Thursday, November 21, 2013

George Washington and the Synagogue

In Newport, Rhode Island, stands the nation's oldest synagogue, built in 1763. Its age, and its symbolic significance for religious freedom, are already enough to make it noteworthy. But it has added importance because George Washington visited it, and did so to underscore the nation's commitment to free worship. Eric Tucker, writing for the Associated Press, reports that

The history of the synagogue starts with a group of Sephardic Jews who arrived in 1658 in Rhode Island - a colony founded by Roger Williams and his followers on the principle of religious tolerance. They established a congregation, and the synagogue was built a century later designed by Newport architect Peter Harrison, whose other notable buildings include King’s Chapel in Boston.

The tradition of freedom of belief began with the early settlers like Roger Williams and William Penn, and was carried forward to the next generation of colonists. Religious freedom was a widespread value among the colonists. In New York, John Rogers, during a 1783 sermon, declared that

Another instance of the divine goodness to us, and which we may not pass unnoticed, is, his providing us in 'New York with so good a constitution, for the securing our inestimable rights and privileges. I do not say it has not its imperfections ; but it is upon the the whole, equalled by few, and surpassed by none of the constitutions of the sister states, in wisdom, justice, and sound policy. The rights of conscience both in faith and worship, are fully secured to every denomination of Christians. 'No one denomination in the state, or in any of the states, have it in their power to oppress another. They all stand upon the same common level in point of religious privileges. Nor is this confined to Christians only. The Jews, also, which is their undoubted right, have the liberty of worshiping God in that way they think most acceptable to him. No man is excluded from the rights of citizenship on account of his religious profession. Nor ought he to be.

Washington's visit to the synagogue set a clear tone for the new nation. As the war was winding down, Washington's presence in the building was a message that Jews and Christians in America, despite differences in belief, had a common heritage which would form the foundation for a natural law view in which personal freedom and individual liberty would be goals of the political system. After visiting, George Washington wrote to the leaders of the synagogue:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

The depth of Washington's consideration of the congregation which met in the synagogue is manifested in the fact that his first visit to the location was in 1781, and his letter to them was written in 1790. Clearly, the group had a significant spot in Washington's mind. The degree of religious freedom to which he was committed was astounding at that point in time: Rabbi Mordechai Eskovitz notes that in the 1700's, Jews in the United States "had the privilege of praying as free citizens," while the rest of the world "didn't have much religious tolerance." In the two centuries following Washington's visit, while a few other nations in the world embraced the notion of religious freedom, the relative situation remained much the same: while America strives to offer unprecedented levels of freedom to its citizens, much of the world remains oppressed by governments which restrict, regulate, and tax. Eric Tucker writes that

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower also attended services at Touro, as did poet Robert Frost.

Leaders like Eisenhower defended the Judeo-Christian value of tolerance against Soviet Communism during the Cold War in the twentieth century, and we defend it against the terrorist attacks of Islamofascism in the twenty-first century. The Touro synagogue in Rhode Island has became an enduring symbol for this struggle, and for the need to defend freedom against the inevitable attacks on it. Perhaps Robert Frost was considering the need to dedicate one's self to liberty's defense when he wrote

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,

The United States must keep its promise, remaining vigilant despite fatigue, defending the peculiarly Judeo-Christian concepts of freedom and liberty. That is the nation's duty.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

James Otis Discusses Taxes

James Otis was born in Massachusetts in 1725. His father was also named James Otis, and sometimes he is listed as "James Otis, Jr." but often the "Jr." is omitted. Although he was disabled by the time the fighting began in 1775, he was pivotal in the developing events leading up to the revolution. One of his contributions was his precise and articulate formulation of the grievances against the British government.

Basing his argument on ideas drawn from the Magna Carta and from the English Bill of Rights of 1689, James Otis clarified the argument that the taxes on the colonists were unfair because the colonies had no voting representatives in Parliament. Otis was probably the first to say or write the phrase "no taxation without representation" - but the evidence is not conclusive. The oldest surviving text with that phrase is dated February 1768: a London magazine's account of a speech. But Otis was widely read and discussed in English political circles, and the author of that speech may well have gotten the phrase from Otis. It is confirmed that Otis wrote "Taxation without representation is tyranny" and other similar phrasings of the thought. Historian Les Standiford writes:

However, the concept of the basic unfairness of being taxed without the consent of one's elected representatives had certainly been eloquently expressed by the Boston assemblyman and attorney James Otis, Jr., as early as 1764 in a pamphlet of protest, The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved. Otis framed his argument by asking, "Can there be any liberty where property is taken away without consent?" Then he began his answer with a second question: "Is there the least difference as to the consent of the colonists whether taxes and impositions are laid on their trade and other property by the crown alone or by the Parliament?"

