tv History Bookshelf Nick Bunker An Empire on the Edge CSPAN December 15, 2018 4:00pm-5:01pm EST
i saw a bronze plaque on the wall. it was a spanish-portuguese synagogue. i was quite struck by this. i am quite familiar with this phase of history. my previous book dealt with the interaction between the mayflower pilgrims and the jewish communities of amsterdam and frankfurt. so i was struck to see this plaque. it refers back to the early history of jewish communities in new york and the arrival of the jewish mayflower.
talk i will bes referring to some connections to the boston tea party. i will keep you in suspense about what that is. [laughter] there were some affinities between the people involved. about theto talk boston tea party from a british point of view. what place did it have to british politics of the time? we must start with the comments that were made at the time by britain's about the colonists. where better to start than with dr. johnson. "american's are a race of comics -- convicts." [laughter]
he did not mellow with age. he was willing to accept all mankind except for in america. [laughter] we also had admiral john montague. asdescribes new englanders people whose whole business was defrauding the king. perhaps most elegant of all was george the third. he simply called the americans "my deluded subjects." [laughter] eveningspend the whole reading out insulting remarks by the british. however, there are some remarks by the british at the time that are important.
admiral lesley was the senior british army officer on that night. he commanded the 64th regiment. was located on castle william, the island in the harbor. be in not allowed to boston himself because he did not have orders to put his men in the city. he had to stay out there frustrated lee on the castle island. they were supposed to have 500-600 men. they only had 400. not much ammunition. in peacetime, it was supposed to be done in new york. he was feeling rather frustrated about all of this. he came from a very distinguished family.
he was the brother of the sixth earl of leaven. his family had a distinguished record of service. he was pretty upset by the time it came to the tea party. 10 days earlier, he had written a letter to his brother. these letters are preserved in the national archives of scotland's. i don't think they've been published before. he said this, "the east india company t has made a fine dust. the people are in actual rebellion. where it will end, knowing can't say. lord dartmouth has not enough of the devil in him to deal with the americans. --hing but severity will to
do now." the next letter was written sometime later. in july of 1774. he had become angrier by then. this is what he said about the massachusetts assembly. led blindfold by that most artful fellow, samuel adams. they are in artful people altogether." then he made a reference to something that had happened in new orleans before. there then an uprising against the spanish. it'd been put down with some general o'reilly, an irish officer in the service of the spanish. he is still known in new orleans as bloody o'reilly.
leslie said we need to learn a lesson from o'reilly. this is what we need to do. "if half a dozen of the americans were sent home, it would be better than shutting up the port of boston. nothing but hanging and shooting will do now. the child is already spoiled. gentle correction is of no use. now is the time to bend their headstrong american next -- necks." this is quite a a letter. first of all, the date. and july of 1770 four, some nine months before the revolution actually started. nine months before the battle of lexington. he was clearly bent upon violent suppression of what he saw as an
uprising. the date is impressive but also the vitriol without was written. what was its that made the british so vitriolic about what was going on in boston? it was the tea party. was what heseen thought was a complete and utter flouting of royal authority. which amounted to high treason. i will be talking about why the british thought the tea party was high treason. that is not something easy for americans to understand. it is counterintuitive. the tea party, on the face of it, looks like a riot. a bit of political theater. it does not look like i treason. highuestion of why it was treason is fundamental.
how did it come about? who was responsible? in theory, this is quite easy to get that. the responsibility lies fairly and squarely with lord north, minister.h prime findd the treasury board -- signed a minute that authorized the export of tea to america. the treasury board minutes are preserved in london. you can see this particular entry. the treasury board, which still exist today, as a committee of the american -- british government. it's responsibility is to sign off on pretty -- certain financial documents.
they write the checks for the british government. so from one point of view, it is clear who was responsible. but of course it was not as simple as that. there were a whole series of events that occurred. my book goes into these in some detail. the boston tea party is the center of the book. ofill try to summarize some the points involved. 1772ritish empire in really consisted of two empires that were superimposed on each other. there was a political empire, which consisted of flags on a map.
buildings,vernors, coats and arms, soldiers. that was the political empire. the west indies as well as the continental american colonies. there was also a commercial empire. this empire was more important. the debateso read of the british parliament and the 1770's, which are fascinating and frederick , they referred again and again to the commercial interests of great britain. these were the permanent and important interests. keeping the world free for british exporters and importers. tradesmen from the city of london. ans commercial empire was empire of speculation.
