who feared losing the support of the various county officials.

The effort to eliminate this system of government became known as the Regulator uprising, War of the Regulation, or the Regulator War. The most heavily affected areas were said to be those of Rowan, Anson, Orange, Granville, and Cumberland counties. It was a struggle between mostly lower-class citizens, who made up the majority of the backcountry population of North and South Carolina, and the wealthy planter elite, who comprised about 5% of the population, yet maintained almost total control of the government.

The stated primary aim of the Regulators was to form an honest government and reduce taxation. The wealthy businessmen/politicians who ruled North Carolina at this point saw this as a grave threat to their power. Ultimately, they brought in the militia to crush the rebellion and hanged its leaders. It is estimated that out of the 8,000 people living in Orange County at the time, some 6-7,000 supported the Regulators.

The War of the Regulation is considered a catalyst to the American Revolutionary War, and it was waged against corrupt officials representing king and crown. Intriguingly, many anti-Regulators eventually became Patriots during the American Revolution, such as William Hooper and Francis Nash; while many Regulators paradoxically became Loyalists.

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