Looking Back at Another Age of Acrimony

I’ve got two big books in a holding pattern. First, there’s Grant, Ron Chernow’s enormous biography of Ulysses S. Grant. I’ve read most of it, but now that the Civil War is over and Grant’s been elected president, I’m having trouble going forward. The other one is the almost equally enormous The Republic For Which It Stands by the historian Richard White. Its subtitle is “The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896”. I’m only a few pages into that one.

The problem is that White’s book and the next 300 pages of Chernow’s both deal with Reconstruction — the failed attempt to give Black people equal rights in the South after the war — and the Gilded Age — the period from around 1870 to 1900 that featured rapid economic growth and increasing inequality in the whole country. It might be too much to read further about that important and relevant period while living through our own version of the Gilded Age, with its astounding inequality and troubled politics (now featuring dangerous attacks on voting rights).

Anyway, Smithsonian Magazine has an interesting article about the same period. It’s by Jon Grinspan, the author of The Age of Acrimony: How Americans Fought to Fix Their Democracy, 1865-1915. The article is much shorter than any of these books. Here’s most of it: 

. . . Most people don’t often think about the politics of the late 1800s. Call it “historical flyover country,” an era stranded between more momentous times, when U.S. presidents had funny names and silly facial hair. But for our current political crisis, this period is the most relevant, vital and useful. The nation’s wild elections saw the highest turnouts and the closest margins, as well as a peak in political violence. Men and women campaigned, speechified and fought over politics, in a system struggling with problems all too familiar today. . . .

American democracy held revolutionary new promise in the mid-1800s. For all its flaws, the nation was experimenting with a bold new system of government—one of the first in world history to give decisive political power to people without wealth, land or title. Working-class voters predominated at the polls. Poor boys grew up to be president. And reformers fought for votes for women and Black Americans.

At the end of the Civil War in 1865, with slavery dead, the old aristocracy vanquished, and four million formerly enslaved people hoping for new rights, Americans began to talk about “pure democracy.” That concept was never well defined, but for many activists, it meant that it was time for the people to rule. But how to get a busy, distractable, diverse nation to participate?

Decades earlier—from the 1820s to the 1850s—campaigners tried to engage voters by building bonfires, holding barbecues and offering plenty of stump speeches while handing out booze. Then, on the eve of the Civil War, supporters of Abe Lincoln’s hit on a new style. Lincoln’s Republican party introduced the “Wide Awakes” clubs to America. Gangs of young partisans, wearing dark, shimmering martial uniforms and armed with flaming torches, stormed through towns and cities in midnight marches. For the half century after 1860, every political campaign worth mentioning borrowed this approach, organizing massive rallies of tens of thousands of uniformed, torch-waving marchers. Diverse crowds turned out, from boisterous veteran voters to rowdy boys, from grandmothers to young women, from journalists armed with pens to political rivals armed with their revolvers.

Such public politics became, in the words of one comedian, “our great American game.” Political rancor grew precipitously. Saloons resounded with heated debates. On train cars, Americans took straw polls to see how strangers would vote. At dinner tables, families bonded—or broke up—debating an upcoming race. Even when exhausted Americans threw down their newspapers, they looked up only to find partisan broadsides slathered on every wall. “Ignorance is bliss now,” complained one woman as she canceled her political newspapers, weary of the whole spectacle.

For voters, participation meant an even deeper immersion. Election Day was a communal, combative, boozy bacchanal. White’s metaphor was apt, when people voted, they literally got drunk on Election Day. One Norwegian wrote home from Chicago, remarking that “it was fun to see” crowds of workers leaving their factories to go vote, “either before or after stopping at a bar.” During the 1876 election, which drew an unprecedented 81.8 percent turnout—Rutherford B. Hayes’s campaign handed out massive oversize beer steins, despite the fact that Hayes and his wife were devout teetotalers.

All the carousing culminated at a rambunctious polling place, when a voter selected a colorful ticket from his party’s ballot “peddlers,” made his way past the opposing party’s intimidating “challengers,” and placed his vote in a wooden or glass ballot box. Amid singing, shouting and heckling from the other voters in his community, it was a scene of heated, convulsive political theater. The system seemed designed to take over life, distort opinions, attract bad actors, raise voices and destroy civility.

