April 2, 1722 Silence Dogood

On December 3, James Franklin ran an ad. “If any Person . . . will give a true Account of Mrs. Silence Dogood, whether Dead or alive, Married or unmarried, in Town or Country, . . . they shall have Thanks for their Pains.”

Franklin BirthplaceThe fifteenth child of Josiah and Abiah Franklin was born in a little house on Milk Street, across from the Old South Church, in Boston.

The family moved to a larger house at Union & Hanover Street, when little Ben was six. As the tenth son, Benjamin Franklin was destined to be “tithed” to the church, but Josiah changed his mind after the boy’s first year in Boston Latin School. In light of the small salary, it was too expensive to educate a minister of the church.

He was sent to George Brownell’s English school for writing and arithmetic where he stayed until age ten, when he went to work in his father’s shop making tallow candles and boiling soap. After 1714, “Dr.” Benjamin Franklin’s education came exclusively from the books he picked up along the way.

By twelve the boy was “Hankering to go to sea”, and his father was concerned about his running away. Knowing of the boy’s love of books, the elder Franklin apprenticed his son to the print shop of James Franklin, one of his older sons, where he went to work setting type for books. And reading them.  He would often “borrow” a book at night, returning it “early in the Morning lest it should be miss’d or wanted.”Benjamin Franklin, printer

By 1720, James Franklin began to publish The New England Courant, only the second newspaper to appear in the American colony.

Franklin often published essays and articles written by his friends, a group described as “The Hell-Fire Club”. Benjamin desperately wanted to be one of them, but James seemed to feel that sixteen-year-old little brothers should be seen, and not heard..

Sometime in March 1722, a letter appeared beneath the print shop door. “Sir, It may not be improper in the first Place to inform your Readers, that I intend once a Fortnight to present them, by the Help of this Paper, with a short Epistle, which I presume will add somewhat to their Entertainment”. The letter went on in some detail to describe the life of its author, Mrs. Silence Dogood.

That first letter was published on April 2.  True to her word, Silence Dogood wrote again in two weeks.  And then again, and again.  Once every two weeks, for 28 weeks.  Her letters were delightful, cleverly mocking the manners of Boston “Society”, and freely giving advice, particularly on the way that women should be treated. Nothing was sacred.  One letter suggested that the only thing students learned at Harvard College, was conceit.

dogood_illustrationJames Franklin and his literary friends loved the letters, and published every one. All of Boston was charmed with Silence Dogood’s subtle mockery of the city’s Old School Puritan elite. Proposals of marriage came into the print shop, when the widow Dogood coyly suggested that she would welcome suitors.

James was jailed at one point, for printing “scandalous libel” about Massachusetts Governor Joseph Dudley.  The younger Franklin ran the shop in his absence, when Mrs. Dogood came to his defense.  Quoting Cato, she proclaimed:  “Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.”

And then the letters stopped, much to the dismay of the Courant and its readership. One wrote to the editor, saying the paper had “lost a very valuable Correspondent, and the Public been depriv’d of many profitable Amusements.”

On December 3, James Franklin ran an ad. “If any Person . . . will give a true Account of Mrs. Silence Dogood, whether Dead or alive, Married or unmarried, in Town or Country, . . . they shall have Thanks for their Pains.” It was only then that his sixteen-year-old brother fessed up.  Benjamin Franklin was the author of the Silence Dogood letters.

benjamin--james-franklin-grangerAll of Boston was amused by the hoax, but not James. He was furious with his little brother, who soon broke the terms of his apprenticeship and fled to Pennsylvania.

And so it was that a future Founding Father of the Republic, the inventor, scientist, writer and philosopher, the statesmen who appears on our $100 bill, came to Philadelphia.  Within a few years Franklin had set up his own print shop, publishing the Philadelphia Gazette as well as his own book bindery, in addition to buying and selling books.

Benjamin Franklin’s efforts are in no small part a reason why literacy standards were higher in Colonial America, than among the landed gentry of 18th century England. Higher even, I believe, than today.

FranklinFranklin’s diplomacy to the Court of Versailles was every bit as important to the success of the Revolution, as the Generalship of the Father of the Republic, George Washington. Signatory to both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, it is arguably Ben Franklin who broke the impasse of the Convention of 1787, paving the way for ratification of the United States Constitution.

By then too old and frail to deliver his own speech, Franklin had someone else read his words to the deadlocked convention.

“On the whole, sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the convention who may still have objections to it, would, with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and, to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument”.

As I witness the aftermath of this election year 2016, easily the most divisive of my two-score and eighteen years, I can’t deny the wish that I and my countrymen, too, might doubt a little of our own infallibility.

March 5, 1770 The Boston Massacre

The officer ignored the insult, but Private Hugh White, on guard outside the State House on King Street, said the boy should be more respectful and struck him with his musket. Soon an angry crowd began to gather.

