tv Book Discussion on An Empire on the Edge CSPAN January 17, 2015 5:02pm-6:01pm EST
done, and i'm really sorry that your son has gone through and madeam such sacrifices.ou but i definitely wish him the and best. >> here's the book "american him sniper: the autobiography of thet. most lethal sniper in u.s. military history." we've been talking with the author, chris kyle on booktv. thank you mr. kyle. >> thank you sir. >> you're watching booktv television for serious readers. you can watch any program you see here online at booktv.org. >> next on booktv, historian nick bunker recounts the three years preceding the start of the revolutionary war. the author examines the growing fissures between britain and the colonists and the importance of the boston tea party as an impetus for war. this is about an hour.
>> well, thank you very much indeed. now, normally when i give a talk of any description, and i've given quite a number in the last week while i've been in america, i usually have a little repertory of anecdotes with which i commence, and i had one prepared this evening. but strangely enough, something happened to me on the way here which meant that i decided to scrap it and talk about something else entirely. i took the subway to congress circle, and i walked up central park west towards the historical society, and as i was walking up the street, out of the corner of my eye i saw a bronze plaque on the wall, on the wall of a rather august looking building. it wasn't the second church of christ scientists, it's the spanish-portuguese synagogue. and i read the plaque, and i've never seen that before. i normally try to keep my eyes
open for historical things when i'm in new york, but i hadn't actually seen this. i was quite struck by this because, of course i'm quite familiar with the history of this phase of history. those of you who have seen my previous book will know that it has a chapter that deals with the interaction, the rather fruitful interaction between the mayflower programs on the -- pilgrims on the one hand and the jewish communities of amsterdam and frankfurt on the other. i was quite struck to see this plaque on the side of the spanish-portuguese synagogue. it refers, of course back to the early history of the jewish community in new york, the arrival of the so-called jewish mayflower in 1564. and oddly enough later on in the talk i'll be referring to something similar connections with the boston tea party. now, i'm keep you -- i'll keep you in suspense, but indeed, there were some personal connections between some of the
people involved, albeit rather tangentially. now then i'm here to talk about the boston tea party from so to speak, a brush point of view. what -- british point of view. what did it mean to the british, and what place did it have in british politics at the time. we might start with the kind of comments that were made at the time by britons, very famous britons, about the american colonists. and, of course where better to start than with dr. johnson speaking in 1769? sir, americans are a race of convicts and ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging. [laughter] now, he didn't really mellow with age because in 1778 he said when expounding his christian philosophy, i'm willing to love all mankind except an american. [laughter] we also have, for example, the the admiral john montague, in
command of the squadron on the night of the boston tea party who described the group as those whose business it was to defraud the king. and george iii on june 22 1774 when he adjourned parliament for the summer recess after having passed the coercive legislations designed to punish the people of boston he simply called the americans, "my delewded subjects. -- deluded subjects." now, i could spend the whole evening reading out insulting remarks about americans -- [laughter] which would be musing, but i not -- amusing but not terribly productive. however, there are some remarks which i think are very important. alexander leslie is a very important figure in the story, although rather neglected. because he was the senior british army officer in boston on the night of december the 16th 1773. and he commanded -- he wasn't
allowed to be in boston itself because he didn't have ordered from governor thomas hutchison to put his men into the city. so he had to stay out there somewhat frustratedly on the castle island. it only had about 400 men plus a small battery of field guns, not much ammunition because, of course in peacetime -- and it was peacetime -- they weren't supposed to have all their ammunition. it was supposed to be down in new york in the arsenal, some several hundred miles away. you can imagine that he was feeling rather frustrated about all this. he came from a very distinguished scottish military family. he was the brother of the sixth early of levin, and the earlies of levin, otherwise known as the leslie family, had a very long record of distinguished service in the service of the british crown against the jacobites in particular. anyway, he was pretty upset by the time it came to the tea
party. ten days earlier, he had written earlier, i don't think they've been published before. there's a small cache of letters which has remained in on security. has not enough of the devil in him to manage the ungrateful americans. nothing but severity will do now. too much levity spoils little children. now, that was written ten days before the tea party, so he was already extremely angry. the next letter in this little case that survives in edinborough was written in july of 1774. and, of course, he'd become even angrier by then. lieutenant colonel leslie said, about the massachusetts colonial
assembly which he saw as the nucleus of the revolution he said quote: led blindfold by that most artful, clever fellow samuel adams, and they are a most artful people altogether and penetrating beyond their idea. and then he made a reference to something the which had occurred in new orleans a few years before. there had been an uprising against the spanish authorities in 1769, and it had been put down with some savagery by an officer colonel o'reilly or general o'reilly. he was an irish officer in the service of the spanish. he is known still to this day in new orleans as bloody o'reilly because what he did was shoot by firing squad the rebels. well, lieutenant colonel leslie says well we need to learn a lesson from general o'reilly. this is what we need to do. he said, if half a dozen of the americans that i could name and that i'll engage as secure were sent home to garnish -- [inaudible] 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, this is kind of an extraordinary letter, and i remember when i came across it in edinborough in the national archives of scotland i thought just how extraordinary it was. you see, what's extraordinary is really two things. first of all the fact that it was the date of it. and this was written remember, in june/july 1774 some nine months before the revolution actually began or, rather nine months before the war began. nine months before the battle of lexington. and yet already clearly lieutenant colonel leslie was bent upon violent suppression of what he saw as an uprising. the vitriol was written, and the question is, therefore, what exactly was it that made the british so vitriolic about what was going on in boston? of course, it was the tea party, no question. leslie had been in boston on the
night of the tea party and what he had seen was what he thought was a complete and utter announcing of royal authority -- announcing of royal authority that amounted, in effect to high treason. what i'll be doing this evening is talking about why it was the british thought it was high treason. that's in not something that is easy for americans to understand. it's sort of counterintuitive because the tea party, to be frank, on the face of it looks like a riot. it looks like a bit of political theater. it doesn't necessarily look like high treason. and the question of why it was high treason is pretty fundamental. what i'll also do is try to explain exactly how from the british point of view the tea party had come about in the first place. now, how did the tea party come about and who was responsible? well, the question of who is responsible in theory is quite easy to get at. the answer is easy to get at. the responsibility lies very fairly and squarely at the doorstep of lord north, the british prime minister.
there was a particular moment, august the 19th, 1774. that was the date on which lord north and the treasury board signed a minute which authorized the export of tea to america free of all duties except the townsend duty. there was a particular moment, and the treasury board minutes are preserved in london. you can see this particular entry. now, the treasury board which still exists today actually, is a committee of the british government whose responsibility it is to sign off various kinds of financial documents. i mean essentially putting it crudely, they write checks of the british government and they still do so. the treasury boardroom can still be seen if you go to -- [inaudible] in london southward towards downing street, you can see the treasury boardroom visible behind big high windows where lord north signed the export in
774. so from one point of view, it was lord north who was responsible. but, of course, it's not quite as simple because there was a whole series of events that converged. and i'm just going to run through what those were. now, the book goes into some detail because the boston tea party is right in the middle of the book. it's the center of the book. but i'll just try to summarize some of the points that are involved. now, the basic issue here is that the british empire in 1772 '3,' 4 '5 really consisted of two empires that were, so to speak, superimposed on each other. there was a political empire which consists of flags on the map, colonial governors, buildings like the old statehouse in boston, coats of arms flags soldiers redcoats and so on. that was the political empire. and it encompassed, of course the west indies as well as the continental american colonies. that was part of it.
but it was also a commercial empire. and the commercial empire, quite frankly from the british point of view, was really more important. time and again if you were to read the debates of the british parliament in the 1770s, which are fascinating if rather or long winded the debates of the british parliament referred again and again to what they called the commercial interests of great britain. and the commercial interests were what they thought were the permanent and important interests of great britain. in other words, keeping the world free for british exporters and importers. tradesmen from london. and this commercial empire was essentially in the 1770s an empire of what i call speculation. and there's a chapters -- there's a whole section of the book called empire of speculation. in other words 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 at the time. rice and indigo from south carolina fact from the chesapeake -- tobacco from the
chesapeake fish from newfoundland and, of course, tea coming back in vast quantities from china. so it was an empire of speculation, and it had grown quite dramatically. the figures are very striking. the doubling, for example, in the space of 20 or 30 years for the volume of sugar. a doubling in ten years of the amount of tea from china. in the case of tobacco, the figures were less impressive because it had always been large. never the less, it was on a roll immediately before the revolution. and because basically the british empire the commercial aspects of it was based on speckslation, it was -- speculation, it was also written with debt. not only was there a boom in the import of commodities, there was also a credit boom. there was a boom this the banking industry in london. credit was on a roll. the price of real estate was rising rapidly not only in london itself, but also even in outlying parts of the scottish isles and also in the west
indies where the british had acquired a whole new bunch of colonies from the french at the end of the seven years' war and those, too had become speculation. so the empire was intensely speculative. it was growing rapidly in that sense. and of all the most speculative parts of the empire the most egregious was the east india company. the british had created an east india company, something which i call a kind of commercial frankenstein's monster. it was like a great big, moneyering creature staggering around knocking down everything this its path. now, the east india company was not a creature of british government. it had not been created by the british government. the british government had authorized its activities and had become involved but it was not owned in any way by the british government, and the government was actually rather or distrustful of the east india company. the fact of the matter was that about 30% of the east india company's stock was actually
