Sunday, June 30, 2013

The War That Created Freedom

To understand the American Revolution, one must begin much earlier than the actual start of hostilities in April 1775 at Lexington and Concord. The French and Indian War - the North American analogue to the Seven Years' War - was the immediate context. That war, ending in 1763, began as a spat between Frederick the Great of Prussia and Maria-Theresa of Austria. France was drawn in as an Austrian ally, and England entered the conflict as a Prussian ally. Tension already existed in North America between the British colonies and the French colonies, as both wanted the area around the Ohio River Valley. The English won, but only after losing several disastrous campaigns early in the war. The victory was expensive in terms of money and lives.

After the war, the English were determined to milk every bit of money it could get from its colonies to recoup the costs of the war. The colonists living in North America, however, were now confident in their own military skills, and resented have to pay for the alleged protection of the British army. The colonists could defend themselves, and the English soldiers stationed in the colonies not only failed to contribute to any meaningful defense of those colonies, but rather created problems among the colonists, because the English soldiers were badly behaved. Historians Allan Millett and Peter Maslowski write:

Britain's triumph in the Great War for Empire contained the seeds of the American Revolution. England emerged from the war with an expanded empire and a staggering national debt, much of it resulting from the struggle in North America. Britain wanted to administer its new empire with maximum efficiency, which in part meant enforcing the Navigation Acts, a series of laws designed to regulate colonial trade for the mother country's benefit. Americans had consistently violated them through smuggling and bribery. Strict enforcement would help alleviate England's financial distress but would crimp the colonial economy.

Tired of abusive regulation from Parliament, tired of confiscatory taxes from the Crown, and tired of harassment from British regulars stationed in North America, the colonists, confident in the skills of their militiamen, were ready to take action, but understood that their forces were numerically smaller, less well equipped, and less well trained than the English redcoats. The training would be gained when Washington appointed a German, the Prussian Baron and General von Steuben, to educate his men in up-to-date tactics and techniques. The numerical and financial deficits would never be totally addressed: the American army remained chronically short of men, money, and equipment throughout the war. This required that Washington use strategies which fit his army's circumstances. He could not challenge the British to a head-on war of attrition. He could, however, exploit attrition of a different kind. Historian Russell Weigley writes:

The most familiar visual depiction of Washington as a general is probably Emanuel Leutze's version of him, wrapped in muffler against freezing December as he crosses the Delaware on Christmas Day, 1776. Whatever documentary or esthetic misgivings the painting may occasion, its popularity is appropriate enough, for it suggests the essence of Washington's way of war, a strategy of attrition. The passage over the Delaware to raid the Hessian barracks at Trenton was the most successful single example of his chief stock in trade of active war, the erosion of the enemy's strength by means of hit-and-run strikes against his outposts.

Not the type of attrition which appeared in the WWI, WWII, or the American Civil War - Washington's strategy of attrition was a harassment strategy, almost a guerilla strategy. His numerically smaller force, underfunded, could continually surprise the British with raids and attacks on their posts, while avoiding as much as possible direct engagement with the main forces on a battlefield. The English officers began the war overconfident, and the English soldiers were less motivated than their North American counterparts. By war's end, the English officers were disillusioned, and their men fought with less devotion than the Americans in Washington's Continental Army.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Smart Guys - Educated Politicians

One can better understand that group of leaders we call "The Founding Fathers" by comparing them to other groups of national leaders. As a group, there is some ambiguity to defining the set: some historians take the signatories to the Continental Association, the document created by the First Continental Congress in late 1774, in the process of creating an economic boycott against Britain; or the signatories to the Declaration of Independence in July 1776; or the signatories to the Articles of Confederation in 1777; or the signatories to the Constitution in 1787. Aside from those who signed particular documents, one might include, in such a list, those who wrote or spoke publicly to support the Revolution, or those who made heroic contributions to the military effort against England.

As ambiguous as the exact membership in the set may be, taken as a whole, the group clearly evinces certain properties, among which are education and intelligence. It is worth noting the distinction between the two: intelligence is the native ability to learn; education is the state of having learned.

If one would compare the Founders to leaders of the United States in the last quarter of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Founders represent themselves well. While there are certainly some intelligent, and even very intelligent, people in the latter group, the educational level among the them lags behind that of the Founding Fathers. Among the former group, there are many intelligent and very intelligent people, and a handful of sheer geniuses; the education among the Founders is astounding.

As concrete examples, one might note the Benjamin Franklin not only pioneered the printing and publishing industry in North America, and carried out groundbreaking research into the nature of electricity, but also invented a new and unique musical instrument: the glass harmonica. Franklin spent time in Europe, and his invention, which he preferred to call 'the glass armonica' (dropping the 'h' in a nod to the Italian language), soon caught the attention of composers like Wolfgang Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and George Handel. They composed pieces for it. Thus some of the leading musical artists of Europe were directly influenced by an American Founding Father. In addition, he developed an odometer for wheeled vehicles, the lightening rod, a refined version of the wood-burning stove known as the 'Franklin Stove' or the 'pot-bellied stove', and the bifocal lens. The lattermost invention combined advanced mathematics, for calculating curves precisely, and more advanced techniques in lens grinding.

