Tea and Crumpets

December 2009December is the month of both Christmas and Hanukkah (or Chanukah, depending on your spelling). Just about every site offering information about the month of December addresses these two holidays.

But did you know that December is the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party? This act of rebellion by the American colonists was, many say, the beginning of the end of King George III's reign over the colonies in America. So, while the United States celebrates Independence Day on July 4, commemorating the event in 1776, the date of December 16, 1773 is usually overlooked.

The colonists had endured the Stamp Act in 1765, the Townsend Acts in 1767, and the Boston Massacre. Finally, after years of being over-taxed and at the same time, having no say in their laws, the American colonists, led by Samuel Adams, finally had enough when the King passed the Tea Act. In November of 1773, when the ship Dartmouth, carrying tea, arrived in Boston, thousands of Bostonians attended an impromptu meeting where they resolved to turn the ship around without paying King George's taxes.

The British governor refused to allow it to leave, and in the meantime, two more ships, the Beaver and the Eleanor, arrived carrying tea.

On December 16, another meeting was held, this time with 7,000 attendees. Without waiting for the meeting to end, most of the group left and headed toward the harbor. Later that night, more than 300 men, many disguised as Mohawk Indians, marched two-by-two up the wharf and boarded them. Once there, they threw 342 chests of tea into the harbor.

According to George Hewes, a participant that night:

"The commander of the division to which I belonged, as soon as we were on board the ship, appointed me boatswain, and ordered me to go to the captain and demand of him the keys to the hatches and a dozen candles. I made the demand accordingly, and the captain promptly replied, and delivered the articles; but requested me at the same time to do no damage to the ship or rigging. We then were ordered by our commander to open the hatches and take out all the chests of tea and throw them overboard, and we immediately proceeded to execute his orders, first cutting and splitting the chests with our tomahawks, so as thoroughly to expose them to the effects of the water."

The king responded by closing the Boston Harbor, and shortly thereafter, the First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia. In April of 1775, shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, which later became known as “the shot heard around the world” because of its international implications.

Revolution was in the air. Thomas Paine published his pamphlet "Common Sense" in January, and in July, Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence was ratified by Congress. Later that month, the fighting began in earnest when the British forces arrived in New York harbor. George Washington, who had given command of the Continental Army just after the Lexington and Concord skirmish, led them in battle against those forces.

On October 19, 1781, the American forces, bolstered by the French forces which were helping them, trapped the British troops, led by Lord Cornwallis, in Yorktown, Virginia where he had no choice but to surrender the British army.

On a lighter note, musicians Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith both celebrate birthdays on December 30.  Davy will turn 64, putting some in the mind of the Beatles tune "When I'm 64." After their success in the musical group and television show "The Monkees," they went in different directions entirely. Davy continued in show business, making appearances on "The Brady Bunch," and SpongeBob Square Pants. And in 1978, he and co-Monkee Micky Dolenz both appeared in Harry Nilsson's play “The Point.” Earlier this year, Fox News named Davy #2 on their list of 10 best teen idols ever.

Mike, who will turn 67 this month, formed the First National Band and has the reputation of being a pioneer of country-rock. He became a producer and was given his own label, Countryside, by Elektra Records. He founded a multimedia company, called Pacific Arts which was a pioneer in the home video industry. He had his own show, "Michael Nesmith in Television Parts" for awhile in 1985, and among his guests were Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg, Jay Leno, and Arsenio Hall, each of whom appeared before they became famous. A novelist, among other things, Mike now has a virtual reality site on the internet called Videoranch 3D.

Former United States Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Andrew Johnson have birthdays on December 28 and 29 respectively.  President Wilson, the first of the Progressives, was elected when Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft divided the Republican ticket in 1912. During his first term, he guided the Democrat Congress to pass the Federal Reserve Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act, and the Federal Trade Commission as well as the Revenue Act of 1913, the country's federal first progressive income tax, which ratifications have ever since been in question. He also endorsed eugenics, a field pioneered by Charles Darwin's cousin Sir Francis Galton when it was at the peak of its popularity. In 1907, Wilson was instrumental in making Indiana the first state to enact laws regarding compulsory sterilization of what he termed "defectives." Thirty other states followed.

He narrowly won his second term, and although he espoused isolationism, his hand was finally forced by circumstances, and he ended up presiding over World War I and was President during the year-long 1918 "Spanish flu" pandemic, and it is widely speculated that the "light stroke" he was said to have suffered while negotiating the Treaty of Versailles was actually the flu.

After the war, the United States suffered an economic crisis when the wartime bubble burst, and foreclosures and bankruptcies abounded. Numerous labor strikes broke out across the country, and there were deadly race riots, dubbed “Red Summer of 1919,” in 26 different cities and towns across the country, resulting in 43 lynchings and 8 men being burned at the stake. The cities included Charleston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, and Washington, D.C.

His last crusade was the establishment of the League of Nations, and he collapsed after finishing a series of speeches to promote the League in late September 1919. On October 2, 1919, he had a serious stroke which left him both paralyzed and blind on his left side. He kept away from his cabinet, Congress, and the Vice President, and his incapacitation is said to have been worse than even FDR's. The facts of just how bad his stroke and its effects were not made public until after he died in 1924 and was used as an example of the need for the 25th Amendment.

Andrew Johnson, consistently ranked as the worst President in history by historians, was a bundle of uniqueness. He was the only southern Senator to not resign when the South seceded. He became the President after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, making him the first President to gain the presidency due to his predecessor's assassination, and he was the first President to be impeached. And he was impeached twice. The first time was in 1867 on panoply of charges. The charges failed 57 to 108.

The second time was after he removed Edwin Stanton from his position as Secretary of War, despite the recently-enacted Tenure of Office Act authored specifically to safeguard Stanton's position and which dictated that a President could not remove a cabinet member appointed by the previous President without consent of the Senate. His new appointee, Lorenzo Thomas, was arrested when he attempted to enter his new office, and Johnson found himself once again being impeached. After three separate ballots, the same result was had: the vote was for impeachment 35 to 19. Due to the fact that a two-thirds majority was necessary to remove a President from office, Johnson missed being thrown out of office by one vote.

As a side note, in 1926, the Supreme Court finally ruled on the Tenure of Office Act, finding it unconstitutional.

Further reading for December 2009: