Populist Rebellion, Now and Then

The motif of recent U.S. elections has emerged as one of rebellion against the establishment and the oligarchy that perpetuates it. 

Certainly, if Republicans mean to take back control, 2022 will underscore that theme. Issues from illegal immigration to the failure in Afghanistan to rising inflation and high gas prices to rampant crime and senseless mandates and lockdowns will help to hammer that message over and over. It is increasingly likely, although we shouldn’t be overconfident, that we will see an unprecedented red wave and Republicans will win 65-85 seats in the House and four to six in the Senate, putting an effective brake on the Biden socialist power grab and great reset. 

It could set in place a true rebellion, impeach the sitting president, and stop dead in its tracks Biden’s crazy legislation, far-left appointments, and most of his executive orders. 

The larger question, however, is whether some politically amorphous dissident army can truly upend the status quo—and I don’t refer here to the ragtag J6ers alone. Trump’s American carnage speech notwithstanding, it was difficult to battle the RINO incumbents, the deep state, mainstream media, and the elite establishment, all of whom tried to thwart him and his greatness agenda at every turn. The establishment’s horror at the prospect of a successful rebellion belies the history of a nation that was actually founded in rebellion. 

The ghost of rebellion that haunted the English psyche for centuries and that they were determined to crush in that glorious year of 1776 was named Jack Cade. Have you heard of him? You need to study his case if we are to win the coming rebellion. 

In 1450, Cade led a makeshift rebel army against the forces of King Henry VI. He was almost certainly a peasant, but other than that, very little is known about him. This enabled him to shapeshift like a specter of discontent. According to some, Cade was plotting with Richard of York under the name “John Mortimer.” According to others, he was “Dr. Alymere,” son-in-law of a Surrey squire. Still others believed he was a practitioner of some kind of witchcraft. 

Jack Cade’s real name is unknown, as is his history prior to 1450. He appeared, it seems, out of nowhere in the human form of Jack Cade, or whomever, to haunt the kingdom into chaos. 

What is known about Jack Cade is that he led a threateningly large group of peasants, small landowners, some clergy and even some propertied men to the gates of London, mostly in rebellion against taxation from the Hundred Years’ War and pervasive government corruption. This group of minor gentry and land laborers did not seek sweeping social change so much as basic government reform, mostly in the form of lower taxes. 

Upon first hearing of the peasant rebellion, the king sent his troops to Seven Oaks; about 18 miles southeast of London, to strike down the ragtag reformers, and the king’s troops were promptly and soundly defeated. 

Cade’s impromptu army marched to London where they were treated as victors by Londoners who generally agreed that taxes and corruption were pressing problems. Cade’s army became rather enamored with their success and proceeded to storm the Tower of London and behead a few government officials, including Sir James Fiennes, the king’s treasurer, and Sir James’ son-in-law, William Crowmer. The heads of Fiennes and Crowmer were placed atop stakes and paraded through town kissing each other. For good measure, Cade’s men also killed the Sheriff of Kent who, needless to say, had some intent to arrest Cade. 

The king’s men regrouped and fought again but could gain no ground on Cade’s army of malcontents, at which point Cade presented his list of demands to royal officials who agreed to them and granted pardons to the rebellion’s participants. The demands can be summarized simply as “run a decent government.” With agreement on the demands, the rebel army largely dispersed. 

King Henry, though, had no intention of honoring the rebel army’s demands—neither to run a decent government nor to pardon Cade and his men. The new sheriff of Kent chased Cade for 40 miles until he finally caught Cade with a fatal blow of a sword. To further punctuate his rejection of the agreement he’d supposedly accepted, King Henry subjected Cade’s corpse to show trial, and, upon being found guilty, Cade’s corpse was hung, and then cut into pieces that were distributed throughout Kent as a reminder of the king’s disposition on peasant rebellions. Finally, Henry had Cade’s head staked on a pole on London Bridge, kissing no one. 

The specter of Cade’s peasant rebellion has haunted English historians and poets ever since (“For our enemies shall fall before us, inspired with the spirit of putting down kings and princes . . .” Henry VI, Part 2). 

