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Granville Sharp Frees the Slaves

Like a single stone causing an avalanche, an Englishman named Granville Sharp has forced a judge to make a ruling on slave ownership on English soil. It all started when an escaped slave named Jonathan Strong fell bloody and broken at Sharp's feet. After 4 months of recovery, Sharp found him a job, and convinced Strong's master to free him. Afterward, Sharp found that English law was ambiguous on slavery, so he found a test case to bring to court: James Somerset is a slave and a Christian demanding his freedom. His master, Charles Stewart, intends to sell him in Jamaica. With over 14,000 slaves currently on English soil, Judge Mansfield is aware of the chaos that will ensue if he rules slavery illegal. The judge frees Somerset on a technicality, but the bottom line is that a slave cannot be taken out of England against his will. This implies that a slave is not property in England because an owner doesn't consult his property about where it shall be located or whether it wishes to be sold or not. Unfortunately the ruling does not apply to slaves in the British colonies, nor to British slave ships working outside of England proper. [1] [2] [3]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
A good example of a narrow legal ruling changing everything is the Scopes Monkey Trial. Back in the early 1920s, Tennessee passed the Butler Law making it illegal to teach evolution in government schools. A test case was brought to trial when a teacher named John Scopes failed to skip that chapter in the textbook. Big name lawyers on both sides turned the trial into a circus and everyone laughed. (That was the plan.) The Butler Law was upheld on appeal because no specific religious view was being promoted... only one scientific view ignored. Scopes got off on a technicality, but the damage was done. Tennessee lawmakers were a laughing stock. The Butler law was repealed. Finally, in 1968, the Supreme Court ruled that the whole idea of banning evolution was unconstitutional. Good. [4]

FYI, evolution is a useful subject to teach in schools. Nevertheless, evolution, as a theory, has big problems with it, but we are not allowed to discuss those problems with students. It might threaten a child's faith... IN SCIENCE! Will we never learn?

The Pine Tree Riots

A law has been in place for decades in New Hampshire that pine trees larger than 12 inches in diameter are to be marked with a hash arrow and left for the King's ship builders to be used as masts. Needless to say (but we'll say it anyway) this law has been a royal pain in the neck for farmers who would like to clear their land for additional farming or to build housing. Licenses are available to cut down the trees but few have bothered. The Royal "surveyors" haven't been enforcing the law until now. They finally notice that a number of the trees have ended up at local saw mills, so the mills are fined. When the mill owners at Weare refuse to pay their fines, the Sheriff goes out to arrest Ebenezer Mudgett who is leading the protestors. Mudgett convinces the Sheriff to wait until morning, so that he can arrange bail. Instead, Mudgett arranges for 20 townspeople to beat the Sheriff with switches. He is run out of town, humiliated. This is called the Pine Tree Riot, and by the standards of the time, a riot is exactly what it is. The rioters hightail it out of town before the Sheriff returns with British troops. Eventually, a number of the offenders give themselves up or are caught and fined 20 shillings or a little over $160 each. This is considered a light fine given the offense and the Sheriff is livid. [5] [6] [7]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
When you have a trial by your peers, they tend to give you a break as long as your offense is understandable to them. It's not exactly jury nullification, but there were a heck of a lot of trees in New England at the time. If the King wanted the trees he should have paid for them. By marking them as his own, he was imposing a tax on the landowner. In the 1770s, the American colonists did not react well to taxes from the King. Regarding the symbol of the pine tree, most people remember the American battle flag with a lone pine tree. There were several versions of the flag but the meaning would have been clear to the Navy that required pine trees for their own shipbuilding and repairs. The motto on the flag was "An Appeal to Heaven" which was a quote from John Locke suggesting that revolution was a right of the people when the normal options were closed to them. [8]

