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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Still Working On My Third Cup Of Joe Myself

The Tea that bainfull weed is arrived. Great and I hope Effectual opposition has been made to the landing of it. 

 - Abigail Adams to Mercy Otis Warren, December 5, 1773


Time to revisit a classic FB meme that bugged the crap out of me last year:

So I have to ask once again: have none of these motherfuckers actually read the Declaration of Independence beyond its preamble?  There were 27 (TWENTY-FUCKING-SEVEN) grievances enumerated, 1 (ONE) of which was "imposing Taxes on us without our Consent" about 17 (SEVENTEEN) from the top.

Anyway, I'll be a little charitable on the 2% increase claim, though I don't find it convincing.  It's all a little muddy, but it appears to me that the Townshend Revenue Act reduced the tea tax essentially from 12 cents (4 shillings) to 3 cents (well, pence) per pound of tea (weight, not sterling).  The original principle at stake was Parliament's assertion of the right to tax Colonies at all--it was now to be actually collected and spent in America--but once all the other taxes were repealed, revolutionary ardour cooled a bit.

With the Tea Act, however, Colonials were really pissed about giving the East India Company a goddamned monopoly and corporate tax break.  Here's John Dickinson, writing as RusticusNovember 27, 1773:

Are we...to be given up to the Disposal of the East-India Company, who have now the Assurance to step forth in Aid of the Minister, to execute his Plan of enslaving America?

Their conduct in Asia, for some Years past, has given ample Proof, how little they regard the Laws of Nations, the Rights, Liberties, or Lives of Meu. They have levied War, excited Rebellions, dethroned lawful Princes, and sacrificed Millions for the Sake of Gain. The Revenues of mighty Kingdoms have centered in their Coffers. And these not being sufficient to glut their Avarice, they have, by the most unparalleled Barbarities, Extortions and Monopolies, stripped the miserable Inhabitants of their Property, and reduced whole Provinces to Indigence and Ruin.

Fifteen hundred Thousand, it is said, perished by Famine in one Year, not because the Earth denied its Fruits, but this Company and its Servants engrossed all the Necessaries of Life, and set them at so high a Rate, that the Poor could not purchase them. Thus having drained the Sources of that immense Wealth, which they have for several Years past been accustomed to amass, and squander away on their Lusts, and in corrupting their Country, they now, it seems, cast their Eyes on America, as a new Theatre, whereon to exercise their Talents of Rapine, Oppression and Cruelty.

The Monopoly of Tea, is, I dare say, but a small Part of the Plan they have formed to strip us of our Property. But thank GOD, we are not Sea Poys, nor Marattas, but British Subjects, who are born to Liberty, who know its Worth, and who prize it high. We are engaged in a mighty Struggle. The Cause is of the utmost Importance, and the Determination of it will fix our Condition as Slaves or Freemen.

It is not the paltry Sum of Three-Pence which is now demanded, but the Principle upon which it is demanded, that we are contending against. Before we pay any Thing, let us see whether we have any Thing we can call our own to pay. [JD's emph.]

So it wasn't the extremely small tax that angered Colonials, but rather a variety of other issues: that old saw, "no taxation without representation"; the revenues being used to pay salaries of colonial officials, taking away accountability from the People; a huge government loan and corporate tax break for EIC, undercutting American smuggle...um, traders; etc.  I mean, really, if the Framers were against taxation, would they have codified Congress' plenary power to tax in the Constitution?  And, of course, the Tea Act effectively REDUCED the price of tea for Americans, who were also taxed less overall than subjects in England, but whatever.

Since we're talking tea, we have to look at the British East India Company's role in this passion play.  Chartered in 1600, EIC was essentially the commercial and colonial arm of England, who at the time wasn't powerful or rich enough yet to dominate the world on its own.  By 1757, EIC had won the Battle of Plassey, which essentially marked the beginning of the company's and country's Indian empire.  

None other than Adam Smith held the company in rather low regard:

[A] company of merchants are, it seems, incapable of considering themselves as sovereigns, even after they have become such...It is the interest of the East India company, considered as sovereigns, that the European goods which are carried to their Indian dominions should be sold there as cheap as possible; and that the Indian goods which are brought from thence should bring there as good a price, or should be sold there as dear as possible. But the reverse of this is their interest as merchants. As sovereigns, their interest is exactly the same with that of the country which they govern. As merchants their interest is directly opposite to that interest.

