Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

July 4th, 1776. "When in the Course of Human Events..." But how
did we get there?

The oppression began with our British Parliament passing the Currency Act (1764) -- a cost-of-living tax which invalidated colonial paper money (scrip); and the Sugar Act (April 5, 1764) a tax with plenty of enforcement on a major American import (for making rum) as well as on other ship-transported products such as lumber -- and most especially, it disallowed jury trials for any violations, specifying instead the use of non-American-run Admiralty courts. The Currency Act helped tank the American economy, and the Sugar Act got shippers heavily involved in politics.

The following year, our British Parliament passed the Stamp Act (March 22, 1765) (a tax on each official document, contract, newspaper, and all playing cards) and the Quartering Act of 1765 (troops turning home owners out into the street and taking the homes over as barracks).

As there were no significant incidents with quartering yet, the immediate response was to the onerous Stamp Act -- the first American states' congress convened, the Stamp Act Congress (October 1765). Members of nine colonies met and published their Declaration of Rights and Grievances on October 19th, including the right to trial by a jury of one's peers, reduction of the power of the Admiralty courts, and the right of self taxation (also known as "No Taxation Without Representation", championed by scientist Ben Franklin in the Albany Congress of 1754, and reiterated by Samuel Adams of Boston in 1764 and by Patrick Henry in the Virginia Resolves of May 30, 1765).

Street protests, some violent started in the summer of 1765 -- including violent protests against the Massachusetts stamp distributor, who was hung in effigy, had his house ransacked, and was forced to publicly resign his post to an angry crowd under the Boston Liberty Tree. These protests became more organized under a group called the "Sons of Liberty" beginning in 1766, though that title had been popular previously.

Our British Parliament then passed the Townshend Acts (29 June 1767) levying taxes on many products (e.g., glass, paper, paint, tea), creating new Admiralty courts, and including a reaffirmation that tax collectors could legally demand help from all able-bodied citizens on pain of imprisonment (known as "writs of assistance").

The new taxes caused John Dickinson to write a series of well-reasoned essays against them. Dickinson was a successful lawyer, a Quaker, and a leader of the Stamp Act Congress. The twelve essays, Letters from a (Pennsylvania) Farmer, both helped unify political feelings throughout the Colonies and eventually convinced Parliament to repeal the Townshend Acts. In an interesting side note, Dickinson had a falling out with Franklin, both Pennsylvanian legislators, in 1764 over the proposed (original) Mason-Dixon line -- the two lines, finalized in 1767, that separate Maryland from both Delaware to the west and Pennsylvania to the north.

The new taxes, and especially extra enforcement, caused even more protests. A "great riot" broke out at Boston harbor (June 10, 1768) when John Hancock's trading ship Liberty was confiscated (after its main cargo was surreptitiously unloaded) for failure to pay the new taxes.

Our British Parliament responded to protests and street violence with a heavy troop presence, primarily in Boston -- occupied by our British General Thomas Gage, who said of the bumpkin cousins under his benevolent heel "America is a mere bully, from one end to the other, and the Bostonians by far the greatest bullies."

The first significant military incident was the clumsy crowd-incited Boston Massacre (March 5, 1770) -- five British-Americans died and six were wounded. Lawyer John Adams, a leader of the Sons of Liberty and later the 2nd President, defended the troops in court when no one else would take the case, and they were acquitted of murder charges.

These events, and Dickinson's Letters, led to our British Parliament repealing the Townshend Acts (April 1770), except for that new extra tea tax, which was figured to be the easiest to collect and raise the most revenue.

John Hancock then led a boycott of East India Company tea, which in a couple years was very successful when coupled with an increase in tea smuggling. East India, in financial straits, then lobbied Parliament to pass the Tea Act (May 10th, 1773), which removed the London tea import taxes required before transshipping tea to the Colonies. However, even though this lowered East India's tea price in the Colonies, by this time the cumulative effects of unconsented taxes, extra tax enforcements, the kangaroo Admiralty courts, and troop occupation kept the boycott fires stoked.

In Boston, the citizens passed resolutions forbidding the unloading of East India tea on the docks. A stand-off began in November 1773 when a tea shipment arrived in Boston harbor organized by the Sons of Liberty on threat of violence to the officials and owners involved. By December, the East India ship owner agreed to return the ship, still loaded with tea, to England; but in a counter move, the Massachusetts governor blocked the harbor with gunboats until the tea was unloaded. And two more tea ships had just docked in Boston. After a final request by the ship's owner to the governor was refused, some eighty men, dressed as Narragansett Indians took hatchets, overpowered the ships' guards, and made "a harbor-pot" of tea out of some 45 tons of leaf -- commemorated as the Boston Tea Party (December 16, 1773). Nothing else had been damaged on the ships, just the tea casks. The tea floated in clumps and damaged casks for days afterward, with some trying to salvage what they could
of the free tea.

British Parliament responded with the Intolerable Acts (1774). The Boston Port Act closed down Boston harbor until the some ten thousand pound value of the tea was paid to East India. This had the ill effect of punishing all of Boston for the acts of the Sons of Liberty. Then the Massachusetts Government Act replaced all elective political positions with Royal appointments -- thrilling the Colonists, of course. And the Administration of Justice Act moved key Massachusetts trials across the ocean to Britain where the witness list could be appropriately tailored. Finally the Quartering Act beefed up the rules whereby officers could pick and choose where to billet their soldiers, but did so in all the Colonies.

