Monday, March 22, 2010

An Act Too Far

Far and away from this day, back down the faintly echoing halls of history, a people once suffered at the hands of an out-of-touch and oppressive central government. That government--the British Parliament--attempted to pay for deficits, incurred by war with France, by regulating commerce with taxes. Those people--our nearly forgotten forebears--revolted. Since those people had no representation in Parliament to respond to their wishes, they began to take matters into their own hands, believing, as Thomas Jefferson penned in the Declaration of Independence, that people "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights," and that "whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these [rights], it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it."

Beginning in 1764, Parliament passed a series of acts; the Sugar Act, the Currency Act, the Quartering Act, and, on this date, 22 March, in 1765, the Stamp Act, which required that documents, newspapers, and playing cards to be printed on special stamped and taxed paper. To insure that the Colonies abide by these acts, non-juried Vice-Admiralty Courts, theretofore only employed in the adjudication of commercial disputes, were given greatly increased, and to the colonists' minds, arbitrary, powers of enforcement. In response and protest, 9 of the 13 British Colonies in North America convened the "Stamp Act Congress." In October of 1765, this first congress of the people's representatives in America produced the "Declaration of Rights and Grievances." From that document, the following excerpt seems to the Colonel to be germane to our present:

"...That the late act of parliament, entitled, an act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, and other duties, in the British colonies and plantations in America, &c., by imposing taxes on the inhabitants of these colonies, and the said act, and several other acts, by extending the jurisdiction of the courts of admiralty beyond its ancient limits, have a manifest tendency to subvert the rights and liberties of the colonists." [bold italics added]

In response to the American Colonies' outcry against the injustices of these acts and the later actions of the people (the Boston Tea Party, for example), Parliament, to use a term in vogue today, "doubled down" and passed further acts designed to compel the Colonies to toe the government line. These "Coercive Acts," as they were known in Parliament, were labeled the "Intolerable Acts" by the colonists.

Colonial "declarations" and other protest documents had previously declared love and loyalty for Britain. The ensuing--not so much.

On matters of lesser import, Americans can be a fractious, fickle, forgetful people. But, once the majority makes up its mind about something large, there is little wavering from their convictions.

No matter to what extreme those convictions may take them.
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