I've been reading about a society where 45% of the wealth was in the hands of just 10% of the population. and the wealthiest third controlled 85%. It's about a time and place when the poorest strata of society found the army, even in wartime, a better option than civilian life, and many of the enlisted men were foreign born. 84% the officer class, however came from the wealthiest third of the population (32% of them from the wealthiest tenth).
The United States in 2011? Guess again. Imperial Rome? Nope. I'm talking about New Jersey during the Revolution.
Mark Edward Lender's analysis of the Social Structure of the New Jersey Brigade concludes that despite Whigish distrust of standing armies, the Continental Army was not a Republican institution. Unlike the militia it was not comprised of citizen soldiers - the sturdy yeomanry of patriot mythology - but overwhelmingly of the young and the poor, and many of those were hired as substitutes for wealthier men otherwise subject to conscription.,
"The troops were generally the sons of poor farmers, laborers and drifters; many were recent immigrants without roots in American society."
The manpower need was so great that the Continental Line included racially integrated regiments, either by company or the full battalion. Enlistment after the fall of 1776 for multiple years rather than a single campaign season was another significant factor, as were enlistment bounties and the promise of land grants for veterans.
The gap between rich and poor in New Jersey during the Revoltution, comparable to that in the other Middle and Eastern States, intrigues me. We often hear about wealth disparity in America today as a widening gap, unprecidented since before the Great Depression. Certainly there were other periods in American History when most of the wealth was controlled by a small fraction of the population, and the gap between rich and poor was comparably vast. One thinks of the Robber Baron era in the latter part of the 19th century as one such time. It may be that our nation's preindustrial Independance struggle was another.