American Colonies, Freedom to Worship, East India Company, Tea Tax, Tea Act, Boston Tea Party, Intolerable Acts, Continental Army and an American Nation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 1st, 2012

Politics 101

As Parliament passed additional Revenue Acts Anger grew in the Colonies, especially in Boston

Prior to 1775 the American colonies were many things.  But there was one thing they were not.  United.  Many people went to America to escape religious persecution.  To live with people of their own faith.  To practice their faith without fear of reprisal or oppression.  And that’s exactly what they did.  Often oppressing fellow colonists who didn’t practice the established faith of the colony.  But they were united in one area.  Their hatred of Catholics.  Papists.  Those who lost their way and began to worship not Jesus Christ but the Pope.  That Whore of Babylon.  The seller of indulgences to buy your way out of purgatory.  And virtue.  So they had that to unite them.  But not much else.

Live and let live, they said.  As long as you worshipped Jesus Christ you were okay.  And weren’t a Jew.  Or a Catholic.  So the different denominations of the Protestant faith lived among their own.  In their own colony.  Their country.  The only sense of country they had.  Virginians weren’t American colonists.  They were Virginians.  Who didn’t much care what was going on up there in Massachusetts.  In fact, they didn’t much like what was happening up there in Massachusetts.  For Virginians were planters.  Yeoman farmers.  People who put their back into their living.  Not like those northern merchants.  And money handlers.  Who reeked just a little too much of the Old World they left.  Sitting on their backsides and making money just by buying and selling the products of other’s labors.

Life in the New World was good.  Yes, there was famine.  Disease.  And the occasional massacre.  But they could live with that.  As long as they had the freedom to worship as they pleased.  But then all that trouble started up there in Boston.  Over taxed and broke Parliament turned to their American colonies to raise some revenue.  Which angered the British Americans.  Because they didn’t sit in Parliament.  The Americans had no representation.  And according to British law taxpayers had to approve all new taxes.  Giving consent to those taxes in Parliament.  The problem with the Americans, apparently, was that they were on the ‘wrong’ side of the Atlantic.  For Britons living on the far side of the Atlantic had those rights.  They didn’t.  As Parliament passed additional revenue acts anger grew in the colonies. Especially in Boston.  Where Parliament installed British administrators to enforce these new revenue acts.  To protect their agents the British sent in the Red coats.  A peacetime occupying army.  Something very un-English that the British Americans did not like.

In Response to the Boston Tea Party Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts and closed the Port of Boston  

But the trouble didn’t end there.  The British made further attempts to raise revenue from the American colonists.  And from the British East India Company.  By taxing their tea.  Making it more expensive than the tea you could buy in the Netherlands.  Where there was no such tax.  So people did what people do with high taxes.  They didn’t pay them.  And smuggled Dutch tea into Great Britain.  And the American colonies.  Which left the East India Company with some warehouses full of tea.  So Parliament cut the tea tax due in Britain to help them.  And tried to make up for these lost revenues by taxing the Americans.  One of the new taxes included in the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767.  In response to the new tea tax the Americans boycotted tea.  Which didn’t help sell any of that warehoused tea.  So Parliament repealed the Townshend Revenue Act.  Well, all of it except the tea tax.  For they didn’t want to appear that they didn’t have the right to tax their subjects.  Represented or not.  And Parliament taxed the tea in Britain again.  This, of course, resulted in lower tea sales.  And the mighty East India Company, that made Britain so wealthy with its vast trade network, was in some serious financial peril.

Lord North, British Prime Minister, didn’t much like this uppity attitude of the Americans.  The East India Company desperately wanted to see those tea taxes cut.  But Lord North did not want to give the Americans that victory.  It was a matter of principle.  At least for him and his fellow Tories in Parliament.  As well as the Crown.  For King George III and Lord North were pretty close.  The Whig opposition was much more sympathetic to their British Brethren on the other side of the Atlantic.  But Lord North was adamant.  They had the right to tax the Americans.  And tax they would.  Besides, cutting the taxes in the Townshend Act caused other problems.  It would also eliminate the revenue it raised to pay the salaries of the colonial officials enforcing these new acts.  And it was important to keep them loyal to the Crown.  No.  The taxes in America would remain.  So their answer was, instead, the Tea Act of 1773.  Which removed the taxes due in Britain.  And allowed the East India Company to ship directly to the America colonies.  Cutting out the middleman.  And bringing the price of British tea below that of the smuggled Dutch tea.  Problem solved.

Well, not exactly.  Because the one thing they did share on both sides of the Atlantic was principle.  And even though British tea was cheaper they didn’t want anything to do with it.  On principle.  Because those Townshend tea taxes were still in force.  And paying them was a tacit admission that Parliament had the right to tax the Americans.  Despite not having any representation in that esteemed assembly.  And this they could not do.  Then came the day three little ships came to Boston harbor in 1773.  Their holds full of that detested British tea.  And a mob in the guise of Mohawk Indians descended to the docks.  Boarded these ships.  And tossed the tea overboard.  In what we call the Boston Tea Party.  Infuriating Lord North, Parliament and King George III.  Who all agreed it was time to act against these uppity Americans.  And act they did.  Passing the punitive Intolerable Acts of 1774.  That closed the Port of Boston.  Replaced the Colonial government in Massachusetts with representatives of the Crown.  Royal officials accused of committing a crime against any American would receive a ‘fair’ trial…in Great Britain (pretty much giving them a license to kill).  Forced the Americans to find room and board for the British Army occupying their cities.  And gave large swaths of land around the Great Lakes and Ohio River Valley to the Province of Quebec.  Recently added to the British Empire during the Seven Years’ War.  After they defeated their most hated and foul enemy.  The French.  Who were very, very Catholic.  As were their colonists who remained in these once French lands that were now British lands.  So to keep them from causing trouble the Quebec Act made things very comfortable for Catholics.  Right in the backyard of Protestant British North America. 

It was in the Continental Army the Country united and fulfilled the Words of the Declaration of Independence

In April of 1775 General Gage heard that there were some arms stored in Concord, Massachusetts.  So he sent some Red coats to go capture or destroy these arms.  Things did not go well for the British.  Militia gathered and stood their ground.  Shots rang out.  No one is sure who fired first.  But whoever did fired the shot heard ’round the world.  On the march back to Boston the British were harassed and picked off by sharpshooters.  Until they limped back into the safety of their Boston garrison.  Where the militia fell upon them and laid siege.  These uppity Americans for all intents and purposes had just declared war against the world’s greatest superpower.  And there was no going back.

In response to the British actions in Boston the colonies assembled in congress.  The Continental Congress.  To discuss what they as a united people should do.  For if these outrages could happen in Boston they could happen in any of the colonies.  And now that they spilled blood they needed someone to lead the American forces in their fight against the Crown.  They selected George Washington.  Who left the Congress to take charge in Boston.  And as he walked the lines at Boston he saw Americans.  And when his army marched to Quebec (to get the now British French-Canadians to join in the good fight) he saw Americans.  It was in the Continental Army the country united.  Fighting alongside in the ranks Washington saw Virginians.  Massachusetts men.  Farmers.  Merchants.  Puritans.  Baptists.  Catholics.  Jews.  Even free blacks.

There was nothing a British American enjoyed more than burning an effigy of the Pope.  That would change in the Army.  And the Army would change the country.  Especially the men who served in the Army.  Men like Washington.  Who first glimpsed a new nation.  A united nation.  That transcended religion.  The states.  Even race.  Which really brought home the words of the Declaration of Independence.  That all men are created equal.  And there’s nothing that makes men more equal than suffering the privations and horrors of war.  Sadly, after the war when the common enemy was no more the spirit of these words became a little more symbolic for some.  But these army veterans would leave their mark.  And their vision would eventually become reality for everyone.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #14: “Christianity does not beget antidisestablishmentarianism.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 18th, 2010

DID THE FOUNDING Fathers found America as a Christian nation?  No.  Did they found a secular nation?  Not exactly.  Did they found a federal nation?  Yes.

Federalism.  What does it mean?  It means the new federal government would have LIMITED powers.  The new national government would do national things.  Trade.  National defense.  Treat with other nations.  In other words, those things that required a single national voice.  The French didn’t want to treat with the individual states.  They didn’t want one set of trade agreements for Virginia and another for North Carolina.  Neither did Great Britain.  Or the other European powers.  No.  If the United States of America wanted to be an independent nation, then they had to act as a single, unified nation.  So they did.

The other things, the non-national things, they left to the states.  And one of these things was religion.  For when it came to religion, the new federal government did not interfere in the states’ religious business.  Ergo the First Amendment.  The ‘wall’ between church and state was to separate the new federal government from the states’ religious establishments.  If a state discriminated against all but their established religion, that was fine and dandy for it was a moot point as far as the federal government was concerned.  It just wasn’t their business.

Now, a truly secular government would intervene in such a case.  The federal government would later, but at the founding, one of the preconditions for ratification of the Constitution was that it wouldn’t.  And it didn’t.  Interfere with a state’s religion.

WE ALL KNOW the story of the Pilgrims, the Puritans, coming to the New World from England to escape religious persecution.  Probably not as familiar with the backstory.  The English Civil War.  Duke of Buckingham.  King and Parliament.  Queen and Parliament.  The French.  The Spanish.  The Pope.  The Kirk.  The Ulster Uprising.  Oliver Cromwell.  And, of course, William Laud.

Here’s the short version of what happened.  And some back-story to the back-story.  The Protestant Reformation split the Catholic Church.  Much fighting ensued.  This split nations into essentially Catholic and Protestant camps (which broke down into further divisions).  England was Protestant.  Scotland was Presbyterian (a branch of Protestantism).  Ireland was Catholic with a Protestant enclave in Ulster.

Mix them together, add a not great English king, who married a French Catholic, throw in a revised Church of England prayer book, bring back some Catholicism to the Protestant Church of England, dissolve Parliament, recall Parliament, try to dissolve it again and, well, you get civil war.  Parliament wins the war.  They behead the king. 

