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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Monday, December 31, 2012

Thomas Jefferson Reviews Phillis Wheatley

I’ll turn from my own book reviews to one by Thomas Jefferson, a small part of his Notes on the State of Virginia.

By 1782, when Jefferson reworked that manuscript into book form, emancipation advocates like Dr. Benjamin Rush and Voltaire were using Phillis Wheatley’s poetry to argue that people of African descent had shown they were capable enough to deserve freedom.

Jefferson disagreed with that aesthetic judgment about Wheatley’s work, at least in part because he disliked the conclusion it led to. While he continued to aver that slavery was wrong, he used that book to argue that whites were biologically and intellectually superior to blacks. That included literary talent, Jefferson wrote:
Misery is often the parent of the most affecting touches in poetry.—Among the blacks is misery enough, God knows, but no poetry. Love is the peculiar oestrum of the poet. Their love is ardent, but it kindles the senses only, not the imagination.

Religion indeed has produced a Phyllis Whately; but it could not produce a poet. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism. The heroes of the Dunciad are to her, as Hercules to the author of that poem.

Ignatius Sancho has approached nearer to merit in composition; yet his letters do more honour to the heart than the head.
Ignatius Sancho (1729?-1780) was a British man of African ancestry who served in the household of the Duke of Montagu, kept a shop, and published books on music. He supported the Crown during the Revolutionary War. Sancho’s letters were collected and published in London two years after his death—so Jefferson must have pronounced upon them quickly when he “somewhat corrected and enlarged [his Notes] in the winter of 1782.”

Jefferson’s comments betrayed some confusion in his mind as he sought reasons to dismiss the evidence of Wheatley’s talent. On the one hand, he hinted that she didn’t actually write the “compositions published under her name.” On the other, he claimed that their poor quality reflected on her intellect, which meant she had to have written them. Either way, of course, he could derogate her.

Even as Jefferson insisted that blacks’ love “kindles the senses only, not the imagination,” he used the word oestrum, meaning a “period of sexual readiness,” to refer to a poet’s inspiration—a rather sensual image. He praised love poetry but chose Pope’s spiteful satirical Dunciad as his yardstick.

As for Sancho’s letters doing “more honour to the heart than the head,” when Jefferson wrote his dialogue of “my Head & my Heart” in a letter to Maria Cosway as he tried to seduce her in 1786, he ended up favoring his own heart.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Modern Claim of Privilege

I’m departing from the Revolutionary era to talk about a book on another period because it raises important issues about the value of historical study within our constitutional system. Claim of Privilege: A Mysterious Plane Crash, a Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets was written by Barry Siegel and published in 2008. It’s about the Supreme Court case known as United States v. Reynolds, or just Reynolds.

In 1948 a U.S. Air Force B-29 Superfortress crashed in Waycross, Georgia. Nine people died, three of them civilians working on new radar equipment that the plane was supposed to test. Those three civilians’ widows sued for negligence, asking that the government turn over its accident report. [When I was growing up, my parents were colleagues of one of those widows, though nobody talked to me about her past.]

The Air Force argued in court that it shouldn’t have to turn over the accident report, eventually invoking “state secrets.” Though its lawyers would not lay out the details, they implied that the report would reveal important information about the equipment being tested or the capacities of the B-29, information that would benefit the nation’s enemies.

Judges had been dealing with sensitive material for centuries. They usually examined the documents privately to determine if they were really relevant to the case. If so, they could limit discussion of those documents in camera, or in a closed court. Judges could also appoint independent experts to examine the material. But the Air Force didn’t want the court to try any of those methods.

The original trial judge and the appeals court both ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, saying that the government had to default on the case if it refused to turn over the pertinent documents. But the U.S. Supreme Court, which was dealing with the Rosenberg spy case at the same time, decided in 1953 by a vote of 6-3 that the government’s claim of the importance of secrecy trumped everything else.

In essence, the Reynolds case ruled that if the federal government declared that certain material was important for national security, the judge had to accept that privilege and not penalize the government as it would another party to a lawsuit. The logic for this decision rested on the belief that the government would not lie about the importance of any documents simply to avoid embarrassment or liability.

But in the Reynolds case the Air Force’s lawyers lied. In 2000, as Siegel recounts in Claim of Privilege, the government declassified the accident report. The document that the Air Force insisted had to remain completely secret turned out to say almost nothing about the experimental equipment the dead men had been hoping to test; that equipment wasn’t involved in the fatal accident. Instead, that report listed several problems with the airplane, the pilots’ choices, and the safety training—issues central to the widows’ negligence lawsuit.

The result is a breakdown between historical fact and legal doctrine. In law, the Reynolds case provides the basis of the U.S. government’s expanded claims for secrecy privileges over the last sixty years. It turns certain “state secrets” claims into legally unquestionable facts.

In history, however, the Reynolds case shows that government officials did use a false claim of national security to protect themselves from embarrassment. That’s an obvious historical fact. The actual events show we should be more skeptical about government claims of privilege, not more deferential.

National security obviously requires that the government be able to keep some secrets for a limited time. But in this test the Supreme Court, choosing to work blind and trust the military, drew the line in the wrong place. Unfortunately, history can’t overturn law; only more law, driven by public opinion, can. And the Reynolds precedent, having been built on in other cases, has become more entrenched.

Siegel’s book is part mystery investigation, part courtroom drama. It’s not always exciting, but it’s a thought-provoking and ultimately frustrating read.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Value of Spying in America

Michael J. Sulick was the chief of counterintelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency from 2002 to 2004 and director of its National Clandestine Service from 2007 to 2010. He wrote Spying in America: Espionage from the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War to create “one compact volume” that includes case studies from several periods of American history, something he felt was missing from the market or the classroom.

Spying in America doesn’t try to be comprehensive or to break new ground in discussing espionage in America. And it doesn’t. It leans heavily on secondary sources, most of them more than a generation old, such as the books by John and Katherine Bakeless. Other sources cited in the chapters about the Revolution include an article in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Thomas B. Allen’s George Washington, Spymaster for young readers, and the websites of the C.I.A. and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In fact, Spying in America relies so much on secondary sources that chapter epigraphs from George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and other well-documented historical figures aren’t credited to the original letters but to other books that have previously quoted those letters.

The Revolutionary War section starts with a short introductory chapter. Unfortunately, it contains basic errors. Page 16, for example, mischaracterizes the American Whigs’ preferred political solution to the conflict (not representation in Parliament but more autonomy for their colonial legislatures) and misapplies the John Adams quotation about a third of Americans opposing the Revolution (citing Howard Zinn). The next page misstates the reasons behind the British march to Concord in April 1775 and says Paul Revere’s fellow observers “were dubbed the Mechanics,” as if that were a formal name rather than the generic term for their class in society.

Three long-studied case studies follow, again with unfortunate errors. In retelling the treachery of Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr., the book displays Revere’s engraving of the doctor’s namesake ancestor as if it were a portrait of the traitor himself. This chapter also states that Church was at the Boston Tea Party, but an anonymous Crown source—i.e., just the sort of informer a book about espionage might highlight—placed him inside the Old South Meeting-House instead. (I can’t knock Sulick for not including my findings about Church’s mistress, published just this year in the big Washington study.)

The study of spying in the American delegation to Paris highlights the role of secretary Edward Bancroft, but then indulges in the wish-fulfilling suggestion that Franklin was onto the man all along. We Americans not only forgive Franklin his known tricks but happily believe he was up to more than he probably was. This chapter mentions Julien-Alexandre Achard de Bonvouloir, a gentleman who came to America in late 1775 as an unofficial emissary from the French court; it doesn’t note that Bonvouloir was in Massachusetts early in that year or that British agents had filed reports on him during the months in between.

To retell the story of Benedict Arnold’s treachery, Sulick relies most on Willard Wallace’s 1954 biography, which repeats a lot of dubious legends about the man’s boyhood. James Kirby Martin’s 1997 biography, Dave R. Palmer’s George Washington and Benedict Arnold, and other recent books seem more reliable, and also offer more detail about Peggy Arnold’s role in the affair.

Spying in America jumps right from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, leaving out the highest placed known foreign agent ever to serve in the U.S. government: Revolutionary War veteran Gen. James Wilkinson, for more than ten years the top American general and also a paid agent of Spain.

I sense an unstated, perhaps unrecognized, purpose in this compilation. Sulick focuses on espionage against the U.S. during major conflicts while skipping successful intelligence-gathering and aggressive covert action by Americans (except against the Confederacy). These stories are thus all about Americans discovering spies in our midst. The book’s message is clear in the title of its introduction: “The Peril of Disbelief.” Readers must never let their guard down or doubt the need for vigorous government counterintelligence.

Yet Sulick notes that the U.S. had no coordinated counterintelligence effort until 1939, though the country had grown tremendously during the preceding century and a half. I wouldn’t argue that the greater threats of the mid-20th century and today, with faster communications and weapons delivery and more complex systems, require vigilance. But since the world has changed so greatly, how much useful information can we really learn from thin versions of the tales of Church, Bancroft, and Arnold? Those stories seem to be included for their “Founders’ Chic” value: even Washington and Franklin had to deal with spies!

Georgetown University Press could have served this book better during editing. For instance, page 5 tells us that in 1939 Franklin D. Roosevelt assigned responsibility for counterespionage to the F.B.I., and then page 6 tells us the same thing.

On the other hand, the publisher provided a great exterior design by Tim Green of Faceout Studio. The image above doesn’t do it justice. The dust jacket is a translucent vellum with a triangular cutout for the all-seeing eye of the dollar bill’s Great Seal—looking out for us or starting out on us?

(Review based on copy provided by the publisher.)

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Voices of British Soldiers

Folks might recognize Don Hagist’s name from the British Soldiers, American Revolution blog. He digs out details about the enlisted men who were part of the British government’s effort to hold onto those thirteen rebellious North American colonies. His research can turn some faceless redcoats into individual people.

Often that task involves paging through muster rolls, pension grants, court-martial records, and other British military documents now stored at the National Archives at Kew. Unfortunately, there’s no British equivalent to the American pension application system, which (in lieu of systematic record-keeping during the war) required veterans to provide detailed narratives of their service. That means most British soldiers are preserved as names on a few documents without a line connecting those dots.

A few redcoats left detailed personal narratives. One of Don’s earlier books was an edition of Sgt. Roger Lamb’s postwar writing that collected all his first-hand military experiences in one volume. Don’s new book, British Soldiers, American War: Voices of the American Revolution, reprints nine shorter narratives of service in the king’s army (as well as the samples of the work of two military poets, including John Hawthorn). The narratives include the information taken down by the pension office, a letter written during the war to a potential patron, a convict’s dying words, and several published memoirs.

In each case, Don has checked and filled out the soldier’s own account with contemporaneous documentation, where available. Thus, the book includes the autobiographical “Dying Speech” of Pvt. Valentine Duckett, executed for desertion on Boston Common in 1774, and the record of his court-martial. Another court-martial fills out the story of Pvt. Thomas Watson, who survived to settle in Bolton, Massachusetts.

In some chapters Don describes other British soldiers whose careers parallel the main subject. For example, chapter 9, “The Aspiring Soldier,” is about William Burke of the 45th Regiment, who deserted to the Americans for more social and economic opportunity. That chapter also mentions Pvt. Thomas Machin of the 23rd, who did the same in July 1775 and eventually became Capt. Thomas Machin of the Continental Artillery. (I also discuss Machin in the big Washington study.)

You’ve probably spotted a significant pattern in these narratives: most of the memoirists ended up becoming American. Of the nine men profiled in the book, only two retired from the British army in good standing. Six deserted to the Americans or, in the case of Ebenezer Fox of Roxbury, deserted back to the Americans. Their recollections got published because in America those men became honored relics of our War for Independence.

British society simply wasn’t that eager to read the experiences of enlisted men. That may have been due to how societies don’t like to be reminded of wars they lose. But I think it reflects the aristocratic values of Georgian Britain. We see the pattern already right after the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The Massachusetts authorities published broadsides naming all the local men killed and wounded, regardless of rank. Gen. Thomas Gage sent home reports listing the officers killed but not the enlisted men. (Granted, that would have been a much longer list.) American culture valued ordinary individuals more.

Given the social stratification in Britain, it’s no surprise that several of these redcoats saw more opportunity on the other side of the conflict. One chapter of British Soldiers, American War documents how the army encouraged soldiers to learn to read and write, valuable skills in any large organization. But even an educated enlisted man was very unlikely to rise above sergeant.

As memoirists and as defectors, most of the men who left behind recollections for British Soldiers, American War were atypical. But of course all memoirists are atypical (at least until this era of self-publishing). And these men offer a rare peek into the daily lives of British recruits. Alongside Don’s research on recruitment patterns, demographic data, &c., the book is a top-notch source on the king’s soldiers during the Revolutionary War, “ordinary” men caught up in historical change.

British Soldiers, American War is handsomely designed (though, reflecting what Georgian artists were commissioned to paint, the cover art shows British officers instead of enlisted men). The profiles include images of some of their documentary sources. Eric H. Schnitzer’s drawings and detailed captions discuss the soldiers’ likely garments, which should increase the value of the book for reenactors. Thorough notes and index round out a fine volume.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

“His verses are the fruits of simple nature.”

Yesterday I took note of John Hawthorn, poet and private in His Majesty’s 6th and then probably 20th Regiment of Dragoons in 1778-79. During his service Hawthorn actually published a slim book of poetry.

