We’ve Moved

December 25, 2010 - Leave a Response

Dear Fans and Readers of MediumHistorica,

We have moved to our own domain name. For more blogs, check us out at:

http://mediumhistorica.com

Thanks and your comments are always appreciated!

The 2010 United Kingdom General Election: A Historic Clash of Class

May 17, 2010 - 2 Responses

In the aftermath of one of the closest elections in British post-war history, the United Kingdom 2010 General Election results saw the Conservative Party gain more seats than the previously-in-power Labour Party, ending their 13 year domination of British politics. This victory for the Conservatives and their necessary coalition with the Liberal Democrats comes with an impassioned outrage from a great many British and Northern Irish subjects.

Figure i: The 2010 United Kingdom General Election Results. Areas in blue voted Conservative, red for Labour, yellow for Liberal Democrat, and other colors for minor parties such as Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein.

A Clash of Class

Much of the antipathy is centered around the idea of an oppressive, privileged, upper-class Conservative Party coming to dominate British politics and ruining what progress the Labour Party may have made. Although Gordon Brown’s popularity waxed and waned, he was certainly an insightful leader, concerned with the well-being of the less fortunate in the UK and beyond. There are fears, legitimate or not, that the Conservatives may cut many of the middle and working class programs created during the 20th century, such as the National Health Service created by Nye Bevan.

David Cameron, the new Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, is often at the forefront of the criticisms. Accusations of Cameron are usually of the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing-type; that Cameron is fraudulent in his claims to be concerned with the middle and working classes. His opponents point to his upbringing as well as his policies to show these purported faults, and why his governance would be a disaster for the United Kingdom in the 2010s.

Figure ii: A Conservative Party billboard featuring David Cameron. The billboard is defaced with a common criticism of Cameron--that he attended the very exclusive and upper-class private school, Eton.

These criticisms towards the upper class are not restricted to politics; most societal hang-ups in Britain are centered around class, and have been for quite some time. But from where does Britain’s fascination with class stem? Do these class divisions extend back further than the Thatcher era, World War II, or even the Victorian Age? In actuality, the entrenched divisions between the upper class and middle and working classes are rooted much, much earlier: in Britain’s early medieval past. These inequalities essentially descend from the Norman Invasion of 1066. This installment of MediumHistorica will examine the roots of class conflict, beginning with William and the Normans, and tracing the shifts and changes throughout the course of British history.

Figure iii: An English-dubbed French production on the history of William I. The narrator appears to be of landed class (see: ascot), and makes a point to claim his direct lineage to a Norman noble and earlier Vikings (“the king of France invited ‘us'”). The narrator also takes great liberty with the historical accounts, such as claiming that a younger Harold swore the crown of England to William in Normandy; a theory highly disputed by historians.

William I: Progenitor of Class Inequality in Britain

In 1066 William, Duke of Normandy, prepared for war and set sail in order to successfully take the crown of England. From the collapse of Rome and up to that point, England was a loose confederation of earldoms under the tutelage of recently crowned King Harold. While ignoring the complex rota of kings their shifting territories and allegiances prior to William’s arrival, it is important to mention that Harold was the last Anglo-Saxon King in the vast expanse of English and British history.

With the victory of the Normans and crowning of William the Conqueror came an England solidified as one kingdom, stronger than ever before. Soon after gaining sovereignty, William had the entirety of England inspected to every last detail; houses, farms, the number of sheep on each plot of land, and so on, were all meticulously documented in what was called the Domesday Book. William wanted nothing under his newly forged realm unaccounted for.

The problem was that, although England was technically united as one nation, there were two separate demographics now present on the island. The Anglo-Saxon residents who had resided in and defended England for 600 years were now the conquered subjects of a new, powerful, foreign-speaking minority. Norman soldiers  who helped William defeat Harold at the Battle of Hastings,were granted titles and huge tracts of land in England; thus initiating Britain’s modern system of heredity and land-holding elites.

Figure iv: Anglo/Norman society as explained in the Domesday Book

Despite the growing divisions between the Anglo-Saxon peasantry and their Norman overlords, there was never a full-scale rebellion from the former against the latter. William was a ruthless leader who never allowed dissidence to grow into open revolt. For instance, when Anglo-Saxons in the north around York showed resistance against his new leadership, William sent his armies and conducted a scorched earth policy, destroying homes and livestock. The cruelty shown in the north was a punishment for disobedience and a warning to the rest of his realm. The Anglo-Saxons willfully endured the Norman yoke, never to reestablish an Anglo-Saxon monarchy. The rule of a king from the same stock as the people died one violent day with Harold Godwinson on the battlefield of Hastings in 1066.

