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Captain Nelson is Master after God in the British West Indies

When the military are sent by government to enforce a law, one cannot expect them to act like policemen or security guards. Lord Horatio Nelson will one day be honored with a massive column topped by a statue in Trafalgar Square, but right now he is a captain charged with enforcing the British Navigation Law in the West Indies. To speak plainly, the Navigation Law is a market protection scheme where British-flagged ships and ships with a majority of British sailors are allowed to trade in British ports, but all others can take a hike. Nelson's job is to interdict foreign shipping, and after the American Revolution, the United States has become "foreign shipping". Captain Nelson is advising American ships of their violation, and chasing them out of port. When he sees the same American ships returning, he blocks them. This has caused business to drop off, so the colonial governors complain to the King's Attorney-General. By next year, Nelson will receive new orders from his admiral, telling him to let American ships into British ports. Captain Nelson will tell his admiral to stuff it. Nelson has reviewed the law. There was a recent attempt in Parliament to grant an exception for American shipping, but it failed. Thus Nelson will view his new orders as "illegal," and frankly, he is the ship's "Master after God," a captain of a British warship and he will use his best judgement without second-guessing from those who are not on the scene... not even from his dithering admiral. [1]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
The Admiral did not bring Captain Nelson up on charges because the board of review would have been made up of captains just like Nelson, each believing himself to be a Master after God and required to retain his authority to make judgements on the scene. A captain was given such power because sending a message back, asking for instructions, could take weeks or months. Captains were expected to make decisions of life and death, right there, right now and they had to be so certain that only God could rightly second-guess them. The system had to work that way or it would all fail. In the modern day, we expect our law enforcement to be in constant contact with headquarters, as if officers in the field are puppets. When an officer makes a judgement call he is often second-guessed. "Why didn't you call in?" Often there is no time to call in. It is at those times when he must be a Master after God. Does he have the character and discipline to make such judgements? I'm not sure the people hiring him attempt to figure that out any more. I'm not even sure that officers are judging themselves that way. If they do, they can look the public in the eye and say, "I made the best decision as God gave me the wit to do. That is what you pay me to do. I could no other." [2]

The Whiskey Rebellion

American foreign policy teeters on a knife's edge. The United States declares itself neutral in the wars of Europe. This is a good decision in the long run, but it has immediate economic consequences. In a practical sense, neutrality means that America cannot sell its goods in European markets. For example: if America attempts to sell goods to France, the British and Austrians will object. (This may explain why Captain Nelson has been interdicting American shipping lately.) The United States is a market for European goods, but Europe does not buy much from America in comparison. James Madison wanted to place an excise tax on foreign goods, but Alexander Hamilton blocked him. An excise tax would destroy the US economy, so Hamilton proposed a tax on locally produced distilled spirits. It is called the "whiskey tax". While it is an "avoidable tax" in most of American society, in the western regions, the production of whiskey is a means of preserving and storing excess grain. Whiskey is also used for barter, so a tax on whiskey is an onerous burden in western Pennsylvania and Kentucky. For most Americans, the Federal government is a distant thing, like a king who carelessly imposes taxes on his helpless subjects, and didn't they just fight a war about that? Pennsylvanian distillers stop paying the tax. Federal marshals show up and someone shoots at them. 500 protestors attack the head tax collector's home. George Washington rides out with 13,000 militiamen to put down the rebellion, but by the time he gets there, the protestors have dispersed. A few leaders are arrested but later they are pardoned or released. The Federal government has proven that it can maintain order, but they still can't collect the tax. Thomas Jefferson will sign the repeal of the tax 1801. [3] [4] [5]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
BTW, the Sons of Liberty built a fake guillotine to remind the American government where the Whiskey Rebellion might lead. I'd call that a threat. The Reign of Terror in France came to an end in 1794, but repercussions were still being felt. The government of the United States was never a sure thing. Today, we look back and see the path they took. We wonder at their genius, but historians have smoothed over a lot of the rough spots. (Don't forget that I'm smoothing over a lot of rough spots too. When I focus on one aspect of history, the rest goes unnoticed.) The republican leadership feared that the Federalists were leading them back to a monarchy. Alexander Hamilton's efforts were critical to the success of the United States but he almost brought the whole thing down. The Founders had their faults. They were not gods. Many of them were not even very nice people, but they balanced each other out. What grew out of those days was a government very close to what Thomas Jefferson envisioned, but it has been moving toward Federalism once again. Our Congressmen have become minor princes and our Senators are minor kings. We need to close up that museum in Washington and move everyone into a proper office space, or simply let them work out of their homes. We no longer require leaders to be in the same room to negotiate and it will be a lot easier on their marriages too. [6]