In northern cities, a sneering establishment worried that the system was dominated by a working-class majority who could always outvote them. The celebrated Boston aristocrat Francis Parkman famously complained that democracy didn’t work in his 1878 “The Failure of Universal Suffrage,” a screed that claimed that the voters were “a public pest” and that the real threat to America came not from above, but beneath. Belief in equality and majority rule, Parkman argued, was destroying America.

Equal suffrage met even more aggressive attacks in the South. White supremacist ex-Confederates, who lost the war and had remained on the fringes of politics for most of a decade after, used the Democratic party to terrorize Black voters, end Reconstruction and dramatically suppress voter participation. Within a few short years of the end of slavery, one million formerly enslaved Americans became voters, but most lost their rights nearly as quickly as Reconstruction ended and the Jim Crow era began.

In the North, voter turnouts peaked from 1876 to 1896, and elections were never closer. No president in this period came to office by winning a majority of the popular vote [i.e. the presence of multiple candidates in the elections from 1876 to 1892 meant nobody got more than 50% ]. Even with racial issues falling out of the national spotlight, fights over money and inequality fired up voters.

Though the electorate turned out in huge numbers, marchers filled squares and newspapers attacked rivals, politics failed to bring real change. This system—overheating and yet standing still—led only to anger and agitation. In 1881, the mentally ill drifter Charles Guiteau, who had campaigned for President James Garfield at torchlit rallies, felt slighted and decided that America would be better off if the “President was out of the way.” So Guiteau bought the largest pistol he could find, and shot Garfield—the murder was the second assassination of a president in just 16 years. Within two decades, another madman would gun down President William McKinley. And every seven years, on average, a sitting congressman was murdered.

American politics had hit on an amazing ability to mobilize citizens, but also to agitate them to unspeakable violence. Citizens looked for someone to blame. Presidents were criticized, but really the executive branch was so weak that they could do very little. Powerful party bosses often nominated friendly, malleable do-nothings to the job. More people blamed politicians as a class. Brilliant cartoonists like Thomas Nast and Joseph Keppler mocked politicians as snarling beasts, overfed vultures, sniveling rats and thuggish bosses. Others attacked the rising immigration rates, like Francis Willard, the leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, who blamed America’s out-of-control politics on “alien illiterates.” Others still aimed (more accurate) attacks at railroads, corporations, robber barons and lobbyists who seemed to be buying up America. The muckraking reporter Henry Demarest Lloyd wrote that “liberty produces wealth, and wealth destroys liberty.”

. . . Some well-to-do reformers blamed, not individuals or groups, but the culture and etiquette of American democracy. All those noisy rallies were nothing more than a “silly sort of show,” those busy polling places were “vulgar,” “venal” and “filthy.” American democracy, a growing upper middle-class movement argued, needed an intervention, and in an era of Temperance politics, reformers knew just how to achieve it.

First, they went after the booze. Reform organizations pulled the liquor licenses from political fundraisers, closed saloons on Election Day and passed prohibition laws on the county and state level. Voters were more clearheaded, but those partisan saloons had been key institutions for working-class men. Shutting them down meant shutting many out.

Cities banned marches without permits and used police and militias to punish unlawful assembly. And parties desperate to win over “the better class of people,” as one reformer put it, stopped paying for torches, uniforms, fireworks and whiskey. Campaigners shifted from thrilling street-corner oratory to printed pamphlets. To some, these changes looked like innovations. The Los Angeles Times cheered the citizens who had spent previous elections “on the street corner shouting, or in the torchlight procession,” but could now be “found at home” reading quietly.

Starting in 1887, state after state switched to the secret ballot—a dense government form that was cast privately—and dispatched with party-printed tickets. By isolating each voter “alone with his conscience” in the polling booth, or behind a voting machine’s curtain, he was certainly made more reflective, but also more removed. Those who could not read English, who had previously voted by color-coded ballots, were out of luck with the complicated machines, text-heavy ballots or unsympathetic poll workers. And those who participated in Election Day because they enjoyed the day as a nationwide happening, with its the sense of community and membership, saw little appeal with the new confessional box style.

Predictably, turnout crashed. In the 1896 presidential election, 80 percent of eligible Americans were still voting, but by 1924, voter participation plummeted to fewer than 49 percent. Voters who were poorer, younger, less well-educated, African American, or immigrants or children of immigrants were especially shut out of the political arena. White, middle class Americans cheered the trend, with some even bragging about the low turnouts. “It was gratifying,” reported an Augusta, Georgia, newspaper in 1904 “to see voting booths free of noisy crowds.”

The revolution lasted for a century. What Americans now consider “normal politics” was really stifled Democracy, the post-intervention cool, calm model—lower drama but lower participation. Now, however, those old tendencies may be creeping back.

. . . Tribalism, division and “general cussedness” (as they used to call it) is up, but so is attention and turnout. The two might go hand-in-hand; the 2020 election was the first since 1900 to boast turnouts above 66 percent. . . .

Unquote.

I agree with the author that more democracy would be a good thing. The question is whether more democracy can be achieved without more political turmoil and strife (and more bullshit peddled by one of our major parties).

Let Her Dance

The Bobby Fuller Four was a Texas rock band in the 60s who had one big hit. “I Fought the Law” (and the law won!) made the Top Ten in 1965. It was never a favorite of mine but I wouldn’t change the station when it came on.

Earlier that year, they released “Let Her Dance”. It only reached #133 on the national chart, but it was a minor hit in Los Angeles (#23 on KRLA, #19 on KFWB). I turned 14 when it was on the radio in Southern California, but if I heard it, it made no lasting impression.

Bobby Fuller died under mysterious circumstances a few months after “I Fought the Law”. That was the end of the Bobby Fuller Four.

Wes Anderson used “Let Her Dance” in his Fantastic Mr. Fox animated movie in 2009. I saw the movie but took no notice of the song.

Then, five years ago, I heard “Let Her Dance” on Brian Wilson’s site. (I know it was five years ago because it’s on the internet.) It’s not much of a song — it’s repetitious to say the least — but it immediately became a favorite. I’m still playing it five years later. I’m even writing about it.

Why do some songs appeal to us so much? Why do some songs we love not appeal to other people at all? I have no idea. Just let her dance.

From The Guardian: “The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Bobby Fuller, Rock ‘n Roll King of Texas”.

Of Course It Was Collusion

Which, yet again, is not the same as criminal conspiracy (although it was probably that as well). From The New York Times:

The Biden administration revealed on Thursday that a business associate of T____ campaign officials in 2016 provided campaign polling data to Russian intelligence services, the strongest evidence to date that Russian spies had penetrated the inner workings of the Trump campaign.

The revelation, made public in a Treasury Department document announcing new sanctions against Russia, established for the first time that private meetings and communications between the campaign officials, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and their business associate were a direct pipeline from the campaign to Russian spies at a time when the Kremlin was engaged in a covert effort to sabotage the 2016 presidential election.

Previous government investigations have identified the T____ aides’ associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, as a Russian intelligence operative, and Mr. Manafort’s decision to provide him with internal polling data was one of the mysteries that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, sought to unravel during his two-year investigation into Russia’s election meddling.

“During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy,” the Treasury Department said in a news release. “Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

Rachel Maddow responded on her MSNBC program tonight:

We now know the T____ campaign secretly gave their own data to Russian intelligence in the middle of that attack, which again presumably helped what the Russians were doing. . . . 

What’s the definition of collusion again? Not just passively benefiting from somebody else’s crime, but actively helping them commit it? Is that what we call collusion? Tell me more about how the whole Russia thing is a hoax.

Maddow covered the topic for more than 20 minutes. As of this moment, the whole segment  is available on YouTube. Twelve minutes is available from MSNBC.

Politics vs. Reality at the Border

Headline from The Washington Post, March 20, 2021, for an article by three political reporters and one who covers immigration enforcement:

‘No end in sight’: Inside the Biden administration’s failure to contain the border surge

Headline from The Washington Post, March 23, 2021, for an article by three political scientists, one of whom heads the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California in San Diego:

There’s no migrant ‘surge’ at the U.S. southern border. Here’s the data [that] reveals the usual seasonal bump — plus some of the people who waited during the pandemic

From the article by the people who know what they’re talking about:

Last week, at the U.S. border with Mexico, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) declared that the recent increase in unaccompanied minors attempting to enter the United States was a “crisis … created by the presidential policies of this new administration.”

We looked at data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to see whether there’s a “crisis” — or even a “surge,” as many news outlets have characterized it. We analyzed monthly CBP data from 2012 to now and found no crisis or surge that can be attributed to Biden administration policies. Rather, the current increase in apprehensions fits a predictable pattern of seasonal changes in undocumented immigration combined with a backlog of demand because of 2020’s coronavirus border closure.