owned abroad by the dutch. there were dutch pension funds who were some of the largest shareholders in the east india company. about another 5-10% of the company's stock was owned by william. because the east india company used to pay a very very high dividend and the high dividend was seen as being an ideal way to fund pensions and annuities for widows and spinsters. so 30% owned by foreigners, 10 president owned by widows -- 10 president owned by widows and spinsters, the rest primarily by returning servants from india; that is to say men who had made a fortune and had come back or by merchants in the city of london of one kind or another. and the trading in the shares of the east india company was actually done both in london and in amsterdam. and this is where i come to my reference about the spanish-portuguese synagogue which is that actually the largest dealers and traders in the stock of the east india company in the 1760s and '70s were spanish and portuguese, the spanish and
portuguese jewish community that existed in london as well because london also had a spanish-jewish community, and most of traders in the stock market at that time, the largest ones were actually jewish firms. for example david -- if you'll recall the name of david ricardo, he was probably the second greatest british economist. adam smith's the greatest, ricardo is the second. they were dealers in the stock of the east india company, and that's how they made their money in the first place and that's why my eye was caught as i walked up the street by the synagogue. the government didn't really trust it. george iii far from regarding the east india company as necessarily a national asset actually regarded it as potentially a source of disaster. he was worried by what he called the rah peen of itser is -- ray peen of its service in india. saw a series of scandals avidly reported in the london press, detailing the corruption of the company, its extortion in india and also its partial
responsibility for a very serious famine that afrequented bengal in 1769-1771. there was probably the second most senior man in the british government at the time referred to it as the damned east india company. lord north was not very impressed with it either. the reality was the british government wanted to reform the east india company. they wanted to reform it because they believed it was heading for disaster and also because they believed if it headed for disaster, then the french would reclaim india. throughout this period before the revolutionary war began, the british were concerned more than anything else about the threat of another war with france. they were deeply worried that there would be another continental war possibly between prance and russia, in which -- between france and russia, and if they were forced to intervene, it wasn't impossible that the french might be able to retake their indian possessions. that was a great theme of british policy at the time. for that reason therefore, they were determined to reform the east india company to prevent it
from causing a war that might be -- to prevent the east india company from losing bengal. now, in 1771-1772 the east india company did indeed come close to financial disaster. and the reasons for this were two or threefold. first problem was that the east india company had essentially created a trading system that was riddled with all sorts of perverse or incentives. this is the kind of theme which in the last ten years or so i think we've all become familiar with. the way they remunerated their employees was such that they were also inevitably going to be headed for disaster. they paid their employees in china -- and to some ebbs tent in india -- on a commission basis. they play paid their employees on commission based on the sales on the volume of tea that they imported back from china to the united kingdom. not only that, but the company was semi-controlled by ship
owners who were paid on the basis of the rate per ton for the ships that the company commissioned. the company became riddled, as i say, with a series of perverse incentives that meant they were continually seeking to expand the volume of tea they brought back to england, irrespective of whether the tea could actually be sold at a reasonable price. a second problem they had, of course, was the problem of smuggling. now, smuggling wasn't an american problem it wasn't a british problem, it was a problem all across the developed world at the time because every single monarch depended on indirect taxation. there were one or two places that had something resembling an income tax, but certainly not in great britain. the reliance on indirect taxation essentially made smuggling was, as i say, endemic all across the western european world. but it was particularly severe in the case of tea for a very obvious reason tea is extremely easy to to smuggle. now, the problem continually ate
away at the margins of the east india company to the extent they were compelled to go to the british government and ask for tax relief and breaks of various kinds, which they did. and given the fact that the british government were determined to retain these companies as national assets, of course, they gave them the tax breaks. the tax breaks, however were due to expire in the scherr of 1772. -- in the summer of 1772. at the very same time, in the summer of 1772, the east india company brought back from china probably the largest cargo of tea it had ever brought back. they had ramped up their imports of tea from china to an enormous extent. 9,000 tons a year which is a prodigious amount of tea. simultaneously, there was a banking crisis in london the most severe banking crisis sense the south sea bubble and it had originated from the unrestricted credit boom that i described earlier on. put all these things together, and the east india company was heading for the rocks.
