J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rape as a Cause of the American Revolution?

Earlier this month The National Journal ran a profile of Rep. Todd Akin, now running for the U.S. Senate in Missouri with the on-again/off-again support of the national Republican Party.

Over the summer Akin stated that rape caused a woman’s body to “shut that whole thing down” and prevent conception, with the logical conclusion that there’s little need for “Plan B” birth control or abortion for rape victims. In the national backlash that followed, members of Akin’s own party said that he should drop out of the senate race (while presumably remaining in the House).

The article described this response of Akin’s wife Lulli:
The pressure and attacks clearly reinforced Akin’s sense of mission. For the family of the lawmaker known for dressing in colonial garb at Fourth of July parties, the attacks also increased their identification with Revolutionary America. Lulli Akin said that efforts to push her husband out of the race threaten to replace elections “by the people and for the people” with “tyranny, a top-down approach.” She added, “Party bosses dictating who is allowed to advance through the party and make all the decisions—it’s just like 1776 in that way.”

She cited colonists who “rose up and said, ‘Not in my home, you don’t come and rape my daughters and my…wife. But that is where we are again. There has been a freedom of elections, not tyranny of selections since way back. Why are we going to roll over and let them steamroll us, be it Democrats or Republicans or whomever?” Obama and Mitt Romney “both seem to be embodying” a British monarch, “with all the tactics that they’ve been revealing” toward her husband, Lulli Akin said. “Are they that dissimilar?” she asked. “Are they really dissimilar? They say with their mouths ‘free enterprise’—but, really, how free?”

Asked about comparisons of his plight to revolutionary Americans, Todd Akin called it “a little more grandiose than the way I would say it.”
It does seem audacious for Lulli Akin to invoke “rape” when that was precisely the issue that got her husband in trouble, and then to tie it to “free enterprise” and whether the national party would give money to her husband’s campaign.

But what about Akin’s claim that a threat to “rape my daughters…in my home” was why American colonists “rose up” in the American Revolution? That has no historical basis. In 1768-69 Boston’s Whigs published occasional complaints about soldiers treating women poorly, but those involved theft or disrespect in the street. No soldier was charged with rape. No soldiers were quartered in people’s homes. The long lists of grievances put out by colonists which culminated in the Declaration of Independence mention “Murders” but not rape.

I suspect this belief, which is not Akin’s alone, is an outgrowth of the common misinterpretation of the Quartering Act: that the royal government forced individual householders to host soldiers in peacetime. That didn’t happen. The Quartering Act required colonies to provide barracks and supplies for royal troops. If the enlisted men had been in individual homes instead of barracks, the main result would have been even more desertions.

Rape and sexual abuse have happened in virtually all known wars, and Americans did complain of rape by British troops before the end of 1776. British officers even joked about the topic. There are also allegations of American soldiers raping a Loyalist woman in a 1777 raid on Staten Island.

But those documented complaints came after the war had started and the Continental Congress had voted for independence. They weren’t why the colonists had risen up. Picturing rape as a cause of the American Revolution turns a political dispute into a fictional melodrama and mixes up metaphorical propaganda like the cartoon above with actual events. It blurs the real history, just like seeing both “Obama and Mitt Romney” as George III.


Chaucerian said...

Gotta worry about families where _everything_ reminds them of rape. I don't think I'm going to let my kids play with their kids -- they might pick up a distorted view of the world.

Byron DeLear said...

Being a new reader of J.L. Bell's excellent Boston 1775, I was surprised to see Akin-esque ridiculosities here, these ones supplied by his wife. Surprised, because I’ve been aware of his idiocy for years -- it’s amazing to see it spread all over the place now.

I ran to oppose Rep. Akin in a congressional campaign in 2008, and am all too familiar with his butchering of history and time-warped worldview(s). Evidently, his wife carries the same backward attitudes and is just as guilty of saying wacky, ridiculous things. Rep. Akin is an embarassment for us here in St. Louis County.

As an aside, one of the reasons for the Akins political touchstone to often revolve around the Revolutionary Era, is not as much birthed from an understanding of how future-focused, or progressive the Founders really were (they think of the Founders as being politically identical to tea-party conservatives), but more to the fact that for years, every Fourth of July, the Akins would throw an outdoor cookout party at their home with our favorite social luddite-rep dressed in tri-corn regalia. They got skin in the game. He owns a tri-corn, so he knows what made the Founders tick, right?

Sadly, their knowledge of what forces were at play during the Revolutionary Era is probably about as good Akin’s knowledge of woman’s reproductive system. Most assuredly, they are big fans -- big -- of crypto-historian David Barton and “Wallbuilders”.

Here is a short list of some of his more memorable historical perversions and/or strained logic, an excerpt from a piece I wrote for IVN:

"Akin is no stranger to the realm of making such statements—he has actually tallied up quite a lengthy roster over the years.
“Global warming is highly suspect,” said Akin to a group of Tea Party activists in 2011. “And I have doubts about the constitutionality of Medicare.”

While running to oppose Rep. Akin in a 2008 Missouri congressional race, I was shocked to wake one April morning and see him waxing hyperbolic political rhetoric on CSPAN’s Washington Journal. He was repeating a universally discredited canard—summoning the image of an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) nuclear weapon exploding over Kansas as a justification for “why we’re there” fighting overseas. Mind you, this was 2008—not during the drum-up for war in 2002-03.

In 2007 he said about the Iraq War: “Could you picture Davy Crockett at the Alamo looking at his Blackberry getting a message from Congress? Davy Crockett, we support you. The only thing is we are not going to send any troops.”
Everybody’s been guilty of misspeaking, suffering from foot-in-mouth disease, but Akin’s legitimate rape comment was not a flub or gaffe, per se. His rhetoric and statements over the years reveal an ideology that is anti-science and anti-government."