France and Great Britain have been allies throughout most of modern history, both in times of war and peace. This wasn’t always the case. From the Norman Invasion of 1066 to the Napoleonic Wars of 1802-1815, England and France have been in a state of war at least forty times. Throughout most of that history, the two sides would clash until one or the other ran out of money, then yet another treaty would be trotted out and signed.

New taxes would be levied to bolster the King’s treasury, and the cycle would begin all over. The change in this cycle which began in the late 17th century can be summed up in a single word: Debt.

In the time of Henry VIII, British military outlays as a percentage of central government expenses averaged 29.4%. By 1694 the Nine Years’ War had left the English Government’s finances in tatters. £1.2 million were borrowed by the national treasury at a rate of 8% from the newly formed Bank of England. The age of national deficit financing, had arrived.

chartIn one of the earliest known debt issues in history, Prime Minister Henry Pelham converted the entire national debt into consolidated annuities known as “consols”, in 1752.  Consols paid interest like regular bonds, with no requirement that the government ever repay the face value.  18th century British debt soared as high as 74.6%, and never dropped below 55%.

The Seven Years’ War alone, fought on a global scale from 1756 to 1763, saw British debt double to the unprecedented sum of £150 million, straining the national economy.

American colonists experienced the conflict in the form of the French and Indian War, for which the Crown laid out £70,000,000.  The British government saw its American colonies as beneficiary of their expense, while the tax burden on their colonists remained comparatively light.  townsend

For the colonists, the never ending succession of English wars accustomed them to running their own affairs.  The “Townshend Revenue Acts” of 1767 sought to force American colonies to pick up the tab for their own administration, a perfectly reasonable idea in the British mind. The colonists had other ideas. They didn’t object to the amount of taxation as much as whether the British had the right to tax them at all. They were deeply suspicious of the motives behind these new taxes, and were not about to be subjugated by a distant monarch.

The political atmosphere was brittle in 1768, as troops were sent to Boston to enforce the will of the King. Rioters ransacked the home of a newly appointed stamp commissioner, who resigned the post following day. No stamp commissioner was actually tarred and feathered, a barbarity which had been around since the days of Richard III “Lionheart”, though several such incidents occurred at New England seaports.  More than a few loyalists were ridden out of town on the backs of mules.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives sent a petition to King George III asking for the repeal of the Townshend Act.  A Circular Letter sent to the other colonial assemblies, called for a boycott of merchants importing those goods affected by the act.  Lord Hillsborough responded with a letter of his own, instructing colonial governors in America to dissolve those assemblies which responded to the Massachusetts body.

The fifty gun HMS Romney arrived in May.  Customs officials seized John Hancock’s “Liberty” the following month, on allegations the sloop had been involved in smuggling.  Already agitated over Romney’s captain’s impressment of local sailors, Bostonians began to riot. By October, the first of four regular British army regiments had arrived in Boston.

On February 22, 1770, 11 year old Christopher Seider joined a mob outside the shop of loyalist Theophilus Lillie.  Customs official Ebenezer Richardson attempted to disperse the crowd.  Soon the mob was outside his North End home.  Rocks were thrown and windows broken.  One hit Richardson’s wife.  Ebenezer Richardson fired into the crowd, striking Christopher Seider.  By nightfall, he was dead.  2,000 locals attended the boy’s funeral, the first victim of the American Revolution.

bostonmassacrebychampneyOn March 5, wigmaker’s apprentice Edward Garrick taunted British Captain-Lieutenant John Goldfinch, claiming he had not paid a bill owed to his master.   The officer had paid the bill and ignored the insult, but Private Hugh White, on guard outside the State House on King Street, said the boy should be more respectful, striking him with his musket.  Garrick’s companion Bartholomew Broaders argued with White, as an angry crowd began to gather.

The shouting mob soon had White backed up to the State House steps, as Officer of the Watch Captain Thomas Preston dispatched a non-commissioned officer and six privates of the 29th Regiment of Foot, bayonets fixed, to back up Private White.  The crowd began to throw stones and snowballs. Private Hugh Montgomery was knocked to the ground, and came up shooting.  Then they all fired, killing three outright, and wounding six more.  Two more lay dying.

Future President John Adams and Josiah Quincy defended the troopers in the following trial, in what would be the first time a judge used the phrase “reasonable doubt.” Two were convicted, but escaped hanging by invoking a medieval legal remnant called “benefit of clergy”. They would be branded on the thumb with “M” for murder. The others were acquitted, leaving both sides complaining of unfair treatment. The only conservative revolution in history, was fewer than six years in the future.

There is a circle of stones in front of the Old State House on what is now State Street, marking the site of the Boston Massacre. British taxpayers continue to this day, to pay interest on the debt left to them, by the decisions of their ancestors.

March 4, 1789 Founding Documents

On September 25, the first Congress adopted 12 amendments, sending them to the states for ratification. The states got rid of the first two, and so the Congress’ original 3rd amendment became 1st, of what we now call the “Bill of Rights”.