the bank of england was extremely concerned because they used to finance itself on an overdraft. they had a great big overdraft which they would use to pay for the tea they imported before they sold it in england to the consumer, and the east india company -- the bank of eckland was -- england was concerned about the fact that it had reached prodigious levels. so it looked very much as though the east india company might become insolvent. now, from the point of view of the government, of course this wasn't necessarily bad news because for years the government had wanted to reform the east india company. so actually, it was a blessing in disguise. there was a temporary financial crisis, but lord north believed he could cope with it. much better than that, he now had the opportunity in return for financial concessions and for a financial lifeline to reform the company. so what he did was he said this: now the east india company's deficit was about 1.4 million pounds which is a prodigious sum actually because at the time the entire output was only 130 million
pounds, so it was a very big sum. anyway, north was able to, as far as he could see, blackmail the east india company into accepting various reforms. which he proceeded to institute in the course of 1773. various legal and regulatory reforms. meanwhile, in the background there was another subplot going on to do with tea. the situation was that in the west indies the merchants of the west indies were very upset, indeed about smuggling and of other products rum, sugar and molasses, and they felt it was senseful to make common cause with the dealers in the tea. both of them after all, were suffering because smugglers were taking their business away. so what if they were together to go to lobby the british government for combined concessions, a slashing in the duty rates of all these products that would enable them to outbid the smugglers? which is what they did. at the end of 1772 as the east india company appeared to be
approaching disaster a combined lobby of west indian merchants and tea merchants in london came up with what they thought was an extremely cunning scheme. the scheme was this: the east india company had a vast surplus of unsold tea. now, wouldn't it be logical to take all that unsold tea and export it en masse to continental europe, to ireland and to america, the places where smugglerses were active, to do so duty-free? the object of the exercise being to put the smugglers out of business once and for all. if it was sold duty-free, then there was no question that the tea would be extremely competitive. they could flood and saturate all the overseas markets, and the smugglers would be finished. and this was the scheme that the east -- that the tea dealers and the west india merchants came up with in december and january 1772-3. now, so far so good. the problem was lord north instantly seized upon the plan himself.
the treasury, the treasury board of which he was chairman realized they could turn it to their advantage. the basic concepts of exporting vast amounts of tea and flooding overseas markets in order to put smugglers out of business made a lot of sense but lord north and the treasury -- and there's a memorandum which sets out the thinking in exact detail -- could see another opportunity. if they slashed the price of tea but retained the duty sold in america, then they could kill four birds with one stone. they would save the's india company by producing a great chunk of cash which the company would then receive, they could generate tax revenue for the treasury which would be very welcome, they would put the smugglers out of business as everybody hoped to do not only in europe, but in america and ireland too. but, of course the fourth advantage was -- and as i say, this was very clearly set out in a memorandum dated january 17,
1773 -- the fourth great advantage was, of course, they would compel americans to pay the hated duty on the tea. the tea would be so cheap that everybody on the streets of manhattan and boston and charleston and philadelphia would buy it, and at that moment they would also be paying the townsend duty. so that was the thinking that lord north came up with. now, this is a scheme entirely concocted really by the british treasury. the rest of the government didn't know anything about it. parliament didn't know anything about it. it was a scheme concocted by the treasury. anybody who know anything about her majesty's treasury today would not be surprised. [laughter] but the -- even this didn't necessarily have to lead to disaster. there was a little twist to the tale. now, in boston, of course the governor was governor thomas hutchison, governor of massachusetts. and it so is happened that, of course the hutchinson family also dealt in tea. now, to some extent this is slightly historical accident.
it didn't have to happen. the point was this: many many many years earlier the hutchinson family of boston -- as i'm sure you know, one of the earliest settling families in boston -- the hutchinsons had intermarried with an english family called the palmers. there was a lady abigail hutchinson -- [inaudible] anyway, in the 1740s thomas hutchinson as a very young man went over to england on a diplomatic mission and he became very friendly with the palmers. and they weren't just palmers of lestershire, they were lawyers, merchants and others in london. anyway they became commercially involved with each other. so it seemed perfectly natural in the 1760s when thomas hutchinson was looking for an occupation for his son thomas hutchinson jr., to set him up as a tea -- [inaudible] which is what he did working with the palmers who by this time had become wholesale dealers on a very big scale in
london. by the early 1770s, the representative of the palmer family in london, the principal representative was william palmer. young man probably only about 30 years old. but he went on to become extremely successful. he eventually ended up as high sheriff, he built a wonderful country house about 30 miles north of london which you can still see today, and he was a very avid and dynamic tea dealer. now, when he heard about lord north's scheme to send tea to america duty-free except for the townsend tax, he thought well, here's a good idea. what if we were to appoint or to obtain appointment of the hutchinson family as the agents in america, the principal agents in boston who will sell the tea on our behalf? now, william palmer was actually kind of a delegate authority. this is what palmer came up with, and at that point, of course, the scene was set for the boston tea party. in april of 1773 the british
parliament passed the tea act. this is the act that was he's to authorize the export of tea to america in the way i described. directly from the east india company. prior to that time the east india company had always been legally obliged to sell its tea in its auctions in london. they needed the act of parliament to allow them to legally send it over the atlantic. and very few people even noticed it had been passed. there was a brief debate this parliament, but crucially benjamin franklin didn't notice. benjamin franklin wrote a letter to america a couple of weeks later, didn't even mention it. edmund burke didn't notice it either. almost nobody noticed there was going to be a fury about the tea tax. from lord north's point of view it was a cunning wees. he didn't think it was necessarily going to lead to any significant change in relation with the the colonists. and so, therefore, at that point the die was cast, and i will
explain in a moment, it would come as a complete surprise to the british when the uproar occurred that actually did. now, you might think a lot of these events are kind of accidental in a way. if, for example the palmer family and the hutchinson family had never intermarried, it might be that the events would never have occurred in quite the way they did. you sigh, if the tea -- you see, if the tea had gone up for sale in warehouses there and up and down the coast of america, there would never have been a tea party. the reason there was a tea party is because it was sent en masse and arrived in boston in three ships at the end of november 1773. and what was worse, with thomas hutchinson's fingerprints all over it. that was the reason why the tea party occurred, because it was so clearly so clearly appeared to be aimed directly at them. if the wind and weather had been different, the tea might have gone to new york instead of boss
telephone. but -- boston. but it did go to boston. it's not really accidental because as you can see it all happened by empire which they hadn't really planned they hadn't really organized and which was run in a kind of a hand-to-mouth sort of way. it was run in a spontaneous way in response to events as they actually occurred. and so eventually it would lead to the night of december the 16th 1773, when suddenly it blew up in their faces. there's one final point before i come to read the section about the book which actually deals with what occurred in london and that has to do with the question of treason. now, you see again this is a rather strange thing. if you read american histories of this particular period, you'll often find the authors expressing a sense of amazement about the fact that the british thought the tea party was treason. it seems rather baffling. as i say, it was a riot, certainly. it was criminal damage.