A Phantom Menace

Angevin Empire under Henry II around 1172

William I eventually passed on, but his initial conquest opened the door for generations of kings from Normandy and nearby who would come to rule England. Once the Norman male branch died off, the crown of England simply passed to a related family from a different region of modern-day France; that being Anjou. The Angevins took over from where the Normans left off, and after them the Plantagenets, then Lancastrians, and Yorkists. Those descended from the Anglo-Saxons, however, were restrained to peasantry. When feudalism slowly outgrew itself, the peasants transformed into a lower class.

The connection between the privileges of the nobility and landed classes to the arrival of the Normans was not a popular concept in Medieval England. By the 1500s, a new era of struggle emerged, distracting most away from any class concerns. Whatever feelings of injustice that British commoners could devote to their social standing was occupied with Henry VIII’s shocking religious crusade. The destruction of the Catholic Church in England plagued the island with religious conflict throughout the reigns of Mary I; Elizabeth I; James I; Charles I; to Oliver Cromwell and beyond. Concern over the inequalities of class initiated by foreign Norman invaders waned with the constant warfare in the 1300s and 1400s, as well as the ecclesiastical troubles England had experienced in the 1500-1600s.

However, towards the end of the 1600s a milestone in English history occurred that would placate religious strife on the island and set the stage for class discussion. The arrival and crowing of William of Orange as King of England began a new era Britain.

Another King from Across the Sea

Figure v: William of Orange

The turmoil between Catholics and Protestants, for the most part, ceased with the arrival of King William III in 1689. This new kingship would essentially create the spark for later discourse in regards to who was truly “English”. William was a protestant from Den Haag in the Netherlands who had assumed the crown of England; essentially putting an end to the Stuart restoration and their Catholic sympathies. Despite the Stuarts’ divisive sympathies to Catholicism, they were rulers from Scotland whereas William and his successive house of Orange-Nassau were foreign-born. England was, once again, subject to foreign rule. Although most were happy to have the religious question settled and a Protestant monarch securely on the throne (William banned any future possibility of Catholics obtaining the English crown), there was still the issue of William’s foreign birth.

Thus began an era of racial questioning as to who was English. In 1697, Daniel Defoe, famed author of Robinson Crusoe, wrote “The True-Born Englishman” in defense of William’s heritage. Defoe’s poem satirized those who claimed England was a place solely for Anglo-Saxon descendants. Some of the more notable passages read:

The Romans first with Julius Cæsar came,
Including all the nations of that name,
Gauls, Greeks, and Lombards, and, by computation,
Auxiliaries or slaves of every nation.
With Hengist, Saxons; Danes with Sueno came,
In search of plunder, not in search of fame.

Scots, Picts, and Irish from the Hibernian shore,
And conquering William brought the Normans o’er.
All these their barbarous offspring left behind,
The dregs of armies, they of all mankind;
Blended with Britons, who before were here,
Of whom the Welsh ha’ blessed the character.

Thus from a mixture of all kinds began,
That het’rogeneous thing, an Englishman:
In eager rapes, and furious lust begot,
Betwixt a painted Britain and a Scot.
Whose gend’ring off-spring quickly learn’d to bow,
And yoke their heifers to the Roman plough:
From whence a mongrel half-bred race there came,
With neither name, nor nation, speech nor fame.
In whose hot veins new mixtures quickly ran,
Infus’d betwixt a Saxon and a Dane.
While their rank daughters, to their parents just,
Receiv’d all nations with promiscuous lust.
This nauseous brood directly did contain
The well-extracted blood of Englishmen.

‘Tis well that virtue gives nobility,
How shall we else the want of birth and blood supply?
Since scarce one family is left alive,
Which does not from some foreigner derive.

As the 1700s passed along and the Victorian age neared, England saw the rise of a new concept; albeit one that was perhaps a 600 or 700 year anachronism. This concept was Saxonism — the idea that the rightful inhabitants of the island of Britain were ones of Germanic, Anglo-Saxon heritage. This concept alienated the historic Normans and their descendants as outsiders, deepening the divide between the commoners and landed classes.  A clear example, and one of the most famous, is  Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Published in 1820, Scott’s story involving a Robin Hood of Locksley is centered around a Norman regime set against a heroic Saxon class. These themes of Norman vs. Saxon popularized by Scott remain prevalent in tales of Robin Hood even today.

Saxonism continued well into the nineteenth century and became such a popular philosophy as to invade noteworthy areas of public society. For instance, in British politics, the historic Saxons became the demigods of democracy to Radicals and Chartists. These Members of Parliament were fixated on the racially centered ideas of Saxonism, and attributed all of Britain’s historic advances to a Saxon commitment to freedom. Conversely, the Normans represented the ills and oppression of Britain’s lengthy history. The Normans were tyrannical migrants from France; and France was England’s historic rival and was also linked to Catholicism (another historic rival); Catholicism was linked to Rome; and Rome was a Saxonist’s premier historic oppressor. The actual Saxons were Germanic, and thus never conquered by Rome: evidence to British Victorian Saxonists of their strength and democratic resolve.

