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Agent MattPosted: Dec 14, 2010 - 09:17

Genuine American Monster

Level: 70
CS Original

What did the American Revolution look like? Nathaniel Hawthorne imagined it as an angry face, painted so as to appear divided in two. “One side of the face blazed of an intense red, while the other was black as midnight,” he wrote. This uncanny visage appears in Hawthorne’s tale “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” of 1831; its owner rides on horseback through moonlit Boston streets, carrying a drawn sword and leading a mob of people who laugh and shout as they wheel along a rich elderly man whom they have tarred and feathered.

Hawthorne’s “double-faced fellow” was modelled on a historical figure who went by the pseudonym Joyce Jr. and, in the seventeen-seventies, claimed to lead Boston’s Committee for Tarring and Feathering. In 1777, Abigail Adams recorded the charges against five merchants who were his victims: “It seems they have refused to take paper money, and offered their goods lower for silver than for paper.” During wartime, anxieties about hoarding and profiteering no doubt shortened tempers, and, in the Boston Gazette, Joyce Jr. threatened “Judgment without Mercy” to anyone else guilty of “such nefarious Practices.” Joyce Jr. had little of the dignity that we associate with the Founding Fathers; his tone was bitter, and, more important, his grievance was mercenary rather than ideological.

His method of punishment, however, became iconic. Tarring and feathering was so popular in New England in the seventeen-sixties and seventies that at least one observer thought Americans had invented it, though in fact it has been around since at least the twelfth century. What was it like? Pine tar, used to waterproof ships, is liquid at room temperature and, in most cases, was probably applied unheated. Feathers were obtained either from fowl (the smellier the better) or from cushions. The third and most essential ingredient was exposure. One customs agent was kept outdoors in his “modern jacket” until he was frostbitten. “They say his flesh comes off his back in Steaks,” a woman reported afterward. Victims felt a lingering shame, though the frostbitten customs agent, a resilient personality, petitioned King George III to dub him a “Knight of the Tarr.”

Few victims held the high social status of the elderly gentleman in Hawthorne’s tale, but he, too, seems to have had a historical model. Hawthorne was probably thinking of Thomas Hutchinson, the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, whose Boston town house was destroyed, in 1765, by a mob upset by Parliament’s new stamp tax on the colonies’ newspapers, legal documents, and pamphlets. Hutchinson and his family fled their supper table just minutes before a crowd screaming “Liberty and property!” axed open the doors of their home. As Richard Archer notes, in “As If an Enemy’s Country” (Oxford; $24.95), a lively and sympathetic history of pre-Revolutionary Boston under British occupation, the rioters scattered or stole nearly everything inside, including jewelry, dishes, furniture, paintings, about nine hundred pounds in cash, and an archive of New England history that Hutchinson had spent thirty years collecting. “I see they threatened to pitch and feather you,” George III later observed, during a debriefing with Hutchinson, who by then had served as Massachusetts’s second-to-last royal governor. Hutchinson, a slender, fastidious man who liked to debate political philosophy, corrected him: “Tarr & feather, may it please your Majesty.”

“Insurgencies are not movements for the faint of heart,” T. H. Breen writes, in “American Insurgents, American Patriots” (Hill & Wang; $27), a scholarly, unnerving account of the American Revolution’s darker side—the violence, death threats, false rumors, and extremist rhetoric that introduced a new political order. Breen suggests that Americans today “have come to regard insurgency as a foreign and unpleasant phenomenon” and are now so imperial in outlook that we’d rather not remember that American revolutionaries, too, were irrational and cruel. The implied comparison with the contemporary insurgencies of Iraq and Afghanistan is interesting, but over the past two years the history of America’s first insurgency has taken on a new pertinence, as the Tea Party movement has laid claim to its anti-tax and pro-liberty principles—and has inadvertently reproduced its penchant for conspiracy theory, misinformation, demagoguery, and even threats of violence. Furthermore, in much the way that journalists have begun to ask whether shadowy corporate interests may be sponsoring today’s Tea Party, historians have long speculated that merchants may have instigated early unrest to protect smuggling profits from British regulators—that the start of the Revolution may have been Astroturfed. Archer’s history focusses on the years 1768 to 1770, and Breen’s on 1774-75; Benjamin L. Carp’s assiduously researched “Defiance of the Patriots” (Yale; $30) tackles the 1773 Tea Party itself. Breen is not concerned with the revolutionaries’ financial motives, and Carp sometimes takes the rebels’ rhetoric at face value. Nonetheless, the three books together offer a chance to ask new questions about the American Revolution, including one that the conventions of political sentimentality usually render unspeakable: Was the Tea Party even such a good idea the first time around?

In pre-Revolutionary Boston, merchants and government officials were often at odds, because economics more or less required some merchants to break the law. Americans spent about a tenth of their income on manufactured goods from Britain, but Britain wanted little that New England was selling. To keep the cash flowing, Boston merchants therefore sold to planters in the French West Indies, who fed New England’s low-quality dried fish to their slaves and made barrels for their molasses from New England timber. Inconveniently, Britain taxed molasses from foreign countries a burdensome sixpence a gallon and, from 1756 to 1763, during a war with France, outlawed molasses from the French West Indies entirely. So merchants smuggled. For a bribe of between half a penny and one and a half pence per gallon, a typical British customs official was willing to shrink the reported amount of non-British molasses on board a ship by a factor of ten. The scale of the deception can be estimated by comparing customs records with insurance records: though smugglers lied to the government, they told the truth to their insurers. The historian John W. Tyler, in his book “Smugglers and Patriots” (1986), identified twenty-three Boston smugglers from insurance records and suggested that there were many more. He also discovered that these illicit traders were highly influential among political radicals.

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Edward L WinstonPosted: Dec 16, 2010 - 11:29

President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho: porn star and five-time ultimate smackdown wrestling champion!

Level: 150
CS Original

I believe it was a vast masonic conspiracy, but ironically we should praise the founding fathers anyway.

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