IT’S NOT A SURGE. IT’S THE USUAL SEASONAL INCREASE.

The CBP reports monthly data on how many migrants its agents apprehend at the southern border, including unaccompanied minors. . . .

The CBP has recorded a 28 percent increase in migrants apprehended from January to February 2021, from 78,442 to 100,441. News outlets, pundits and politicians have been calling this a “surge” and a “crisis.”

But the CBP’s numbers reveal that undocumented immigration is seasonal, shifting upward this time of year. During fiscal year 2019, under the [previous] administration, total apprehensions increased 31 percent during the same period, a bigger jump than we’re seeing now. (We’re comparing fiscal year 2021 to 2019 because the pandemic changed the pattern in 2020.) In 2018, the increase is about 25 percent from February to March — somewhat smaller but still pronounced.

But was 2019 an aberration? In the figure below, we combine data from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2020 to show the cumulative total number of apprehensions for each month over these eight years. As you can see, migrants start coming when winter ends and the weather gets a bit warmer. We see a regular increase not just from January to February, but from February to March, March to April, and April to May — and then a sharp drop-off, as migrants stop coming in the hotter summer months when the desert is deadly. That means we should expect decreases from May to June and June to July.

Untitled

What we’re seeing, in other words, isn’t a surge or crisis, but a predictable seasonal shift. When the numbers drop again in June and July, policymakers may be tempted to claim that their deterrence policies succeeded. But that will just be the usual seasonal drop.

SO WHY ARE WE SEEING MORE MIGRANTS SO FAR IN 2021?

The CBP has indeed reported apprehending more migrants in February 2021 than in the same month in previous years. But that too doesn’t mean it’s a surge or a crisis. . . .

2020 was the pandemic, when movement dropped dramatically. Countries around the world closed their borders. Here in the United States, the [previous] administration invoked Title 42, a provision from the 1944 Public Health Act, to summarily expel migrants attempting to enter the United States without proper documentation.

In other words, in fiscal year 2021, it appears that migrants are continuing to enter the United States in the same numbers as in fiscal year 2019 — plus the pent-up demand from people who would have come in fiscal year 2020, but for the pandemic. . . .

This suggests that Title 42 expulsions delayed prospective migrants rather than deterred them — and they’re arriving now.

That would be consistent with nearly three decades of research in political science. Much of this research has been done since President Bill Clinton’s administration ran Operation Gatekeeper, which tried to keep out migrants by increasing funding and staff for border enforcement. Scholars consistently find that border security policies do not necessarily deter migration; rather, they delay migrants’ decisions to travel, and change the routes they take.

REASSESSING OUR UNDERSTANDING OF UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRATION

So have Biden administration policies caused a crisis at the southern border? Evidence suggests not. The [last] administration oversaw a record in apprehensions in fiscal year 2019, before the pandemic shut the border. This year looks like the usual seasonal increase plus migrants who would have come last year, but could not.

Focusing on month-to-month differences in apprehensions is misleading; given seasonal patterns, each month should be considered in relation to the same month in previous years. Knowing those patterns, policymakers may be better able to plan, prepare and to manage the border.

Unquote. Also, political reporters would avoid jumping on bandwagons being driven by politicians with their own agendas.

Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer summarizes:

The border situation is neither the first crisis facing the new administration nor close to the biggest — not with a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and the related economic crisis leaving 10 million out of work — but it is the nation’s most visible problem that can be so easily demagogued by Republicans looking to score cheap political points against a popular president, or get lapped up by Beltway journalists eager to go back to the brunch of lazy punditry. Indeed, the Sunday morning talk shows — ABC even flew its panelists to an outdoor location at the border — seemed to openly salivate at a return to the days of swinging at Democrats with a club furnished by the Republican National Committee.

There is overcrowding at the border, partly because Biden’s predecessor left a mess behind him. The new administration is working on the problem, which is what we should expect.

When British Rule Became Intolerable

Historians tend to mark the stirrings of the American Revolution with events like the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 and the Boston Massacre of 1770 (when British soldiers killed five Americans). In her new book, 1774: The Long Year of Revolution, Mary Beth Norton argues that it was only the aftermath of 1774’s Boston Tea Party that unified the colonies and led to revolution. One piece of evidence is how Americans referred to new laws passed by Parliament after the Tea Party as the “Intolerable Acts”.  Another is how residents of all thirteen colonies quickly joined together for the first time, creating the Continental Association (something I don’t remember ever hearing about).