Dr. Peter Mandler of Cambridge, expert on early modern and modern English national identity, confirms in a personal email some of the links during this period between the upper classes and the Normans. Mandler replies:

Patrick – Yes, the political valencies [of Saxon and Norman concepts] are strong. It’s partly of course that the landed elite was thought to be ‘French’ (even sometimes by themselves – the Seymour family started to call themselves St. Maur in the mid-19th century!), but also that [Saxonism] was an explicitly democratic ideology.

The progressive Radicals, who fought for political change in Britain, identified with some kind of vaguely allegorical Saxon democracy–which was unrealistic. Those of a more conservative disposition who favored the Monarchy and nobility linked themselves to a Norman heritage. But the Victorian Saxonists were no valiant group, fighting for equality against a privileged Norman elite. They, too, oppressed, and used their theories on race and lineage to marginalize a people beneath them. For the Saxon in Victorian Britain, his enemy was not only the Norman above him, but the lowly Celt beneath him.

Saxonism Dies, Leaves Ugly Legacy

Perhaps better saved for another topic, it is enough to say that the prejudices against immigrants from Ireland and the Scottish Highlands were much more commonplace among Saxonists than any vitriol against the nobility. But regardless, Saxonism became so prominent in Victorian Britain that when science began to flourish, it became a scholarly and serious area of study. The once innocent ideas of Saxonism combined with subjects like phrenology and anthropology to produce racial theories in England quite similar to those of the later Nazi Germany. Furthermore, the English had toyed with abominable social polices, such as eugenics: Saxonists even proposed that neighboring Ireland be cleansed from whomever was “Celtic”–convenient for them when the potato crop failed in the 1840s and removed 25% of the native population.

But as the century faded away, new discoveries were made that proved subjects like phrenology were inaccurate and baseless. The frightening advance of racial science in Nazi Germany would kill the issue in Britain completely. After the realization of the Holocaust and Germany’s Aryan policy, touting a pure, “Germanic” heritage in England was far from OK. As such, most in Britain have either forgotten or rejected the fact that current class divisions are, in fact, stemmed from the Norman invasion. The institutions and oppression introduced by William the Conqueror onto England created an enduring atmosphere of privilege, hierarchy and inequality that is still felt keenly to this day. A simply walk down the streets of Tang Hall in York, followed by a visit to Chatsworth or Carlton Towers in the country, will show that there are still class inequalities that are very real and have come to be a way of British life.

Arizona Senate Bill 1070: America and the Fall of Rome

May 6, 2010 - 3 Responses

Arizona Senate Bill 1070

In April of 2010, The Arizona State Senate passed a bill that would effectively curb illegal immigration into the state, and also allow for the removal or detainment of illegal aliens already found present. However, the passing of the Arizona Senate bill brought widespread protests due to its purported discrimination and racial precedent. Those protesting the bill claim that Arizona law enforcement can now check immigration status based upon the color of suspects’ skin, the language they use, and any other factor that an officer deems suspicious of unlawful immigration. To opponents of AZ SB1070, the very prospect of such legislation goes against what makes America America: a melting pot of cultures united by values of freedom and equality.

Supporters of the bill raise the concern that Arizona’s unlawful immigrant population is higher than most of the states in the nation and as such, reform must be immediate and uncompromising. Their concerns may be valid, as the population of unlawful immigrants in Arizona is roughly the size of the entire city of Boston. Not limited to merely numbers, those supporting Senate Bill 1070 claim that along with illegal immigration comes a rise in crime. Arizona is a state that borders Mexico, and is subject to a high amount of drug and human trafficking from the neighboring nations to the south. These illegal operations unsurprisingly bring accompanying violence into the state. One incident in particular that fueled the creation of the bill was the drug-related murder of a legal border rancher and his dog.

But the goal of this blog is to not take a firm stance on issues like the Arizona Senate Bill, nor to influence the reader to any specific stance either.  Rather, this blog will attempt to parallel a historical scenario to the issue d’jour and hopefully provide some guidance for the reader to draw their own conclusion. As such, this entry in particular will explore the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, and its relevance to America’s immigration debate.

The Roman Empire and the Beginnings of Change


Figure i: The extent of the Roman Empire, 125 AD

Hardly anyone, even the most ignorant to history, can deny that Rome was a powerful and highly influential empire. We can see the remnants of its culture all around us on a daily basis: on our money, our buildings — even the name “Capitol” derives from the Roman “Capitoline Hill”. Their lasting culture is no doubt a testament to their extraordinary expansion, as Rome’s military supremacy was stunning. Rome grew from a mere Italian farming village into a vast Empire  of marble, stretching into the throes of Africa and Asia. But the Roman reign, though not by any means short-lived, was not everlasting. What ultimately began in 753 BC and transformed into a world power in 509 BC, ultimately crumbled in the late 400s AD. Tribes from — the never conquered — Germania migrated at will throughout Europe and undermined Rome’s rule, until the Empire eventually dissolved and no longer had the power to dictate the stretches of land it once could.

