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The Pendulum of PoliticsToday's Politics from Yesterday's History
By Craig Parkinson
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Craig Parkinson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAmerican Independence
The American situation is unique in the world. The creation of colonies so far away from the existing government gave rise to a more independent administration of those colonies. The slowness of communication from London to the New World was a major factor. The fact that many of these colonies were started as business ventures and not just a new area to govern was also a factor. Several of the colonies were started by religious refugees, or at least we can call them dissidents from the majority of mainstream religious population; that too was a factor. For 150 years, the colonies made a bundle of money for the investors and the crown. That changed because of the world wide conflict with France in the 1760's. We call it the French and Indian War. In Europe, it is know as the Seven Years War. Even though Great Britain won, their financial coffers became strained and the government looked for tax relief from all of its subjects not just the home folks. It was the failure to ask us, the colonies, for the right to tax us, that was one of the major issues leading to the dissolution of our political ties with Great Britain and the beginning of our Independence.
Ben Franklin's cartoon showing most of the colonies as a cut up snake. Notice that the colonies kind of follow the shape of the actual coastlines. This was drawn in 1754 to unite the colonies against the French and Indians. It has been adapted and reused many times. The idea comes from a colonial superstition that a snake could come back to life if reunited by sunset. No information was found on why Georgia and Delaware are omitted from the map.
It all began with taxes
By being English subjects, the colonists felt that they had to abide by English Law but also they were entitled to enjoy the Rights of Englishmen. One of the most important laws had been in effect since 1215 when the English nobles forced King John, (the infamous Prince John of Robin Hood legend) to sign the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta said among other things, but most importantly, that the "King could not raise taxes without first consulting the Great Council of nobles and church leaders." Later, this Council was called Parliament.
Early on in the colonies, there was an under current against taxes as the Anglican Church was a state sponsored church and as such, got funds through taxes. People of other faiths or non church going people were still liable. In colonies like Massachusetts, being part of the church was required in order to be able to vote. In this light, it is even more remarkable that around 1750, Jonathan Mayhew, a minister in Boston, is reported to have been the first to say "no taxation without representation." In 1765, James Otis of Boston is sometimes given the credit when he said; "Taxation without representation is tyranny!" Most of the members of the British Parliament and the Kings Council thought that the colonies did have representation just like women and children who could not vote had representation, something called "virtual representation". It is obvious now that the colonists didn't agree.
Thus taxes played a pivotal role in our story. Nobody likes taxes but everybody wants the government to do something during a crisis. Modern politicians routinely bring up the cry of no new taxes but they seem to omit the part, "without representation." Many people of today think the colonists were against all taxes and thus they should be. In fact, this belief is shown in some of the ads for debt relief and settlement of tax claims that appear on some current T.V. channels. They all seem to demand immediate action if some disaster happens to hit their state. I wonder if they focus on where that money actually comes from. Proof that the colonists would pay their taxes comes from a line of the Liberty Song. It was written in 1768 by John Dickinson the future author of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.
"Chorus: In Freedom we're born and in Freedom we'll live. Our purses are ready. Steady, friends, steady; Not as slaves, but as Freemen our money we'll give."
Dickinson's lines state that they will pay but only as free men.
John Dickinson believed that we would only succeed if we placed the good of the nation above our own concerns.
One of the first taxes on the colonies was the Sugar Act of 1764. This was a tax on molasses that was imported from the Dutch or French West Indies to make rum in the New England distilleries. The distillers thought the tax would cut too deeply into their profit margin. The other tax was the Stamp Act of 1765. They were taxes to help pay 1/3 of the cost of having around 10,000 soldiers to protect the colonies from attacks by the French, Spanish and the Indians after the French and Indian War. They were also required to outfit the troops with bedding, cooking utensils etc. This was passed in England "in 1765 with less opposition than a turnpike bill." At this time, a turnpike is synonymous with a road or highway today; later on a turnpike became a toll road. So the inference was that the Parliament didn't think that these taxes were any major issue. Boy, were they wrong. Opposition to this tax in the colonies led to the Stamp Act Congress. The Congress brought representatives from nine colonies to New York where they met and wrote petitions to the King and to Parliament. The petitions were largely ignored but the boycott of English goods that cut trade by 14% was not ignored by the British. The Stamp Act was repealed, but new taxes passed called the Townsend Acts. Regardless of the tax, the point was still the same. No taxation without representation was the colonial claim and Great Britain maintained the right to tax the people in its colonies.
All of this cajoling was bringing the colonies closer together. It forced them to organize. They joined groups like the Sons of Liberty or the Daughters of Liberty. Later Sam Adams organized the Committees of Correspondence. Boston was the seat of most of the turmoil so Great Britain sent troops there to help keep things under control. The presence of the troops just riled up the citizens of Boston more. One evening on March 5th 1770 a young lad made some disparaging remarks about a British soldier and the soldier retaliated with the butt of his gun. Angry townspeople started to gather and there were more words and some snowballs hurled at the troops.
Paul Revere's engraving of the Boston Massacre was actually absconded from fellow patriot Henry Pelham. Revere got his copies made and to the street faster. It was sent around to all of the colonies with the intent to incite them. Notice the fallacies of this engraving changing the truth. Captain Preston of the guard looks like he is ordering the troops to fire. The troops respond with an organized volley. The building behind the troops is not Butchers Hall. It is taking place in daylight and not at 9 p.m. The dead patriot closest to the troops is Crispus Attucks, an Afro-American made to look white. Even the colonial dog didn't run away from the fight even with gun fire.
