Day By Day

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

This Day In History

"It's the most wonderful time of the year...." Today is "Chocolate Covered Anything Day". So go out and indulge yourself in anything covered with delicious chocolaty goodness. Mmmmmm. Alternatively, you might heat up a batch of chocolate and do some dipping yourself -- just be careful what or who you dip. It is sad to remember that for most of its history -- prior to the "Columbian exchange" that followed Colombus' voyages -- most of the world's population had never experienced chocolate, but then they never knew what they were missing.

Today is the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

On this day in 1773 a large group of colonials, a few of them disguised as Indians, boarded three East India Company ships in Boston harbor and dumped their cargoes into the water. This was a protest against a recently imposed tea tax. The protest was not against higher taxes (the Tea Act actually reduced the price of tea in the colonies) it was an affirmation of a principle -- "no taxation without representation" -- that had become a rallying cry for those who protested the expansion of Parliamentary legislation affecting the colonies.

There had previously been taxes paid on tea shipped to the colonies, but they were paid by British merchants who then simply passed the cost on to their colonial customers. Rather than pay the high prices American merchants simply bought cheap smuggled tea from the Dutch. In an attempt to make British tea competitive with the smuggled Dutch product, Parliament lowered the tax on tea and cut out the middlemen. Under the new Tea Act, the East India Company could sell directly to colonial merchants who would be licensed by the colonial governments. They, not London merchants, would be paying the taxes. As it was conceived, colonists would benefit from cheaper tea, the British government would benefit from increased revenues, and the East India Company would benefit from increased sales of their product. Colonial politicians could benefit by having their cronies named as consignees. What's not to like?

Well, in its new form, the Tea Act imposed a direct tax on the colonists and, since they took the position that they were not adequately represented in Parliament, would be a violation of their constitutional rights. If colonist paid the tax, they would in effect be accepting Parliament's claim to be able to legislate for the colonies.

In New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston mobs of protesters forced the consignees to resign their commissions and East India Company ships left harbor without attempting to unload tea. In Philadelphia the threat was explicit -- if there was any attempt to unload tea the captain of the ship would be tarred and feathered. In Boston, however, it was different. The local consignees were sons of the governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson. He refused to allow the ships to leave the harbor until they had delivered their tea cargoes to his sons. So the ships sat in harbor unable to leave and unable to unload their cargoes. That made them targets of opportunity for the local anti-tax activists.

A lot of mythology has grown up around this incident. It was not the simple tax protest many take it to have been. Much of the protest was led by merchants who would be cut out of the tea trade under the new law. Some of it was instigated by political factions opposed to Governor Hutchinson. Some of it was principled protest against expansion of Parliamentary authority in the colonies. Some of it was just young men looking for excitement. Whatever the case, the effect of the tea party was to convince many members of the British government that it was time to take a hard line against colonial insurgents, and we all know how that turned out.

And on this day in 1944 German forces undertook a major offensive through the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. The German advance pushed back Allied defenses creating a "bulge" in the lines and set up the "battle of the bulge".

Entering the Building:

Catherine of Aragon [1485] -- Spanish princess who had the misfortune to wind up as a wife of Henry VII of England. She's the one he dumped to marry Anne Boleyn.

Ludwig Van Beethoven [1770] -- Simply the greatest....

Jane Austen [1775] -- The ultimate chick novelist.

Arthur C. Clarke [1917] -- One of Science Fiction's "Big Three" [along with Asimov and Heinlein]. He was also the strangest of the three. There were good reasons why he left England and went to live in Sri Lanka.