The July 1779 Critical Review, or Annals of Literature, took notice of Hawthorn’s work with a, well, critical review:
His verses are the fruits of simple nature. He appears to be a total stranger to all the rules of grammar; yet in some of his pieces there are strokes of imagination, which seldom appear in the productions of illiterate versifiers.
The Monthly Review, or Literary Journal in October 1779 had less praise but more pity:
Of honest John Hawthorn’s poetical attainments the Reader will form his own judgment from the following extract, which is given, not as the most favourable specimen of his abilities, but merely that, by pointing out the Writer’s situation and circumstances, the humane may be induced to become purchasers of his book.
It is not many months ago, since I
Enjoy’d my freedom and my liberty,
Before I e’er took up a haversack,
Or bullying serjeant to rattan my back,
When on my stockings there might be a spot;
No matter if my shoes were black or not:
Then, calmly I could lie, and take my rest,
No powder’d hair, or ruffles at my breast:
When at my ease I liv’d in a warm cot,
And had of land a fertile handsome spot:
What though my roof no tiles or slates sustain,
The well pack’d thatch kept out the driving rain;
A chearful fire glanced through my floor;
My wife could milk her own cow at my door;
Each day, a dinner dress’d by my good dame,
And chearing smells from boiling beef-pots came:
My horse was sure to know me at first sight;
Nay more, my dog would know my feet at night:
Oft’ I would walk in a fair evening tide.
And muse in quiet by a river’s side;
Where oziers green were nodding o’er the waves,
And water lilies spread their moisten’d leaves;
Then home return with calm and serene breast;
Return my thanks to God, and go to rest.
Thus did I live but in a low degree;
If some liv’d better, some liv’d worse than me:
Till trading bad, and loss of different kind,
Made me enlist, and leave them all behind.
It’s not certain that those lines from “The Drill” are strictly autobiographical; Hawthorn may have adopted the persona of a rustic yeoman. (He identified himself elsewhere as a trained linen weaver.) If so, Britain’s literati offered sympathy but not much respect.

Hawthorn’s poetry appears to have been rediscovered in the late 20th century as an unusual voice from Britain’s eighteenth-century laboring class. The poems he wrote about his army experience are also rare in providing a first-hand description of the everyday life of a British soldier during the period of the Revolutionary War.

Hawthorn’s “On His Writing Verses,” other lines from “The Drill,” and “Advice to a Recruit” appear in Don N. Hagist’s new book, British Soldiers, American Revolution. Tomorrow I’ll say more about that book, and for the rest of the week I plan to share news and opinions about some other recent books of Revolutionary history. I’ll try to be kinder than The Critical Review.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Pvt. John Hawthorn: “Yet I must be a bard”

John Hawthorn was a linen weaver from County Down, Ireland, who enlisted in the 6th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Dragoons in 1778. (Dragoons, we recall, were soldiers mounted on horseback.) That unit was stationed in Salisbury from May 1778 through the end of the following year.

According to an 1847 regimental history, Britain was then beefing up its army in response to France entering the American War. As a result:
one hundred men and horses were added to the Inniskilling dragoons; but the scene of conflict [i.e., North America] was so little adapted for cavalry, that the heavy dragoon regiments were not called upon to quit the United Kingdom.
Hawthorn was actually a light dragoon, and the same regimental history says that “In April, 1779, the men [of the 6th Dragoons] equipped as light cavalry were incorporated” into the new 20th Light Dragoons, along with some companies from other horse regiments. But that regiment didn’t go to America, either.

So what makes Pvt. John Hawthorn worthy of note here? Because at heart he was a poet! He was probably writing verses as an apprentice and continued that activity as a horse soldier.

It was all very well for a wealthy officer like Gen. John Burgoyne to indulge his literary habit, but an enlisted man like Hawthorn face harder challenges, as one of his compositions describes:
On His Writing Verses

Well may they write, that sit in parlours fine,
To raise their spirits can quaff luscious wine,
To keep out noise, the parlour door is shut,
The servants scarce dare speak, or budge a foot;
Under no fear, no terror, and no task,
But coolly can sit at a writing desk;
How different with me the time is spent,
Inclos’d with dragoons in a little tent;
Some darning stockings, others blacking shoes;
Some singing, others telling jests and news;
Their different sounds do ill confound my writing;
One should be solitary, when inditing,
Yet I must be a bard, nought less will do me,
And so write as nature dictates to me.
Despite those obstacles, Hawthorn completed enough work and saved enough money to have a small book of poetry printed in Salisbury in 1779: Poems, by John Hawthorn, Light Dragoon in the Inniskilling Regiment.

TOMORROW: The reviews come in.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

“Four Dollars at Christmas” for Philip Bateman

In early 1773, Philip Bateman (also spelled Bottiman) arrived at Mount Vernon as a gardener. As that historic site’s online encyclopedia says, in March George Washington recorded paying a man to bring Bateman from Leeds, now Leedstown. He had “bought” the gardener for £35 from a Mr. Hodge.

Bateman was apparently an indentured servant, not a slave. He continued to work at Mount Vernon after serving whatever time he had left in his contract. In 1786 Bateman received £20 as a year’s wages, but he enjoyed other benefits.

Three years earlier, plantation manager Lund Washington (1737-1796) wrote to his cousin, the general:

As to Bateman (the old gardener) I have no expectation of his ever seeking Another home—indulge him but in getg Drunk now and then, and he will be happy—he is the best Kitchen gardener to be met with.
In April 1787, the estate formalized that indulgence. Someone wrote a contract for the gardener, referring to him as “Bater.” The gardener promised:
to serve the sd. George Washington, for the term of one year, as a Gardner, and that he will, during said time, conduct himself soberly, diligently and honestly, that he will faithfully and industriously perform all, and every part of his duty as a Gardner, to the best of his knowledge and abilities, and that he will not, at any time, suffer himself to be disguised with liquor, except on the times hereafter mentioned.

In Consideration of these things being well and truly performed on the part of the sd. Philip Bater, the said George Washington doth agree to allow him (the sd. Philip) the same kind and quantity of provisions as he has heretofore had; and likewise, annually, a decent suit of clothes befitting a man in his station; to consist of a Coat, Vest and breeches; a working Jacket and breeches, of homespun, besides; two white Shirts; three Check Do; two pair of yarn Stockings; two pair of Thread Do; two linnen Pocket handkerchiefs; two pair linnen overalls; as many pair of Shoes as are actually necessary for him; four Dollars at Christmas, with which he may be drunk 4 days and 4 nights; two Dollars at Easter to effect the same purpose; two Dollars also at Whitsontide, to be drunk two days; A Dram in the morning, and a drink of Grog at Dinner or at Noon.
Bateman’s name remained in the Mount Vernon accounts until 1789.

It’s not clear who wrote that Bateman could “be drunk 4 days and 4 nights…at Christmas.” The general’s nephew and manager George Augustine Washington (1759-1793) wrote out the contract. The general’s secretary Tobias Lear witnessed it and may have had more leeway to be frank. (Incidentally, after G. A. Washington’s death, his widow married Lear.) But George Washington himself usually gets the credit for approving the terms.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Newspapers on the Television on the Web

Yesterday evening C-SPAN’s BookTV aired its recording of the Reporting the Revolutionary War event at the Old State House early this month.

First, main author Todd Andrlik talked about Revolutionary-era newspapers and collecting them, as he also discusses at Rag Linen and BeforeHistory.com. One story he didn’t tell in this presentation, but which I heard at dinner afterward, was about coming across a one-page supplement to a newspaper that hadn’t been documented before. Todd arranged for that to go into the Library of Congress collection so it will be available to scholars.