This is from a review by T. H. Breen:

The most serious problem with the claim that the revolution resulted from a long-simmering sense of injustice is that ordinary Americans initially showed very little interest in confronting imperial authority. Resistance to the Stamp Act and the killing of civilians during the Boston Massacre certainly got attention, but even at the moment of greatest discontent, colonists hesitated to voice support for urban protest. In many places people feared that a few radicals were stoking a political crisis that could destabilize an imperial system responsible for widespread prosperity. . . .

The political landscape changed dramatically on the night of December 16, 1773, when the destruction in Boston Harbor of tea imported by the East India Company made the scattered protests that had gone before suddenly seem irrelevant. It took several months for the full implications of the Tea Party to play out in England and America. As Norton explains, the incident served as a political catalyst for the subsequent spread of popular resistance throughout the colonies.

To be sure, an outpouring of anger greeted the arrival of the tea. Everyone knew that by purchasing the imported tea, they would be compelled to pay a tax set by Parliament, a body in which they had no representation. . . .

As with the earlier protests, however, many Americans expressed reservations about what a group of men dressed crudely as Indians had done in Boston Harbor. They worried that extremists had taken protest to an unacceptable level. Of course, no colonists wanted to pay taxes on their favorite drink. But the tea was private property, and not a few people counseled the City of Boston to compensate the East India Company for the lost cargo. . . .

Everyone in Boston expected Parliament to punish the city for this brazen attack on private property. They assumed that negotiations with officials in London would result in censure, and then, after emotions had cooled, relations with the mother country would return to normal. That did not happen. As has occurred so often in the long history of imperial regimes, the leaders of Parliament decided to teach the troublesome Americans a lesson. A mere warning that they should behave themselves . . . would not serve the purpose. Obedience required a show of force.

Speakers in the House of Commons could hardly contain themselves. They insisted that it was time to crush the people of Boston for their audacity. One member of Parliament announced that . . . “the town of Boston ought to be knocked about their ears, and destroyed.” . . . Another MP observed that “the Americans were a strange set of People, and that it was in vain to expect any degree of reasoning from them.”

The punishment was far worse than anyone had anticipated. It was spelled out in four acts known in England as the Coercive Acts. Americans called them the Intolerable Acts. Richard Henry Lee, an influential Virginian, described the legislation as a “shock of Electricity,” causing universal “Astonishment, indignation, and concern.” The most vexing—the Boston Port Act—closed the city to all commerce; other acts restricted town meetings throughout Massachusetts to once per year and gave the royal governor of the colony enhanced authority over political appointments. Trade now had to flow through Salem, which greatly added to the cost of doing business. More disconcerting, the legislation created widespread unemployment in Boston, where many poorer residents worked on the docks.

Bostonians pointed out that it was grossly unfair to penalize the entire population of the city for a crime carried out by a small group, but British officials expressed no sympathy. They suspected that the Americans had absorbed a spirit of democracy. . . .

The show of force did not intimidate the colonists. British leaders greatly increased the chance that the situation in America would explode by appointing a military officer, Thomas Gage, as governor of Massachusetts. He seemed to possess the kind of toughness needed to pacify rebellious colonists. . . . He arrived in Boston on May 13, 1774, accompanied by a large contingent of troops. Not surprisingly, an army of occupation served only to further enflame the populace.

Within weeks imperial authority outside Boston collapsed. Officials appointed by the crown resigned; committees were formed throughout the colony to fill the administrative vacuum. Militiamen began to drill. Local bodies enforced a prohibition on drinking tea. The celebrated orator Edmund Burke had predicted this would be the result of the Coercive Acts. “Have you considered,” he asked the House of Commons, “whether you have troops and ships sufficient to enforce an universal proscription to the trade of the whole Continent of America?” When it became clear that his audience was determined to bring the Americans to heel, Burke concluded, “This is the day, then, that you will go to war with all America . . . ” No one listened.

During the summer of 1774, it became clear that the punitive policies championed by the North administration were stunningly counterproductive. . . . The suffering of Boston soon became the cause of colonists outside the city. They sensed that if they did not support resistance, they too might soon find themselves living under military occupation.