it wasn't theft because they didn't steal the tea they just dumped it in the harbor. and, indeed one of the most well attested elements of the story is the fact when one or two americans did try to grab the tea out of the harbor as it was floating about, they were prevented from doing so by a scourge of armed men. so it wasn't theft. it was a riot. it was probably criminal damage, and there was also a bit of a threat of violence as well. but how is it actually high treason? and here we come to the final clinching piece of the story. from the british point of view, it most definitely was high treason. absolutely no question about it. and the reason for this was that during the 18th century the british had developed the law of treason into a very sophisticated and elaborate body of law indeed. and the reason for that is very obvious, it was because of the jacobite rebellions. there had been the two great rebellions 1715 and 1745-6. and during the course of those rebellions, the british had elaborated the law of treason
conceptually and in detail to cope with everything that possibly could be regarded as an act of treason. all sorts of activities you might not think necessarily were treasonous could be covered by the law. for example, if you wrote a letter to one of the jacobites in exile, that could be classified as freedom. if you exported gun powder or without knowing the end destination of the cargo, that could be regarded as treason. whole series of things. in the case of the tea party, though, it was something much more specific. there had been a case in london in 1710 which is related to the jacobite rebellions although it doesn't actually form a part of them. in 1710 there were fears of riots in london can sectarian riots between whigs and tories. the -- tories. that's putting it crudely but that's roughly what it was. in 1710 during these riots, a gang, a mob of tories had gathered in the streets -- in
drury lane, in fact -- led by a man by the name of demurly. and although he's an obscure figure his name occurred again and begun in english legal sec les because of what he did. he was extremely drunk. also very well -- the evidence is very clear that he and the crowd were extremely drunk, drinking since about 11:00 in the morning. but that wasn't regarded as ab english -- [laughter] he was heard to cry out "down with the meeting houses." now, what he did was this, he led a mob to destroy a presbyterian meeting house. and this, as i say became one of the most famous cases in the law of treason in england. and they went off and attacked one or two meeting houses and destroyed them. the army were called out, he was arrested, put on trial and hanged for treason. you might ask why? the reason was simply this, and this is the legal case that was applied to the tea party.
if the mob had sum my been rioters -- simply been rioters if they'd had some private grievance, that would have been a riot. but what they were trying to do, they were trying to destroy all the presbyterian meeting houses in london. now, the point was that in england parliament had voted. there had been a law passed to allow presbyterians to meet freely in their meeting houses and chapels in the city of london. once they had the license, they could meet freely. the argument therefore was simply this if you get up in the streets and say destroy all the meeting houses, then when yawr doing is you're advocating the wholesale flouting of the d. and that is treason. and that's exactly what the british government applied to the tea party. the whole point was this: samuel adams and john hancock and the rest of them had got up in various public meetings before the tea party and expressed views about the british government which were thought to be treasonous. the tea party it was clearly an
attempt not merely to destroy this particular cargo of tea, not merely to destroy this particular ship's cargo but to prevent parliament from being able to enforce the law that it had passed. that is to say the law that allowed tea to be exports with the townsend duty to america, and that was why it was treason. now, of course, from an english legal point of view, this is absolutely unquestionably fair. [laughter] they had -- the attorney general said it was father the solicitor general, the lord chief justice said it was fair. there were one or two lawyers in parliament, a man called john dunning, he was the man who defend benjamin franklin or attempted to during the famous tirade against franklin in 1774. dunning tried to argue that the law of treason wasn't quite as they construed it. he said they were using what he called constructive treason, but it didn't really work. i mean, there was no question that dunning was didn't have the right point of precedent.