In Other News

  • The leaders of the French Rein of Terror are beheaded. Good. [7]
  • The US Navy is established. The Navy has been around in various forms since 1775 but this year plans are authorized for six new frigates at a cost of over half a million dollars. [8]
  • Erasmus Darwin publishes "Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life". He is the grandfather of Charles Darwin. Erasmus suggests that life might have evolved. [9]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1794, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Mahan, Alfred Thayer. Life of Nelson: The Embodiment of the Sea Power of Great Britain, The. Little, Brown and Company. “Nelson was convinced that an essential part of the duty of ships of war, and especially when peace took from them so much of their military function, was to afford to the commerce of the nation proper protection, of which a necessary feature, according to the ideas of the age, was the interdiction of foreign traders. A seaman, he plausibly argued, could decide better than an unprofessional man the questions of injuries and distress upon which the unlawful traffic largely hinged. "In judging of their distress, no person can know better than the sea officers," he wrote to Hughes. "The governors may be imposed upon by false declarations; we, who are on the spot, cannot." He was aware, also, that a petition for relaxing the Act in favor of the American trade with the West Indies had been referred to the home government, by which it had been explicitly rejected. Strengthened by this knowledge, but actuated, after all, chiefly by his invariable resoluteness to assume responsibility where he felt he was right, he replied to the admiral's letter with a clear statement of the facts, concluding with the words: "Whilst I have the honour to command an English man-of-war, I never shall allow myself to be subservient to the will of any Governor, nor coöperate with him in doing illegal acts.... If I rightly understand your order of the 29th of December, it is founded upon an Opinion of the King's Attorney-General, viz.: 'That it is legal for Governors or their representatives to admit foreigners into the ports of their government, if they think fit.' How the King's Attorney-General conceives he has a right to give an illegal opinion, which I assert the above is, he must answer for. I know the Navigation Laws." As he summed up the matter in a letter to his friend Locker: "Sir Richard Hughes was a delicate business. I must either disobey my orders, or disobey Acts of Parliament, which the admiral was disobeying. I determined upon the former, trusting to the uprightness of my intention. In short, I wrote the Admiral that I should decline obeying his orders, till I had an opportunity of seeing and talking to him, at the same time making him an apology."” 
  2. Next After God - More Than a List of Crew. More than a List of Crew Project, Memorial University, Newfoundland (2011). Retrieved on 25 May 2016. “William Morris Barnes, a master himself, declared in his autobiography, 'A captain when he's at sea, he's judge, jury and everything else; he has the law in his own hands. If a mutiny starts he can shoot every man of them down to save the ship. And, of course, in some cases we may be called on to do it' (1930, 18).”
  3. Larson, Erik. Lethal Passage: The Story of a Gun. Vintage Books. ISBN 0679759271. “The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms became the nation's enforcer of federal firearms laws largely by default. ATF traces its roots as far back as 1791, when Congress imposed the first federal tax on distilled spirits, an act that promptly led to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.” 
  4. Whiskey Rebellion - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 25 May 2016. “With 13,000 militiamen provided by the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, Washington rode at the head of an army to suppress the insurgency. The rebels all went home before the arrival of the army, and there was no confrontation. About 20 men were arrested, but all were later acquitted or pardoned. Most distillers in nearby Kentucky were found to be all but impossible to tax; in the next six years, over 175 distillers from Kentucky were convicted of violating the tax law.[4] Numerous examples of resistance are recorded in court documents and newspaper accounts.”
  5. John Neville (general) - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 25 May 2016. “Events climaxed in 1794, according to Alexander Hamilton, when shots were fired at Neville and a U.S. Marshal he was escorting through the area to summon to court farmers who had not paid the tax. On July 16, 1794, a group of around fifty men surrounded the Neville mansion, demanding to see the US Marshal. The confrontation led to Neville's shooting of one of the protesters. Neville and his slaves were not injured during the fight. This further angered the people, and the next day, over 500 again surrounded the home. At least one more protester died, and Neville's home, Bower Hill, was burned to the ground, including the slave quarters.[”
  6. Alex Shrugged notes: My comment on the sons of liberty and the French Revolution come from my memory of the research I did in earlier history segments. If my memory fails me I am glad to be corrected but I don't think I'm wrong.
  7. Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 370-371. 
  8. Original six frigates of the United States Navy - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 25 May 2016. “The United States Congress authorized the original six frigates of the United States Navy with the Naval Act of 1794 on March 27, 1794, at a total cost of $688,888.82.”
  9. Erasmus Darwin - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 25 May 2016. “Would it be too bold to imagine, that in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions, and associations; and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!”

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