The Boston Tea Party of 1773

In this week’s blog post I thought that I would go into a period that I myself have yet to explore; the eighteenth century. A century filled with events such as the American War of Independence and the beginning of the French Revolution and key figures such as Jane Austin, Benjamin Franklin and Edward Teach aka the pirate Blackbeard. Whilst my first thoughts were to look at Blackbeard the pirate, I have chosen to write on the topic of the Boston Tea Party in 1773 because of its historical importance in both American and British history.

The Boston Tea Party took place on the 16th December 1773 when 200 men, some dressed as native Indians, boarded three ships owned by the East India Company in Boston port and dumped the cargos of tea into the harbour. The cause of this unrest can be traced back earlier to the 1760s and 1770s with various laws coming into place from England concerning American trade and taxation.  The Townsend Acts of 1767 brought into accord laws of taxation on various luxuries such as glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. The American colonists responded that they would not pay them because they had no representation in English politics. The English parliament retracted the Acts, though the tax duties on tea remained as they were.  In May 1773 parliament, seeing the falling influence and power on the East India Company, gave them the rights to import tea into America.  As one of the most popular non-alcoholic drinks available to the British colonies, tea was shipped across the world and it was therefore believed that the colonists would gladly pay for tea than not have it.  The colonists would also pay a cheaper price for the tea as the duty tax placed on tea was also reduced.  On the other hand if the colonists paid the duty tax on the imported tea then they would be recognising Parliaments right to tax them.

The turning point came with the arrival of tea laden ships into the colonies ports. The shipments to New York and Philadelphia were turned away, whilst the three ships sent to Boston were accepted with utter resentment. The tea ships presence in Boston rallied 7000 local men to call for the removal of the tea ships and the duty not to be paid. However the customs collector said that the tea ships would not leave without the duty tax thus the ships remained where they were.  Rounding things together, on the evening of 16th December the tea supplies on the three ships was dumped in the port and the spark of revolution had been ignited. This almost small event created a chain of events that would led to the signing on the American Independence; the Battle of Lexington in 1775 and the retreat of a British force after an engagement with patriot troop and the capture of Fort Ticonderoga also in 1775 and the surrender of the British garrison without bloodshed. The Battle of Princeton, New Jersey in 1776 was the turning point in the campaign for freedom as the future first President of America George Washington defeated a British army on 3rd May. Finally the surrender of a large British army at Yorktown in 1781, six years later to a joint American and French force culminated in peace signing and the eventual creation of American Independence in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris.

This landmark event in history is therefore very important because it created or at least pushed forward a movement that would help found a nation. Whilst the Boston Tea Party was aimed at removing British taxes, it achieved some much more and helped encourage ideas of freedom and independence for the American colonists. Thanks for reading and apologies for this rather short blog entry.

Sources;

http://www.boston-tea-party.org/

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/buildingamerica.htm

http://www.bostonteapartyship.com

The last site on this list has been suggested by Mitch and is a link to the Boston Tea Party Ship Museum in Boston. Take a look =)