Jefferson, in addition to his political leadership and his authorship of first rough working draft of the Declaration of Independence, was an architect - designing his home, Monticello, which remains a building closely-studied architects to this day.

The educational excellence of the Founders is clearly seen in the field of languages. One might visualize them, gathered as the First Continental Congress, the Second Continental Congress, or the Constitutional Convention: a room full of people. Realize that in this room, it was taken as a minimum that each of them present could, at a minimum, read Latin, Greek, and French. Those who were considered especially well-versed could read perhaps German or Italian as well. In addition to reading those languages, most of them could write, and - in the case of modern languages - speak them as well.

By contrast, imagine being in the halls of Congress in 1975 or 1985 or 1995 or 2005 or 2015, and asking the members of the House or of the Senate how many of them can read or write Greek! Needless to say, the number of affirmative responses would be low.

One might question the value of reading Greek and Latin for a Senator or a Representative in the early twenty-first century. Yet this value remains largely uncontested, and indeed manifold: such particular skills sharpen one's general language skills - one's ability to express one's self, and one's ability to analytically read complex documents. Such an education invariably includes encounters with the documents from the era of classical Greece and classical Rome, documents which pose the enduring questions about justice and about forms of government.

As a boy, barely a teenager, Thomas Jefferson had read the works of Thucydides in the original Greek, a task which is daunting even for a graduate student at a good university. This type of reading, and the concepts gleaned from such texts, are detectable in the documents which Jefferson and others crafted: The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights.

Knowledge of modern languages likewise sharpens linguistic skills and includes encounters with texts, texts which touch upon crucial questions of governance. In addition, modern languages sharpen one's sensibilities in terms of international relations. As many discussions in Congress will touch upon diplomacy in one form or another, such global sensibilities bring insight to the task of analyzing bills and motions brought to the floor for debate.

Consider one of the Founding Fathers who was considered to possess only minimal education: Patrick Henry of Virginia. The following description of his learning was written by Colonel Samuel Meredith, Patrick Henry's brother-in-law. This primary text has been quoted both by historian Richard Beeman and by historian George Morgan:

He was sent to a common English school until about the age of ten years, where he learned to read and write, and acquired some little knowledge of arithmetic. He never went to any other school, public or private, but remained with his father, who was his only tutor. With him he acquired a knowledge of the Latin language and a smattering of Greek. He became well-acquainted with Mathematics, of which he was very fond. At the age of 15 he was well versed in both ancient and modern history.

The text deals with his education up to the ages of 15. After trying his hand at the retail business and at farming, he later resumed his education by studying law and being admitted to the bar. After that point in time, he became involved in the American Independence movement.

We see, then, that a man who knew both Latin and Greek, who was "well-versed in both ancient and modern history," and who was recognized as a man with superior knowledge of both law and of legal procedure, was considered to be one of the less-well-educated men among the Founding Fathers. Such a man, who in any other setting, would be obviously one of the more intelligent and better-educated individuals, was among the Founders considered a bit common.

If we understand the high levels of intelligence and education present among the Founders, it is no surprise that they had brilliant insights about the centrality of freedom and liberty in political culture, and brilliant creativity in crafting the documents which, during the last quarter of the eighteenth centuries, created and structured our nation.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Resisting the Stamp Act

The political and social forces which provided the occasion for the American Revolution built gradually over at least two decades. The underlying concerns were taxation and regulation. The Proclamation Act of 1763 and the Sugar Act of 1764 created hardship for those living in North America. Aside from direct and indirect taxes, economic structures, such as the granting of licenses, were rigged in such a way that the colonists were seen as a source of cash for the British economy, with no thought to developing the economy of the colonies in their own right. The colonies had the potential for strong economic growth, but found themselves instead dealing with increasing poverty after the middle of the 1700’s. Historian Harlow Giles Unger writes that, fueled by economic misery, resentment toward the British Parliament

continued to increase in the winter and spring of 1765, when news arrived that Britain’s Parliament had passed the Stamp Act, the first direct tax Parliament had ever imposed on American colonists. For generations, Parliament had only collected indirect “hidden” taxes such as import duties, and allowed each colony’s elected legislature to impose direct taxes such as sales taxes and property taxes to pay costs of colonial administration.

In three different ways, then, Parliament sought to draw the lifeblood out of the colonies. Indirect taxation was already in place, as was the structural bias of licensing various industries. Now, Parliament wanted to add direct taxation. As an excuse, the Crown reminded the public about the costs of the French and Indian War. Between 1754 and 1763, the Seven Years’ War occupied Europe. The central conflict was between Frederick the Great of Prussia and Maria-Theresa of Austria. France and England were drawn into the conflict through alliances: England on the side of Prussia, and France on the side of Austria. Frictions between England and France already existed because of their competing imperial aspirations. In North America, this took the form of competition of the Ohio River valley area.

