Sunday, March 25, 2007

History of People's Movements - Class 3

I. Discussion Topics:

A. Do you agree with the scholars who say the only proper people’s movements are movements that have sprung up since industrialization, in urban areas where many people of differing views can meet? Why or why not?

B. Do you agree with the idea that America is now at a historical moment when “the consent of the governed” has been violated, authorizing citizen revolt against the government? Why or why not?

II. American Revolutionary Era - A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. Chapters 4 and 5

Historical Context - British Acts (all synopses from Wikpedia unless otherwise noted):

Proclamation of 1763 “created a boundary line (often called the proclamation line) between the British colonies on the Atlantic coast and American Indian lands (called the Indian Reserve) west of the Appalachian Mountains…outlawed private purchase of Native American land, which had often created problems in the past…British colonists were forbidden to move beyond the line and settle on native lands, and colonial officials were forbidden to grant lands without royal approval…[it] gave the Crown a monopoly on all future land purchases from American Indians.”

The Stamp Act of 1765 …passed by the Parliament of Great Britain … required all legal documents, permits, commercial contracts, newspapers, wills, pamphlets, and playing cards in the American colonies to carry a tax stamp. The Act was enacted in order to defray the cost of maintaining the military presence protecting the colonies [and] to repay the suppliers from the French and Indian War, which had been very costly, even though Great Britain had been victorious in 1763…The Act passed unanimously on March 22, 1765, and went into effect later that year, on November 1. It met with great resistance in the colonies and was never effectively enforced. Colonists threatened tax collectors with tarring and feathering. Few collectors were willing to risk their well-being to uphold the tax. The Act was repealed on March 18, 1766. This incident increased the colonists' concerns about the intent of the British Parliament and added fuel to the growing separatist movement that later resulted in the American Revolution.

Townshend Taxes “placed a tax on common products imported into the American Colonies, such as lead, paper, paint, glass, and tea…not a direct tax, but a tax on imports and created three new admiralty courts to try Americans who ignored the laws. The impetus behind the Townshend Act was the large debt incured by Great Britain during the French and Indian War, the logic being that since Britain had spent so much blood and treasure defending the American Colonies, it was only proper that they bear a large portion of the financial burden. The Acts led to outrage among the colonists and helped spark the Liberty seizure and riots of 1768. The colonists's opposition to these acts was well stated in the phrase "No taxation without representation," originally spoken by James Otis. Smugglers avoided the taxes by importing illegal goods and by organizing a boycott of the legitimate imports. Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty of Boston were notable supporters of this boycott. Economic pressure from the boycott caused several entities in Britain to press for repeal. Eventually, John Dickinson (1732-1808) raised support to repeal the Townsend Acts by a series of 12 essays entitled "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania," addressing himself as "A Farmer". The only act remaining was the tax on tea. …designed to protect the British East India Company's tea trade by exempting it from three-pence tax on tea, undercutting the prices of other importers which led to adverse economic consequences for the American colonists and the Boston Tea Party.”

Stationing of Troops – “In 1768, the Commissioners of Customs, who acquired their jobs in Britain and drew their pay from what they collected in America, were so intimidated by the resistance they met in Boston that they demanded military protection. Boston's fifteen thousand or so residents were clearly the worst malcontents on the North American continent. It was imperative that they be put in their place. General Thomas Gage (Commander In Chief of the British Army in America) agreed and ordered the regiments … in all about 700 men -- arrived from Ireland to protect the men who collected customs duties for the King of England. To the people of Boston the coming of the troops was outrageous. They had been fighting for years against infringement by Britain of their right to tax themselves.”

“The Boston Massacre was an attack on colonist civilians by British troops on March 5, 1770 and its legal aftermath, which helped spark the American Revolutionary War. Colonists were already resenting the Townsend Acts. Tensions caused by the heavy military presence in Boston led to brawls between soldiers and civilians, and eventually to troops shooting their muskets into a rioting crowd.”

“The Boston Port Act is an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain which became law on March 31, 1774…A response to the Boston Tea Party, it outlawed the use of the Port of Boston (by setting up a barricade/blockade) for "landing and discharging, lading or shipping, of goods, wares, and merchandise" until such time as restitution was made to the King's treasury (for customs duty lost) and to the East India Company for damages suffered…it closed Boston Port to all ships, no matter what business the ship had. As Boston Port was a major source of supplies for the citizens of Massachusetts, sympathetic colonies that extended as far as South Carolina sent relief supplies to the settlers of Massachusetts Bay. This was the first step in the unification of the thirteen colonies.”

“The Massachusetts Government Act …became a law on May 20, 1774…did away with elections for the councilors and assistants in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, making the positions appointive, the appointments to be made by "his Majesty's commission, under the great seal of Great Britain", the positions to be held "during the pleasure of his Majesty". This left the colonists helpless against patronage and corruption. Before the creation of "the Act", the Council possessed the power to veto or nominate officials.”