Early discussions of the American experiment in self-government began 20 years before the Revolution, with the Albany Congress of 1754, and Benjamin Franklin’s proposed Albany Plan of Union. The 2nd Continental Congress appointed a drafting committee to write our first constitution in 1776, the work beginning on July 12. The finished document was sent to the states for ratification on November 15 of the following year.

articles-of-confederation_grandeTwelve of the original thirteen states ratified these “Articles of Confederation” by February, 1779. Maryland would hold out for another two years, over land claims west of the Ohio River. In 1781, seven months before Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, the 2nd Continental Congress formally ratified the Articles of Confederation. The young nation’s first governing document.

The Articles of Confederation provided for a loose confederation of sovereign states. At the center stood a congress, a unicameral legislature, and that’s about it. There was no Executive, there was no Judiciary.

In theory, Congress had the authority to govern foreign affairs, conduct war, and to regulate currency. In practice, these powers were limited because Congress had no authority to enforce the requests it made on the states, either for money or for troops.

The Union would probably have broken up if the Articles of Confederation were not amended or replaced. Twelve delegates from five states met at Mann’s Tavern in Annapolis Maryland in September 1786, to discuss the issue. The decision of the Annapolis Convention was unanimous. Representatives from all the states were invited to send delegates to a new constitutional convention in Philadelphia, the following May.

The United States had won its independence from England four years earlier, when 55 state delegates convened in Philadelphia to compose a new constitution.

Delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies, (only Rhode Island abstained) met on May 25, 1787 atconstitutional_convention_1787 Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania State House. The building is now known as Independence Hall, the same place where the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation were drafted.

The assembly immediately discarded the idea of amending the Articles, instead crafting a brilliant Federal system of checks and balances over three months of debate. The Federal Republic crafted by the framers delegates specific, limited powers to the Federal Government, with authority outside those specific powers devolving to the states.

Even at the convention, there was concern about the larger, more populous states governing at the expense of the smaller states. The “Connecticut Compromise” solved the problem, creating a bicameral legislature with proportional representation in the lower house (House of Representatives) and equal representation of the states in the upper house (Senate).

signingThe Constitution was signed by 38 of the 41 delegates on September 17, 1787. As dictated by Article VII, the document would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 states.

Five states: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut ratified the document in quick succession. Some states objected to the new document, especially Massachusetts, which wanted more protection for basic political rights such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press. They wanted it specified that powers undelegated to the Federal government, were reserved to the states. A compromise was reached in February, 1788 whereby Massachusetts and other states would ratify the document, with the assurance that such amendments would be immediately proposed.

The Constitution was ratified in Massachusetts by a two vote margin, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify on June 21. The new Constitutional Government would take effect on March 4, 1789.

On September 25, the first Congress adopted 12 amendments, sending them to the states for ratification. The states got rid of the first two, and so the Congress’ original 3rd amendment became 1st, of what we now call the “Bill of Rights”. Today, the United States Constitution is the oldest written national constitution in operation in the world.

It’s interesting to note the priorities of that first Congress, as expressed in their original 1st and 2nd amendments. The ones that were thrown out. The first had to do with proportional representation, and would have led us to a 6,000 member House of Representatives, instead of the 435 we currently have. The second most important thing in the world, judging by the priorities of that first Congress, was that any future Congress could not change their own salaries. Any such change could affect only future Congresses.27th-amendment

That original 2nd amendment, reading that “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened”, took effect in 1992 as the 27th amendment, following a ratification period stretching out to 202 years, 7 months, and 12 days. We must not be too hasty about these things.

February 19, 1807 Founding Scoundrels

What would it be like to turn on CNN or Fox News, to learn that Former Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew had been party to a duel, and that he was near death after being shot by Vice President Mike Pence.

What would it be like to turn on CNN or Fox News, to learn that Former Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew had been party to a duel, and that he was near death after being shot by Vice President Mike Pence.

The year was 1804, and President Jefferson’s Vice President, Aaron Burr, had a long standing personal conflict with one of the Founding Fathers. Alexander Hamilton, the only signer of the Constitution from the state of New York, had been the first Secretary of the Treasury serving under President George Washington.

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Aaron Burr(R), Alexander Hamilton (L)

The animosity between Hamilton and Burr probably began in 1791, when Burr defeated Hamilton’s father-in-law Philip Schuyler in a US Senate election. The conflict escalated during the 1800 Presidential election, one of the ugliest election seasons in our nation’s history.  Called the “Revolution of 1800”, the contest pitted Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans, against former Vice President John Adams and his Federalist party.

Both sides were convinced as an article of faith, that the other side would destroy the young nation.  Federalists attacked Jefferson as an un-Christian deist, whose sympathies with the French Revolution would bring about a similar cataclysm in the young American Republic.  Democratic-Republicans criticized the alien and sedition acts, and the deficit spending the Adams administration used to support Federal policy.

