Skip to main content

This week, 1763 to 1775 or January 1776, is all about the path to independence.  Almost everything I cover could constitute fodder for one of these diaries, as the British attempts to pay off their debts from the Seven Years' War incensed the colonists more and more and more. The historiographical debate here hinges on which colonists (by social class, education and geography) did most to fuel Revolutionary fervor, and during the past twenty years, historians have been adding the common people to the account and stirring, to badly paraphrase Charlotte Bunch on women's history.  

Thus, this week's diaries (yes, diaries, since the last one was too long) will be based on a recent book:


It's relatively well accepted nowadays in historical circles the revolutionary fervor of the people ran ahead of that of their elected representatives, and Breen makes that really clear in this book.  But first, something I was hoping I'd do a lot of here, and some discussion of the REALLY familiar events that happened in Boston at the end of 1773.  

Yes, the Boston Tea Party.  There's a really good book about that and today's misuse of the term too.


Go read it.  Really.  She does a lot more with the Tea Party than I'm going to do here, and not because I wasn't trying.  I just went to three Tea Party sites to find a statement of purpose that said why they used the name and wasn't as vague as this:

Tea Party members share similar core principles supporting the United States Constitution as the Founders intended, such as:

•  Limited federal government
•  Individual freedoms
•  Personal responsibility
•  Free markets
•  Returning political power to the states and the people

but you have to register with them to find out anything, and, well, no. There will be time to mock this list of principles when we get to the Constitution (actually, when we get to the Articles of Confederation), because these were NOT the core principles the Founders wrote into either document

The Tea party wasn't actually about taxation.  It was a protest against the fact that, in order to save the failing British East India Company, the tax on tea was jiggered so it was paid at origin, which made the tea cheaper than the smuggled Dutch East India tea the merchants of Boston had been selling.  The fact that Boston was the only port in the colonies where it was likely that anyone would think of unloading the tea is what caused the people to protest.  As John Adams wrote about the Tea Act, it represented “an attack upon a fundamental principle of the [still unwritten British] constitution.”  Accordingly, on December 16, 1773, several hundred Bostonians, mostly young apprentices and artisans in training, put on face paint and Indian headdresses and threw an estimated ten thousand pounds worth of East India Company tea to the bottom of Boston Harbor.

Vandalism doesn't seem like the kind of action a conservative group would want to uphold, does it, with all their enthusiasm for Law and Order? What I want to unpack here is, why the face paint and the Indian headdresses?  Here's how Nathaniel Currier depicted it in 1846:


Not exactly a disguise, was it?  Here's a clue, in the form of a cartoon protesting the Coercive/Intolerable Acts published in May, 1774:


The caption for this, "The Able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught" supplied by the Library of Congress reads

Cartoon shows Lord North, with the "Boston Port Bill" extending from a pocket, forcing tea (the Intolerable Acts) down the throat of a partially draped Native female figure representing "America" whose arms are restrained by Lord Mansfield, while Lord Sandwich, a notorious womanizer, restrains her feet and peeks up her skirt. Britannia, standing behind "America", turns away and shields her face with her left hand.
So two things here.  "A partially draped Native female figure representing America."  Exactly what the young men with face paint and headdresses were doing: Representing America. Saying, "We're not like you any more, Britain," and completing the process of Americanization that began when their ancestors crossed the Atlantic, no matter how much these ancestors tried to claim they were simply Britons living abroad.

Second, Lord Sandwich leering up America's skirt.  All I can say is that if this doesn't prefigure the treatment Rush Limbaugh gave Sandra Fluke this week, nothing does.  Rush, wanting SO badly to peek up the skirts of the women of America and unable to control himself. Nothing changes in the way conservative governments treat women, and I don't see any reason I can't compare Limbaugh to a cartoon.