The English Civil War is a little more complicated than this.  But for our purposes, it’s the religious component that’s important. Everyone persecuted someone at one time.  One group, the Puritans, were Protestants.  Hardcore Protestants.  Calvinists.  They were about as anti-Catholic as you could get.  Didn’t like any of the Catholics’ fancy vestments, icons, statues, pictures, altar rails, candlesticks, stained glass windows, etc.  That church was corrupt.  They had lost their way. 

They didn’t believe in original sin or that you can buy your way into heaven.  God chose your fate before you were born.  If you were one of the elect, you passed your days in long church services and you read the Bible.  If you didn’t do these things it was proof you weren’t one of the elect.  And were damned.  No matter what you did during your life.  Cure cancer, it didn’t matter.  You were damned.

They didn’t like Catholics and Catholics didn’t like them.  And, as it turned out, the Protestant powers that be didn’t much care for them either.  In England or on the Continent.  They just couldn’t be un-Catholic enough to please the Puritans.  Much bitterness ensued.  Many left the Old World and settled in the New World.  Like the Israelites fleeing Egypt, these Puritans came to the New World to establish that city on a hill of Mathew 5:14 fame (from the Sermon on the Mount.  Given by Jesus Christ.  Just in case you’re unfamiliar with it).

THEY CAME FROM England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France and settled in New England, New York and the far side of the Appalachians.  A hard working people.  They provided for themselves.  Went to church.  Read the Bible.  All work and no play.  At least, some would say. 

They established the state-supported Congregational Church in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  John Adams was born and raised a Calvinist and attended this state-supported church.  When writing the new state’s constitution, the state support of the church was a contentious issue.  Most felt that religion was an indispensible part of life.  Others agreed but feared a religious majority would oppress a religious minority.  The process would take 3 years to resolve.

Being in the heart of the rebellion, Abigail Adams, Founding Mother, and perhaps America’s first feminist, experienced much of the darker side of the struggle for independence.  Soulmate of John Adams in every sense of the word, she was as religious as he.  As the war dragged on with no end in sight, she feared it was God’s punishment for the sins of American slavery.

IN VIRGINIA, THE established church was the Anglican Church (i.e., the Church of England).  As in Massachusetts, there was debate about an established majority religion oppressing a minority religion.  For good reason.  It did.  Right in James Madison’s backyard.  Baptists were harassed.  And imprisoned.  You needed a license to preach.  Virginia and the established church made getting that license very difficult.  If you were a Baptist.

America’s least religious Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, wrote the Virginian Statute for Religious Freedom.  The Virginian General Assembly passed it in 1786, two years before the states ratified the U.S. Constitution.  To help get the Virginian Baptists on board for ratification, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, promised to add a Bill of Rights after ratification that would add similar rights and protection at the federal level that were enacted at the state level.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN MAY have been a Deist.  He was, after all, the embodiment of the Enlightenment.  Like Thomas Jefferson.  They embraced reason over dogma.  But Franklin believed religious faith was fundamental to civilized society.  His personal beliefs boiled down to simply doing good deeds.  Help others.  And sometimes you need to remind some people to help others.  And that’s why he liked religion.  He spent much of his life helping his community (serving in the state militia, participating in the volunteer fire department, etc.).  At an impasse at the Constitutional Convention, it was he who suggested they should pray.

GEORGE WASHINGTON MAY not have taken communion, but he added chaplains to his army units during the American Revolution.  He believed the American cause was a divine one.  He feared a lack of faith may determine battlefield outcomes.  He led an integrated army of Protestants and Catholics.  And Jews.  And blacks.  And others.  He forbade anti-Catholic demonstrations which were very common in the former British colonies.  When an Army went to Canada to attack the British, they were to respect the Catholic French Canadians and invite them to join their cause.  He would even attend Catholic service on occasion.  Like the army, the nation he would lead would be a melting pot.  Tolerance and respect was the mantra.  For all Americans.

SO, DID THE Founding Fathers found a Christian nation?  No.  Religious establishment was simply beyond the responsibility of the new federal government.  Did Christians settle the original colonies?  Yes.  And they established Christian churches.  And the states were worried that a new federal government would interfere with their religious business.  Some wanted additional safeguards written in.  So James Madison added the Bill of Rights after ratification.  The First Amendment placed a wall between the federal government and the States’ religious establishments.

In time, the states extended the tolerance and respect of religious diversity prevalent in Washington’s army to their states.  They disestablished their established churches.  And, to their relief, religion flourished.  Especially the different branches of Christianity.  Yes, America became even more Christian, but it tolerated and respected other religions.  New York even had a Jewish Temple 3 years after the British surrender at Yorktown.  And even the Catholics were welcomed in the new nation.

DISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM INCREASED THE spread of Christianity.  Like the economy, the freer it was the more it flourished.  And with the great number of Christian religions that have since spread across the nation, it is unlikely that overt acts of Christianity would result in the establishment of one of these.  Or the reestablishment of the Church of England. 

So go ahead and display your Christmas Crèche or the Ten Commandments.  Chances are good that it won’t beget antidisestablishmentarianism.

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