primarily based on great big flows back and forth of commodities. sugar from the west indies. that was the brightest jewel in the crown of the british empire. christ's and indigo from south carolina. tobacco from the chesapeake. fish from newfoundland. tea from china. it was an empire speculation. it's a grown quite dramatically. the figures are striking. the volume of sugar had doubled. also the tea imported from china. tobacco, thef figures were a little bit less impressive. nevertheless, it was on a roll before the revolution. this empire was ridden with that -- debt.
there was a credit boom. a boom in the banking industry. credit was on a roll. the price of real estate was rising rapidly in london and an outlying part of the british isles, such as scotland. and also in the west indies, where the british acquired a bunch of new colonies from the french. the leeward islands. of all the most speculative parts of the empire, the most increase justly speculative entity was the east india company. it was like a commercial frankenstein monster. a great big blundering creature staggering around knocking that everything is path. it was not a creature of the british government. is nothing created by the british government.
the british government authorized its activities. but it was not owned by the government. the government was distrustful of it. thatact of the matter was east indiaf the company's stock was owned by the dutch. another percentage was owned by women. the rest owned by returning servants from india. or by merchants of the city of london.
the trading of the shares of the east india company was done in london and amsterdam. the largest dealers earthy spanish and jewish communities that existed in london at the time. most of the traitors in the stock market were jewish firms. ricardo was probably the second greatest british economist. his family was dealers in the stock of the east india company. that is how they make their money. the company was a speculative entity. the government. trusted. third regarded it as
a source of disaster. he was worried about its servants in india. -- in the 1770's, there is a series of scandals reported on in the british press. probably the second most senior man in the british government at the time referred to it as the damned east india company. the british government wanted to reform it. they thought it was heading to disaster. they thought it could help the french reclaim india. the british were concerned more than anything else over another france.
they were worried that there would be a continental war, between france and russia, in which britain would be forced to intervene. the french might be able to retake their indian possessions. for that reason, they were determined to reform the east india company to prevent it from losing bengal. 1771-1772, the east india company did come close to disaster. the first problem was it had agreed to the trading system that was riddled with perverse incentives. theme in the last 10 years or so we have become familiar with. therey they enumerated employees is such that they would be headed for disaster.
they pay their employees in china and india on a commission basis. employees inir canton on commission. shipowners were paid by the rate for time. -- ton. they were continually seeking to expand the volume of tea they brought back to england, whether or not to be sold at a reasonable price. they also had a problem with smuggling. stores on a british or american problem. it was a problem all across the developed world. monarch depended on indirect taxation. there were one or two places that had something is a bling and income tax, but not on great britain.
smuggling was endemic. it was particular severe in the case of two. t is easy to smuggle. the problem it away at the margins of the east india company to the extent that they were compelled to go to the british government and ask for tax relief. given that the british government was determined to retain the east india company's assets, they gave them the tax breaks. they were set to expire in the summer of 1772. the same time, the east india company brought back the largest cargoes of tea they never brought back. he were bringing back something 00 tons per year.
there was also a banking crisis in london. the most severe crisis since the south sea bubble. put all of these things together, and the east india company was heading for the rocks. it used to finance itself on an overdraft. they would use it to pay for the tea they are imported before they sold it on to the consumer. the bank of england was very concerned. they looked very much as like the east india company might become insolvent. from the point of view of the government, this is not bad news. for years, the government had wanted to reform east india company. so it was actually a blessing in disguise. lord north believed he had the opportunity to reform the
company. so he said this. she east india company' deficits was prodigious. sumry big north was able to blackmail the east india company to accept reforms. which he proceeded to institute in 1773. in the background there was another subplot. in the west indies, the upset aboutre very smuggling of other products. rum, sugar, and molasses. they wanted to make common cause with the dealers and he -- in tea.
they wanted to lobby the british government for combined concessions. a flashing on the duty rates in all of these products that was a enable them to outbid the smugglers. merchants lobby of came up with what they thought was a cunning scheme. had ast india company fast surplus of unsalted -- a.sold te they wanted to sell its duty-free on the continent. they can flood and saturate all the overseas markets.
the smugglers would be finished. this is the scheme they came up with. the problem was that lord north seized upon the plan. the treasury board realized they could use it to their advantage. the basic concepts of exporting vast amounts of tea and flooding overseas markets to put smugglers out of business made a lot of sense. treasurythrup to the about seeing another opportunity. teahey slashed the price of but retained the threepenny duty in america, they could kill four birds with one stone.