An Honest Man – President Stephen Grover Cleveland

This is the story of a quite unique come back. In fact is as unique as to be the only time that such a thing has happened in the U.S. history. This is the story of President Stephen Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States of America.
Grover Cleveland was also Mayor of Buffalo and Governor of New York prior to the assumption of the presidency. And he was consider an honest man, at such an extent as to survive politically to the constantly spread rumors of his spawning of a multitude of children outside his marriage which, in a cultural and political environment as straightforward as the United States one, could be considered almost miraculous.
What is more interesting is that Cleveland won the popular vote three consecutive times, in 1884, 88, and 92, but was defeated, probably because of fraud, in the electoral vote in 1888(fortunately for me, who now have a theme for this article, but no so for Cleveland). Alas, this was a case of a great woman behind a maybe not so great a man: allegedly, when Frances, Cleveland’s wife, was leaving the White House, she told to a member of the staff to take good care of everything in the House, because she wanted to find everything just as it was when “coming back four years from today”. It turned out to be just as she said.
Speaking of unique events, the 1892 campaign was extraordinary: clean, quiet, with no accusations of fraud and, in fact, no actual campaigning on the part of the main candidates. Republican candidate Harrison’s wife was dying of tuberculosis, what lead to her husband not campaigning personally; to his credit, Cleveland decided to do as well not to take advantage of Mrs. Harrison’s illness. Then Cleveland won, for the first and only time, his second non-consecutive term as President of the United States.
We are not to discuss his policies, that not being the theme of our current series, but it is important to mention what was one of his favorite sayings: I just have one thing to do, and that is to do the right thing. For us, 21st Century people, hearing that from the mouth of a politician would probably result in a burst of laughter, but the important thing here is that Cleveland really believed in what he said. And thus, he was able to come back from the civil world to the Presidency even against a great portion of his own Party, and reject another attempt when he was in open conflict with his Party political platform. Amidst an era of Republican holding of the Presidency, Cleveland was probably a nice brushing of politics even inside his own party. Coming to that, is sad to think that, against his own party, and against the political and economic tendencies of our days, Grover Cleveland would have been, most probably, a simple outsider, or a thorn in the side of the system. Well, if you think of it as it is, maybe we need more Cleveland’s now than they do back in the XIXth century…
So, this was probably, an honest man. Surely, a come back master. Hopefully an example to follow.

Review: The Plot Against America

The clue for a good book in alternate History is the point from which a new History emerges; the key to success is plausibility.
That, exactly, is what Phillip Roth achieves in “The plot against America”: Roosevelt is defeated before he even had the possibility of getting the USA in WWII. And not only is he defeated; his rival is a charismatic aviation hero, Charles Lindbergh, with a political platform broadly based on nationalism, traditional values and, that is the main point, isolationism. What happens, then?
The novel, being narrated from the point of view of a Jewish kid, describes accurately the confusion of a surprising victory and the split in a society very opinionated and with issues of its own unsolved since the Great Crash. The isolationism was, and somewhat still is a very strong political movement in the States. There is quite a lot of citizens who think that, for the USA, the entanglement with European affairs could only end in disgrace, especially when those affairs where of a warlike condition. Even our main character’s family has its inner fights about cooperation with the new administration, which brings out the matter of collaboration, so important during the world conflict and the post-war years.
But what gives the biggest shock to History, is the new political profile of the United States’ Government; not only it will not approve to intervene in the war, the relations with the Nazis improve, and some kind of cooperation is even suggested. Which brings out the Jewish affair. How are Jews to be treated under the new, Nazi-friendly administration? Well, not exactly in the best of ways.
Little by little, with everyday examples, Roth brings to life drastic changes for the Chosen People. Anti-Semitism surges and gains strength, life is becoming worse for Jews, there is even a Maoism-like re-education program for young Hebrews, and violence is just waiting a spark to burn fiercely. The growing tension is explained not only from the eyes of our young friend, but particularly from the description of a media war between pro-Government and Jewish journalists, which, obviously enough, ends up utterly bad with the assassination of the leading Hebrew journalist…
This is probably the most anticlimactic point in the novel. Suddenly after this hot moment, Lindbergh disappears in one of his propaganda flights across the Nation, and amazingly quickly everything turns back to what we can call somewhat ordinary day life. Strange enough; it seems like Roth himself was feeling sick of how near was his story of what as well could have been History, considering the strength of the isolationist movement in the USA during the first half of the XX century, thus he decided to put an abrupt end to all that madness and suffering…
In few words: if what you are looking for is a good story, with suspense, tension, drama and a deep involvement in ethical and political issues, this is a must read, without doubt. Moreover, I think that this must be a compulsory reading for any would be Historian interested in what happened not only in Europe, but in the world in general, in reference to the sad story of the Hebrew People, because is a very likely translation of the actions that Nazi Government take in turn in Germany. But, my dear reader, if what you want to know is how fear, hatred and ignorance, melted with economic crisis, can actually transform a free society in a turmoil first read the book; then have a walk in your own town, and look around. Phillip Roth will walk with you giving you hints of where to look and discover the seeds of evil.