After Todd’s talk, he sat down with me and Prof. Robert Allison of Suffolk University for a discussion of colonial news reporting and questions from the audience. Good questions and a lively interchange.

It doesn’t look possible to download this video or watch it on the C-SPAN site yet. There are only snatches of an automated transcript that says things like: “INTERESTEDLY IN THE MIDDLE MINOLTA WERE SOLD UPON A FEW LONDON, POOLS TO REPORT GEORGE WASHINGTON HAD DIED IN BATTLE. NORMALLY THESE ARE ALSO KIND OF...” I think that was Todd talking.

This show appears to be scheduled to run again on 1 January at 1:00 A.M.

(Benjamin Park had nice things to say about Reporting the Revolutionary War on the new Junto blog.)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Earliest Appearance of “No Taxation without Representation” (so far)

In March 1766, Parliament repealed its Stamp Act for North America but passed the Declaratory Act, meant to establish that it had the power to pass laws governing those colonies—including, implicitly, new tax laws.

One of the few voices against the Declaratory Act was Charles Pratt, first Baron Camden, soon to be Lord Chancellor of England. He argued, as he’d done when the Stamp Act was proposed, that since the colonists didn’t have any representatives in Parliament, by British tradition Parliament shouldn’t have the power to tax them.

Very few Members of Parliament agreed. Camden’s political ally William Pitt actually wrote the Declaratory Act. Lord Mansfield, the Chief Justice, said Camden was mistaken. Only four other Lords voted against the bill.

That debate occurred just before London printers made a routine of reporting Parliament‘s proceedings in detail. But a few months later someone sent the text of Camden’s speech to printer John Almon (1737-1805), who included it in his Political Register for 1767. The text appeared in a gingerly form, perhaps as a thin guard against accusations of sedition: all the proper names were removed, so it recorded “L— C——” speaking to the “B—— p———” on the issue of taxing the “A——— c——.”

Camden had said:
My position is this—I repeat it—I will maintain it to my last hour,—taxation and representation are inseparable;—this position is founded on the laws of nature; it is more, it is itself an eternal law of nature; for whatever is a man’s own, is absolutely his own; no man hath a right to take it from him without his consent, either expressed by himself or representative; whoever attempts to do it, attempts an injury; whoever does it, commits a robbery; he throws down and destroys the distinction between liberty and slavery. Taxation and representation are coeval with and essential to this constitution. . . .

In short, my lords, from the whole of our history, from the earliest period, you will find that taxation and representation were always united; so true are the words of that consummate reasoner and politician Mr. [John] Locke.
As you can see, Camden’s argument was based on the linkage of taxation and representation. But nowhere in the speech did the baron use the phrase “taxation without representation.”

The Scots Magazine reprinted Camden’s speech in 1767. The London Magazine, or Gentlemen’s Monthly Intelligencer ran the text on two pages the following February. That magazine’s running head for the first page was “L— C——’s Speech.” The second page, as preserved by Google Books, was summed up this way:
And that page, published in February 1768, is the earliest appearance of the phrase “[No] Taxation without Representation” that I’ve found. It debuted in big letters at the top of a page of a widely circulated magazine. I suspect that pithy, rhyming summary of the argument below stuck in many readers’ minds and became the slogan for the American cause.

Thus, I posit that the person who coined the deathless phrase “taxation without representation” wasn’t James Otis, Jr., or the Rev. John Joachim Zubly or even Lord Camden. It was John Almon or an anonymous editor or printer in his shop, looking for a way to headline a couple of columns of text in a limited number of characters.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Irish Roots for “Taxation without Representation”?

Digging for the origin of the phrase “[no] taxation without representation,” I keep coming across some claims that haven’t held up:
David McCullough’s John Adams made that last statement in 2001. However, the book didn’t cite any example or source. And all the Irish examples I’ve found appear after the American Revolution, some of them explicitly pointing to that earlier conflict across the ocean.

The “Address from the Society of the United Irishmen of Dublin” dated 23 Nov 1792 stated:
Three millions—we repeat it—three millions taxed without being represented, bound by laws to which they had net given consent, and politically dead in their native land. The apathy of the Catholic mind changed into sympathy, and that begot an energy of sentiment and action. They had eyes, and they read. They had ears, and they listened. They had hearts, and they felt.

They said—“Give us our rights as you value your own. Give us a share of civil and political liberty, the elective franchise, and the trial by jury. Treat us as men, and we shall treat you as brothers. Is taxation without representation a grievance to three millions across the Atlantic, and no grievance to three millions at your doors? Throw down that pale of persecution which still keeps up civil war in Ireland, and make us one people. We shall then stand, supporting and supported, in the assertion of that liberty which is due to all, and which all should unite to attain.”
Arguing in the Irish Parliament to extend the franchise to Catholics on 22 Feb 1793, Henry Grattan (1746-1820, shown above) said:
I see no reason why the church [of England] should be more in danger from the catholics than from the presbyterians, who, in Ireland, are the majority of the protestants. If the church is in danger, it is from the times, not from the catholics; and I know of nothing so likely to encrease that danger as an opposition on the part of the church to the liberty of three parts of the island. To insist on a system of taxation, without representation, in order to secure a system of tithe, without consolation, would be to hazard both; but to make the latter in a time of some speculation on the subject of church emoluments, the best policy is to make those emoluments reconcileable to other interests and passions.
By that point the phrase had appeared in American political writing and then histories of the American war for twenty years. So I think these Irish activists picked up the words from the Americans. If anyone has found earlier examples of the phrase from Ireland, I’d be pleased to see them. (I’m not looking for previous examples of the argument, just the phrase.)

Until now, the earliest example of the phrase “taxation without representation” that I found was from the Rev. John Joachim Zubly of Georgia, published in 1769.

TOMORROW: The origin in 1768?

Friday, December 21, 2012

“Any other individual than Rigby would have been disconcerted”

Recently I ran across a lively passage in Nathaniel Wraxhall’s memoirs of the debate in Parliament on 4 Mar 1782, as opponents of Lord North’s government pressed for an end to the American War.

M.P. Richard Rigby rose to speak. Wraxhall recalled:
Never could he have appeared more opportunely on the Scene, or at a Moment when his Exertions were more necessary to re-invigorate the ministerial Ranks. His very Figure and Aspect, unblushing, fearless, confident, as if formed to stem the Torrent of Opposition even when most violent, powerfully aided the Effect of his Oratory.
Rigby spoke with what Wraxhall described as “blunt, not to say contemptuous, Levity.” However, he defended the government’s ministers without continuing to endorse their American policy.

Rigby made a slip as he acknowledged that he had been paymaster of the British army since 1768, meaning he supplied the specie used to pay the soldiers and accumulated a steady profit from doing so. Wraxhall wrote:
Rigby having, in the Progress of his Speech, said rather unadvisedly, that “he was tired of the American War, though as Paymaster of the Forces, he was by no Means tired of receiving Cash;” which singular Expression he however qualified by adding, that “he could nevertheless speak his Opinion honestly, uninfluenced by his Place;” Mr. [William] Pitt remarked with great Severity on the Words. He observed, that “if the Right Honorable Gentleman was not tired of receiving, the Nation was weary of paying, Cash to a Person, who profited more by the War than any four Members of that Assembly.”

