Friday, August 26, 2016

King's Survey: Stamps of Disapproval

Stamp Act Protesters

In which we see how a metaphorical credit card bill helped trigger a non-metaphorical war.

So look, kids: we’ve been talking about a general feeling of unease among some people in British North America in the middle of the eighteenth centurya perception that some authorities (like religious ones) weren’t really legitimate and that others (like government ones) were condescending when they weren’t outright dismissive. And, as we know, feelings can be powerful things.
—Does that include feelings of boredom?
Sure, Chris. Boredom is among the most powerful.
—How’s that?
Well, Jonah, you might say boredom is a gateway feeling. It leads to others like restlessness and impulsivity. Or passivity.
—Or napping.
Like I said, passivity. Are you making an observation or an argument, Chris?
—Just an observation. Not that I’m suggesting that you’re in any way boring.
Of course not, Chris. Jonah will wake you up when class is over.
—We have math next. I should probably just let him sleep.
Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that. Anyway, my real point is to say that while perceptions are a very important part of politics, policy can be even more so, if for no other reason that it’s often a source or justification for attitudes. You may remember I mentioned the Molasses Act of 1733 as a law that went largely unenforced and was regarded as irrelevant. But then the French and Indian War came along, with lots of huge bills to pay, and the British started enforcing laws that had been ignored for decades.
The Molasses Act was just one piece, and a relatively minor one, of a larger strategy that included a package of new laws the British Parliament put into place after the war. There were new financial regulations involving the use of currency, for example, which was always painfully scarce in the colonies, making it difficult to pay for things or settle debts. I mentioned that Proclamation about not going west of the Alleghenies, which really annoyed young guys like George Washington, who was in the real estate business and believed the whole point of the French and Indian War was to get their hands on those lands west of the mountains. None of those new regulations were intolerable. But then came a real problem: the Stamp Act.
—That was in the homework.
  Right. What did the Stamp Act say, Jonquil?
—I didn’t really get it. It was a tax you paid on paper?
You’re on the right track. It might be more useful to think of it as a tax on documents: contracts, wills, that kind of thing. Also newspapers, which were not really documents in the same way, but a source of information that was largely read by the wealthy. This was key: the British were looking to raise revenue, and they were making a real effort to focus on the people who really could afford to pay, like people who hired lawyers or tracked the shipment of goods in newspapers. The idea was that when you bought such material, you’d pay a tax and get a receipt in the form of a stamp that would go on the document and prove you got it legitimately. The law was structured in such a way that it would pay for itself: the people issued the stamps would keep a portion of what they collected as a salary.
For the British, the Stamp Act seemed both fair and efficient. To make sure, government officials approached Benjamin Franklin, who was sort of a super-lobbyist extraordinaire, and asked him what he thought of the idea. Franklin basically said, yeah, if you’re gonna raise taxes, this isn’t a bad way to do it. (In fact, Franklin pulled some strings to get a stamp commissioner’s job for a buddy back in Pennsylvania.)
—What do you mean that Franklin was a super-lobbyist? He seems to keep coming up.