Peter Oliver, the loyalist chief justice of the Massachusetts court wrote in his 1781 Origin & Progress of the American Rebellion “the Hydra was roused. Every factious Mouth vomited out Curses against Great Britain, & the Press rung its changes upon Slavery. A Mr. Delany a principal Lawyer of Virginia, wrote the first Pamphlet of Note upon the Subject, which, as soon as it reached Boston young Mr. Otis, the then Jack Cade of the Rebellion . . .” 

More frightening to the oligarchs than the specter of Jack Cade was the idea of Jack Cade with a printing press marshaling a literate rebellion. Sending the sheriff of Kent to arrest Cade with a blow of a sword would do no good, because as John Milton observed a century earlier, “Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are.” 

If knowledge had become untethered from a world of fixed relationships, and its value increasingly was not in the degree to which it supported and completed a stable and fixed edifice of doctrine, and if books were not dead things, then how was the sheriff of Kent to respond? He could hardly chase down an idea and put it to the sword. 

Peter Oliver’s evocation of Jack Cade as “the Hydra” demonstrates that in the new media world of the 18th century, the press could create many-headed ideas incapable of being silenced by a sheriff’s sword.

But the foundation of colonial education was in fact the Bible, and Oliver was undoubtedly referencing the hydra in the Book of Revelations and fully intended his readers to think of the Judgment Day beast. Only an oligarch would apply the metaphor to the many printing presses fueling the media war and not to the Empire that wished to return to the days when rebellion could be quelled by putting a single man to death. 

In the end, Oliver’s interpretation lost, and the rebel’s version of the hydra was memorialized in America’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence (“He has erected a multitude of New Offices and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance”). 

The colonial oligarchs of the 1760s had feared the press would transform the specter of Jack Cade into an irresistible force of history. When the prime minister requested that King George III charge James Otis—the “Jack Cade of the Rebellion”—with treason (a crime punishable only by execution), the king demurred. It was too late. Though George still harbored hopes of regaining control of Boston, easy access to the press had transformed Otis’ rebellion far beyond anything readily solvable with a sheriff’s blade. 

In the end, Jack Cade vanquished the hydra with the consequential help of new media. And if Otis had Twitter or the like, the king’s hopes for regaining control may have been dashed well before 1776. 

The distinction between the failure of Cade’s rebellion and the success of the American Revolution is before our very eyes and a lesson for the battle we face today. 

Clearly, Bernie Sanders and “the squad” have taken over the Democratic Party and have yet to be hunted by the Biden machine like Cade through the woods of southern England. And it is not going to happen. Biden is not going to do a Clinton-style “triangulation” or course correction because he is too inept and too beholden to the progressives he has armed and employed in all the ranks of his administration. They own him. 

Trump and his cadre, however, are leading a different kind of peasant/populist rebellion—one in which there is an understanding that in order to be effective a rebellion must leverage media and funding to become an unstoppable America First movement that lives in ideas rather than through any single individual, even Trump himself. It needs to have many legs. 

The 2022 midterms will test those legs and the level of dissatisfaction with both Biden and our ensconced establishment. The real crux will be what the Republicans do with their newfound power. Will they break the back of the ruling oligarchy or will they blow in the wind, compromise, and fold as they have so many times before? Will they usher in all new leadership with backbone and the balls to carry through or try to placate the vacuous do-nothing middle and the same old establishment? Will Trump himself, having learned a number of lessons from the last round, demand his party change and go on the offensive? 

Ironically, this makes Trump not a dictator (where the power resides in the person) but rather a true child of the American Revolution (where the power resides in ideas promoted through the word). Trump’s power was and is generated by his persistent refusal to appeasethe oligarchy and established elites. Because, unlike Jack Cade, Trump’s “peasants” won’t get fooled a second time. 

As Jeffrey Tucker, writing for George Gilder’s newsletter, optimistically reminds us, “Not in a very long time has the elite class faced such a drubbing by reality itself. This is why public confidence in basically everything has collapsed . . . exposed as charlatanism and so has the deep state in general along with the political class that gives them cover.” 

“Remember Jack Cade!” should be the rallying cry. 

About Theodore Roosevelt Malloch

Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, scholar-diplomat-strategist, is CEO of the thought leadership firm The Roosevelt Group. He is the author of 18 books, including The Plot to Destroy Trump and, with Felipe J. Cuello, Trump's World: GEO DEUS. He appears regularly in the media, as a keynote speaker, and on television around the world. 

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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