Almost any other Individual than Rigby, would have been disconcerted by so invidious a Comment, coming too from such a Quarter. But, he, far from shrinking back, or exhibiting the slightest Mark of Discomposure, stood up; and directing his Looks, as well as his Reply, to Pitt and [Charles James] Fox, who sate very near each other on the Opposition Side of the House, almost under the Gallery, “I will just venture to remark,” said he, “that however lucrative my Office may be, it has been held by the Fathers of the two Honorable Members who spoke last; and I make little Doubt that whenever I may be compelled to quit it, those Gentlemen themselves may have an Eye to getting Hold of it. I repeat, I am not at all tired of receiving Money; but I am not to be told, because I receive the Emoluments of my Place, that I am therefore the Author of my Country’s Ruin.”

Neither Fox nor Pitt attempted any Retort.
Squelch.

Still, Lord North resigned before the month was out. Fox and Pitt would vie to be prime minister. Rigby’s successors as paymaster would be two other opposition politicians, Edmund Burke and Isaac Barré. Elections had consequences.

[The thumbnail above is a sketch of Rigby from “series of small, whole length caricature portraits of prominent members of the Whig Coalition and opponents of the American War,” offered by Michael Finney Antique Books & Prints.]

Thursday, December 20, 2012

“More Moving Parts to This Machine”

The public discussion of Thomas Jefferson and slavery continued this month as The Atlantic Monthly’s Ta-Nehisi Coates posted an essay about a comment that the third President was caught in an “economic system of which no alternative was readily available.” That appears to be a quotation from a commenter, but Coates didn’t single out the author. It has been, as he wrote, a rather common claim.

Coates noted how Jefferson had counterexamples within his own circle, genteel planters who freed their slaves in different ways: President George Washington, his own cousin John Randolph, young correspondent Edward Coles, and the religiously-minded Robert Carter III. As I’ve written someplace before, the idea of emancipation was definitely in the marketplace of ideas during Jefferson’s career. He chose not to buy into that idea because ultimately he found the price too high.

Jefferson made his choice despite what Coates called his extraordinarily eloquent condemnation of slavery. In past decades authors glossed over the mismatch between the third President’s rhetoric and behavior, but that topic appears at the heart of many recent books. However, earlier portrayals of Jefferson as a champion of liberty for all still influence popular conceptions. That means complaining against the received image of Jefferson depends on what one has actually read.

In his next posting, Coates addressed the controversy over Thaddeus Kosciuszko’s will. He also wrote:

There's a temptation here to rage against a man who preached the evils of slavery in public, actually tried to talk others into continuing to hold slaves in private, and then refused to act on his own words, even when it would have cost him nothing. I think this instinct only works if you understand slavery strictly as an economic system. But as we've discussed before, slavery was the foundation of antebellum society. . . .

It seems clear to me that one can salute the ideas of a founding father, and at the same time condemn his cowardice when it came to putting them in practice. In other words, Jefferson can be both the intellectual father of this country and a notorious violator of the very ideas he put forth.
This fall the Kosciuszko will has been one item of dispute between Henry Wiencek, author of Master of the Mountain, and Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello. A commenter said Coates’s summary of the issue was too simple, and he agreed.

But then Coates went on to quote Gordon-Reed’s critique of Wiencek as a “defense of Jefferson” that “implicitly assumes that Jefferson bears no moral culpability, that Kosciuzko is ultimately (and seemingly totally) at fault.” I think that was also simplistic, seeing a “defense” in a reminder that the situation was more complicated than described in the book she was reviewing.

Gordon-Reed sent a reply, which Coates featured in yet another post. It noted racist statements even from emancipator Edward Coles and concluded:
Many today do not want to face the fact that white supremacy was as much a part of the founding ideology as republicanism. Beating up on TJ, as if he were some singular case, is part of the denial
That prompted more discussion, which Gordon-Reed, Coates, and Wiencek all joined. This might have been the most interesting discourse of the series.

Coates and some of his commenters argue that it’s valid to criticize Jefferson more harshly than other slaveholders of his time because he wrote so well about the harms of slaveholding. As commenter “abk1985” wrote to Gordon-Reed:
The difference here on this blog from what you do is that we are much more likely to make moral evaluations rather than simply attempt to understand historical personages. So there's a kind of built in conflict here.
Gordon-Reed’s reply:
Writing history is for me a moral enterprise, but there are different ways to show that. I don't think anyone who has read my books and articles about TJ would think I have not been critical of him when appropriate, witheringly critical at times. My point in writing this post was to make it clear that there were more moving parts to this machine than have been described. As I said in another post, I've existed in this strange position where some people are absolutely convinced that all I want to do is destroy Jefferson and others are absolutely convinced that all I want to do is to protect him. I don't approach TJ, or the founders, with any notion that my goal is to hold them to a standard. I don't "expect more". I don't expect anything beyond what my knowledge about them, gleaned from my study of them, suggests they are capable of doing at any given point of their lives, and what their society would have allowed them to do.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Colin Nicolson on Gov. Francis Bernard, 20 Dec.

On Thursday, 20 December, at 3:00 P.M., the Colonial Society of Massachusetts will host a talk by Colin Nicolson, Lecturer in History and Politics at the University of Stirling in Scotland. The topic will be “Negotiating British Imperialism: Gov. Francis Bernard and the Stamp Act Crisis 1764-67.”

Nicolson wrote a biography of Bernard called The “Infamas Govener”, which no doubt confuses search engines. He’s editing the governor’s correspondence, being published in five volumes.

Bernard was royal governor of New Jersey for two and a half years and then of Massachusetts for nine years, August 1760 to August 1769. He had been gone from North America for half a decade by the time the Revolutionary War began. Yet he was probably one of the British Crown officials most involved in bringing it on.

When Bernard arrived in Massachusetts, he appears to have tried to work with local politicians. He put his sons in local schools instead of sending them home to Britain and invested in local land. (Indeed, he might have been too eager for local land.) But Bernard had the misfortune of following Gov. Thomas Pownall, who had become popular with the Boston merchants. His arrival corresponded with a shift at the Boston Customs office, making officials stricter about collecting duties.

Then Bernard decided to appoint Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson as Chief Justice of Massachusetts, setting aside Pownall’s promise to give James Otis, Sr., the next seat on the high court. Otis’s son James quit his royal appointments and allied with the Boston merchants to challenge Customs officers’ power to search for smuggled goods through writs of assistance.

Over the next few years Bernard tried to help enforce the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, and Townshend duties, and otherwise promote the London government’s powers and priorities. When those laws produced violent protests, he recommended bringing troops to the town in 1768. He vetoed several opposition politicians’ seats on the Council, only to see towns elect many of them to the House instead. He demanded that the General Court rescind its letter of protest to other colonies and then dissolved the legislature when it refused.