Indeed he does, Yin. Franklin is a truly amazing character, and I’d love to give a course just on him. In short: Franklin was born in Boston, which he found stifling. He ran away to Philadelphia, which was an up-and-coming-city, when he was your age. Then we went to London briefly, and came back to Philly. He made a fortune as a printer, franchised his operation out to other guys around the colonies, and retired from the business. He then explored his interest in science. He also continued to be involved in civic affairs. In the 1750s, the colonial government of Pennsylvania sent him to London to represent the colony’s interests to the imperial government. Soon other colonies, like Massachusetts and South Carolina, also hired him. So he was like the unofficial American representative in England. He was there for about 15 years. He was the coolest of the Founding Fathers. Incredibly intelligent, and that included his social skills. Impossible not to like the guy. (And about as impossible to really get to know him.)
Anyway, the British put the Stamp Act into effect in 1765. And it proved to be an utter disaster. The colonists hated it.
Well, some of it is obvious: who likes taxes? I also suspect that the very thing that made it fair made it a problem: rich people are in a much better position to complain than poor people, not in terms of having a more legitimate grievance, mind you, but in knowing how to get heardand getting around rules they don’t like. But rich people weren’t the only unhappy ones. One of the more remarkable things about the Stamp Act is the way it unleashed simmering anger that now burst to surface. That anger included angry mobs. One mob raided the house of the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, and reduced it to a stack of toothpicks. That buddy of Franklin? He wrote back to him and said: thanks for nothing. I can’t go out and stamp documentspeople will kill me. The outrage was so great that there was a meeting, known as the Stamp Act Congress, with representatives from a number of colonies. Back at the start of the French and Indian War, Franklin had suggested that the colonies cooperate, and no one was interested. Now, suddenly, it seemed that for the first time they were serious about coming together. In protest. The Stamp Act Congress sent a petition to London saying the law was illegal.
By the end of 1765, it was clear to the British government that the Stamp Act had backfired. All the noise aside, it was failing its actual purpose: to raise money. The colonists were refusing to play by the rules. So the government had to go back to the drawing board and try again. But how? The answer was in two steps. First, the Stamp Act was repealed. Then, the same day, the British Parliament passed the Declaratory Act, which essentially said the colonists were obligated to obey the laws of the British government. Which is a little like saying to a child who refuses to go to bed: all right, stay up then. But from now on you’re sticking to your bedtime, fella!
Well, I was hoping for something more like a shock of recognition: more like “Oh.”
—It’s not that good, Mr. K.
Oh. Well, then. I’ll keep going. Sort of like the British government: that didn’t work, so we’ll try something else. Here’s the something else: the Townshend Acts. These were a series of new taxes on lead, glass, paper and tea. Again: luxury items.
—But if people were mad last time, why would this time be any different?
Excellent question, Sadie. Actually, this time was different, but not in the way the British wanted. And the reason for that is a fellow named Sam Adams.
—As in the beer?
Yes, Ethan: Sam Adams was a brewer. Not a very good one, though. At least not as a businessman.
—Was he related to John Adams?
Yup. They were cousins.
—Were they close?
Pretty close. Though Sam was a little more exciting than John, who was kind of a dweeb.
—That doesn’t sound very respectful, Mr. K.
Hey, I like John Adams. I’m a dweeb. We dweebs need to stick together.
—So I guess Adams didn’t hang out much with Benjamin Franklin, then.
Well, not much. They did sleep together once.
Yes. Pretty good story.
—Benjamin Franklin was gay?
Did I say that?
—Well, you said they slept together.
I’ll tell you about it after class one day.
—Why not now?
Because it’s time for Chris to sleep through math.