It appears his treatise (and Dickinson's) was informed by the Bengal Famine of several years earlier, caused in large part by EIC's mismanagement.  As he notes later:

Negligence and profusion, therefore, must always prevail, more or less, in the management of the affairs of such a company. It is upon this account that joint stock companies for foreign trade have seldom been able to maintain the competition against private adventurers. They have, accordingly, very seldom succeeded without an exclusive privilege, and frequently have not succeeded with one. Without an exclusive privilege they have commonly mismanaged the trade. With an exclusive privilege they have both mismanaged and confined it.

Even with a monopoly, EIC was sucking wind.  They had over 17.5M pounds of tea sitting around (my back of the napkin estimate is 2-3 times more than England and America consumed annually, but I have no exact source) in 1773, thanks to foreign competition.  The company also was heavily in debt (1.3M Pounds), including to the British government, for a variety of reasons.

So they turned to drug running and getting the aforementioned tax break.  On the latter, we'll let one of the real tea partiers summarize:

While the inhabitants of Boston and the British colonies were thus exquisitively sensible to whatever they deemed hostile to their rights, resenting with equal indignation the most trivial as the most serious attack a resolution was taken in England, which if executed, would have given the victory to the government, and reduced the Americans to the condition to which they had such an extreme repugnance.

Their obstinacy in refusing to pay the duty on tea, rendered the smuggling of it an object, and was frequently practiced, and their resolutions against using it, although observed by many with little fidelity, had greatly diminished the importation into the colonies of this commodity. Meanwhile an immense quantity of it was accumulated in the warehouses of the East India Company in England.

This company petitioned the king to surpress the duty of three pence per pound upon its introduction into America, and to continue the six pence upon its exportation from the ports of England ; such a measure would have given the government an advantage of three pence per pound, and relieved the Americans from a law they abhorred. But the government would not consent, as they were more solicitous about the right than the measure.

The company, however, received permission to transport tea, free of all duty, from Great Britain to America, and to introduce it there on paying a duty of three pence.

This angered folks enough that they did a little dumping of tea in the harbor.  That act of defiance was actually a demonstration against corporatism.  

So about that.  John Adams' recorded the event in his journal the next day (December 17, 1773):

Last Night 3 Cargoes of Bohea Tea were emptied into the Sea. This Morning a Man of War sails.
 
This is the most magnificent Movement of all. There is a Dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity, in this last Effort of the Patriots, that I greatly admire. The People should never rise, without doing something to be remembered -- something notable And striking. This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences, and so lasting, that I cant but consider it as an Epocha in History.

But why'd they dress as Mohwaks?  Bruce E. Johansen on explains:

As the tea symbolised imported British oppression and taxation without representation, the Indian symbolised its antithesis – a 'trademark' of an emerging American identity, and a voice for liberty, against British oppression. The Indian symbol (particularly the Mohawk) appeared not only at Boston's tea party, but also at anti-tea protests the length of the seaboard. Through the pre-revolutionary years, the American Indian, to the colonists becoming Americans, symbolised a sense of liberty and independence, as well as American-ness, which appeared in many forms of propaganda, from songs, to slogans, to political engravings, which served the purpose of modern editorial cartoons.

Paul Revere, whose 'midnight ride' became legend in the hands of Longfellow, played a crucial role in forging this sense of American identity, contributing to the revolutionary cause a series of remarkable political engravings which cast an Indian woman as the symbol of a nation being born, long before Brother Jonathan or Uncle Sam came along. Revere was far from being alone in this regard. The image of the Indian as a symbol of liberation and American identity fits finely the popular conception of the time that America's native people had much to teach Europeans on both sides of the Atlantic. In the pre-revolutionary years, in its most graphic form, the Indian again became a counterpoint to European political tyranny and class stratification.
...
The Indian as a symbol of an oppressed America made its debut along with the earliest agitation against British taxation. In a cartoon titled 'The Great Financier, or British Economy for the Years 1763, 1764, 1765', George Grenville, First Lord of the Admiralty, holds a balance, while a subordinate loads it with rubbish. William Pitt, the Prime Minister, leans on a crutch as an Indian (representing America) groans, on one knee, under the burden of Grenville's taxes. In the earliest engravings, America is enduring the pain of taxation. Later, the Indians of revolutionary propaganda would take the offensive, shooting bows and arrows at their oppressors, a prelude to armed rebellion by the colonists themselves.

Symbols are powerful and important.  This one worked so well that there were actually a number of other such parties.  F'rinstance, there was one in Annapolis back in October of '74, when the Peggy Stewart was burned:

In the summer of 1774, Thomas Charles Williams, the London representative of an Annapolis merchant firm, tried to smuggle tea across the Atlantic into Annapolis by disguising nearly a ton of it in 17 packages labeled as linen, and loading it among the rest of the cargo on the brig Peggy Stewart. The captain of the brig, Richard Jackson, only discovered the true nature of the "linen" while at sea. A few years before, an Annapolis precedent had been set when its customs officer refused to allow any ships to unload any portion of their cargo until the tax on all of it had been paid. This now alarmed Captain Jackson because most of the rest of the Peggy Stewart's cargo consisted of 53 indentured servants.