Figure ii: The migratory patterns of invading Germanic tribes

There is some debate regarding the manner in which Rome “fell”. The traditional school of thought presents a placid Rome prior to the 400s AD which was violently destroyed by invading Germanic tribes. This scenario can be found in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, a text written in 731AD which details the conflicts of post-Roman Britain between Romano-Britons, Celts, Picts, Saxons and Angles. One of the more recent scholarly works reinforcing this traditionalist view is that of Bryan Ward-Perkins in The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization.

Perkins is an intriguing scholar in that, aside from being an accomplished historian, he is also an archaeologist. In his work on Rome, Perkins decries the lack of archaeological evidence in other  studies on the Fall of Rome, and therefore undertakes the task himself of collecting such data to support his conclusion. By showing with archaeological finds –such as the degradation of high quality pottery and housing — how the quality of life differed between a pre-Germanic and post-Germanic Roman empire (94-121), Perkins’s case is convincing that the conversion to a new Romano-Germanic era was not a comfortable one, nor one of a gradual transition.

But the modern conclusions are conclusions for a reason. Often they are based on new findings unavailable or overlooked by previous scholars. These theories postulate that the break up of the Roman Empire was not a clear shift from white to black, but rather a slow transition of white to a light gray, light gray to medium gray, medium gray to dark gray, and a dark gray to the blackened, ashen remains of what was once empire. I find this to be the more believable of the schools. For instance, Jill Harries in Sidonius Apollinaris and the Fall of Rome AD 407-485, sets out to prove that the fall of Rome was not a quiet event to everyone, but rather that Sidonius Apollinaris, Roman aristocrat and Gallic land owner, was well aware of the catastrophe.

While Harries’s thesis is to prove that some held a feeling of catastrophe, I find that the obverse commentary derived from her thesis says a lot more: that the majority of commoners were simply unaware or put up with a gradual social change in Rome. It’s understandable that a high-ranking noble would notice a distinct difference in a shift of power, but the majority of the empire’s denizens simply went about their daily lives. But what does this all have to do with The United States and Arizona’s tough policy on immigration via Senate Bill 1070? Gradual social change.

Rome Did Not Break – It Grew Apart

It’s important to understand the post-Roman world before making any such parallels. In this 5th and 6th century world, there was no England, France, or Germany after the enfeeblement of Rome. These nations did not rise up against the eternal city, design a unifying flag, elect a king for their people, and declare themselves independent states. It was more of a snail’s pace of social change that simply made being subject to Roman authority irrelevant. Once the Germanic tribes settled in, they themselves became more “Roman”, but the way they adopted Roman methods and customs wasn’t quite the same. For instance, Classical Latin slowly evolved into Vulgar Latin, which in turn mixed with other languages to become old French, Occitan, old Castillan, old English, and so on.

One of the key problems that opponents of unlawful immigration cite is the language barrier that those crossing the border into the United States create. In the history of lawful immigration to the US, non-English speaking immigrants were forced to conform by learning English. Learning the language was necessary to gain citizenship. The right to citizenship provided a right to work and make income, and a byproduct of learning English was assimilation into US culture. Without any necessity to acquire legal documentation, immigrants from Mexico and Central America have simply carried on the customs they were familiar with in their former nations, specifically in this case the continuance to speak Spanish.

As it were different tribes, each with their own customs, that settled into various parts of the empire, Roman law shifted and became less unified among the settled areas. Tribes would either attempt to amalgamate, or conquer, but in either scenario if was often a Germanic leader in the new region. This is what essentially broke down Rome and set in place the age of feudalism; of medieval nobles and kings, drawing their lineage from these new, non-Latin rulers. There was no longer a single language to bind these remote areas together, and once the unity of law broke down, Rome’s authority had vanished. Gaul (modern-day France) transformed into a mishmash of separate kingdoms, as did Spain and Britain; and these multitudes of duchies and kingdoms were the product of the earlier migrating tribes.

Figure iii: The late-Medieval geography of France. The multitudes of duchies and kingdoms can be directly traced to specific Germanic tribes which invaded Roman Gaul almost 1,000 years prior.

