Tuesday, July 04, 2017
The founding myth of the United States
Posted in Facebook by Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas:
This article was originally published on Political Violence @ a Glance.
Tomorrow, cities and towns from coast-to-coast will host fireworks, concerts and parades to celebrate our independence from Britain. Those celebrations will invariably highlight the soldiers who pushed the British from our shores. But the lesson we learn of a democracy forged in the crucible of revolutionary war tends to ignore how a decade of nonviolent resistance before the shot-heard-round-the-world shaped the founding of the United States, strengthened our sense of political identity, and laid the foundation of our democracy.
We’re taught that we won our independence from Britain through bloody battles. We recite poetry about the midnight ride of Paul Revere that warned of a British attack. And we’re shown depictions of Minutemen in battle with Redcoats in Lexington and Concord.
I grew up in Boston where our veneration for revolutionary battles against the British extends far beyond the Fourth of July. We celebrate Patriots’ Day to commemorate the anniversary of the first battles of the Revolution and Evacuation Day to commemorate the day British troops finally fled Boston. And at the start of every Red Sox game we stand, take off our hats and sing — 33,000 strong — about the perilous fight, the rockets’ red glare, and the bombs bursting in air that gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Yet, founding father, John Adams wrote that, “A history of military operations … is not a history of the American Revolution.”
American revolutionaries led not one, but three nonviolent resistance campaigns in the decade before the Revolutionary War. These campaigns were coordinated. They were primarily nonviolent. They helped politicize American society. And they allowed colonists to replace colonial political institutions with parallel institutions of self-government that help form the foundation of the democracy that we rely on today.
The first nonviolent resistance campaign was in 1765 against the Stamp Act. Tens of thousands of our forbearers refused to pay the British king a tax simply to print legal documents and newspapers, by collectively deciding to halt consumption of British goods. The ports of Boston, New York and Philadelphia signed pacts against importing British products; women made homespun yarn to replace British cloth; and eligible bachelorettes in Rhode Island even refused to accept the addresses of any man who supported the Stamp Act.
Colonists organized the Stamp Act Congress. It passed statements of colonial rights and limits on British authority, and sent copies to every colony as well as one copy to Britain thereby demonstrating a united front. This mass political mobilization and economic boycott meant the Stamp Act would cost the British more money than it was worth to enforce, leaving it dead on arrival. This victory also demonstrated the power of nonviolent non-cooperation: people-powered defiance of unjust social, political or economic authority.
The second nonviolent resistance campaign started in 1767 against the Townshend Acts. These acts taxed paper, glass, tea and other commodities imported from Britain. When the Townsend Acts went into effect, merchants in Boston, New York and Philadelphia again stopped importing British goods. They declared that anyone continuing to trade with the British should be labeled “enemies of their country.” A sense of a new political identity detached from Britain grew across the colonies.
By 1770, colonists developed the Committees of Correspondence, a new political institution detached from British authority. The committees allowed colonists to share information and coordinate their opposition. The British Parliament reacted by doubling down and taxing tea, which led enraged members of the Sons of Liberty to carry out the infamous Boston Tea Party.
The British Parliament countered with the Coercive Acts, which effectively cloistered Massachusetts. The port of Boston was closed until the British East India Company was repaid for their Tea Party loses. Freedom of assembly was officially limited. And court trials were moved from Massachusetts.
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