Although England had won the Seven Years’ War, her victory left the government nearly bankrupt, with a national debt of

130 million pounds. The war was expensive because it had been fought on multiple fronts: Europe, North America, Africa, and India, in addition to naval encounters. In addition, the postwar status left England paying approximately 300,000 pounds

in annual costs of military garrisons to protect American colonists against Indian attacks. To pay for the garrisons, Parliament raised taxes at home first, but the increases plunged 40,000 Englishmen into debtor’s prisons and provoked widespread antitax riots. Threatened with a national uprising, Parliament rescinded some tax increases at home and compensated by raising duties on America’s imports and exports - and extending the reach of the British Stamp Tax to the colonies. Parliament - and, indeed, most Englishmen - believed Americans should pay for their own military protection, and the stamp tax seemed the most innocuous way to do so. In effect for some decades in England, the stamp tax required the purchase and affixment of one or more revenue stamps - often worth less than a penny - on all legal documents (wills, deeds, marriage certificates, bills of lading, purchase orders, etc.), newspapers and periodicals, liquor containers, decks of playing cards, and a host of other industrial and consumer goods. All but negligible when added to the cost of any one individual item, it nevertheless amounted to a considerable - and reliable - revenue source for the government when collections from stamps on tens of thousands of documents and products poured into the treasury. British Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Grenville estimated that stamp tax collections in America would reap about

60,000 pounds per “year, or about 20 percent of troop costs there.” The Englishmen at home in Britain were not eager to foot the bill for the colonies - who can blame them? - but the colonists knew that British military was an overly expensive defense system. The mere presence of British soldiers in North America made life difficult for the colonists, the colonists whom the soldiers were allegedly protecting. Drunken, thieving, and rowdy, the soldiers were not good neighbors to the colonists. Having survived the French and Indian War, the colonists also had learned from that bitter experience about how to defend themselves. Now the colonists were told that they would have to pay for the presence of the soldiers who were an overly expensive and underperforming defense system, and who made life unsafe for some of the colonists whom they were allegedly defending.

Although the costs of the stamp tax to the average American was trivial, Parliament chose just the wrong moment to impose it. Increased duties were already strangling the American economy in the spring of 1765. Importers were collapsing under the weight of debts to English suppliers; shopkeepers and craftsmen closed their doors; even the largest merchants struggled to stay in business, leaving farmers without their usual outlets for crops and at the mercy of speculators. Patrick Henry loaned his father-in-law, John Shelton, several hundred pounds to help Shelton keep his farm and stave off personal bankruptcy.

The Stamp Act was one more insult to the colonists. Already economically strained, Parliament seemed ignorant of colonial finances. The Stamp Act proved to be the occasion for the emergence of America’s leaders: in Boston, James Otis and Samuel Adams represented public sentiment against the act; in Virginia, Patrick Henry and George Washington emerged as thinkers who were willing to see that this was tyranny. Historian Harlow Unger, however, dismisses their claims as “specious” and points to British suffrage rates at that time.

Unger’s skepticism about American claims to freedom, however, does not bear closer examination. Two arguments speak against Unger: first, if “only” one in nine Britons had the vote, that’s well ahead of the zero in nine Americans who had a vote in Parliament; second, the fact that Britons may have been deprived of effective parliamentary representation is no excuse for depriving Americans as well. If anything, Unger’s argument, far from nullifying American claims to freedom, rather points to the fact that the Britons would have been justified, or almost as justified, in raising the same demands as the Americans.

(To clarify: many Americans had a vote for their own town councils and colonial legislative bodies; at issue here was the fact that no American had elected representation in Parliament. If one in nine Englishmen could vote to select his region's representative in the House of Commons, that was still infinitely more than the zero in nine Americans who could do the same.)

Aside from Unger’s insertion of gratuitous adjectives like “specious,” his narrative is largely correct, if somewhat underemphasized:

In a pamphlet entitled The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved, Otis raised the first specious cry against parliamentary imposition of direct taxation without representation, conveniently overlooking the absence of parliamentary representation for almost all English taxpayers in England as well as in America. Indeed, only one million of Britain’s nine million adult males were permitted to vote.

Joining James Otis was Samuel Adams. Together, the two of them represent the earliest igniters of revolutionary sentiment in Boston, just as Patrick Henry and George Washington were perhaps the earliest embodiments of the spirit of independence in Virginia. Again, Unger casts a derisive eye on their demands for freedom, but he admits that America had refined the concept of liberty farther, at that point in time, than most other societies:

Teaming with Otis, Adams all but smothered Boston’s editors with propaganda leaflets that the proroyalist Boston Evening Post labeled “mad rant and porterly reviling.” Indeed, few but the world’s most disgruntled citizens would have paid any attention to it except in North America, where settlers isolated in the hamlets and woods of New England had lived free of almost all government authority for more than 150 years. They had cleared the land, felled great forests, built homes and churches, planted their fields, hunted, fished, and fought off Indian marauders on their own, cooperating with each other, collectively governing themselves, electing their militia commanders and church pastors and turning to assemblies of elders to mediate occasional disputes. Self-reliant - often courageously so - they had thought and acted independently for four or more generations, seldom hearing, let alone responding to, utterances from the church, throne, or Parliament in far-off London. Like Patrick Henry, they had lived in freedom, without government intrusion in their lives and saw little need for it.