One can make certain parallels between the influx of undocumented Latin-American immigrants to the United States and migrating Germanic tribes into the Roman Empire. Both host nations acquiesced to the permanence of their new residents, and both underwent drastic-yet-gradual social change. Our packages, telephone and computer services, and billboards now prominently feature Spanish or a Spanish alternative. The de jure minimum wage laws have been altered in such a way that an undocumented worker can claim no right to such benefits, and companies are more than willing to save on overhead by jumping at their employment. There is a movement, briefly supported by President Obama, to reform the immigration laws in order to better accommodate those who defy the current policies. However, in April, Arizona took a direct stand against the influx of undocumented workers. This is directly at odds with the complacency the US has held in the past. But could there be ramifications for trying to turn back an already-changed society? One of Rome’s final Emperors attempted a similar policy.

Figure iv: A map showing the amount of illegal immigrants in the US, broken down by state population. Note the migratory patterns: the geographical convenience of the Southwestern US, Texas, and Florida as they are easily accessible, as well as the economic draw of the affluent and job-rich Northeast.

A Bill Fit for Justinian

While unity in the western part of the now-defunct Roman Empire was a thing of the past, the Eastern Byzantine half remained intact, affluent, and also free of Germanic influence. Ruled by separate Emperors for some time, the East rarely concerned itself with the affairs of the West until the rise of Byzantine Emperor Justinian. During his reign, the Western Roman Empire had long been divided and ruled under several Germanic Kings.

But Justinian saw himself as an anachronistic Emperor; the kind from a Roman past where the East and West were one. Taking it upon himself to reclaim the West, Justinian first set out to conquer the Vandal-ruled North African kingdom. After successfully bringing North Africa under his tutelage, Justinian then went on to conquer Italy from the Ostrogoths, and parts of Spain from the Visigoths. Justinian had successfully reunited Rome and Constantinople into one Empire.

Figure v: Justinian’s initial Byzantine expansion in red, and his later western conquests are shown in orange.

It was a short reunification; for after Justinian’s death, Italy was lost to the Germanic Lombards and Africa and Spain fell to invading Muslims. The measures Justinian took to reshape a land that had slowly evolved for 300 years were impressive but ultimately futile. In fact, Bryan Ward-Perkins claims that the Western Roman Empire and culture would have been reborn under the Ostrogoths, but Justinian had ultimately shattered any rebirth by his military conquests (58). Perkins claims that:

If events had fallen out differently, it is even possible to envisage a resurgent western empire under a successful Germanic dynasty. Theodoric the Ostrogoth ruled Italy and adjacent parts of the Danubian provinces and Balkans from 493; from 511 he also effectively controlled the Visigothic kingdom in Spain and many of the former Visigothic territories in southern Gaul, where he reinstated the tradition Roman office of ‘Praetorian Prefect for the Gauls’ based in Arles. This looks like the beginnings of a revived western empire, under Germanic kings. As things turned out, all of this was brought to an end by Justinian’s invasion of Italy in 535. But, given better luck, later Ostrogothic kings might have been able to expand on this early success; and — who knows? — might have revived the imperial title in the West centuries before Charlemagne in 800.

Today

America is not Rome. But those who have been crossing the border and slowly changing American culture over decades surprisingly resemble migrating Germanic tribes who effected gradual cultural changes in the Roman Empire . Perhaps we should take the route of immigration reform, and allow some kind of medium between latin immigrants’ amalgamation into American culture and the allowance of American culture to change and adapt to its new residents. In time, this could affect the unity of our nation — areas vastly more hispanic would be drastically different from those maintaining an Anglo-European culture, but perhaps not. It is unclear what the effects of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 will be, a measure very Justinian in nature. It may hurt our unity more than embracing new waves of immigration would, and have the opposite result from what was intended. Only time and a good historian will be able to tell.

Books:

Harries, Jill. Sidonius Apollinaris and the Fall of Rome, AD 407-485. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Sherley-Price, Leo, trans. Bede: An Ecclesiastical History of the English People. London: Penguin Books, 1990.

Ward-Perkins, Brian. The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.


Dealing with Demographics in Israel and Palestine: A Look to Quebecois History for Guidance

March 27, 2010 - One Response

Sometimes I wonder what American life would have been like if the British had lost the Seven Years’ War. Although The United States would probably never have become the autonomous United States, those of us living here would have a lot more free time, sipping espresso and people watching via little sidewalk cafes. Oh, those Brits and their historical military resolve.

All speculative history aside, the reality is that Great Britain had won the war and, with the Treaty of Paris in 1763, Britain maintained its American territories and all of Canada was surrendered by the French. This vast area increased the size of the British North America and the tiny island’s empire as a result. That is not to say that the transfer of Canada from France to Great Britain was an easy transaction.

It was a precarious situation because of the social differences between the two powers. For starters, most of the people living there were French. And one can be certain that the lingua franca of Canada was just that: La lingua Franca – French. I can’t imagine that governing Canada by an English-speaking minority was an easy task, or one that went over well with the locals. Even more divisive was that the French population in Canada were predominantly Catholic, while their new English government was not.