Next: Boycott terrorism

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

King's Survey: Revolutionary Condescension

In which we see that feelings no less than principles can have revolutionary implications

I heard you made the basketball team. Congratulations.
 —Kylie is going to be great. She’s going to be our other guard.
I’m sure Emily’s right, Kylie. I imagine you must be proud. Last year’s team was county champs. It’s an honor to play for the Eagles.
—Yeah, it is. I’m not one of the main players or anything.
The important thing is to be part of the team, right?
—I think so.
There’s just one thing.
—Uh oh. Watch out, Kylie. Here it comes.
 Yesterday you committed an infraction against the school dress code. That sweater you were wearing: it was a little too short at the waist.
—Kylie wasn’t wearing a sweater yesterday. She wore her game jersey to school, just like me and the rest of the team. We had our first scrimmage.
Never mind the details, Em. The point is that we have a school dress code. As you all know.
—We do?
It’s in the student handbook. Page 14.
—You’re kidding, right?
 —No, Emily, he’s right. It’s there. But no one ever pays attention to it.
 Well we’re going to start paying attention to it now, Sadie. Dr. Devens told me last week that faculty really needs to start enforcing the rules. There’s a state accreditation coming up, and we can’t afford to fail. Last time we caught all kinds of grief for not having enough fire drills. Kylie, maybe you were wearing a sweater yesterday, and maybe you weren’t. A full investigation will clear you to play this season, assuming of course that you have nothing to be guilty about. You can explain to the Disciplinary Committee when it meets next week. In the meantime, kids, I recommend you pay close attention to the dress code. I know I will.
—He’s kidding, Kylie. He’s not serious.
This gives me no pleasure, Em, believe me. As far as I’m concerned, enforcing the school dress code is nothing but an invitation to trouble. But it’s not my job to question the rules. I’ve got a job to do, and I’m going to do it. You understand, Kylie, don’t you?
Is that a nod? You’re looking a little confused. Adam looks like he wants to jump in here.
 —Oh just get on with it, Mr. K. You’re trying to make the point that the school dress code is just like something from the American Revolution. Let’s hear it.
Fine, Adam. If I must. Class, the school dress code is a little like the Molasses Act of 1733.
 —And that would be because …
Well, that law went on the books and went largely unenforced for thirty years. Then the French and Indian War happened. And those huge bills to pay that I mentioned the other day. So the British were looking for ways to raise revenue. They were going to have to come up with new sources. But it also made sense to enforce the old ones. Like that tax on molasses.
—I get that. But why the whole basketball team thing? Why not just start class by telling Kylie she broke the dress code?
Well, Kylie is proud to be an Eagle. Just like the colonists were proud to be members of the British Empire. Not just for winning the French and Indian War. That was just one in a string of victories. As Kylie noted, it feels good to be part of a team. Right, Em?
—Damn straight.
Especially a winning one. But then along comes Dr. Devens, who we all know is our principal, but what that really means is that she’s in effect the chief administrator, like the Prime Minister, of our high school.
—Isn’t Dr. Devens more like the king?
No. That would be Christina Themistocles, the school superintendent. She’s the King. I mean Queen. (Let’s not get too bogged down in the gender binary, shall we?) But she’s far too important to bother about some silly old sweater
—Kylie wasn’t wearing a sweater.
 Well, aren’t you the stickler, Emily. You must be from Massachusetts or one of those prickly New England colonies. Anyway, Dr. Devens and the other members of the administration have decided on this policy, a policy dictated by outside circumstances (that upcoming review I mentioned) and since I report to her, I have my orders, even when they put me in the somewhat embarrassing position of monitoring the student dress code, one that I’ve been even happier than all of you to ignore. But the situation has changed. I’m sure Kylie understands that. Don’t you, Kylie.
Now I do, Mr. K.
Thatta girl. And this doesn’t affect your feelings about being a member of the Eagles, does it?
—No, not really.
 Not really? What’s that supposed to mean?
—I mean, I don’t like it, but it’s not like it really affects the way I think about the team.
Excellent. Exactly the kind of attitude I like to hear from a girl.
Oh calm down, Emily. We all know Kylie is a member in good standing of the Eagles athletic program. She just happens to be … a female. Like George Washington.
—George Washington is not a girl. And what does he have to do with this?
Again: we’re not getting bogged down in that gender binary. Washington fought in the French and Indian War. As a matter of fact, you might say he started it. The governor of Virginia sent him as an errand boy out to the frontier in 1754 to tell the French to get lost. Washington had some Indian guides, who as it turned out had their own agenda. Washington never got the chance to tell the French, because the Indians went ahead and murdered the French officers he was supposed to talk to. Awkward! Major international incident triggers world war. Rookie mistake, you might say. Didn’t really matter; the British and French were itching for a fight anyway. Washington actually fought quite well in that war. For an American, that is. Here’s the pathetic part: Washington actually hoped he could get a commission as a regular officer in the British Army! Poor schmuck. A wee bit clueless: that was never going to happen. He wasn’t even from a prominent Virginia family, for God’s sake!
Don’t get me wrong. Some of the Americans were really quite good. I mean, Washington, he was fine. Really. And that Benjamin Franklin! A starter on any squad!   All those experiments. Great guy, too. Let me tell you: There was a team player. Even after other colonials started grumbling, he remained loyal. Things got a little messed up at the end, and he ultimately quit the team. Feel sorta bad about that, even if he showed poor judgment (involved some letters; let’s not get into it now). But you would never quit, would you, Kylie? You’re not going to let a little misunderstanding about a sweater or an indelicate comment about your membership in the gentler sex interfere with your love of the school now, are you?
Kylie? I’m having a little trouble reading your expression.
—You’ve left her speechless, Mr. K.
Ah. It happens. Well, anyway, you all get my point. Which is?
 —Don’t try out for the basketball team.
 —No, Jonah, wait: Form your own basketball team.
 Well, yes, Adam. That of course was the ultimate lesson. But that’s still about a decade in the future. Because, as my analogy with Kylie was meant to suggest, there’s not any one thing that starts making you feel bad about the team and the school. The stuff accumulates over time. And note here that I’m talking about something a little different than a religious, or a military, or an economic issue. It’s more like a psychology, a sense of morale. This is a subtle thing that’s mixed in with a lot of others. But I wanted to spend a little time talking about it, because I think it’s important. People do what they do for a variety of reasons. Some involve ideas and interests; others involve feelings. They’re always interacting.