And since the caption referred to the Coercive/Intolerable acts, here they are, summarized by (British English below):

   Quartering Act: Established March 24, 1765
    This bill required that Colonial Authorities to furnish barracks and supplies to British troops. In 1766, it was expanded to public houses and unoccupied buildings, and was updated again June 2, 1774, to include occupied buildings.
    Boston Port Bill: Effective June 1, 1774
    This bill closed the port of Boston to all colonists until, the damages from the Boston Tea Party were paid for.
    Administration of Justice Act: Effective May 20, 1774
    This bill stated that British Officials could not be tried in provincial courts for capital crimes. They would be extradited back to Britain and tried there. This effectively gave the British free reign to do whatever they wished, because no justice would be served while they were still in the colonies.
    Massachusetts Government Act: Effective May 20, 1774
    This bill effectively annulled the charter of the colonies, giving the British Governor complete control of the town meetings, and taking control out of the hands of the colonialists. (See the Michigan Emergency Manager law for that)
    Quebec Act: Established May 20, 1774
    This bill extended the Canadian borders to cut off the western colonies of Conn. Mass. and Va.
And about the Quebec Act.  It also sanctioned Catholic practice in Quebec, and Massachusetts saw sanctioning any continuation of Catholic practice as a problem.

Incidentally, from Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776), the effect of the Coercive/Intolerable Acts in Boston:

It is the good fortune of many to live distant from the scene of sorrow; the evil is not sufficiently brought to their doors to make them feel the precariousness with which all American property is possessed. But let our imaginations transport us for a few moments to Boston, that seat of wretchedness will teach us wisdom, and instruct us for ever to renounce a power in whom we can have no trust. The inhabitants of that unfortunate city, who but a few months ago were in ease and affluence, have now no other alternative than to stay and starve, or turn out to beg. Endangered by the fire of their friends if they continue within the city, and plundered by the soldiery if they leave it. In their present condition they are prisoners without the hope of redemption, and in a general attack for their relief, they would be exposed to the fury of both armies.
The rest of 1774 as my break from grading midterm exams probably by Wednesday.

Sat Mar 03, 2012 at 6:58 AM PT: Updated to incorporate the comment about the Michigan Emergency Manager situation (thanks, hlsmlane) and to fix a couple of typos. Off to teach my weekend college courses (actually, to proctor midterm exams) -- back by 10PM EST.

Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Fri Mar 02, 2012 at 08:45 PM PST.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter and Genealogy and Family History Community.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Tea Party: Ask them what the event was about. (20+ / 0-)

    All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Fri Mar 02, 2012 at 08:44:35 PM PST

    •  Tea Parties and Taxes (3+ / 0-)

      The most common mistake that students make is that they think the Revolution was about the British piling lots of heavy taxes on the colonists.  In fact, the taxes they were proposing were rathering piddling and under colonial protest they withdrew most of them (except for the tariff on tea).  

      The key issue was about power and who had a voice in government.  It's incredibly useful to put the American Revolution into the context of the 17th century British struggles between Parliament and the King.  Certainly the American revolutionaries made this connection, particularly through the writings of John Locke.  Up through the 17th century (and actually well afterwards) the English King had a LOT of unilaterial power, such as control over the military, control over the court system, etc.  The only real "check" that Parliament had on the King was the ability to control the purse -- the right of taxation. When Charles I tried to bypass Parliament and find alternative ways of funding his military ambitions, they revolted.

      Similarly, the colonists were deeply alarmed at the ways in which the British were attempting to shift the locus of power and authority away from the colonial assemblies (and local colonial elites) to the King and Parliament.  Just as Parliament saw their control over taxation as a key check on the potential tyranny of the king, the colonial assemblies saw their control over taxation as a critical check upon British authority.  The fact that royal officials were actually paid by colonial assemblies is very relevant here -- which is why they became so upset when Townshend proposed to use the revenue from tariffs to fund royal officials directly.  The Intolerable Acts, which chipped away at the authority of the colonial Massachusetts government and established a neighboring colony with no representative assembly (Quebec) was further alarming evidence to the revolutionaries that the British intended to deny them the right to representative government - the right to have a voice in government.

      Coming back to the original point -- the issue was who had a voice in government, not whether taxes were good or bad.  Sam Adams was a key founder of the Sons of Liberty who threw the tea into the harbor.  Yet, after the Revolution he roundly condemned Shay's tax rebellion and supported the use of an army to suppress them because he argued they had no valid beef:  they had proper representation in government.  I would actually disagree with his assertion, since the Massachusetts government was effectively controled by the mercantile elite, but this clearly underscores the point that the Tea Party was about representation rather than taxation.