“The father of modern political campaigning”, Burr enlisted the help of New York’s Tammany Hall in his pursuit of election, transforming what was then a social club into a political machine.

The election was a decisive victory for the Democratic-Republicans, not so much for the selection of President and Vice President.  At the time, electors cast two votes, the first and second vote-getters becoming President and Vice President.   The electoral vote tied at 73 between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, moving the selection to the House of Representatives.

Hamilton exerted his influence on behalf of Thomas Jefferson, who was elected on the 36th ballot, making Burr his VP.

Today we’re accustomed to the idea of “Judicial Review”, the idea that Supreme Court decisions are final and inviolate, but that wasn’t always the case.  The Landmark Supreme Court case Marbury v Madison established the principle in 1803, a usurpation of power so egregious to Democratic-Republicans that it led to the impeachment of Associate Justice Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  As VP, Aaron Burr presided over Chase’ impeachment.

Relations became toxic between Jefferson and his VP.  Burr knew that he wouldn’t be kept on for the 1804 re-election campaign, and so he ran for Governor of New York, losing the election by a decisive margin to a virtual unknown, Morgan Lewis.  It was a humiliating defeat, the largest in New York electoral politics up to that time.

weehawken-duelBurr blamed Hamilton for his defeat, challenging him to a duel over comments made during the election.  Dueling was illegal at this time but enforcement was comparatively lax in New Jersey.  The pair rowed across the Hudson River with their “seconds”, meeting at the waterfront town of Weehawken, New Jersey.  It was July 11, 1804.  Hamilton “threw away” his shot, firing into the air.  Aaron Burr shot to kill.

Murder charges were filed in both New York and New Jersey, but neither ever went to trial.

Aaron Burr went on to preside over Justice Chase’ impeachment trial, later that year.  It had to have been the high point of the Vice President’s political career, a career that otherwise ended the day he met Alexander Hamilton in Weehawken.

Burr headed for New Orleans, where he got mixed up with one General James Wilkinson, possibly the sleaziest character of the founding generation.  At that time, Wilkinson was a paid agent for Spanish King Charles IV. 100 years later Theodore Roosevelt would say of Wilkinson, “In all our history, there is no more despicable character.”

Wilkinson would take his payments in silver dollars, hidden in rum, sugar and coffee casks.  All those clinking coins almost undid him, when a messenger was caught and killed with 3,000 of them.  The messenger’s five murderers were themselves Spaniards, who testified at trial that the money belonged to the spy Wilkinson.  Payment for services rendered to their King.  Wilkinson’s luck held out, as the killers spoke no English.  Thomas Power, interpreter for the Magistrate, was another Spanish spy.  He translated:  ‘They just say they’re wicked murderers motivated by greed.’

wilkinson
General James Wilkinson

The nature of Burr’s discussions with Wilkinson is unknown, but in 1806, Burr led a group of armed colonists toward New Orleans, with the apparent intention of snatching the territory and turning it into an independent Republic.  It’s probably safe to assume that Aaron Burr saw himself at the head of such a Republic.

Seeing no future in it and wanting to save his own hide, General Wilkinson turned on his former ally, sending dispatches to Washington accusing the former Vice President of treason. Burr was tracked down in Alabama on February 19, 1807, arrested for treason and sent to Richmond, Virginia, for trial.

Burr was acquitted on September 1 of that year, on grounds that he had not committed an “overt act” as specified in the Constitution.  He was not guilty in the eyes of the law, but the court of public opinion would forever regard him as traitor.  Aaron Burr spent the next several years in Europe before returning to New York, and resuming his law practice.

The Vice President who killed the man on our $10 bill, died in obscurity on September 14, 1836, at the age of 80.

 

February 6, 1778 The Road to Yorktown

If there was ever a “window of opportunity”, the siege of Yorktown was it. Fully ½ of Cornwallis’ troops were sick with Malaria during the siege, a disease to which the Americans had built some degree of immunity. Most of the French were newly arrived, so they had yet to go through the disease’ one-month gestation period.

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress declared the 13 American Colonies to be a free and independent nation. That same day and an ocean away, a business was formed by Spain and the French House of Bourbon, which would aid in the enterprise.

The Rodrigue Hortalez Trading Company was a ruse, organized by the French playwright, politician and spy, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. Beaumarchais had obtained one million livres from France and the same amount from Spain in May of 1776, before the first_saluteDeclaration of Independence was even signed. With it were muskets, cannon, gunpowder, bombs, mortars, tents, and enough clothing for 30,000 men, traveling from French ports to the “neutral” Netherlands Antilles island of St. Eustatius.