These differences faced by the French Canadians and their British administrators are similar to the Israel/Palestine divides today. A land owned by Britain prior to the end of WWII, the State of Israel was created in 1948 in order to give the, recently devastated, Jewish people a homeland. While there certainly was a sizable Jewish population in the British Mandate of Palestine at the time, the majority of the locals were Arabs: a people with a different language and religion than their newfound Jewish administrators.

Ignoring the, fairly well-known, proceeding tumult from that point to today, Israel still faces the issue of the future of its nation. Some want total Israeli control of the remaining Arab areas of the West Bank and Gaza. Others propose a, more utopian, one state solution blind to race or religion. There are also attempts to form two completely separate states, one Israeli and one Palestinian, although the road to this has been undermined by perpetual back-and-forth violence from both sides.

But, as it was Great Britain that laid the foundation for conflict in 1948, maybe the solution lies in British-Canadian history. When Britain had inherited Canada from the spoils of war, they had initially tried to force the people to assimilate into British culture. French residents of Canada who did not leave became subjects of the British Crown, and in order to hold public office were required to reject the Catholic Faith. After realizing this ethnic policy was not working, the British passed the Quebec Act in 1774. This granted Canadians the free practice of Catholicism, allowed for the French legal system to continue in Canada, and provided for the preservation of French culture. Some of the exact text was as follows:

IV. And whereas the Provisions, made by the said Proclamation, in respect to the Civil Government of the said Province of Quebec, and the Powers and Authorities given to the Governor and other Civil Officers of the said Province, by the Grants and Commissions issued in consequence thereof, have been found, upon Experience, to be inapplicable to the State and Circumstances of the said Province, the Inhabitants whereof amounted, at the Conquest, to above sixty-five thousand Persons professing the Religion of the Church of Rome, and enjoying an established Form of Constitution and System of Laws, by which their Persons and Property had been protected, governed, and ordered, for a long Series of Years, from the first Establishment of the said Province of Canada;” be it therefore further enacted by the Authority aforesaid. That the said Proclamation, so far as the same relates to the said Province of Quebec, and the Commission under the Authority whereof the Government of the said Province is at present administered, and all and every the Ordinance and Ordinances made by the Governor and Council of Quebec for the Time being, relative to the Civil Government and Administration of Justice in the said Province. and all Commissions to Judges and other Officers thereof, be, and the same are hereby revoked, annulled, and made void, from and after the first Day of May, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five.

But the societal differences of Canada were not completely solved by a paragraph or two in a document. With Britain being the lawful parent nation of Canada, waves of British immigration occurred and this complicated matters further. Now Canada had a large mix between Catholics and Anglicans, Francophones and Anglophones. Soon the once-French areas of Canada became split socio-culturally, with the two regions coming to be known as Upper Canada and Lower Canada. In the adjacent map you will see the lower orange portion bordering the US, this was “Upper Canada”. The larger and more northern green area was “Lower Canada”.

The divide went even deeper, beyond language and religion. As the Quebec Act allowed for the preservation of French culture, this meant that French Canadians could keep their economic system. The economies of Upper and Lower Canada were drastically different and this created a host of problems. Upper Canada consisted of wealthier British and United States immigrants. These Anglo-American residents were committed to the free market economic systems of their former nations, and were eager to modernize Canada as such. Unfortunately for them, the residents of Lower Canada were living under the more French feudal/agricultural system. This economy was anachronistic and held Canada back from any significant economic advances.

Soon the “backwards” French Canadians were drawing the ire of their British counterparts. Englishman John Lambton, the 1st Earl of Durham was sent by the British Crown to Canada to survey the population. In his Report on the Affairs of British North America, Lord Durham establishes that the French Canadians are an entirely separate race from their British neighbors. When violence began to emerge between the two demographics, Durham suggested that the solution lie in overwhelming the French population with a massive influx of British immigration, a culture he suggests is better.

One doesn’t need to be a scholar of history or politics to draw parallels from this situation to the one in Israel and Palestine today. That Jewish complaints of their Arabian counterparts as violent, backwards, and economically lagging are surprisingly similar to complaints of the French Canadians by the British. Israel is struggling to be a leading, world-class nation — much as the residents of Upper Canada wanted their country to be — and complicating that goal are the quarrels with neighboring Arab Muslims that have been continuing for decades.

However unfortunate for modern day Israelis, harmony in Canada did not flourish until after full-scale rebellion. The French lower classes of Lower Canada organized, and rebelled against their overseas masters in 1837. In a surprise twist of history, the Upper Canadians saw this as an opportunity to break free from Britain altogether and joined the French Patriotes a year later.