      Ironically, I think the Occupy Wall Street movement probably has a better claim to Tea Party legitimacy than the so-called "Tea Party" movement.  Certainly the street riot tactics that they sometimes use are very reminiscent to the tactics used by the Sons of Liberty!  And their fundamental point is that government is no longer representative -- it is controlled by a small elite and serves the interests of that elite --just as the Tea Act was designed to serve the interests of a powerful corporate special interest (the East India Company)

      •  Shays' (0+ / 0-)

        I agree completely, especially about the Occupy movement's claim to these events.

        All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

        by Dave in Northridge on Sat Mar 03, 2012 at 06:26:05 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Constitutional law professor... (0+ / 0-)

        It's been awhile since I studied all this, but I think it was my constitutional law prof who summed it up by saying that the British gov't had pretty much paid little attention to the colonies for some time, and after the Seven Years War they realized that Something Ought To Be Done and sought to bring some regularity and system to the relationship between the mother country and the colonies. The colonists did NOT appreciate this and felt they were starting to lose liberties they had "always" had.

        If your internal map of reality doesn't match external conditions, bad things happen.--Cambias

        by pimutant on Sat Mar 03, 2012 at 07:14:30 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  It was called "Salutary neglect" (0+ / 0-)

          This was the policy of Robert Walpole during his time as prime minister (1720-1744), which is certainly "some time." In my diary on the Seven Years' War, I observed that when the Rockingham prime ministership was succeeded by William Pitt the Elder, he ran up a huge debt that had to be discharged at the end of the war.  "Something Ought To Be Done" was getting the colonists to help pay for the war.  It's not a vague "something"

          All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

          by Dave in Northridge on Sat Mar 03, 2012 at 08:10:38 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Salutary Neglect (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Yes, the colonists had certainly gotten used to governing themselves and even enjoying a bit of "free trade" in the sense that the British government wasn't paying particular attention to enforcing the Navigation Acts.  I thihk this section from Tindall & Shi's textbook is very apt:

            "Perhaps the last word on how the Revolution cam about should belong to an obscure participant, Levi Preston, a Minuteman from Danvers, Massachusetts.  Asked sixty-seven years after Lexington and Concord about British oppressions, the ninety-one-year-old veteran responded: What were they" Oppressions? I didn't feel them."  When asked about the hated Stamp Act, he claimed that he "never saw one of those stamps" and was "certain I never paid a penny for one of them."  Nor had he ever heard of John Locke or his theories.  "We read only the Bible, teh Catechism, Watt's Psalms and Hymns, and the Almanack."  When his exasperated interviewer asked why, then, he had support [sic] the Revolutio, Preson replied, "Young man, what we meant in going for those redcoats was this:  we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to.  They didn't mean we should." - Tindall & Shi, America: A Narrative History, Brief 8th ed., pg. 141.

            •  Danvers suffered a lot in the Revolution (0+ / 0-)

              One note the historians here might like -- Danvers suffered a catastrophic explosion at a chemical plant in Nov 2006.  Several months after this I asked a cop I know in Danvers what he thought of the aid response from State and Federal agencies.  He told me, "Well, the Feds have their way of doing things, the State has their way of doing things and we have ours."  The Town has been there, in various forms, for hundreds of years.  It will be there for hundreds more. "We have our way of doing things."  

              Somehow, I think Levi Preston would understand and approve.

              BTW, Danvers suffered the most losses of any town outside of Lexington on April 19th.  Five town responders died when they refused to retreat from their too-open post in Arlngton and were bayoneted to death.  Sad story of a cart bringing the remains back into town for burial.

          •  Debt and Taxes (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            The Sugar Act and Stamp Tax weren't designed to pay off British debts for the war, they were to help pay for the large standing army the British had decided to keep stationed in the colonies after the war.  

            The British government thought it was quite reasonable that the colonists pay a portion of the cost for their defense, but many colonists believed that the real reason the British were keeping that army around was to intimidate them, not protect them.  This undoubtedly was an important factor in British thinking, but interestingly enough it seems that an evern large factor was domestic British politics.  

            During the Seven Years War the government had built up a large army, and since the officer class consisted of aristocrats who could afford to purchase a commission, it meant employment for a lot of younger sons.  For obvious political reasons, policy makers in England didn't want to piss off the aristocracy by putting a lot of them out of work, so they figured out a way to keep them employed (and have the colonies pick up part of the tab).