. . . People living in distant colonies sent food to the unemployed workers of Boston. . . . Britain’s show of toughness encouraged ordinary people from New Hampshire to Georgia to reach out to other Americans who before this moment had been total strangers. They began to talk of themselves as if they were no longer British, or at least not as British as they had been before Gage and his army arrived in Boston.

The spreading resistance movement persuaded political leaders of the various colonies to meet in Philadelphia in early September 1774. The first Continental Congress brought Americans of very different backgrounds together. . . . Prominent figures such as . . . the Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly presented powerful arguments for reconciliation. Some of his colleagues sensed, however, that the moment for constructive compromise had passed. The people needed direction. Otherwise the defense of American rights would fragment.

The Continental Congress devised a brilliant solution. On October 20, it authorized the creation of the Continental Association, which bound the thirteen colonies in order to bring additional pressure on Parliament by cutting off trade with Britain. Boycotts had been tried before, but because of local jealousies and competition among merchants, they had failed to achieve their purpose. The Continental Association was different. It established precise dates for the cessation of the importation of British goods. It also set down regulations for trade with the mother country. According to the Congress, the goal of the commercial regulations was “to obtain redress of these grievances which threaten destruction to the lives, liberty, and property of his majesty’s subjects in North America.”

The problem was how to enforce these regulations. How could the Congress unite thousands of small communities in a common effort? The answer appeared in the eleventh article of the Continental Association, which transformed the entire character of the resistance movement. A document of such fundamental significance in the history of the United States merits close reading:

That a committee be chosen in every county, city, and town, by those who are qualified to vote for representatives in the legislature, whose business it shall be attentively to observe the conduct of all persons touching this association; and when it shall be made to appear, to the satisfaction of a majority of any such committee, that any person within the limits of their appointment has violated this association, that such majority do forthwith cause the truth of the case to be published in the gazette; to the end, that all such foes to the rights of British-America may be publicly known, and universally contemned as the enemies of American liberty; and thenceforth we respectively will break off all dealings with him or her.

The association signaled the moment in a new revolutionary narrative when ordinary Americans realized that there was no turning back. At the time, almost no one was calling for independence. The groundwork for that break, however, was now in place. The crucial move was that the Continental Congress gave ordinary Americans the responsibility for monitoring commercial violations, but as one might have predicted, these local committees quickly assumed additional duties. By 1775 they were legitimizing popular resistance to imperial rule and channeling mobilization. The Continental Association did something even more important: it revealed the pressing need for some form of centralized authority to oversee the actions of thirteen very different colonies. Unity was essential to sustaining a common cause.

Norton accomplishes something more than a revision of the traditional story of the coming of the American Revolution. She reminds us that even when it seemed inevitable that continuing protest would lead to violent confrontation with British troops, there were intelligent, articulate people in America who wanted desperately to head off the crisis. . . .

It was hard for people such as the Reverend Thomas Bradbury Chandler, an Episcopal minister from New Jersey, to break with the comforting security of a monarchical regime. He wrote an immensely popular pamphlet called “The American Querist”, which consisted of one hundred questions designed to challenge assumptions driving the resistance movement. . . .

[But] writers of Chandler’s persuasion . . . were defending a social system that no longer made sense to many Americans.

The committees that enforced nonimportation seemed to Loyalists to invite anarchy. Mob rule, Chandler and his allies claimed, would destroy the ordered security of a monarchical world. The Reverend John Bullman, an Episcopal rector in Charleston, South Carolina, railed against the notion that ordinary men were capable of judging “the Fitness or Unfitness of all persons in power and Authority.” Bullman rejected the idea that a person “who cannot perhaps govern his own household, or pay the Debts of his own contracting,” should “dictate how the State should be governed.” Chandler shared this opinion. He asked, regarding “interested, designing men…or ignorant men, bred to the lowest occupations,” whether “any of them [were] qualified for the direction of political affairs, or ought to be trusted with it.” . . . . As the events of 1774 demonstrated, however, a great many Americans of the lowest occupations strongly disagreed.

One can appreciate why loyalists equated revolutionary change with disorder. [But] mobilization for the fight for independence did not promote anarchy. Americans followed the Continental Association’s regulations, sacrificing the imported consumer items that brought them so much pleasure. The revolutionaries who came forward in 1774 would have found it hard to understand modern Americans who define liberty as the right to do whatever they please during a time of national crisis, even though they know that their self-indulgence threatens the welfare of the larger community.