Unlike the earlier and successful American Revolution, the Canadian one failed. In the aftermath, Britain took a firm stance to end the social discord between Upper and Lower Canada by merging them into one state: The United Province of Canada. This new province would eventually serve as the foundation for what is today’s Canada, but the nation, no matter what its size or name, has always been respectful of the remaining French culture within Quebec. This can be seen by a simple visit to Montreal or Quebec City, where road signs, restaurant menus, and everyday business is conducted in French and English is the minority.

Perhaps this is the best solution for Israel and Palestine: that Palestine would work best as a province within the nation of Israel. That Palestinian road signs, restaurant menus, and business affairs would be printed and conducted in Arabic, the people still be able to maintain their Muslim heritage, while at the same time remaining a part of a larger Jewish state. This would require a very firm-but-fair Israeli stance, where they would have to annex both Gaza and the West Bank, and at the same time allow Muslim Arabs to serve in the public sphere and have the same rights as Jews. And while violence rarely produces anything to be proud of, Israel may need a Palestinian uprising before it can rightfully claim these areas as its own, or otherwise lose their authority altogether.

Representing Colonial Politics in Modern America: The Tea Party Movement and the Need for a Federalist Response

March 11, 2010 - 5 Responses

Contemporary United States politicians often mention our historic “American values.” These values supposedly hearken back to what our Founding Fathers wanted for the future of this nation. The underlying message is almost always to avoid large government. These values, gallantly fought for by America’s first leaders, are to set us apart from more corrupt nations, in which supporters often present Europe in contrast. Modern politicians and pundits back these claims with abstract history to give their arguments more veracity. Essentially, our modern interpretation is that Washington, Revere, Hancock, Adams, Jefferson, and any man who fired a gun at an enemy in a red coat, meant for us to be free of a cumbersome bureaucracy.

This is, perhaps, best displayed by the current Tea Party Movement: a group of conservatives who have taken the name of a historical milestone. By taking such a name, The Tea Party Movement likens the oppressive government of King George III to the Obama administration; a government purportedly overstepping constitutional bounds. One self-proclaimed member describes that they are dissatisfied with the “unconstitutional, liberal, socialist, progressive, ungodly policies of the federal government.” The name “Tea Party”, though, is an odd choice because the historic participants in the Boston Tea Party were not protesting taxation itself, but taxation without their representation in Parliament.  Although these consistently off base claims will offer a clear image to future historiographers of our time period’s atmosphere – something that’s important to those who appreciate the twists and turns of history – the idea that big government and taxes are contrary to America’s founding principles is simply incorrect and distorts factual history. The idea of a strong federal government is not anti-American and was not anti-American during the time of a fledgling United States.

As much as the Tea Party movement may want to believe to the contrary, their ideals are only a fraction of colonial sentiment. The anachronistic clothing and funny hats may convince a child or layman to history, but during the initial decades of the United States, antipathy for a federal government was only shared by the Democratic-Republican party. This was one single party, in which both today’s Democratic and Republican parties branched out from. I suppose if anyone ever mentions to you that Democrats and Republicans today seem the same, you can reply that they actually were from the 1790s to about the 1820s.

Before the split of the Democratic-Republicans, the Federalist Party was an existing rival group who supported, created, and ensured the survival of a strong United States Federal Government. The Federalists were a party, based mostly in the northern areas of New England and New York, responsible for creating our standing Army, Navy, Coast Guard, banking system and United States Constitution. You can see how the current Tea Party protestors inaccurately perceive colonial history by their claims that the Constitution is an anti-governmental document. Ironically, the actual anti-government Democratic-Republicans were against having a Constitution at all.

If colonial America did not put faith in the success of a powerful and central government, we would not be a united country today enjoying the wealth and success that we have come to assume to be the antithesis of governance. On a side note, it was the same mentality of eschewing central government which persisted to protect “States’ rights” as a means of preserving slavery. This famously led to the Civil War; in which the progressivism and stern governance of Lincoln saved the unity of this country.

As for what the more notable of the Founding Fathers may have wanted, The Federalists were no strangers to their membership. Their roster boasted the likes of John Adams, Alexander Hamilton (pictured above on the $10 bill), John Madison, and John Jay. George Washington, though not an official member due to his being President, and therefore neutral, ideologically agreed with the Federalists. These are same Founding Fathers in which politicians today, such as Mitt Romney, claim disdained government. But with such famed membership and important accomplishments, why have the Federalists faded from popular memory?