Having graduated from Harvard College in 1743, James Otis had been practicing law in Boston since 1750. In 1761, he gained fame by mounting a legal challenge to "writs of assistance" issued by the British government. These documents were search warrants which allowed English tax officials nearly unlimited access to the homes of colonists. Neither the specific home to be searched, nor the object of the search, were specified; British bureaucrats were entitled to barge into anyone's home, with no notice, and look for anything they pleased. James Otis may be the spiritual father of the fourth amendment, which reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In May 1761, Otis was elected to the legislative body of Massachusetts, and would be reelected continuously as long as he was fit. Like many of the early revolutionaries, his arguments were based, not on his rights as an American, but rather on his rights as a British subject. This reveals the degree to which the early protesters were still trying to work with the British system. Only when it became clear that they would never be granted appropriate representation in Parliament, and only when it became clear that the British would continue to ravage the colonists and trample human rights by means of taxation, that independence became the goal, instead of correcting the behavior of the British government. Les Standiford quotes Otis:

For Otis, it was a simple matter, though he made his case with passion: "I can see no reason to doubt but the imposition of taxes, whether on trade, or on land, or houses, or ships, on real or personal, fixed or floating property, in the colonies is absolutely irreconcilable with the rights of the colonists as British subjects and as men ... for in a state of nature no man can take my property from me without my consent: if he does, he deprives me of my liberty and makes me a slave. If such a proceeding is a breach of the law of nature, no law of society can make it just. The very act of taxing exercised over those who are not represented [emphasis added] appears to me to be depriving them of one of their most essential rights as freemen, and if continued seems to be in effect an entire disfranchisement of every civil right."

In 1762, Otis published one of his most famous works, a book titled A Vindication of the Conduct of the House of Representatives of the Province of Massachusetts Bay; in it he articulated the view that the colonists should not be taxed to pay for the defense of the colonies by English soldiers and by the English navy, because the colonists could protect themselves with their militias, do it better, do it at less cost, and do it without creating the misery which the drunken and harassing English soldiers inflicted upon the colonists. He drafted documents which were sent to London to explain the rights of colonists according to British law, and he was a member of the Stamp Act Congress. He published two more books, The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved and Considerations on Behalf of the Colonists, and his speeches and writings were influential within the growing revolutionary movement. He wrote:

The sum of my argument is: that civil government is of God; that the administrators of it were originally the whole people; that they might have devolved it on whom they pleased; that this devolution is fiduciary, for the good of the whole; that by the British constitution this devolution is on the King, Lords and Commons, the supreme, sacred and uncontrollable legislative power not only in the realm but through the dominions; that by the abdication, the original compact was broken to pieces; that by the Revolution it was renewed and more firmly established, and the rights and liberties of the subject in all parts of the dominions more fully explained and confirmed; that in consequence of this establishment and the acts of succession and union, His Majesty George III is rightful King and sovereign, and, with his Parliament, the supreme legislative of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, and the dominions thereto belonging; that this constitution is the most free one and by far the best now existing on earth; that by this constitution every man in the dominions is a free man; that no parts of His Majesty's dominions can be taxed without their consent; that every part has a right to be represented in the supreme or some subordinate legislature; that the refusal of this would seem to be a contradiction in practice to the theory of the constitution; that the colonies are subordinate dominions and are now in such a state as to make it best for the good of the whole that they should not only be continued in the enjoyment of subordinate legislation but be also represented in some proportion to their number and estates in the grand legislature of the nation; that this would firmly unite all parts of the British empire in the greater peace and prosperity, and render it invulnerable and perpetual.

