Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Some Books About the American Revolution

Recently I had the chance to do something which you would also enjoy. Clutching a percentage-off coupon (the backbone of my economy) I was in a large bookstore, balancing on one of their rickety circular stools, and scanned the shelves on the American Revolution.

Scanning isn’t really reading. It’s looking, front to back, and vice versa. The cover, typeface, index, how does the book feel to you? Happily, biographical titles were filed at the same location, otherwise I feel I’m missing something. Can you curl up with this book? With all respect, you can’t do this with a computer!

Is the book easy to read physically? I take my glasses off to make this test. Hardcovers will always excel over the paper version, but the latter are so portable, can be stuffed into so many places, it’s a bit of a toss-up.

It’s true, though, for any subject: I don’t want to see the word “dummies” in the title. If you don’t know much about quantum mechanics, does that make you a dummy? I don’t think so.

Whatever your interest, having some volumes on a shelf, half a shelf, table, gives you a nice connection to your subject. The problem with library books is that at some point they have to be returned!

The 1776 period has generated a great deal of published material, and continues to do so. For books about Founding Fathers, John Adams and George Washington seem to be in a virtual tie. Ben Franklin and Tom Jefferson are also up there.

I thought it would be interesting to look at my small collection and see how these volumes duplicate at all what you might possess. Also, an ever increasing collection of other media products, such as TV series, cannot be ignored. For example HBO’s multiple-episodic John Adams is an outstanding example.

There are many gaps in my small collection. I became more and more aware of this.

Here are some titles from my shelf. Critically they are considered good treatments of the period under consideration.

Ron Chernow: Alexander Hamilton
David McCullough: 1776
David McCullough: John Adams
Joseph J. Ellis: American Creation
Joseph J. Ellis: Founding Brothers
Joyce Appleby: Thomas Jefferson
Gordon S. Wood: The American Revolution
Fred Anderson: The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War
Edmund S. Morgan: The Birth of the Republic 1763-1789
Robert Middlekauff: The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution 1763-1789
Thomas Paine: Common Cause
A single volume containing the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Bill of Rights and the Constitution, and your state constitution

Some of the books are hard to read (and finish); the longer books are probably easier because the shorter ones are so crammed full of facts that one almost needs a companion volume to go with it.

A parting thought. Never, ever, lend out a book you love. You will regret it. I learned the hard way. Rather, donate it, buy it as a gift.

From an experienced Friend of 1776 – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Smuggling in the American Revolution

From Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition:

-smuggle: to bring into or take out of a country, secretly, under illegal conditions, without paying the required import or export duties
-to bring, take, carry, secretly or stealthily

Desperate housewives from Spokane, Washington, a city not known for its revolutionary or even newsworthy activities (with respect to the local population) drive to Idaho to buy illegal dishwashing detergent. This item is hardly a commodity listed on the world’s exchanges.

Spokane has banned some very effective ingredients from detergents because of problems with the local river. Some claim a serious casualty is slimy dishes. At any rate, the generally law-abiding housewives take to the road and continue a long tradition of smuggling, which was a regular part of American trade at the time of our Revolution.

Smuggling of many goods was well-established, successful, highly profitable, often admired, and quite illegal. The British had for many years legislated the control of its colonies’ trade and manufacturing, such as the Navigation Acts, and particularly the Molasses Act (initially 1733). The latter focused on the profitable West Indies trade. Much of the legislation would have choked the American colonies, had it been successfully enforced.

Here was the problem. Britain couldn’t stop it. In fact, thousands were smuggling in Britain itself. As for the colonies, smuggling had become a sophisticated, well-organized activity. Most of the time, it could not be controlled. It was difficult to convict smugglers. Gradually, colonials regarded smuggling as a successful anti-British tactic, admirable and probably patriotic. Fortunes were made, including that of John Hancock, President of our 2nd Continental Congress and first signer of the Declaration of Independence. His illegal gains didn’t seem to have impeded his future success.

Whether the public ultimately benefited from an economy so heavily dependent on smuggling is debatable. But Britain used poor judgment to pursue its long policy to control its colonies’ commerce. It fueled the ever-increasing anger in America. It had no chance of long-term success.

Let me pose a provocative question. Is smuggling encouraged by overzealous government regulation? Certainly smuggling has never vanished from the U.S. From the Prohibition era, to cigarettes, and now prescription drugs, goods are traded illegally. In Britain during World War II, just living on ration coupons was tough going. The black market made a lot of people happy. Was this activity right? Of course not. But maybe you can understand it.