The delivery could not have been more timely. When General Washington took command on July 3, 1775, the Continental Army had about enough powder for nine rounds per man.
Interestingly, it was little St. Eustatius which first openly recognized American Independence, firing their “First Salute” on November 16 of that year, in recognition of the visit of the American Brig Andrew Doria. Hortalez & Co. was one of four channels of Spanish aid. New Orleans Governor Luis de Unzaga began providing covert aid to the American rebels in 1776, expanding the following year under his successor, Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez.  It is he who gives Galveston, Texas its name.

Meanwhile, the Spanish port at Havana was opened to the Americans under Most Favored Nation status, and further Spanish aid flowed in from the Gardoqui family trading company in Bilbao, whose Patriarch, Don Diego de Gardoqui, would become Spain’s first Ambassador to the United States. According to the Ambassador, the House of Gardoqui alone supplied the American patriots with 215 bronze cannon, 30,000 muskets, 30,000 bayonets, 51,314 musket balls, 300,000 pounds of powder, 12,868 grenades, 30,000 uniforms, and 4,000 field tents. The Spanish Prime Minister, José Moñino y Redondo, Count of Floridablanca, wrote in March 1777, “the fate of the colonies interests us very much, and we shall do for them everything that circumstances permit”.saratoga-reenactment

The American Victory at Saratoga in October of 1777 opened the door to more overt aid from the French, thanks largely to the tireless diplomacy of Benjamin Franklin and the Marquis du Lafayette. Representatives of the French and American governments signed the Treaties of Alliance and Amity and Commerce on February 6, 1778.

The “Southern Strategy” of 1778-80 may have cost the British army and their Hessian allies more casualties from disease than from Patriot bullets. About 1,200 Hessian soldiers were killed in combat over the course of the war. By contrast, 6,354 more died of disease, and 5,500 deserted, later settling in America.

In February 1781, General Washington sent Lafayette south at the head of a handpicked force of 1,200 New England and New Jersey troops, and 1,200 French troops.  Washington himself lead an army he described as “not strong enough even to be beaten”.

5,500 French Army troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau landed in Rhode Island that summer, linking up with General Washington’s Patriot army. Meanwhile, Lafayette harassed and shadowed Cornwallis’ much larger force, as it moved up through North Carolina and east toward the Chesapeake Bay.

Cornwallis was looking for a deep water port from which to link up with his ships. It was at this time that Lafayette received help from a slave named James, on the New Kent Armistead Farm. James pretended to serve Cornwallis in Yorktown while sending valuable military information to Lafayette and Washington, who was now moving south through New Jersey with Rochambeau. James would later legally change his name to James Lafayette.

rochambeau-plaque
“To the generous help of your Nation and to the bravery of its troops must be attributed in a great degree to that independence for which we have fought, and which after a severe conflict of more than five years have been obtained”.

Meanwhile, Rear Admiral Francois Joseph Paul, the Comte de Grasse, was in Santo Domingo, meeting with the representative of Spain’s King Carlos III, Francisco Saavedra de Sangronis. De Grasse had planned to leave several warships in Santo Domingo, now capital of the Dominican Republic, to protect the French merchant fleet. Saavedra promised assistance from the Spanish navy, enabling de Grasse to sail north with all of his warships. He needed those ships.  The crucial Naval battle of the Revolution took place on September 5, when de Grasse defeated the British fleet of Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Graves, cutting Cornwallis off from the sea.

French Admiral de Barras arrived from Newport a few days later, carrying vital siege yorktownequipment, while de Grasse himself carried 500,000 silver pesos from Havana to help with the payroll and siege costs at the final Battle of Yorktown.

If there was ever a “window of opportunity”, the siege of Yorktown was it. Fully ½ of Cornwallis’ troops were sick with Malaria during the siege, a disease to which the Americans had built some degree of immunity. Most of the French were newly arrived, so they had yet to go through the disease’ one-month gestation period. The British relief force sailing out of New York Harbor wouldn’t leave until October 19, 1781, the day Cornwallis was forced to surrender.

Over the course of the Revolution, the Patriot cause received aid from sources both sought after and providential. Ben Franklin, John Jay and John Adams would negotiate through two more years and four British governments before they were through. The Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, formally ending the American Revolution.

January 20, 1829 An Ass for a Lion

“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world”

The Declaration of Independence, the birth certificate of the nation, begins with this preamble: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…”.

The next paragraph leads with the phrase most commonly cited: “We hold these truths todeclaration-of-independence be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

The paragraph ends with a personal indictment of one man, followed by a 27 item bill of particulars against him. “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world”.

The overall tenor of the document is a personal indictment of one man, George III, King of England. The word “He” appears in the document 19 times, “tyrant” is used twice and “ruler” only once, as in: “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people”.

Thomas Paine wrote of George III in “Common Sense”, the pamphlet which inspired a people to rise up in the summer of 1776: “One of the strongest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings, is, that nature disapproves it, otherwise she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by giving mankind an ass for a lion”.