By the time the colonists were moved to protest the Stamp Act, they had lived with, and resisted, a century of oppression and attempted oppression. It began with a distortion of market forces, requiring cargo to be carried only on ships flying the flag of the British Empire. It may seem a small thing, but the consequences were significant. Lack of competition continually tilted pricing in favor of England and against the colonies. To be sure, Parliament was reacting to a legitimate threat posed by the Dutch; some response was required in that situation. But the course of action chosen by Parliament had harmful, and possibly or probably unintended, consequences.

In 1651, however, Parliament began to interfere in colonial affairs after Dutch cargo ships began capturing more and more of the trade between America and Europe, threatening the health of Britain’s merchant fleet. Parliament passed a series of “Navigation Acts,” which, one by one, over the next fifty years, banned all American trade with any country but England and force all ocean-going trade onto British or American bottoms.

Although settlers in the colonies were

galled by parliamentary intrusion in their affairs, most New England lumbermen and shipbuilders

found creative ways to deal with Parliament’s regulations. They quickly learned that

smuggling goods onto unguarded landing points avoided duties altogether. The unexpected economic collapse that followed the Seven Years’ War, however, left New Englanders easy prey for Boston’s rabble-rousers and the frenzied warnings that the stamp tax would bankrupt them.

In the midst of this crisis, a young man named Patrick Henry was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, the colony’s legislative body. In May 1765, he arrived as a newly-elected representative for his first sessions of the body. The House of Burgesses had a strong sense of tradition, including a sentiment that young or freshly-elected legislators were to be silent and learn from those who were older and more experienced. Patrick Henry did not correspond well to those notions.

On May 29, 1765, his twenty-ninth birthday, Henry startled the House by asking for recognition and, as older burgesses demanded that he sit, he proposed five resolutions that they shouted down as preposterous. The first three were harmless enough, reiterating the principle that colonists were entitled to “all the privileges, franchises, and immunities … possessed by the people of Great Britain.” The fourth resolution declared speciously that “taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them … is the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom. …” In fact, few British subjects had any say over taxes, although Virginia, as Henry stated correctly in his fourth resolution, had “uninterruptedly enjoyed the right of being … governed by their own Assembly in the article of their [direct] taxes. …”

Managing to bundle together the ills which the colonies were suffering at the Crown’s hands, Patrick Henry tapped directly into the sentiment of “no taxation without representation,” a slogan already current at the time. He also rephrased, knowing or unknowingly, Locke’s principle that the legitimacy of a government is derived from the consent of the governed.

The last resolution was the most preposterous, and provocative, of all, and he was too well versed in British law by then not to have realized it. Inspired, perhaps, by the overwhelming popular support he had received

both as an attorney in private practice and as winner of an election, in the former role having represented the interests of the colonists against the Crown’s excessive taxes,

he evidently saw opposition to taxes as a way to ensure and even broaden that support. In his fifth resolution, he declared that “the General Assembly of this colony have the only and sole exclusive right and power to lay taxes … upon the inhabitants of this colony, and that every attempt to vest such power in any person or persons … other than the General Assembly … has a manifest tendency to destroy British and American freedom.”

Clearly expressing the direct connection between economic freedom and political freedom, Patrick Henry saw that the ability to levy taxes, if vested in anyone or anything other than the duly elected representatives of the people, was a root for any and all other forms of tyranny.

As Henry realized, his resolutions not only violated House protocol, they represented the first colonial opposition to British law.

Simultaneously clear-headed and passionate, Patrick Henry knew that he was edging into the realm of rebellion. A trained and experienced lawyer, he knew exactly where the line lay, and deliberately crossed it.

A majority of those present approved his motions. The coalition supporting him was composed of the younger members and of the “uplanders” - those from western Virginia, living in the rural hill country, where political attitudes emphasized liberty and freedom.

… they forced through a vote approving Henry’s resolutions - with George Washington and, most surprisingly, Richard Henry Lee among them.

Richard Henry Lee would later be a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, where he would push for independence and for the codification thereof in the Declaration of Independence, of which he was one of the signatories. He also signed the Articles of Confederation.

After hearing Henry’s condemnation of the Stamp Act, however, he realized, as did Washington, that the act would undermine the rights of all Virginians, the wealthy planters as well as Henry’s uplanders. Lee and Washington immediately abandoned the pro-British bloc of burgesses and become two of Patrick Henry’s staunchest political allies, with Lee resigning his ties to stamp distribution.