But what really made Bernard infamous came in 1769, when someone in London leaked selections of his correspondence to government superiors. Those letters complained about Boston’s politicians, merchants, and mobs, and recommended changes to the Massachusetts charter that would have strengthened his hand. For New England Whigs, Bernard’s letters confirmed their suspicion that he was conspiring against their traditional rights. When he sailed away in August 1769, Boston celebrated. Nonetheless, the name of Bernardston, incorporated in 1762, still honors him.

Nicolson’s talk addresses the middle of Bernard’s Massachusetts career. The Stamp Act wasn’t his idea, but he did what he could to enforce the law and then to respond to the violent protests against it. Could any other royal appointee have done better? Or did Bernard’s personal choices and style exacerbate the situation?

The Colonial Society’s headquarters is at 87 Mount Vernon Street on Beacon Hill. This is a free event, with limited seating.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Changed Terrorism Since the 1700s?

What shifted the label of “terrorism” from mob rule, as I described on Friday, to today’s image of it as sneak attacks on civilians by relatively small shadowy groups?

One major factor, I think, was the shift to democratic governance. When America’s Sons of Liberty used mob violence against royal Customs officials, they had little other power over those appointees. Colonists couldn’t vote on those men or their salaries, and they couldn’t vote for the men in London who appointed those men. For all of Boston’s reputation for lawlessness, the pre-Revolutionary period saw no attacks on the town’s elected officials or employees (except by British army officers who resented watchmen’s claims of authority).

In democracies the majority can express its desires through elections and therefore rarely sees a need for violence (with some exceptions, such as the race riots of the 1800s and early 1900s). That has generally left domestic political violence for smaller groups who feel they have no other way to affect the political system. Sometimes those are substantial ethnic or religious minorities who feel oppressed. Sometimes they’re small political minorities who justified in their cause, such as radical abolitionist John Brown in the 1850s or diehard segregationists a century later. Sometimes terrorism is a form of warfare between countries, of course, but even in those cases the terrorists often feel that their targets have oppressed them and occupied their land.

Alongside the change in political structures around the world came change in technology. Scientists like Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and other new explosives. Gunmakers produced machines that shot lots of bullets in a very short time. And we have more control over deadlier poisons, like sarin gas. That means individuals and small groups can produce as much destruction in a short time as an eighteenth-century mob.

When Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators wanted to blow up King James I and Parliament in 1605, they reportedly assembled thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in a cellar beneath the building. That took months. The first supply of powder decayed and had to be replaced. Eventually people noticed.

It took a Boston crowd all night to ruin Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s house in 1765, and the structure remained standing. Destroying the East India Company tea in 1773 required scores of men and boys working for hours and the collusion of hundreds of onlookers.

Similarly, at the Boston Massacre in 1770, seven threatened soldiers killed five people and wounded six. They did so by double-loading their muskets and in most cases firing straight into a densely packed crowd. But after all the soldiers but one had pulled their triggers, they had to reload before another shot. If the crowd hadn’t been too stunned to counterattack, the soldiers’ bayonets would have been their only defenses.

When a sailor named Samuel Dyer tried to shoot two Royal Artillery officers in Boston in October 1774, his pistols misfired, and he ended up chasing them around with one of their swords before running away.

Today’s guns are more efficient at shooting bullets. As last week’s news reminded us, a single person can shoot dozens of people in minutes. We worry that a single individual can conceal enough explosive to kill a bunch of people in a body cavity. Technology has made mass murder, and thus terrorism, much easier.

The eighteenth century provided only one way for an individual or small group to destroy a lot of property at once: arson. Of course, the spread of a fire depended on weather conditions and often wasn’t fast enough to kill people. But it could cause tremendous property damage and disrupt whole communities. Fire was what Americans feared when they traded rumors that rebellious slaves or British troops were “burning the town.”

On 21 Sept 1776 a fire destroyed five hundred buildings in New York City, just captured by the British military. That night, royal authorities arrested Nathan Hale as a rebel agent, and the next day they hanged him. Historians debate whether Hale had helped to set those fires, but the British probably suspected he had.

Fire is how James Aitken, alias John the Painter, attacked British shipyards and other sites as a secret and fairly freelance American agent during the war. Jessica Warner’s study of Aitken is titled The Incendiary: The Misadventures of John the Painter, First Modern Terrorist, but the little damage he produced shows how much more dangerous a small band of modern terrorists can be.

Monday, December 17, 2012

“An “Impartial Observer” at the Tea Party

Yesterday, the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Globe published an essay by Todd Andrlik of RagLinen and me about how newspapers reported on the Revolution. With limited accuracy and pronounced biases, actually. For example:
One of the first accounts of the Tea Party, published in several New England newspapers, shows clear signs of these political biases. Though the piece was signed “An Impartial Observer,” it was carefully written to portray the rioters as scrupulous about other people’s property. They broke a padlock on one ship, the dispatch acknowledged, but quickly replaced it. One man tried to pocket tea for himself, but others seized and pummeled him. Did “An Impartial Observer” recognize any of the men carrying out what became known as the Boston Tea Party? If so, he (or she) didn’t see that information as fit to print.
You can read a transcript of that account, carefully framed as coming from someone who just happened to be visiting Boston at the time, here.

Despite its technological and cultural limits, the British Empire’s press was one of the freest and most far-flung networks of news people had yet developed. And a great source for understanding the period.

Todd and I wrote that essay in connection to Reporting the Revolutionary War, published this season. For additional essays and videos on the topic of the Revolutionary press, visit BeforeHistory.com.

Yesterday’s Globe also included a fabulous picture of Paul Revere as a bearded, pistol-carrying rough rider in a coonskin cap. That image came from opposite page 479 in James Henry Stark’s The Loyalists of Massachusetts, which I happened to cite last Friday. Just to remind us that books can be as inaccurate and biased as old newspapers.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Remembering the Little Shoemaker

This is the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, which makes it an appropriate date for the event I’m attending this afternoon: a memorial service in North Carolina for Alfred F. Young, author of The Shoemaker and the Tea Party and other books.

That book analyzes George R. T. Hewes’s memories of pre-Revolutionary Boston and the Tea Party, and how America came to remember the Tea Party through him. It considers the challenges of being poor and small in colonial America, what made a working-man like Hewes into a political activist, and how memory functions as a historic source. Though the book tackles a lot of subjects, it remains at human scale because Al focused so sympathetically on Hewes.

Beacon Press, publisher of The Shoemaker and the Tea Party, is having a holiday sale on all titles through the end of the month (20% off and free standard shipping). Some of the proceeds will go the Columbia Teachers College Literacy Lifeboats Initiative, designed to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. If you’re looking for a holiday gift for a history fan or a fine study of Revolutionary Boston for yourself, please consider buying Al’s book.

Beacon Press has also posted a page of collegial tributes to Al, along with what may be a never-published drawing of Hewes.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Desk Calendar Contest Answers!

Here are the answers to this week’s Desk Calendar Challenge, challenging readers to identify men related to the American Revolution who were named either William Smith or John Robinson, for the most part.

1) Member of Parliament and Secretary of the Treasury in London from 1770 to 1782, he was Lord North’s principal political fixer.

