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In North America, it’s often assumed that private land ownership not only existed in colonizing cultures but was also universally accepted. Yet English commoners fought against privatization for centuries, dying by the tens of thousands to defend the rights of the commons. Even as English colonists were arriving on the Atlantic shores of North America, commoners violently resisted enclosure. The Midland Revolt, involving rebellions in several English counties in 1607, was a direct consequence of the government’s admitted failure to enforce its own laws against enclosure’s theft of the commons.

“Between 1725 and 1825” alone, commons scholar Peter Linebaugh wrote in Stop, Thief!: The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance, “nearly four thousand enclosure acts appropriated more than six million acres of land, about a quarter of cultivated acreage, to the politically dominant landowners.” In The Book of Trespass, which details the injustices of private landownership in Britain, Nick Hayes noted that 150,000 people in 18 villages were evicted in a single instance.


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