Into The Wilderness – Pierre-Esprit Radisson

Curiously enough, if you type the word Radisson in Google searches, you will be directed to a hotel. There is some poetry in the fact that, searching for an explorer and adventurer from the past, you may go on some adventurous (we hope) voyage nowadays. But the point is that Radisson, Pierre-Esprit Radisson, or his companion and brother-in-law, Medard des Groseilliers, are not precisely well-known heroes of the Age of Discovery.

They belong to the XVII century, which is a pity, given that the next two centuries were, allegedly, the golden era of exploration, and the two prior were the era of Columbus and the Spanish conquistadores. Bur, alas, it seems that the XVII is gone blank in what respects to what the discovering of new lands or the adventure of travelling in the wilderness was at the moment, not being thermal clothes and GPS devices available

Another trouble with Radisson is that, albeit he wrote a volume on his travels, everyone regards it with some suspicion of non accuracy, not allowing comparison with the astounding success of Franklin and his account of his own polar expeditions. Yet another one is the known fact that the man was a consummate turncoat: he changed allegiances several times between England and France, which, at the time, was the worst thing a man could do to earn himself a good reputation. In subsequent centuries, as capitalism became the dominant philosophy, that would not be considered such a crime, as far as it is motivated by profit. But this is still the XVII century.

So, by now, we have a perfect stranger somewhat related with modern age mass tourism, a liar, and a well-known turncoat. Then, you may well think, who are you trying to pass as a hero? There is nothing heroic in Radisson…

But there is a lot of heroic stuff about Radisson. As a boy, he was captured by Mohawk Indians, then adopted. Late in his life, while hunting he was captured by white men and tortured, the kind of thing Indians, not Europeans, were supposed to do. In spite of his previous bad experience, he decided freely to go back to the white settlements, serving as an interpreter, which may count as his first (or second) turning of the coat. Later on , always with Groseilliers, he explored the wilderness of what now is Canada, in extension, established first contact with the Sioux tribe, were caught by Dutch privateers while on the Atlantic, spent years in still unknown locations, exploring, travelling, trading with the natives, making some profit that the always changing laws reduced very much in the way of taxes and fines.

That was a reason for changing masters. In the end, they were just trying to earn a living, and if the English could pay better…simple entrepreneurship. Besides the knowledge and the political support that Radisson and Groseilliers gained in England led to the creation of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which was to be capital to the colonization of the North, back there in America.

Certainly, he changed sides again when a great French offer was put on the table. But the truth was that everyone in France had second thoughts about the duo, and Radisson ended as a midshipman in the very unfortunate d’Estrées Fleet, almost dying drowned at Las Aves disaster. So, he spent his later years, coming back and forth between America and Europe and English and French allegiance, always trading furs, always having problems with taxes, licenses, political problems, war, peace ( when peace could be a disturbance for business it is that something has gone completely wrong). Even with a very patriotic father in law who would not allow his English daughter, and Radisson’s wife, to go and live with his husband in France any time he was serving the French.

What, then, made a hero of Pierre-Esprit Radisson? The fact that better men, in not so appalling circumstances, surrendered or fell through while he kept on doing what he did best: trade in furs and, in the meantime, unveil a large portion of the American continent. And all through this, he seemed not resentful to whatever life throw upon him, or the mistreatment his always suspicious masters could inflict. He complained, of course, but he kept business as usual going were the money was without a fuss. He persevered, through thick and thin, trying to make a living in and off the wilderness. Surely enough, he was not a very ethical man, he did not achieve glory, lands or wealth beyond imagination. But he was a common man, under not really common circumstances, and he did well enough to get three cities and a hotels group named after him. A common hero, although a seeming contradiction, is something quite rare to see since being a hero began to be a profession itself; welcome then, Pierre Radisson, a common, defective, plain, sometimes detestable man. A hero of truly human scale.

“The Rock of Chickamauga”

Most possibly, you have not heard about the life and deeds of General George Henry Thomas. But you might have read his nickname somewhere. And that is a powerful one if ever there was, being “The Rock of Chickamauga”.

