(This is the latest installment in my ongoing History of the World. Truth-seekers need not bother to go elsewhere.)
The Age of Revolution
By Patrick F. Cannon
While many revolting things have happened throughout history, big time revolutions only began to occur in the 18th Century. The French, being French, have tried to convince the world that their revolt against King Louis XVI in 1789 – when they stormed the Bastille (I tried without success to find it during a recent trip to Paris) – was the grandpere of all revolutions. In actuality, it was the prodigal son. As every sensible person who can do the math knows, the 1775 revolt by the Americans against the British was numero uno.
Sticklers may remind us that Spartacus led a slave revolt against Rome in 73 BC, and got crucified for his temerity. And who can forget the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the British got rid of the Popish King James II, thus ending the need for altar boys to learn Latin.. But these events were only named Revolutions later, while in 1776, Thomas Jefferson was clearly heard to yell: “let’s Revolt!” Or did he actually say: “That King George, he’s revolting!” In any event, in 1789, Robespierre was clearly heard to yell: “Je me Revolte!”
The American Revolution was all about tea and stamps. Once the British had gotten the colonists hooked on tea by making sure all the coffee was shipped to Turkey or Arabia, they hatched a plot to pay for King George’s plan to redecorate all his palaces by slapping a new tax on tea; and requiring them to buy stamps to lick and stick on newspapers, magazines, pamphlets and toilet paper (this last was an inspiration of the hated Lord North).
Being British, they thought they knew best, so didn’t think it was necessary to check with their North American subjects first. The Adams Family – John and Sam – huddled in the Back Bay of Boston, did some brainstorming, and came up with the catchy slogan: “No Taxation Without Representation!” They then printed it on a flag and ran it up a flagpole to see if anyone saluted. Hands went to foreheads in the thousands, and soon the new slogan was on the lips of patriots from Maine to Georgia.
Some of the bolder lads, dressed as indigenous Native Americans, boarded a ship in Boston’s harbor, and tossed chests of tea into the murky depths. As they danced, whooped and hollered, folks ashore were heard to say” Look, they’re having a party!” Funny how great events get their names. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if the be-feathered patriots had tossed dried peas into the harbor. I doubt if something called the “Boston Pea Party” would have changed the course of history.
It’s hard to fathom now, but tea was an expensive commodity in those days – think Beelooga Caviar today – so the loss of the cargo got the British stiff upper lips to quivering. They dispatched Lord Howe and an army of hundreds to Boston, bent on teaching the cheapskate colonists a lesson. Suffering from the gout himself, he dispatched one of his minions to Lexington and Concord to teach the upstarts who was boss.
How was Howe to know that church sexton Robert Newman and Captain John Pulling were keeping watch in the belfry of the Old North Church (not to be confused with the New North Church, which was several blocks away)? Each had a lantern at the ready. In the meantime, silversmith Paul Revere had gone across the river and into the trees to await the signal that would tell him whether the British were planning to travel by land or sea. He was passing the time by brushing old Dobbin’s mane when he saw one lantern suddenly appear in the belfry. “One if by land,” he remembered, so lept upon his trusty steed and rode into dawn’s early light to warn the Minutemen along the road that “The British are coming, the British are coming!” Soon enough, one of the Minutemen took aim at an advancing Redcoats and squeezed off the “shot heard around the world.” It’s unlikely that it was heard in Concord, but even then politicians were inclined to exaggerate. Soon enough, the famous Battle of Bunker’s Hill took place. We now know that it actually took place on Breed’s Hill, but the local Puritans didn’t like the sound of it, so Bunker’s Hill it became (and, of course, old Mr. Bunker was of their persuasion).
The rest of the Revolutionary War is quickly disposed of. The British won most of the battles, but ended up losing the war, much as the USA later did in Viet Nam. The British commander, General Charles Cornwallis, was trapped between the American and French armies on one side and the French fleet on the other. Knowing the jig was up, he surrendered on October 17, 1781.
As was the custom with the British, he was rewarded for losing by being ennobled as First Marquess Cornwallis. He was also made a Knight of the Garter and named a Privy Councilor (“a man’s privy is his castle” was his motto). Unfortunately, he couldn’t manage to lose another battle, so never became a Duke. As a footnote, he had a younger brother, William, who became an Admiral of the Red (don’t ask). Because he never lost a battle, he was never ennobled, but had to settle for a knighthood, as Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. I didn’t bother to check to see if his Bath had a privy.
Communication being desultory in those days, it took two more years for a peace treaty to be signed. In the meantime, things were starting to fester in La Belle France!
(Sometime soon, when I get around to it, you’ll find out the real truth about the French Revolution in “The Frog Eaters Revolt!”)
Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon