Wednesday, August 31, 2016

King's Survey: Hot Tea

In which we see History as a story of intended acts having unintended consequences—and ask how much sympathy we should have for the miscalculators.

 So look: we’ve been discussing this growing tension between the colonies and the British government, specifically Parliament. We talked about the French and Indian War and the costs it generated. We talked about the taxes and the boycotts. I think we should pause here for a minute and ask: Who’s right?
Paolo? Glad to see your raise your hand.
—The colonists.
Why is that?
—I think they’re right: the taxes are wrong if they don’t get a say.
Hmmm. I did tell you, did I not, that there were parts of England without representation? They weren’t protesting.
—That doesn’t make it right.
No, I suppose not. Jonah?
—I kinda think the British have a point. I mean, you gotta pay for the French and Indian war, right? Everybody’s gotta pitch in.
Well, yes. But the colonists had pitched in. They contributed resources and men to the war.
—But the British helped them out with the French and the Indians.
Oh really? I thought the colonists helped the British out.
—Well, they were all in it together, weren’t they?
That’s the point, isn’t it?
—What’s the point?
That they were all in it together.
Which is why the British need to recognize colonial rights.
—Yes, Jonah!
—No, Emily!
—I think we’re talking in circles.
How about that, Yin. Let’s change the subject. I want to introduce a couple people here. One is William Legge, also known as the Second Earl of Dartmouth (or “Dartmouth” for short). Dartmouth was the Secretary of State for the British Colonies in the early 1770s. Another is Frederick North, the Earl of Guildford, who was known as Lord North. He was the British Prime Minister straight through the 1770s. As far as I can tell, these weren’t bad guys, as guys running empires go. The growing suspicions of some colonists notwithstanding, they were not people who were trying to reduce the Americans to a state of utter despotism (to use the language of the time). In a way, the colonists were flattering themselves to think so: they in fact weren’t all that important compared to events taking place in Londonor, for that matter, Paris or Kingston, the capital of Jamaica. The King’s ministers were people who saw themselves with a job to do, and one part of that job was managing imperial finances. The colonists had made trouble for them, for sure. But with a little imagination, they believed, they could work around such difficulties and come up with satisfactory solutions. They’re like a lot of people you’ll meet in your life: distracted adults who don’t really care about youthey don’t hate you or wish you ill, but you’re just not that important.
—I know a few of those.
And one day, you’ll be one of them, Em. Anyway, America is only one of Lord North’s problems. Actually, one of his biggest in 1773 was in India.
Yes, Sadie, India. Over the course of the preceding decades, the British had established a strong commercial presence there. Sort of a similar story to the Americas: colonization on the cheap, in this case by giving a license to a corporation, the British East India Company. I can’t get into all the details now, but as a result of some conflicts and the company’s use of professional soldiers, the company actually gained control over the diwan, or right to collect taxes in a key part of that country. This made the British East India Company very rich, but also very unstable. And around 1772 it crashed and the British government had to bail it out. Which meant, among other things, that the government was now sitting on a vast pile of a particular luxury item: tea.
Right. The colonists were big tea drinkers.
Good, Yin; you remember. The tea surplus gave Lord North an idea: What if we took the tea, which right now is a dead loss, and sold it to the colonies at a discount? We could put a tax on it, too (it became a law: the Tea Act, passed in 1773), and it would still be a bargain: Starbucks double lattes, a buck apiece! Who wouldn’t like that? Gotta love it, right, Sadie?
—I guess so.
You guess so? What’s not to like?
Well, there’s a tax on it.
Well yeah. But it’s so cheap!
—But you said the other day it wasn’t just about the money. It was about who made the decisions.
Oh c’mon, Sadie. Don’t be such a stick in the mud. Dollar lattes!
—Where had the colonists been getting their tea from before this?
Ah, now, Adam, that’s an excellent question. Some of them had been buying it, the good stuff, from the British East India Company at full price. But where else and how else would they get tea?
Anyone? Here’s a hint: why was the Gaspee, the British ship I mentioned in the last class that was set on fire, doing off the coast of Rhode Island in the first place?
—Looking for people who were breaking the law.
Yin scores again! Which people breaking were the law?
And again! This girl does her homework! What this means, in effect, that there were at least two groups of people who were unhappy about those dollar lattes. The first were the people Sadie mentioned: those who were opposed to paying taxes on tea as a matter of principle. And the other, you might say, were unprincipled people whose illegal business was threatened by a legal business that suddenly could offer more of a bargain than the smugglers could (which of course was one reason Lord North was so pleased with himself). I’m talking about people like a merchant you may have heard of named John Hancock. He was a very rich man, most of that money inherited. But he was involved in all manner of shady business. As I mentioned to you when we discussed the Stamp Act, one of the weirder aspects of the American Revolution is the way it brought together political theorists, rich merchants, and street gangs, all of whom had a shared interest in challenging British authority.
—That is weird.
Gets weirder still, Sadie. The ships carrying all that tea began arriving in American ports in the fall of 1773. In Boston, the people I just mentioned were ready and waiting. And on December 16, 1773
—The Boston Tea Party.
—Gosh darn it, Kylie! You stole my punchline!
—Gosh darn it, Mr. K? You’ve got to be kidding.
—Of course he’s kidding, Ethan.
So what was the Boston Tea Party?
—A political protest?
Not a colossal act of vandalism?
—If you say so.
But what do you say? What would you call a group of hoodlums who dress up as Indians and toss a fortune in luxury tea into Boston harbor?
—I’d call it one good time.
Does that make you a Patriot, Emily?
—Well, I’ve never thought of myself as patriotic.
Well, we’re living through interesting times, Em. Are you really inclined to cast your lot with the mob? Do you really think that’s safe?
—Did anyone get punished for the Tea Party?
That’s not the point, Sadie. Sure, Emily here can party hearty and dump tea. Knock yourself out. But do you really think this mob is stable? That it won’t turn on you?
—I don’t think a mob would ever have a reason to turn on me.
Well, we can’t be sure now, can we, Sadie. Your buddy Emily is running with a dangerous crowd. What do you think the British are going to do now? Huh, “Good Time” Emily? Huh?
—Somehow, Mr. K., I’ve got this idea that you’re going to tell me.
You’re right. Because let me tell you something: You are in big trouble, young lady. Because the game has changed.
Because it’s not about the money anymore.
—But wasn’t that already true?
For the colonists, yes. But not for the British. Yes, there had been the Declaratory Act, which told them they must obey after the Stamp Act was withdrawn in response to protests. But the Declaratory Act had been toothless. For the Brits, it was primarily about the money: how are we going to get what we need? Let’s try and do it this way. Oh. This way didn’t work. So we’ll try that way. Oh. That way doesn’t work, either. Let’s try something else. And then the Tea Party happens, and it isn’t about the money anymore.
—So what is it about, then?
Obedience. Knowing your place. And paying for your mistakes“paying” not only in the financial sense, but in political and moral ones, too. Get ready for the hangover, “Good Time” Emily.
—Tomorrow, Mr. K. Tomorrow