they would put the smugglers out of business. this is clearly set out in a memorandum that cannot now be found in the british library. they would compel americans to pay the hated duty on the two. thatea would be so cheap everyone on the streets of manhattan and boston and charlton -- charleston and philadelphia would buy it. that is the thinking that lord north came up with. this is a scheme concocted by the british treasury. the rest of the government knew nothing about it. even this did not necessarily have to lead to disaster. -- extra next to twist
twist. in boston, the governor was governor hutchinson. family alsoon dealt nt -- in tea. , the familyarlier had intermarried with a british family named the palmers. they were landed gentry. hutchinsons, thomas went to england on a diplomatic mission. withcame very friendly the palmers of leicstershire.
they became commercially involved with each other. they worked with the palmers who had become wholesale dealers. the representative of the palmer family in london was william. a young man. only about 30 years old. he went on to be extremely successful. he built a wonderful country house. and he was a very avid and dynamic tea dealer. he thought the scheme was a good idea. he wanted to appoint the hutchinson family as the agents in america who will sell the two
-- tea. this is what palmer came up with. at that point, the scene was set for the boston tea party. the british parliament passed the tea act. was necessary to authorize the export of the t to america -- the tea to america. they needed the act of parliament. it was passed in april of 1773. very few people even noted that it had been passed. there was a brief debate in parliament. noticed --n franklin did not notice it. edmund burke did not notice it.
almost no one noticed it. it was a cunning in way to solve several problems at the same time. lord north did not think it was going to lead to any change in relations. cast.e was it became a complete surprise to the british when the uproar occurred. you might think a lot of these events were accidental. if the palmer family and the hutchinson family had never intermarried, it might be that the events had never occurred in quite the way they did. if the tea had been shipped in , there hadcemeal never -- would never be a tea party. the reason that happened was it was sent in all mass and arrived in boston and three ships. hutchinson's
fingerprints all over it. it so clearly appeared in the eyes of the radicals of boston to be aimed right at them. or weather has been different, the tea might have got to new york. accidental.ally it's all rows from the same fundamental problem. baseditish had an empire on speculative flows of commodities. they had planned or organized. it was run hand to mouth. in a spontaneous way in response to events as they occurred. to the night when it blew up in their faces. get toal point before i that. if has to do with the question of treason. this is a got -- strange thing.
if you read american histories it is ratherods, baffling. it was a riot. it was criminal damage. it was not theft. they did not steal the tea. they just dumped it in the harbor. or two american strata gravity out of the harbor as it was floating, they were prevented. it was not theft. it was a riot. and there was a threat of violence. but how is it high treason? here we come to the final clinching picture of the story. from the british point of view, it must necessarily was high treason. no question about it. theng the 18th century,
british had developed the law of treason into a specific and elaborate body of law. the reason for that was obvious. because of the jacobite rebellions. during the course of those, the british and elaborate the law of treason conceptually and in detail to cope with everything that had -- could possibly be regarded as treason. all kinds of activities. if you wrote a letter to one of the jacobites in exile, that was treason. gunpowderorted without knowing the end destination, that could be treason. whole series of things. in the case of the tea party, it was something much more specific. there had been a case in london in 1710 which is related to the jacobite rebellions. --re were a series of luck
riots in london. a mop of torres had cap aired in the street in groovy lane -- drury lane led by a thames waterboatman. he had done, he was extremely drunk, the whole crowd was. that was not regarded as an excuse. [laughter] out, "downd to cry with the meetinghouses." he led a mob to destroy a presbyterian meetinghouse.
the army was called out. he was arrested, put on trial, and hanged for treason. if the mob had simply been rioters, that would have just been a riot. but they were trying to destroy all of the presbyterian meeting houses. there has been a law passed to allow presbyterians to meet lawfully. and freely. the argument was this. if you get up in the streets and destroy all the meeting houses, you are flouting the will of parliament.
and that is treason. and that is exactly what the british government applied to the tea party. samuel adams and john hancock and the rest of them had gotten up in various public meetings before the tea party and expressed views about the government that were thought to be treasonous. this was an attempt not just a destroy this cargo of tea or to prevent parliament from being able to enforce the law if it passed. the law that allowed t to be exported with the duty. from an english port of view, this is fair. the attorney general said it was fair. the solicitor general said it was fair. a couple of lawyers in try to argue that the
law of treason was not quite as they construed it. they were using constructed treason. but it really did not work. he did not have the right kind of argument from precedent. you can see the problem. if you say that an act is have theut you don't means to enforce the law, if you culprits prosecute the , then you are heading down the road to disaster. you will have to declare the entire city or province in rebellion. the british found themselves driven down the road toward war by the application of a narrowminded legal concept. validgh it was entirely
and british terms, it could only lead to catastrophe. this something that occurs these days and political situations as well. i will read a section of the book that deals with the moment the news of the boston tea party arrived from america. in mind that it arrived like lightning out of a clear sky. there have been eight few reports in the london newspapers about some demonstrations in america. king appears to have read the. he was an avid reader of newspapers. but generally they caused very little interest. this is what i write. london in january.
