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TAXES, TRIBUTE AND REVOLUTIONS (PART I)

November 16, 2014

TAXES, TRIBUTE AND REVOLUTIONS (PART I)

My research base for this essay is primarily from biographical accounts of the life and time of Joseph Warren, a hero of the American Revolutionary era who was martyred before the war officially started. This offering departs from my usual discussion of economic history, though all history is either economic or has economic consequences as its events unfold. The American Revolution is such an example.

One of the battle cries of the American Revolution was “No taxes without representation,” but there are those today who want no or scant taxes who enjoy A PLETHORA OF REPRESENTATION and are willing to pay for the privilege to opt out of paying their fair shares of the load with campaign contributions to congressional lackeys whose votes are for sale to the highest bidder. The highest bidders, of course, are the ones with the money to bid and whose large taxable incomes are most sensitive to higher tax rates, though with all of the built-in deductions and credits in the internal revenue code available to such rich taxpayers due to their lackeys’ handiwork, there is frequently not much taxable net income left subject to tax, leaving “the load” for the rest of us to pay.

This essay is not about the machinations of the tax avoiding and evading tactics of corporate and superrich individuals of today as just noted but will rather discuss taxes during the Revolutionary War from a neutral rather than from tea partiers’ and other tax-hating colonists’ points of view leading up to that conflict. Is it possible that their “battle cry” was in truth a mere cover for those colonists who, like many today, just don’t want to pay taxes? Was, in short, the mantra of “no representation, no taxes” a cover for greed much as the phony cry of “freedom” is employed by the rich and corporate class for their greed these days when they are so grossly OVER-REPRESENTED? Freedom from what? Provision for Ebola? Public safety? Education? National Security? Up to date infrastructure and communications systems? That’s freedom? Manna will not be descending from the heavens; taxes must be levied and paid. It’s the price we pay for government, for doing things together that we cannot do as individuals.

This essay will also speculate about how the father of our country might not have been a Virginia planter (were it not for the tragedy at the Battle of Bunker Hill) but rather a medical doctor from Massachusetts. I will suggest that George Washington, a slave-holding planter, surveyor and the number one whisky-maker in the colonies, might never have been more than a relatively obscure participant in the Revolution but for the death of Joseph Warren, a non-slave holding medical doctor from Massachusetts who had a busy and successful medical practice with as many as 1,500 patients in Boston.

Warren was killed in the Battle of Bunker Hill at age 34 slightly more than a year before our proclamation of the Declaration of Independence. He was elected major general of the Massachusetts forces only three days before he was killed. His body was left where it fell and was buried until identified by the false teeth Paul Revere made for him, the same Paul Revere Warren sent out for his famous midnight ride to warn of the route the British were taking to occupy high ground in suburban Charlestown across the Charles River from Boston. The British officer who oversaw his burial detail is said to have commented that he “stuffed the scoundrel with another into one hole and there he and his seditious principles may remain.” Such statements probably only added to Warren’s legendary status while increasing colonial hatred of the British and their “taxation without representation” and other atrocities both real and perceived. The coming war of that day was not the first to be stoked by the blood of martyrs. We humans often compound the felony by killing to avenge killing, an illogical reaction perhaps a holdover from our prehistoric past.

Warren graduated from Harvard University in 1759 and returned to complete his MA degree after an apprenticeship with a local doctor, after which he opened his own medical practice. His biographers write that other physicians deferred to his expertise, that students made a point to study with him, and that his patients liked “his engaging manner, their perceived quality of care, and their feeling of well being in his presence,” all of which tells us that he was an outstanding medical doctor additionally possessed of an impeccable “bedside manner.” From all accounts he was a successful and energetic citizen well liked and well known in Boston circles of the late 1760s and the early 1770s.

While no one likes the designation of being called a member of a “colony,” we were in fact “colonists” prior to the Revolution, and colonies cost money to administer. The British had great expense in the conduct of their European wars during that era, and they did not need the additional expense of conducting the French and Indian Wars in their American colony to further drain their coffers. They needed revenue to fight such wars, and since the wars fought in their North American colony were fought to preserve and protect their colonies, there was some just expectation that the colonies should be taxed to help pay for the expense of their own protection. After all, if the colonies had been an independent state, they would have had to tax themselves for the expense of fighting off the French and their Indian allies. The Parliament accordingly levied new taxes on their American colonists.

It didn’t work out. “Colonists” such as Dr. Warren took to the streets in protest, and not surprisingly in a time when the king had enormous power (not reserved to Parliament), fights with British soldiers became routine. The king did not back down; he sent more troops to the “colony” to keep the peace; the protestors did not back down, and the situation steadily deteriorated into revolution.

In Part II I will lay out the order of some of the major taxing schemes levied on American colonists by the British Parliament from 1763 to the beginning of the Revolution, the role of  monopoly in the tea trade enjoyed by the East India Tea Company and what was destined to be the fatal attraction of Joseph Warren as the leader in colonial attempts to remedy both real and perceived injustices by the British which ranged from the political to, finally, mayhem, murder and revolution, a revolution Joseph Warren never lived to see started or ended with Yorktown and the Treaty of Paris in 1783, when he would have been only age 42, 9 years younger than Washington, and a prime candidate for president of our new nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” per Lincoln, a rather tattered ideal as measured by today’s mercantile standards. (I am encroaching on Part II’s commentary, so I will stop here.) Stay tuned for Part II.  GERALD   E

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