            Foreshadowings of the military/industrial complex?

  •  History repeats itself (5+ / 0-)

    From your post:

    Massachusetts Government Act: Effective May 20, 1774
        This bill effectively annulled the charter of the colonies, giving the British Governor complete control of the town meetings, and taking control out of the hands of the colonialists.
    And just how is Michigan's emergency manager law different?  I wonder where the Republican's power plays are leading.
  •  the LePore book has been on my need to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave in Northridge

    get around to list for a while; I'll put the Breen book next to it. Republished to GFHC.

    Most of my Rev Wa era ancestors were 2-3 generations removed from the MA hotheads by this time period, but my 5g-grandfather--who moved from Braintry to NJ c1750--was a second cousin to both John & Sam Adams, so he would have been empathetic to anything they were saying, but he also was caught up with the revoltutionary fervor of the Presbyterians in the 1st great awakening. (I also have ancestors who had ties close enough to be considered "cousins" to James & Hannah Caldwell.)

    As pointed out, issues of power in the provincial courts was hugely important to NJ ... so many of their rulings were being overturned--maybe a year later--by the courts in England. The restrictions on township control over township affairs, and the quartering of troops were big deals in the minds of my ancestors. One was the younger brother of a Chatham Inn owner ... that inn was where the local sons of liberty types met to complain of the intolerable acts.

    The whole disconnect with the modern tea party over the concept of taxation WITH representation makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

    "If you are sure you understand everything that is going on around you, you are hopelessly confused." Walter Mondale

    by klompendanser on Sat Mar 03, 2012 at 10:23:38 AM PST

  •  2nd Quartering Act (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Here is the relevant text of the 2nd Quartering Act:

    "And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if it shall happen at any time that any officers or soldiers in his Majesty's service shall remain within any of the said colonies without quarters, for the space of twenty-four hours after such quarters shall have been demanded, it shall and may be lawful for the governor of the province to order and direct such and so many uninhabited houses, out-houses, barns, or other buildings, as he shall think necessary to be taken"

    It does not say that occupied buildings may be used.  I believe the significant change between the first and second quartering acts was in terms of who had the authority to requisition quarters.  The first quartering act gave this responsibility and authority to local officials - the second gave this to the royally appointed governor, apparently because local colonial officials simply weren't enforcing the act.

    It's interesting how often the Quartering Acts are misrepresented, even in very respectable history texts.  My students constantly tell me how horrible it was that the British soldiers could just barge into homes and requisition anything they wanted -- but that's not what was happening (or, if it was happening, it wasn't legal under these acts).

    I wonder how much of this relates to Revolutionary era propaganda -- ie, was this something the revolutionaries themselves were pushing? Sort of like Jefferson asserting that the King was to blame for slavery?

    •  No kidding (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      And the offending text is from a British website.  My take on this is that there might have been an unwritten clause that said the local officials or the governor could make a building unoccupied, but I have no proof of that handy.

      My favorite clause comes from the Massachusetts Government Act:

      And whereas, by several acts of the general court, ... the freeholders and inhabitants of the several townships, districts, and precincts, qualified, as is therein expressed, are authorized to assemble together, annually, or occasionally, upon notice given, in such manner as the said acts direct, for the choice of selectmen, constables, and other officers, and for or the making and agreeing upon such necessary rules, orders, and byelaws, for the directing, managing, and ordering, the prudential affairs of such townships, districts, and precincts, and for other purposes:misled to treat upon matters of the most general concern, and whereas a great abuse has been made of the power of calling such meetings, and the inhabitants have, contrary to the design of their institution, been  and to pass many dangerous and unwarrantable resolves: for remedy whereof, be it enacted, that from and after August 1, 1774, no meeting shall be called by the select men, or at the request of any number of freeholders of any township, district, or precinct, without the leave of the governor, or, in his absence, of the lieutenant governor, in writing, expressing the special business of the said meeting, except the annual meeting in the months of March or May, for the choice of select men, constables, and other officers, or except for the choice of persons to fill up the offices aforesaid, on the death or removal of any of the persons first elected to such offices, and also, except any meeting for the election of a representative or representatives in the general court; and that no other matter shall be treated of at such meetings...
      Because they don't like the laws and acts towns are passing.  This made great propaganda.