To be sure, the King had little or nothing to do with the policies which brought the two countries to war. The Stamp Act of 1765, the Townshend duties on tea, paper and other products in 1767; these came from Parliament, as did the “Coercive Acts” of 1774, referred to by the Patriots of Massachusetts and others as “The Intolerable Acts”.

These policies were a result of the financial burdens of garrisoning and administering the huge territories of the American colonies, the never ending wars with France and Spain, and the loans given to the East India Company, which was then responsible for administering India.

The third King of the House of Hanover was himself a creature of Parliament, his lineage having been invited to rule over Great Britain in 1714, after the fall of the House of Stuart. What Parliament gives, Parliament may take away. Yet today, George III is remembered for two things; losing the American colonies, and for losing his mind.

He is the longest reigning of any English King, ruling from 1760 until his death on January 29, 1820. Medical historians have long said that George III suffered from a genetic blood disorder called Porphyria, a term from the Greek meaning “purple pigment”. This refers to a blue discoloration in the urine of those suffering from the condition, along with symptoms primarily involving the central nervous system, and accompanied by severe abdominal pain, vomiting and mental disturbances.

The illness seems to have afflicted George III alone however, casting doubt on an hereditary condition. George III’s medical records cast further doubt on the porphyria diagnosis, showing that he was prescribed medicine based on gentian, a plant with deep blue flowers which may turn the urine blue. He seems to have been afflicted with some kind of mental illness, suffering bouts which occurred with increasing severity and longevity. At times the King of England would talk until he foamed at the mouth or go into convulsions where pages had to sit on him to keep him from injuring himself.

An ongoing research project at St George’s, University of London, has looked at thousands of King George III’s handwritten letters, and concluded that the King suffered from mental illness. His writing was erratic at times coinciding with his “spells”, with run-on sentences of 400 words or more and as many as 8 verbs with no punctuation. These are features of the writing and speech of patients as they experience the manic phase of bipolar disorder. This manic phase stands at one end of a spectrum of mood disorders, with an overwhelming sadness or depression at the other. Research is ongoing, but these types of mood swings are consistent with contemporary witnesses to George’s behavior, as well as the written record.

The last ten years of George’s reign were spent in complete seclusion, mentally unfit to rule.  His eldest son, the Prince of Wales and future King George IV, acted as Prince Regent from 1811 on.

There is an historic lesson in this story. If the country ruled by a King (or Queen) wins the lottery and gets a good and fair monarch, then that country can experience a period of peace and prosperity. If that country draws the cosmic short straw and gets a bad one, the results can be catastrophic. In the end, it’s the most powerful argument I can think of for a governmental system of diffuse power with checks and balances.

January 24, 1776 A Noble Train of Artillery

It must have been a sight when that Noble Train of Artillery entered Cambridge on this day in 1776

The American Revolution began with the “Shot Heard Round the World” on the morning of April 19, 1775. Within days of the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the subsequent British withdrawal to Boston, over 20,000 men poured into Cambridge from all over New England. Abandoned Tory homes and the empty Christ Church became temporary barracks and field hospitals.  Even Harvard College shut down, its buildings becoming quarters for at least 1,600 Patriots.

The Continental Congress appointed George Washington General of this “Army” on June 15, two days before the British assault on Farmer Breed’s hill. An action which took its name from that of a neighboring farmer, going into history as the Battle of Bunker Hill.

At the time, Boston was a virtual island, connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land. Shortly after his arrival in July, General Washington discovered that his army had enough gunpowder for nine shots per man, and then they’d be done. British forces were effectively penned up in Boston, by a force too weak to do anything about it.

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Fort Ticonderoga

The stalemate dragged on for months, when a 25 year old bookseller came to General Washington with a plan. His name was Henry Knox. His plan was a 300-mile, round trip slog into a New England winter, to retrieve the guns of Fort Ticonderoga. Washington’s advisors derided the idea as hopeless, but the General approved. Henry Knox set out with a column of men on December 1.

Located on the New York banks of Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga was captured by a small force led by Ethan Allen and Colonel Benedict Arnold, in May of that year. In it were brass and iron cannon, howitzers, and mortars, 59 pieces in all. Arriving on December 5, Knox and his men set about disassembling the artillery, making it ready for transport. A flotilla of flat bottom boats was scavenged from all over the countryside, the guns loaded and rowed the lengthcolonel-knox-bringing-the-cannons-from-fort-ticonderoga-1 of Lake George, arriving barely before the water began to freeze over.

Local farmers were enlisted to help and by December 17, Knox was able to report to General Washington “I have had made forty two exceedingly strong sleds & have provided eighty yoke of oxen to drag them as far as Springfield where I shall get fresh cattle to carry them to camp. . . . I hope in 16 or 17 days to be able to present your Excellency a noble train of artillery.”