Hugh Montgomery: Was one of the convicted British soldiers, (a private) who after his conviction and punishment admitted that after he was knocked down he yelled "Damn you, Fire!" 5 Bostonians were killed in the ensuing fire from the British Soldiers before Captain Preston could stop them. This incident is known as the Boston Massacre. Future President John Adams was Hugh Montgomery's lawyer. This showed that colonial concerns were not with the British People but with the King and the British Government.
The Boston Tea Party was a statement against a tax on tea that had been passed in Parliament for which the colonists did not have a single representative. It was passed in part to help the huge East India Tea Company that was nearly broke. Great Britain lowered the cost of the tea because so much was being smuggled into the colonies from the Dutch at a much lower price. The East India Company had warehouses full of tea and they also had powerful lobbyists to get Parliament to make a new deal. The new price was lower than the Dutch even when including a small tax on the tea. The price didn't matter as not only did the colonists throw the tea overboard, they also boycotted the buying of tea from the British. Dressed as Mohawk Indians, the Bostonians didn't damage any other cargo on the ships; they just unloaded the tea directly into the bay. Nine days later, another "Tea Party" happened in Delaware.
Drinking tea or the classical 'tea time' has long been a British tradition. The boiling of and drinking of tea in the colonies was practical in some places because of poor water purity, so a boycott was a major individual commitment. The colonists took the taxing without representation very seriously. The British didn't have a clue and after the tea parties, Great Britain felt that they had to enforce the law. The situation just kept escalating. What would have happened if Great Britain would have granted the colonist limited representation in Parliament? Let's say if the British would have granted the colonies one member of Parliament or better yet, one member per colony? Would one member per colony really have upset British political power? I think that solution would have worked better for Great Britain and would have been cheaper than losing the American colonies in a very expensive war.
Chapter TwoThe ascendancy of Confederation and its downfall
Because of our experience with a strong, despotic and authoritative centralized British government, the new and independent former colonies, fought for and institutionalized a confederation of states. These states basically thought themselves to be independent, but collected together to fight against British tyranny. They had been brought together by the Committees of Correspondence and the Sons of Liberty. And when shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, a new country was born; it was governed by the Second Continental Congress. Even though it began as a loose association of states, still the Congress assumed command of the army and placed George Washington as Commander and Chief of the Continental Army. This was done even before the Declaration of Independence was written. The colonists were gradually becoming Americans. Very early on the colonists realized that the only hope they had of survival was dependence, (not independence) upon each other.
Great Britain helped us by fighting a regional war trying to defeat the American rebels. They greatly underestimated our resolve and the British were unable to coordinate an all out attack on America. Basically, the British first attacked the American Colonies in New England, then in the Middle Colonies and finally in the South. They never could get it together. They could win battles but Washington and the army would get away. When all seemed lost, a surprising victory like at Trenton would keep the Revolution going. Although no one area completely carried the burden, it was easier for the Continental Congress to raise money in one area if the British were attacking there. Finally, with the help of the French, Washington and the Continental Army defeated Lord Cornwallis at the battle of Yorktown and for all practical purposes ended the Revolutionary War. After being victorious in the revolution, however; we were left with a mountainous debt.
In John Trumbull's painting of the surrender of the British one can see George Washington to the right. Lord Cornwallis was too indisposed to surrender. His second in command, General O'Hara tried to surrender to the French Commander Comte de Rochambeau to the left. He would not take the surrender. Next O'Hara tried to give the surrender sword to Washington, he also refused. Finally because he was also second in command, General Lincoln received the surrender ending for all practical purposes the war. As the British laid down their arms, their band played the song, 'The World Turned Upside Down!'
The Continental Congress had begun to think of ways of governing as the Revolutionary War began. They asked the states to write new constitutions. This was done in most states by simply adjusting the state charters by eliminating all reference to the crown and in some states adding a Bill of Rights for the citizens. With these models in hand, John Dickinson from Pennsylvania penned a majority of the rules of the new government. It is known as the Articles of Confederation but its official name is the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. Each state had one equal vote and before anything could be done, 9 of the 13 states had to agree. The Congress was in charge and it was a unicameral, that is, it had only one house in the legislature. Today, only the State of Nebraska operates its legislature with the unicameral form. It took a while for it to be signed as Maryland held out until all of the states that had claims of westward expansion gave up those claims. Maryland officially signed the Articles on March 1, 1781.
Constitutions are common place now but The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were remarkable for a couple of reasons. The Articles were the first written constitution of a major area, a country. They had a novel idea of separating the supreme power of a state. The articles called for a division of power between the states and the nation.
The government under the Second Continental Congress and eventually the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union operated successfully during a war, without money, without a model to use as a guide and through the actions of people who had little experience in national self government. Compared to other revolutionary governments in History, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was very successful. The contemporary French 'Reign of Terror' revolution would be the best example showing, by comparison, the success of the Articles.
However: many short comings of the Articles were soon very apparent. Every state was equal regardless of the number of people or the value of its territory. It had no Executive or Judiciary rule and it could not tax nor regulate commerce. For example, if two states quarreled about borders or trade, who would solve the problem? Who was in charge? Most of the time, it was Congress who was in charge. To get action from any group can take time and get complicated. Like the old saying says, "A camel was a horse created by a committee." The more views on a committee, the longer and more complicated the issue becomes.
Excerpted from The Pendulum of Politics by Craig Parkinson Copyright © 2011 by Craig Parkinson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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