the tea party was clearly treason. but, of course, you can see the problem. it's very obvious. if you say that an act is treason but you don't actually have the means to enforce the law, if you can't prosecute the culprits because you can't find anyone to testify an oath against them this court, which they couldn't then you're heading down the road to disaster because you will be led at some stage to declare the entire city or province in rebellion, and you'll be forced to apply military force which is searchly, of course, what happened the end. although it was entirely valid in british terms at the time, it could only really lead to catastrophe. and i have to say it's something i think which does occur these days in political situations too. now, what i'm going to do now is going the read a section of the book that deals with the moment when the news of the boston tea
party arrived from america and you need to bear in mind that it arrived like lightning out of a clear sky. there had been a few reports in the london newspapers, just one or two newspapers, about some demonstrations in america against the importation of the tea. a few reports. but they weren't very long. they were pretty sketchy. the king appears -- george iii was an avid reader of the newspaper. he appears to have read them, but generally they caused very little interest. so the first the british knew was actually january the 19th, 1774. and this is what i write. it was a particularly interesting time of the year for reasons that will become obvious. london in january ice in the river, weeks of frost and then of heavy rain but a city looking forward to the pleasures of the season. back they came from the country the gentry and the lords for the theater and the gaming and a session of parliament expected
to be brief and tranquil. the french were quiet, at last the markets were stable and the royal family gave everyone cause to e are joyce. to rejoice. queen charlotte was about to reach the age of 30. although she had been born this may, the official celebrations would take place on tuesday january the 18th. because she was with child near her term occasion was especially superb. guns fired at noon to salute her, and in the evening there were displays of fireworks. at st. james' palace with her husband at her side she reffed the -- received the praise of doting politicians. after that they went to her birthday ball where minwets were danced by young ladies making their debut at court, each with a ticket from the the lord chamberlain. and then the following day, the 19th, a ship came in from new england. after four stormy weeks on the ocean, the haley arrived at
dover filled with barrels of tar sent by john hancock which had leaked all over the hold. the day after she dropped anchor, the price of the east india company's stock suddenly began to fall as traders with inside knowledge rushed to sell. by the weekend they had the whole story complete with the mohawks, the meetings at the old south and even the number of tea chests tossed into the harbor given precisely. they also knew that a similar fate was likely to befall any tea that reached charleston, new york and philadelphia. none of this should have come as surprise, and yet it did. two weeks before christmas lord dartmouth, the colonial secretary, had received another bundle of papers from thomas hutchinson reporting the riots, but it was holiday time. he sat on the letter for nearly a month before telling the governor to keep hi nerve. -- keep his nerve.
in the new year, he did not share with his colleagues. parliament knew nothing about the protests against the tea when it met in the middle of january. and then suddenly the 19th the news was out and the press instantly saw how serious it was. in a city where the papers fought each other hard for circulation, the tea party became the biggest story after years of indifference and few people cared about the colonies. by the end of month, six regiments were already on their way to massachusetts. this was false. in fact it took several more weeks before they decided even in principle to send military reinforcements to boston. but it set a pattern throughout the crisis. usually ahead of the politician with the facts as well as speculation, fleet street began to whip up war fever. as the editorials swiftly pointed out, the tea party had mounted a complete repudiation of parliament's right to rule the colonies. the press swiftly divided
between papers of a wilkesite policy others for revenge and some chiefly concerned with the implication for politics at home. they posed an obvious question, would the prime minister, lord north, survive a crisis which appeared responsible? after four years in the post, he had served a long or term than anyone else since the seven years' war. his cabinet contained rivals who would not hesitate to oust him if he showed signs of weakness. this became a constant theme. a correspondent of "the opinion" as early as the 22nd the men in power will be held in equal devastation with a wretched gang that repealed the stamp act. perhaps the colonists had been speaking to the most hawkish members of the cabinet. the journalist was so well
informed they much receiving tipoffs from men in high places. lord north had to be seen to act with speed and firmness. at first, however, the cabinet floundered for lack of an official account for the tea party. caught offguard, lord dartmouth hesitated until on the 24th it occurred to him or his officials to invite james scott, the skipper of haley, to tell them what had happened at griffin's what are. the next day he gave them the details trying not to implicate john hancock. before the cabinet met for a full discussion of the issues, the hawk struck first against the american target closest to hand. in the wake of the do you duel -- this is the famous duel between two characters to do with this theft of letters of thomas hutchinson leading up to the famous attack on benjamin franklin in the
council. the privy council had summoned benjamin franklin. the proceedings had been made by the crown's lawyer. he launched an attack on benjamin franklin so personal so scathing and so vitriolic that englishmen who were present remembered it vividly 30 years later. when reports of the encounter reached the colonies at the end of march 1774, they would cause justifiable outrage at the insult meted out by the british to america's most famous son. this could only deepen the rift with great britain even before the colonists knew the details of the hard line that lord north was bound to take. and that's where i'm going to end. now, i understand we'll be take questions from the audience and apparently if you'd like to ask a question, you should approach one or two of the standing -- one of the two standing mics in the aisles. and before asking the question please, tell us your name and only ask one question, and there