Bare ground prevented the sleds from moving until Christmas morning, when a heavy snow fell and the column set out for Albany. Two attempts to cross the Hudson River on January 5 each resulted in cannon being lost to the river, but finally Knox was able to write “Went on the ice about 8 o’clock in the morning & proceeded so carefully that before night we got over 23 sleds & were so lucky as to get the Cannon out of the River, owing to the assistance the good people of the City of Albany gave.”knoxtrailmap

Continuing east, Knox and his men crossed into Massachusetts, over the Berkshires, and on to Springfield. With 80 fresh yoke of oxen, the 5,400lb sleds moved along much of what is modern day Routes 9 and 20, passing through Brookfield, Spencer, Leicester, Worcester, Shrewsbury, Northborough, Marlborough, Southborough, Framingham, Wayland, Weston, Waltham, and Watertown.

It must have been a sight when that noble train of artillery entered Cambridge on this day in 1776. By March, Henry Knox’ cannon would be manhandled to the top of Dorchester Heights, resulting in the British evacuation of Boston and a peculiar Massachusetts institution which exists to this day, known as “Evacuation Day”: March 17.

It is doubtful whether Washington possessed either powder or shot for a sustained campaign, but British forces occupying Boston didn’t know that. The mere presence of those guns moved British General Howe to weigh anchor and sail for Nova Scotia, but that is a story for another day.

December 26, 1776 Trenton

Washington himself, who had become Commander-in-Chief of an Army with an average of nine rounds’ powder per man, feared they may have reached the end, writing to his cousin in Virginia “I think the game is pretty near up”.

1776 started out well for the Patriot cause, with the British evacuating Boston in March, the June defeat of the British Navy at Fort Moultrie South Carolina, and the Continental Congress adopting the Declaration of Independence on July 4.

Things took a turn for the worse in August, with General George Washington’s defeat at the Battle of Long Island, and the loss of the strategically important port of New York that September. It wasn’t all bad, Benedict Arnold’s October defeat at Valcour Island in Vermont, cost the British dearly enough that they had to turn back, buying another year of life for the Patriot cause.

By the end of November, General Howe pushed the last American troops out of New York, chasing Washington’s shrinking army through New Jersey and across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.

Washington’s men gathered up or destroyed every boat they could find for miles, while across the Delaware, British General Lord Cornwallis established outposts from New Brunswick to Burlington, including one at Trenton, New Jersey.

Camping on the western banks of the Delaware, Washington was in desperate straits. Food, ammunition and equipment were in short supply, men were deserting as the string of defeats brought morale to a new low.  Most of his troops were about to end their enlistments, effective at the end of the year. Washington himself, who had become Commander-in-Chief of an Army with an average of nine rounds’ powder per man, feared they may have reached the end, writing to his cousin in Virginia “I think the game is pretty near up”.

The Americans needed a decisive victory, and quickly, if their cause was to survive. Washington planned a three-pronged attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton, himself at the head of a 2,400 man army, flanked by a 1,900 man diversionary force under Colonel John Cadwalader and a blocking move by 700 men under General James Ewing.

march-on-trenton-webAs the army began the famous crossing of the Delaware that Christmas night, the
password was “Victory”. There was only one recognized response:  “Or Death”.

Washington’s three-pronged assault soon dissolved into one, as Cadwalader and Ewing both turned back. The weather that night was dreadful.  A howling ‘nor-easter’ came up at 11:00, hampering the crossing as freezing rain changed to sleet and sleet to snow. Horses balked at being led onto flat-bottom barges, while cannon had to be tied down to prevent capsize. With visibility near zero, several men fell overboard during the crossing.  One soldier said “it blew a perfect hurricane”.

Two froze to death on the overnight march to Trenton. Men were so poorly equipped that washington-delaware-lmany of them lacked boots, the soaked and freezing rags wrapped around their feet not enough to keep them from leaving bloody footprints in the snow.

Loyalists had warned the Hessian commander, Colonel Johann Rall, that American forces were planning an action. As late as December 22, a spy had warned British General James Grant that Washington was holding a war council.  His warning to the Hessian commander was “Be on your guard”.

Approaching Trenton along parallel roads, General John Sullivan sent word to Washington that the weather was wetting his men’s gunpowder. Washington responded, “Tell General Sullivan to use the bayonet. I am resolved to take Trenton.”

trentonThe Patriot force arrived at Trenton at 8am December 26, completely surprising the Hessian garrison. There is a story about the Hessians being drunk or hungover after Christmas celebrations, but the story is almost certainly untrue. Unaware of Washington’s march on Trenton, 50 Americans had attacked a Hessian outpost earlier that morning. While Washington worried that his surprise was blown, Colonel Rall apparently believed that this was the attack he’d been warned about. He expected no further action that day.

The tactical surprise was complete for the American side. Hessian soldiers spilled out of their quarters and tried to form up, but most were shot down or dispersed. A few American civilians, residents of Trenton, even joined in the fight. All told, Hessian losses were 22 killed, 92 wounded, 918 captured and 400 escaped. Four Hessian colonels were killed, including Rall himself. The Americans suffered the two who had frozen to death, and five wounded. They had won the first major victory of the Revolution.