Historical Context – Colonial Responses

The Stamp Act Congress was a meeting in New York City in October 1765 of delegates from the American Colonies that discussed and acted upon the recently passed Stamp Act. The meetings adopted a Declaration of Rights and Grievances and wrote letters or petitions to the King and both houses of Parliament. This Congress is viewed by some as the first American action in or as a precursor of the American Revolution.The Declaration of Rights raised fourteen points of colonial protest. In addition to the specifics of the Stamp Act taxes, it asserted that only the colonial assemblies had a right to tax the colonies; Trial by jury was a right, and the use of Admiralty Courts was abusive;…without voting rights, Parliaments could not represent the colonists.”

“The Sons of Liberty was a label adopted by Patriots in the Thirteen Colonies before the American Revolution. British authorities and their supporters considered the Sons of Liberty as seditious rebels, and referred to them as "Sons of Violence" and "Sons of Iniquity." Patriots attacked the apparatus and symbols of British authority and power such as gentlemen's homes, Customs officers, East India Company tea, and, as the war approached, vocal supporters of the Crown. The Sons of Liberty wanted to resist the British Crown with acts of protest, however they did not want mob violence.”

“A committee of correspondence was a body organized by the local governments of the American colonies for the purposes of coordinating written communication outside of the colony. These served an important role in the American Revolution and the years leading up to it, disseminating the colonial interpretation of British actions between the colonies and to foreign governments. The committees of correspondence rallied opposition on common causes and established plans for collective action, and so the network of committees was the beginning of what later became a formal political union among the colonies.”

Boston Tea Party - The Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767 angered colonists regarding British decisions on taxing the colonies despite a lack of representation in the Westminster Parliament. One of the protesters was John Hancock. In 1768, Hancock's ship Liberty was seized by customs officials, and he was charged with smuggling. He was defended by John Adams, and the charges were eventually dropped...Hancock organized a boycott of tea from China sold by the British East India Company, whose sales in the colonies then fell from 320,000 pounds (145,000 kg) to 520 pounds (240 kg). By 1773, the company had large debts, huge stocks of tea in its warehouses and no prospect of selling it because smugglers such as Hancock were importing tea without paying import taxes. The British government passed the Tea Act, which allowed the East India Company to sell tea to the colonies directly, thereby allowing them to sell for lower prices than those offered by the colonial merchants and smugglers…. The first of many ships carrying the East India Company tea was the HMS Dartmouth arriving in late November 1773…On Thursday, December 16, 1773, the evening before the tea was due to be landed, on a signal given by Samuel Adams, the Sons of Liberty thinly disguised as Mohawk Indians, left the massive protest meeting and headed toward Griffin's Wharf, where lay the HMS Dartmouth and her newly arrived, tea bearing, sister ships the HMS Beaver and the HMS Eleanour. Swiftly and efficiently casks of tea were brought up from the hold to the deck, reasonable proof that some of the "Indians" were, in fact, longshoremen. The casks were opened and the tea dumped overboard; the work, lasting well into the night, was quick, thorough, and efficient. By dawn 90,000 lbs (45 tons) of tea worth an estimated £10,000 had been consigned to waters of Boston harbor. Nothing else had been damaged or stolen, except a single padlock accidentally broken and anonymously replaced not long thereafter. Tea washed up on the shores around Boston for weeks…”

First Continental Congress “Like the Stamp Act Congress, which was formed by colonials to respond to the unpopular Stamp Act, the First Continental Congress was formed largely in response to the Intolerable Acts. The Congress was planned through the permanent committees of correspondence. They chose the meeting place to be Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in Carpenters' Hall, which was both centrally located and one of the leading cities in the colonies…The Congress had two primary accomplishments. First, the Congress drafted the Articles of Association on October 20, 1774…forming a compact among the colonies to boycott British goods, and to cease exports to Britain as well if the “Intolerable Acts” were not repealed. The boycott was successfully implemented, but its potential at altering British colonial policy was cut off by the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in 1775. Its second accomplishment was to provide for a Second Continental Congress to meet on May 10, 1775…”

Declaration of Independence: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation… We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Zinn’s Hypothesis: The American Revolution was not in the immediate interests of most of the colonists; it was mostly a means for the ruling elite that had sprung up in the colonies to acquire the power held by the British Royal appointees. The leaders of the Revolution successfully channeled popular unrest and anger at the class divisions that separated poor farmers, laborers, servants, etc., from wealthier merchants, tradesmen, and professionals of both American and British allegiance, to advance the interests of the colonial upper class using the energy, passion and lives (in battle) of the colonial lower class against the British ruling class. It was difficult at times – mobs whipped up by colonial orators successfully attacked British warehouses, officials’ homes, etc., but the leaders became concerned that the mobs would then turn their attention to wealthy colonial property and privileges. Thus, the need to co-opt and redirect that energy and growing class consciousness toward throwing off British rule while keeping prevailing property and power distribution intact for the post-war nation.

“The military conflict itself, by dominating everything in its time, diminished other issues, made people choose sides in the one contest that was publicly important, forced people onto the side of the Revolution whose interest in Independence was not at all obvious. Ruling elites seem to have learned through the generations – consciously or not – that war makes them more secure against internal trouble.” (People’s History, p. 79)


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