Although the motion had carried with a majority of the voting members present, there had been a number of members absent. One of the representatives, Edmund Pendleton, made a motion to repeal Patrick Henry’s proposals, and worked to ensure that all, or almost all, voting members of the House of Burgesses would be present for this repeal vote. Patrick Henry’s victory - a small but significant step for freedom - seemed in danger. But Pendleton did not succeed in extinguishing the small flame of liberty which Patrick Henry had lit.

Even more startling were the votes of Lee and Washington and the younger Tidewater planters, who rebelled against their elders by joining Henry’s uplanders in defeating Pendleton’s omnibus motion to erase all of Henry’s resolves from the record. Although senior burgesses managed to remove the most virulent resolutions, their efforts came too late. Before leaving Williamsburg the previous day, Henry had given the editor of the Virginia Gazette all seven resolutions to copy, and, under a news-sharing agreement among the newspaper printers in most of the colonies, he had already sent them on their way to newspapers across America. The entire continent soon heard the lion’s roar.

Although Pendleton had succeeded in taking some of the edge from Patrick Henry’s proposals, news of this bold step spread quickly throughout the colonies.

… publication of Henry’s resolutions fired up colonist antipathy toward British government intrusion in their affairs and Parliament’s efforts to tax them, directly or indirectly. Stamp Act opponents rallied in every city, forming secret societies called the Sons of Liberty.

Having struck a blow for freedom, Patrick Henry was content to step back and let others lead the movement for a while. He was perhaps more an instigator or rallier than a leader in this sense. He had little taste for organizational tasks.

Having sparked the fires of rebellion across the colonies, however, Henry remained curiously absent from the turmoil he had created, having vanished into the Piedmont hills to attend to the mundane tasks of raising and supporting his family. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Henry derived far less pleasure from the pomp, power, and formality of the capital than he did from the sense of freedom he felt in his fields at home and the joys he derived from his children.

In Boston, the flames lit by Samuel Adams and James Otis received fresh fuel, both from new of Patrick Henry’s motions in the Virginia House of Burgesses, and from renewed affronts carried out by the British government against American freedom.

At the beginning of August, the British government published the names of the colonial distributors who would sell tax stamps. With Henry’s resolves still echoing across the colonies, Bostonians - particularly hard hit by the economic downturn - snapped as one. Debts had piled high; there was no work; shops had closed. With nothing left for rent or food, some tramped off into the wilderness, hoping to stumble on some unfortunate beast whose flesh and hide might provide sustenance and clothing.

In the lore and legend of the American Revolution, one of the symbols which played an inspirational role was the Liberty Tree. It was location for escalating and organizing the colonial quest for freedom.

On the morning of August 14, a straw effigy of Boston’s designated stamp collector, the wealthy Tory merchant Andrew Oliver, dangled from the limb of an oak tree on High Street. Immediately dubbed the Liberty Tree, it drew an ever-thickening crowd, which metamorphosed into an angry mob.

On August 14, 1765, and on several days following, there was rioting in Boston in response to the Stamp Act’s taking effect. Rioting spread to other cities and towns in the thirteen colonies. A more careful response was the organization of the Stamp Act Congress, at which delegates from most, but not all, of the thirteen colonies met in New York in October 1765. The Congress issued a declaration and sent petitions to Parliament and King George III. Economic countermeasures against the Stamp Act were also undertaken by colonists.

As the effective date approached for the Stamp Act to go into effect, Patrick Henry’s new friend and political ally, planter Richard Henry Lee, of Westmoreland County, put his name and fortune at risk by calling on Virginians to boycott all things British until Parliament repealed the Act. In what was essentially an act of treason, more than one hundred Virginia planters signed Lee’s Westmoreland Protests and inspired similarly prominent men in other colonies to follow suit. Some 200 merchants in New York City, 250 Boston, and 400 in Philadelphia pledged to stop importing all but a select list of goods from England until Parliament repealed the Stamp Act. Boston’s leading merchant banker John Hancock warned his London agent that “the people of this country will never suffer themselves to be mades slaves of by a submission to the damned act.”

While the notion of independence from Britain had not yet crystallized in the minds of the colonists, Patrick Henry’s actions in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the work of Samuel Adams and James Otis in Boston, and the solidifying effect of the Stamp Act Congress furthered freedom-oriented sentiments in North America. These sentiments were strengthened by success: Parliament did repeal the Stamp Act in February 1766, and the King approved the repeal in March of that year. Although the work of Edmund Burke in England helped the colonial cause, the economic effects of the colonial boycotts and the political impact of Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, James Otis, and the Stamp Act Congress were the main drivers in this development.

The colonists learned that they could organize and assert themselves against the British Empire, and in so doing, could gain and protect their liberty.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Defining 'Freedom'

The central issue - perhaps the only issue - in the American Revolution was liberty. The popular slogans which created the United States as a sovereign nation reflect this: "Live Free or Die!" and "Give me liberty or give me death!"