This was John Robinson (1727-1802). The phrase “before you can say Jack Robinson” appeared in the late 1700s, so some authors have theorized that it referred to this man, but that seems unlikely.

Col. William Stephens Smith ai... Digital ID: 423419. New York Public Library2) Aide-de-camp to Gen. John Sullivan, Gen. Lafayette, and finally Gen. George Washington, he served as a diplomat and a Congressman, and became an in-law to John Adams.

William Stephens Smith (1755-1816), who married the younger Abigail Adams. (Shown here, courtesy of the New York Public Library.)

3) An officer in the Westford militia company in 1775, he took part in the provincials’ advance toward the North Bridge without his men. Eleven years later he returned to Concord to help close the county courts during the Shays’ Rebellion.

John Robinson (1735-1805).

4) Appointed a Commissioner of Customs, he went into hiding after a coffee-house brawl and sailed secretly to London with a set of pro-Crown reports about the Boston Massacre.

Another John Robinson (died before 1783). He was the man who clubbed James Otis, Jr., in 1769. Wondering whether this guy surfaced at Lord North’s side made me notice how many John Robinsons there were.

5) A historian of colonial New York, he railed against the idea of an Anglican bishop for America and sought compromises between Patriots and the Crown. He served as Chief Justice of both New York and Québec/Lower Canada.

William Smith (1728-1793).

6) Born in Charleston, South Carolina, he spent the entire Revolutionary War as an attorney in England. Back in America, he was elected to the first five Congresses under the new Constitution.

William Loughton Smith (1758-1812), as opposed to William Smith (1751-1837), who fought in the Revolutionary War, represented South Carolina in the U.S. House for only one term, and was in the opposite party.

7) Invited to America by Benjamin Franklin, he helped to set up both the University of Pennsylvania and Washington University. He lobbied for an Anglican bishop for America and was driven from Philadelphia as a suspected Loyalist.

The Rev. William Smith (1727-1803), shown at right.

8) By training a carpenter, he had to leave Cambridge, Massachusetts, after the “Powder Alarm.” After convincing the Crown to support a settlement at Penobscot Bay in Maine, where he owned land, he endured a siege by Massachusetts forces.

This is our odd man out: John Nutting (1740-1800).

9) He’s one of America’s leading historians on the poor in the late colonial and early national period, particularly in Philadelphia.

Billy G. Smith, Distinguished Professor of Letters & Science at Montana State University.

10) He died in office after serving for many years as both Speaker of the House of Burgesses and Treasurer in Virginia, and the government discovered he’d embezzled large sums of money.

John Robinson (1705-1766).

11) Theologically liberal minister of the town of Weymouth, Massachusetts, he became an in-law to John Adams.

The Rev. William Smith (1707-1783), father and tutor of First Lady Abigail Adams. Yes, John Adams’s father-in-law and son-in-law were both named William Smith.

And the winner of the Colonial Williamsburg desk calendar for 2013 is commenter G. Lovely! Please send me an email with your surface-mail address, and that prize will be in the mail next week.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Shifting Tides of “Terrorism”

The question of whether America’s Revolutionary Sons of Liberty were terrorists, made briefly controversial this Thanksgiving season, is actually rather old and uncontroversial. Many textbooks and basic studies of terrorism cite the Sons of Liberty’s more violent actions as historic examples while acknowledging that Americans tend to be uncomfortable with the “terrorist” label.

Popular writers have raised the same issues. Todd Alan Kreamer’s essay “Sons of Liberty: Patriots or Terrorists?” appeared on EarlyAmerica.com back in the fall of 1996. Ten years later, a student in Pepperell wrote a short essay in Teen Ink concluding that the Sons of Liberty were terrorists and “unacceptable.”

I always want to add that the Sons of Liberty were not murderers. They destroyed property. They inflicted corporal punishment, sometimes brutally. They intimidated and frightened their opponents. But I can’t think of any Crown official, employee, or political supporter in New England who died as a result of political violence until the North Bridge on 19 Apr 1775. (By writing “in New England,” I’m sidestepping the possible example of Royal Navy lieutenant Henry Panton, killed at sea by sailor Michael Corbet while resisting impressment in 1769.) It might have been sheer luck that none of the Sons of Liberty’s victims died, but that’s how it worked out.

Back in the fall of 2001, when terrorism was on everybody’s minds, I took part in discussions on H-Net, a network of email lists for historians, about whether recent events had useful parallels in the Sons of Liberty or the Barbary States. [That was so far back I was still using a Compuserve email address.] H-Net organized a resource page for teachers that mentioned my comments, among others.

I was skeptical of those parallels, partly because people were stretching the evidence or working with incomplete information to construct them, and partly because of that lack of killing. I thought it was more useful to consider how terrorism had changed over time. On 15 Oct 2001 I wrote:
The word “terrorism” was coined in 1795. Originally it referred to Revolutionary France’s Reign of Terror: an angry urban populace and an ideologically fervent government using their control of the streets and the courts to punish many enemies, real and perceived. We can draw a parallel between that behavior and the Sons of Liberty, especially after the Revolutionary War began, though the Americans didn’t use their gallows to the same extent. Certainly historians of the Loyalist community like James Stark drew that parallel.
Stark’s The Loyalists of Massachusetts (1910) uses the phrase “reign of terror” three times, suggesting that the Sons of Liberty’s behavior presaged the worst of the French Revolution. Loyalists themselves had used similar language. Gov. Francis Bernard wrote of “the terror which the troops of the faction have occasioned” in Boston (19 July 1768) and “the terror of the mobs” (6 Aug 1768).

Though Bernard called his political opponents “the faction,” he acknowledged that their power came from their numbers (“the troops of the faction,” “the mobs”). Eighteenth-century terrorism usually consisted of violence performed by crowds and supported by the majority of the populace. The Boston Tea Party fits that pattern, but because it was so tightly controlled and targeted, it was actually exceptional. When experts speak about the Sons of Liberty’s terrorism, they usually point to riots, the tarring and feathering of Customs employees like John Malcolm (as shown above), and the destruction of upper-class officials’ houses.

COMING UP: What changed terrorism since the Revolution?

BUT FIRST: Answers to the Deck Calendar Challenge!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Teaching the Tea Party and Terrorism

At 5:06 P.M. on Tuesday, 20 November, just as many Americans were leaving for their Thanksgiving break, the political news website The Blaze ran a story about a lesson plan from Texas that asked high-school students to consider whether the Boston Tea Party met the definition of an act of terrorism.

I’ve previously noted a pattern of right-wing media reporting on supposedly faulty teaching of Revolutionary history just before Thanksgiving. That timing means that the stories can play out over long weekends while audiences are home and school administrators are away from their offices and unavailable to coordinate a reply.

In this case, The Blaze responded to comments that the lesson plan was no longer circulating by saying that it had been on the web as recently as January 2012. Which suggests that the site had sat on this dire threat to Texas schoolchildren for more than ten months without checking further. And then Thanksgiving break approached.