The American Credit Crisis

In an attempt to finance various get-rich-quick schemes, easy credit has caused British exporters to send a heck of a lot of goods to America, but due to American objections to the Townsend Acts, the Stamp Act, and the Boston Massacre, American colonists are reluctant to buy or slow to pay. It's not a complete embargo, but it certainly is an avoidance of British goods. British banks have been playing with the books in order to hide their exposure, but a prominent banker can no longer fool his partners, so he skips town and shows up in France. The economic bubble bursts. Bankruptcies increase, stocks fall. The East India Company is in trouble. They are pleading for Parliament to help. Next year, Parliament will pass the Tea Act. It will allow the East India Company to sell directly to the American colonies without paying a middle man in England first. This scheme will reduce the cost of tea while pumping money into the failing company. Everyone wins! Right? The colonists won't like propping up a British company while the America economy suffers, so the tea will be dumped into Boston Harbor. [9] [10]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Of course the other reason for dumping tea into Boston Harbor was that cheap tea would kill the lucrative smuggling operation that Americans had going. However, in Virginia there were other problems. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson made use of British agents to sell their crops. Frankly, it was the only way to do business with England, but it was easy to get caught between low crop yields and big loans due. The Virginia planters felt like the British bankers and agents were cheating them, and then leaving the planters deep in debt with no way to catch up. In the modern day, under the best of circumstances, farmers can get caught out due to fluctuating markets. For example, a farmer might plant wheat in anticipation of a good market in a few months, but by then the price might drop, leaving the farmer without enough money to cover his basic expenses. Farming can be a gamble. This is where commodity markets come in. Investors take the gamble, and farmers get a more-or-less guaranteed price for their crops. They don't make as much money but then again... they lose a lot less too. [11] [12] [13]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1772, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Metaxas, Eric. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. HarperOne. ISBN 9780061173004. “Mansfield was no fool, however. His ruling was fussily careful to declare that only the one African, Somerset, was freed. But somehow, in the public mind, this detail was lost, or didn't matter. For all intents and purposes, slavery had been abolished in England! And to some very real extent, because of the public perception, it had.” 
  2. Defacto - definition of Defacto (2016). Retrieved on 25 April 2016. “existing in fact, whether legally recognized or not: a de facto regime. Compare de jure”
  3. Somerset v Stewart - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 25 April 2016. “Lord Stowell criticised Lord Mansfield's judgement in the Somerset case, describing it as having reversed the judgement of Lord Hardwicke and establishing that 'the owners of slaves had no authority or control over them in England, nor any power of sending them back to the colonies.'”
  4. Epperson v. Arkansas - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 25 April 2016. “The Supreme Court declared the Arkansas statute unconstitutional because it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. After this decision, some jurisdictions passed laws that required the teaching of creation science alongside evolution when evolution was taught. These were also ruled unconstitutional by the Court in the 1987 case Edwards v. Aguillard.”
  5. Pine Tree Flag - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 25 April 2016. “In New Hampshire enforcement led to the Pine Tree Riot in 1772, where a statute had been in effect since 1722 protecting 12 inch diameter trees. After being fined and refusing to pay for possessing trees marked with the broad arrow, a New Hampshire mill owner leading other mill owners and townsmen assaulted the Sheriff and his Deputy sent to arrest him by giving him one lash with a tree switch for every tree which the mill owners were fined, cutting the ears, manes, and tails off their horses, and forced them out of town through a jeering crowd.”
  6. American Connections: The Founding Fathers. Networked.. Google Books (2007). Retrieved on 25 April 2016.
  7. On the Road North of Boston: New Hampshire Taverns and Turnpikes, 1700-1900. Google Books (2003). Retrieved on 25 April 2016.
  8. John Locke. Two treatises of government, Two Treatises of Government, Printed for C. and J . Rivington. “Sect. 20. But when the actual force is over, the state of war ceases between those that are in society, and are equally on both sides subjected to the fair determination of the law; because then there lies open the remedy of appeal for the past injury, and to prevent future harm: but where no such appeal is, as in the state of nature, for want of positive laws, and judges with authority to appeal to, the state of war once begun, continues, with a right to the innocent party to destroy the other whenever he can, until the aggressor offers peace, and desires reconciliation on such terms as may repair any wrongs he has already done, and secure the innocent for the future; nay, where an appeal to the law, and constituted judges, lies open, but the remedy is denied by a manifest perverting of justice, and a barefaced wresting of the laws to protect or indemnify the violence or injuries of some men, or party of men, there it is hard to imagine any thing but a state of war: for wherever violence is used, and injury done, though by hands appointed to administer justice, it is still violence and injury, however coloured with the name, pretences, or forms of law, the end whereof being to protect and redress the innocent, by an unbiassed application of it, to all who are under it; wherever that is not bona fide done, war is made upon the sufferers, who having no appeal on earth to right them, they are left to the only remedy in such cases, an appeal to heaven. 
  9. The American Credit Crisis (of 1772) Visualized. dougmccune.com (2016). Retrieved on 25 April 2016. “Between 1750-1772 there was a rapid increase in exports from Britain to America. These exports were the result of many new merchants hoping to strike it big by shipping goods to the new settlers. But the reason things got out of control has to do with credit. Merchants started lending and borrowing on credit to finance their get-rich-quick schemes of selling stuff to America.”
  10. 1772 Tea and Antipathy. americanheritage.com (October 1997). Retrieved on 25 April 2016. “It seemed a perfect compromise: The company would make money, the colonies would get cheap tea, and Britain would uphold its rights. So His Majesty’s government was quite surprised when citizens in Charleston, Philadelphia, New York, and most famously Boston vigorously rejected the tainted tea. Their 'tea parties' showed that America would not be bribed into accepting taxation without representation.”
  11. "A primer on financial derivatives", Washington Post, April 21, 2010. Retrieved on 25 April 2016. “For example, a basic agricultural futures contract is a derivative. A farmer today might agree to sell corn to a broker next winter at a certain price. If the price goes up, the farmer misses out on greater profits. But if the price goes down, the farmer is protected from losses.” 
  12. Sheridan, Richard B. (June 1960). "British Credit Crisis of 1772 and The American Colonies, The". The Journal of Economic History (Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Economic History Association) 20 (2): 161-186. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2114853. Retrieved 25 April 2016. 
  13. East India Company - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 25 April 2016. “Despite frequent government intervention, the company had recurring problems with its finances. The company was dissolved in 1874 as a result of the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act passed one year earlier, as the Government of India Act had by then rendered it vestigial, powerless, and obsolete.”

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