Yet a clear definition of freedom - of political liberty - was by no means common. The definitions that were in circulation were not always compatible. While there may have been imprecision in the abstract definition of the word, there was unanimity about the concrete forms of freedom - and about the concrete forms of the oppressions which were harming that freedom.

The specific details of British tyranny were largely codified in a series of Parliament's resolutions: the Stamp Act of 1765, the Declaratory Act of 1766, the Townshend Acts of 1767, the Intolerable Acts (or 'Coercive Acts') of 1774, and others. These can be broadly summarized as taxation and regulation, the two defining characteristics of political oppression.

The task confronting the leaders of the American Revolution - the Founding Fathers - was to clarify the principles which made these taxes and regulations illegitimate. The various speeches and documents which they composed attempt to establish a theoretical framework by which citizens can understand the limits which the power of a legitimate government has.

The notion of limiting the government's power was nothing new. The Founding Fathers specify that they are merely asking for the rights which had long been recognized - in the Magna Carta and in the English Bill of Rights of 1689 - as the rights belonging to English citizens.

The novelty was not in the rights, but rather in the application. The fact that the English citizens seeking to assert their rights lived, not in England, but in North American colonies, had led King George III and Parliament to assume that those rights were somewhat diminished, as if by distance. Another innovation was the fact these principles were being applied to a situation on the frontiers of unexplored, uninhabited new land.

Every square inch of land in the British Isles had long been surveyed and owned; even where ownership was disputed, the disputes were well documented and understood. The social structures relating various groups to each other within towns were well and long established, as were the relations of civilians to soldiers and the relations of local governments to the Crown. The rights of citizens, and the representation of citizens in Parliament, were also established and understood.

By contrast, in North America, thousands of square miles of unexplored land meant that surveying and land ownership was a complex and developing matter. Social structures were also being designed and redesigned: although the colonies were British colonies, millions of Germans, Swiss, and Austrians also lived in them, and in some places, the English were a minority. British social structures could not simply be transplanted to North America. The presence of soldiers likewise created unclarity: were the soldiers there on behalf of the colonists, or to oversee the colonists?

Among the Founding Fathers who would undertake to clarify the theoretical framework which would explain what liberty would mean in North America was Patrick Henry. Henry's speeches and political leadership galvanized popular sentiment for the Revolution. Historian Harlow Giles Unger writes:

Henry was born on the frontier of western Virginia, and for him, as for most frontiersmen, liberty and license were all but indistinguishable; man was born free to acquire as much land, as many slaves, and as many other assets as he could - and keep all the profits from his enterprise without sharing a penny with church or state. Many rejected humanist ideals that bound individuals to alienate personal liberties for the good of the greater community and had nothing but disdain for and deep suspicions of pious planters and merchant-bankers who controlled state government from the opulent mansions of the Chesapeake Bay tidewater region. They resented interference in their affairs by the distant state government in Williamsburg and had no intention of submitting to a new, even more powerful federal government in Philadelphia. Few Americans on the thriving Atlantic coast understood that Henry's cry for liberty or death in 1775 had been aimed at not only the British government but any government - American as well as British - that threatened to tax profits of American farmers or curtail their liberties.

The line between liberty and license was, and is, the line between self-control and the freedom to act. There are things which my conscience, my belief system, tells me that I should not do. It is my task to refrain from those actions; it is not the task of the government to restrain me from them. Patrick Henry did not desire a society in which men ran amuck and did all manner of evil; he desired a society in which they had the freedom to do so, but did not.

Concerning slavery, as practiced in Virginia and the other southern colonies, Patrick Henry issued statements, according to historian Richard Beeman,

indicating moral disgust with the institution of slavery. There is no question but that he viewed with alarm the possibility that his country was becoming the "gloomy retreat of slaves."

The ideology of Patrick Henry and many of his fellow Virginians

certainly did point in a most explicit fashion to the dangers inherent in a society overloaded with unfree and unpropertied members.

His "concern about the effects of slavery on virtue was a highly moralistic one," by which Beeman means to say that Henry was concerned not only for the injury done to the black slaves, but to society as a whole. As JFK would say, two centuries later, "when one man is enslaved, all are not free," and as Herbert Spencer would say one century later, "No one can be perfectly free till all are free." Patrick Henry saw that even the "free" men in society are contaminated when the society tolerates slavery.

This is not to say that Henry was totally unconcerned with the morality of involuntary servitude in its own right. In a letter to Quaker leader Robert Pleasants acknowledging the receipt of an anti-slavery tract by the Quaker philanthropist Anthony Benezet, Henry could do nothing but "wonder ... that this abominable practice has been introduced in the most enlightened ages." He was particularly appalled by the fact that Virginians, at precisely the time at which they were fighting for liberty against the British, were embracing "a principle as repugnant to humanity, as it is inconsistent with the Bible, and destructive to liberty."