are two staff members on hand if you need any assistance. [applause] thank you very much. good. >> i'm jim -- [inaudible] i'm a docent here. where did the smugglers get the material the tea or whatever else they used to compete against the british? >> well either from the dutch or the french. the french used to -- the french east india company used to bring their tea on the western coast of brittany. and you think about a map of france, it's right at the end of the snout, so to speak. and from there it would be sold to merchants from guernsey and the channel islands. the french basically held big auctions in law rent. we know demand was extremely
small for tea. it would go to guernsey and channel islands and from there cared to wherever. the magistrates in guernsey -- [inaudible] they were dealing in tea themselves. and guernsey and channel islands was a fantastic entrepreneur for smugglers because it didn't fall under the authority of parliament as it still doesn't. supposedly under the order of the queen. the dutch were selling in amsterdam at auction and then dutch ships would simply sail straight across the atlantic or land on the eastern coast of england. the swedes and the danes also had east india companies x they would do as well. and, again, it would go straight into ships, would head east to america -- either to america or they would go around the north coast of great britain, and they would land in the southwest of scotland. ireland not so much because they were too poor to be a good market, but there was a whole
series of destinations. and by this time in history it was all pretty well organized. very well organized indeed, in fact. and the french government, there is some suggestion that the french government actually encouraged the smuggling because they saw it as a way to undermine the fiscal revenues of the united kingdom which is not unreasonable from their point of view. >> thank you. >> right. yes. >> my name's eric sullivan. in your opinion had quebec and later montreal not have fallen in '59 and '60 would the reaction in the 1770 have been as different if, you know, france retained their north american possessions? >> oh, yes. i mean, it was only because the french had been expelled from canada that americans would feel confident the way they did about their position. yes, absolutely. yeah exactly. but i think you've got to bear in mind because british didn't necessarily believe the expulsion of the french in
canada had been permanent. they were always concerned there might be an attempt to regain their colonies. of course, the french were still in the west indies, still in haiti, the spanish were still across the mississippi so from the british point of view it hadn't been a totally necessarily concluded campaign. but, yeah, you're right. the american colonies could not have been as confident or assertive as they were if the french had still been present in canada. absolutely, yeah. >> [inaudible] >> yes. >> richard davies. could you tell us a little bit more about the british political establishment at the time? >> yeah. >> you mentioned the privy council which now is largely ceremonial. parliament, was there a strong debate going on -- >> oh, yes. >> -- about this whole matter? >> oh, yes. absolutely. i mean, the key debates -- there were a series of debates. the big ones were in the spring and early summer of 1774. now, the debates in january 1775
immediately before welcomington, they're the most re-- lexington, they're the most revealing. the house of commons at time had 650 members. the number that voted was about 400. what the other 250 were doing we don't really know. [laughter] now the government the government had 300. now, that's actually a pretty bug number. in other words 25% of the members of the house of commons who voted in january, february 1775 voted against the proposition that the colonies were in repel on. what north was doing was asking for a declaration that massachusetts was in rebellion because once he had that general gauge basically had carte blanche. but as i say, 25% of the members of the house of commons voted against it. there was a substantial amount of division, there really was. and they were partly, they were called the rocking ham whigs the principal opposition party. partly they were the wilkes some of them were supporters of
the elder, lord chatham, and some of them were simply independent members of parliament who were worried about the costs of war. because one of the great worries was if you're an independent country gentleman, that a war would be very expensive. for 100 mps to oppose the war before it began is divide striking. >> and the privy council? >> well, the privy council -- >> well, you're right. ceremonial now really. i mean, it was sort of ceremonial then. the really important thing was the cabinet it t. itself. now, there's some dispute among english historians about what the cabinet actually was at this period. today the cabinet has a formal legal existence, but it didn't then. the king's inner council of individuals, and it was about six people lord north being the most important. but only about six. and the king wouldn't attend the cabinet meetings himself, but they were the men who actually made the key decisions. and they were effectively what they were really was, as i say
they were friends of the king. but the reason they were in the cabinet was really because they were effective administrators. although it's often thought the british government was amateurish, it wasn't really. actually, you couldn't get to be a member of the cabinet without being an effective hard working administrator, and that's really what they were. right. >> hi. i'm daniel. so mr. bunker, you discussed how treason in the eye of british law was when an attack was made on a general thing, not a specific entity. >> yes. >> so my question is to my knowledge the boston tea party was a one of a kind event. so what was the evidence that the british had that boston tea party was actually an act against all imported tea not just this specific one? >> well what they did was they looked to the actual event itself, the fact that it was an attack on tea, but then they looked at the comments that had been reported during the