James Otis, along with Sam Adams and Patrick Henry, seemed to realize, more than some of their fellow founding fathers, the power of the emotion among the colonists. He perhaps realized early what others realized later: that the time was ripe for a revolution, and that the colonists had been subject to such abuse for so long a time that they were ready to riot, to throw valuable cargo into Boston Harbor, and to start a war for independence. Les Standiford reveals that Otis was even ahead of Benjamin Franklin in understanding the revolutionary sentiment among the people:

If Otis was calling for colonists to boycott the tax, however, shortly after the act's passage the British were taking steps to see that the desperately needed funds would in act begin flowing into the national coffers. Even Benjamin Franklin miscalculated the depth of passions loosed in the colonies, it seemed, for he went so far as to nominate a Philadelphia friend, John Hughes, to serve as stamps distributor for Pennsylvania. It was only when word reached Franklin that an angry mob had surrounded Hughes to prevent him from assuming his duties and another had marched on Franklin's own home, threatening to burn it down, that the envoy began to understand that a profound shift in Anglo-American affairs had taken place.

Sadly, James Otis was struck on the head by a British officer in 1769. He was disabled from that time forward, although he lived until 1783. By the time he died, the United States was free and independent, thanks in part to his work.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Tuscarora War: Lessons Learned

The numerous small wars involving Indians - “Native American tribes” - prior to 1775 present a challenge to the historian. There is quite a bit of data about some of them, but discerning patterns in that data is difficult. Historians Allan Millett and Peter Maslowski write:

In the hundred years prior to the American Revolution, colonists fought other wars strictly against Indians. For example, in 1711 the Tuscarora Indians in North Carolina launched a surprise attack that began the Tuscarora War (1711-1713).

Wayne Lee has written an article comparing and contrasting the methods of Tuscarora and the Cherokees, two Native American tribes, as they defending their territories.

The Tuscarora were party to a war, approximately two years in length, against the English and some Indian tribes allied with the English. The centerpiece of the Tuscarora defensive strategy was a large fortification. Professor Lee’s description of the fortress is impressive, so powerful was its defense; when it was place under siege, it inflicted significant casualties on its attackers:

IN 1713, the second year of the “Tuscarora War” found the Tuscaroras facing continued joint English-Indian attacks on their villages along the Neuse River and Contentnea Creek in eastern North Carolina. Over the course of the war the Tuscaroras had progressively refined their traditional defensive palisades, culminating in the complex fortification near the town of Neoheroka. Now besieged in that fort, and threatened with ever closer trenches, siege works, cannon, and even an underground mine, the Tuscaroras resisted desperately. They burrowed out underground bunkers, dug countertrenches, made arrowheads of broken glass, and inflicted significant casualties on the attacking force with constant fire from both muskets and bows. The final furious assault by the English and their Indian allies took three days. They stormed the fort, set it afire, and killed or enslaved its nearly one thousand inhabitants.

Yet fall the fort did, and when it fell, the Tuscarora suffered significant casualties and many of them became POW’s. The fort had been operated by over one thousand Tuscarora, and all of them wound up either dead or doing forced labor.

By contrast, the Cherokee, made guerilla-style raids the centerpiece of their defensive strategy, and did not focus their efforts on building fortifications. After two years of fighting, the English were willing to negotiate a peace treaty; the Cherokee suffered only an estimated sixty to eighty deaths.

Lee points out that we cannot speak of a “monolithic ‘Indian way of war’” inasmuch as we see divergent approaches in the examples of the Cherokee and the Tuscarora. Various groups not only had different methods, but they were redesigning their methods continuously as they understood more about European methods. Lee gives examples to stress the multiplicity of forms used by the Indians: guerilla, large fortification, and large-scale battle formation are three of the modes he mentions. He points out the they were flexible enough to vary tactics as the situation demanded, e.g., between large and small groupings.

He argues that previous historians had, while diverging on their descriptions of Indian warfare style, converged in terms of portraying the Indians as have a limited palette. Lee contends that the Indians worked with a large array of options, being conversant with a number of different tactics, and that we cannot paint a narrow picture of the “Indian way of war.”

The Tuscarora War began with Indian attacks on settlers around the towns of Bath and New Bern. The Tuscarora targeted English settlers, as opposed to Germans and Swiss who were also in the area. Lee contends that the Indians were making a point with the attacks, and saw military actions as symbolic and as a warning to the English, whose settlements were encroaching ever more on Tuscarora territory. The English, Lee writes, responded very differently, seeing this as a declaration of war, and something rather like total war, which would not cease until there had been a decisive defeat of one of the belligerents. Thus the English responded with large military formations to the Tuscarora raiding parties. The Tuscarora withdrew to their massive fortification, Hancock’s Fort. Surrendering this under pressure, they withdrew to a second defensive position, a fortress at Neoheroka. This illustrates one weakness of the Tuscarora strategy – because it is organized around a defensive fortification, the only actions available are surrender or retreat to a different fortification. No positive or constructive course of action – attack or offensive – is available. The ultimate Tuscarora defeat, according to Lee, offers a “lesson,” that a “European-style siege” will “likely overcome a native fortification.” The Indians lacked artillery and other key pieces of technology; they also lacked experience. The Europeans had been perfecting siege techniques for centuries.