Aside from Houston’s CBS affiliate and the Daily Mail tabloid in London, the report appears to have been picked up largely on right-wing blogs. [Personally if I wanted to blog respectably about politics, I’d keep away from the term “Blitzkrieg,” but that’s just me.] Because there really wasn’t a story in that lesson plan.

Preserved as a PDF download with some typos and outdated facts, the lesson plan starts by suggesting the teacher distribute and read this fictional announcement:
Read the following to the students as a whole as if it just happened within the hour in a location near by.

News report: A local militia, believed to be a terrorist organization, attacked the property of private citizens today at the port. Although no one was injured in the attack, a large quantity of merchandise, considered to be valuable to its owners and loathsome to the perpetrators, was destroyed. The terrorists, dressed as natives and apparently intoxicated, were able to escape into the night with the help of local citizens who harbor these fugitives and conceal their identities from the authorities. It is believed that the terrorist attack was a response to the policies enacted by the occupying country’s government.
After leading some discussion, the teacher is supposed to reveal that that’s a description of the Boston Tea Party from the British government’s perspective, using modern terms. (And some distortion: although militia-like companies provided the watch on Griffin’s Wharf and men from the artillery company joined in destroying the tea, that destruction wasn’t organized by “a local militia.”)

Students aren’t supposed to accept the preceding description of the Tea Party uncritically. In fact, the teacher is supposed to ask questions like:
Do you think that in the eyes of the British that the Boston Tea Party was a terrorist activity? Why or why not? Were the colonists justified in taking this action due to their beliefs? Is anyone ever justified in committing these types of activities? What drives people to do this type of activity? These are things that we will explore further.
The lesson plan leads on to a discussion of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo. It asks some important if ill-phrased questions (“Even though our Bill of Rights states that no ‘cruel and unusual punishments inflicted,’ should that apply to non-citizens (or prisoners)?”) and skips others (Since over 570 of the 779 men and boys held at Guantanamo since 2002, plus 87 of the 166 men still held there as of 3 October, have been cleared for release, should the U.S. have imprisoned them there at all?).

The lesson plan comes with “placards” describing six terrorist attacks, from the Wall Street bombing of 1920 and through the kamikaze hijackings of 2001. All of those attacks targeted the U.S. and Israel, with four of the six carried out by Islamic nationalists. There are no placards for military attacks on civilian targets, for terrorist acts by Americans (or Israelis), or for other types of political violence like lynchings, riots, disappearances, and assassinations. (At the back of the lesson plan are descriptions of the Earth Liberation Front and the Oklahoma City bombing, following descriptions of seven Arabic or Pashtun and two far-left organizations.)

In short, while starting from the provocative example of the Boston Tea Party (one of the most controlled, though costly, acts of political violence in pre-Revolutionary America), the lesson plan actually ends up reinforcing a pretty common American perspective on terrorism: it’s something other people—particularly mysterious, leftist, and/or non-white, non-Christian people—do to Americans and our close allies. I suspect the folks at The Blaze never read that far.

TOMORROW: The Sons of Liberty and the original meaning of “terrorism.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Recommending a Tea Party Picture Book

In the latest issue of The Horn Book magazine, I review Russell Freedman and Peter Malone’s new picture book, The Boston Tea Party.

Freedman is a Newbery Medal-winning writer of nonfiction for kids, and this book is his usual well-researched and clearly written discussion of a historic event.

The most vivid, detailed descriptions of the Tea Party are the recollections of men who started talking about the once-secret event in the 1820s and ’30s. Most of those participants were, naturally, quite young back in 1773. As a result, their recollections highlight the teen-aged perspective on the event—just right for young readers. The global dimension of the tea crisis isn’t apparent here; for that, Marc Aronson’s The Real Revolution for high-schoolers and adults is very good.

A picture book has a limited number of illustrations, and two in this book are from the point of view of Royal Navy sailors on a ship in the harbor. I found that a bit disproportionate since the navy played little role in the Tea Party, and I wondered if that perspective was due to Peter Malone being a British artist.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The 2012 Tea Party Reenactment, 16 Dec.

Old South Meeting House and the Boston Tea Party Ships are hosting their annual reenactment of the Boston Tea Party on Sunday, 16 December—the exact anniversary of that event in 1773.

Tickets available through this page allow attendees to enjoy the three segments of the evening from the best set of seats. Folks who order those tickets will receive “an exclusive souvenir pin” that grants access to:
1. General admission seating at Old South Meeting House, the actual 18th century landmark where the colonists gathered in 1773, for a recreated town meeting. Ticket holders are seated for this portion of the program which lasts about an hour.

2. Special, escorted access along the procession route to the harbor. Ticket holders will walk for up to 30 minutes from Old South Meeting House to the Harborwalk behind the InterContinental Boston hotel. The audience will meet additional colonial characters on route.

3. Special reserved viewing area on the Harborwalk behind the InterContinental Boston hotel with best sight lines to the action aboard the Brig Beaver at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. This fully-narrated program lasts about 1 hour. Ticket holders will remain standing in the reserved viewing area.
The reenactment starts at 4:00 P.M. on Sunday afternoon, and it looks like it will last past 6:00.

Tickets are expected to sell out. Their cost is $16.52 for adults, $13.41 for children. (No, those numbers don’t have any historical connection. They’re just the full costs with the online service fee.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tea-Burning in Lexington, 15 Dec.

It’s Tea Party season in Boston again as we stuff a commemoration of the historic event into the hectic holiday season. The Bostonians of 1773, most of whom rigorously ignored Christmas and had never heard of Hannukah, Eid, or other faiths’ winter solstice holidays, didn’t have that trouble.

The first announcement actually comes from half a day’s ride out of town:
The Lexington Historical Society invites you to attend the first-ever re-enactment of a little known but critical event in town history: The Burning of the Tea. This free event, open to the public, takes place on Saturday, December 15, at 3:00 P.M. at Munroe Tavern, 1332 Massachusetts Avenue in Lexington.

Three days before the Boston Tea Party, citizens of Lexington burned all their tea in a common bonfire. Lexington’s minister Jonas Clarke issued an incendiary declaration of support for the people of Boston, warning that anyone in Lexington who consumed tea would be treated “as an enemy of this town and this country.” Clarke’s fiery words resonate through history, a foreshadowing of events to come: “Should the State of Our Affairs require it, We shall be ready to Sacrifice our Estates, and every thing dear in Life, Yea & Life itself, in support of the common Cause.”

Rev. Peter Meek will give voice to Rev. Jonas Clarke’s powerful 1773 public resolution. Citizens are welcome to join re-enactors from the Lexington Minutemen in stoking the bonfire (built by Lexington Boy Scouts) with tea (supplied by Peet’s Coffee and Tea) to protest Parliament’s “wicked” policies. The William Diamond Fife and Drum Corps will supply a stirring live soundtrack. A musket salute from the Lexington Minutemen will provide the finale, and all will then be invited inside Munroe Tavern for coffee and hot chocolate—but absolutely no tea!
This event is scheduled to last for ninety minutes.

(The thumbnail image above shows Tom Fortmann portraying the Rev. Mr. Clarke at a 2009 event.)