Monday, July 18, 2016

Is Rebellion in America's Blood?

A passage in Dr. Gregg Frazer's very thoughtful piece arguing that the American Revolution was not a just war brought something to mind. Below is the passage from pages 12-13 of the PDF. Again I added paragraph breaks but did not reproduce Frazer's added emphasis:

Unfortunately, American colonists during the Revolutionary era were far more likely to be subject to propaganda designed to stir up rebellion than to have impartial or fair accounts of events. The prime mover in this propaganda effort was Samuel Adams.1 Pauline Maier, one of the most respected historians of the period, characterizes Adams as a man who ‘evaded truth and mishandled the facts so glaringly that almost everything he wrote is a demand for refutation’ (Maier 1980: 10). Another said that Adams ‘preached hate to a degree without rival’ (Maier 1980: 11). Yet another scholar titled his Adams biography Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda (Miller 1966). In that work, 15 pages are devoted to the account of Adams’s propaganda efforts regarding the so-called Boston Massacre alone (Miller 1966: 178–192).
Labeling the accidental killing of five people a ‘massacre’ was an ingenious propaganda stroke to begin with. But the key to his efforts was to depict the event as a purposeful massacre – as a ‘deliberate plot by the British soldiers to murder innocent Whigs’ (Miller 1943: 297). That was necessary and effective for achieving Adams’s ultimate goal of increasing militancy; ‘to prove the necessity of fighting British troops before they had opportunity to gain a foothold in the country’ (Miller 1966: 190–191). ...
The fact that the soldiers involved were acquitted by a jury of Bostonians and the fact that with his dying breath, one of the ‘victims’ testified that the colonists were armed (Miller 1966: 189), baiting the soldiers, assaulting them with chunks of ice, and other inconvenient facts were lost in the barrage of propaganda promoting the conspiracy theory that the radicals needed the people to believe. The paranoia created by the ‘deliberate plot’ story contributed greatly to the citizens of Massachusetts arming themselves and drilling as militia in expectation of future British assaults. That led directly to the confrontation at Lexington.
Largely because of the blatantly false information and clever misinformation spread at every juncture from the Boston Massacre to the Boston Tea Party, to wild rumors of random killings of Americans in September of 1774, thousands of colonists formed illegal militia units and stockpiled weapons. ...
And S. Adams was one of the "orthodox Christian" ones. 

The tenor of Dr. Frazer's article tends to portray the sentiments of the American Revolution as driven by lawless hooliganism. The thought that came to my mind when reading these passages was Australia. Another former English colony. Sam Adams, as portrayed, reminds me of a veritable Bon Scott. Whereas the Brits can seem rather stuffy, the Australians have more of a wild streak to them. And that could be explained because they were founded as a penal colony, as I learned in K-12 school.

Something I didn't learn in K-12: In researching that thought further, I discovered, though America didn't serve exclusively as a penal colony, it was in fact a dumping ground for British convicts and scoundrels.  If I understand the history right, the reason for Australia's needed existence as a such a dumping ground was because after 1783 Great Britain could no longer use America for that purpose.

Hence the "Australian Solution."

As Bon Scott sings, "all in the name of liberty."


Tom Van Dyke said...

Is Rebellion in America's Blood?

In the Calvinist/Puritan/Presbyterian blood, fer sure. They'd been revolting against the crown since the early 1600s. The "Puritan Revolution" of 1643. Oliver Cromwell's late-1600s Puritan dictatorship that replaced the crown and abolished Christmas. 1776 ["America has run away with a Presbyterian parson!"].

Shame that our pal John Fea gave up on his proposed book on the Founding-era Presbyterians. What up with that, JF?

The theology of the American revolution is a wan echo of what Britain went through 100 years before. Theologically, by 1776, revolution was old hat.

JMS said...

After reading Professor Frazer’s article in its entirety, I found its thesis unconvincing and its source material rather dated and circumscribed. Sticking with the pages Jon reprinted, IMHO Professor Frazer has mischaracterized the role, actions and ideas of Samuel Adams. It seemed like he was channeling the HBO John Adams miniseries cartoonish stereotype of cousin Samuel.

Pauline Maier cites Richard D Brown’s scholarship: “Boston politics, Brown demonstrated, were a "mixture of planning and spontaneity. " Similarly, the capital's relationship with outlying towns was too reciprocal, the restrictions on central leadership were too pervasive to justify any simple interpretation of politics founded upon Adams's control.” Maier refutes Frazer’s argument about “sovereign states” and “non-statehood”: “Nothing in Adams's writings before, during, or immediately after the Stamp Act crisis (I765-66) suggests a desire for independence. His earliest known political writings-from the 1740s-include fulsome praise of the British constitution. He admitted, however, a significant "prejudice" in favor of Massachusetts government, which was modeled on that of England, but with improvements; because New England's founders "had so severely felt the effects of tyranny," he wrote, they secured for their descendants not only all the standard English liberties but "some additional privileges which the common people there have not." "The colonists' demand that they be taxed only by their own representatives, even their resistance to the Stamp Act, seemed to him in perfect accord with British tradition. There was no reason to doubt that colonists would continue "faithfull & loyal Subjects," he wrote in 1765-were they allowed the same governmental powers to which they had long been accustomed, powers he understood to be those not of a sovereign state but a "subordinate civil Governmt."

Recall the secret letter Franklin shared with Adams, i.e., “the sound bite heard ‘round the world,” when Massachusetts Governor Hutchinson wrote, “there must be an abridgement of what are called English liberties.”

As Captain Preston related when asked why he fought at Concord, reflecting the same “prejudice” as Samuel Adams:
Q. Captain Preston, what made you go to the Concord fight?

A. Young man, we always had governed ourselves and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.

PS – At the moment, I cannot find my copy of Pauline Maier’s 1980 book, The Old Revolutionaries: Political lives in the age of Samuel Adams, which Frazer cites. But her 1976 article, “Coming to Terms with Samuel Adams,” in the American Historical Review (which I have access to) thoroughly discredited the distortions Frazer repeats. Ditto for the John Miller bio he cites, about which Maier stated, “Manipulation was a central theme of John C. Miller's Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda (1936), which remains the most scholarly of modern biographies. Maybe it was in 1976, but Frazer should have consulted Mark Puls’ 2006 bio, where Puls shows that “the historical record and an examination of Adams’ writing tell a very different story.” (p. 16) “Miller wrote of Adams as the puppeteer who "brought the people to approve his schemes and pulled the wires that set the Boston town meeting in motion against royal government, " who created the convention of towns in I768 "as a steppingstone to a later usurpation of governmental power, " and then "deliberately set out to provoke crises that would lead to the separation of mother country and colonies." Maier characterized Miller’s claims as reductionist stereotypes. So, I question if her book four years later came to such a different conclusion as Frazer claims. Maier is more in line with Puls than Miller.