      All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

      by Dave in Northridge on Sat Mar 03, 2012 at 06:17:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Revolution and Constitution (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dave in Northridge

        For many of my classes I use an assignment where I have them find specific grievances in the Declaration of Independence and the Declarations and Resolves of the First Continental Congress, and then have them show the relationship to specific provisions of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

        This aligns perfectly with the section of the Declarations and Resolves that states:

        "And whereas, assemblies have been frequently dissolved, contrary to the rights of the people, when they attempted to deliberate on grievances; and their dutiful, humble, loyal, and reasonable petitions to the crown for redress, have been repeatedly treated with contempt, by his Majesty's ministers of state"


        "Resolved, N.C.D. 8. That they have a right peaceably to assemble, consider of their grievances, and petition the king; and that all prosecutions, prohibitory proclamations, and commitments for the same, are illegal."

        Which of course then links to the First Amendment.  The right of free assembly and speech is another key check upon arbitrary power.

  •  James Otis (0+ / 0-)

    I never learned about James Otis Jr. in school, but came across him in A.J. Langguth's book  Patriots: The Men Who Started the Revolution.

    Otis was a Massachusets lawyer who in the 1760s laid down a lot of the philosophical framework of the Revolution.  He may not have actually coined the phrase "Taxation without representation is tyranny", but he popularized it and it became his mantra.

    But he was also a loose cannon.  He careened from incindiary firebrand to loyalist advocate of reconcilliation.  He also suffered from periods of mental instability.  By the time major crises of the 1770s, the Stamp Act, the Tea Act and the Intolerable Acts, came around, others such as Sam Adams and John Hancock had taken the roles of leadership in the Patriot cause and Otis was kind of shuffled to the background.

    I suspect that these days his sister, Mercy Otis Warren, (herself a passionate advocate for liberty with a quick and able mind), is better known than he is.  And yet, I can't help but think that with his erratic zeal and instablility in the cause of liberty, James Otis ought to be the Patron Saint of the Tea Party movement.

    He died in 1783 when he was struck by lightning while standing outside a friends house.  His arch-enemy, the former Massachusets colonial governor Thomas Hutchingson would have taken a grim satisfaction in that.  Not sure if that means anything, but it is interesting.

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Sat Mar 03, 2012 at 06:33:12 PM PST

  •  I feel like you wrote this post for me (2+ / 0-)

    I have multiple ancestors in New England from the 1620's on.  Many of them settled in Essex County and the Merrimack Valley out to present-day Gardner, Ma.  

    In Sept 1776, 17 year old Nathaniel Stone died from injuries he received from the Battle of Dorchester Heights.  17 years old.  He had marched with family to Cambridge after the Battle of April 19th. He had multiple uncles and cousins who had responded to the Alarm on Lexington and Concord and who had made it to Meriam's Corner in Concord and who had joined in the "hot pursuit" of the Red Coats through Menotomy (Arlington.)

    Nathaniel was from Groton and is buried in the old cemetery there in the Stone plot.  That plot is near where the Prescott dead sleep, where Prescott cousins and grandparents lie. Nathaniel would have been trained starting at 14 and drilled by companies ultimately commanded by William Prescott, Nathaniel's grandmother's first cousin. That cemetery is dotted with little bronze markers that mark the graves of Minutemen who responded on the sacred 19th.

    What on earth propels farm people like these to send a 17 year old to war? These were not people who were that much affected by the tax laws passed by Parliament. They dealt with Boston mostly as agricultural providers, if then. They were the "country folk," as the British styled them.  

    He was 17 and he died for country just being born.

    •  It must have been the uncles' influence (0+ / 0-)

      I'm guessing that he was with his uncles and cousins who had joined the "hot pursuit" down the Arlington Road, and his death was just sheer bad luck (and I'm also guessing that it made your ancestors even more committed to the revolutionary cause).

      Don't worry, I'm not giving this up.  It's posts like yours that fuel the series.

      All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

      by Dave in Northridge on Sun Mar 04, 2012 at 04:52:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site