Further, in the same letter, he wrote that he wanted to "transmit to our descendants" compassion for the slaves, "a pity for their unhappy lot, and an abhorrence of slavery." Like many of the other Founding Fathers, Patrick Henry was already laying the foundation for the abolition of slavery. But also like a few of the other Founding Fathers, he recognized that the economic structures in place would make the abolition of slavery difficult. He knew that many men owned slaves reluctantly, and would have ended the practice if they had known a way to successfully do so. For many of them, however, to divest themselves of slaves would have been economic suicide. He "readily confessed to the barbarity and immorality of slavery."

Looking forward, Patrick Henry understood that the words of the Declaration of Independence made freedom for slave inevitable. The nation's progress toward the abolition of slavery was inexorable. He wrote that "I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil." He understood that the Christianity which he and most of the other inhabitants of North America practiced made abolition an unavoidable moral duty: "It is a debt we owe to the purity of our religion, to show that it is at variance with that law which warrants slavery."

So also with charity - Patrick Henry was determined that citizens should not be forced to pay money to the church. Recall that in the English system, the Crown collected taxes, some of which went to support the Anglican church. Everyone who paid taxes, regardless of his personal religious faith, supported the Anglican faith, even if his own faith was different or even opposed to that faith. It was against this forced support that he rebelled.

Motivated both by his belief in God and his desire to help the poor, Patrick Henry contributed to churches, and encouraged others to do so. He understood the church's role in providing for those who needed help, but he was also adamant that support for the church be freely given, not under legal compulsion.

In sum, Patrick Henry defined a theoretical concept of freedom which meant not only freedom from taxation and regulation, but freedom to live according to an enlightened vision of what human life can and should be.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Spies Inside FDR's Team

To which extent President Roosevelt's bad health left him too fatigued to carefully analyze the global situation in late 1945, we cannot accurately measure. But FDR, who was normally quite savvy in the realm of politics, seemed to allow some shocking diplomatic lapses. One such blunder was his choice of staffers who would accompany him to the Yalta conference. A related slip-up was his misestimation of Stalin; Roosevelt failed to comprehend how duplicitous and how malignant the Soviet dictator was. Historians Medford Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein detail Roosevelt's preparations for the Yalta conference:

According to the diaries of Edward Stettinius Jr., the secretary of state at the time of Yalta, President Roosevelt in the run-up to the meeting made some peculiar comments about the people he thought should be there.

Roosevelt was, on the one hand, oddly indifferent to the selection of the staff he would take with him to Yalta; on the other hand, he was oddly specific about naming one or two individuals whom he wanted to be part of that group.

At a White House briefing a month before the conference opened, Settinius wrote, FDR said he wasn't overly concerned about having any particular staffers with him at Yalta, but qualified this with two exceptions. "The President," said Stettinius, "did not want to have anyone accompany him in an advisory capacity, but he felt that Messers. Bowman and Alger Hiss ought to go." No clue was provided by Stettinius, or apparently by FDR himself, as to the reason for these choices.

Who were these two men, named by Roosevelt and desired by him to accompany him to Yalta? Bowman, as far as history can tell, is a seemingly unremarkable, if competent and successful, diplomat. He had an established and accomplished career, even if the average newspaper reader wouldn't recognize the name of

Dr. Isaiah Bowman of Johns Hopkins University, who had been involved in the Versailles conference after World War I and was a Stettinius advisor. He did not go to Yalta, though Alger Hiss would do so.

Alger Hiss, on the other hand, would become a notorious name in history books. His career consisted of directing top level government secrets from Washington to Stalin's government, and of influencing high-level decision-making in FDR's administration: influencing the United States government to make decisions, not in America's best interests, but rather to the advantage of the USSR.

Alger Hiss, it will be recalled, was a secret Communist serving in the wartime State Department, identified as a Soviet agent by ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers, a former espionage courier for Moscow's intelligence bosses. This identification led to a bitter quarrel that divided the nation into conflicting factions and would do so for years to follow. The dispute resulted in the 1950 conviction of Hiss for perjury when he denied the Chambers charges under oath, denials that ran contrary to the evidence then and to an ever-increasing mass of data later.

Like many other aspects of the extensive Soviet spy rings inside the United States during the 1930's, and lasting until the end of the Cold War, details about these operations became more widely known after the fall of the Soviet Union. In the 1990's, masses of KGB files were declassified and released to the west, confirming that Hiss and other high-level officers in the State Department were in fact on the payroll of Soviet intelligence agencies.

Though Hiss is now well-known to history, in January 1945 he was merely one State Department staffer among many, and of fairly junior status - a mid-level employee who wasn't even head of a division (third ranking in the branch where he was working). It thus seems odd that Roosevelt would single him out as someone who should go to Yalta - the more curious as it's reasonably clear that FDR had never dealt with Hiss directly (a point confirmed by Hiss in his own memoirs).

What caused FDR's odd choice? We will probably never know. He would die that April; his health was certainly declining. He would be replaced by President Truman, who, like Churchill, saw through Stalin's promises. Truman would not be deceived by the Soviet dictator, and during the Truman administration, security reviews of State Department employees would begin to both uncover existing spies, and prevent the infiltration of additional Soviet agents.