Next: Why they stomped on the Stamp Act

Monday, August 22, 2016

King's Survey: Reviving Jesus

In which we see a teacher place faith in history
—So what’s on the menu for today, Mr. K.?
I thought we’d do some more God stuff, Sadie.
—We do a lot of that.
George Whitefield
I know.
—Why is that?
—Because he likes God.
—Is Jonah right, Mr. K.? We do it because you like it?
In part, yes.
—Is that kosher, ha ha?
What do you think, Sadie?
—I don’t what I think. I mean, I don’t mind God talk. But I’m wondering what the rules are for this kind of thing.
Well, if you did mind, you probably wouldn’t tell me. Which is why I try to pay attention to the silences, even as I try to go about doing my job by my lights. Actually, I’m kind of flattered you feel comfortable enough to even raise the question.
—Well, it’s not like he tries to convert us or anything. And we’re talking about stuff that happened hundreds of years ago.
—Yeah, except that he’s in love with that Puritan woman, Anne Bradstreet.
Yes, Adam, that’s true. (And yes, Ethan, that’s true too.) It’s also true that another U.S. history teacher is less likely than I am to talk about this stuff. It reflects my bias. If all goes well, you’ll take another American history course in college and you’ll have a moment when you think, “Huh. Mr. King didn’t talk about this at all.” Besides, you’re going to forget most of what you learn here anyway.
—That’s depressing.
Why is that, Kylie?
—Because it makes me wonder why we bother.
—Practice for what? Practice forgetting?
Practice with learning. And then with forgetting and remembering. But practice first and foremost with thinking. In order to think well, though, you need some good information. I’m trying to give you that. The information is a prelude to thinking things through. But before we do more of that let me get to the topic at hand, which tends to get buried these days in the history textbooksIt's an event known as the First Great Awakening. (As its name implies, there were other awakenings, too. We’ll get to them later.)
In the simplest terms, the First Great Awakening was a huge religious revival that’s swept England and North America in the middle decades of the 1700s.
—Why then?
I don’t have a good answer for that, Sadie. Partly that’s a matter of my ignorance. And partly that’s a matter of historical process as somewhat mysterious. All disciplines come up against these kinds of barriers. And yet it’s those barriers that make those disciplines interesting.
—Like pi.
Yeah, like pi, I guess. Anyway, one major element of the First Great Awakening in British North America is the rise of new Protestant denominations, notably the Methodists and the Baptists, which are growing very rapidly, often at the expense of older ones. I don’t want to get too bogged down in the theology here, but as their name suggests, the Methodists are arguing for a more demanding, back-to-basics approach to their faith. The Baptists reject an idea, which had become widespread even in demanding Puritan churches, that children could be accepted as church members, since they couldn’t really understand what that meant—the ritual of baptism needs to be much more authentic experience, which is why it has to happen when you’re an adult, not when you’re an infant. The boundaries between these sects aren’t necessarily hard and fast (Rhode Island, for example, is both a bastion of Puritanism and the cradle of the Baptist church of the United States), and there are also branches within them. For example, some Baptists believe that whether or not you’re headed to heaven or hell is something God already knows before you were born. Baptists and others who believe this are known as “hard shell.” Others emphasize the degree to which salvation was as choiceone that required a serious, deliberate profession of faith. These believers are known as “soft shell.”
—What’s the point of believing if you’re already damned to hell?
See, Ethan, that’s the problem. You’re thinking in terms of “points.” Like your salvation is a transaction you can execute. Blech. That’s so … Catholic.