On December 30, the Americans once again crossed the Delaware, eluding a main forcetrenton-1 under Generals Cornwallis and Grant, proving on January 3rd at a place called Princeton, that they could defeat a regular British army in the field.

Encouraged by these victories, many of Washington’s men extended their terms of enlistment, and new enlistments flooded in. The American Revolution would slog on for almost six more years, but for today, it had lived to fight another day.

 

December 16, 1773 Boston Tea Party

The Tea Act actually reduced the price of tea, but Colonists saw it as an effort to buy popular support for taxes already in force

In the time of Henry VIII, British military outlays as a percentage of central government expenses averaged 29.4%.   That number skyrocketed to 74.6% in the 18th century, and never dropped below 55%.

The Seven Years’ War alone, fought on a global scale from 1756 – ‘63, saw England borrow the unprecedented sum of £58 million, doubling the national debt and straining the British economy.

For the American colonies, the conflict took the form of the French and Indian War.  The British government saw its American colonies as the beneficiary of much of their expense, and wanted to be reimbursed.  For the colonists, the never-ending succession of English wars meant that they were largely left alone to run their own affairs.

Several measures were taken to collect revenues, as colonists bristled at the heavy handed taxation policies of the 1760s.. The Sugar Act, the Currency Act:  in one 12-month period, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, Quartering Act, and the Declaratory Act, and deputized Royal Navy Sea Officers to enforce customs laws in colonial ports.

The merchants and traders of Boston specifically cited “the late war” and the expenses related to it, concluding the Boston Non-Importation Agreement of August 1, 1768. The agreement prohibited the importation of a long list of goods, ending with the statement ”That we will not, from and after the 1st of January 1769, import into this province any tea, paper, glass, or painters colours, until the act imposing duties on those articles shall be repealed”.

The ‘Boston Massacre’ of 1770 was a direct result of the tensions between colonists andgaspee-shippey the “Regulars” sent to enforce the will of the Crown.  Two years later, Sons of Liberty looted and burned the HMS Gaspee in Narragansett Bay, RI.

The Tea Act, passed by Parliament on May 10, 1773, was less a revenue measure than it was an effort to prop up the British East India Company, by that time burdened with debt and holding eighteen million pounds of unsold tea.  The measure actually reduced the price of tea, but Colonists saw it as an effort to buy popular support for taxes already in force, and refused the cargo.  In Philadelphia and New York, tea ships were turned away and sent back to Britain while in Charleston, the cargo was left to rot on the docks.

British law required a tea ship to offload and pay customs duty within 20 days, or the cargo was forfeit.  The Dartmouth arrived in Boston at the end of November with a cargo of tea, followed by the tea ships Eleanor and Beaver.  Sam Adams called for a meeting at Faneuil Hall on the 29th, which then moved to Old South Meeting House to accommodate the crowd.  25 men were assigned to watch Dartmouth, making sure it didn’t unload.

7,000 gathered at Old South Meeting House on December 16th, 1773, the last day of Dartmouth’s deadline.  Royal Governor Hutchinson held his ground, refusing Dartmouth permission to leave.  Adams announced that “This meeting can do nothing further to save the country.”

sons-of-libertyThat night, somewhere between 30 and 130 Sons of Liberty, some dressed as Mohawk Indians, boarded the three ships in Boston Harbor.  There they threw 342 chests of tea, 90,000 pounds in all, into Boston Harbor.  £9,000 worth of tea was destroyed, worth about $1.5 million in today’s dollars.

In the following months, other protesters staged their own “Tea Parties”, destroying imported British tea in New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and Greenwich, NJ.  There was even a second Boston Tea Party on March 7, 1774, when 60 Sons of Liberty, again dressed as Mohawks, boarded the “Fortune”.  This time they dumped 3,000lbs of the stuff into the harbor.  That October in Annapolis Maryland, the Peggy Stewart was burned to the water line.

For decades to come, the December 16 incident in Boston Harbor was blithely referred to as “the destruction of the tea.” The earliest newspaper reference to “tea party” wouldn’t come to us until 1826.

John Crane of Braintree is one of the few original tea partiers ever identified, and the only man injured in the event. An original member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati and early member of the Sons of Liberty, Crane was struck on the head by a tea crate and thought to be dead.  His body was carried away and hidden under a pile of shavings at a Boston cabinet maker’s shop.  It must have been a sight when John Crane “rose from the dead”, the following morning.

Great Britain responded with the “Intolerable Acts” of 1774, including the occupation of intolerable-actsBoston by British troops.    Minutemen clashed with “Lobster backs” a few months later, on April 19, 1775.  No one alive today knows who fired the first shot at Lexington Green. History would record it as “The shot heard ’round the world”.

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