Thomas was some kind of hero, then, or he surely would not had earned such a sobriquet. And we have notice of many a general who has been elevated to the heroic category, so what is the problem with Thomas? If you are not interested in the American Civil War you may well not heard about him in your life, while you are to know some other general’s name even if you are not familiar to their times or circumstances. That is because, as almost in any other aspect of History, there are always secondary actors forgotten by the majority of us. Even such a hero( for some; categorising someone as a hero is always tricky, at the least) or at least a military genius as Bonaparte depended strongly on his Marechals, and he had to thank Louis Nicholas Davout, perhaps the best of them, for the victory at Jena-Auerstadt which stands as one of the most resounding in Napoleon’s career. So, why is this hero hidden from our eyes?

There are some characteristics in Thomas that make him not a fancy-full hero. He tried to keep away from politics; in fact he went as far as to reject his promotion to the rank of lieutenant-general because he had a hint that it was going to be a step to take him to the position of General in Chief. Had he had the desire of meddling in the political environment of the Reconstruction period, as, for instance, Grant was eager to do, he surely had accepted the offering. He kept protecting freedmen from white abuses and even protected African-American population from the Ku-Klux-Klan after the war was over, in contrast with many a Union officer who thought it was not worthy spilling white blood for them. Even, on the contrary that many top brass along History, he had no desire for posterity: he even destroyed his private papers saying he did not want “his life hawked in print for the eyes of the curious”[http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootbearwdc/215402201/]. We must consider this in the view of the somewhat amazing profusion of memoirs published after the war by its main (or not so) characters. In addition, Thomas decided to remain loyal to his country as a whole and not to his place of birth, what in a Civil War always requires a very strong sense of duty and some deep-rooted determination.

But, above all, what surfaces from a close view of Thomas’ life is ethics, not always freely available on the military. His well-earned nickname came from a rearguard action in a battle badly fought, worse managed by the Commander of the army, and thus lost . But a defeat could rapidly turn to a complete rout, and that kind of thing is known to have changed the course of many a war…General Thomas, the suspected pro-southerner on the eve of the war, the man called “Slow trot” by his very own cadets, made a choice. He decided, having received orders to retreat, better to keep his corps’s position in order to secure the orderly retreat of the whole army, gathering scattered units on Horseshoe Ridge, and thus probably saving the future of the Army of the Cumberland as an operative unit. That was a truly ethical choice, at the moment, considering he had his Commander’s order to get back, but pondering that, in doing so, he was merely trading his safety and that of his men for the life of too many others.

That is, I think, the kind of choice one expects from heroes. Yes, a hero must do heroic things, like winning and defeating enemies. But a real hero makes the difficult choice in the darkest hour, and keeps on doing it against all circumstances, despite glory, covers in the magazines, or posterity claims. In doing what he did at Chickamauga, Thomas showed he was made of the blood of heroes. In what he did after the war, he showed that a hero is sometimes silent, discreet, and diligent to the task entrusted, regardless of the seeming importance of it. While many others fought a war and then forget the whys, as victors, Thomas kept on fighting to assure some of the achievements that had such a toll for his fellow countrymen: end of slavery, democracy, independence of the institutions. In the meantime, most of his countrymen were going in the opposite direction, consenting on segregation, tampering with Presidential elections and forgetting to protect the weak and the poor.

It is tough to be a hero. To be an ethical hero, more so coming from the military, is an outstanding achievement, even if all you did was your work, with dedication, loyalty and a non compromising attitude towards what must be done. Now, obviously, there is no grand Thomas Memorial, no epic tombstone, even no great memories except for those familiar with the American Civil War. I guess, wherever he might be, General George Henry Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga, must be very pleased with that.

The Boston Massacre?

The Webster dictionary defines a massacre as “ the act or an instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty”. So, historically, that is what happened on March 5, 1770, in Boston, thus triggering a chain of consequences that sparked the American Revolution. But, what really happened?

First of all, what happened was that there was a Government, a colonial one in this case but it could have been any kind of uncompromising Government, anxious to get a firm control of what it saw as a bunch of not specially law-abiding citizens…particularly in what was related to taxes. So it created the Townshend Acts to enforce its taxing powers over the Colonies, which in turn was seen as an act of utmost aggression by the politically aware citizens of those Thirteen Colonies which were to achieve eternal fame.