Next: Revolting intolerance

Monday, August 29, 2016

King's Survey: Boycott Terrorism

Tarring and Feathering, 1774
In which we see how consumer activism can be pretty brutal
So we were talking about those angry colonists. Mad about their treatment—the disdain, the rules, (especially) the taxes. But what to do about it? How, if you’re a dependent colony that’s part of the most powerful empire on earth, do you get the government to pay attention to your grievances?
—You ask nicely?
—You blow up buildings?
—You write the Declaration of Independence?
—You do an interpretive dance?
Well, at one point or another in the fifteen or so years after 1765, you do any one of those things (with the possible exception of the interpretive dance, which might have been done in secret). But Sam Adams has another idea.
—Right. Sam Adams. The beer guy.
Yes. Like I told you, Adams wasn’t a very good businessman. But he was a truly brilliant social activist. He came up with a very compelling strategy that’s been with activists ever since: the boycott. Tell me: what’s a boycott?
 —That’s when you don’t buy stuff. To protest.
 Right. But how does it work?
 —Well, it’s like we’ll agree: we’re not going to buy this whatever. And no one does. And then the people who make the whatever have to give in or make changes in what they’re doing.
 Can you think of any examples?
—My dad says he used to boycott Nike shoes. To protest the factories. Slave labor. That kind of thing.
 Yes, that campaign got a fair amount of attention. As I recall, Nike did change its practices. But the boycotts that Sam Adams led were devastatingly effective. Say, Jonah, are those Adidas shoes you’re wearing?
—Yeah. They’re Stan Smiths. I play tennis.
 Oh you do, do you? Hey Em, didn’t we agree that we were going to boycott Adidas?
—We did?
Sure! You were at the meeting! I saw you! And Adam and Kylie and Brianna and Jonquil. There were dozens of us. We agreed: Adidas is evil. No more Adidas.
—Whatever you say, Mr. K.
 Hey, it’s not a matter of what I say. It’s a matter of what we agreed. Right? Though apparently Jonah thinks otherwise. I guess tennis isn’t a team sport.
—It is, though.
Well not as far as Jonah is concerned. It isn’t a team sport for him. Apparently   the rules don’t apply to Jonah. He’s special. Are you special, Jonah?
—They’re great shoes. My dad used to wear them. I’m not making a political statement or anything.
Hear that, class? Jonah says he’s not making a political statement. Maybe we need to educate Jonah.
 —How we gonna do that?
Well, I think we should pay Jonah a little visit. All of us. At three in the morning. We’ll find him at home then, don’t you think? Then we can make Jonahand his wife Jill, and his two little boys and that dog of his, Lucky—understand about Adidas. Such a cute dog. Would hate to see anything happen to Lucky.
 I see you understand, Yin. You would never make the mistake of wearing Adidas. None of us will. Right?
 —Was it really like that?
 It was. You ever hear of tarring and feathering?
  —What’s that?
   Tar is a very hot, sticky substance used to patch ships. It’s still used on roads.
  —That black stuff.
Yes, the black stuff. The Jonahs who didn’t get the message would have tar poured over their bodies. Then they’d be rolled in feathers to make them look ridiculous. Then they’d be hoisted on long ship masts and paraded around. You ever hear the expression “ride out of town on a rail?” It comes from tarring and feathering.
—What would happen to you when you got tar on you?
A lot of time you’d die.
—That’s disgusting. I can’t believe people did that.
Well, they did. But it didn’t usually come to that. The Jonahs usually got the message. Right, Jonah?
—Got it, Mr. K.
The boycotts against the Townshend Acts, especially in New England, were effectiveamazingly effective, really. And they defied British authority in precisely the way that hurt the British the most. The point of the laws was to raise revenue through taxes. But if you don’t buy anything, you don’t pay any taxes. To make matters worse, the British brought extra troops to Bostonin other words, they spent more money where the boycotts were threatening public order. The Townshend Acts were a bust, and in 1770, the British repealed them. The British were going to have to try again.
 —Couldn’t they compromise somehow?
Well, it was complicated, Sadie. There were ideas, even principles, at stake. Actually, there were some taxes colonists wanted to pay. They also claimed there were differences between those designed to regulate trade, which they did consider legal, and ones that were about raising revenue in which they had no say in how the money would be spent, which they didn’t.
—So what did they want to pay?