Basically, the rationale for smuggling has not changed at all since 1776. For the public, the incentive is availability of a product and a real or perceived need for it. Price is usually not a primary consideration. For the supplier, just follow the money. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Our Boston Tea Party

Even if its place in the American Revolution isn’t so important, the Boston Tea Party is still a very good story.

The Plot

A mega company, close to the government, has serious problems: a glut of its product, looming bankruptcy. It needs a quick bailout, Fall 2008 style;
The government is the only one who can bail it out. Unfortunately, it has critical cash flow problems of its own;
A public who will fund it all, and believe it’s getting a good deal.

Let’s now fill in the blanks.

The East India Company has a tea monopoly, which is encountering serious market conditions. The outlook is not good.

But the government, Great Britain, has a Happy Plan. There is a ready market for all that tea, the American colonies. Sure, a small tax will be added, but the colonies will actually pay less than the smuggled beverage they usually drink.

Everyone should be happy.

No, the colonies are furious. In 1773, they see through the Happy Plan as nothing but illegal taxation. Which product will be next? With the spirit of Sam Adams always as a guide, the colonies would not let the tea enter the market. The rest of the story is history.

Dump the stuff.

April 15 is officially American Tax Day, and now also Tax Protest Day.

Crowds gathered to demonstrate anger at taxation of all types. A retail opportunity seems to have been missed though, because I didn’t read that anyone actually served tea.

To drink it, in china cups accompanies by trimmings such as scones, strawberries, cream, the beverage iced on a hot day, what could be more delicious?

Maybe next year. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Causes of the American Revolution: Part 2 – The Stamp Act

In the annals of American taxation, certain taxes have had tremendous impact.

I include the federal income tax, the poll tax, and my nominee, the Stamp Act tax, March 22, 1765.

Britain was still trying to get its American colonies to pay a share of the huge deficit from the French and Indian War. The British decided to level a small, but very broad tax on all commercial uses of paper in its colonies, such as documents, or official correspondence – a category that would apply this levy to most of the general population. The tax was modest, to be used for America’s defense, whatever that was. Defense against whom?

The tax would be collected by American agents, with an unpopular job, which they quickly found out. Collection rates were poor.

On the surface, the Stamp Act did not seem too unreasonable. But the colonies immediately smelled danger and opposition quickly intensified. This included a widespread boycott of British goods, causing great alarm in Britain at home. The colonies felt their basic liberties were threatened; no taxes could be levied except by their own representatives. Every other attempt was illegal.

The Stamp Act tax was repealed in 1766, an amazing development. But the euphoria did not last long. New taxes were levied, including on tea. This commodity achieved its own notoriety a few years later. Everything was right back where it had started.

Shortly after independence, Congress faced the unpleasant truth: it had to raise revenue.

Through taxes. Nothing has changed.

These could be levied on the rich, the living, the dead, property and profits, goods and services, the list today is endless.

Remember in Gone with the Wind, how was Scarlett going to pay Tara’s land taxes?

It’s April 15th. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Causes of the American Revolution: Part I – The French and Indian War

On April 1, 2009 (I am not kidding), California hiked its sales tax, to deal with a crippling budget deficit.

The reaction, as usual, was mixed. There was anger, resignation, and that peculiar tendency of the public to believe that if they ignore something, it will just go away.

Government and taxes are a lethal weapon.

Therefore, I understand tax opposition; I don’t understand resignation.

About 250 years ago, had the American colonials just accepted a collection of new taxes, the British would have had a field day. There probably would have been no revolution.

Instead, the colonials developed strong anger and resistance. The issues of taxes, tariffs, and trade were too important to be ignored. It did lead to a revolution.

1763 marked the end of the French and Indian War, when Britain prevailed over the French in a long, very expensive territorial war.

War is very costly.

North America was now under the firm control of the British. The war was a plus for us. With some exceptions, they were colonial boom times. There was new trade, new products. The British knew this. Now their plan was to recoup some of the costs of the war from their prosperous colonies.

We would have none of this, and indicated so immediately. Were the British expecting too much? I don’t know. What do you think?

The British tax plans were viewed as persecution and illegal. The colonials gradually resorted to all kinds of tactics: smuggling, product boycotts, whatever ingenious methods merchants could come up with.

The message was very clear. Don’t tax your colonies. We are not represented in your Parliament so you have no right.

But the British didn’t get it. They never did.

I think revolutions have many causes, some of long duration. But then there are some pivotal events, certain people. The situation comes to a head, issues boil over, often in one location. For us, that was Boston. –Renata Breisacher Mulry