Monday, October 19, 2009

Taxing propositions

In which we see Ms. Bradstreet seek advice on how to deal with intractable charges

The Maria Chronicles, #16

"So, Ms. Bradstreet, are we gonna have that pop quiz you talked about yesterday?"

"No, not today, Ali."

"Damn! I did all the reading and am ready to go."

"Not today," Zoe observes. "So maybe tomorrow?"

"Yes, maybe tomorrow."

"And maybe not," says Derek, looking out the window as he does so. "Maybe not next week, either."

"So when, then?" asks Ali.

"Guess you'll just have to stay in suspense," Maria says with a smile. "Tune in tomorrow for another episode of American History Now."

"What's American History Now?" Peter asks.

"Just a joke," Maria says, walking over to her computer. She clicks to open up an excerpt from the Stamp Act Resolves of 1765 and looks at the class expectantly until it's quiet enough for her to proceed. Then, without explanation, she begins reading:

The members of this Congress, sincerely devoted with warmest sentiments of affection and duty to His majesty’s person and Government, inviolably attached to the present happy establishment of the Protestant succession . . . esteem it our indispensable duty to make the following declarations of our humble opinion . . . .

I. That His Majesty’s subjects in these colonies owe the same allegiance to the Crown of Great Britain that is owing from his subjects born within the realm, and all due subordination to that august body the Parliament of Great Britain.

Maria in increasingly firm, aggressive, and hostile voice:

II. That His Majesty’s liege subjects in these colonies are instilled to all the inherent rights and Liberties of his natural born subjects within the kingdom of Great Britain.

III. That it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people, and the undoubted right of Englishmen, that no taxes are imposed on them but with their own consent, given personally or by their representatives.

IV. (snarl) That the people of these colonies are not, and from their local circumstances cannot be, represented in the House of Commons in Great Britain . . . .

She reverts back to a sweet, imploring tone:

Lastly, That it is the indispensable duty of these colonies to the best of sovereigns, to the mother country, and to themselves, to endeavor by a loyal and dutiful address to His Majesty, humble applications to repeal the [Stamp] Act . . . .

"So kids," Maria says, back to a normal voice, "what's going on here?"

"They're trying to ask nicely for what they want," Mia says.

"No, they're demanding what they want," Kenny says.

"Well, actually," says Willie, "they're doing both."

"You think that's a good strategy, Willie?"

"I don't know," she says. "I'm not sure what a good strategy really is in this situation. I guess if you're trying to assert your rights you should probably also claim to be loyal."

"Just so," Maria responds. "But let me ask you this: from the British government's point of view, what's the whole issue between England and the colonies really about?"

A brief pause. "Money," she hears someone say.

"Right," she says, locking eyes on Kenny and nodding, because she thinks he was the one. "Money. That's what the Stamp Act was about. Raising revenue to pay for the long and expensive world war that was finally won in America. As we know -- because we've all done the reading, right? -- the Stamp Act didn't end up making any because all the colonists hemmed and hawed about all their rights and liberties and yada yada yada. So Parliament repeals the Stamp Act. But when it does so, it also issues the Declaratory Act." Maria taps the Smart Board and it comes up on the screen. She begins reading again:

WHEREAS several of the houses of representatives in his Majesty’s colonies and plantations; and have of late, against Law . . . passed certain votes, resolutions, and orders, derogatory to the legislative authority of parliament, and inconsistent with the dependency of the said colonies and plantations upon the crown of Great Britain…be it declared…that the said colonies and plantations in America have been, are, and of right ought to be, subordinate unto, and dependent upon the imperial crown and parliament of Great Britain . . .

Again she breaks off abruptly. "OK: So what's happening here?"

"They're telling the Americans who's boss," Mia says.

"Well they're saying who's boss, Mia. But what are they doing?"

"They repealed the law."

"Right. Make sense to you?"

"I dunno."


Maria purses her lips and thinks for a moment. Then she walks over to Jose. He's been quiet, but she thinks he's up for what she has in mind.

"Look at you," she says to him in disgust, half the class alarmed and the other half amused. "You come home at three in the morning, never return my calls to your cell, and I can smell the beer on your breath. Well now, you've really done it, son. I'm throwing the book at you. Next time I'm gonna . . . well . . . never do that again!"

She turns to the rest of the class. "What's your reaction?"

"You need to do more than that," Peter says.


"Because that's not going to solve the problem."

"Really?" Maria turns to Jose. "So Jose, are you terrified?"

"Yeah," he says, laughing, a little uneasy but willing to play along.

"And what's going to happen next Saturday night?"

"I do it again?" Maria is amused that he's trying to guess the right answer.

"You see?" Peter says. "You haven't solved the problem."

"Well, maybe not, Peter. But here I have to ask you: What is the problem?"

Peter looks confused. No one is coming to his aid.

Then: "Money."

It's Derek. He's still looking out that damn window, refusing to engage directly. Still, Maria considers it a good sign that he's volunteered a comment.

"Right. Money. The Brits could try to assert themselves and demand that the colonists behave, but the fact is that imperial coffers are empty and they need to be filled. So what should they do?"

"Try again?" Mia asks.

"Exactly. Try again. So they impose a new round of taxes on lead, glass, paper, and tea, laws that become known collectively as the Townshend Acts. Do they work?"

"Nope," says Peter.

"No they do not. Why not?"

"Because the colonists, led by Samuel Adams, lead a boycott," Willie says.

"I didn't get that," Max says. "How did that work?"

Maria takes a moment to describe the work of Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty in Boston, and techniques they used that were widely adopted elsewhere. She explains that the boycotts once again deprived the British of revenue. And so Parliament repealed most of those taxes, too. Except the one on tea. By the time she gets through with this, class is almost over.

"Well, kids, we're really in a fix now. We make a reasonable request of these people, and when we do they scream all about their rights in the empire. We say fine, you have a problem with that, we'll come up with something else. And when we do, they scream all over again. Sure, we could punish them, but how are we going to solve our money problem?"

"Let's invade France," A.J.says, half serious. "They've got money."

"Well, not really, A.J. They're broke, too, and their failure to deal with their problems is soon going to cost the French government big time. Besides, wars cost a lot of money. That's how we got into this mess in the first place. Trying to save those damned ungrateful colonists."

"Wait," Willie says. "In the French and Indian War, were the British fighting to protect the colonists, or were the colonists fighting for the British?"

"Exactly," Willie.


"Exactly," Maria says. "But enough of your irrelevant questions," she says to Willie, with a wink. Maria gazes up at the rest of the class. Your homework for tomorrow is to come up with a workable colonial policy that allows Britain to maintain political control over the colonies while coming up with necessary revenue to pay for the war. Answer in no more than 100 words; I'll be calling on you at random tomorrow."

"Are you serious?" Ali asks, alarmed.

"Of course," Maria says. "You're bright kids. How hard could it be to maintain an empire?"