Then you have to put some soldiers in the equation. You cannot possibly enforce anything without some good ol’ redcoats. So from 1768 on, Boston was in fact an occupied city with a force mounting from two to four regiments and a fifty cannon vessel to control it and its apparently seditious population. As it has been happening, to no surprise except to those in power, throughout History, these measures lead to a constant growing of petty incidents, tension and animosity between civilians and the military. And the spark, eventually, started a fire somewhere…

Apparently, all was just a bad prank or joke, maybe just a cocky young man playing the braggart a bit too far. A wigmaker’s apprentice by the name of Edward Gerrish accused loudly and publicly some Captain Goldfinch of not being able to pay his bills, which, not being true, the officer let drop without a comment. It seems that, not getting the attention he was seeking, the young agitator kept complaining and insulting the officer in front of a sentry private, in the company of some sidekicks. A couple of hours later, patience gone, the sentry, Private White, gave the boy a wallop. This means war, man, or something of the kind was said, and with all the crying out, soon the street was crowded with angry Bostonians looking for a good brawl.

Finally, the Officer of the Day, Captain Preston, dispatched a relief column, an outstanding red coat tradition, to help White and Goldfinch control the demonstration, now numbering some three to four hundred people. This was the moment, so familiar now through CNN and BBCWORLD, for stones, snowballs, and some other debris launched against the soldiers. One of them was hit with a club by a tavern keeper in a very Scorsesian way, and that was it. He recovered, got on his feet and repelled the aggression firing his musket. No order was given by the officers, but surrounded, outnumbered and under pressure, some other soldiers opened fire, with the result of eleven hits. Three of the rioters were shot dead: Samuel Gray, James Caldwell and Crispus Attucks. Sam Maverick and Patrick Carr died in the aftermath. No soldier gave his life for king and country, though. Obviously, outrage ensued.

But now, let’s go back to the dictionary. According to it, a massacre involves the killing of unresisting or helpless people. Was that a massacre, then? Or an act of self-defense? Most probably the facts are that a somewhat, even rudimentary, armed mob surrounded, threatened and finally began to assault a much minor armed military force in the grounds of a lesser offence sparkled for what we can surely consider an act of provocation. The result of it, as the soldiers saw their lives at risk, was a non purposeful firing, aiming more to stop the assault than to exterminate an enemy.which, at the moment, looked wild and dangerous.

Then, as we are always told, History is always written by the victors. And this incident was turned into a Massacre of civilians by a bloodthirsty army. Which probably was not. Anyway, that is the way reality is made, and the way History is presented sometimes and struck definitely the imagination of people, and the hidden revolutionary forces had now their first martyrs and a just cause to fight their cruel oppressors. Even in the case, as it was, that the soldiers had to stand trial and were mostly acquitted, with the exception of two who were found guilty of manslaughter in the event of having shot directly at the crowd.

Interestingly enough, what today would be tantamount to a declaration of war, as we can see in the news while the Governments in Europe and EEUU cry for the breaking up of the Gadaffi Government after its armed forces killed a still unknown number of civilians amidst the fighting against the uprising forces, was then just another nail for the coffin. No International Community was in the position to ask for responsibilities to His Gratious Majesty’s Government; no oil supply was at risk, no cruel dictator was abusing his own people with the weapons we have sold…That was then, the Revolutionary elites were not comfortable with this behaviour, even if it was obviously beneficial for the cause; they were a bunch of educated leaders not willing to take the risk of being overwhelmed by the rabble. So that was it. A crying out, a provocation…and three more years of piling up resentment till Boston Tea Party. To those non familiar to historical affairs and their political treatment it could look as if American elites were far more worried about taxes than human lives, specially, if the mentioned human lives were, as John Adams, later a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the second President of the United States, put it during the trial as defender of the English soldiers: “a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes, and mulattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs”.

But that is sometimes the problem with History: it is not always a black and white subject. The repercussions of a simple act could, on the long run, alter our perspective or notion of that same act till finally distorting it utterly. Hence the necessity of careful research, reading and the use of different points of view, lest we forget what happened…