ice of the river. weeks of frost amid heavy rain. but the city looking forward to the pleasures of the season. gaming in the the session of parliament expected to be brief and trickle. the french were quiet. the markets are stable. the royal family gave everyone cause to rejoice. queen charlotte was about to each -- reached the age of 30. the official celebration would take place on january 18. she was with child and near-term. in the evening there were displays of fireworks. with her husband at her side, she received the praise of bishops and politicians. after that, they went to her birthday ball.
den ladies made their debut a court. finish it came in from new england. after four stormy weeks of the ocean, it arrived in dover filled with barrels of tar sent over by john hancock. they had leaked all over the hull. the price of the east india company's stock began to fall. the following day, the press have the just of what had happened in boston. in a few days, they had the whole story. they also knew that a similar fate was likely to default any tea that reached charleston, new york, or philadelphia. out of this shouldn't come as a surprise, and yet it did.
two weeks before christmas, lord dartmouth had received a bundle of papers reporting the riot. but it was holiday time. he sat on the letter for nearly a month. in the new year, the company alerted dartmouth. but he did not share this with his colleagues. parliament nothing about the protests. then suddenly, the news was out. the press instantly saw how serious it was. the tea party became the biggest story. the month, parts of the press were saying that six regiments were already on their way to massachusetts. this was false. it took several more weeks before the cabinet decided to send those.
usually ahead of the politicians, fleet street started to whip up war fever. they said the tea party had been a complete repudiation. the press quickly divided between support for america and others who wanted revenge. they post an obvious question. with the prime minister survive a crisis for which he appeared responsible? after four years in the post, he had served a longer-term than anyone since the seven-year war. this became a constant thing. if some vigorous measures were
not immediately resolved upon, the men in power would be held in power. journalists were so well informed that they must've been receiving tipoffs from men in high places. the atmosphere was suddenly electric. with parliament standing by. floundered. caught off guard, lord dartmouth toitated until he occurred , the skipperscott of the ship, to tell them what had happened. he gave them the details, trying to not advocate john hancock. before the cabinet met for a full discussion, the hawks struck first.
dual betweenf the two characters having to do with upheft of letters, which led to the attack on benjamin franklin, the privy council summoned benjamin franklin. one hearing had already taken place. with an eye to the press, they launched an attack on benjamin franklin so personal and scathing in the trail like that people who were present remembered vividly 30 years later. the reports of the encounter reached the colonies, they would cause justifiable outrage. this could only deepen the rift with great britain even before, this new the details of the hard fete lord north was bound to
take." that is where i will end. i understand we will be taking questions from the audience. before, please tell us your name. only asked one question. [applause] thank you. gethere did the smugglers the material to compete against the british? mr. bunker: either from the dutch are the french. if you think about a map of
france, the city was right at the peak. then it would be sold in the guernsey islands. the tea theof french salt got to paris. it would go to guernsey. from there, it would be carried to devon. guernsey weres in dealing into themselves. it was a great place for smugglers because it did not come under the authority of parliament. were selling it in amsterdam at auction. or they would land on the eastern coast of england. there were also scandinavians and suites -- swedes.
it would go straight into ships that would head to america. go around the north coast of great britain and land in scotland. ireland was considered too poor to be a good market. but there was a whole series of destinations. all pretty well organized. there is some suggestion the french government encouraged the activities of smugglers because they saw it as a way to underway -- undermined the fiscal situation in england. had quebec and montreal that have fallen, would the reaction in the 1770's had been different? mr. bunker: oh yes.
only since the french had been expelled from candidate with the americans feel comfortable about their position. keep in mind that the british did not believe the expulsion of the french from canada was permanent. thereere concerned that would be attempts by france and colonies.egain their the american colonies had not been as confident if the french were still in canada. could you tell us more about the british political establishment at the time. you mentioned the privy council, which now is largely ceremonial.
was there a strong debate about this whole matter? mr. bunker: absolutely. there was a series of debates in the spring and early summer of 1774. then in january and february of 7075 -- 1775. immediately before lexington. they were the most revealing. for the government, there was support. 25% of the members of the house voted against the proposition that the colonies were in rebellion. lord north was asking for a declaration that massachusetts was in rebellion. that, the generals
could have carte blanche. there was a substantial amount of division. whigs were the sensible opposition party. independent members of parliament who are worried about the cost of war. one of the great worries was that if you are an independent country gentlemen, a war would be very expensive. to object to the war before it even started was striking. >> and the privy council? mr. bunker: you are right. it was ceremonial them. the important thing was the cabinet. there's some dispute among english historians about what the cabinet was in this. .