The outcome of the Tuscarora war caused the Tuscarora to seek safer residence elsewhere. They migrated northward and joined the Iroquois nation – it was at this time that the “five nations” of the Iroquois became the “six nations.” Millett and Maslowski write:

The Tuscarora Indians, an Iroquois tribe, moved northward after their defeat by the whites and were admitted to the confederacy in the early 1720s. Thereafter the Five Nations became the Six Nations.

Despite their experiences in the Tuscarora War – or perhaps because of them – the Tuscarora, when the Iroquois Nation dissolved because of conflicts among the tribes about whether or not to support the United States in its war for Independence against the British, chose to support the bid for independence:

In the New York – Pennsylvania region the war shattered the Iroquois Confederacy as the Oneidas and Tuscaroras supported the United States and the other four tribes assisted the British.

Like the Tuscarora, the Cherokee had a tradition of defensive warfare, and constructed significant fortifications, documented by the earlier Europeans to arrive in the area of South Carolina, North Carolina, and the areas that would become Georgia and Tennessee. This defensive pattern persisted into the early 1700’s, when the Cherokee allied with the English in various small conflicts. The Cherokee actually requested that the British built a fort in Cherokee territory, apparently so that, in case of attack, the Cherokee would have a place to which to flee for safety. In 1758 and 1759, relations between the English the Cherokee deteriorated seriously. Frictions arose first between individual settlers and small bands of Cherokee: on neither side did the combatants represent the official policy of their respective nations, and diplomacy continued well despite the small but continuous casualties adding up. Finally, an actual war erupted in 1760, when, according to Wayne Lee, the

attacks became serious enough to attract imperial attention, and General Jeffrey Amherst, the Commander-in-Chief in North America, dispatched a force of regulars to Charlestown in 1760, commanded by Colonel Archibald Montgomery, to mount a punitive expedition.

Having witnessed the defeat of the Tuscarora – they mentioned it in their negotiations with the British – the Cherokee adjusted their tactics and “shifted to a ‘new’ defensive strategy,” abandoning reliance upon major fortified strongholds, “avoid the approaching force, abandon the village,” hide in the woods or other natural geographic refuge,

and then harass the enemy — cutting off stragglers, and (for European enemies) targeting supply lines. The Cherokees had not entirely changed the role of war within their society, as the outbreak of the Cherokee War demonstrated. What they had done was to change their way of dealing with large-scale European military intrusion.

by means “of long-distance sniping.” This change of strategy worked well, and led to the very opposite of the situation in which the Tuscarora had found themselves: the Indians laid siege to Fort Loudoun in which British soldiers were put on the defensive, “eventually forcing its surrender.” The new tactics worked to the extent that compared to the Tuscarora, “the Cherokee had escaped major damage.” While there were some Cherokee casualties, they were minimal, “compared to the disastrous defense of Neoheroka.” After negotiating a peace with the British, “the Cherokees proceeded to rebuild their towns and replant their corn.”

Lee’s bigger point is that Indians had a number of approaches in their arsenal of military theory: Lee contends that it is too narrow speak of an “Indian way of war,” inasmuch as the ‘Native Americans’ were constantly adjusting their strategies and tactics. Lee writes that the events of the Tuscarora and Cherokee “reveal a more complex and flexible response.” When the Cherokee saw that “a palisaded village could become a deathtrap when surrounded by English muskets and put to the torch,” they turned to other familiar courses of action. Given the broad range of actions in these conflicts, Lee asserts that the Indians displayed “an extraordinary flexibility.”

The Tuscarora reliance on fortifications reminds one of the Maginot Line and its stunning failure to defend France. One might hazard a generalization that since the large-scale introduction of gunpowder, which has made sieges more lethal, major fortifications have been less secure. One would need to review more cases before asserting such an extrapolation; certainly, many fortresses fell to sieges before gunpowder. One could make an even broader generalization about the notion of defending a place at all, and whether such defense is quite likely to fail based on centuries of experience.