The reasons for this interpretation are not entirely clear. One could be relatively safe in guessing that the threat of Communism during the Cold War and that charismatic right-wing leaders, such as Ronald Reagan, shifted Americans’ behavior and self-image to the right. America joined the Allies in WWII to fight Fascism, which was the antithesis of Democracy. It was only shortly after the Allied Victory that America’s concern with preserving Democracy became eclipsed with a preservation of Capitalism in the face of a threat from the USSR. The US’s foreign policy included attacking democratically elected far-left governments, while arming brutal dictators committed to a capitalist economy. Regardless, it is entirely possible that the Cold War transformation of America could have changed its interpretation of colonial history and why the focus on a party committed to a strong, watchful, central government may have lost favor in the United States.

But the Federalists haven’t been completely forgotten in contemporary America. However, unfortunately, their legacy has been misinterpreted. As an ideological rival to the – more liberal – American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a conservative group of lawyers and law students took the Federalist name over 25 years ago. With a membership of over 20,000 practicing attorneys, The Federalist Society attempts to link the colonial Federalist Party with conservative ideals. With a silhouette of James Madison as their club’s symbol, the society is directly invoking the Federalist Party of old to their modern-day cause.

The only conservatives I can think of that would somewhat agree with the old Federalists are the NeoCons; conservatives more concerned with financial and corporate success than any domestic issues. This is because the Federalist party was composed of a great deal of Northern bankers and businessmen, as opposed to Southern farmers and plantation owners. NeoCons, though, cannot completely identify with the Federalists as their business practices are often at odds with the regulations that our Federal Government sets, such as immigration policies, minimum wage, environmental standards, and so on.

The true history of the Federalist Party and early United States needs to be better represented in the social and political spheres of American life today. I think the real silent majority of today acknowledges the benefits of central government, but remains silent because of the stigmas America places on left-wing thought (see: pinko). Perhaps the American left also needs a nationwide, progressive, grassroots organization – like the Tea Party Movement. I do not often commit myself to one political side or the other, but I would enjoy a movement that shows the world that it is perfectly American to want an efficient and powerful central government. Maybe, amid all the dissatisfaction with our current Democrats and Republicans, the spirit of John Adams, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton will be resurrected with the return of a newly invigorated Federalist Party.

Our Inaugural Entry: The Boston Massacre

March 6, 2010 - One Response

I cannot think of a better time for MediumHistorica’s inaugural blog than the day after the 230th anniversary of the Boston Massacre. We’re based in the beautiful area of Boston in the great State of Massachusetts so, naturally, this is an excellent event for us to analyze modern American interpretation.

The Old State House, Boston MAPreceding the Boston Tea Party by over three years, the Boston Massacre is what truly sewed the seeds of discontent in Yankee colonists with their overseas Saxon administrators. Five Bostonian civillians were shot to death at the hands of British soldiery in front of the, now-surrounded-by-mammoths-of-later-architecture, Old State House. News of the deaths spread quickly throughout the colonies and undermined Britain’s authority over colonial life.

Disparagingly enough, 2010’s anniversary failed to acknowledge the most important lesson from this event: the legal ramifications. In fact, contemporary America failed to give any brief mention or acknowledgement of it whatsoever: a Google search as of March 6th, 2010 yields no news events regarding the Boston Massacre.

The real significance of the Boston Massacre, though, was not oppression or indignity or rebellion or any of those key words that are often tied to historical watersheds. What was most important was how Massachusetts treated those British soldiers after the event.

American society conveniently forgets that our second President of the United States and Boston local, John Adams, then a mere lawyer, served as the primary defense of the British soldiers in the legal trial that followed. Remembering that MediumHistorica is a blog about interpretation and not instruction, I will save you the details, but know that Adams was successful in his defense after it was discovered that the colonists had preemptively harassed and attacked those soldiers.

We face a similar episode today in America, where treating our enemies with the respect that they might not afford us is important, and yet, extremely unpopular. Suspected terrorists receiving their Miranda Rights, rather than being treated as war criminals, is our Massacre trial today. Adams was by no means liked in the colonies for his precarious position, but his commitment to objectivity and blind justice is a historical “high road” that the United States can now look back on with pride. Is it important for these suspected terrorists be read such rights? Does doing so set a clear demarcation between why we are us, and they are them? I know it has become a bit of a cliché to ask this but, should we let our enemies compromise our values of equality, justice, and fairness, even when the pill is so bitter?

This is not a political blog, but interpreting history-and what about it is important-is almost always subjective. It is comforting to know that the values mentioned in this blog regarding John Adams & the Boston Massacre are not completely forgotten by mainstream society. America was a nation founded primarily on law, and its blindness to rank, status, sex, color, etc (it took us a while for those last couple). That concept alone inspired the modern world to be what it is today. America is by no means perfect and when we fail to follow our own example, perhaps it is best to look at our predecessors for guidance. Beware who you take rights away from and, more dramatically, who you open the eye of justice to. Once we compromise our blind adherence to justice and law, no one will be safe from our newly impassioned form of judgement.

-MH

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