It is probable that writers use the words servile origin, nobility, merchant class, indentured servant, and so forth, in describing what they also term social classes, because these names are convenient handles to take hold of. They are definite and concrete, whereas the terms upper class, middle class, lower class are much more abstract. It is hard for "lowest classes" to compete with "slaves," even though the former is a more exact term for referring to persons and families of very low status. The latter is only a legal term and actually indicates only a legal condition.* * *
Redemptionists of varied social status. Indented servants did not make up a single social class. Wertenbaker writes: 76
Some [indentured servants] were persons of culture, and, on rare occasions, of means . . . There are many instances of gentle blood becoming indentured servants to lawyers or physicians, in order to acquire a knowledge of those professions . . . Tutors were sometimes brought over from England under terms of indenture to instruct the children of wealthy planters in courses higher than those offered by local schools.
Greene states that "many white servants were of the better sort," and some of them, besides being teachers, were skilled workmen, "the best of whom subsequently acquired land for themselves." 77
Carman summarizes in these words: 78
Not all indentured worked out their terms of servitude on farm or plantation. In ability they varied greatly. The vast majority were ordinary laborers; a few were skilled workmen, and some were skilled artisans, tradesmen, or persons trained in the professions.
The place of the indented servant in American social class history will be taken up more fully in a later chapter. From the foregoing, however, it is easy to see that the legal status of a person does not always correspond to his social status, even during a term of indenture.
Social classes among the nobility. Under feudalism noblemen had status and rank within the framework of the legal structure. Many of the formal aspects of status were governed by law.
Without attempting here, as will be done later, to trace the development of social class during the period of feudalism, it will suffice to state, with Seé: 79
The nobility did not form a homogenous class. There were privileged lords and others. In the first place, there were those who had been presented to the king and queen . . . The presentation was not only an honor. It conferred considerable advantages, especially in the army . . . The greatest privileges and most lucrative offices and pensions went to the court nobility.
In contrast to the splendor of the court and those admitted to it, one reads of the poor nobility. They were numerous, lived in wretched circumstances, appealed to the king for funds to educate their children, farmed their own small plots, allowed their daughters to work in the barnyards and fields. "Accordingly it is easy to understand the hostility felt by the poor, petty nobility toward the court nobility of 1789, for the latter garnered all the favors . . ." 80
What was true of the French nobility before the Revolution was true of the grades and kinds of noblemen in England, in Poland, in Italy, in Germany. There were gradations among the nobility as there are now among the bourgeoisie.
It does not clarify social class theory to refer to legal categories as classes or as social classes.
The foregoing material has dealt with the objective criteria of social classes: economic, political, religious, racial, cultural, and legal. Each has proved to be related to and influential upon the social class structure, but none alone explains or determines social class; nor does an arbitrary mixture of any two, three, or more of these aspects, as can be quickly seen from reading in Sorokin's Social NobilityNext Page
Social class also requires a socio-psychological and subjective interpretation.
76. Thomas J. Wertenbaker, Patrician and Plebeian in Virginia (Charlottesville, 1910) p. 163.
77. Evarts Soutell Greene, The Foundations of American Nationality (New York, 1922) pp. 321-322.
78. Harry J. Carman, Social and Economic History of the United States, vol. I (Boston, 1930) p. 86.
79. Henri Seé, Economic and Social Conditions in France during the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1931) pp. 89-92.
80. Ibid., p. 104.