Where Parliament had originally thought to cut out and isolate Massachusetts from the colonial herd, the Intolerable Acts were instead viewed by the colonial legislatures as a hint of things to come.

Sam Adams finally got his wish. In 1773, he had publicly called for a new meeting, another colonial Congress like the Stamp Act Congress. By May of 1774, in the wake of the Intolerable Acts, his call was joined by many others. Fifty five members from all but one of the Colonies (Georgia) met in Philadelphia at Carpenters' Hall for the what is known today as the First Continental Congress, from 5 September to 26 October 1774.

It was initially led by Virginian legislator Peyton Randolph, its 1st President, until he resigned on October 22 to return to the Virginia legislature. South Carolinian farmer Henry Middleton was its 2nd President, whose son was a Signer of the Declaration of Independence. Charles Thomson, head of the Philadelphia branch of the Sons of Liberty, was named its Secretary and had significant influence in its direction.

On October 20th the Congress published the Continental Association -- a very successful massive boycott of British products (including slave trade) to force repeal of the Intolerable Acts. The "Articles of Association" established the colonies as "America" and the British colonialists as "Americans"; they also supported the King and condemned only the lesser British officials for their systematic disrepresentation of America, and gave deadlines for British compliance. They also scheduled a Second meeting of the Continental Congress on May 10th of 1775, the following Spring.

British Parliament, with encouragement from King George III, responded to the trade boycott by passing the New England Restraining Act (March 30, 1775), attempting to split the New England colonies off from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the lower plantation colonies of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. It banned all trade by New England colonies with anyone but the British Empire. It also banned New England fishers from the North Atlantic fisheries. When Britain discovered that the other colonies were also enforcing the boycott, they were added to the Act in April.

By April of 1775, Massachusetts was still THE hotbed of anti-Parliament fervor. All but a couple of the leaders of the Boston branch of the Sons of Liberty had moved out of the city, including Samuel Adams and John Hancock, to coordinate protest activities, leaving only silversmith Paul Revere and and Dr. Joseph Warren to provide intelligence on any British troop movements threatening the outlying areas. The Minutemen, militias established by the local towns composed of all able-bodied men who owned arms, had collected and stored arms, munitions, and supplies in nearby Concord.

On April 18th, Dr. Warren sent both Revere and Will Dawes to warn the Minutemen in Concord. Paul Revere's Midnight Ride (April 18, 1775) was north by rowboat (after curfew) from Boston's Old North Church across Charlestown and then by horse through Medford and on to Lexington and onward to Concord to warn that some 700 elite British troops (10 Light Infantry and 11 Grenadiers companies) had crossed the Charles River by boats and were marching on the main road toward Lexington. He was joined by tanner William Dawes who rode south from Boston Neck through Roxbury and Brookline and then up across the Cambridge Bridge to Lexington to also provide a warning in case Revere failed to get past the patrols. From Lexington, the call of "alarm and muster" went out to the countryside.

General Gage had planned on surprise with his troops' night movement. The next morning the British found the Minutemen prepared. The first shot of the American Revolution was fired on Lexington Commons with the Lexington Minutemen facing British troops. In the tension and confusion of orders, eight minutemen were killed and one British regular was wounded. The British reformed and marched to Concord. There, they successfully found and destroyed stores, most munitions and tried to render the cannon unusable. Once small skirmish, at The North Bridge, resulted in a few British and minutemen dead -- with the British firing first, the "Shot Heard 'Round The World". Another force of British troops was able to pass unharmed through minutemen lines, as the minutemen were only returning fire if fired upon. But on the return march from Concord, there were numerous skirmishes and ambushes. All told, both sides lost about 50 or so men dead, with the British having nearly 200 wounded. These were the Battles of Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775).

The Second Continental Congress met on May 10th, 1775, again in Philadelphia. Again, Virginian legislator Peyton Randolph was elected President of the Congress. When he, again, resigned to return to the Virginian legislature, South Carolinian Middleton was elected, but he declined. Finally John Hancock was elected President. By July 20th, representatives from the last colony, Georgia, arrived.

This Second Congress managed the War that had broken out the previous month with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. By June 14th, Congress formally created the Continental Army. John Adams arranged to have Virginian George Washington head it. On July 8th, Congress passed the Olive Branch Petition, but it was far too late for reconciliation with Britain.

The following year, on May 10th, John Adams drafted, and Congress passed, a resolution revoking Royal authority in any of the Colonial governments. He also, and arranged to have Thomas Jefferson write a Declaration of Independence. Congress approved the final draft of the Declaration on July 4th, 1776, which was initially signed by President John Hancock. It was published a month later with the rest of its signatories.

[Click on the title above, or date stamp below, to see the full post.]
Congress went on to pass the Articles of Confederation (November 15, 1777). The final state to ratify the Articles was Maryland (February 2, 1781), and their representatives signed the Articles, in Congress, on March 1st.

Side note, Britain lost the war.

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