Archive for March, 2010

Dealing with Demographics in Israel and Palestine: A Look to Quebecois History for Guidance
March 27, 2010

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.

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Representing Colonial Politics in Modern America: The Tea Party Movement and the Need for a Federalist Response
March 11, 2010

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

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