meetings that were held before the destruction of the tea. there were a series of meetings partly the old -- [inaudible] in boston. they looked at the text of what was said in those meetings, and some of the comments were very inflammatory, and i've got one here if i can find it. um hancock in particular i think. because, basically, from the british point of view hancock and also were public enemy number one and number two. i think hancock was number one actually. they saw adams as a troublemaker, but they saw hancock as a much more serious traitor because he was such a wealthy man. let's see if i can find what he said. yes, here we are. you see at the tea party meeting on november the -- i think it was november the 29th and the 30th, there were minutes. not minutes but there were reports in the press and so on where the meeting passed a
resolution that the tea act with was, quote, cursed and unrighteous. and when the british read that, they interpreted that as clearly a threat. now, of course, it was only massachusetts because when the british declared rebellion in 1775, it was only massachusetts that was said to be in rebellion, not the rest of the colonies. the great mistake they made, of course, was they didn't -- it wasn't apparent that that declaration would instantly bring the other colonies in line behind massachusetts. that was another mistake. in a sense once they'd decided that the tea party was treason, then they were inevitably going to have to decide massachusetts was in rebellion. they were starting off on this path that was almost inevitably going to lead to a calamity. >> thank you. >> yes, yes. >> jordan woke, i'm a do sent. i'm not sure you just answered it. what did the english perceive as motivation? what is it they thought the
americans were most upset about? >> well, that's a good question. after the war there was an official history that was written, and i've got the date written heresome. a man who had been a loyalist was commissioned to write a kind of official history. telling the story only from the army and the navy's point of view. not from the goth. and he blamed everything on smuggling. as far as he was concerned, the entire motivation was that new england was riddled with smuggling, and they were determined to protect the smuggling trade, and that was that. that was what he said. now, there was an element in the british government that said that, but i think there was something really more general which was that if you knew what was going on in england itself at the time, there was an undercurrent of -- more than an undercurrent, there was a general feeling of unease in the british government at the time in the early 1770s about what they saw as a kind of rising tide of crime and disobedience in home at england. there have -- at home in england. there was an epidemic of highway
robbery around london, there were various rural disorders in somerset and in scotland. there were disorders in london. and in general the british government appears to believe at that point there was as i say, a rising tide of unrest and lawlessness which was kind of endemic in the world they occupied. and i think, to be honest -- and this is the point i sort of suggest in the book -- that actually that's the way they saw this. they tended to see what was going on in boston as simply part and parcel of a general tendency towards decadence and crime. and they also saw john wilkes because of of course, as he became lord mayor of london, the great radical who was regarded again as public enemy number three after hancock and adams. and they associated wilkes and the americans together. not unrealistically. wilkes and the americans were, of course, talking to each other.
some of wilkes' closest friends two of them, were virginians who were living in london at the time. so generally peeking, i think -- speaking, i think that was the part and parcel of the time. which had to be tackled, whatever the cost. >> thank you. >> thanks. >> one more. >> yes. >> good evening. thank you. i think -- everyone tells you what they are. i'm telling you what i'm not, i'm not a historian, i'm not an author i am overwhelmed by the richness of detail. you would be really tough on jeopardy. [laughter] but what i'm fascinated by is i know the end result. you wrote -- you have a book. 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 in your mind, how you hone in on something that happened, the
outline, all of that stuff as much as you care or are willing to share? >> well, absolutely. i mean, what i do is, i don't know what other people do, but what i do is this. i mean the reality is that for the period leading up to beginning of the revolutionary war up to 175, the bulk of the material on this on these affairs is actually in england. the english archives are incredibly rich on this subject. masses, i mean it just seems rather training but the -- strange, but most of the records that tell us what occurred on the night of the boston tea party are in london at the parliamentary archives or the house of lords' record office. that's where they are. and american historians in the 19th century came over to britain, and they looked at this in great detail copied it and brought it back to america. george bancroft, american historian, actually built this great big collection of material, he came over to england and obtained. similarly in new york there was a new york historical commission
that came over to britain and brought back everything they could possibly find about new york. but anyway, the material was there. what i do is i just reimmerse myself in the same primary source material. i mean, it's terribly important to do that because although there have been lots and lots of wonderful books written about this period, there's really no substitute than to actually go back and read and immerse one's self in the words of the people actually at the time. what i also do is i do try very much to avoid seeing things from an anachronistic point of view. ..
but in order to get what they were doing they asked what they meant by anglican christianity at the time. if you get into it in that way of course one can start to look at things from their point of view rather than a model. that's what i do, try to get inside overtime. in this period time of course so much was written. in the 18th century the british were intensely articulate
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