1812 - The Road to War

When a nation goes to war, leaders often speak of unity. It is difficult for a nation which is not united in its cause to be successful in war. Yet that unity may be of a superficial nature – the nation may indeed be united in its decision to declare war, but different groups of citizens may support the war effort for different reasons.

Historian Julius Pratt explores the question of which motives drove the western part of the United States to participate in the War of 1812. The topic itself shows how early – really from the very beginnings of the republic – regional motives for national policies entered into play. One might naively think that when a nation goes to war, it is unified in its reasoning; on the contrary, it seems quite plausible to wonder if different areas within the country had different reasons for entering into the same war. Pratt is writing in response to another author, Louis Morton Hacker, who had addressed the same question. Pratt disagrees with Hacker on selected points.

What one might consider to be the “western” part of the country has changed in the last two centuries. At our present time – the year 2012 – the “western” part of the nation is perhaps the Pacific coast, or the Rockies, or the Southwest – states like New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Montana, and points west from there. In 1812, the “West” consisted of the territories which would later become states like Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, and Michigan. What were the interests of the “West” in 1812? And more specifically, what were their war interests?

According to Pratt, Hacker writes that the West wanted war because it wanted Canada; Pratt would revise Hacker’s assertion and propose that the West wanted both Canada and Florida. Pratt tells us that Spain and England were on friendly diplomatic terms at the time, and defeating England would induce Spain to surrender Florida to the United States. Pratt notes that because the “West” included territories like Alabama and Mississippi, Canada would have hardly been a strong motive for them, given the distance.

Hacker, according to Pratt, asserts that danger from attacking Indians was not a major motive in the West’s decision to endorse the War of 1812. (Throughout, we are relying on Pratt to have accurately summarized Hacker.) Hacker had considered, and rejected, the following line of reasoning: the Indians posed a threat to the West; the English were nudging or supplying the Indians; therefore, in order to be safe from the Indians, the U.S. ought to engage in war with England. Hacker rejects that logic, and points out that statistically, the Indians were not much of a threat to the West.

Pratt accuses Hacker of an “error in psychology,” inasmuch as Hacker addresses the question, “were the Indians a significant threat to the West?” whereas Pratt argues that the more relevant question should be “did the West consider the Indians to be a significant threat?” The fact that the Indians did pose a threat to edges of the West could be enough to make the entire West feel threatened; the fact that Indians did attack and kill settlers on the frontier regions of the West may have been enough to generate antipathy toward the Indians throughout the entire West. Whereas Hacker dismissed anti-Indian rhetoric (accompanied by anti-British rhetoric because the English seemingly encouraged the Indians) as a pretense to cover the West’s covetousness for Canada, Pratt takes the anti-Indian rhetoric at face value: the West felt threatened by the Indians, wanted to prevent further attacks by Indians, and wanted revenge against the Indians for those attacks already perpetrated. Pratt points out that Hacker relies generally on only one source, a Mr. John Randolph, for his argumentation, while most other sources fuel Pratt’s thesis. (John Randolph had mentioned a desire for Canadian land as a possible reason for war.) Pratt also points out that the English were, in fact, verifiably fueling Indian attacks on the West; he presents a long string of data, from the time of Washington’s stint as leader of the Continental Army, through the Federalist Papers, into the early years of the new government, all of which point to the understanding that the Indians, backed by the British, endangered the West.

While Hacker asserted that the West was eager to gain Canadian real estate, Pratt points out the lack of evidence to support this proposition. Aside from remarks by John Randolph, there is almost no data for this claim. Hacker, however, asserts that it was a silent conspiracy, that the West wanted Canada, but hid its desire behind anti-Indian rhetoric. Hacker must also explain why the West wanted Canada; his argument for this is, according to Pratt, tortured: first, the West had used up almost all available land for farms; second, the Prairie territories west of the Mississippi weren’t tempting because their soil was alleged to be weak and not good for farming; third, therefore Canada was the obvious area into which the West should expand. Pratt cites descriptions of the Ohio Valley countryside from that time which reveal that there was much land yet to be made into farmable territory, so that they were hardly running out of fresh fields.

Pratt concludes, contra Hacker, that desire for land was not a significant cause in the West’s desire to join the War of 1812.

Pratt’s article is stimulating in the more general question it raises: what are regional justifications for war, and which competing interpretations are available for them? One might ask why a certain region of the nation endorsed our entry into WWI, and assess the relative merits of conflicting explanations for that phenomenon. The discussion in Pratt’s paper is interesting, because in typical high school history classes, the only reason for the War of 1812 retained in student memories is the impressment of sailors. The average “man on the street,” if he knows or recalls anything at all about the War of 1812, will mention the impressment of American men and boys into the British navy. It is good to recall that there were various issues in the motivation to declare war. Pratt and Hacker offering tantalizing other suggestions.