They wanted to tax themselves to pay for local officials, especially officials like their governors. They figured if such people owed their jobs to the colonists, rather than the British government in London, they would get better representation. Representation: that’s what a lot of this was about. The colonists were supposedly British citizens, and citizens were supposed to be represented in Parliament. But the colonists had no representatives in Parliament.
—What about Benjamin Franklin?
No. Franklin wasn’t an elected official. The British government said the colonists had virtual representation: their interests were taken into account. Nonsense, the colonists replied: you can’t tax us if we don’t get a vote. Another Massachusetts rabble-rouser named James Otis came up with a slogan: “No Taxation without Representation” in 1765. The British government argued that there were parts of Great Britain that didn’t have representation, either. Which was true; parliamentary districts in Britain were a mess in those days. There were lots of them known as “rotten boroughs” where a rich or influential person could buy a membership in Parliament. This sense of corruption was something the colonists were very aware of —very aware of, some would say paranoid aboutand objected to.
A pervasive atmosphere of distrust was taking root, and the presence of the British army in Boston was increasingly inflammatory. In 1765, the British Parliament passed the Quartering Act. The law required the colonists to provide lodging for soldiers who were stationed there, and if the barracks where they were supposed to stay weren’t sufficient, the colonists had to put up soldiers in places like inns, taverns, barns or other improvised locations.
—That kinda sucks.
Well, yes, Adam; this wasn’t an ideal situation for anybody, and the colonistsheirs to a longstanding British attitude that was partly the result of England’s luxury of relative isolation from European warsreally disliked the idea of standing professional armies in peacetime. One more way they felt like second-class citizens. The situation went on for years, and was particularly tetchy in Boston, where the Townshend Acts had led the British government to beef up security. In March of 1770, there was a notorious incident involving some boys and soldiers. Apparently the boys started out throwing snowballs at the soldiers. Then they put rocks in the snowballs. Then they dispensed with the snowballs altogether. The facts are a bit murky, but the upshot is that the soldiers fired on the crowd and killed three people and wounded eight. One of the victims was an African American sailor named Crispus Attacks; one might say he was the first casualty of the American Revolution.
—What happened to the British soldiers?
They were put on trial for murder. In a political masterstroke, Sam Adams convinced his cousin John to defend them.
—Why did he want that?
Because he wanted to show that the soldiers could get a fair trial in America. And John Adams did a great job: he won an acquittal, arguing that the frightened soldiers were backed into a corner and that what they did was a tragic mistake, not a crime.
—How did the people in Boston react to that?
Well, they called the event “the Boston Massacre,” which was an exaggeration. There was a silversmith in Boston named Paul Revere, who made an illustration of the event that was very dramatic and became quite famous. (We haven’t heard the last of Paul Revere.) But, overall, things cooled down a bit in the early 1770s. They were still tense elsewhere in New England. In June of 1772, colonials attacked a British ship, the Gaspee, which was cracking down on smuggling off the coast of Rhode Island. The incident was important because it showed that the British were having trouble enforcing mercantilist laws, and that the colonists were increasingly aggressive in resisting ones they didn’t like.
—You said this was in 1772?
Yes, Ethan.
—And the Boston Massacre was in 1770?
—So what was happening in between?
Well, Beethoven was born. In December of 1770.
—What does that have to do with anything?
—So why are you telling us that?
Well, in part because I don’t know what else to tell you. There were no big incidents in 1771, I can tell you that. As I told you the other day: time was a little slower back then. Weeks and months for information to go back and forth across the ocean and all that. Here’s one thing that was not happening, though: the British government wasn’t making any money off the colonies. And that remained a problem. Fortunately, there was a new prime minister with a brilliant plan. It would make everybody happy.
  —Uh oh.
   Uh oh is right. You’ll see why tomorrow.
Next: Who was right?

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