formal existence, but it did not been -- then. the king would not attend the cabinet meetings. they were the men who make key decisions. they were friends of the king. the reason they were in the cabinet was because they were affective administrators. is often thought that the british government at the time was amateurish, but it was not really. he could not be a member of the cabinet without being a hard-working, effective administrator. you discussed how treason in the eye of british law was when an attack was made on a general thing, not a specific entity. was aston tea party one-of-a-kind event.
what was the evidence the british had that the boston tea party was actually an act against all exported to -- tea? mr. bunker: they looked at the comments that have been made during the meetings before the destruction of the tea. meetings.a series of they looked at the text of what was said during those meetings. some of which was inflammatory. hancock in particular. from the british point of view, henpecked -- hancock and adams were public enemy number one and two. hancock as a more serious traitor because he was such a wealthy man. let me find what he said.
onthe tea party meeting november 29 there were minutes. not minutes, but reports in the press. the meeting passed a resolution that the tea act was accursed and unrighteous. that, theyitish read read it as a threat. of course, it was only massachusetts. the purchase declared rebellion in 1775, it was only massachusetts, not the rest of the colonies. the great mistake they made was that it was to them that path declaration against massachusetts would be other colonies in line. once they decided that the tea party was treason, they to lead to ad
calamity. what the english perceive as the motivation? what is it they thought the americans were most upset about? mr. bunker: that is a good question. after the war there was an official history. stedman wascharles . literalist -- loyalists he was hired to write the official history. he blamed everything on smuggling. he said new england was riddled with smuggling and they were determined to protect it. there was an element in the british opinion who said that. there was an undercurrent, a
general feeling of unease and the purchase government at the time about a rising tide of crime and disobedience at home. there was some evidence that crime is becoming more of a problem. a lot of highway robbery around london. rural disorders in somerset in scotland. the british government appears to have believed there was a rising tide of unrest and lawlessness which was endemic in the world they occupied. this.s the way they saw was tended to see what going on in boston as part and parcel of the general tendency toward decadence and crime. the great political issue prior to this has been the issue of john wilkes.
radical.t english numberpublic enemy three. they associated wilkes and the americans together. they were talking to each other. the tendency was to regard all of this as part of rising crime and lawlessness which have to be ckled.d -- had to be ta >> one more. >> good evening. i am not a historian or an author. i am overwhelmed by the richness detail.error -- you would be really tough on jeopardy. [laughter]
would you speak a little bit about the journey that you take to reach the end result? the research. how you think about something like this. how you hone in on something that happened. the outline. what i do is, the reality that for the. period leading up to the revolution, the bulk of the material in england is in the english archives. most of the records that tell us what occurred on the night of the boston tea party are actually in london.
american historians of the 19th century came over to britain and looked at this in great detail, copied it, and brought it back to america. for example.ft, similarly in new york. there was a historical commission that came over to britain and brought back everything they could find. is re-immerse myself in the same primary source material. i think it is terribly important to do that. although there are lots and lots of books written about this. , there is no substitute to go back and reread and immerse yourself in the words of the people at the time. seeingtry to avoid things from an and that can mistake modern point of view. i try to get inside the heads of the people at the time.
it is important to recognize that for george the third, he was not mad at this point, his first. of activity -- his first period later.nity was 10 years man.s a very religious anyone who is not in anger claim -- anglican was suspect. when you see it in those terms, it adds detail to what he did. at this time, many of the major -- decision-makers were fervent christians. you have to understand that they meant by anglican christianity. it that way, you can start to approach it by their point of view. this is what i do.
at this time, it was not as difficult as you might think because so much was written. in the 18th century, the british were an intensely articulate bunch. they left a lot of source material. it is rich but it is not overwhelming. one of the problems of american history is that when you get into the. of the revolution itself and beyond that, the source material becomes overwhelming. especially the military history, which is a lifetime's work. in britain, you can put a perimeter around it. with these to grips people, because decisions were made by a relatively small group. the materials that can become so overwhelming.
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>> sunday night at 8:00. >> during the spanish-american war, the ymca began an initiative to recruit women. next on american history tv from the national world war i museum and memorial in kansas city, missouri, historian carrot xoncks it -- cara -- kara di vuic talks about women in world war i. this 50-minute event was part of an all-day symposium. vuic talks about women in world so, on that, it is my pleasure to introduce our next speaker in our symposium