The ship reached Annapolis on October 14, 1774, and Williams's business partners decided they wanted nothing to do with his attempt at smuggling. They could not think of risking the lives of the indentured servants by sending the ship back across the Atlantic during the storm season which had just begun. They paid the customs tax due and quickly got the human cargo ashore, leaving the tea onboard. The presence of tea aboard ship had inflamed public opinion in Annapolis. Williams and his business partners were threatened with lynching; their store and their homes, with destruction. To avoid that, the business partners offered to burn the Peggy Stewart, which they owned, along with its cargo, which they did, on the night of October 19. This came to be called the Annapolis Tea Party. The city of Annapolis marks this each year with a ceremony.

And beyond these very real acts of property destruction (which people condemning Ferguson protesters should recall), Colonials started changing their drinking habits. John Adams again:

I believe I forgot to tell you one Anecdote: When I first came to this House it was late in the Afternoon, and I had ridden 35 miles at least. "Madam" said I to Mrs. Huston, "is it lawfull for a weary Traveller to refresh himself with a Dish of Tea provided it has been honestly smuggled, or paid no Duties?"

"No sir, said she, we have renounced all Tea in this Place. I cant make Tea, but He make you Coffee." Accordingly I have drank Coffee every Afternoon since, and have borne it very well. Tea must be universally renounced. I must be weaned, and the sooner, the better.

His saucy wife:

You must know that there is a great Scarcity of Sugar and Coffe, articles which the Female part of the State are very loth to give up, expecially whilst they consider the Scarcity occasiond by the merchants having secreted a large Quantity. There has been much rout and Noise in the Town for several weeks. Some Stores had been opend by a number of people and the Coffe and Sugar carried into the Market and dealt out by pounds.

It was rumourd that an eminent, wealthy, stingy Merchant (who is a Batchelor) had a Hogshead of Coffe in his Store which he refused to sell to the committee under 6 shillings per pound. A Number of Females some say a hundred, some say more assembled with a cart and trucks, marchd down to the Ware House and demanded the keys, which he refused to deliver, upon which one of them seazd him by his Neck and tossd him into the cart. Upon his finding no Quarter he deliverd the keys, when they tipd up the cart and dischargd him, then opend the Warehouse, Hoisted out the Coffe themselves, put it into the trucks and drove off.

It was reported that he had a Spanking among them, but this I believe was not true. A large concourse of Men stood amazd silent Spectators of the whole transaction.

Thus we have a great beverage divide between our two countries to this day.  Now skip ahead a few years, and it seems that Gouverneur Morris was on target during the Constitutional Convention:

The Rich will strive to establish their dominion & enslave the rest. They always did. They always will...

A firm Governt. alone can protect our liberties. He fears the influence of the rich. They will have the same effect here as elsewhere if we do not by such a Govt. keep them within their proper sphere. 

We should remember that the people never act from reason alone. The Rich will take advantage of their passions & make these the instruments for oppressing them. The Result of the Contest will be a violent aristocracy, or a more violent despotism. The schemes of the Rich will be favored by the extent of the Country.

How does a firm government protect our liberties?  Through things like regulationtaxesproviding services and responding to the will of the People rather than business concerns.  Sadly, the rich, like...say, the Waltons have convinced poor people that government alone is a threat to their liberties.  

As one participant (Plough Jogger, perhaps a pseudonymous homage to John Adams?) said in a protest convention back in 1780:

The great men are going to get all we have and I think it is time for us to rise and put a stop to it...

Indeed.

*sips coffee thoughtfully*

ntodd

December 16, 2014 | Permalink

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"Their conduct in Asia, for some Years past, has given ample Proof, how little they regard the Laws of Nations, the Rights, Liberties, or Lives of Meu. They have levied War, excited Rebellions, dethroned lawful Princes, and sacrificed Millions for the Sake of Gain. The Revenues of mighty Kingdoms have centered in their Coffers. And these not being sufficient to glut their Avarice, they have, by the most unparalleled Barbarities, Extortions and Monopolies, stripped the miserable Inhabitants of their Property, and reduced whole Provinces to Indigence and Ruin."

Well, that was over tea, not oil.

Which is, you know: different.

Posted by: Rmj | Dec 16, 2014 1:41:02 PM

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