—But why bang your head against the wall if you’re already damned?
—But you don’t know that, Ethan. God knows, but you don’t.
Sadie’s right, Ethan. Besides, don’t you want to think you’re saved? Isn’t thinking you’re might not be in itself a bad sign?
—He doesn’t care. He just wants to party.
Well, then, Chris, we’ll just have to pray for his soul. Anyway, The key thing about the Methodists, Baptists, and churches like them is their openness: they welcome new members. And that often includes black people as well as white ones, though racism hardly disappears. (There are also class accents involved, as suggested by an old joke: an Anglican is a Presbyterian with a trust fund; a Presbyterian is a Methodist with a college degree, and a Methodist is a Baptist with shoes.) The style of the Methodists and Baptist services is more informal, and more emotional. That applies in particular to their preachers.
Which brings up another new aspect in this First Great Awakening: the emergence of the touring preachers, the most famous of whom, like the legendary George Whitefield, are the rock stars of their time, drawing huge crowds of adoring fans. Many of the people who show up for the revival meetings are true believers; others are curious onlookers with greater or lesser degrees of openness to their message. Whitefield, slightly cross-eyed, is positively mesmerizing. One unlikelyand thus quite famoustestimonial of his spellbinding power comes from Benjamin Franklin, who checked out a Whitefield event when the preacher came to Franklin's hometown of Philadelphia, suspecting he was a charlatan. Franklin had money in his pocket, and over the course of Whitefield’s sermon gradually softened, figuring he would surrender a few coins. By the time he had finished, Franklin confessed “I had emptied my pocket wholly into the collector’s dish, gold and all.” (He and Whitefield subsequently became friends; Franklin was an incorrigible collector when it came to friendsas long as you didn’t try to get too close.)
Actually, the people who were least likely to like this new breed of preachers were the old breed of preachers. There were two big reasons for this. The first, and perhaps most important, is that they were regarded as poachers. In many respects, being a minister is an insecure profession. It rarely pays well (and when it does it’s often in barter, which is not particularly helpful if you’re drowning in butter but could really use a horse), and you’ve often got to tread carefully when it comes to criticizing the people who are directly or indirectly paying your salary. Having an outsider come to town is at best a distraction and at worst a threat. To make matters worse, many of preachers of this newer breed, who call themselves “New Lights,” challenge what they regard as the listlessness of the Old Lights. Sure, the minister of your town might have a fancy degree from Harvard or William or Mary. But does a living spirit really dwell within? Has your leader really given convincing testimony of his own salvation? A famous sermon of the time warned of “the Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.” It’s simple, such people said: your heart was more important than your head. Some ministers, like the now-legendary Jonathan Edwardsa genius who bridged science and religion as well as Old and New Lightstried to find a middle ground. But he was kicked out of his church in Massachusetts by his congregation, and settled for working at Princeton a few years his death in 1758.
We can’t dwell too long on this. But I do want to call your attention to what’s at stake here: we’re talking about a challenge to authority. It’s a challenge that takes multiple forms: a challenge to religious authority, intellectual authority, and social authority. An open competition that’s was taking place in full view of ordinary people, and one that’s raising basic questions about who should be followed and why.
—I think I can see where this is going.
Good, Ethan. Hold that thought. Even if you'll soon see that the situation is a little more complicated than you think.

Next: Revolutionary Condescension